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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

China here I come

I am leaving for China in 8 hours. Our plane departs at 1:40 a.m. I went through a period of brief, yet intense anxiety today on the way home from work, imagining all of the things that could happen and how terrifying it would be if we had an emergency landing. I spent some time wondering how painful and terrifying crashing would be. Then I took a deep breath and got over it.

Okay, let me be honest. I came home and chatted with my mom for an hour while she sewed my pants and I sipped pinot grigio. The glass of wine left me feeling markedly better, and I thought about how I have a beautiful bottle of anxiety medication ready for the flight, and I remembered that good conversation is a wonderful distraction to me, and I remembered that I am flying with my 2nd family... my colleagues, and I will have a ton to talk about with them. Plus, I will bring travel Scrabble, which got me through labor with both of my children and can certainly get me through a flight to China. Hopefully... I will just get tired and fall asleep.

Now I am starting to get excited. I am imagining the amazing sights of the Eastern Venice. I am picturing the Great Wall. I am thinking about the beautiful 5 star hotels we will be staying in. Other than the whole not being able to communicate thing, it is going to be awesome.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I am grateful for...

My Mom
The woman is a phenomenon. Seriously...  she is the phenomemom! Really. Today, while Vinny was at school, she picked up balloons  at Rite Aid and blew them up to have around the house so that they could have a "party." She had a grandma grandkid party with the kids all afternoon. They had party music, ate party snacks, and played party games, all afternoon.

When Marc and I came home at 6, she had the dinner hot and ready and the house completely clean (except for the balloons, which she left around for a few more days of fun, I suppose).

My mom is amazing, and I am so grateful for the ways she makes my life easier.

Barb is one of my best friends. Most Mondays and some Saturdays, we hit the gym together. Sometimes we do yoga, and other times we cardio, depending our energy level. We pretty much always close with the hot tub. She also teaches English at a high school nearby. In a couple of hours of time, we vent, plan lessons, reflect on our teaching, problem solve each other's areas of concern about student learning, and come up with neat ideas for projects. We share our triumphs and tribulations without judgment or jealousy.

My friendship with Barb has convinced me that most of the world's problems could probably be solved over a half hour conversation on the treadmill and an hour in the jacuzzi.

Students Who Say Thanks and Students Who Make Me Proud
UC schools sent out their acceptances last week. Many of my students got in to UCLA, which is the dream school for most of my students. Three students in my advisory got in (one is holding out for Stanford's decision, but the other two are definitely going).  The other two came to me today to tell me thank you, that they couldn't have done it without me. I cannot tell you how good that made me feel. The senior English teacher gets a lot of comments like this, but I don't really work very closely with the seniors, so I do not get these comments very often.

Because I have a senior advisory this year, I spent hours in the fall helping these students with their personal statements, especially because I knew how much these students deserved this opportunity and how much it would change their lives. Both of these girls are from very low income families and will be the first of their families to go to college. This experience is going to completely change their lives.
I am so grateful for students who make me proud to be a teacher and remind me why I do what I do... and even have the hearts to thank me for my effort.
Some of these awesome kids will be Bruins this fall.  :-)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My kid belongs on a stage, not a field

Tiana lately is such a barrel of laughs. I have this feeling that when I come home from China, she is going to be like a completely different kid. She says new stuff every day. Her vocabulary is expanding at an exponential rate. Yesterday, when she was ready to get out of the bath, she stood up and said, "Towel!"  Then, this morning, in the car, she picked up a Burger King crown, put it on her head and said, "I da queen!"  When she woke up this morning, she called me by saying, "Ana up! Ana up!"  I guess that is how she hears her name.

Vinny had a track meet today. My poor kid really just belongs on a stage so much more than he belongs on a field. I think I am going to intentionally insist that he nurture his artistic side instead of his athletic side. Research has proven that people's abilities to grow in their areas of strength are significantly higher than their abilities to grow in their areas of weakness. I went to this training at school this week that was all about Strengths training. They talked about the fact that we are who we are as people from the time we are children... we just become MORE who we are. 

Vinny is just not a good athlete and likely really never will be.  This is not surprising; it is in his genes. Marc is a good swimmer. I am an okay swimmer. My mother enjoys aerobics and riding her bike. It pretty much stops there.  We are not a family of athletic people and never have been. We are an artistic family though, on both sides. My dad is a born performer with a degree in theatre arts. Theatre is my passion too. Even Marc was successful in theatre as a kid. He did numerous musicals and even had a couple of decent roles as he got older. While I am sure that our influence had something to do with this, you can just tell that the arts are in Vinny's nature. Everything in his world is a show. He enjoyed theatre and was able to sit through full-length productions at a much earlier age than most of his friends. I am pretty sure he was just shy of 3 years old when he saw his first full length musical (and enjoyed it).  

I was very much like Vinny...  athletic endeavors always sounded like fun, but I was never any good at them. I tried soccer for a season when I was 8. When I was 9 and 10 years old I did the junior olympics, once on a relay team (I was definitely the weakest link) and once on a tri-cap-a-lon team, which was basically sit-ups. I am actually pretty darn good at sit ups, but I am not sure that this actually qualifies as athletic activity. I swam freshman year of high school, actually enjoyed it, and wasn't the worst either. Vinny is pretty good at swimming too, actually.  Aquatics are just an odd exception to our family's history of overall poor athletic achievement. 

Okay, so he did beat the kid who got dq-d for jumping the gun.
So, Vinny came in last in both of his events today. He still had fun though, and I suppose that is all that matters, but I do not think I will allow him to continue doing youth sports once track is over. Kids deserve to feel successful, just like adults. We are happiest when we play to our strengths. His strengths are in the arts, and nurturing these just seems like the more logical choice. I do feel it is important to have an active lifestyle, but people underestimate the effort involved in theatre and dance and stuff like that. 

My "Charlie" in Willy Wonka is out of breath pretty much every day, which tells me she is doing it right. Musical theatre involves throwing 100% of one's energy into a character. When Charlie wins that golden ticket, you can bet she is going to jump up and down and sprint through the "streets." 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Life feels so chaotic right now. I took a beautiful day off yesterday, but by 11:00 a.m. today, I was more stressed than ever. My sub yesterday did not follow my instructions, which made this morning very stressful.
Today was an art day, which always makes me crazy. The mess is insane.  But the results are always amazing, and I know that next week is going to be amazing. Sigh.

Yesterday was wonderful. I slept in and then did my homework while we all slowly got ready and then made our way to the farm. I remembered that when Vinny was Tiana's age, he loved the experience of picking berries, and Tiana loves strawberries more than anyone I know (except maybe me). I thought the farm would be right up her alley, and it was...

.... or should I say, she was right up their alley. When Vinny was her age, he was all about picking the strawberries (and still is). Tiana was about asking me to hand her one, "BAH BERRY!" Then, she'd gleefully run down the road, gobbling down her berry. It was a wonderful morning.

      And then I went to school. Sigh.  I experienced an academic first yesterday. I received a paper back with the comment "I am not going to score this as it is written." Wow.... that is like... almost worse than an F. I have made this comment on papers before, but only papers that I felt like were so bad they were almost ungradeable. Ouch.  Well, I guess there is a first for everything.

Welcome to graduate school.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

      In trying to let Vinny enjoy his Spring Break, we have been letting him stay up later than usual watching movies. Tonight, he was watching Chicken Run, which ended at around 9:00. When Marc asked him to get ready for bed, he got really whiny about not wanting to brush his teeth, change, etc. Marc commented that he needs to go to bed early the rest of Spring Break then, because he is acting like a baby.

     Vinny responds, "I'm a baby huh? Give me a bottle then! Where's my blanky? Change my diaper! Waaaa! Put me in a crib! Carry me around everywhere! If I am a baby!"

     I am not even joking.

     I have been really good about working out lately. I have been more active than usual lately, not overeating (although snacking during the day is an issue, although I don't think it is too much of an issue considering my lunches are usually less than 500 calories each), etc. Last week I went back to yoga for the first time in like a month. I forced myself to go last night, even though no one was going with me (which is perseverance for me, because I am totally a social exerciser and have trouble forcing myself to go without a buddy), and it was a really good night for me. I guess I just was not feeling tense. I was able to get deeper into most of the poses than I usually get, although today I really have been feeling it. Mo wanted to work out tonight, but since Marc had a meeting, I invited her over for Fitness TV via Hulu. Woo hoo!  (Did I mention I don't miss cable at all?)  I also discovered a lot of Yoga videos on Hulu, so I am going to try some more of them on nights I have time and there isn't class at the gym. I really do like the class at the gym though. It is relaxing.   :-)

     We had a meeting today about the China trip. I am apparently leaving in the middle of the night on Thursday. I need to get to the airport by around 10:30 p.m. Thursday night, which is very late and not convenient at all. The return time is even less convenient. We come back at 11:00 a.m. on Easter morning. Everyone I know is at church at that time on Easter. Hmmm.... I really don't want to park at the airport.

     I am really going to miss my kids. It is hard not to think about that.

But this is an opportunity of a life time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Life in My Days

Cousin best friends, round 2 (if she will stop beating him up)
They say that those with strong bonds with family members and friends live longer. I am not surprised. My family makes me feel alive.

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Marc with Ron Sr. & Ron III after dinner

My niece Isabella

This past weekend was my family's late Christmas, which we don't really do as Christmas any more, but any how... it was the time of the year when the family that I don't see for the holidays gets together.

My cousin Tracy and her family came a day early to take their daughter Hannah to Disneyland, and they brought along Vinny, since Vinny and Hannah are bestest friends. They had an amazing time.

We kept Noah while the big kids went to Disneyland. 
This year, I hosted the get-together at my house. I figured I have plenty of room, particularly with our beautiful backyard. I hadn't counted on cold weather and rain, but we made it work anyway. We turned our garage into a "backyard" of sorts. We set up the patio furniture and beach furniture and portable heaters and made it work. Marc and I made a delicious meal. I made a copy-cat recipe of the Margarita Grilled Chicken at Chilis. Yum yum yum.

We did such a good job making the garage comfy, Joby took a nap. Then he caught on fire. Literally.

It was a very amusing time this year, since there are now 5 toddlers. We all got pregnant within 6 months of each other, so they are all between 14-20 months old. My house is set up well for little ones, but it was much louder than previous gatherings have been. They are at the age of well, jealousy, which made everything amusing. If one gets juice, they all want juice. If one gets a bath, they all want a bath. At one point, there were 4 babies in my bathtub (my niece Isabella, the 5th baby, wanted in too, but my sister wouldn't let her in on the chaos).

Never a dull moment in my family. Shortly after the nap above, my cousin's husband Joby caught himself on fire. Literally. He was leaning over the stove to make coffee and his shirt caught in the burner (I was cooking rice). Only this man would catch on fire and remain completely calm. I didn't even realize he was on fire until I turned around and realized he was on the floor (dropping and rolling, apparently, which, fyi... is very effective).

That night, we found a sitter (how does one find a sitter for 5 children? You have a husband who knows people with degrees in early childhood education... and you put them all to bed before the sitter comes over so you don't lose her forever)  and a bunch of us went out for green cocktails a great St. Patrick's Day time.

It was such a wonderful time, even if it was freezing outside. Now that the family is so large, it gets so hard to find a date that works for everyone, but it is worth it.  Poor Vinny misses Hannah so much he has cried about it since before she even left yesterday (yes, he stared lamenting her departure before she even left). Seriously though, he cried the saddest tears I've ever seen for like hours yesterday.

Vinny and his bestest friend Hannah
We went to a birthday party in the afternoon, which Vinny tried to keep his chin up for, but he kept clinging to me and whispering in my ear, "I miss Hannah."  Of course, the clinging to me may have been more for warmth. It was freezing. Seriously, I am impressed with how many people were there. You know your kid is popular when 25 kids show up for a party at the park when it is in the 40s. (Okay friends outside of California, go ahead and make fun of me, but it was freaking cold).  It was a great party though, and I know Vinny was glad he went.

Today was back to the grindstone, which was hard after such a busy weekend... and with the serious lack of sleep. Tiana has been waking up in the middle of the night lately and staying awake for hours. She is making me miserable. I can only think it is teething or something, but it is wearing me down.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Feeling a Sense of Accomplishment

My mid-terms are due tomorrow.  No, I do not mean that my students owe me papers - I mean that my mid-term papers for MY classes as a student are due tomorrow. It is only 9:00pm, and I am finished! 

Finished midterms! Woo hoo!
I do not know why this is such a big deal to me, but it is.  A friend had told me that many of her classmates felt like the final project at the end of the first semester felt like this big achievement - as in, if they can get through that, they can get through anything - and there are definitely some of my colleagues who I can tell felt this way, but that project was a video tape of myself teaching and then a paper discussing it. This was so similar to, yet so much simpler than, the project I had to do to get my teaching credential, that it did not phase me. It was very easily. I did it early and happily volunteered to be the guinea pig and show my video in class a month before it was due. 

This semester is another story. I am taking two classes that have seriously challenged me. One is a research class. I am not good at formal research. I rarely assign it to students because I am terrible at it. This is a different kind of research though - action research. Basically, I become the researcher, my students subjects, and I conduct essentially an experiment on my students to see if my hypothesis is correct. We are not actually doing the research this semester, but rather learning how to do it and planning it. Next semester will be the actual experiment. Anyhow... so I had to write a proposal in which I basically outline the entire plan for my research. This was a major feat for me. I am committing to spend the next year drowning in this topic, so I have to love it. Fortunately, I found the idea of positive psychology, which I am completely absorbed in. Reading about it doesn't feel like work. It feels like... pleasure. Honestly. However, I had to figure out how to write about it in a way that was understandable. It was not easy. 

There were many obstacles in my battle. It is an almost scientific style of writing. I do not own this style, if that makes any sense. My brain has been conditioned to think in MLA format. Research is written in APA format. I am dying to capitalize those titles like you can't even imagine. But... it is done. And it is beautiful. I feel like I have a fantastic idea. Dare I say... a publishable idea?  Ooo, I am so excited.

My other final was essentially a basic description of how I teach writing. I worked on this one for about 6 weeks. I don't know why I found it so difficult, but I think it just felt like trying to fill a dixie cup of water from a fire hose. I teach writing every day. How do I explain that in 6-12 pages? I could have written a book (although I am not sure it would have been any good). At one point, I think it was 19 pages. I miraculously narrowed it down to the most important points and have exactly 12, plus cover and citations. Go me. 

I had a few other moments of accomplishment this week. I finally dragged myself to the doctor to admit that I cannot board a plane without feeling like a complete nut case. 45 minutes later (my doctor cares just a little bit too much about each patient) I was on my way out the door with a prescription for wonderful little pills that will get me through the flight and apparently have few side effects. I took one last night to make sure I don't react to them or anything, and I woke up feeling fine, actually refreshed, so this is a good thing. 

While waiting for my prescription to be filled at Target, I came across this beautiful sight on a shelf. Why is this such a beautiful sight? Because the Chicken Soup for the Soul book on the right has one of MY student's stories in it from one of MY assignments. And there was only one copy left on the shelf.  :-)  
In some small way, I like to think of this as a degree to which I make a difference in the world. Teens read this book. Teens who read my student's story will feel inspired to... well, keep living and believe that it does get better. I worked hard on that story with her. I read. I cried. I advised. She bravely cut almost half the content (a hard thing to do, I know) to make it more publishable. She polished. She submitted. My name might not be in that book, but I know it is in her heart, and that is all that really matters to me. 

Yes, this is a week of accomplishments. 

Now, I need to go finish all the other 10 million things I need to do to be ready for tomorrow. Sigh.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Simple, Positive Life

Well, this was my second weekend alone with the kids during my Lenten Facebook fast. This weekend was much easier than the last one. I didn't have a busier weekend or anything; I think I am just getting used to going without it. It takes some discipline, but it has been a worthwhile venture.

It is AMAZING how much more productive I am when I am not checking FB every 10 seconds in the middle of doing homework. I think, even after Lent is over, when I go back to Facebook, I will make myself a "no checking while doing homework" rule or something, because I really do get a lot more done. I stare at the computer screen less and read more.

Since the Roku does not lend itself well to browsing, not having cable means I stare at the tv screen less too. When I do choose things to watch, I find that I watch much more meaningful things since I actually choose shows to commit to. Last night, I watched a documentary on Auschwitz. It is actually a mini-series, so this was the first of the series.

I am such a geek of a teacher. Teaching is my whole life, but honestly it is out of love of it. I chose the Auschwitz documentary because I am about to start teaching The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, so I am on prep mode.

 I am reading a book right now that I started reading with teaching in mind, but seriously... this book is changing my entire life. I enjoy life more because of this book. It is called The Happiness Advantage. This book is a total must read. It is changing my perspective on how I view life. I apparently already do many of the things that positive people do - I write every day, for one - but I am realizing that there is more that I can do to keep a positive outlook on life. At first, I was a bit skeptical of the idea that just being positive could so intensely increase a person's productivity, but I am seeing the results every day.

It is funny that at the beginning of this year, my number one goal was to simplify, and I did not imagine my life simplifying in quite the ways it has, but it has been simpler. There are times, many of them, during the week, when I feel like I am spinning out of control, but overall... my life is simpler. I don't miss not having cable TV.  I make intentional choices about what I watch and enjoy it more. I am spending more time with my children.

Despite this year having far more complications, I am somehow less busy and have more time to think straight. I thank my mother and Shawn Achor.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


So, I haven't blogged in a while because I basically don't feel like doing anything. I am so stressed I could scream. Both of my midterms are due next week. I was feeling pretty good about both of them, but we did this activity in class tonight that I think was supposed to provide us feedback to help us improve. I gained two things from this activity:
#1) The knowledge that peer response is often a terrible idea.
#2) A complete lack of confidence in my research proposal and my paper.

The paper is supposed to be 4-6 pages, not including samples. Mine, with samples, is 9 pages long; however, the samples only take up about a page and a half.  I know it is too long. I am generally good at writing a lot and then trimming it back to what is important. This is just sort of how I work. The first comment said "too wordy, too lengthy."  Halfway down the list of comments there was a comment that said, "lacks much needed detail."  What the heck?  I am going to take a mental break from my research proposal until Saturday and then force myself to look at it again with some fresh eyes.

Vinny has a mock track meet this weekend, which I guess basically means that his team is hosting a meet just for themselves. Everything with this whole stupid track thing has been way more complicated than it should be. I don't understand any of the lingo, there is little guidance, and it is just way over involved. I don't like youth sports.

I've had 16 hour days both yesterday and today. Yesterday, it was work, parent conferences, and then a field trip with my drama students. Today, it was work, parent conferences, and then CSUN. Parent conferences are mentally draining. Even the students who are doing well sometimes have very draining conferences. I guess they are doing well for a reason. It is also particularly frustrating to attempt to do a conference in Spanish. My Spanish is terrible. It is a very frustrating experience to feel misunderstood. (I guess that's how my students feel sometimes). It is an equally frustrating experience to ask a student to explain to his/her parents why s/he is failing.  And they ALL want to talk to the English teacher. I watch my colleagues chat with each other and stuff, while I work my way steadily through the line of parents. Sigh. I need to just bite the bullet and do a summer language institute some time.

I feel like I am going to have an anxiety attack. I was doing so well last week. What the heck happened?

Speaking of anxiety... I attempted to make an appointment with my doctor to get some anxiety medication for the flight to China. I sat on the phone (waiting to make an appointment) for 45 minutes. Boy is there some irony in that. As if I really needed to spend my prep on the phone. I ran around school and got my lunch and made my copies and everything all on the phone. I ran into a very important administrator, so I hung up.

I have seen my kids a total of like 10 minutes since Tuesday night. I feel like I've been out of town or something, except for the painfully short few moments of cuddling I shared with Tiana this morning. That got me through my day.

I forgot to ship something that I sold on Amazon.

I worked really hard making the yearbook collage page for Vinny's class on Tuesday night (it was due last week but I asked for an extension to tomorrow), but just found out today that I missed a kid. As tired as I was when I got home tonight, I figured out how to add the kid in there and sent it off. I am having trouble keeping up with all the things on my plate. My tire light is on. I don't know why. I honestly don't know how to check the pressure in my own tires. I have been shown several times but don't think I could really fix it myself.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Really Going

I miss Facebook. I really do. I keep thinking of sharing adorable things that Vinny and Tiana do or other things that are going on in my life, and I have to stop myself, and I am having a really hard time. I wonder what this says about me as a person. Why do I get so much out of sharing my thoughts with others?  Does anyone really care about this stuff?  I think that this is part of a maturity process of me for in some ways. I remember when I was a teenager I was so afraid I was going to miss something that was going on without me. Now... I care much less. I am happy in my world. But I do miss my friends.

This weekend I took a group of about of my students shopping in Little India. Vinny came along. He was great company, and I love showing off my intelligent little man to my students. He loved riding on the bus and talking with my students at lunch. He bought another animated Hindi movie, Jumbo 2, and like Roadside Romeo (the one he bought last year), loved it. Indian movies really are quite good. I kind of watched this one with him last night, and it did seem entertaining. What is more entertaining... is watching Vinny derive meaning from a movie in a language he doesn't speak. He tells us what is going on too. He will say, "Oh no, the grandma died," even though they didn't show her die; he just figures it out.  At one point in the movie, he says, "Hold on, it is almost over." I thought to myself... how does he know?  He hasn't seen it before. This means that he
a) actually is following the plot well enough to know where they are at in the story arch, even without understanding the words
b) actually understands the traditional story arch well enough to know that it was in the "falling action" phase, and that the falling action is never quite as long as the rising action.
This kid is smart.
I mean, the other morning, he woke up and realized I had accidentally left the tv on the night before (nothing on it, just on) and he calls to me, "The TV is running," so I yell out to him, "Well, then you better run and catch it." He walks in to my room and says, "No... mom," as if I am clearly not comprehending him, "NOT running like track. Running like a sink that was left on, as in you forgot to turn it off." Hahahaha. I love that he felt the need to use an analogy to explain it to me. He is a character.

Today, he wanted to play restaurant and was setting up our house as a restaurant. At first he says, "I am going to turn the tv off and close the cabinet," but then he changes his mind and says, "Or I could leave it on and turn basketball on." I was like... what? Basketball? Vinny has never once mentioned any interest in basketball. "Why basketball?" I ask. "Because that is what is always on tv when restaurants have tvs," he replies. (I suppose this says something about the kind of restaurants we visit). I laughed and explained that the Roku doesn't have basketball. He was quick to point out that there is, indeed, an NBA channel, but when I explained that it costs money, he opted for music and closing the tv cabinet. He is a funny kid.

Although, if you ask him, I'm a pretty fun mom too. When we were at Target today, I was pushing one of those giant carts with the extra seats (so Tiana and Vinny could both sit down - Vinny is too lazy to walk), and I accidentally bumped into a guy stocking soda. I apologized profusely and said, "Sorry, pushing this thing is like driving a semi truck on a two lane road." He smiled, nodded, and said it was okay. I moved on and Vinny says, "Mom, people must think you are funny, because everyone is always smiling at you." Geez. I think people smile in pity as they watch me answer a Vinny question per minute, catch the apple slices Tiana flings and pick dolly up off the ground 2,719 times on each shopping trip. I would smile at me too.

I am starting to get excited for my trip to China. I have a Chinese friend in one of my classes at school and she has been telling me stuff and showing me pictures. I honestly know so little about China that I don't even know what to look for, except the really obvious stuff. I showed her our itinerary and she typed in stuff for me too look at. She showed me pictures of the town of Suzhou, which they call "The Eastern Venice" because it is a beautiful water city. Very excited to see that!  She also wrote down "beef noodle" in Chinese on a sticky note, in hopes I won't starve. I am more than happy to show sticky notes of food orders to waiters. Otherwise, I might starve.

I also want to start planning a lesson. We are teaching secondary, I know, but what... I have no idea. This is going to be an adventure.