Saturday, April 14, 2018

March and April Goings-On

It's been a while since I've updated on my life, so I thought I'd take some time to catch up on that.

I think I last left off before spring break, when we were traveling up to OK for my friend Haley's wedding and to celebrate my and Thomas' birthdays with my family. Our birthday celebration was a lazy family brunch in the shed. It was fantastic in every way!
Little Spiderman (Jakub) enjoying the nice morning 
Cole, showing off his new toothless grin.

Kyle and me, waiting for breakfast

Diamond facemasks with my favorite ladies!
The wedding (in Norman later that day) was a lovely, intimate celebration. It was a short ceremony, which meant that we had plenty of time left over in the evening. We used that time to meet up with my family in OKC for dinner! Lots more good times followed! The next morning, we were lazy and had a continuation of breakfast from the day before. My sisters and I also did some work in preparation for my parents' impending anniversary party. We also spent the afternoon treating ourselves to pedicures in town. It was tough to leave, but onward we went back to DFW.

During my spring break, I still tutored my homeschooled girls. They don't really take a lot of breaks, if only because they have so much freedom in their schedules, and since they can do schoolwork whenever and almost wherever. It reminded me of the old days when that was all I did everyday. I find myself missing those days sometimes, but I also appreciate the challenge of being back in the classroom full time.

Besides tutoring, I did a few small things. The first was going to my first eye doctor appointment in Dallas. (Actually my first actual appointment for any medical professional in Dallas...I know, on my list for the summer.) I like my new eye doctor. He was kind and very informative. The only downside of my visit was that I had to have my eyes dilated for the first time in almost 10 years. I forgot how much that affected me, to the point that I had a little more confidence in my abilities than I should have. I was glad that the eye doctor was close to our apartment, as I drove myself home. In hindsight, I really shouldn't have done that, but it is what it is.

The next day, Diana took me, Elizabeth, and two of Elizabeth's friends (who she brought home with her from SLU) on a daytrip to Waco to see the Magnolia Silos. If you don't happen to be familiar with them, it's the place most closely associated with Chip and Joanna Gaines (from HGTV's Fixer Upper). It was a great day for the visit, although we definitely weren't the only people who had that idea! Their new bakery looked enticing, up until I saw the line that wrapped all the way around the building and down the block! The Magnolia Market was also nice, but nothing to get too terribly excited about. To be honest, our experience there was a little anticlimactic. Thankfully, Diana also received a suggestion from one of her friends to visit the nearby Spice Village. It was a conglomerate of a bunch of boutique-style shops all encompassed in one huge loft! I somewhat forgot that Waco was the home of Baylor (one of OSU's bigger rivals), and I happened to be all decked out in OSU garb! While there, I quickly remembered once I saw all the green, yellow, and bear-themed garb that was to be had. By far, we all had much more fun at Spice Village than we did at Magnolia, especially considering that almost all of us left with a purchase of some sort. Elizabeth happened to spot a cool OSU-themed wall hanging made of old license plates (that said 'Go Pokes', no less). I decided that that would be a great thing to take home. (Thomas agreed!) We ended our trip by having lunch at a fantastic local deli. Their sandwiches were reminiscent of Schlotzsky's sandwiches, but way better, if you can believe that! I made a note of its location so I can take Thomas next time we go through Waco--I'm certain he'd love it!

The line for the bakery--good grief!

The infamous silos!
The remainder of my week was pretty quiet. Thomas and I went out for dinner for an early birthday celebration for me (as he was on call for work on my actual birthday). I decided on a place that was located pretty close to our apartment, although I don't know that we'll ever return. I was a little disappointed that I made that choice, if we're being perfectly honest. They claimed to serve Italian food, which they did, but it was very lackluster. Also, Thomas and I were the only people in the restaurant who were under the age of 55. (For a while we were also the only customers...) For as much of a proponent as I am of hole in the wall restaurants, that was not one of them. Such is life.

At the end of our weekend, most everyone in the Liese/Coulter clan got together to celebrate first quarter birthdays! We celebrated Bob (Steve's brother-in-law), Diana, Michaela, Thomas, me, and Ross (Diana's brother). It was a lovely evening, full of laughter, good times, and AMAZING brisket! (It's always about the food, right?)

A couple of short days later, I went back to school, which is going alright for me. I like the school, my coworkers, and the students on the whole. I'm ready for next year, where I won't be replacing someone mid-year and trying to train students to my method of operation after they're already used to one way of doing things. It also doesn't help that we're in the throes of spring/summer fever. I'm just happy that we don't have to worry about weeks' worth of state-mandated testing and its aftermath. Tuesday of that week, I was called upon to chaperone the annual freshman biology trip to the Dallas Zoo, since I mostly teach freshmen. I wasn't sure how that would go, but all in all, it was a good day. My chaperone group consisted of 9 boys. I felt like my life having and containing my 6 rambunctious nephews was preparing me for that moment. When you factor in that most of the 9 boys in my group have some combination of ADD and/or ADHD, it makes it a little more interesting. We trekked all over the zoo, possibly in record time, I'm not sure. We arrived around 9:30, with the promise of lunch at 12. Starting around 10 or so, I was asked about once every 10-15 minutes when we'd be eating next. (I wasn't sure of the school's policy on letting them stop at food vendors, so I nixed that. I also wanted to be sure that they'd have money for lunch.) My aunt training made it easy to keep up with their energy. They were all responsible for locating a specific animal and taking pictures of it for a project in their biology classes. The day was a whirlwind of activity, leaving me utterly exhausted!

Highlight of the day: hippo fight
The guys in my group spent about 20 minutes watching!

Friendly giraffe!

The next day, tired and allergy-fueled as I was, was my birthday. I was not thrilled about it by any means, because it was the first time I was away from my family. My sweet department chair made my day by bringing me some cheesecake bites and a beautiful bouquet of lilies! It was a simple act of kindness that made my whole day great!

Ignore the pile of papers and junk.
My desk looks terrible, but the flowers were a nice touch!

Thomas promised me that he would make me dinner and we'd have his parents over to join in our celebration. We were quickly surprised by a couple of extra dinner guests--my mom and Aunt Pat!!!!! I was so happy to see both of them!!!! Even better, Mom brought my signature birthday cake that she always makes me--an Italian cream cake! My sisters, dad, brothers-in-law, and a few of the nephews also FaceTimed me! It was great to have everyone together, if only virtually.

My heart was so full--yet so sorry to see them leave so soon!

Jakub showing me his excited face! Love that kid!
A short few days later began our Easter celebrations. I never realized that this was my first time that I've ever been away from my family. I also never realized how much I'd possibly miss Bison's Easter celebrations,  idiosyncrasies and all. Thomas and I attended Holy Thursday and Good Friday services at church, both having standing room only. It was good, but different. We didn't go to Easter Vigil, which was probably all for the best, as we spent that morning/afternoon with Steve out at Quitman.

You see, the weekend before, Steve and Diana realized that the hot water tank out there had gone out and needed replacing. They took the old one out, back to town, and put it on the curb with the trash. Steve asked Thomas to help him with the replacement process, and I tagged along just because I did Zoe (their dog). We left early in the morning, with hopes that it'd be a quick installation process with lots of spare time to explore around there. (Famous last words, right?) We made it out there, just to find out that the drip pan blew out of the back somewhere along the interstate (though we thought it was amply weighed down by a large bag of ant bait). We also found out that the new tank was a few inches too tall to fit in the old slot. We ended up having to make a trip to a town 20ish miles away to acquire another new tank, guaranteed to fit in the slot. Eventually we returned again, and it did fit. However, the piping going to the tank had a small leak. Hence, another trip into town (the one 5 minutes away this time) for lunch (it was well after 2 pm) and new piping. After replacing those, we were back in business. A 20 minute project turned into the better part of the it really a home improvement project if it went any other way? We spent a short while trekking through the wooded area, before we had to make our way back to DFW to return the original new tank and to go to dinner with Diana and Elizabeth, who stayed there.

You can see the meadow, full of wildflowers, with the house in the distance. 

Zoe, happy to be in her natural habitat
That night we went to dinner at a burger place located within walking distance of Steve and Diana's house. A local band (of whom Steve and Diana are avid fans) was playing there, so it was an easy decision, especially considering that Elizabeth was the only one of us who had never seen them play.

We all met back up at church the next morning for Easter Sunday Mass. I was unexpectedly emotional all morning, mostly because I missed my family and home. Thankfully, everyone was pretty understanding, all things considered. After Mass, we went to a nearby diner for brunch, then home to take naps, since we were all in a food coma! We all met back up at Steve and Diana's, where they'd brought Jackie to spend the afternoon with us. The evening was spent watching old family videos and having a quick dinner of venison brats, couscous, and fruit. It was a lovely weekend full of great family time.

There's plenty more that has happened since, but I'll cut it off here!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why I Write

I've noticed a pattern in my writing over the last few years. I have great intentions of writing things all the time, but usually my intentions greatly outweigh my actual posts. Some of you might wonder, why bother if you just get busy and it's just another thing to do in that never-ending list of things to do that we all have? I know blogging has gone in and out of vogue so many times, that I'm really not sure where it stands these days, so, once again, why bother? I've been thinking about this a lot as of late (believe it or not), and I figured out exactly what keeps me coming back to my small, yet faithful, following.

I figured out that there are two categories that go into my reasoning for writing--people and intrinsic satisfaction, so that's how I'll split this up.

People Who Inspired Me to Write:
I never really fancied myself as much of a "writer", per se, until the end of high school. If I had to go back and pin it all down as to what led me to this point, I'd say it had a lot to do with my 5th and 6th grade English teacher, Mrs. Vanover. At the beginning of the year, she assigned each of us a spiral notebook that we were to write in at the beginning of class. She would give us a writing prompt, and we would have about 5-10 minutes to work on that. Looking at that with my hindsight (especially as a teacher), it was a common practice in education. Giving students problems to work the second they enter your classroom is a great way to get them engaged in your content, and to give yourself a couple of spare moments to take care of small things (attendance, getting makeup work to students who were previously absent, sending emails, etc.) From an English teacher's perspective, I'm sure that practice also had a lot to do with wanting us to be proficient at writing on any given topic, as we would be subjected to on standardized testing.

I actually kept these notebooks, and sometimes read them from time to time. I get a kick out of my precocious, quirky, pre-teen self. I was quite frank in my writing, which I really wasn't in any other aspect of my life. I guess since I didn't have to talk to the other kids in my class or try to fit into their standards of coolness (which didn't include intelligence), I could really just be myself.

When I made it to the high school, I still had good English teachers, with the sole exception of one year. I won't name names, but at least one of my readers will know exactly who I'm about to mention. During my junior year of high school, our teacher was probably one of the more "popular" teachers in school, which means that we didn't do a lot in her class. She really liked writing, so that was one of the few things we did do with any frequency. When we would write, she made a habit of always comparing the class period I was in with the class period that the other half of my grade was in. Every time we would have to write for her class, she always made a huge deal about the fact that first hour was WAAAAAY better at writing than we were. She'd always try to justify it by saying that since we had her class later in the day, we just were mentally drained. But she also explicitly said that we just weren't great at writing. She may not have meant that for everyone in the class, but I'll never forget her saying that. It annoyed my class period to no end to have her constantly compare us to first hour. She would say that so much that we didn't want to take any of her writing assignments seriously, since we knew that she didn't believe in us or our abilities. Even looking at this through my "teacher's lens", I still cannot come up with a solid justification as to why she said and did what she did. Her teaching career (at least while my class was in school) was a royal hot mess. Even worse, I am fairly convinced that she made it much tougher for the other English teacher at our school who was probably one of the best teachers in the whole school district. I'll digress, but not before I say that she motivated me and my writing in a completely different way.

After my entire junior year of high school and being told that "my class sucked at writing" (her exact words), I was enrolled in freshman composition courses concurrently. I was so grateful for my Comp I professor, Ms. McCoy. She was delightfully quirky in her own right. I adored her and her teaching style. She really helped me to find my writer's voice. Beforehand, I was so dead set on all of my writing containing proper grammar. Obviously, proper grammar is important, but in some contexts, it can come across as stiff. She helped me to realize the importance of writing just for the fun of it. I often think of her as I write, and hope that she's doing well. For all the confidence I lost from my junior English teacher, Ms. McCoy helped me get it all back and then some. I'll forever love her for re-instilling a love of writing in me!

Intrinsic Motivation for Writing:
So I've gone on about who helped me to love writing in the first place, but that alone isn't enough to stay up with writing a blog for almost 8 years.

One of the biggest reasons I've continued on with writing is that I love the mental exercise it gives me. My world is so engulfed with math that I need a break from its logical, rigid nature. I find that I actually crave the feeling of putting my thoughts into words on a screen. (I crave chocolate, too. That's probably a much more normal craving, now that I think about it!) I used to be big on writing in journals, but sometimes my mind moves too fast for me to physically write. I'm also much quicker at typing than I am at writing, and I can organize everything exactly the way I want it to look. (Because OCD, that's why.)

Here's a bigger reason why I write: it's therapy. You see, during high school, I struggled a lot with depression (or symptoms that sure seem a lot like depression, especially in hindsight). I would get into holes that would take a while to get out of. I didn't realize just how bad I was until one day, my sister Emily (God bless her for this), gave me a journal and a Bible. She told me that I probably had a lot of use for both of those things at that point in my life. She gave them to me and told me that she wanted me to write down any bad thoughts I was having to get them out of my mind. The Bible, well, obviously that's a good place to turn when needing encouragement. Both items have been very well used through the years. I wrote about my days, random angsty teenage poetry, which boys I liked at that moment in time, who was making me mad at school, and sometimes, just exactly how I was feeling at that moment. Looking back at that journal, there's nothing too mind-blowing about it. It was all simple stuff that doesn't really trouble me too much anymore. But at that time, it was my world, and it was a huge deal.

A few years after that was when I took the plunge and started my blog. It took a lot of courage for me to do that, but on the whole it's been good. I love being able to go back to my early posts and read what was happening. I love seeing what was important to me back then. I love reading about times when life was tough, and I know that I wasn't feeling great about things, especially knowing how it all ended. This blog has been with me through quite a few relationships, and I love reading back about some of those. (Mostly laughing about how absurd I was to think that I once felt that way about those guys, especially given my hindsight!) All of the memories, good and bad, are so great. I even was able to chronicle my wedding day and the days leading up to it. That alone is probably better to me than any wedding video (which we didn't have, oddly enough).

I love writing, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. When I was little, I always wanted to be an author and write my life story. I'm not sure why, because I'm not famous, I probably never will be famous, and I'll probably never have anything happen to me that'd be good enough to write about and get a book deal for. (I'm not creative enough to write fiction or poetry, sorry.) But, having my blog, I can fulfill a little piece of that dream. And, you know, that's probably the next best thing.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

25 Things I've Learned in 25 Years

Today is my 25th birthday! I'm officially a quarter of a century year never seems like I'd actually be this age, yet here I am! I thought I'd take a few moments to write down 25 things I've learned about life in my 25 years of life. Some items are things I wish I could tell my younger self, and some are what I feel to be universal life truths. Either way, I had a lot of fun compiling this list!
  1. Babies and the elderly have a lot in common. Working with either group requires a lot of the same skill sets.
  2. Your parents were young once, too. They’re probably strict because they don’t want you to make the same mistakes they did. (Same goes for your teachers, coaches, etc...)
  3. Live your life somewhere between “what if something goes wrong” and “what the heck, let’s do this” 
  4. Don’t date someone you couldn’t (realistically) see yourself marrying.
  5. Nothing good happens after midnight, but that’s when all the best memories are made...
  6. Stay close with your siblings. One day your parents will be gone, and they’ll be the closest thing you have to them.
  7. Earning a living is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life.
  8. No one on any end of the political spectrum has all the answers. 
  9. You don’t have to agree with everyone on everything, but you can (and should) still have a good dialogue with them.
  10. Don’t shy away from someone because they’re objectively different from you. You have a lot to learn from each other.
  11. The devil is in the comments section.
  12. Arguing with someone online rarely ends well, and it almost never convinces anyone of your point.
  13. Spend time with your family. One day they’ll be gone and all you’ll have is memories.
  14. Learn about your family history, however good, bad, fascinating, or boring it may be. If you don’t know, how will future generations know where they came from?
  15. It’s okay to be sad, even depressed, sometimes. However, don’t be afraid to seek help if you aren’t able to leave that dark place.
  16. Success is always great, but it doesn’t build character. Failure is one of the greatest teachers on earth.
  17. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to people who seem to have their lives together. They probably don’t either, and that’s okay. 
  18. Kindness, empathy, and humility are underrated qualities in a person.
  19. Never chastise people for their career choice. We aren’t all supposed to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers, although we need those, too. If it makes you happy, and you’re able to honestly earn a living wage, what does it matter?
  20. Don’t forget where you came from and who was with you when you were nothing.
  21. The best food usually comes from a hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop restaurant. Plus, it’s always great to support a local business! 
  22. You can’t be the best at everything—it’s impossible. Don’t let that stop you from trying something new, like salsa dancing! 
  23. There are no coincidences in life. Hone your ability to identify God’s hand at work in your life, even in the smallest of instances.
  24. Your high school years are some of the most important, painful, awkward, and largely insignificant years of your life. 
  25. Trust yourself, but trust God a little more. Faith is something important to carry with you in life, however it may look for you.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Thoughts on Teaching

Teaching these days is tough. Anyone who isn't a teacher could probably infer that, and anyone who is or used to be a teacher can attest to that.

Between lesson planning, keeping up with grading, contacting parents as necessary, doing all the other administrative tasks that aren't even related to teaching, being a chaperone/sponsor/coach for some organization or event, dealing with administrators who are constantly on their cases for not adequately preparing students for the latest and "greatest" standardized test that's supposed to determine how well the school is doing, dealing with other teachers who seem to have it all together and who constantly critique and belittle the way you choose to present specific concepts (as if anyone has all the answers and one empirical way to teach anything to everyone successfully...a rant for another time), using outdated books and materials that in no way reflect the current standards that you're supposed to be teaching, having to spend extra time learning how to utilize classroom technology that is either outdated, unreliable, or both that you're expected to use or else they'll take away those resources and never replace them...

And then there's the students...dealing with students who don't care, who care but have learning differences that affect how they process information, who don't have adequate parental support, who are constantly trying to meet their parents' unrealistic expectations, who would rather spend their time on Instagram or Snapchat instead of paying attention in class, who are bullied and marginalized because they don't meet their peers' standards of acceptance, who are the bullies that really just want to be loved and accepted themselves, who have no food or resources at home, who have everything they could ever want except a good family life (because mom and dad are too busy jetting off to a beach to care about who their kid is hanging out with on the weekends), who are struggling with some form of mental illness, who are abusing drugs and alcohol because they want an escape from their reality, who are more preoccupied with dating and sex because they're bundles of hormones, who are in abusive relationships that they don't want to leave because they want the validation of having a boyfriend or girlfriend, who are subjected to awful circumstances beyond their control, who just want some form of stability and love.

I say all of these things because I've seen these situations, and I've seen these students, plus more that I can't even bring myself to write about, all in my short tenure as a teacher. It's tough to see everything you see and deal with everything you deal with and keep your sanity.

Especially now that I'm teaching in a private school (and have received a ton of perks), I have no idea how public school teachers can do what they do and make a lifetime career of it. While I don't know the answer to that, I do know why they do it.

The first reason they do it is that someone has to. They are doing a job that almost NO ONE wants to do. Haven't you heard the old adage about those who can and can't? No one wants to deal with the headache (or low pay), so less people tend to pursue a college degree in teaching. Which brings us to people who for one reason or another, decide to become alternatively certified to teach. While this helps to fill a void and to give people who are well-suited to teach who don't want the cost/stress of pursuing another degree a means of easily doing so, sometimes, there are people who don't want to do anything else, who decide that they'll just teach. It doesn't always lead to the best of outcomes, because these folks miss out on a lot of programs in education degrees that lead to more success in the classroom (specifically student teaching), but I digress and am willing to concede that many good teachers have come from alternative certification programs. Nonetheless, they are still willing to show up and do the job placed before them, which speaks volumes of their character.

The main reason these teachers do it is because they want to. They want to dedicate their lives to ensuring that future generations possess the knowledge they need to go out into the world and be a well-rounded individual who can make a difference. They want to help students understand the history and foundations of our country and world, how to read and write, how to perform various mathematical operations, how to explore the inner workings of the world through scientific investigation, how to learn new languages, how to engage and unleash students' creativity through art, music, or theater, how to care for animals and the land (looking at you, ag teachers), how to care for a home and become a leader in their community (looking at you, FACS teachers), how to utilize aspects of technology, how to channel their own strength and that of their teammates in team sports, and so many other things. We want to make sure that our students are good people who can do good things well after they leave our classrooms. We show up early and stay late just to help kids gain a better understanding. We spend our extra time (and money) to bring in resources for kids to have an enriched learning experience, because we don't want them to be mediocre, we want them to be excellent! We want these kids to have at least one person in their life who genuinely cares and wants them to succeed, which might mean spending our nights and weekends going to their games, plays, and/or concerts so they have at least one person in the stands cheering for them.

However, teachers and students are under a constant assault, literally and figuratively. On one hand, there are students or maniacs who come to school wielding weapons with the sole purpose of harming innocent lives. There is no way to rationalize their actions. While we can offer prayers for healing for everyone affected, we know that that's not enough. We know that there's something that needs to be done. We know that this isn't normal or okay by any stretch of the imagination. We sometimes live in fear of what could happen, but we try to stay positive so that the kids under our guidance will also.

In a similar vein, we are under assault from our legislators who cannot seem to pass much, if any, legislation that is of any help, especially in the state of Oklahoma. These teachers are some of the lowest paid in the nation, not having seen a raise in upwards of a decade. While their pay scale is an issue, so is the fact that the state's per-student funding is also some of the lowest in the nation. They want to produce students who are competitive with those from other states, but when they can't keep good teachers and they can't fund the classrooms like they once did, how can these teachers realistically do that?

It's a lot of food for thought. I'm frustrated for my former colleagues and all of my friends and family in Oklahoma's educational system. I'm sad that the only way that they might be able to get anything done is to leave the classroom and strike. I realize that striking might hurt the kids, but so does the lack of funding and resources. I have no idea what the solution is, but I can offer my solidarity and vouch for these teachers in their frustrations. Teachers are some of the biggest optimists, being that they always try to see the best in the young faces in their classroom, and I am hoping that these amazing men and women can do what they need to to ensure the future success of their students. 

To my teacher friends: I support you wholeheartedly.
To my students: I want nothing more than to see you be successful. 
To the citizens of Oklahoma: know that you have the power as we approach mid-term elections to elect legislators who have the best interest of your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, etc. at heart.

Keep fighting the good fight, and teach on.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Everything Else I've Been Doing

My life has been (and continues to be) an absolute whirlwind, although if we're being totally honest, that's normal for me anymore. Here's what else has been happening in my life as of late!

Fun fact: my mother-in-law and I are now co-workers! No, Diana is not a teacher, but she works as an accountant at my school, a position she has held in some capacity for almost the last 5 years. Most days we don't see each other, or if we do, it's only in passing. However, it is so nice to have a familiar face in the midst of adjusting to a new, crazy venture. Sometimes when I get bogged down with things, visiting her office is the pick-me-up I need to keep forging onward. I've said it before, but it bears repeating--I have the best mother and father-in-law in the world...well, that might be a lie. Thomas, Scotty, and Jeremy have the BEST mother and father-in-law in the world! ;) Steve and Diana are a close second!

So here's something I have yet to have had the energy to unpack in my writing...whatever happened to the rest of my jobs when I got the teaching job? Great question! Short answer, I quit all but one of them. It was bittersweet for me, but it was something I had to do, especially considering the incredible opportunity that was in front of me. Long answer: I quit the tutoring center, I quit working with 2/3 of my private tutoring families, and I quit working for the first Friday nursery at church, but I still work with the original family I started with. I'm now with them 7.5 hours/week instead of 9 hours/week, afternoons instead of mornings.

So, why did I keep them? It turns out that there are some tough situations surrounding that family that make it better for me to stay with them than to leave them mid-year. I won't go into the gory details, because that's not fair to anyone involved, but I will say that if you have a moment to say a quick prayer, please say one for that family. Our current setup isn't ideal for any of us, but it was better than nothing at all. I'm more tired, and definitely extended much further than I should be, but considering that I only have a few more months left of school and working with them, I can trudge onward, knowing in my heart that I'm doing the right thing for this situation. Some days, that's what pulls me through when I get stressed out. Also, my bosses and students at school are incredibly understanding and supportive of the situation, which helps a lot. Many days I get stressed thinking about the fact that I still work 2 jobs, even though I don't necessarily need to anymore, but I have to force myself not to look at it in those terms. Otherwise, I'll start wallowing in my little pity party, and that's a rabbit hole I really don't need to go down right now. All in all, I'm still abundantly blessed, and that's all that matters to me.

Let's talk about something else, shall we? It's now March, which means it's birthday month for Thomas and me! We decided after I got my job that our birthday gift to each other would be to get a new mattress, which we desperately needed!!! We upgraded from a full sized bed (that was manufactured in 1991!) to a nice, new queen sized bed. It's been so nice having the little bit of extra space to stretch out and not sleeping on a worn-out mattress! Easily the best gift I've received (or probably given) in a while! Sadly, since we upsized our bed, we also had to upsize all of our bedding and we could no longer use the head and footboard that we worked so hard to get right after the wedding. In good news, Uncle Paul and Aunt Pat just so happened to be downsizing from a queen to a full, so they offered us their old head and footboard set that they were needing to part ways with. We also found out that our new bedspread insulates REALLY to the point that we woke up at 3 AM the first night we slept with it, feeling as though we were in a sauna. Now, we figured out that just a simple blanket will suffice, and we'll have to use our bedspread mostly just for show (or when it's cold outside). Such is life, I guess!

Our new bed and sauna-like bedspread!
No head or footboard yet, but soon!
In birthday news, Thomas celebrated his earlier this week, which means that we're the same age for a couple of weeks before I go back to being older than him. We went out for dinner last weekend, then had a simple dinner at our apartment with his parents on his actual birthday, complete with an ice cream cookie pizza from Baskin-Robbins! Mine is in a couple of weeks, unfortunately not during spring break like how it used to be when I was a kid. (I know, sad day, right?) I have no idea what I'm doing for my birthday, but it's okay.

On a separate note, I did something big last weekend--I chopped my hair off!!! I decided that it was way too long for me to keep up with, and my go-to hairstyle was a messy bun, or some other version of being put up, which probably wasn't very good for my hair. Better yet, it was long enough for me to cut and donate, which I've wanted to do for a long time now! I decided to donate my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which works primarily with women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments, giving them free wigs. I've known so many strong and courageous women who have had to go through that, and I wanted to do what I can to make that stressful time a little better. Due to my crazy busy work schedule, I haven't sent my donation off just yet, but that's at the top of my to-do list for spring break!
Before and after! So excited!!!
Thinking of Oklahoma, which is where we'll be heading quite soon, I'd be remiss if I didn't update what the crew on the farm is up to these days! My mom recently celebrated her 60th birthday, which was incidentally the first birthday we've been able to be present for on the actual day! We had a full day between Kyle, Andy, and Cole's pinewood derby and our celebrations for Mom. Everyone has been occupying a lot of their free time with working on finishing out the man cave/she shed room in the big shed. It's a constant work in progress, but I'm a little sad that I haven't been able to really contribute to it in any way, especially hearing about the fun times my mom and sisters have had painting. They're also in the thick of calving season, which means that their days are punctuated with multiple trips to the pasture to keep tabs on the herd and to make sure that no cow/calf is in need of a vet. It's exciting, but everyone (mom and dad, especially) is usually happy to see that season go, because it gives their lives a lot more freedom from constantly having to check cows.

Cole loving on Thomas--my heart was so full!

Cody is almost as tall as Thomas!

Cody is more or less as tall as my mom, making him, by her definition, tall!
Proud day for that kid!

One more...yes, he's also taller than me, but that's old news, right?
Love that he'll still take selfies with old Aunt Amanda :)

My favorite ladies in the world!

One of my calves!

My other calf, Jerry. (Jerry is the spotted one!)

One other focus of this trip to OK is to attend the wedding of my dear friend from my NOC days, Haley. She's such a sweet girl, and I'm ecstatic to see her marry the man of her dreams! I love going to weddings, especially now that I am married! Such a fun and special time for everyone! Can't wait!!! Enjoy the springtime, and hopefully I can do some more writing for fun over spring break! :)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Teaching Update

I guess I should mention how my new work situation is panning out. After my whirlwind week of being interviewed and provisionally hired (until my drug and background checks came back later the next week), I settled back into the routine of teaching. It’s kind of like riding a bike, honestly. I was a little wobbly at first, remembering what it’s like to manage larger groups of rambunctious teenagers and stand/talk all day. It was exhausting, but good. During my first few provisional days, I had a sub in the room with me to help me get the hang of things. Annoyingly, I didn’t get computer access until mid week, which kept me from moving forward with content and doing everything else that I needed to do.

In a pleasant turn of events, my new school is 1 to 1 with MacBooks, so I get a nice computer to work with all year! Although I’m a lifelong pc user, I picked up the MacBook fairly easily. 

Within my first few days at school, I gained an interesting perspective on how different teaching at my new school would be as opposed to my old school. Since it is a private school, most of my students are not at much of a financial disadvantage. They have a lot of high end luxuries that my old students didn’t necessarily have. Most of them have access to private tutors if they don’t understand a concept the first time around. Most of their parents have a college education and they are expected to do the same. Attitudes are a little different. Most all of my students thank me and wish me a great day as they leave my classroom (unprompted, mind you!). Oh yes, class sizes are much smaller than I’m used to—my biggest class has a whopping 12 students! (Granted all of my students have some combination of dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and slower processing speeds, among other learning differences, so it’d be tough for everyone if classes were any bigger...not to mention that my classroom is tiny!)

In some of the best news of all, I received a substantial pay raise! Granted, Oklahoma has a LOOONG way to go in terms of teacher pay, so maybe my pay rate is nothing to get that excited about. Nonetheless, Thomas and I are thrilled to finally both be earning reasonable wages, so that we can start working towards achieving some of our financial goals. 

I do miss my old coworkers, especially my classroom neighbors. However, I like my new coworkers and the fact that I’m a member of a department, not just the sole member of the department. It’s nice to have people to talk to about math teaching, as sometimes history teachers just don’t understand how difficult it is to teach about systems of equations!

Sadly, I guess teaching in Oklahoma was a good preparation for teaching elsewhere. If I can teach at a small school, where I taught 4 different classes, classrooms of 20+ students, have minimal parental support/involvement, use outdated materials, barely make a living wage, and prepare kids for some arbitrary standardized test that determines the worth of my school, my teaching skills, and the students’ knowledge levels, then I suppose that I could teach well almost anywhere else! 

I truly love what I do now. Getting to teach at my new school affords me so many wonderful professional and personal opportunities! So grateful for how this turned out!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Failure and Success

One of my favorite Catholic speakers/talk radio hosts, Jennifer Fulwiler, has talked about how as a society, we need to learn how to embrace failure. She said that we get so wrapped up being afraid of failure that we try avoiding it at all costs. She gave her listeners a goal for 2018 to learn to embrace failure. She also cited the now-viral video from Will Smith about the importance of failure in our daily lives. 

Think about it—what is your connotation of failure? To me, failure equates to a bleak future. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate it. But I’m trying to change my mental perception of it. 

This year, I’m working on being more transparent and breaking down stigmas, so in that spirit, I’m going to share a story of how failure was a good thing for me and my life.

Let’s take a step back to this time last year...that seems like an eternity ago! I was still engaged and in a long-distance relationship with Thomas. I was a heap of anxiety. I was worried about the wedding, moving to Texas right after the wedding, and about aspects of my work (looking at you, state testing!), but most of all, I was worried about finding a new job for after the wedding. 

I applied to many places, but didn’t have a lot of success. It was frustrating, but I moved on with life. I was okay until the day that I received a hard rejection from the school that I really thought would hire me. I made a solid connection with the interview panel, I liked their benefits package, and most of all, it felt right. When I received that email at the end of my planning period that day, telling me that they went with someone who was more qualified, I felt like I had been shot in the gut. I was inconsolable. I knew that I had failed. 

This failure brought me to what I now realize was an awful anxiety attack. I felt hopeless for my job prospects, my ability to actually be a teacher, but most of all for my future marriage and my ability to contribute to our financial success/future. I couldn’t understand—I prayed on it constantly, I painstakingly edited my resume and cover letters for each interview, and nothing seemed to be going right. I was at the end of my rope. 

Everyone in my life did a good job of trying to help me, saying things like, “God’s got a plan” “Things happen for a reason” “It’s not the end of the world” “Something better will come along”. Those sentiments were nice (and very well-intentioned), but were of no help to my anxious, depressed self. One of the more helpful things that happened in this time was that my brother-in-law gave me a book to read. (How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie) While I didn’t ever quite finish the book, it did immediately provide me with some incredible tips on how to effectively manage my anxiety. 

Soon enough, I received my opportunity to work. I was connected to one of the homeschooling families with whom I now work. The pay wasn’t stellar, but it was something to keep my skills up. Better yet, it sounded like a nice break from the chaos that naturally comes with teaching in a classroom setting. 

The job was (and still is) nice. I love working with these girls, and I feel as though I’m a better teacher for it. After being frustrated about wanting more hours and more pay, God gave me more opportunities to expand to 2 more families and the tutoring center. 

As it turns out, the flexibility in my schedule was a blessing for many reasons. First, it allowed me to get settled and establish myself as a Texan with a new last name. Heaven knows that was enough of a task! Second, it allowed me to be present and help Thomas and his family with various things. Most of all, I had the freedom to establish friendships, to learn the city, and to just acclimate to married life in general. 

Life is really good now. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned better coping mechanisms. I’ve learned to be more open with myself and with those around me, although that can still be a struggle. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who feels this way at times, which is incredibly comforting, believe it or not. Most of all, I’ve learned that God is very good and faithful, and He provides for us in ways better than we can imagine. He also works in mysterious ways...

Imagine my shock when I received a call on Monday from my mother-in-law, telling me that the very school that turned me down last year (where she happens to work in the business office), had an immediate opening for a high school math teacher. The principal emailed her, asking about me and if I’d be interested in talking with them again. Then, I received an email asking if I could come in the next day, Tuesday, for an interview. The interview committee still remembered me and had my old resume with my maiden name and Oklahoma address plastered at the top of it. Once again, we got along smashingly.

Wednesday at 12:30, the principal called, asking if I could be there at 2:30 that day to teach a sample lesson for the interview committee. She gave me the topic which, as it turned out, was one that I already had a lesson plan written on from my last 2 years of teaching. It was all waiting for me in a binder in a closet at my apartment. I grabbed it, and any other relevant lessons, and sped away to my interview. I had no time to talk through it start to finish beforehand, but had a rough outline in my mind. I was terrified of the outcome.

Despite a plethora of distractions once I taught the lesson (including an intercom call for a lady on the interview committee to get to that classroom, another teacher popping in to ask a question, and an alarm going off on my phone), they were blown away by my lesson and how smoothly I responded to every little distraction and how well I had taught my lesson. Truthfully, it was just par for the course, as any teacher would likely agree. The rest was God working in me, because I know I couldn’t have done what I did just by relying on my own strength. 

To top it all off, yesterday I received a call from the principal, telling me that I received the job and that I can come observe a class, which I did today. In great news, it turns out that the algebra class, which will take up 4/5 of my teaching day uses the EXACT textbook I used back at Waukomis. The exact book I assumed would be deemed outdated and obsolete by any other school. The exact book to which I have already planned every lesson, homework assignment, quiz, and test I could ever need to fall back on if I can’t find something in the lesson plans that are being left for me for the remainder of the year. Also, in what I consider to be one of the coolest little “God winks” of all, my new room number will be 501. My old classroom was 105. God’s got my back in all of this, and I know that I’ll have all the support I could possibly need from my new coworkers and administrators! 

The upshot is that I will start teaching full time on Monday, so I could definitely use some extra prayers as I begin this new journey! This new step in my journey will not be without its own set of challenges, but I’m certain that I’ll be okay, even if I still encounter failures. If you’re wanting specific intentions, be praying for my new students that they may be open and receptive to me and transition well. 

Ready or not, here I come!
Now that I have a little bit of hindsight and a newfound appreciation of failure, I realize that what could be called the worst thing that ever happened to me actually just propelled me to the life I live and love now, and to one of the best opportunities I’ve ever received! This failure led me to learn more about myself. It led me to so many great people and places that I never could have imagined. I’m not the same woman I was a year ago, and I’m so incredibly happy for that. Now, excuse me while I go back to teacher mode!!!