Friday, December 28, 2012

This Good Bye Will be Different





My church has always been what I considered a "sending" church. It seems we always have great people for a season of time and then they are sent out to serve. It is cool to know all of these people over the years who have moved throughout the country to serve in a different capacity or become missionaries. And it's also always been hard to see them go.

In only a few days' time, my church and my family will say good-bye to our current Pastor and his family, as they move back to their home state after about twenty years of serving in the military and/or church in other states, about seven or so of those years with us in Ohio. They are excited and we are excited for them, as it has long been a dream to live near their families again. However, it's bittersweet to see them go.

Pastor Jason and his wife Frances came into our lives at a time when my husband and I were just opening up to the idea of getting to know people. They treated us like family and through that showed us what friendship truly entails. They brought very different perspectives on long held beliefs into our lives, teaching us to examine and reflect on topics ourselves, being transparent about themselves and their experiences. It wasn't always rainbows and butterflies between us, we had our rough times as we changed personally and as we all learned what it meant to live life with each other. Even in the hard times I feel we grew and learned so much about who we are and what it means to be with other people in this life.

When someone comes into your life and makes a huge difference, it's hard to fathom going back or being without them. Of course, there's also the matter of finding someone or something in the right place at the right time. All of this comes together to make a difficult good-bye.

People tend to measure friendship through contact, words exchanged, events experienced, etc. And while these are all signs of friendship (who after all wants a friend who never tries to engage with you?), I've come to realize that a strong friendship can endure distance. I will even venture to say that distance can make a good friendship better. Perhaps because there is a deeper connection at work.  Who knows? I've not experienced it yet, but I feel peace about the thought and the reassurance Jason and his family have given of this being their experience over their years of moving.

Memories are abundant. (Heck, I have three or four of Frances's Filipino recipes that will recall memories every time we prepare them...let alone the bigger memories.) And with texting and FB we will keep in touch without a doubt. I'm sure future plans for visits will come about. But for now, this piece of our time together is over and it will stand as a turning point in our lives. We will all purposely take what we've learned from and through each other and move forward into other relationships and situations, hopefully touching and influencing lives as ours have been. In these ways, this good bye will be different.

God bless you Jason and Frances, and your children Kylie, Melina, and Caleb (and your new son-in-law Parker too), as you follow His lead in this new adventure. We feel at times you were brought to crazy Ohio just for us, so thank you for obeying the call. You will be missed and there aren't exactly words to say it, except that, as you've always told us, this isn't really good bye.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Survivor Mode is Extinct in 2013.


When you start out life with an attitude and quite a few things working against you, there's nothing to do but charge ahead and do what it takes to stay alive. And for about ten or so years that was the mode my husband and I worked in...Survivor. Days, weeks, months were wished away as we worked just to pay the bills and awaited the next event to take place. And events always wore off quickly, which left us awaiting the next.

And before you know it, you're ten years down the road with three kids and a schedule of stress wondering how the heck you got to this point and how you are going to survive the remainder of it. Survivor mode has become a trap.

There is a time and place for survivor mode I suppose. It really is what got us through the tough beginning and my husband's years of weird afternoon/night shifts that left him nothing but exhausted and me a single parent working full time. But when my husband was laid off from his job in 2009, we suddenly felt like a complete family with a regular schedule, although that didn't stop survivor mode from pushing us along. With my husband now fully present, I no longer needed to make most of the decisions, but I did. My kids had grown out of those easily controlled little kid stages without my ability to communicate changing with them. My identity and the way I viewed life changed drastically, but the very essence of survivor mode fights against everything I want to stand for. Old habits die hard and everything that survivor mode had previously used to make our lives work, is starting to work against us.

Now, as 2012 comes to a close, I find that the past year or two has been weaning us from our survivalist leanings while also giving us warnings about what will happen if we don't let go. With my dedicated husband, three amazing kids, and a wonderful teaching job, life should be about living, not just merely surviving. From here on out, I want my life to be about the living...day to day enjoyment of what God has so richly blessed me with: my husband and kids, my students and co-workers, and my family and friends. I want my life to be about the living of others...reaching out to those in need, to be a friend, and fully realizing every other person and/or opportunity that comes across my path. No more wishing away time or wishing for a better time. The time is now.

Ecclesiastes says, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." Don't miss the seasons of life! Even the hard seasons serve the purpose of making us stronger in some way, although it may mean breaking us down first.

So welcome 2013! Day by day I will walk as one living and bring life where I tread. Two goals are set (one among my little family and one among strangers) to carry me through the year (and beyond). Instead of wondering where I'll stand on them six months from now, I think I'll just take it a day at a time and enjoy the journey. Maybe I'll find something I would've otherwise missed. Actually, I'm counting on it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Goodbye, but not really...




This week the main writing blog I follow closed down after four years. Agent/Editor Betsy Lerner (author of The Forest for the Trees and Food and Loathing), is rightfully taking her time and moving it toward her actual writing goals. Her wit and smarts on the topic of writing and the publishing community sustained many people over the years, in her book and on her blog.

Although I've had Betsy's writing book for ten years, I only Googled her and found her blog in July. So being a relatively new comer, I don't feel I can share in the sentimentality as much as others blogging about her goodbye. However, she is a magnetic personality and to learn so much from someone in a short time is something for which to be grateful. I will miss the moment when I opened my email to see a new post or the list of comments from the last time I'd stopped by to comment myself. So it is goodbye Betsy, but not really...

When someone pours into your life, they never really leave you do they? Whether it be negative or positive, we find a way to settle in with it and live...negative being the harder task by far. So Betsy will never leave her readers so long as they retain her lessons and wisdom.

Not to mention her community. As much as I enjoyed Betsy herself, her crazy array of followers made the reading fun too. I've started following many of their blogs as well over the past months and am glad I did. Now I still have that community, although not all in one place, I have these people who understand a writer's world and what it means to be living a writing life. And in the end, that was my whole purpose for blogging in the first place. These people were as much my inspiration to start my own blog as anything. Together we can keep inspired, as Betsy has taught us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On the Up-and-Up




It has been awhile since my last post, as my writer friend M pointed out to me in an attempted inspirational text yesterday. What a pain he is, holding me accountable to my writing and all that crap! I purposely hadn't been thinking of it because I've felt at a loss for topics. Mainly because life is good right now. Usually when there's something stirring I get the urge to put it into words. Anyone who knows me well enough, knows my mind processes through the written word. So, a serious or informational conversation with someone sinks in better when I write it (and my thoughts) out. (Of course that leads to more questions and musings, which leads to more conversations and I've even had friends hold that against me...it's annoying I guess?)

But anyway, life is good...for now. There are always seasons of life and I don't expect one to last any longer than another. After three years of schooling and either not working or working part time, my husband has found his niche in the computer world and we are both excited about the job opportunities opening up for him.

My job is going just as well, of course I love my job too, so that helps. I currently have a student teacher who is doing a splendid job and between the two of us, we've recently seen some successes with a couple lower achieving students. Nothing better than seeing hard work pay off, especially when it works to the good of another. Having a student teacher has made me reevaluate my job and what I should be doing to revamp my strategies and style. I find myself giving advice and ideas that I've let go and she comes up with impressive plans, so I feel more motivated through all of it.

My kids are doing well, as I said in my last post. We've been implementing more family based activities to keep us close knit as these teen years approach. The kids seem enthusiastic about it and have come up with ideas beyond what my husband and I were thinking.

I signed up to volunteer at a new place and I'm excited about it, as it was something I'd long considered (more on that at a later date). My Christmas shopping will be done as of this week. I know, it's pretty close to Christmas, but I got it all done in a couple days here and there, which means it hasn't been time consuming and that's important to me. 

We painted our kitchen and dining room a nice country green in a matter of a few hours Sunday and we're buying the paint next week to do the living room in an almond mocha brown the day after Christmas! Nine years of cream colored walls (not to mention being broke) makes this a very exciting event. Also exciting is the fact that our house is one big example of DIY. With some pointers and help from my dad, Brandon and I have been able to do every area of "fix up" on our house together. It's been a fun nine years of home improvements. Our next projects are an extended front porch and a bathroom in the basement. I am very blessed with a husband who is willing to step out and try new things...like carpentry ;)

So, this has become a post of random good things that I'm not even going to edit before posting, but what else can I say? It's the best of times, the age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, the season of Light, the spring of hope, we have everything before us, and Heaven is smiling down upon us. Hmmm, no, someone's already said that.

Hope things are looking up for you and yours this Christmas season.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How Much of Me Is It?


The few days before Thanksgiving were parent teacher conferences at my kids' school. Because my 8th grader takes Freshman Algebra, I ended up talking to teachers from all three buildings in our little district. Every teacher spent little time talking about my kids' academics, saying mostly that they participate in class and are keeping up just fine.

This of course, is very nice to hear, especially being a teacher myself. The three Honor Roll report cards were amazing to see, especially because this year felt like a key year for them. My oldest took on higher level math and made a B. My eleven-year-old entered sixth grade fresh out of intensive math tutoring from last year. After spending her first five years of school struggling to do her best, putting in double or triple the work of others, she made honor role - pretty close to all A's even! And my youngest in second grade seems to be right on task after some reading tutoring last year. Yes, definitely bragging! They all faced their own academic challenges going into this year and they all came out on top!

However, just as important to me is what else the teachers had to say. They each praised my kids' personalities and character. The Algebra teacher said he is so proud of my oldest daughter's work ethic, that she is friendly and a pleasure to have around. He told me, "You've done a great job with her." Oh, well, thanks.

The Science teacher, who has both my daughters this year (in different classes of course), said the same about my oldest and added that my middle daughter is so friendly, inquisitive, and helpful. She loves them both. Same from the social studies teacher. Wow, okay.

My son's teacher talked the least about his academics and jumped right to telling us that he was the most compassionate kid in the class. His ability to empathize with others was truly touching. And she gave us examples to back it up. She couldn't say enough about him. Once again, "You've done a great job with him." Well, I know he's a sweetheart and all...

Well, I was glowing for two days of course. Nothing better than great conferences with your kids' teachers. But then two more conversations caught my attention on this topic. Had a great conversation with a friend the day after conferences, in which she mentioned how my kids seemed like good kids and had it together, so to speak (not her exact words...I was too caught off guard to remember exact words). I remember commenting, "They don't always seem that way to me at all!" She laughed and said she feels the same about hers at times.

The second incident was just today. We ran into my oldest's piano teacher and we talked awhile. She was also my piano teacher in high school. Her husband, who also gives lessons, said about my daughter, "She is a great kid. You've done a wonderful job with her."

These last two conversations are what really got me thinking about my kids - their accomplishments, character and even their flaws...how much of me is it really? Years ago, when they were very little, I remember telling a co-worker I hoped my kids would grow up to be great kids like her daughters. I'd actually had her youngest as a student and they are great girls. She told me, "They'll be fine. The apple never falls far from the tree." I nodded and hoped I could be a better tree before they got much older!

I mean, I feel like I'm bumbling around, second guessing, randomly placing rules or giving liberties as we go. Even intentional acts on my part don't play out how I would like or think is best. And while I do have certain expectations, rules, and ways in which I lead their lives, I also feel like I mess them up as much as any good I contribute! And so, with them becoming such wonderful young people (I mean, six different people saying it in the same week? I'm going to take their word for it!), I wonder, how much of me is it? And what are the chances they can continue this way in spite of me?

Anyone else suffer from crazy parenting thoughts? Or have grown kids and have looked back and figured this all out? ;)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Breaking Dawn 2 broke the audience

NO Spoilers, I Promise!!!!

I saw Breaking Dawn 2 tonight. For anyone who has invested time in the books and movies over the years, you have probably found one of the biggest draws of books: investment in the lives of characters, for whatever reason. I find myself invested in characters for different reasons. Sometimes characters remind me of myself, who I want to be, let me escape reality, make me thankful, make me brave...and the list just goes on really.

Even knowing this as a lifetime reader, I was surprised to witness it firsthand tonight. Yes, I've seen audience reactions to all of the Twilight movies so far, but this one was far and above the most impressive audience reactionary movie of the series.

Without spoiling the actual events of the movie, let me just say, the point at which the audience's simultaneous heart attack took place was amazing to see. Yes, I was watching the movie and reacting too, but the reader in me couldn't help but notice a packed movie theater of people reacting to the events of a couple characters in particular. At the exact moment of shock a collective breath was drawn, hands flew into the air, people yelled, made exclamations, and heads turned to those beside them in disbelief, mouths open but speechless.

My sister-in-law sitting next to me muttered a couple times about how much the movie was starting to piss her off. I myself wanted to whip out my iPhone and post to FB, "Stefanie Meyer, what the hell is wrong with you?!"

And all this for what? Reaction to a character. A central character to whom we've attached ourselves and whatever the books have meant to us over the years. And this is fantasy! Imagine realistic fiction and nonfiction. The connections made between life and story are never ending and thrive with the possibility of inspiration and life changing thought.

As far removed as I felt from the series going into the theater tonight (I mean it has been at least three years or more since I've read the books...I've literally read hundreds of books since then), this instant, the audience's reaction as much as the scene, brought the story, its characters, and purpose back to life for me. The way only a good story and a well drawn character can.

Oh, and yes, I recommend anyone following the Twilight saga to get themselves to a theater ASAP. Take a defibrillator, you're gonna need it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In Memoriam 4



Fast forward through the busy summer (which I spent in class and at home writing 20 page finals to finish grad school) to the new school year, 2008-2009. I see Paul around the school, but not as much because he has moved on to tenth grade, so I don't have him in class. The year moves along as school years are wont to do.

November 9th, fourth period, I am in the middle of a grammar lesson for my 7th graders. (Strangely enough, those same 7th graders are my 11th graders right now, in 2012.) Another teacher walks in and says he is there to cover the rest of the period for me. I'm confused because I wasn't told I had a meeting of any kind. He's as clueless as I am, but as I  sum up the end, assign their homework and pack up my stuff, an administrator comes in and walks me down the hall. "We're just going down the hall here to tell you something...don't worry, it's not your family or anything." What!? I wasn't really thinking of anything specific or bad, let alone a problem with my family! What was this?

We stopped just a few doors down and she let me into a small office, locking the door behind us. Inside there were two teachers seated in chairs to my left and another standing directly in front of me, in the doorway of another little office. I didn't really notice anything because I didn't know what to expect. If I had paid attention upon entering I would've noticed wet cheeks and downcast eyes.

"Paul was found dead this morning. He hung himself," the teacher in the doorway was able to get out in a quick, shallow breath.

I remember a silence so pervasive I could feel it pressing in and counting down through the tick of my watch. I heard, rather than felt, my bag drop from my shoulder, hitting the ground with a solid thump. Hot tears spilled from my eyes, instantly chilling on my cheeks, as I took the two big steps to the teacher in the doorway. Although shorter than me, she leaned into the embrace I offered, the shared sorrow.

After a minute we sat in the little inner office together, in silence. They wanted to tell me and a couple others before they sent a school wide announcement out. And thanks to the technology of texting, word was getting around through the few students who knew. I wondered at first why they chose to tell me separately, not realizing my previous efforts with Paul placed me in close proximity to him. Looking back now I am grateful for their respect of my feelings because I had been more involved than I realized, but they had noticed.

We never heard the exact events...a fight and he ran off is all I was told. But who knows what "fight"consists of, who was involved, what was said, what was done.

I went on to my next period class at the bell, where we happened to be given a handout to announce Paul's passing as gently as possible. Most of my class, only a year behind him in school, said things like, "Who?" "Oh, well I don't know him." And life moved on.

I am not one to struggle over death. My family has always mourned, but we were not raised to commemorate it, to make it a ghost that haunts us. And I never have (although I don't know what I'll do if it's ever my immediate family). But this one has stuck with me. For a long time I could not look at his bus stop, which was the end of the road he lived on, and beyond the dead end of that short road, the woods in which they found him.

My husband and niece (who attends my school) attended the calling hours with me. I didn't know if I wanted to go, but students who knew Paul kept asking if I was going, so I went as much for them as myself and Paul. The school very kindly volunteered a substitute so a few of us teachers could attend the funeral. To this day I have not listened to the song they played at his funeral, even though it had been on my iPod before. My husband and I bought a copy of Chris Crutcher's Ironman, labeled with a dedication in memory of Paul inside the front cover, for the school library. His obit from the newspaper is clipped and tucked away in my fire proof box with my car title, marriage license, birth certificates, and teaching certificates. And every year since, on November 9th, I have commemorated him on my Facebook page and classroom whiteboard quietly, without fanfare, but always remembering.

Always remembering because Paul is my reminder that there is more to people than what we see and even what they will show us. Of how our lives have the ability to touch others, but we have to be intentional about it. We cannot be afraid of messing up because we will. We cannot allow ourselves to be too afraid of the messiness of life - it is reaching into that messiness and meeting people where they are that shows them you care most. It's where we make the biggest difference. Paul is my reminder to reach out and love the people around me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Memoriam 3

 
 
At the time of our field trip I was taking one of my last two classes for graduate school. The class was a study on Whitman and Dickinson, not two of my favorite people. But my perspective changed that semester and in large part thanks to Paul. Less than a month after our trip, I read through some of Dickinson's poems with newly opened eyes. #439, "I had been hungry, all the years" caught me and stuck. Connecting with what Paul had taught me about life in the past month, here is a portion of a paper I wrote in that class, starting with Dickinson's poem first.


I had been hungry, all the years -
My Noon had come - to dine -
I, trembling, drew the Table near -
And touched the Curious Wine -

'Twas this on Tables I had seen -
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows - for the Wealth
I could not hope - for Mine-

I did not know the ample Bread -
'Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature's - Dining Room -

The Plenty hurt me -'twas so new -
Myself felt ill - and odd -
As Berry - of a Mountain Bush -
Transplanted - to the Road -

Nor was I hungry - so I found
That Hunger - was a way
Of persons Outside Windows -
The entering - takes away -


Keeping in mind the literal definition of hunger, this poem is about a poor person who has not eaten well in years. In the second stanza we learn she has only glimpsed good food through the windows of more fortunate people and she had no hope of ever having that much, while the third stanza holds her marvel at the difference between a loaf of bread and a crumb. The last two stanzas reveal the speaker's awkwardness at being so well provided for; the food is in overwhelming abundance and, now that it is in front of her, she cannot bear to eat. This meaning is both rational and straightforward, as a person unaccustomed to eating well will become sick after eating a normal size portion of food.

On Dickinson's typically deeper level, this poem is about starvation of the soul. It is best explained with an analogous, yet true, story. Stanza by stanza, take a ninth grade student named Paul. Stanza one: At a young age he watched the cops tote his father and brother off to jail, his sister resides in a juvenile detention hall, and his mother's custody of him hangs by a thread because of her abusiveness. By now, Paul is emotionally and spiritually starved. Paul misbehaves because any decent "touch" of goodness is "Curious" and causes him to "tremble."

Stanza two: He attends school where at least ninety percent of the population is better off than he is or will ever be. He knows what success looks like, he sees it through the "Windows" of his teachers' careers and families, the clothes and cars of the other students, as well as the seniors applying for college. He doesn't even "hope" as he compares them to his GoodWill clothes full of stains and holes.

Stanzas three and four: Paul is excited about a field trip to a local college campus. But, once there, Paul realizes how "ample" the world really is, compared to what is "crumb" of life has been. The campus reeks of "Plenty" and he feels "ill" and "odd" while away from what he knows.

Stanza five: Knowing the cost and the improbability of ever claiming this "ample" world as his own, Paul resigns himself to life as he knows it. Fulfillment of your "Hunger" is easy to dream about when standing at the "Window" of possibility - but upon "entering" it is a whole new ball game.

(May 7, 2008)

Monday, November 5, 2012

In Memoriam 2



In the month and a half after the coat I decided to take Paul with me on a field trip I organize every year, a local university's event called The English Festival. Students read seven assigned books over the winter months and attend a one day event at the college to participate in writing, games, and meet authors. I signed Paul up at the last minute...our school knew he was going, but he was not registered with the college. That registration had been done five months prior. I had my own plans for his presence on this trip.

During the festival students are given a schedule to follow to various activities throughout the day. It is very well organized and students get to experience the freedom of a college campus a little bit. Once all of my participants were on their way, Paul and I, not held to any schedule, made our way down to the library to hear author Chris Crutcher speak. Although some of his books are iffy to me, the man had amazing stories of his work with troubled kids and the library setting was small and intimate. I stole a glance at Paul and he was looking around and doodling randomly. I wished he was paying attention, this would hit home for him I thought.

Afterward we went to a museum that is on campus, although it does not belong to the college. I had been to this museum numerous times growing up, much of the art work remained from my childhood with the exception of a few new sections. Coming across a room of what looked like pencil scribbles on paper, Paul and I both laughed that even we could do that! Upstairs was a series of 3D, hands-on displays. We made our way through the displays and found ourselves in a darkened sound booth, where the art was a matter of what you heard and saw in tandem. It was strange and we were laughing harder as we left.

Winding down the sidewalk outside the museum Paul said, "That's the first museum I been to." As we talked I found out it was his first time to see a college too. And as we talked about school, no matter how much I assured him that there were so many ways to get through school, he refused to believe this could be a possibility for him, as much as he wished it. His poverty was beyond physical, it was a mind set. Money in his hand at that moment would not have convinced him otherwise.

I bought him lunch and a copy of Ironman, hoping we could see Chris Crutcher again and get it signed. We wandered our way down to another building, passing a cop, who Paul walked way around, informing me that he doesn't trust cops. For the rest of our walk I learned what it had been like for a much younger, confused Paul to watch his father and brother toted to jail and his sister to juvenile hall.

We did find Chris Crutcher again, listened to a slightly different speech this time. At one point Crutcher skipped over part of a story we'd heard earlier that morning and Paul leaned over to me and said, "He left out the good part from earlier." He HAD been listening that morning. I should've known. When the speech was done I took Paul up front and shoved him into the mass of kids waiting to get their books signed. Crutcher signed it "To Paul" and Paul seemed happy with it. I would give anything to have that book now.

The day had gone well. Fellow teachers who knew I volunteered to take him had shaken their heads in disbelief...why bring trouble with you if you don't have to? But Paul was nothing but polite, respectful, and on his best behavior the entire day. He was not the same kid any of us knew from school and not even I had expected that. I was winging it.

Part of my goal was to expose Paul to things in life that he didn't know were options for him. I wanted to show him that there was a whole world (not even just college, but life) outside of the hell he was living in and that he had access to it. I wanted to take him out of his little bubble for a day. Maybe this was naive of me...to replace even a piece of a lifetime of hurt with hope in a day is impossible. Looking back I'm not sure what I expected. I was working on autopilot...thinking of ways to draw him in to the life around him. Another part of me just wanted him to have fun for a day. No school and no worries for a day.  But exposure to life outside of your own is a two-way street. You can't give it without receiving it in return. And what happens when what you receive begins to change you?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

In Memoriam 1






Many students come through our school and my classroom year after year. I've had the honor of teaching an average of 800 in my eight years. But sometimes there are those few that stand out from the rest. For the sake of privacy, let's call one particular student Paul. Paul was a troublemaker, missed a lot of school, and had trouble at home. His clothes were worn and dirty looking so people felt bad for him, but overall he was just more work than most students. And with a class of 20-30 others, it's hard to give one person as much attention (or in his case it seemed to be babysitting) as he needed.

One day an aide observed him in my 9th grade English class and afterward told me that he had noticed that Paul often tries to participate, but he doesn't necessarily comply with the usual methods...but would I please look for his efforts? Of course I would. The next day Paul didn't have his textbook, so I let him use mine. We were reading "Romeo and Juliet" so I didn't expect him to follow along for long. As we read he seemed to doodle and talk to himself a little. After reading, I asked a question. I cannot remember what I asked, only that Paul spoke up. He didn't raise his hand, he didn't phrase the answer a specific way...just blurted what he had to say straight out. Luckily, before I reacted, I realized he was answering my question and his answer was absolutely correct. This short, scrawny, rough acting, tough talking punk had zeroed in on a piece of Shakespeare and understood it absolutely. I asked another question and he nailed it. The aide was right, teachers (myself included up to this point) often reacted to Paul's carriage and ways, not noticing that they were sometimes attempts to participate and only attempts at trouble after he'd been shut down.

Snow came later that (school) year, January and February. Driving down the center of town to get to work, I saw certain students waiting at bus stops every morning. In a week's time I noticed Paul standing at the end of his road in a short sleeved shirt, no coat. Not even a jacket. That weekend my husband and I were at Kohl's and we wondered past a rack of boys winter coats marked down from $100 to $10! There wasn't a second thought that I needed to get one for Paul. I wanted to get the blue, being my favorite color, but my husband insisted on the red and black, since it was our school's colors. I mentioned it to a teacher that worked closely with Paul over the past few years and she said that she wasn't sure how he'd react to me offering a coat. He had mentioned dry lips the week before and when she offered him a new Chapstick he was offended and asked her did she think he couldn't get his own? (It's likely he couldn't and it was this sense of pride I didn't want to run up against or offend.)

So that day in class I told him to make sure he came to school the next day because I had a surprise. I was hoping that giving him a heads up would help stimulate his interest and soothe any ruffled feathers. He said ok and was in school the next day. After class he followed me to my office (I was a classroom-less teacher at the time, teaching in different available classrooms throughout the day). I told him I had noticed he didn't wear a coat at the bus stop. He claimed it was stolen from his locker and I presented him the new coat.

He was silent. He stared at the coat. His mouth moved a little and I held my breath. I knew I was about to hear it from him as the other teacher had over her offer of Chapstick. He reached ever so slowly for the coat. It was a bulky polar coat with a lining that zipped in and out to create a jacket and a lighter winter coat. He squeezed the material in his fingers and looked up at me.

"Is it ok?" I asked, completely unable to read him.

"It's red," is all he said, simply and quietly.

"Is that bad?" Maybe wearing school colors wasn't so cool. I mean, my husband had been a jock in school, so what did he know?

"Red is my favorite color," he almost whispered. Then a little more enthusiastically, "Thank you." And I watched a 14-year-old boy hug a winter coat to his chest in awe. I watched for him at the bus stop over the next month, the red coat as the tell tale sign that I would see Paul later in the day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Four Part Post

 
 
 
I have a series of events that I recall every year about this time as my own personal memoriam, since 2008. Much like Nick Carraway describes looking back on his first interactions with Jay Gatsby, I didn't think too much of these events as they happened, and a lot of living went on around them. It was hindsight that brought them to the forefront as markers in a path and linked them in my mind. 2008 seems much longer than just four years...so much has changed and faded in my mind in four years.

But not this story, which probably taught me most of what I know and take to heart about my job, who I am, and my purpose. However, to fit the whole story, I am going to present it in four posts (posted every other day starting 11/3, ending 11/9) called In Memoriam and number them. I just wanted to give a heads up so that anyone interested in reading them would connect the events in chronological order as the posts come out.

Thanks for your interest in this story I've wanted to put into writing for the past four years.

Jennine

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. This month is set aside as a crazy "thirty days and nights of literary abandon," where anyone who ever wanted to write a book can go for it. There is a support group and pep talks, word counters, and chat forums to help you along your literary way. A "winning" product is a 50,000 word novel downloaded to the NaNoWriMo site by 11:59 PM Pacific time on November 30th.

Many people have at least heard of this event, as I have, but don't know its history. It started in July 1999 with 21 friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, who simply wanted to have some fun and "make some noise." Over the years since they've added a professional website and staff, changed the month, made official sign ups and rules, and have involved K-12 schools through their Young Writers Program. In 2006 they became a nonprofit organization, which runs on donations from participants and Amazon.com.

As of 2011, NaNoWriMo had 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them winners, meaning they finished the required word count in one month. They have been featured in the media and endorsed by professional authors. There have been a number of NaNoWriMo participants who have gone on to publish novels as well, some names most familiar being Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" and Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus."

So if you're looking for a reason to give writing a try, this may be for you. Comes complete with a deadline and good company working toward the same goal. Because I don't know how I feel about downloading my work to someone's website, I'm not going to sign up. But, I am going to do my own unofficial NaNoWriMo at home. Hopefully it'll kickstart my own story juices flowing to the point of no return!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's My Problem?

Blah.

Stuck in a rut. How is it I get so far from my initial intentions without realizing it? How is it that even with a good idea, I have lost my motivation? I find myself still thinking about writing, enjoying reading others' writing, critiquing writing, proofreading college students' writing, teaching high schoolers writing...but not actually writing.

My grading and lesson planning has all been manageable. My kids have all become amazingly self-sufficient on the homework front so far this year. For once none of my kids have a current sport or activity eating up the afternoons and evenings. My husband cooks dinner pretty much every night. My laundry gets done on weekends. I even have some time to take a nap before dinner and read after.

But I haven't been writing. Why, when I have the perfect set up right now, am I not writing? What is this? I am one of the least lethargic people I know when it comes to doing things that need done! Yet, when I hit 9-10pm, and the kids are in bed, everything's ready for the morning, I'm not tired cause I took a nap, and there's nothing else to do...I read or zone out on some random game or task.

But I should be writing! That time every night, no excuse. It is so hard to get back into the habit. I feel like I don't get back to it because I don't know where to go; however, I think this is a lie my mind tells itself because the act of writing will trigger the ideas and organization I'm looking for. I know this piece will set itself up if I would just get it moving.

I don't even feel like rereading and improving this post before putting it up...So what's my problem?

Blah.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Free Kindle?

Am I crazy? Hard to find stuff for free, right? Well not when you follow awesome blogs like Rebecca Taylor's. For the next seven days you can win a free, new Kindle by visiting her blog and completing certain tasks for chances to win! It's fun and doesn't take much time at all. Plus, you get to connect with a pretty swell blogger. So hop on over there and check it out.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Great Thinkers thinking greatly



"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over
the man who cannot read them." Mark Twain

Today I attended the first of a series of inspiring workshops. The starting point for the workshop caught my ear with its Fahrenheit 451 overtones and reminiscence of Mark Twain wisdom. To be fair, the gentleman running the workshop was a high school English teacher for 30 years before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, so he "had me at hello," literally.

The opening piece was an excerpt from Rushworth Kidder's book "Reinventing the Future: Global Goals for the 21 st Century." He states a valid, yet unheeded worry about why people should read, but don't:
                
       "It is that they read for wisdom, for depth, for a conscious acquaintance with the values and judgements of great thinkers thinking greatly. The tragedy of illiteracy - and even greater waste of alliteracy, involving those who know how to read seriously but don't - is that it abandons the accumulated wisdom of the ages. It places fine writing in the hands of fewer and fewer interpreters, whose translations and commentaries become progressively oversimplified - and whose audience, increasingly unable to think for itself, grows more and more susceptible to the manipulations of the elite.

       "Are we headed, then, backwards into the pre-print attitudes of the Middle Ages, when the literate few ruled the illiterate many?....To avert such backsliding, [our educational focus] must be given over to two things: training people how to read, and teaching them why they should want to read..."

This does not mean people have to read more than anything else.

This does not mean people are not smart unless they read abundantly.

I am one of the most avid readers I know, but even I am guilty of this! Sure, reading lends me exposure to a wide range of views and ideas, but I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to shrugging off what I should be reading because I do not want to be bothered with the responsibility, I'm too busy, or I figure it doesn't matter if I do or not. Recently my mom told me I should read a finance/business book. The authors had predicted the current conditions of the housing market and our other economic issues two years before they happened and now the authors have a new book that shows us where the economy will go from here. Probably worth looking into, but what did I tell her? "You read it, make a list of things I should do, and let me know."

What happens when the trustworthy on such topics, such as my mom, become few in my life - or in the world in general? To whom can I turn for this information - on whom will we all rely?

What this means is that people need to realize the importance behind reading and use it as needed at the very least.  More and more people make decisions based on what they hear or see on TV, without ever gathering, reading, and critically thinking through the materials themselves. Why do campaigners place signs in people's yards? Because people will recognize the name and short list of facts at the voting booth and simply mark that name down because they've heard it before.

By losing the ability to comprehend and think critically about what we read, we set ourselves up for failure. If the trend continues, we are lambs gladly led to the slaughter. Men like Bradbury, Orwell, and Huxley were not pulling crazy ideas out of thin air. They could see this coming and now it is ours with which to deal.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Keep Inspiring


 

Annie Dillard said, "Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you." What? You will lose something if you don't give it away? Hmmm...isn't that against some law of physics...or at least common sense? However, I think Ms. Dillard is on to something here. And she's not the first one to say it either. I recall Jesus stating in Luke, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it." There is much more to unpack with Jesus' statement, but at the root is the same basic idea as Ms. Dillard's.

Experience in the classroom has taught me that the more I share what I know, the more I gain. Others either add to my information or they provide opposing views that cast mine in a different light. When I hold back, not only do I miss out on possibly augmenting my knowledge and understanding of a topic, but I also lose a little bit of my passion and confidence in what I already know. Without passion I fail to grow and without growth, my knowledge becomes stale. Staleness leads to death (at least metaphorically). I also prevent others from discovering new knowledge, understanding, and passion. In essence, that makes me a murderer of the mind - theirs and my own.


Now before you think I'm suddenly in need of some Prozac or a restraining order, let me fill you in on where and how this popped into my head. I don't know where I found the quote, I just love quotes so I'm always collecting them in an empty journal or on various decorative plaques throughout my house and classroom. But, I read a guest post by Becky Kopitzke, on Jeff Goins's blog, that was titled "Every Writer is a Mentor (Or Can Be)." (Read post here.) She talks about how every writer has an audience and the ability to be a mentor/coach to that audience. For example, many writers have blogs. Why? To connect with other writers and/or readers. We provide our insight and our readers provide theirs through comments. We are, in essence,  mentoring each other. 

Prodding each other to Keep Inspired.

Have you ever looked at yourself as a (although maybe unofficial and/or accidental) mentor or coach?

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Result



Here it is...the poster I put together to advertise my high school book club, Reading Warriors. The slogan was written by one of the members: "We Read Books for Breakfast!" To emphasize its meaning I added a sort of subtitle underneath the larger slogan. It reads: "Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest." (It's a Proverb.)

The art work is our customized book and tomahawk from my previous post about Reading Warriors. (Mohawk Warriors is the name and mascot of our school, respectively). I blew it up as large as I could using Word. On either side is the basic information: my name, classroom number, and meeting times. I decided to do Friday meetings twice a month for grades 9-12 and one Wednesday meeting a month for grades 7-8. This way they can read books appropriate to their grade and discussion levels.

The border around the tri-fold consists of 71 different book covers - everything from sci-fi to fantasy to memoir to popular fiction. Filling in the rest of the center are eight quotes from famous/popular authors, followed by the author's name and his/her most well-known book pictured next to it. (Not all of the quotes came from the book I placed next to the quote...some are just things the author said. But, I wanted to connect a picture to the author.) I picked these authors to represent books/reading more specifically based on their longevity in the world of literature...I knew they had to have something to say about books/reading.

Here's what I found (top left, moving counter clockwise):

“Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself,
to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World



“To be a well-favored man is the gift of fortune, but to write or read comes by nature.”
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
 Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

“...I believe it important to emphasize how strongly I feel that books, just like people,
have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both.”
 Elie Wiesel, Night




“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.
They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life


"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."
Edgar Allan Poe, Poetry

Fun fact (because I'm a nerd and couldn't help myself, I actually went back and counted after it was finished): There are 79 different books on the tri-fold. I own 59 of them and have read 49 of them. I had so much fun putting this together. I started at 9:30 PM on a Sunday night and went to bed around 1:30AM. I only meant to get it started, but once I got going, I didn't want to stop.

And boy was that one student excited to see I used his slogan as the main piece for our board. Nothing like watching a student grasp onto reading as the adventure it is. I'm expecting to see more of that this year! Go Warriors!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Such as we are made of, such we be


 

Last Sunday morning our pastor, who is also a good friend of ours, made the statement "Get over yourself." He was referencing having to face taking and giving correction, but it recalled to me what it takes to write. (And I'm sure he's thrilled my mind seized on one phrase and ran to a totally different subject with it ;)

 When I started this blog I sent the link out to a select group of FB friends and didn't share my posts to FB. I was hiding even as I took steps to move forward. What if I couldn't think of worthwhile topics? What if people didn't like what I had to say, or even worse, were indifferent?! Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we might win by fearing to attempt. It is time we hate that which we often fear.

As I started to write on topics on which I wanted people's input, I decided to share all new posts to FB (and Twitter). After all, either I considered myself a writer or I didn't. Either I wanted to form a writing community or I didn't. I had to get over myself and the winter of my discontent in order to pursue my passion.

In You Are a Writer, Jeff Goins says, "The more I love what I do, the more others do, too. This is the paradox: when you stop writing for readers' affections, your work will affect more people." Ironic, but logical. The subtle shift in focus makes all the difference. Boldness be my friend!

And I've found myself wanting to veer off of the course of directly "talking shop" (aka writing). I tell myself, "Wise and slow. They stumble that run fast." But maybe that's okay because if all the world's a stage, then all of life presents me with writing opportunities. The earth has music for those who listen.

So I write for an audience of one - me. The goal: Pursue my passion. To say what I need to say, in the best possible way to say it. Not just to speak but to speak true. To know what I am and to find what I may be. This above all else: to my own self be true, so that to others I will not be false.

How has life served your art? Or how has art served your life? You can probably take a good guess at how art and life intertwine for me.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reading Warriors Need Your Help

Art work done by my amazing artist friend, Jeff Crowther.
You can find his blog comic "Yeti 4 Hire" linked to the right.

     First meeting for my new book club today. I put some ideas out for the students to mull over until next meeting. Next week we will advertise the club at an activities meeting held for the whole school. So, it falls to me to put together an alluring tri-fold. I am not an elementary teacher for a reason...I can barely handle the bulletin boards I have, let alone pull people in with some glitter and bubble letters?! I'll think of something, I always do, but in the meantime, I'm open to suggestions. (Were there too many commas in that last sentence...I really need to go to bed.) I'll be working on it all weekend...my deadline is Tuesday night. (I've definitely used too many ellipses...I'm not fit to run this club!)

     So, if you have any creative, artsy ideas as far as decorating a tri-fold poster board, let me know! I have tons of random craft things from my girls' years in elementary school. I am going to use the art work above, as it was specially designed for my book club - hats off to you Jeff Crowther. Also, the students want a catch phrase/slogan. So, open to ideas there too! They want something that has literary merit: alliteration, allusion, pun, etc., anything that is catchy and can be book/reading/Warrior related (Warriors being our school's mascot).

So, put your thinking caps on boys and girls and send some ideas my way!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Claim It!

My first e-reader experience has been a good one I must say. Amazon read my iPad and in seconds I had my new book: "You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One)," by Jeff Goins. What I enjoy about reading an instructional book on my Kindle app is the highlighting. Very cool.

And this book has been one snippet of good advice after another for a beginning writer. I've considered myself a writer all my life. I've always written poetry and short stories, although the older I got, the less I shared with others. Two summers ago when I was going through a rough time I randomly shared a new poem with a friend and then apologized! I had become that reserved about sharing my writing. "Writer" was my somewhat secret identity...so much so that I just referred to myself as a beginning writer in this paragraph!

Goins points out that, "All of this - this business of becoming a writer - starts not with the hands, but with the head." Essentially you have to "turn pro" in your head before you can do it on paper (Pressfield, "The War of Art"). I question how simple that is, but so did Goins. After reading "The War of Art" Goins interviewed author Steven Pressfield to get the real scoop on what it takes to be a writer.

Turns out being a writer is not related to agents and book deals, etc. Pressfield said you are a writer "when you say you are." It was wonderful to hear this. This is the idea the writers of the blogs I follow espouse and I admire their take on it. I opened this blog, a new email, and Twitter account to put myself out there as a writer. Turns out I was on the right track. Say it to believe it.

I am a writer.

What did it take to make you believe in yourself or your dream?

Friday, September 21, 2012

To the Dark Side and Back


As some may have guessed from previous mention and the parody I posted recently, I am not a fan of the e-reader. I actually hated them with a passion at first. I had to hold back a mini throw up walking into Barnes and Noble with the prominent in-your-face Nook display right inside the door. Every time a friend purchased one I had two comments at the ready: "So, you've sold your soul?"And for those I thought couldn't handle such a direct statement, "You've gone to the dark side, huh?" Of course I was joking...well part of me wasn't. Still, my most cherished reading friends have e-readers and knowing them as I do, there was no way the e-reader lessened their readership in my eyes. So over some time I have come to realize that e-reader use does not speak to a person's love of reading as much as the love of the book itself.

I am a bibliophile through and through. I want to see the book, open the pages, and feel the paper's texture. New books have the fresh smell of a new place. I want to consider the art work on the cover and the summary on the back. I want to place the book on my shelf to be observed by myself and others. I want to be seen with the book in my hand - a conversation starter or interest spark that e-readers lack. I am more than a reader of books, I am a lover of them.

So you may be surprised to hear that I downloaded the Kindle app to my iPad yesterday. Yes, I know, goes against everything I stand for, but please, let me explain. A friend (you know who you are...RD) told me about a book on writing she thought I'd like, "You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)," by Jeff Goins. He had me at the title - I had to read this book. But on top of it I had just bought a book of his last month...never heard of the guy before that and now two months in a row he pops up!? I don't believe in coincidence.

Problem: his writing book only comes in Kindle version. I also found two more promising books of his that are only on Kindle and soon Nook. What pushed me over the edge? The book was FREE! And heck, my iPad was free, the Kindle app was free. I mean free is free right? So I went for it and then guiltily reported myself to two of my closest reading companions, who both own Kindles. Their responses? "Sucker!" and "The dark side, huh?"

Yea, yea, I had it coming. I'm happy to report that while I like reading instructional books on my Kindle app because of the highlighting and note taking capabilities, I don't enjoy it near enough to make a switch over. I miss the feel of the binding cracking against my fingers. I'm happy in the knowledge that I know myself so well. My books will remain physical presences in my life.

Why do you love or hate e- readers?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Need a Good Laugh?

I've watched so many "Call Me Maybe" parodies, I've lost count. And those were all before I heard the actual song itself. However, I found the best set of parodies ever! From bookriot.com I bring you "Call Me Maybe" parodies based on Moby Dick, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Anti-e-readers, and The Great Gatsby.

I am even thinking of offering a project like this to my students as extra credit or maybe they can just write lyrics as part of a project based on a book we've read. I don't know, but I think they would have a blast! I'm thinking after testing in January, we are going to have some fun with this.

And just FYI: the anti-e-readers one is definitely my favorite...they gave me even more reason to never be sucked into the "dark side." This is followed closely by Moby Dick. They made my day. Enjoy!






http://bookriot.com/2012/09/15/5-awesome-fun-and-totally-weird-literary-call-me-maybe-covers/

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The One That Will Stop Me

Jaycee after release approx age 29
Her memoir - picture age 11

I have this weird thing with reading books: once I start one, I make myself finish it no matter what. I have never started a book and not finished it. It's kind of like a neurosis I guess, but now that I am older, I figure if I've only read what I absolutely love, I will miss out on a truly well rounded reading experience. I'd rather know as much about books and authors I don't care for as the ones I do.

All my life, I've been able to read whatever I wanted without having nightmares, fear, or panic, etc. Not so with movies. Movies that are overly violent, sexually violent, violent with small children involved, and horror related do not go well with me. Literally, I am afraid in the day time after watching them, let alone the night. And during the years I suffered from panic attacks, they were absolute no-nos. I stopped watching ER at one point because one episode had a mother suffering from split personality unintentionally harm her kids. I stopped watching SVU when my kids started getting a few years old because their faces appeared on those of the children in the episodes. Yet, most of these things don't bother me in books...it's almost like my imagination will only go so far before it shuts down the details and I don't freak out.

But, I think I've found "The One That Will Stop Me." On my memoir kick, I came across a book called Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard. I knew the premise, girl is kidnapped at age 11 and kept for 18 years, abused. I've read fiction stories and short stories about kidnappings, even a few true accounts. But I was not prepared for the author, Jaycee herself, writing from her 11 year-old perspective what she understood (or didn't understand) to be happening to her as it happened.

Within 20 pages I was horrified and sick. I put the book in my bag to take to school...one thing was for sure, I couldn't read it at night. Especially with my 11-year-old daughter in the next room...every bit as naive and innocent as Jaycee seemed at age 11. 

I took it to school, figured I'd read during my studyhall, and then at least the bustle of the students in the periods before and after would distract my mind from dwelling on it. But, I found that was only so helpful. I could only read so much at once. The narrative continually has you wanting to throw the book in a crying fit and scream at the sheer impossibility of the degradation of humanity. How can we live in a world this sick?! And yet Jaycee herself is such a miracle of survival. Needless to say, the book stayed in my desk for the weekend and I'm questioning if I'll return to it. It may be the longest time I've ever taken to finish a book. Or it may be the first book to break my decades long record of reading every book I've started. 

Which books have struck you to the core?