The Author

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

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Simple Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I'm different this year...

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blue Roses

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Where did August go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The First Day of School

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

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

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

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

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

     First day of school... here I come!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rejection x3 (and moving on...)

I wanted to make this say to the third power, because emotionally it feels exponential, but I couldn't figure out how to make blogger do superscript.

Since May, I have auditioned for three different musicals. Each audition has been better than the last. The most recent audition I felt really, really good about, and I was only auditioning for an ensemble role (the show didn't have any female roles I would fit) but I still didn't get a part. I took this pretty hard. You would think the rejection thing would get easier... but it doesn't.

I was talking about it with my mom and she said, "You have achieved so much, I don't know why it is that it seems you always feel like it isn't enough."  But that's just it... I KNOW I have achieved so much. This isn't about achieving.  I don't want to act again to accomplish something. It is exactly the opposite.

I feel like I have spent the past eight years just working hard to accomplish things -- becoming a mom (yes, I see this as an achievement -- becoming a mom is different from "having kids"), graduating college, getting a teaching credential, establishing myself as a teacher, becoming a drama teacher and really learning to direct (I sometimes still feel like I don't really know what I am doing in this area, but I get more confident with every show), getting a Master's degree, supporting my husband in his youth ministry career, being a youth leader myself, etc. All of this stuff is incredibly meaningful to me, but really hard work.  While acting is hard work too... it doesn't feel like work. It feels like recreation because it is so satisfying and so much fun and I just derive so much pleasure from performing. I feel like I am ready to and have earned the right to turn to a new chapter in my life. Chapter "My 20s" has been all about working to achieve my goals. I'm just hoping that Chapter "My 30s" will be include (among other things) me doing some things I enjoy, and acting is one of the things I enjoy most in life.

Although my mom assures me I am wrong about this, I am starting to feel like the time I have lost is a big deal, like that the reason I am not getting callbacks is because I have not been on stage in seven years. Worse than that... I am pretty limited in the things I can audition for because I can't really dance. I mean, I definitely have the ability to learn simple choreography and movement, and I do not have two left feet, but I haven't had any formal dance training since I was like 8 years old. I am not a trained dancer. It takes me a LONG time to pick up new dance moves. I took a couple of beginning jazz classes in January and found them really challening. Not impossible, but definitely challenging. Can an old dog really learn new tricks?  Is it worth returning to the beginning jazz class? There will always be so many people so much better than me, it kind of makes me feel like... why bother?

But if I don't learn to dance better, then I can't really audition for any musical that involves dancing (well, I could audition, but I wouldn't be likely to get a part), and a lot of musicals involve dancing.

Unfortunately, this really is the end of the audition season for me, as there aren't really any local shows coming up really soon that I haven't auditioned for, and the next round of auditions are for shows that go into November, and I can't really be in a show that goes into November because my students' show for the fall is in November and I need to be available for tech week and performances for them. (We are producing a children's theatre production of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing this fall). So, I guess I will wait until November to start auditioning for winter shows. There are a few good ones coming up, but most of them do involve dance, so it is back to dance class for me. Sigh.

Vinny's Theatre Endeavors...
And then there is Vinny, who has also been auditioning and hoping for a community theatre production to get involved in. His dance auditions haven't gone very well (although he has improved, as he has taken dance classes over the past year), and his voice is pitchy.  It is a crapshoot whether he will hit the right notes or not in his audition pieces. As his summer camp wraps up, he is eager to know what is next.  Last year, we paid for musical theatre workshops that ended in shows (Sound of Music and Peter Pan), as well as dance classes (a lot of them).  I'd say we spent around $2000-$3000 on his artistic development over the course of first grade. We really cannot afford to do that again.  My student loans are coming due and we are also making a valiant effort to pay off credit card debt.  He cannot do multiple things like that this year. I started talking to him about it last night and that was an interesting conversation.

There are several community chorus groups that are holding auditions next month, and I encouraged him to get involved in those. The membership fees are really reasonable (like $300 for the entire year) and I think it would help his singing and improve his chances of getting a part in a community theatre show.  Or he could do more dance classes, which would also help him with theatre. His problem with both of these?  They are mostly girls. In his words, "I want to take a dance class where it is all boys." Well, they only have those for hip hop, but he needs to learn stuff like tap and jazz.  And dance just isn't as popular with boys. Vinny totally doesn't understand this.  I tried explaining it to him last night.

"Vinny, most boys your age are in baseball and basketball and football and stuff like that. Not dance. That's why it is mostly girls in the dance classes."
"I don't EVER want to do baseball or basketball or football!"
"I know that. I'm not saying you should. I'm just saying... Would you rather be at practice or rehearsal?"
"Well, you are unique in that way. Until you are much, much older, like an adult, you are going to be one of just a handful of boys or the only boy, and that's just how it is. You need to just get used to it."

I wish he could understand that this actually makes him very lucky because he will have WAY less competition, even as an adult.  Even the local theatre groups I have auditioned for end up posting notices after auditions that they are still looking for more men.  The professional theatre world is competitive for males, but not really the community theatre world. And as a high school teacher, I have frequently had to double the male parts or turn some into female parts. So, Vinny is lucky to have so little competition. He just doesn't see that yet.

In the meantime, he has requested that he be able to do just theatre stuff right now, not dance classes (although he hasn't completely ruled out chorus, so we will see). I want to find a better one than the ones he did last year. They have moved farther away and they always have like 300 people in each show. I just don't think he learns that much when he cannot get personal attention from the director. I'd rather he do a program that has less kids.  I have begun my search and I have found a few... I just hope we can find a good one that won't totally break our budget. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Ah, how much I enjoy summer.  I cannot believe July is here already (and that my summer break is almost half over)!  We've had a wonderful time making the most of summer the past few weeks. Here is some of what we have filled our time with...


Every summer, I spend a few days with my cousin in Phoenix. Our kids are the same age, so they always have a great time together.  Tracy always comes up with all kinds of fun adventures for us, and the kids love even just hanging out in the pool.   Usually, I go on my own when Marc is busy with youth group stuff,  but this time, he wanted to come. This time, since it was sort of our family vacation for the year too, we stretched it out stopping at Knotts Berry Farm and Palm Springs on the way there.  Wonderful family time.  I really enjoyed just being with my kids and getting to know them again. 

Tiana and her friends playing in the backyard
Mostly, we have been just appreciating the life that we pay so much money for to live here.  We've been having friends over for play dates and going to the beach and other stuff like that. We took the kids to Medieval Times last night. I was kind of worried that it wasn't going to work for Tiana, like that she wouldn't sit still long enough, but she actually LOVED it.  The vegetarian meal was better than I thought it was going to be. When we went to leave, Tiana started crying and didn't want to go.  It was adorable.

Tiana with my mom and my niece at the beach.  It was totally overcast, but way hot.

Movie in the park. Tiana was so excited and ran around nonstop until the movie started, then pretty promptly crashed and fell asleep. 

Backyard Update
I also spent a lot of time this summer updating my backyard with help from Pinterest.  I just got into Pinterest this past year and have used it mostly for collecting recipes and whatnot, but when I started looking at backyard ideas... oh man... HOOKED.  I thoroughly enjoyed looking at other people's ideas for inspiration for my own backyard and collecting the ideas in one spot.  Suddenly, Pinterest seems genius.  Here are some of my own "pin-spired" updates:
After deciding that vegetable gardening is apparently not my think (although I wish it was), I decided to take apart my cinder block square foot gardens and turn them into this bench, inspired by ideas I saw on Pinterest.  The cushions were on clearance at Big Lots (I tried to find some secondhand, but couldn't), which made this an amazingly cheap project. It's a very comfy place and has become one of my favorite spots to chill and talk on the phone with my mom. 

I made Vinny this backyard Tic Tac Toe game out of stone tiles and rocks that we painted. He loves it. Makes a cute play space out of the corner of our backyard. 
I also bought solar twinkle lights for our fence and hung up mirrors and bought a sail shade for the side yard to make it a better place for the kids to play, and we even got a sandbox for free!  My backyard is really becoming an oasis for my family, which is exactly what I had wanted.  I still have some other projects in mind too -- I want to fix up our Little Tikes picnic table with an idea I saw on Pinterest to paint it and cover it with shelf paper. I bought paint to match the cushions on my bench so I can try to tie the entire backyard together with a theme color.  :-)

Vinny's Busy Summer
So, this summer, to help Vinny stay in a structured routine, I bit the bullet and paid for a four week intense performing arts camp that concludes in a production of Beauty and the Beast. He LOVES camp so much that he declined our offer for him to skip the day after Fourth of July and come to Knott's Berry Farm with us.

It is costing us a lot in gas to bring him there and back (it's like 25 miles away) each day, and I miss having him around during the day, but I am glad that he is so happy and having such a good summer. Last summer, it seemed like he just fell apart emotionally without the structure of school, so this has been a much better solution.

      Next week is his last week of camp and they are putting on four performances of the musical, and he is really excited. After the last performance there is a big cast party (late Saturday night), which is going to be interesting because he has to get up the next day and go to church and then leave for summer camp in the mountains.

      Yes, Vinny is going away to camp too this summer.  It is a trip to me to think that he is going away for a week by himself.  Many of my friends have commented that he seems very young for this. Well, yes, he kind of is, but I think it is healthy and fine and good for him. He went last year with Marc and really liked the camp, and so he feels like it is a familiar place that he loves and is excited to go to.  Every LRCC counselor I have ever met has been nothing but warm and loving, so I know that they will care for Vinny and make him feel special.

     In France, even preschool children go on overnight trips. I guess I kind of buy into some of the "Bringing up Bebe" stuff (not all of it -- I don't think infants should be pushed towards independence, but I like the rest of it).  I don't


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Goodbye to my amazing students... hello summer!

Wow, I am shocked yet not at all surprised that I haven't blogged since graduation in May. June FLEW by as I wrapped up things with drama and all of my classes.  My students worked on a speech project for 6 weeks, which concluded in the last couple of weeks of school with formal speeches on stage, with a podium, under the stage lights, with a real audience.  Incredible things happened really. While a few students did not take it seriously, most students took it quite seriously, learned their speeches well, actually made eye contact, and spoke passionately about topics they sincerely cared about. I've been doing this unit (in different ways) for three years, and this was the most successful I have ever felt.  Not only did students really truly learn how to give a speech, they also spoke about meaningful topics that were also quite personal. They planted seeds of thought in the minds of their classmates, parents, and other invited guests. They bravely shared the consequences of bullying and racial profiling. They encouraged their peers not to give up on school and shared their personal triumphs and tragedies. When one student shared about his struggles coming out of the closet, I was horrified to hear about how he was accepted by his family but rejected by peers and the church, told he was going to hell, and how this emotional abuse lead him to consider suicide several times. This teen has bravely overcome and has not given up on life or his faith in God. Best of all, his speech resulted in compassion and support from his peers, which gives me hope that this world is changing for the better.  You know, that's an awesome benefit of working with teenagers -- you get glimpses of what the future holds. Let me tell you... the future will be a more tolerant place.

A pretty large group of my dedicated drama students graduated this week.  This is the first group I have had since freshman year (well, I've had three of them since freshman year). This group was particularly sweet. They were all so humble and hardworking, which really is unique among theatre people. It is sort of an odd thing about actors -- being a successful actor in many ways means having a lot of confidence and resilience and believing in your own talent and abilities (more on this late).  I know this and accept this and am quite good at working with actors with big egos.  When they are super talented and know that they are, it just results in great dedication to theatre, so that's a good thing in a lot of ways. The drama class of 2013 however students often did not really see how incredibly unique and talented they were. They worked very hard to improve and were excellent role models for younger students. I am going to miss them very much.

There was something interesting I noticed this year, particularly through working with Janelle. One of the realities of teaching high school theatre is that you are not blessed with ensembles of 100% dedicated students who "get" what it takes to be successful in theatre.  They often come into drama thinking that putting on a play is all about "play." In reality, it is the exact opposite. Putting on a play is actually a lot of work.  Students think that they can just get up there and "do it" and many think that those who are good at acting just have natural talent, but really, its a little bit about talent and a lot about putting the work into memorizing the lines, analyzing the lines, thinking about the character, and most of all, FOCUSING on stage, which is also a lot of work. Janelle would comment about the ones who were really good, and it was pretty much all of my seniors.  They were good because they KNOW, from experience, that hard work = awesome acting.

The exciting thing is that I have a huge group of juniors who grew a lot this year and started to realize how much hard work it takes, and many of them are coming back next year.  It's going to be a good year.

Returning to my comment about prior comment about resiliency... one would think that by now I would be quite resilient, particularly when it comes to theatre.  I am an overall gregarious individual, so one would think that I could go into an audition exuding confidence and maintaining the ability to demonstrate my talent. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that a month ago I bombed an audition and took it really hard, just because I want so badly to get back on stage (it is #103 on my buried list).  I just got really nervous and didn't do very well. Today, I went to another audition. It seems like a really fun show that I would really like to get a part in, but honestly... today's audition was about more than getting a part; it was about getting back on the horse.

I feel good about how I did in the audition today, which is the most important part. I also realized that Los Angeles has a more vibrant theatre community than I ever realized (and I consider myself fairly involved in the L.A. theatre scene) and I have found a TON of local companies doing auditions for shows. If I pushed hard enough, I could find an audition to go to every single week.  But I am going to try to choose carefully and realistically. There are at least 2 or 3 more audition opportunities I am interested in coming up in July, both of which would wrap before I would need to do tech week with my high school students. I am starting to realize that I am bound to find something here soon... and even if I don't, I will probably find something next winter. This week, I even learned a brand new song from the show for the audition, and I really didn't think I had the ability to learn music that fast, but apparently I do.

While auditioning is hard and facing rejection is even harder, I am hoping that all of this just helps me to better prepare my students for what's really out there, so that some day I can cross of #95 from my buried list (seeing a show on Broadway with one of my former drama students in the cast).  Someday. :-)

Now... time to focus on vacation. Woo hoo.  Last weekend we went to Sacramento for Marc's cousin's wedding, and it was a very nice taste of what it is like to be free and on vacation.  I actually really love summer and road trips and traveling.

 We don't have anything terribly exciting planned, but I am REALLY looking forward to our upcoming vacation to Arizona. While most people think we are crazy to head to Phoenix in the heat of the summer, I think there is nothing better than going when it is so hot that floating in the pool at night is beautifully enjoyable.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Transitioning to Decision Making

 This week, I graduated with my Masters in English Education.  I have been overwhelmed with the support of my family and friends as they have all wished me sincere congratulations. My parents and my in laws all came to my graduation and even threw me a big party (and bought WAY too much food, I might add).  At first, I kind of felt a little silly to be having a big party and whatnot -- I mean, I am already an adult and I already did the graduation celebration when I got my B.A., but my M.A. did feel like an even bigger achievement to me. I mean, when I started the program, I was one of three mothers with small children at home, but oddly... I was the only one of the three who finished. Really, I could not have done it without the support of my family and friends, so celebrating with them was wonderful, and all of the congratulations have felt really good.  Thank you to all of you who showered me with gifts and well wishes.  I used most of these gifts to purchase myself a Kindle Fire, which has been on my wishlist for  like two years, so I am really excited for it to arrive next week.

    And now, I come to terms with the transitionary phase of entering this new chapter of my life. What to do with myself now?

     For the past two years, I have settled into this routine of teaching, grad school, and parenting, with little time for much else, except on breaks.  When my parents staged an intervention in 2011 and tried to talk me out of going back to school, I had promised my mom that I wouldn't do anything else, and I kept my promise -- no other activities or commitments.  I cut down on church commitments. I resisted the urge sign up for travel opportunities through work. I cut down on my commitments at work, saying "No," more than I thought possible. I did no performing, not even at church (okay, I sang once and did one monologue). In some ways, it has been comforting knowing exactly what my life consists of. Few decisions to be made, as there was no time for anything. Instead of having to decide if I wanted to spend my time on something new (a committee, a conference, etc.), I just said, "No," and the decision was done.  Had I not taken this approach, I probably would not have made it through the program. (I guess mother really does know best).

      Over the past year, as things really got hectic, I even sort of stopped going to the gym regularly (which was not something I planned on, nor that I am proud of).  I haven't been to yoga class in so long I don't remember when the last time was. On my break in January, I had started taking some jazz classes and thought I might continue on nights when I got out of grad school early (unfortunately, they were on the same night), but I was always so tired after that I just went home.
      I thought perhaps it was serendipitous that the local cultural arts center was planning auditions for one of my favorite musicals the same week as my graduation. I saw this as my opportunity to break the fast, if you will, but alas it was not to be.  I got really nervous and blew the audition... and there was also no way I could compete with other hopefuls who have dedicated their lives to theatre. Although theatre is my passion, I have instead followed my calling to teach. I just long to have something for me again, something to nurture my artistic self, which is at the very core of who I am as a person. Thus, getting the "Thanks, but no thanks," call on Thursday night was particularly heart breaking.

      I have given up a lot of myself over the last five years. My mom always criticizes me for trying to "have it all."  A couple of years ago, I would have told you that there is nothing wrong with me trying to have it all. In some ways, "having it all," becomes a feminist manifesto, and like it or not, I guess I am more of a feminist than I ever intended to be; however, as my favorite modern feminist, Sheryl Sandberg points out, "No matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all. Nor can they. The very concept of having it all flies in the face of the basic laws of economics and common sense. Being a working parent means making adjustments, compromises and sacrifices every day... Just as expectations about work hours have risen dramatically, so have expectations of how much time mothers will spend focused on their children. An employed mom today spends about the same amount of time reading to, feeding and playing with her children as a non-employed mother did in 1975. " (from her book, Lean In).
      She is right.  Life is naturally about compromises and sacrifices, but I have spent much of my life fighting this reality. When I was 18, I read a book, Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer, and it sparked a change in my life that has been molding me ever since, guiding me to become who I am. I have since discovered that this profoundly wise man is a teacher, and in his book The Courage to Teach, he says, “By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.” As I have grown as a person, more fully accepting who I am, I acknowledge this about myself -- my inner being longs to change the world.  Teaching is the business of changing the world, one student at a time, and it is an incredibly gratifying job... overall. The day to day life of a teacher is, however, rather thankless. My days are long. I take work home (lots of it, although I am getting better at getting it done at school, which I didn't even think was possible in my first two years of teaching).  I plan constantly in my head. And students can be very harsh sometimes. Like this month. This month has been hard. 

      During teacher appreciation week, my friends' photos of thank you notes and pictures were hurting my heart because my students were in a foul mood. I had just assigned their final project of the year -- a speech -- which they deemed to be "too hard" and were punishing me for assigning and fighting me for not "helping" them more.  I put this in quotation marks because I provided them with a TON of guidance and opportunities for tutoring and extra help, but students today tend to be a little put off by projects that involve creative thought.  They'd far rather you tell them what to do and give them a formula to do it.  When you assign something like, "Give a 2-5 minute speech about something you feel passionately about," they panic.  If you gave them a worksheet to fill in the blanks and asked them to just say the speech, they'd be okay, but asking them to produce original thought about topics we discussed in class... that involves quite a bit of thought and so they fought me on it, although I created videos modeling my thought process and gave them tons of samples and guided them through types of evidence to use as support, several of them kept saying things along the lines of, "Can't you just give me a list of choices?"  This is the problem of a bubble-test driven world. 

    But little by little, they've come around.  They've written unique, creative speeches on the importance of making friends with Muslim people, and the benefits of participating in traditions from other cultures, and the problem with society's objectification of women. One student is sharing her personal experience with the dangers of "sexting" and another student is talking about how he does not define himself by his homosexuality and so his peers shouldn't either. I didn't ask or even suggest this kind of bravery, but the students have come into their own and are excited for this. When they were practicing with their speeches this week, one group of typically low achieving boys started yelling and cheering, while one member of the group appeared to be doing a victory lap of some kind with his head wrapped in a towel.  I went over to see what was up, certain one of them had just made a terribly inappropriate joke.  When I got there, they shared that the student with the towel on his head had worked on his speech a lot since the day before, adding a visual aid (his towel wrapped head), to make a point about people's often incorrect stereotypes of Middle Eastern people. Although they had given him some harsh criticism the day before, today they had all agreed that his speech was a "Yes" on all areas of the feedback sheet (hence the victory lap).  I laughed as I walked back to my classroom to print an article I thought he would enjoy. 

      It's moments like these when I remember why I do what I do.  The seniors are giving their distinguished grad speeches this week and one senior, who will enter UC Berkley this fall as at least a sophomore, if not a junior, spoke about moments that had changed her life, like learning that you truly can climb a mountain if you put your mind to it (literally and figuratively) as part of my honors English "Buried Life" unit (its related to literature and research and a bunch of other English type things, I swear) and learning responsibility and leadership by assistant directing plays in drama. She spoke about teamwork and the importance of the entire ensemble and what being supportive really means, and she spoke from a place of sincerity and grace that I have seen a million times as she has happily understudied any missing cast member at any given time.  I have learned so much from this amazing young woman's outlook on life, yet there she was honoring the learning experiences I had facilitated.  When I look at the $24K in student loans it has taken to get me to this point... I can honestly say it is worth every penny. (Of course, I'm still in the deferral stage, so you might want to ask me if I feel the same in six months). 

     Perhaps the most touching graduation congratulations I received was from a former student who told me that he was proud of me and that I inspire him to pursue ambitious goals. Wow...  I thought about that all day.  It is one thing to tell students that they can do anything they put their minds to and another to show them that it is true. 

     So what am I putting my mind to now?  #103 on my buried list.  Get back on stage.  

     I need to act again.  So I am trying to thicken my skin, recover from rejection, and move on... 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spring Blues

      This past week has felt like a month for a lot of reasons.  This has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of the students are experiencing end of the year blues.  My students are normally very responsible and very respectful, but there have been a lot of discipline issues this week. Even students who aren't necessarily doing anything wrong are just really dragging. It is hard to explain, but this is the best way I can explain it:
      Yesterday, as we transition from silent reading time (first ten minutes of class) to our work for the day, I instruct students, "Okay, get to a good stopping point, then please take out your homework, your speech packet, your notes from yesterday, and a piece of paper."  This is fairly routine for my class. They finish reading and I let them know what they need for the day, which is also on the board with our agenda for the day and our objective for the day.  I have a sign that says: "What's Due?"  under which I always write whatever is due that day first, so they know to take it out.  It is May.  These routines are clearly established.  Yet, yesterday, several students finish a paragraph in their books, put their books down, then just sort of stare at me. I see the glazed over look in their eyes, so I repeat my instructions.  Students start to reach for their backpacks, spending a ridiculous amount of time digging for their papers.  By this point in the year, few of them have any school supplies left, and parents in my community don't budget for this in May, so they all get up and wander towards my supply shelf, where I eye the packages of notebook paper, trying to estimate if what I have left is even going to last all day, partially irritated that they didn't grab this on the way in the door anyway. Despite my circulating, urging students to expedite this process, at least three minutes pass before all students have their materials out and are ready to learn. That might not sound like a lot, but I prefer my transitions to be much quicker. 
      Another source of frustration has been my honors class.  I have frequently been told by my previous honors students that the class really feels like a family by the end of the year.  That didn't happen this year. In fact, it is just the opposite, but I have no idea why.  I didn't do anything differently.  I still did all of the projects that I designed to create a sense of community. In fact, if anything, I thought I did better at them this year, but this group is just really competitive and doesn't want to be a family.  They don't like each other... and I don't really blame them.  There are a lot of strong personalities in there that aren't really compatible, and they don't really want to help each other.  I was a junior in college before I figured out that working together with my classmates was really the best way to ensure success.  We all "get" different things in class, and we all have different ways of explaining them, which is to the benefit of all of us if we share.  My masters cohort is really good at this.  When our professor's instructions for an assignment are unclear, someone usually starts a "What are we supposed to do?" email, to which everyone replies all, and eventually we all get it.  Having had these experiences myself as a student, I design my advanced classes to really support this learning attitude, but it just didn't "take" this year, which I am finding sort of depressing. It's even to the extent that I am going to need to dump the final project I had planned.  It just isn't going to work with this group.  I find this both depressing and stressful, as I am going to have to adjust my planning, and as mentally exhausted as I am right now, I just don't have the mental energy to plan something new right now, but I'm going to have to.  Sigh.
         This week was also, as many of you know, production week for my drama class.  I attempted a full-length (albeit slightly abridged) Shakespeare production this year, which was for sure the hardest show I have ever produced.  The majority of my drama students speak English as their second language, and although they are mostly proficient in English, Shakespeare is a horse of a different color. It was like teaching them an entirely different language, while also teaching them method acting and stage movement and all those other important things.  Even with Janelle's assistance, this was still an incredibly difficult achievement, which was not made any easier by the enormous cast size, or by the fact that I double cast many key roles, which gave me half as much time to work with those actors. However, the show went off without any major hitches, and the students did a solid job, at least for high school students anyway.  Their comedy got thunderous laughter last night and Borachio and Margaret's scandalous scene got quite an uproar.  When Claudio disgraced Hero at the wedding scene, the audience collectively gasped in horror for her, which is totally the intended impact of that scene, so that was really cool.  Overall, I am really proud of our collective achievement.... and really exhausted. 
      This show has just drained me so much that I came home every night utterly exhausted and too mentally drained to get any work done on my last few projects of my masters program. I even turned in an assignment late, which was a first for me.  I don't think I have ever been late on any assignment before, at least not in my masters program or my credential program.  I think I was late on one assignment in my bachelor's program, but that was because I gave birth to Vinny that week (and the professor excused it).
         I am just a few assignments from being really done with it all, but I got nothing done on any of them this week.  As I lay on the couch after rehearsal mindlessly catching up on episodes of Smash, I was mentally chastising myself for not working on it all, but I really could not mentally function at the level required to write papers.  Now, it is the weekend, and I am recovering, but I am probably going to need to spend this whole weekend making up for it, which really sucks, because I'd much rather spend this beautiful weekend spending time with my kids, who I really missed over the last week.
      Tech week/production week means I leave before my kids wake up and get home after they go to bed, so I really, really missed them this week.  I am going to be so excited to be done with this program just to spend guilt-free time with my kids. Just another week.  Pretty much everything is due this Thursday.  Now, if I can only get through the next four days.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Four days more...

      The lyrics to "One Day More" from Les Miserables are running through my head as I build my proverbial barricade and try to survive the next four days and somehow win this battle.  Let's hope it turns out better for me than for the students' revolution. 

     Thursday is opening night for Much Ado About Nothing.  I also have two papers due that night.  Fortunately, after spending six hours on it last night, one of them is essentially feeling done.  Thank God it was a paper on the benefits of the arts in education. Somehow writing about the intense language learning that happens while rehearsing Shakespeare made me actually believe that, even though I will pretty much not see my daughter until Saturday, I am doing something worthwhile with this next week... not just yelling at teenagers to "PROJECT!" 

     If you look up "Hell Week" on urban dictionary, you will find that the first explanation refers to that point around finals when college students experience various stages of distress and anxiety.  The third explanation referred to it as "the week of a theatrical performance, when the cast and crew practically live at school and communicate with their family members through notes." This made me laugh, as I glance at the jambalaya recipe I have taped next to the stove (annotated to remind my family of the pre-diced veggies in tupperware in the fridge). Like I said... building my barricade, since this week is "hell week" for me by both urban definitions. Ironically, I don't particularly like the term "hell week."  When Marc made reference to it yesterday, I commented that it isn't a term I normally use, since "hell" indicates "bad," when the results of hell week are often rather good.  Some of the best work gets done when you turn up the heat (no pun intended). 

     And so, this weekend, I have attempted to build the barricade by making dinner plans and stocking the fridge and freezer so my husband and kids don't resort to drive-thrus, by straightening my hair so I don't have to think about how crappy it looks when I wake up in the morning (although it inevitably still will), by attempting to finish the papers early, by setting all the bills that are due to pay automatically, and by watching Smash to remind myself that even theatre professionals feel like everything is falling apart. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

At the center of what it means to be human

      Have you ever had that moment of realization where you come face-to-face with your finite nature and realize that your season for something has truly passed?  I have had many of those moments lately; they can be truly depressing.

      When I was little, I wanted very much to be an actress.  (Okay, when I was four years old, I went through a stage when I wanted to be a doctor, and I went through a brief stage where I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist, but mostly I wanted to be an actress).  Growing up in the shadow of Hollywood, for me, that meant, of course, I wanted to be a movie star.  Until I got just a little older and realized that I hate watching myself on camera. Like, seriously, hate.  I still do. So, I went with my heart and soul and became a teacher. 

      Not that I don't love being a teacher. And sincerely, I am called to be teacher. Looking back, I've known it all along.  There is this book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, in which he talks about how who we really are at the core is who we were as children, before we started adapting our passions and dreams to the worlds expectations. When I look back at myself as a child, I was a born teacher before I was even a students.  When I was like 3, I lined all my stuffed animals up on the porch swing for a "class picture," my dad, the amateur photog, of course obliged with his fancy camera.  He even blew the picture up and framed it.  But that is besides the point.  I just know that I have always, at the core of my being, been called to be a teacher. 

     But then, there is this other part of me, the part that, in my teenage years, discovered the stage, that is  still so enamored with the stage. I love acting on stage so, so, so much -- it is like a drug.  The rush I get from performing for a live audience is like nothing I could ever explain to someone who has not experienced it. Those of you who have know exactly what I am talking about. In November, when I went on a cruise with my in-laws, I auditioned for this show they have on the last night where some of the cruise guests get to be in the show.  I ended up getting to perform on stage as Gloria Estefan.  It was so cheesy and the costume was, well, horrific (don't expect to see clips of it -- I will NOT be posting them, as I said, I don't like myself on film), but I hadn't felt that good in a long, long time.  There were hundreds of people in the audience, and I just totally gave it my all, and it just felt, well, phenomenal. 

     Aside from the rush of the huge audience, there's this cathartic element to acting too. The energy, the escapism, the chance to completely dive into a fictional character's life and problems. That part of acting is therapeutic to a person's soul.  A few weeks ago, when a scene I am directing was falling flat, I got up on stage and took an actresses place so that she could see where the energy was falling. I rarely, rarely do that, but in this case, it worked.  When I got off stage after, I was shaking and out of breath from the intensity of the scene.  I had almost forgotten what that felt like. 

      When I do things like that... when I watch shows like Smash (which sometimes manages to hit me right at my emotional center and leave me breathless), I find that part of my soul aching.  I recently did a research project on the arts in education, and I found this quote that defined the arts better than I had ever been able to define it in my own head: theatre "[taps] into deeply cultural and expressive aspects of people's lives that are at the center of what it means to be human."  

    When I am acting is when I feel most in touch with what it means to be human. On stage, I am in touch with parts of my innermost being, and those parts are so terribly out of use these days that they almost physically hurt. 

     And then I have those moments where I think to myself? Why not? Is it ever really too late to chase a dream? Why not chase the Broadway dream?  I've always been a dreamer.  I've always believed that, if you can dream it, you can do it. But who am I kidding...  I would never, ever, ever leave teaching to pursue a career on Broadway, and even if I wanted to, even in my most optimistic moments, I could never fool myself into thinking that it was even close to a reality. I am, in Broadway terms, old, and terribly inexperienced.  And I do not really know how to dance. Even learning simple choreography takes me a long time. And I have a career... as a teacher. I'm a teacher. 

     I rarely feel old.  I usually look at my life and think, "I'm not even 30... I've got my whole life ahead of me," but when it comes to certain things...  that's just not true. 

    But, the passion in my soul longs not for Broadway fame and fortune. I long only for the drug-like delight I find on stage. And so, as soon as I finish this darn Masters degree, I will pursue my passion again.  I will audition for community theatre. I will not give up so easily. I will not make a million excuses for not auditioning. I will return to the jazz class I had started taking in January, so I don't always get rejected because of my lack of dance training.  Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Thursday, April 18, 2013


      At around nine o'clock this evening, I dragged myself from class to the parking lot, thinking of nothing but my pajamas and a glass of chardonnay. As I climbed into my car and turned the key, the CD player awoke to blast the album that has pretty much become the theme of my life lately: Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown.
     And then it hit me. Tonight is Green Day's LA concert. As I looked at the clock I thought, they probably just took the stage. The past six months flashed before my eyes -- buying tickets to the Las Vegas concert, realizing we were too broke and too busy to afford it, selling back the tickets, Green Day announcing the LA concert, Marc asking me about buying tickets, me checking my calendar and saying, "No, we can't, I have class until late that night and it's the last one before the paper is due... besides, we can't afford it."


     Like the fact that I haven't even met my new niece yet. Or that I didn't even see Tiana's beautiful face at all today. And that I am not taking a personal day tomorrow to spend with Marc and the kids (Vinny has no school tomorrow). Priorities.  There is just too much to do.
      So, as I pulled out of the parking lot, I pumped the volume up to an intensity that would allow me to feel it in my bones, and pretty much cried the entire way home.
      Ironically, as I pushed the knob towards a certainly dangerous decibel, a providentially appropriate chorus filled my soul:
"Well I, I just want to see the light
And I, I don't want to lose my sight
Well, I, I just want to see the light
And I need to know what's worth the fight." 

      What's worth the fight?  My students are worth the fight.  The obvious progress they make each and every day -- worth the fight.  My education is worth the fight.  The impact my masters program has had on my teaching -- worth the fight.  Finishing strong and keeping my commitments -- worth the fight. Pushing my drama students to strive for excellence in exceedingly difficult endeavors... like performing Shakespeare -- worth the fight.

     And I do see the light at the end of the tunnel, I truly do. It's just that life is an insane marathon of work right now.  Much Ado About Nothing hits the stage on May 2nd, and we are far from ready, so there is much work to do on that front.  The next round of report cards is due May 7th and I have a huge pile of papers to be graded (and more on the way).  My graduate school work is all due May 9th.  I have this feeling of impending doom, like, if I let my guard down for a minute, one of my carefully cooking pots is going to boil over and burn past the point of salvaging.

Here's to friends willing to read a 32 page paper.
     And honestly, a tunnel is truly not the best description of my current situation. The light really is not at the end, but all around me.  The light is in friends from afar who post encouraging comments on facebook.  It is in my truly dedicated comrades who spent hours last Thursday sitting around my kitchen table, reading and responding to my thesis paper. The light is my devoted husband who arranged for his parents to bring my son home from youth group last night so I could have a few uninterrupted hours to work. It is in my daughter who understands that mommy needs to be on her computer and is willing to bond by just cuddling beside me on the couch in the evenings. The light is the friend who cheerfully gives of her last few days in California to help my students do Shakespeare well. The light is my incredibly selfless mother, who cleans my house and does my laundry and does whatever she can to make life... well... possible.  I see the light.

     And, I, don't want to lose my sight.

     Because it truly does take a village.  And when I get that ever-loving piece of paper on May 23rd... it is going to mean so incredibly much more than I had ever really imagined to me and to them.

Because that is the power of community.