Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I haven't talked much about the Sandy Hook school shooting, mostly because I can't. It makes no sense to me, in much the same way that I couldn't process what happened at Columbine High or at Virginia Tech. This is not to say I'm not affected by this shooting, or any of the other tragedies. I can't imagine anyone not being affected. But I can't make sense of it. No one can.

The fighting between outraged politicians, though, is disgusting. Turning the debate towards school safety or gun laws is avoiding the issue. Our schools are incredibly safe and are staffed with caring, dedicated individuals. But life is unpredictable, and sometimes horrible things happen. But to discuss the shortfalls is to intimate we could have predicted this attack and therefore prevented it. In the end, I think that is what disgusts me most about all the news reports and FaceBook memes floating around: the idea that this was predictable and preventable, any more than any other tragedy is.

I pray for the families affected and all of Newton. I pray for everyone who has lost someone dear to them, regardless of how publicly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Magi, Dickvale style

For Devon, on that memorable Christmas Eve in 2002. There are edits I'd make to this today, but since this is how I read it to her, this is how it remains.

I know you are all familiar with O Henry's telling of the sacrifices we make for those we love (if you haven't heard it again tonight, be patient...). That story is one of my favorite stories of all time, Christmas or otherwise. I love the variations on that story as well-- especially Bert trading his paperclip collection with Mr. Hooper for a soap dish for Rubber Duckie, while Ernie gave Rubber Duckie away in exchange for a cigar box for Bert's paperclips. Children's programming being what it is, Mr. Hooper, who was Jewish, arrived Christmas Eve in Bert and Ernie's apartment to return their treasures to them, free of charge. All is right on Sesame Street again. Love is alive.

I had the honor of witnessing a very real reenactment of this classic tale. As you all know by now, I took it upon myself to inform as many friends as I could about the shinny new washing machine now sitting in the other room. The responses were overwhelming. They came fast, they came furious, they came overflowing with emotional and financial support. Many responded by saying "let me know if you don't achieve the goal"; more than a few came with disclaimers saying "I wish I could send more...". In a week's time we had paid for the washing machine. Money is still trickling in. It's a tangible way of telling Nick and Devon how much they mean to us, individually and as a group. You can't put a price tag on a life, but you can on major appliances.

While it was amazing to receive checks for $50 or $100, the most incredible ones were the small ones. High school and college kids donating what they had. But the one I still can't think about without crying came from our very own magi. She showed up at my house one morning before work, and said "I'm giving you all the cash in my wallet It's what I told myself I would do, so here it is.". She stood next to me, gave me a few bills, and proceeded to empter her change purse. It totaled $2.68. I know this was as much as she could afford to give-- to be honest, it was more than she could afford. " Some of my best childhood memories have Nick and Devon in them..."

Christmas is about love. I believe in the poer of love, and in the goodness of people. Whether you gave hundereds of dollars or $2.68, you gave it out of love, and my life-- our lifes-- will be forever changed for witnessing it. In a wold of selfishness, in a time where extra money doesn't exist, our mailbox has been filled with generosity. What do you give to the most giving people you know? You give love, in whatever form it takes.

Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.

the blessings of traditions

I am lucky to have stumbled into living and working in an amazing community. I came here mostly because my best friend from college had been hired here, and why not move to a place where you know people already? When I got here, I had no idea that I would become surrounded by an incredible community of like minded individuals. Talk about cashing in on some good karma...

One of the traditions we stumbled into is Christmas Eve readings. This was a Farm tradition, Nick, Devon, Kaiya and Caitlin at first, but one year they opened their home to all their friends. I can't now remember the first year we were invited, but we have spent every Eve with these people since sometime in the mid 90s. It's a classic Dickvale event-- delicious, gourmet pot luck and lots of great conversation and laughter. But it ends differently than all the others: starting from youngest to oldest, everyone has a chance to read a Christmas tale of their choosing. Over the years we've been graced with The Grinch, tag team readings of The Polar Express, various excerpts from A Christmas Carol, and many others. Devon would read King John's Christmas by A. A. Milne, and someone would read Gift of the Magi. The final reading was A Child's Christmas in Wales, read to us by Nicky himself. These nights were as powerful as any Christmas Eve service I've ever attended-- love, acceptance, and peace flowed through the walls, surrounding us all in a surreal comfort that follows us still.

Unfortunately, life marches on, and not always in a pleasant way. It's been 10 years since we shared a Christmas Eve with Devon. I remember that night like it was yesterday: the room was filled with friends and family, kids and adults of all ages. She had been fighting cancer for awhile, and we had lived our very own Magi experience that holiday season when A. bought her a replacement washing machine on faith that the money would come through. It did, and then some. I read something of my own creation that night, explaining how this 'young wench' hijacked Nicky's email list and said we were gathering money to help with the laundry. It was my retelling of the O. Henry classic, and how I got through that reading I'll never know--to read my own words to and about one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever been blessed to know-- well, let's just say it was a watershed moment for this fledgling writer and leave it at that. I think about that night often, remember my seat near the door and how the Christmas lights blurred as my eyes filled. And I remember Devon's smile as I finished...

Last night we were at a different home further out Dickvale, but the love was the same. The kids are older, and some of the faces have changed. Nicky and company spend the holiday at K's home in VT so the grandchildren don't have to worry about Santa's ability to find the right chimney. But as I looked around the room last night, I could see that this tradition is a part of all of us, and has extended well beyond those first years at the Farm. Even though she is no longer here on Earth, I could hear Dev reading along with WB "...and oh, Father Christmas, my blessings on you fall, for bringing him a big, red, India rubber ball!"

My blessings to you all, whatever your traditions. Hold them close, and treasure them, because you know not what the future will bring. Twenty years ago I moved to Peru, stumbling by luck into the perfect place for me to build my life. Kind people welcomed me into their world and allowed me to introduce them to some other people already important to me. My worlds of love have collided and overlapped ever since. It's almost like we live in Bedford Falls, with Tiny Tim a member of FPES. Our Christmas is not the biggest or the grandest, but it is exactly what I look forward to doing every year: gathering with friends, sharing good food, great conversation, and giving and receiving so much love.

Merry Christmas, to all of you. I have a Wonderful Life, and am surrounded by Magi every day. I am very blessed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

preaching to the choir

I stumbled upon The Minds of Kids blog somehow-- probably something WB posted along the way. This post makes tons of sense to me, and probably to you, as I think all my readers drink the same kool-aid as I do.

In all the professional development in which I take part, teachers consistently say that standardized testing holds us back. It's hard to encourage kids to explore ideas when you have to make sure you expose them to X material before the testing dates roll around. And between giving the universal screeners 3 times a year for math and reading and preparing for and giving the mandated state tests for math, reading, and science once a year, a significant amount of class time is lost to testing.

Teachers notice that students (in general) are not good at thinking for themselves. We know it's an issue... and yet the very tools we use to prove that point are the ones holding us back from making a change and improving the situation. To say my head spins regularly is an understatement.

I've said lately that I hope I'm still teaching when gay boys can have out relationships the way lesbian girls can now (and very much could not when I was a student myself). I also hope I am still teaching when we leave standardized testing behind and focus on learning and thinking instead.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

failure is not an option-- it's required

I've been thinking a lot about mistakes lately. As a culture, I'm not so sure we have a healthy relationship with making mistakes. Think about it-- what happens when you screw up at work, or your kid messes up at school? It feels like someone dropped a bomb on your soul, and it often takes time to climb out of that hole. And yet... no learning comes without a mistake being corrected. So which attitude is the right one? Can we even define 'right' in this situation? I mean, I don't want my students to fail classes in order to learn the material... but if they know it all and don't make some mistakes, what's the point of spending time on it?

That is the spiral I've been circling through for a while now. And so far, it's taken me 4 days to write this post, which is still not getting to the heart of the matter for me.

As with everything that matters in life, this is not a black and white issue.

The challenge is figuring out which mistakes are helpful-- which help you grow as a person, an employee, a learner, a spouse-- and which are just plain old 'stupid' mistakes that send you backwards. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that intent matters. Did you intend to fail, or were you trying to succeed but missed a key concept along the way? Have you made this mistake in the past and failed to learn from it? Or all those other times you screwed up, were you not ready to learn it but now that switch in your brain gets flipped? Someone says it takes 30 times of doing something for it to be a habit, and little kids have to fall down 100 times before they learn how to stay up. So why do we expect perfection from then on out?

Another little musing of mine is what we do once the mistake is made. We're big on punishment-- suspension, jail time, a letter in the proverbial office file-- but not nearly focused enough on restitution. This leads in with my 'natural consequences' rant-- if my kid refuses to eat what we have for lunch, they're going to be hungry. They'll have to decide which is worse-- the hunger pains at 3 PM or the texture of squash. A simple, non-judgemental consequence that follows a choice made by a texture sensitive person. But the idea that I'd not feed them lunch to punish them for breaking the living room window? That just makes no sense to me, and seems like it might lead to a bit of anger that we'll have to then deal with later.* And we still have a broken window that needs to be cleaned up and replaced.

*To date, neither of my children has been denied food (far from it, those spoiled darlings) nor have any windows been harmed, in the writing of this post or otherwise.

 As I'm sure you've surmised, I am a fan of the 'you break it, you bought it' school of parenting. You jumped in the mud puddle and got your new shoes all muddy? Get cleaning. Broke a window? Now seems like the perfect moment to learn how to clean up broken glass. So losing your license for drinking and driving? I'm all for it. Getting jail time for refusing to believe you've lost your right to drive? You bet, because clearly you're a risk to someone else innocently driving down the road. Suspensions from school because you're a danger to other kids works for me. Suspensions because you skipped a detention which you were given because you skipped class? I can't even fathom how crazy that is.

There's so much about mistakes and the ensuing learning that should come from making them tied up in our schools, but we can't get to the heart of it. Between the fear of being labeled one of the 'lowest performing schools', or needing a CIPs (Continual Improvement Plan, I think) plan, or having your school average national test score printed in the local paper (which might not be the worst thing ever now, since newspapers are dying out... but the internet sure isn't...) there's a lot of motivation to downplay mistakes. Schools lose federal funding when they land in one of these naughty categories, and less funding only leads to bigger problems.

I would love to get to a point where I don't have to grade kids in class. This is part of what appeals to me about standards based learning-- when you demonstrate you have met a certain standard (communicating your ideas to an audience, let's say) there is no judgement about whether you did it 97% right, or 78%, or 42%. You did it, or you're still working on it. What holds me back, however, is that we are always comparing. Do you may have met the standard, but Susie over there exceeded the standard... and just like that, we're back in the comparison business. Customized learning is the newest buzz in education, and there are parts of that philosophy that I embrace wholeheartedly. If the standard is persuasive writing, why can't Johnny show it by creating a commercial, Mary by writing the standard essay, and Susie by presenting a speech? You might say that Johnny then doesn't have to write anything, but creating a script for a commercial is writing, and may be more relevant to him than a 5 page essay. I'm on board with that, 100%, because I think the 'student failures' that come out of that model are more on line with mistakes we can learn from, and in the end, they succeed when they finish whatever project they're doing.

At the end of the day, I want us to learn from our mistakes. All of us, whether we're the movie star who keeps getting busted for drug and alcohol use, the politician who makes a shady side deal, the teacher who spells something wrong on a note that goes home, or the student who doesn't like to write. None of us like our dirty laundry aired in public, so it's never fun to say "Hey, look at how stupid I am by what I just did wrong!" But sometimes that's what it takes to learn from what happened and move forward.

Friday, October 05, 2012

coloring outside the bubble

Today was a district workshop day. I did not go into education wanting to spend my day sitting in an auditorium or cafeteria with adults only, so I will admit up front to these not being my favorite days. PD* (jargon, baby... we all make our fun in the way that is best for us...) is important in all professions, however, so I find my way to get something out of the day.

*professional development

We were shown a slide of our district proficient/not proficient scores for math and reading data, I think for last year. The slide was scary-- as kids got older, their proficiencies dropped, at least according to the NECAPs or SATs.

I got a bit of my math geek on (again, we all find our own forms of entertainment. I like doing math without a calculator. What about it?) and figured out the percentages by hand. Even if you didn’t do that, it was obvious that about 67% of our elementary students are proficient, and about 33% aren’t yet; middle schoolers are about 50-50%; and high school has more kids not proficient than are.

We were then asked to figure out why, and the hope (strongly implied from the presentors) was we would see this was reason to change our instruction practices. MCL, here we come!

But wait... what if the problem isn't with the test takers, but the tests themselves?

I saw more fault with the disconnect between how we teach kids today, and how we then assess them. We have kids engaged in conversation in classrooms, working in groups and engaging in authentic learning. When is the last time you saw an AUTHENTIC SAT section? (And how authentic can anything be for a 17 year old at 8 AM on a Saturday morning, other than the back of their eyelids?) The tests we use do not line up with how we teach kids-- and the further you get from elementary school, the worse that disconnect becomes.

There is no doubt that we need to change our teaching, and we need to keep evolving to meet the needs of our learners. But we also need to change our tests to reflect what we’re asking of those learners. Right now we’re doing EXACTLY what we know is bad practice-- we assess kids in ways that do not match up with how we taught the material. And by ‘we’, I mean State and Federal DOEs. We all know that our kids know more than they are able to show on standardized testing, and until we can change how we’re being assessed, we will never hit the target.

[Teachers out there-- can I get a what what?]

Monday, September 03, 2012

It was 20 years ago today

(Ok, well, not today, but you know how I am with song lyrics...)

It was, however, 20 years ago that I came to town. Fresh out of college and ready to make my mark on the world, it was only natural that I'd choose a town of 1500 people and work in a small, independent k-8 school with 225 or so students-- I mean, that screams me, right?

It turns out to be about the best decision I've ever made. Granted, when one takes the road less traveled, it's hard to know what the other path may have lead one to. (Apologies to Mr. Frost for removing his poetry from the sentiment.) I have met more amazing people in this little community, and have relationships with people that sustain me through every situation. I met WB* working at that school. I got married while working at that school, and resigned my position in order to live my dream of being a stay home mom. We moved to town so our kids would get to go to that school. That school is no longer open as a school-- which is another story for another day-- but it is fast becoming a vibrant community center. We don't have town sewer, or garbage pick up, or even a full time police or fire department, but what we do have is worth much more: we have neighbors and friends who are in it together.

This place is our home, in every meaning of the word.I know we will always be 'from away', but I think we've been accepted regardless. This is where our children will tell people they are from-- and then have to explain what towns it is near because no one from outside of Western Maine will ever know where this place is. It's not Camelot or Brigadoon... but some days, when I cross the little wooden bridge to our property, I do feel like I'm in a magical world that only the lucky ones get to see.

So here's to another 20 years... and, if luck is on my side, another 20 after that.

*Truth be told, we'd met at college, but it didn't take. He was dating someone else, and I was just a little freshman in his section of science lab. He claims he remembers me, but I don't blame him for not-- I looked like Velma from Scooby Do, and was just as dorky.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

time warp

... and just like that, we're back to school.

It truly feels like summer didn't happen. I know it did. I have thousands (yes, literally) of pictures saying we had 10 weeks off. And yet, my desk is still buried in haphazard piles, my mental to do list is a mile long, and I'm already falling behind on what needed my full attention 10 minutes ago. How does this happen? How are things so crazy all. the. time?

I am still committed to finding a balance between work and home, frantic and relaxed. Although I haven't found it yet, I'm pretty sure I'll settle into a routine before long. Until then, I'm actually writing lists (I have never ever been a list girl, and I can't imagine there will ever be check boxes on any list I create). And laughing. And remembering to breathe. It's all I can do.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Daddy : hammock :: Mumma : pool

Today I floated in my pool. I left the house at 7:15 AM (which for me is early to be up, never mind motivating) and went to a school meeting. After that I headed off to do a portfolio review for some homeschoolers, and then I stopped and checked in on my inlaws on the way home. All of these things are good things-- I'm happy to be able to do so much, and I enjoy being around so many people. But I am also learning that it is important to savor the downtime...

And so I did. One of my school year resolutions (similar to New Year resolutions, but following the agrarian school calendar schedule that has been the center of my life since... well... 1975) is to include mental down time every day. On the last real day of summer vacation (the rest is just a weekend), floating in my pool while soaking up sunshine seemed the perfect tribute to the passing of summer break and the welcoming of school year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


So many posts running through my head, but no energy left at the end of the day.

I'm hoping to eventually write posts again, such as

*I swear I was a homesteader in a past life.

*15 people. 1 structure. Tons of laughs.

*Growing up and growing older.

*Winter is coming.

*What I did on my summer vacation.

Let's see if I get to any of it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

thoughts on homelessness

Tell Them Who I Am, by Elliot Liebow, is the story of life in a homeless woman's shelter in DC in the 80s. I'm drawn to this topic for some reason. Last year I read The Girl's Guide to Homelessness, by Brianna Karp. Both are these are memoirs, although Liebow's is a third person observation while Karp tells her story in true memoir style. Both books make the point that homelessness is real, and difficult, and that the system often times works against you.

Both these books come at the problem from different angles-- Liebow's describes what I most often think of as a homeless experience-- walking the streets during the day, waiting for the church run shelter to open-- while Karp was living in a camper in a Wal*Mart parking lot. Both of these descriptions show women living on the edge of the poverty line... and one small bit of misfortune sends you crashing into the abyss. Many of the women Liebow encountered had jobs (unless anyone at work discovered that they had no home, and then they often seemed to end up suddenly unemployed) but they worked for minimum wage. And minimum wage is not enough, especially if you don't have anyone with whom to share expenses.

The other point that was very obvious after reading both books is how important a true support system is to anyone being able to weather a rough spell. Having family and true friends who are not also living at poverty level makes a huge difference, but having anyone at all can be the difference between making it and not.

So what does this mean for me? I am unbelievably lucky, and I know it. I have everything I need-- plenty of it, in fact-- and so much of what I want. I have shelter, a variety of food, warmth, clothes for all types of weather, a savings account, good credit, and a great job with incredible benefits. I get plenty of sick days, to use for me and should I need to care for my family. I am eligible for family leave should I need it. And I have friends and family who are not only able to help in a long term emergency situation, but who would also do so willingly. Happily. I live relatively free from violence, and have never experienced war of any kind first hand. My heavens, I live a good life.

Last night Portland voted down a proposal banning pan handling in the medians. The police felt it was it's not safe for drivers or the pan handlers... but advocates for people who are homeless called them out (I think accurately) as a way to push these people out of view. Truly, I'm impressed with the vote, but why can't we focus on a world where no one needs to beg for money in the first place?

I hope to do more to link students with the resources and connections they need when they graduate. Make no mistake-- I'm not just talking about Sunshines here. Yes, I have taught kids who are homeless, but I'm not naive enough to think there aren't others I've encountered who were not in my program. Luckily, the kids I've encountered so far have had places to go and people willing and able to help them. I pray that is always the case, and that everyone is able to have a place to call home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012


Life got away from me... here are a few of the highlights from the end of the year.
I hope to be better about blogging this summer. Time will tell, I guess.

losers and winners

There are many reasons to love July. As a teacher, July means a full month to focus on my family and recharge my own batteries. It is freedom to think about what I want to change in my classroom next year without having to implement said changes tomorrow. It means soaking up hot, lazy days, Frederick style, and store away for those cold winter days that are coming.

But July also means the best sports season of the year. As I type, I'm switching between Wimbledon and the Tour de France. Later today we'll watch more Olympic trials. Yesterday we watched the European Cup final match. We don't plan our lives around television shows... except during the Fortnight.

There's been heavy chatter by the swimming announcers about how Michael Phelps hates to lose. He loves to win, but he hates to lose. Yea, yea, whatever... I hear it as the filler it's meant to be between heats, trying to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. But watching Federer struggle in the first set of the Round of 16, that concept of hating to lose resonated. Federer took the first medical time out I think I've seen him take (which the announcers repeated multiple times, just to be sure we knew what a big deal that was). His opponent-- a name I don't know off the top of my head-- recognized his weakness, and seemed to be capitalizing on it. Federer was down 5-6 in the first set. Ok, I thought, here we go...

If that had been me out there, Malisse would have beat me. Which is why it would never have been me out there-- because I don't hate to lose so desperately that I'll do whatever it takes to win. When I "ran" cross country in high school (quotes necessary because I wasn't running as much as walking with a hop in between steps. 10 minute miles are not that impressive.) I let people pass me, if they cared to. I could hear them coming up behind me, and if someone was behind me, they were probably in last place. I could hear them thinking "I'm not going to finish DFL today..." and I really just didn't care. My job was to finish, not to finish high in the standings.

But Federer is clearly not me, and he obviously hates losing. He won the game, and then the tiebreaker. He's up 1 set to nil in a rain delay (and that's a whole other announcer rant-- why go into a delay when you can close the roof over Centre Court?) and I have to believe he will win this game, whatever it does to his body. Because he hates to lose. Aha, young grasshopper... it is all starting to make sense now.

So I'll stay here on the couch, watching all these elite athletes abuse their bodies to feed their need to be the best. Not their best, as with I am content, but THE best. And be thankful that they think that way, because it's so fun to watch on these hot July days...

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Yesterday afternoon, I came home to find my child worried about what turned out to be a misunderstanding. It was a relatively quick fix-- about 30 minutes, all told-- but we were all bothered by it. In my attempt to let it go, I posted lyrics. Posting lyrics is my standard cover-- I can say what I need to say, but it's not always obvious why.

A few hours later, we learned of the suicide of one of our students. We started the year with a tragic car accident, and are ending it with this. To say we are overwhelmed and emotionally spent... well, I'm so overwhelmed and spent that I can't finish that thought.

None of us saw this coming. He was on our track team, so I knew him. Good kid. Great smile. Couldn't always make practice, but there are a million reasons for that. I could see in his eyes that there was a story, but he had good friends... and so I never took it any further. Until yesterday. And now... that story will never be told.

As you know, a big part of my job is to teach resilience: why do some people overcome and others give in? And how do you teach that inner strength, that absolute belief that you can overcome anything? Not just anything, but everything? Such confidence is elusive, but essential. I spend my days sharing as much love as I can, and I pray that it is enough. Most days it is.

So, let me say it again: they cannot hurt you unless you let them. Please-- whatever is going on-- don't let it ruin you. And if you are in a place where you don't believe that in your core... let someone else guide you to a place where you do. Hang on for dear life if you must-- we've got you. I promise, you are not alone. Life is sometimes hard (so many of my sunshines know that better than I) but it is so worth it. Running away from the edge of the cliff is harder than letting yourself fall or getting pushed over it, but running gives you strength. And strength is often what gets you through.

They cannot hurt you unless you let them. Don't let them.

Monday, May 28, 2012

At the corner of Writer's Block and Starting Over...

I've been quiet on the ole' blog lately, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about why. Even trying to write this post about why I'm not writing is proving to be a struggle. Mostly I think I have so much swirling in my head-- budgets and successes and failures and 8th grade ceremonies and what will next year bring? and sports schedules and menu planning and is everyone ok?-- that to try to write one sentence means I have to find a way to stop the swirling. But that would take energy I don't have, and so, instead, I don't write. Not logical, but real.

I do have some things to say, and perhaps part of what I'm struggling with is the confidentiality of the other poor folk who share my life. Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to this blog and start 2 new ones-- one for the no harm content, and one super private one for those topics that I need to process in my extroverted way but without the extroversion piece. But then I'd have to lock that second one down, and I'm not so good at that, either. See how I got to the original solution in the first place?

So, my obvious wide spread audience, I need some help. What say you?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Our dance recital was this weekend, which is a full fledged family affair. Girlie and I dance, WB runs the curtain and is an all around techie, I also stage manage, and Boy ran the spotlight this year and is learning the light board. (He used to dance, too, but stopped this year. I'm holding out hope that we can get him back on stage one of these years.) And my parents and WB's mom always come to watch.

Some years I love our songs, some years I just love to dance. This year it was all of it-- great songs, super fun dances, with costumes that fit the mood. After the show, my mom told me that my grandmother (whom I adored) used to have a red polka-dotted dress, and at one point she saw her in me. Other friends saw me in Girlie. Somehow knowing that there was evidence of my grandmother being there made the entire event even more special.

Today we got word that my mom is in the hospital. Nothing too serious, it seems, but we'll have more answers tomorrow. She's got a NG tube in and some pain killers running through her system, so my dad told us not to come visit because she really couldn't talk. I didn't want to put those images in the kids heads if it wasn't necessary, so I reluctantly agreed. But all day it's been nice knowing that she saw her mom for the first time in awhile before this happened. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

{this moment}

It was COLD Friday night.. but that didn't stop us from enjoying each other's company. I work with some pretty amazing, dedicated people.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

{this moment}

I'm not sure how Smokey would feel about this one.

A week ago, I was sitting here on the couch, with my computer on my lap and my coffee next to me, waiting for WB's breakfast casserole to come out of the oven. The sun was shining, and we were far enough into vacation for it to have sunk in, but not so far that it was coming to an end. Life was good.

And then WB ran from the house. I thought he saw a moose in the yard or something, but it turned out to be a fire. In our field. Heading away from the house, but towards the camper and the woods. He yelled to me to call 911, which I did, and he grabbed a hose. The porch on the old milking shed had caught, and we figured if we could get that out we might keep it from said camper and coming back towards the house. After I made the call, I woke the girls up (Girlie had a friend over for the weekend, while Boy was at his friend's house) and tried to calmly tell them to get up as a few fire trucks were on their way. I shut off the oven, and went back outside to help. Which really meant standing by the milking shed with the hose while WB raked the grass back over the edges. I didn't know what he was doing, or really even why, but he seemed to know so I just focused my energy on what I knew how to do, which was apply water to fire to extinguish it.

I've never had to call 911 before. One time I mis-dialed my brother's phone number, and I guess I dialed 911 in the middle of it. Dispatch called me back, asking what my emergency was. I said I hadn't called, he said yes you did... then I remembered the mis-dial and gained a new understanding for the 911 system. But when you call because you need help-- and needed that help 5 minutes ago-- it is hard to stay calm. It also turns out that the 911 system doesn't work as well with cell phones. I probably spent 5 minutes on the phone, explaining our location to dispatch. I knew once the locals heard the address they'd know where to go, and I think that is when the adreneline stopped flowing constantly and I could think again. It was interesting to feel that happening-- I could barely explain myself when I first called, but by the end of the conversation I was calm and had a plan. I even tried calling my officer's wife/sherriff's stepdaughter friend to make sure they knew where the call originated. She wasn't home, but another volunteer firefighter's wife called me to say her hubby was on the way. And I knew then it would be ok.

Once the trucks arrived, they had the fire out within minutes. Their big hoses overpowered the flames in no time. Crews were here for probably an hour total, and most of that time was spent making sure it was out and then rolling the hoses up and putting them away. Disaster averted.
Before the blaze, I hadn't slept well for the better part of a month. School budget issues have seeped into my consciousness, and I'm not good at letting things go. Last Sunday night, I slept straight through. The school budget is important, and I will continue to fight for our students and our schools, but I feel like someone was suggesting that it is all relative. What matters in this life is the people you are with. As long as we have teachers who care, it will be ok. Maybe not perfect, but truly, is life ever truly perfect? Compared to all the things that I could have been dealing with-- including finding temporary housing for us as we cleaned up from a house fire, or feeding fire crews trying to put out a forest fire that started on our property-- figuring out a school budget seems fairly manageable.

Today, it's raining as I sit on the couch, making a plan for a very busy school week. I'm feeling my anxiety about the budget grow. I don't like conflict, especially with people I care about. I need to remember that it is all relative, and this storm will pass; whatever the damage is at the end of it, we'll rally around each other and set it right again. Because that's what we do.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Monday, April 09, 2012

Friday, April 06, 2012

stay connected

I am an optimist. And so it stands to reason that I'm on the Life is Good mailing list. So imagine my glee when, on my birthday, I saw this shirt. In my color. Preaching my message.

I debated. I haven't bought myself a new shirt in...I don't even know how long it's been since I bought new, never mind full price. But the Universe was speaking to me, and who was I to ignore?

I wore my new shirt today. And I don't even regret the purchase.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

{these moments}

So I missed last week's moment. I took the picture, I just didn't post it. So here is a word filled look back through the last few weeks. I'm entitling this montage "Mother Nature's Hot Flash".

March 23: For the record, this pile of snow didn't melt last year until May.  

March 27: The blooming trees and little birdies aren't happy, either.

March 31: 1"-3" of snow predicted for tomorrow night. And lingering snowbanks in May are, once again, looking like a distinct possibility...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

{this moment}

I can't even pretend to follow the {no words} rules this week.

What do you think is going on to draw such a crowd? You'd look at this shot and think it was an awards banquet or speech contest. Would you ever in a million years guess school board meeting? That was what I thought, too, as I walked into our gym. Hundreds of people-- best guess is 600-- showed up for a school board meeting to express our love and concern for our schools. Six hundred people came to a school board meeting. As a government teacher, I was pretty pumped. As a community member, I was encouraged. As a teacher at this school, I was overwhelmed.

This meeting has caused hard feelings on all sides of the issue, and that makes me incredibly sad. For me, this hasn't been about 'us vs. them' in the least-- and it is bad for all of us that that is what it's becoming. But I want the same thing for the neighboring high school and it's students that I want for ours: local control and all the benefits that come from small schools. Research supports it, but our proof is in the graduates. Both of our schools have sent kids off to top notch colleges, ready for the challenges their futures hold. We've sent kids who were considered 'at risk' for not graduating into the community college system with their high school diplomas in hand. We both do very good things, and that has benefited all of us. To me, a potential budget savings of only 1/15th of the shortfall is just not worth risking losing our small schools. Our budget it tight, there's no doubt about it: but a proposal such as this should be the last option, brought forth after all other options have been implemented. Closing schools and/or reconfiguring them damages the community as a whole in so many ways, and much of that impact continues on for decades after the event. The pros have to significantly outweigh the cons, and I dont' think they do for us right now.

I lost my community district 6 years ago, and I regret voting for that merger every day. My kids are still getting a solid education, but some of what we lost can't be easily measured or documented. There was a solid safety net under all of our kids; when they graduated from our k-8 district (one campus with one class per grade level) they went onto high school with confidence in themselves, an ability to get along with anyone, and a depth of creativity to 'make it work' in any situation. They had years of practice on all those skills, and we always had students in the Top Ten from each high school to which we tuitioned kids, which shows their academic skills got some use, too. When we merged in with our current district, I watched some of those opportunities fade away as we we exposed to more tangible ones: my children may now have tech ed and IA opportunities, but I'd trade those in a heartbeat for them to have the opportunity to truly learn to accept their classmate's strengths and weaknesses. Those kinds of skills take you far in life, no matter what you choose to do or where you choose to live. What we gained in that merger does not even come close to equaling what we lost.

Regardless of how you fall on this issue, you can't deny that people in this community care about our education system. I think more people came to this board meeting than voted in the last gubernatorial election. No matter what else you think or feel about this topic, those numbers are impressive. If we can harness that energy into positive action, imagine how amazing our schools could become...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

{this moment}

I have some pretty amazing friends...
Thank you <3

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

where my heart lies

I came to town in 1992, fresh out of college. A first year teacher, I really had no idea what I was in for at my small, independent, k-8 district: I thought I was going to work, but what I was really doing was becoming part of a family.

I had an apartment in the neighboring town, along the route to the high school. The first time I saw cardboard signs lining the streets with all the kids participating in a band competition, I knew I'd found home.  Parents line these telephone poles every time kids make it to playoffs. Every. Time. I'd never seen such public support before. Sure, my class A high school celebrated within the halls, but it never stretched into people having no connection to the team. It didn't take me long to discover that my community believed in it's schools. 

I came here because of a job, but I stayed because it became my life. I have lived, worked, cried, and celebrated with my friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I got married here, became a parent, and bought a house in my small district because I knew my kids would not only get  a quality education but would also grow up surrounded by people who care for them. And now the school board is discussing closing my school down, and combining it with an equally small and unique district up the river.

This plan is not good for my kids, or my sunshines, or many of the students in either community. It will not save the kind of money that the budget needs to save to justify this level of upheaval on students. I can't support it emotionally, and I can't support it rationally. I don't deny that something needs to give, but it shouldn't be the students that give up the most.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

fear and accomplishment

These days I seem to be surrounded by far flung travelers. My dear friends are living and teaching in South Korea this year, and my baby sis has been in Bejing teaching for the last two. Me? Well, I'm sorta proud of myself for flying 2/3 of the way across country. It's all relative...

I hate traveling. I really do. There are so many factors beyond my control... I dislike being a captive audience in airports and confined to small spaces in airplanes. I don't like sitting next to strangers and feeling like I have to lock myself in a tight little box so I don't disturb the person assigned to the seat next to me. There's never any food I want and what is there is insanely expensive. And then, there's the fear of crashing.

I forget how much I hate it, though, until I've finished the trip. I knew this one would be tough because I was leaving my men at home. Flying is expensive; it turns out that it is insanely so during February vacation, and there was just no way we could afford to have us all go. The internet and cell phones make it pretty easy to stay in constant conversation with the boys back home... but when we landed in Portland, and I knew they were just outside... well, I got kind of choked up. We'd made it there and back again, and now we were back to the way life should be. And we'd made it.

Those of you who fly all over the world may not think of it as an accomplishment, and truthfully, it's really not. But each time I do something like this without WB beside me, I prove to myself yet again that I can do it. As much as I hate traveling, I hate solitude more. It sounds cheesy, but I am a better person with my husband around. He completes me, and calms me, and has strengths that I don't. And it's not so scary to get stranded in an airport (cough* Dulles, you suck!* cough) when my whole family is with me. But de-icing at 9:30 PM, halfway between my home and my sister's, with only my daughter to keep me calm? Getting through that was a big deal for me.

I will probably never be able to visit my sister in her far flung locales (unless WB drugs me, serioulsy), and I will probably never teach anywhere but here. But we measure success by what we are each capable of doing, and I am sometimes capable of more than I give myself credit. And it is good to be reminded of that every now and again.

{these moments}

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MCP 2012: February

Month 2: Love or Leap

Here's my oldest, skiing his heart out in his final middle school race. He came down with a terrible cold, so he didn't have the sort of finish he'd wanted... but we were all there cheering him on, because that's what you do when love someone. His darling girlfriend and her mom were there too. If that isn't love, I don't know what is.


It is never easy to graduate out of sequence. As much as people want their diploma, coming back after all your friends have finished is tough. These two sucked it up, though, and did it. It wasn't the prettiest ride into the homestretch... and the ceremony itself was a bit hindered by my recent medical issues... but they got it done. And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how long it took you to get your diploma, but that you did it. And they did.

{this moment}

No words, I know... but I am pretty proud of this girl. Not sure if that translates through in this picture, but it's true.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

sick... or sickly?

I've been thinking about your medical stories all week. I had no idea you'd dealt with so much!

My dear mother in law said this, or something similar, when I talked to her after my gallbladder surgery. She came to spend the day with me after the ovarian cyst surgery (I hate that I have to differentiate between recent surgeries, but I digress) and said something about my medical knowledge. "Well, I've been doing this since I was 6..."

When I tell the story, I guess I really have spent a bit of time with the medical community. Upper GI series at fly/mosquito allergy shots... two separate times in isolation on med/surg, at 8 and again at 10, for an unknown cause of gastroenteritis... blind spot in my left eye  at 11, caused by a burst blood vessel leaving scar tissue... strep and bronchitis and sinusitis annually, if I was lucky--bi or tri if not... mono...endometriosis and related fertility issues... bunion surgery... and now this. It's a wonder I didn't end up a nurse, if you really think about it.

But I don't think of myself as sickly. I mean, I was, I guess, but that's not how I see myself. Sure, I'd catch everything that came by, but I just kept on going. I just thought that was how life was... mostly healthy, with a few bad sicknesses thrown in for perspective. Who knew that was not everyone's experience?

Fast forward to today. I'm sitting here on another sick day, wishing I could just go to work already. I feel another cold coming on, which could be a big deal since I really can't cough effectively; I do NOT want to add pneumonia to my list of experiences. And I'm thinking about my MIL's comment... WB has never had strep! I had it so often I could tell the doc before the test came back whether it would be positive or not based on how I felt after the giant Q-tip. He's had a couple of surgeries, sure, but all in all he is one of the healthiest people I know. It's no wonder she is overwhelmed by my litany of sicknesses.

And frankly, I'm kind of overwhelmed right now, too. Thank heavens the kids lean closer to his constitution than mine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

when you care enough to send the very best

The last few weeks have been a lot of things. Overwhelming. Painful. Emotionally exhausting. But they have definitely been humbling. I have no need to ever repeat the fast paced trip through varied surgical procedures, but I am thankful for the outpouring of love that said trip has brought.

I try pretty hard to be the person bringing a meal to people when they need it. I do it because... well, because it's what you do. I find comfort in sharing food, and it becomes the way to tell someone they are on my mind and their hard time is not something they have to endure alone. But to be the recipient of that kindness, over and over again... wow. We've had so many people stop by with dinner... dessert... to not only bring food but to also spend some time making sure we (well, ok, I) are ok. So many others have offered to bring food if we need it. To say I feel well cared for is certainly an understatement.

But yesterday, I received a card in the mail. It was sent by one of the Sunnies... and she got the whole class to sign it. And there, on print, was proof: proof that my job is more than a job, and proof that I am succeeding at it. I set out to teach my students about more than math and proper grammar; I want them to learn to be successful in this world. And reaching out to someone who has undergone a medical procedure... never mind the second in as many weeks... is part of how we define success.

My darling Sunshines work very hard to keep people and arms length. Usually they do a pretty good job. But I am lucky enough to be allowed behind the curtain, for which I am forever grateful. My life has been enriched by all of them letting me into theirs. I knew this before surgery-- but that card... well, it shows it in a way that everyone can see.

I will never look like a high achieving teacher-- I don't care about test scores even a little bit, and just don't give the kind of time to teaching kids to pass high stakes testing as I'd need to do look like a national teacher leader. Frankly, I don't want to be that kind of teacher. But I know I am really good at being the kind of teacher who loves going to work and spending her days with a bunch of teenagers. Who loves to laugh with them and celebrate their successes with them and push them to become the kind of adults they want to be. And the kind of teacher who will hang a card like this in her classroom until she retires.

Which, since we're telling the truth here, is the kind of teacher I want my own kids to have. Without the back to back abdominal surgeries. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

a tale of two surgeries

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Actually, it was just the worst of times. The last 3 weeks have been medically eventful and a pretty big downer, to tell the truth. And while I am thankful that both situations were treatable and did not come with long term medical drama, it would have been nice to skip one, or both, of the procedures.

The cyst was sudden. It had been growing for awhile-- I don't know how long, but my suspicion is 6 or 7 months. I was fine, and then I had a small pain in my side. And then the pain was bigger, and then overwhelming, and then insurmountable. By then we were in the ER, and I was on mind altering medicines to try to deal with said pain. Being told I needed to switch hospitals was more frightening than being told I needed surgery. By the time she introduced herself and said she was going in, I had already figured it out. (They don't send you to a neighboring hospital for an ultrasound unless they are pretty sure you need serious interventions.) I had a grand total of 3 hours to think about it-- while still on said mind altering drugs. Was I nervous? In theory I knew I should be, but the morphine said otherwise. And so I flew down the Road to Surgery, no lines, no waiting, and no worry.

This time, however, I knew. From the day after the first surgery, I knew it was coming. I kind of wish the kind radiologist who reviewed my films (pixels?) hadn't called to tell me what was happening, because I quickly learned there was only one cure for an afflicted gallbladder, and it wasn't drugs.

At first I didn't think I'd had any symptoms, so I tried to forget about it. The more I felt like eating, though, the less good I felt. It came to a head when I almost threw up after eating lunch-- a sudden, holy crap, I-am-not-ok moment. A call to the doc confirmed what I was pretending not to know: my gallbladder was not long for this world.

Four days of waiting to meet the second surgeon; three days of waiting for the now scheduled surgery. Seven days of knowing it was coming. Thinking about what could go wrong. Worrying about being couch bound again. I still wasn't completely healed from the first surgery, and I was prepping for a second. To say my defenses were down is an understatement. And yet, the thought of waiting until I was in pain again... the potential emergency room trip... nope, I'll take the scheduled procedure and be grateful.

It also turns out that lower abdominal surgery on your reproductive system and upper abdominal surgery on your digestive system are very different procedures. Both were done laproscopically, which means significantly shorter healing times, but most of the similarities end there. I am healing very differently from the second go-round. I am less hungry, probably because my digestion is affected. I hurt more-- which could be from the position of the incisions... or because I just did this 18 days ago and I'm over it. Either way, I'm happy to say it's getting better. I would imagine I'll be solely on Advil by tomorrow, and I still hope to be back at work by the end of the week.

I can tell you one thing; I don't need to this again, any time soon. That foot of mine is just going to have to wait.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

knowing is not doing

I've always been active. All through school I took a full load of classes, avoided study halls because they were boring, was involved in sports and clubs and friends... constantly on the go. My professional career has been no different-- committees and coaching and after school activities has been my norm. I've known for the last few years that I've danced a little close to the edge, and I really have tried to back away. This year I did give up a couple of activities, but I ended up picking up a couple of replacements. I thought they'd be less stressful, but... I should have known better. I'm in for the year, however, because, when I say I'm going to do something, I do it.

Flash forward to 2 weeks ago. You all know the story-- pain started at 9 PM. By 2 AM I couldn't take it and we hit the ER. By 5:30 they were shipping me to a second hospital, and I was undergoing surgery for a recently discovered ovarian cyst by 8:15.  To say that this little side trip was not in the plans is an understatement. But... even though I knew I was overscheduled, I didn't react. And so my body took care of it for me.

I don't know what I'm going to do from here. A few of the committees I am on have overlapping roles, and with time, those may merge into one committee. They all support my teaching job, in one way or another, so I'm not willing to give up completely. But I also realize I need to make a change in my stress level-- even though I don't feel stressed at all. As my darling brave sis pointed out this week-- I can't help anyone breathe easily if I don't put on my own oxygen mask first.

So my oxygen mask for the rest of the year is going to be slow, but steady progress towards listening to what my body is saying. If I need to miss a meeting, the world will not end. I cannot do it all, and my family must come before work. And my health must come before all of that.

I'm going to need reminders. Please remind me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

MCP 2012: January

Month 1: Resolution

This kid is not the best skier out there, by a long shot. But he's out there, and he's got more resolve than most of his competitors.

I couldn't be prouder of him.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

{this *TMI* moment}

Sorry... but this really is the image of the week. Thank heavens for medical technology; without modern radiology and laproscopy, I would be in lots more pain.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

good days and bad

Joe Paterno passed away today. Normally I don't get to involved with football, but this one has been on my mind all day. He had cancer, and some complications from treatment, but how much did the events of last fall impact his ability to recover? Had this scandal not been discovered, would he have had more energy to tackle the disease within? It is possible that months of stress and public embarrassment wore down his immune system to the point that, at age 85, he just didn't have it in him to fight any more. It is also possible that nothing in the outside world could have changed the direction of his disease-- as we all know too well, the Big C does not play favorites. This is something that probably won't be covered by the 24 hour news cycle.... but I wonder, nonetheless.

We all know the story: Paterno held his players to a high standard of ethics, academics, and athleticism. And yet, he worked side by side with an alleged child molester for years, and when someone told him they had witnessed the abuse in action, he forwarded the info... but not to the police. And that decision, sadly, will be a huge part of his legacy.

It reminds me again of the story I've heard told about Bob Kerrey. As a young man he was a Navy SEAL serving in Vietnam, and he not surprisingly regrets some of the choices he made. He supposedly said a man is not judged by his worst day but by his best, or something to that effect.

It is not that simple; nothing important ever is. Paterno is in no way implicated in being involved in any of the abuse. His assistant coach Sandusky is reported to have been molesting boys he met through the charitable foundation he created to help needy children-- if it's possible to be even more evil than someone who leaves a child with scars it is someone who creates a public front of doing good things for the very kids he's scarring. By all accounts, JoePa was disgusted with Sandusky... but also with himself for allowing it to continue. And yet, Paterno ad his wife donated millions of dollars to Penn State and helped hundreds of his athletes become better people. The math overwhelmingly points to his ethical reputation... and yet, that one act of silence tips the scales pretty far.

We all have made-- and will make-- decisions of which we are not proud. I hope we learn from them and are supported by those around us as we try to move forward with our lives. Some actions are easier to forgive, and some very hard to forget. The sad truth is there is no concrete right or wrong answer to many of these dilemmas. My hope is that my reputation buys me some benefit of the doubt, and that I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day.

Out here in the cheap seats, I have an easy time forgiving Kerrey's situation; war is hell, and what happens there cannot be judged in the same light as if it happened at home. Letting an issue get swept under the rug in your own backyard that potentially exposed multiple children to 9 more years of abuse... well, I'm having a harder time forgetting about his worst day. Luckily for me, it is not my place to judge. In the end, we are all just human, and we all make mistakes. I hope you were at peace before you left this earth, and that peace follows you to wherever you are now... and that those of us left behind can learn from your life.

{this moment}

Thursday, January 19, 2012

behavioral balance

Today was another of my behavioral training days. I took on a leadership role in my school to tackle this initiative. My reasons were fairly selfish to start-- I wanted to make the case that I was a part of my main building, not just a stand alone offshoot, and I didn't want to listen to anyone else lead us through this quagmire.

Since then, I've come to realize I need to start a support group. "Hi, my name is rach, and I believe in PBIS..." For those of you not in the know, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports are a way to focus on identifying the positive behavior you want all your clientele to perform, and then teaching said behavior to everyone, and then and only then do you figure out which people can't be successful with said task and figure out how to change their experience.

As a parent, I've been opposed to this approach in our schools. "I don't want my kids getting a token for doing what they know is right". Since we're being honest here, this is still true. I'm very aware that behavioral programs that focus on the good kids doing what they should be doing can often turn those kids into targets of resentment. It's hard enough being the children of two teachers... but being 'perfect' children? Nope, I didn't want that on my conscious.

But as a teacher, and a colleague, I focus on positive behavior all the time. Thank you for checking in on a kid. Gold star for you! I love my job. You guys make me smile every time. I have pictures of kids at prom, of my grandstudents, of each of my graduates in my room. I mail home a good news card to at least one kid every week, highlighting something specific that they did right. I hang up every article I find of any of my students from the newspaper. I send a newsletter to any kid who has ever been in my classroom, no matter if it was for 4 hours or 4 years. Yea, I address the things they need to work on, but I also celebrate their successes. Constantly.

So how do I balance the two parts? Honestly, I'm not sure. I guess I keep my eye on the prize, which is to realize that while my kids are great kids, they still can learn more. And as a teacher, I can always do more to help my sunshines be better prepared for the social structure of the real world. It's always about learning... and about giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I forgot to post a {moment} last week. Probably because I was being kicked around by a nasty cold.

These made it onto FB, but these were some pretty good moments, so they bear repeating.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

resolutions and reflections

I have not been writing. Like, at all. Which is not cool. How am I going to become a writer if I don't write! What I struggle with is writing in such a way that it can be helpful for me and not harmful to those about whom I'd be writing. So most of the time, it's easier to stare at a blank "new post" page and leave it at that. I need a new plan, because not writing is not the answer either.

That being said, I need to write more. I want to start my book this year. No, I need to start it this year.

When I was in high school, my pastor wrote a sermon at the start of Lent suggesting that instead of giving up bad habits, we take up good ones. Why give up chocolate when you could start doing one nice thing for someone? This has always resonated with me, and I'm taking it as my theme of resolutions this year. In fact, the only resolution I've ever kept is the one to drink my 32 oz nalgene bottle of water daily. This year, I want to be more forgiving of all people I encounter. None of us are perfect-- not even me, as much as I pretend otherwise-- and we all deserve to be treated well, no matter what baggage we bring to the table.

I had a good year last year, and I hope to say the same 360 days from now.

{those moments}