Sunday, December 30, 2012

On stress and coming up with a plan to start dealing with it

As awful as this is to look at, it completely explains how
I've been feeling lately.  Image from here.
Do you ever have those times when you keep going and going and going thinking that if you can just make it to the end of the week or month or semester or whatever then it will all be better?  I've been having one of those times for about a month now.  And I FINALLY made it to the end of the semester at school and, while I told myself over and over and over again that everything would be better and I would be happier and less tired and less stressed when I got there, it turns out I'm not.

I think when you keep going nonstop, sometimes you simply don't take the time to figure out what's causing all of that stress.  Instead, you simply feel the stress instead of dealing with the cause (or causes), which means you deal with the same stress over and over and over.  

So last night, Andrew and I sat down and talked through some of the things that have been bothering me and I finally started to deal with the stress and the things that are causing it.  And while it's not going to go away overnight, at least now 1) Andrew and I are working on it together, which automatically makes me feel less overwhelmed, 2) I've identified what's causing most of the stress instead of simply feeling the stress, and 3) I have a plan (at least the beginning of a plan) in place for dealing with both the causes and the stress.

So here's the beginning of the plan.  
  • Take care of myself - get enough sleep, drink water, exercise on a regular basis.
  • Spend more time actually talking to Andrew.  We're going to eat dinner together at least once a week, which has been difficult because of our different work schedules, and sit down and talk about the things we need to talk about.
  • Plan things out so that my schedule doesn't seem so overwhelming.
  • Stop letting myself feel like I'm not good enough.
  • Make sure that I'm doing what I need to do for my students at school, but setting some limits so that I'm not completely stressed out the way I've been this semester.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Whatever happened to snail mail?

You know what one of my favorite things about the holidays is?  Getting Christmas cards in the mail.  It's probably the only time all year that I get more personal mail than any other kind of mail.  And it makes me so happy.  Isn't everyone happy to get something that's someone's actually taken the time to address to them by hand?

So this year I'm going to work on sending more personal mail.  I'm starting it off by sending thank you cards to the people who took the time to give me Christmas gifts and then I might move on to sending letters (yes actual handwritten letters) to some of those people I care most about or simply those that I think could use a little spontaneously written note.

In college, I started volunteering for an organization called Barnabas Ministries where you are paired with a child who is incarcerated and you write them a letter once a week.  It's that simple.  Sometimes I get letters back from the child; sometimes I don't.  Sometimes I feel like I get to know them really well because they tell me so much about themselves and sometimes I struggle to find something to write about each week because I have no idea if they're even reading the letters I send them, let alone if they find them at all interesting.  The hardest thing about it is when I have a child who I've exchanged letters with regularly and then you find out that they are no longer incarcerated.  That's wonderful for them, but it means that I loose contact with that child because of the way the ministry works (we're not allowed to exchange any personal information such as our last name or address for safety reasons).

I know that simply sitting down to write a letter once a week has helped me to focus on what is really important in life and to express some thoughts that I don't express in conversations or email.  That's why I'm going to try to make it a more regular part of my routine.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Change

I got a new planner from my husband for Christmas and have been enjoying planning things out for the days/weeks/months ahead.  Whenever I think about what I'm planning on doing, I think about changes I want to make in my life.  With that said, I ran across a post at Zen Habits that offered four steps to change.  I thought they were so wonderfully simple and applicable that I thought I'd share them.

1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Joseph's Lullaby

If you haven't heard this song, it's one of my new favorite Christmas songs.  I especially like the focus it puts on peace and calm and slowing down.  My favorite line is "the world can wait for one more moment" because it reminds me that almost everything I think is important can wait for one more moment.


Image from the movie The Nativity Story.
I also like the emphasis it puts on Joseph because he seems to get left out of the Christmas story so often, and he's such an important part of it.  Joseph is an amazing example of trust in God.  Joseph has to trust that God knows what He's doing and that Joseph is meant to be a part of it, no matter how hard or confusing his role in that plan seems to be.  Not only that, he also has to take on the role of protecting and caring for Mary during her pregnancy and birth, which is a huge undertaking because of the questions and comments from others about their expecting a baby and also because of their travel to Bethlehem and their not having a place to stay while they are there.  Joseph is an integral part of the Christmas story.

Joseph's Lullaby
by Mercy Me
Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Or does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child

Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You'll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

These words from the advent devotional at Following the Star stood out to me this morning.

"Perhaps peace in our world begins with peace in our own lives. We each have places of unrest, and perhaps if we work for peace here, inside our lives, we might be able to know more of God’s peace in the world."

It reminds me of the Sara Groves song "Peace Peace"

Peace, peace, it's hard to find
Trouble comes like wrecking ball
To your peace of mind
And all that worry you can't leave behind you

All your hopes and fears
All your hopes and fears, oh
All your hopes and fears
Are met in Him tonight

Peace, peace, it's hard to find
Doubt comes like a tiny voice that's so unkind
And all your fears
They conspire to unwind you

And all your hopes and fears
All your hopes and fears, oh
All your hopes and fears
Are met in Him

And in your dark street shines
An everlasting light
And all your hopes and fears
Are met in Him tonight

And all your hopes and fears
All your hopes and fears, oh
All your hopes and fears
Are met in Him tonight

Peace, peace
Peace, peace
Peace, peace

Image found here.

Peace is definitely something most of us need to find in the midst of our much to busy and stressful lives.  I think advent is the perfect time to focus on peace and connecting with God.  Haley from Carrots for Michaelmas wrote a beautiful post about the importance of the liturgical year and the gift that it gives each of us "to make his life our own."  She explains it beautifully and made me think about my view of advent and the liturgical year.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Celebrating Christmas

I didn't do so well with thankful November, but I am going to try to post more during December, mostly as a way to keep me focused on the importance of Christmas in the midst of all of the craziness it can bring.

Here are the ways we've celebrated so far:
Presents under our tree

  • Our tree and Christmas decorations are up, both inside and out.  
  • Most of our presents are bought and wrapped because I LOVE wrapping presents.  
  • Our Christmas cards are still in the works, but will hopefully be ordered soon.  
  • I've already watched the majority of It's a Wonderful Life with my Books to Movies class at school.  (Next up is The Muppet Christmas Carol because the only way I like to watch anything based on Dickens is when the Muppets are involved.)
  • Christmas music has been playing non-stop in my car.  I've made it through Blake Shelton's Cheers It's Christmas, Colbie Caillat's Christmas in the Sand, and one of my favorites 'N Sync's Home for Christmas.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thankful November: my church

Today I'm thankful for my church, Orchard Park Presbyterian.  I have been going to this church since I was in the fourth grade.  We've gone through some changes since then (almost doubled the size of our building, changed ministers, added a contemporary service) and we're currently going through more changes while we have an interim minister and search for a new head minister.  I absolutely love this church and have committed to seeing what happens during all of these changes.

In the same way,  I've been committed to the contemporary service.  It isn't perfect by any means, but it's been growing and changing over the past several years.  Today was a huge change for that service because we moved it from the pavilion (a large gym/recreation room at one end of the church) to the sanctuary.  I can't say that everything went perfectly, but overall the congregation seemed really receptive of the service and the work that so many had done to get it ready for its move to the sanctuary.  I'm glad to be a part of a church that's willing to change and grow and take risks, the same way the original members who founded the church did.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thankful November: sleep

Today I'm thankful for sleep and how it makes everything seem better!  I admit it.  I love to sleep.  If life seems to overwhelming or stressful or depressing or full of anxiety, I will go to sleep to get away from it all for a while.  It doesn't matter if it's sleep at night or napping in the middle of the day, sleep always seems to do the trick. 
Image from here

In case you need any more proof that sleep, or specifically naps, are good for you, you can check out this website.  Or just do what I usually do and think about Psalm 127:2 "...for he grants sleep to the ones that he loves."  If that's not encouragement to get more sleep, I don't know what is!


Friday, November 2, 2012

Thankful November: teaching at Options

Today I'm thankful for my job.  This is my seventh year teaching English to at-risk high school students at Options Charter School.  It's definitely really challenging, but also really rewarding.  I have had students I've been working with get arrested or drop out of high school, but I've also had students I've worked with graduate and go on to great things!  

A few of my favorite teaching moments from my time teaching at Options:
  • Two years ago, I had a student speak at graduation and tell me I was the reason he graduated.  That made my entire year!!!
  • Last year, I had a student who I had been working with since his freshmen year graduate even though all of his friends dropped out along the way.  He's leaving next week to go through basic training for the army.  
  • Yesterday, I had a student tell another student that I'm like her second mom.
Not only do I have amazing stories because of the relationships I'm able to develop with students, I am also challenged every single day to teach these students as well as I can.  I've been pushed way out of my comfort zone by dealing with some of these students who are into things I had never even imagined when I was in high school, including drugs, alcohol, abuse of all kinds, probation, and arrests.  I've been challenged by taking charge of the yearbook and the student government.  I've had my patience, my classroom management skills, and my teaching skills challenged time and time again.  I am a much better teacher because of Options.

It's definitely difficult to face these challenges every day and try to remember that it is all worth it (because some days it definitely doesn't feel like it!), but I can't imagine working anywhere else.  I know that teaching at a traditional high school would be easier, but I would miss the relationships that I've formed with the students and staff.  I would miss the ability to be in complete control over my curriculum.  (I get to choose the books I teach, which is a huge blessing because I get to introduce my students to books I love.  A few of my favorites that I've taught in the past or am planning on teaching later this year are: The Catcher in the Rye, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Monster, Split, The Book Thief, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Kite Runner, Rooftops of Tehran, Brave New World, and Slaughterhouse Five.)  I have to say that I'm so, so thankful for my job.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thankful November

Today begins Thankful November! I invite you to join me in participating in the "Today I am thankful for..." blog posts. Each day this month, you post something for which you are thankful.

Today I'm thankful for our amazing vet!  Her name is Sheryl Johnson and she works at Companion Animal Medical Center.  We go to the same church and our families has been friends ever since I (and then later my little sister) nannied for her two girls during the summer.  She's an amazing woman who  made me feel so much better about my poor dog Schmoo today because I knew he was in such good hands!

When I woke up this morning, I came downstairs and let Schmoo out, gave him breakfast, and then let him out again. (He has his routine down!)  When I let him in from the backyard, I noticed that his tail looked strange.  When he came in, I looked at it more closely and realized something was definitely wrong!  

Schmoo normally has a really perky tail that he wags at almost everything and today his tail was hanging limply between his legs.  I was so worried about it that I went upstairs and woke Andrew up so he could look up at Schmoo's tail.  We thought it was broken and were both really worried.  

I called the vet's office and set up an appointment so that she could take a look at Schmoo's tail.  When the vet looked at Schmoo, she determined that he had limber tail.  She put Schmoo on antibiotics and hopefully his tail should be back to normal in a few days.  It definitely helped me to worry less to know that Sheryl was the one looking after Schmoo!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Taking students shopping

Image found here
Today I took a few of my students on a quick Halloween supply shopping trip with me during my prep period.  It was the first time in a long time that I've taken any of my students out of the building and I was pleasantly surprised by how great they were.

I have to admit that taking students on field trips is one of my big fears because I never know how they're going to act.  At least if they're in my own classroom and they act up, I'm the only one that has to deal with them!  But our shopping trip today inspired me.  Maybe I'll have to give field trips a chance...  And it sure was fun walking around Meijer with a shopping cart full of pumpkins and four high school students.  It definitely brightened up my day and made me remember what I love about my job.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book review: Les Miserables

A few weeks ago I celebrated the accomplishment of finishing reading Les Miserables by posting it as my Facebook status.  I thought it was definitely an accomplishment that needed to be celebrated because 1) it was the longest book I've ever read and 2) it took such a long time to make it through.  But both of those things make Les Miserables sound as though it's a tough book to get through and while it did feel that way at times, I have to say that I really, really enjoyed it.

Image found here.
While it felt long because there were some extremely descriptive parts that had very little to do with the plot and seemed to drag on and on (I don't think I'll ever need to read another word about the Battle of Waterloo), I actually liked that Les Miserables was a book that I was invested in for a long time.  I felt like I really got to know and care about all of the characters in a way that I haven't with many other books.

I originally started reading the book so that I could see the movie that's coming out on Christmas day.  When I started reading, I knew almost nothing about the storyline.  Though I'm a huge fan of musicals, I've never really liked Les Mis and I haven't actually listened to all of it or seen it performed.  The fact that I didn't know what was going to happen ahead of time kept me extremely interested.  The book had so many twists and turns that kept me guessing at what was going to happen next.  (And also so many characters that I had a hard time keeping some of them straight.)  I actually got so excited about what was going on in the book a few times that I started explaining the plot to Andrew, which he tolerated remarkably well considering most of my plot explanations took about 15 minutes...

Overall, I would definitely read this book again and recommend it to anyone who's willing to commit to reading it.  I will admit that there are several parts that I found incredibly boring, but I was able to make it through those parts because I knew that something spectacular was sure to happen after that.  And I was not disappointed.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I finished sewing my Halloween costume

I haven't sewn anything in years.  I used to sew much more when I was in high school, but that was because my first job was at Hancock Fabrics.  I think it's a rule that you have to get into whatever you're selling when you're working retail or else you'll end up bored out of your mind!  So I found myself buying fabric while I worked at the fabric store.

Anyway, my Halloween costume (which I'm not telling anyone at school about until they see it on Wednesday is little dead riding hood.  The inspiration came from two places.

This picture.
Found here


This pattern.
Found here.

For my cape, I used a set of red sheets that I got at Goodwill for the material, which was cheaper than actually going to a fabric store and buying that much material.  I changed the pattern slightly by making it a little longer and not lining it.  (I figured it's a Halloween costume.  It doesn't really need to be lined.)  I think it turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall break!

I made it to fall break!  Today I slept in because my wonderful husband got up with the whining dog.  However, my wonderful husband also forgot to turn off his alarm so I woke up to it at eight.  That's still sleeping in an extra hour and a half so I'll take it!

After spending some time around the house, I drove to Plainfield to go to lunch with my friend Laura.  We went to an Indian buffet appropriately named Favorite Indian Cuisine.  It was so good!  I enjoyed every single dish I tried, but I have to say I'm partial to the paneer masala because paneer's something you only get in Indian food.

Then it was over to the dollar store so she could pick up cleaning supplies for her new house (she's closing on it tomorrow!) and I picked up some stuff for decorating my classroom for Halloween.  I found some really good stuff that seemed even better because each item was only a dollar!

This year my students are really into it.  They have planned more ahead of time this year than any other year.  Our theme is going to be abandoned asylum complete with specimen jars full of blood, brains, intestines, and other scary items; a fake body that's going to fall out of the ceiling and hang itself; students dress as former asylum patients laying on tables; a student sitting in an electric chair; and an operating table with me as the doctor operating on a patient!

We have a general plan and some of the supplies gathered, but we still have to figure out how to make an electric chair.  At this point we're thinking using my office chair and tying a students arms down to the arms of the chair and having them wear a bowl that's covered in tin foil with wires sticking out of it.  Other suggestions?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One more day

I know I've been completely missing from this blog but that's because I've been a bit overwhelmed.  I'm happy to say that I only have one more day of school until fall break (!!!) which I'm hoping will give me enough of a break to get me through to Thanksgiving and then until the end of the semester.

It doesn't help that Halloween, which is the biggest celebration day at my school, is coming up.  I'm in charge of the student government, and they are the ones in charge of the celebration.  Too bad that I only have a few of my student government students who seem to care about what we're trying to do.  At least those few are really helpful, so hopefully we'll manage to make it through...  I know that I can at least make it through until tomorrow afternoon!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

So far today

I've made pumpkin bread,


started chili in the crockpot,


finished knitting a washcloth and started on another one,


repotted a plant,


and wrapped a birthday present and a baby present.



I'd say I've had a pretty productive Saturday!  I hope yours is just as productive and enjoyable as mine has been so far!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10 things

I borrowed this post idea from this lovely lady.

1. This weekend my friend Liz from college came to visit with her one year old son.  Besides the fact that it was amazing to see Liz since it's been over a year since I saw her at her baby shower in St. Louis, it was crazy to have her son Niko running around our house.  It totally gave me a glimpse of what having our own child would be like.

2. Our dog Schmoo was really good with Niko, but Niko totally liked the cats more than the dog.  Every time a cat would come into the room he would look at it and start meowing.

3. One of my students brought me a cannoli this morning for no reason.  It was the best cannoli I've ever eaten, but it came from a Greek place, which seems weird to me.

4. I read almost everything that my students read at school aloud to them, which means I'm currently in the middle of The Catcher in the Rye, And Then There Were None, and Mr. Popper's Penguins.

5. I love watching The Voice because I like seeing the judges bicker with each other.  I would totally choose Blake because he is hilarious.

6. Speaking of The Voice, last year CeeLo had a cat when he was doing interviews.  This year he has a bird.  They did show the cat once in the car as he was getting to the studio, but I totally miss the cat.

7. Have you watched the show Breaking Amish?  I watched the first episode and have the second episode saved on my DVR.  I'm not sure how much I'll like it when they actually go to New York, but the first episode was so interesting.

8. Can you tell I've been watching too much TV?

9. Last week, Schmoo was barking at something outside.  I went outside to see what it was and saw him doing the walk forward and back up because I'm scared thing that dogs do.  What was he barking at?  A flower.  I figured it out when he finally sniffed it and then stopped freaking out.

10. I'm in the middle of reading Les Miserables in hopes that I'll finish it before the movie comes out.  I really like the parts that actually have a plot, but I would totally cut out the 20-30 page chunks that describe things like Waterloo or convents, which barely tie into the plot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This week I've been working on two projects.

I started a new prayer shawl, which is knit in squares and then pieced together.  That lets me knit it a square at a time and makes me feel like I'm making a lot of progress.

I started reading Les Miserables.  I'm always wary of reading "classics" because I have been so thoroughly unimpressed by some of them.  (The Old Man and the Sea to name one...)  But so far I'm really enjoying Les Miserables.  I don't know if it's the fact that I don't really know the story so it's full of twists and turns or that I feel really accomplished for reading it because it's such a long book to read. Either way, I feel like I can't get enough of it lately.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why Schmoo (and other dogs) are wonderful

"One of the greatest gifts we receive from dogs is the tenderness they evoke in us.  The disappointments of life, the injustices, the battering events that are beyond our control, and the betrayals that we endure from those we befriended and loved can make us cynical and turn our hearts into flint on which only the matches of anger and bitterness can be struck into flame.  Other companion animals can make us more human, but because of the unique nature of dogs - their clear delight in being with us, the rejoicing with which they greet us when we come home to them, the reliable sunniness of their disposition, the joy they bring to playtime, the curiosity and wonder with which they embrace each new experience - they can melt away cynicism and sweeten a bitter heart." - from A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz

Monday, August 20, 2012

Last week got away from me

I started back to school with students on Wednesday of last week and things got a little away from me because I was busy getting back into the swing of things.

This year we're going back to block scheduling.  We did block scheduling a few years ago then did a traditional meet every day schedule and now we're back to block.  I was really resistant to going back to block because I don't think my students do well with it.  Many of my students have really inconsistent home lives so I feel like the more consistency we can give them at school the better.  But as hard as I fought against going back to block, I have to admit that I'm loving the extra day to plan between classes!!!  (I'm just not telling anyone at school because I know I'll be hearing an "I told you so" if I do!)

Not only do the students need consistency, I need it!  I've really been trying hard to get into a routine this year.  It makes me feel less stressed because I know I have the things I need to get done done before going to bed/going to work.  Here are the routines I've been working at establishing.

  • Making my lunch for the next day at night.
  • Getting the coffee pot ready to go so all I have to do in the morning is flip it on.
  • Cleaning up the kitchen at night.
  • Picking out my clothes for the next day at night.  This has saved me so much time, especially because I normally get up before Andrew.  This way I'm not scrounging around in the dark trying to find what I want to wear because I have the bad habit of leaving my clothes on the floor of our bedroom...  Whoops!
  • Packing my gym bag if I plan on going after work.  It's much easier for me to go if I don't have to come home first.
  • Heading to bed around 11.  Even though I don't actually go to sleep until around midnight, being in bed and reading helps me relax and get ready to go to sleep.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recipe: Marshmallow popcorn

This recipe is so simple that I was able to throw it together from ingredients I already had in my pantry.  It came straight from Pinterest.  The recipe on Pinterest was for three bags of popcorn, which was way more than I needed so I cut it down to what I thought would work for one large bowl of popcorn.  It was really good, but I will warn you that it was really messy.

The original recipe:
3 bags popcorn (pop and take out extra kernels) 2 sticks of butter 16 oz bag of marshmallows 1 cup brown sugar Microwave butter, marshmallows, and brown sugar for 2 1/2 min. Take out and stir. Microwave again for 1 min. Repeat until thin sauce. When done pour over popcorn and mix.

My version of the recipe:
1 large bowl of popcorn with 1/4 stick of butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and about 5 ounces of marshmallows. Follow directions from original recipe.

Monday, August 13, 2012

On being happy with what you have

Yesterday, the house that's for sale across the street had an open house.  I went to it, not because we're looking at moving, but because I'm always curious about the houses in my neighborhood, how they're set up, and how they're decorated.  I think I want to compare them to mine to make sure that my house is still what I want.  And it is.

Our house shortly after we bought it.  We've changed 
a bunch of the landscaping since them.
Sure the house across the street is nice.  It's larger than ours with a dining room, a loft, and a finished basement.  But we don't need all of the space they have.  After living in our house for a few years, I've realized that the more space we have, the more stuff we have and the less we see each other.  And while our house is smaller overall, it's bigger where it counts.  Our backyard, master bedroom, and master bathtub (which is one of my favorite things about our house) are bigger.

So after walking through the house across the street, I was happy to walk into my own house because it's ours.  It's the perfect size for us and we're having fun making the house and yard what we want them to be.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A different way of looking at the sabbath

Image found here
"How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterward." - Spanish proverb

Friday, August 10, 2012

Back to school

Image found here
Today the teachers and staff went back to school.   I can't say I'm necessarily excited to be back - because who wants to see the end of summer? - but I do love my job and my students.  I'm sure it'll end up being fine, but the transition back to school is definitely going to be a tough one, especially since I had to get up at 7 today when I've been getting up around 10 at the earliest.  I've had three cups of coffee to stay awake today.  I'll have to work on moving my sleep schedule to a more normal one over the weekend.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What a nice reminder

Image found here
"God created us in such a way that although we do have strengths, we also have weaknesses and we need His help."    
-from Hearing from God Each Morning by Joyce Meyer

I started a new Bible reading plan a few days ago and I'm always amazed at what is pointed out to me by reading the Bible in new and different ways.  I use a program called YouVersion that is available online or on my ipad.  It offers a bunch of Bible reading plans and allows you to choose from a bunch of different versions.  I really like it because it allows me to check things off and see my progress (which I absolutely love!) and because it's so easy to explore new reading plans or different versions of the Bible.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Breaking the "don't judge a book by its cover" rule

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but this version of Jane Eyre has kept me thinking about it for days.  I read the book this summer and didn't really like it, but I'm telling you, this cover does a great job of making it sound a lot better than it actually is.  The front cover looks like this:


And on the back cover has the quote,  "Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt!  May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine.  May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love."  I mean, come on!  That quote would definitely make me want to read the book.

I finally committed to reading the book because I've had the movie saved on our DVR for weeks and I hate watching movies that are based on books without reading the books.  I always try to read the book In this case, I thought the movie was SO much better than the book because of moments like this...
Image from here
...that happen several times during the movie.  There was only one part of the book that I thought they left out of the movie, which wasn't that important and probably wouldn't have worked as well in the movie as it did in the book.  I would definitely recommend the movie; I'm not so sure about the book. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"It was like the heart just sat down"

The words that I've bolded from the article in The Indianapolis Star captured exactly what I've been feeling about the shooting at the Sikh temple.

"Jatinder Mangat, 38, Racine, said his uncle Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple's president, was one of those shot at the temple, but he didn't know the extent of Kaleka's injuries.  When he later learned people had died, Mangat said "it was like the heart just sat down."
"This shouldn't happen anywhere," he said.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Relationships

At church yesterday, we talked about the importance of relationships.  In our adult education class, we talked about how the church is all about relationships.  And in service, the sermon was about the building of the temple and the importance of the church as a group of people, not as a building.  Both of those discussions rang so true to me.  My church (Orchard Park Presbyterian) has been going through a time of transition.  We have an interim minister that many people have had problems with whose contract was just renewed through February.  We have three services that have lower attendance than I've seen in years.  We have some problems like any other church.

And the thing is, I've grown up in this church.  Besides my family, it has been the major constant in my life.  We started going to Orchard Park when we moved to Indiana and have been going there ever since.  I cannot explain all of the ways that this church has affected me.

It is at this church that I explored and questioned and strengthened my faith.  
It is at this church that I formed friendships that have lasted more than any other friendships I have had. These are the friends that I know I will always be there for me.
It is at this church that I was "adopted" by Al and Anne Porteous who knew that we had no family in the area and took it upon themselves to fulfill that role for us.  
It is as this church that I was introduced to the camp where my family has spent so much time together and my sister chose to get married.  
It is at this church that I learned the meaning and value of mission work.  
It is at this church that I was told that my mother made it through her heart surgery (and for that I will be forever grateful to Jim Noble.)

I know that the church has some problems, but I have a hard time looking past them sometimes and I think other people in the church do too.  It seems as though most of our problems would disappear if we could just remember what was said today, that the church is about relationships.  Relationships with God and relationships with people.  

And so, because I am frustrated and disappointed and don't know what else to do about everything that is happening at church, I'm going to do just that.  I'm going to focus on my relationship with God and my relationships with people.  I'm going to pray about the problems.  I'm going to pray for the people.  Instead of complaining or criticizing, I'm going to pray and remember that God has a plan for our church, even if we don't understand it right now.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Spotify

I rediscovered Spotify today, which means I've had music on whenever I've been by my computer.  What is Spotify you ask?  It's a free music streaming program that lets you make playlists of songs you like and subscribe to other people's playlists.  

The main reason I started using it again was because I had the Spring Awakening soundtrack saved as a playlist and I wanted to listen to it since I was talking about it with Barb the other day.

If you haven't checked it out (both Spotify and Spring Awakening) you should!  My favorite song is "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind" in case you're wondering.  I could pretty much listen to that song over and over again, though some of the other songs are growing on me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Yes

"The purpose of education is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions." -James Baldwin

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Young adult literature

I finished my first of the two graduate classes I'm taking this summer.  The class was about young adult literature and I wasn't sure how much it would apply to me since I've never really been one to read or teach much young adult literature.  But I was pleasantly surprised!  Not only did I meet some really awesome people in my class, I got to meet some really great books.  I will definitely be recommending some of the books that I read to my students, if not teaching a few of them in my classes.

We did A TON of reading in this class.  Here's a quick list of the books I read  and what I thought about them.

Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge Of all the books on the syllabus, this is the one I thought I would enjoy the least mostly because it was about a boy who's obsessed with baseball.  But I have to admit that I LOVED this book.  It's so cleverly written.  Ron Koertge does an amazing job of working different forms of poetry into this book, everything from sonnets to sestinas, while making it fun to read.  We Skped with with the author and he was just as clever and creative to talk to as you would expect from reading the book.  I will definitely be using parts of this book with my creative writing class.  I plan on reading Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, which is the book that came before this one.

Split by Swati Avasthi This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing but because of the subject it deals with.  Split is the story of a boy who grew up with an abusive father.  He leaves the house to go live with his older brother who left several years before, but is still tied to his old life because of his ex-girlfriend and his mother who is still living with the abusive father.  The characters are extremely well-written and stick with you.  This book kept me wanting to read more to find out what would happen.  We Skyped with the author and she was really interesting.  She told us that she was surprised by what her characters ended up doing when she was writing it, which was a strange thing for me to try to understand as someone who doesn't write.  I plan on using this book in my class that deals with monsters next year because it's a great example of how people deal with "monsters" they encounter in real life.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler  I liked the concept of this book more than I liked the actual book.  It is basically a letter written by a girl to the guy she's breaking up with, but she tells the story through the box of stuff that she drops off on his doorstep.  There are pictures of each of the things in the box throughout the book and she explains what each thing had to do with their relationship.  I wanted to like it, but would have liked it better if it had been half as long as it was because it got old towards the end.

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell I thought this book was really easy to get into and to keep reading.  It is considered a paranormal book, but the paranormal part was so naturally woven into the book that I would not limit it by describing it that way.  It involves a girl who grew up in Maine, but was sent to Baltimore by her brother so that she could make a good match and get married.  In my head, I kept comparing it to a Jane Austen novel, but when our class talked to the author, she said she was aiming more for it to be closer to a Bronte novel.  The characters were interesting and the plot had several twists that surprised me.  I have the second book of the series The Springsweet and I will definitely be reading it soon.


Nothing by Janne Teller I had a really hard time with this book.  I thought the concept was really interesting, trying to deal with the meaning of life by making a pile of the things that were important to them, but as I kept reading I got more and more horrified.  The book is gruesome and didn't seem to have much of a point to me.  It was compared to Lord of the Flies in most of the reviews I read, but I don't think it was a good comparison because this book seemed much more forced.  Of all the books Ir read for class, this one really bothered and disturbed me and I would not recommend it to anyone.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys  This book tells the story of a Lithuanian girl and her family starting in 1941.  They are taken from their home and made to go to a work camp, eventually ending up in Siberia.  It is a completely different holocaust story than the ones that are typically told and I learned so much by reading this book.  In the beginning of the book, the author states that the countries of Lithuania and a few others disappeared from maps for a while and the people who lived there had nowhere to go.  This book was difficult to read because of the subject, but I would definitely recommend it.   I am thinking of using it in my genocide/holocaust class if I can manage to work another book into it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak I had listened to this book on cd a few years ago and I was excited to get to actually sit down and read it.  This was the longest of the books I read, but one of the most interesting.  The book is narrated by death and tells the story of a girl living in Nazi Germany.  It is not at all what you would expect.  Death is compassionate and the characters are extremely interesting and all seem to have great senses of humor, which is hard to make work in that setting, but somehow the author manages to make it work.  This is one of those books where the characters really stick with you after you are done reading it.  I have been wanting to teach it for a few years, but I might have to have one of my students read it and give me their opinion before I totally commit.

Ungifted by Gordan Korman We read this aloud during our class and I loved it.  It was so funny.  The characters are great and I loved how the author switched narrators every chapter.  It is so different from what I usually read because this one is a definite young adult book, but I loved it.  The basic plot is that a boy who is kind of a class clown smacks a statue of atlas holding the world on the butt and the world comes loose and rolls into the middle school gym during a really important basketball game.  The superintendent catches him and writes down his name, but it accidentally gets mixed in with the students that are being transferred to the school for gifted students.  What happens from there is so funny and cleverly written.  I will definitely be checking out some of the author's other books.

So that's a run down of what we read in the class.  I have a lot more reading ahead of me because the professor gave us a bunch of galley copies of young adult books that she had so I have a stack of about fifteen new books to read!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Knitting again

I go through times when I don't knit at all and then all of the sudden I pick it up again.

My mom and a few other ladies at church have been getting together once a week to knit.  I've been going and I love having a time set aside to knit. It inspires me to try new patterns/techniques that I've been too intimidated to attempt.

Each time I stop knitting I forget how much I love it until I start knitting again.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Can you love a publishing company? I might.

As I read Columbine, I made sure to check out every part of the book because there was so much added information.  I flipped to the last page and found this description of Twelve the company that published Columbine.


Mission Statement

Twelve was established in August 2005 with the objective of publishing no more than twelve books each year. We strive to publish the singular book, by authors who have a unique perspective and compelling authority. Works that explain our culture; that illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain. We seek to establish communities of conversation surrounding our books. Talented authors deserve attention not only from publishers, but from readers as well. To sell the book is only the beginning of our mission. To build avid audiences of readers who are enriched by these works–that is our ultimate purpose.

12 Things To Remember about TWELVE

  1. Each book will enliven the national conversation.
  2. Each book will be singular in voice, authority, or subject matter.
  3. Each book will be carefully edited, designed, and produced.
  4. Each book will have a month-long launch in which it is the imprint’s sole focus.
  5. Each book will be nationally advertised.
  6. Each book will have a national publicity campaign.
  7. Each book will have a digital strategy.
  8. Each book will be worthy of the attention of discerning book reviewers.
  9. Each book will have the potential to sell at least 50,000 copies in its lifetime.
  10. Each book will be marketed and distributed by the Hachette Book Group, the company with the best hit ratio in the American publishing business.
  11. Each book will be promoted well into its paperback life.
  12. Each book will matter.


In a world where there is always more of everything, I am extremely intrigued by their idea of focusing on quality over quantity.  You can bet that I'll be reading more of their books.  (Check out a complete list here.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book review: Columbine

I wasn't sure that I actually wanted to read the book Columbine by Dave Cullen.  Obviously it covers a difficult topic and I knew that it would be difficult to read.  But as much as some parts of it were hard to get through, there were others that were strangely comforting, such as the description of SWAT team members who were patting down the students  as they were coming out the school to make sure they weren't armed and then hugging them.  It's amazing how much this book expands your thinking of the Columbine shooting and the people involved.  It really explains the difficulty that everyone involved (the survivors, the killer's parents, the local churches, the police, the SWAT teams) had with how to handle the shooting and the aftermath.

Before reading this book, I didn't realize how much of what people think they know about the Columbine shooting is wrong.  The killers were not involved in the Trench Coat Mafia. They were not targeting specific groups of students. They were not planning on shooting in the school at all, instead they planned on blowing it up using homemade bombs, shooting students as they ran from the school, and then driving their cars (which had more homemade bombs in them) into the groups gathered around the school trying to assist the injured and survivors.

I am completely in awe of Dave Cullen and the research he did for this book.  He spent ten years of his life researching and interviewing people involved with the shooting.  Reading the book was difficult enough for me and that only took me a week and a half.

For me, I think the book was summed up in two quotes.

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
- Earnest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


"You can't really teach a kid anything: you can only show his the way and motivate him to learn it himself."
 -Frank DeAngelis, principal of Columbine High School


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Recipe: Carmelized Onion, Gruyere, and Spinach Crustless Quiche

I got this recipe out of the local newspaper that comes out once a week, which apparently got it from Food.com.  I've been looking at the picture and wanting to make it for a few months now, and Andrew and I actually made it last night.  It turned out really well and we'll definitely make it again with a few changes.  I would definitely add a crust and possibly use a different cheese so that the flavor stands out a little more because the onions kind of overpowered the rest of the flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 (10-ounce) box frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 cup gruyere, grated
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • nutmeg
  • salt
  • pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  With a little oil in a frying pan over medium high heat, carmelize onions.  Squeeze the moisture out of the thawed spinach.  Beat eggs.  Add milk and whisk well.  Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and fresh nutmeg.  Oil a deep pie dish.  Place onions evenly over bottom of pie dish.  Evenly spread the spinach over the onions and follow up with the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the top.  Bake until firm in the middle, about 40-45 minutes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Starting the summer with school frustration

Today is officially my first day of summer vacation and, while I'm having a great time, I have to vent about two things that are carrying over from school.

The first is the yearbook.  I have been doing the school yearbook for the past four (possibly five I'm not exactly sure) years.  I receive a stipend for doing it and it really doesn't take that much time so I usually don't mind.  Unless there are problems with the yearbook.  Last year I had a student helping me with it as part of her senior project.  She did a great job of taking pictures at events throughout the year, but then didn't manage to get them to me until the last day of school after I had already finished and submitted the yearbook.  Whoops.

This year, the problem is not with the students, but with the company that takes our school pictures and makes our yearbooks.  I had great students helping me this year who took pictures throughout the year and got them to me so I had plenty of time to finish the yearbook.  I have everything finished and submitted to the company, except the portrait pages.  I haven't been able to finish the portrait pages because the company managed to mix up the portraits from the Carmel and Noblesville schools.  I don't know if Noblesville has our pictures, but we have theirs.

Normally I love the company we work with.  They do a great job of making the yearbook easy to put together and of answering my questions.  I usually call them at least once a year to ask for a reminder on how to do something I should already know how to do and they're always really nice about it.  So I contacted them last week about the mix up with the portraits.  They said they would get their lab working on it.  Now it's a week later and I still haven't heard back from them, which means I'm waiting on them to fix the mix up so I can finish the yearbook.  Frustrating!

The second is a parent who emailed the entire staff today.  I won't go into too much detail here, but her daughter was going to our school for a little less than three weeks before she got into trouble and was sent to the juvenile detention center.  She has been there for the remainder of the school year.  I have been providing her daughter with work so she can earn her English credit, which she didn't because she didn't return enough work to us.  Today, the mom emailed the entire staff to say that we were:

  1.     doing a horrible job as a school
  2.     had not positively impacted her daughter in any way or given her the opportunity to earn credit
  3.     have no idea what goes on with any of our students, especially during lunch when they're allowed to go off campus, and that she had seen Facebook and text messages talking about illegal activities between students during lunch.

The school principal and the social worker both responded really well and basically pointed out that:

  1. If she was that concerned about the school then she should have contacted us at some point between when her daughter started going to our school (months and months ago) and the end of school.
  2. That we didn't have much time to positively impact her daughter since she was with us for less than three weeks and that we aren't miracle workers.  It's not our fault that her daughter did something stupid and ended up in juvy.  I also know for a fact that we did positively influence her daughter because she would write me notes about how much she liked our school and our staff on the work she sent me from juvy.
  3. That we are a charter school that doesn't receive any funding to provide lunch for our students, which means they have to be allowed to go off campus for lunch.  And that if this parent had proof that there were illegal activities going on between students during lunch and knew about them that she should have either informed us or the authorities so that we could deal with it.  Duh!

I know that this parent is simply venting, but how ridiculous to contact us the day after school gets out with accusations about our school and our ability to do our jobs.  We have had several emails going around between staff members venting our frustration with this because these are the worst accusations we've heard from a parent all year and we're all upset about it.  Now I'm going to ignore this for the rest of the day and get back to enjoying my summer vacation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm still here

Just wanted to let you know that I'm still here, even if I've been reading much more than I've been writing.    I've been busy with my sister's wedding (which went beautifully on May 19th) and making it through the end of another school year.  We have a few more days of school and my students are still managing to keep me on my toes.  I just have to finish up the last few assignments with my students, finish the yearbook, go to graduation, and the get my classroom ready for next year.

Not that my summer is not going to be busy.  I will be reading and planning for a few new classes next year.  (I'm doing one where we read books and then watch the movies based on them.  I'm completely open to suggestions!!!)  I'll be taking two graduate courses.  And Andrew and I are going to go visit my college roommate Barb in Portland, Oregon, which I can't wait for!!!

I'm still formulating all of my summer plans, since I definitely get more accomplished when I have a plan, but wanted to stop in and say hi.  I still have to see where blogging fits into my summer plan, but I'm hoping to be back a bit more than I have been because I love the blogging community and want to contribute to it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Drama, drama, drama

There is DRAMA going on at my church.  We have an interim minister right now and a budget that's totally in the red so we have to make some drastic cuts.  Some of those cuts include staff cuts, which were presented to the session last week.  They were supposed to be kept confidential, but it seems like almost everybody in the congregation knows about them.  I have  decided that I don't want to know about them before we're "officially" supposed to because there's nothing I can do about them anyway so all it would do is stress me out.  That's the major drama.

Source
Add to that what happened last week in two of the three church services (of course the ones I wasn't attending). The interim minister made some fairly harsh comments to the congregation about clapping after music during the church service.  He said that they weren't performances; they were worship.  So you shouldn't clap after them.  Too bad that these comments followed the congregation's clapping after a piece the handbell choir played so it came across as a reprimand.  It's also important to know that we Presbyterians are known for our lack of clapping, so when we do clap it's a big deal.  That's even more drama.

Add to that the fact that I'm serving on the nominating committee that is in charge of finding elders, deacons, and trustees, which we've already managed to do, and this year we're in charge of finding the pastor nominating committee, who will be in charge of finding our next pastor.  We're in the process of finding the pastor nominating committee and I'm not looking forward to our next committee meeting because the interim pastor, who seems to insert himself in all of the committees in the church, will be there.  I don't really feel like he should be there since we're basically discussing the committee that will be in charge of finding his replacement.  But then my opinion is only my opinion, which isn't broadcast from the pulpit during worship services...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One of the reasons I teach

Today I had a student who reached the chapter in the book we're reading that contains what I've been referring to as "the twist,"  sometimes also known as "the big twist" depending on how dramatic I'm feeling that day.  It changes the way you look at the book and the characters in it.  I have told my students over and over and over how angry I will be if someone reveals "the twist" to someone who hasn't made it to that chapter in the book.

So today this student was sitting in math class.  He finished his math homework and decided he would read some of the book we're reading.  (If you know anything about my students at all, you know what a huge accomplishment this is that my student would actually read the book by choice.)  He was sitting there reading and then got to "the twist" and he freaked out.  The math teacher told me he started yelling out loud, "No way!  No way!" and then after that immediately said, "I've gotta go talk to Gretchen!"

I'm in the middle of writing questions for the last few chapters of the book while my creative writing students work on an assignment.  I look up and see this student standing in my doorway saying, "I have to talk to you about the book."  I figured from the look on his face that he had gotten to "the twist" so I told him we could talk in the hallway since I had a student in my classroom who hadn't reached that chapter yet.  I went out in the hallway and he started talking to me about what he'd read.  I don't know if I've ever seem one of my students so engaged in what they'd been reading.  He told me all about how he never expected that to happen and how he was "not really that into the book" before that chapter, but how now he's "totally excited to read it."  This made my day.  Seriously.  And I made sure to tell him that.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On keeping a positive attitude

I definitely struggle with keeping a positive attitude.  Sometimes it's just so easy to give in to the negativity and complain about the things that are bothering me.  If I'm actually to complain and then let the negativity go, then it's fine.  But most of the time, I end up stuck in the negativity and the complaining and whatever else seems to go with that.  (Thankfully, that is not what happened today!)

The thing that makes keeping a positive attitude even harder?  Having to deal with someone else who is stuck in negativity.  What do you do when someone else simply refuses to move on from the negativity and complaining?  Whether it's my husband, my family members, my coworkers, or my students, I know that (most of the time) I'm not the reason for their negativity.  And I know that I'm not in control of their feelings.

But there are times when I'm stuck around someone like that and it seems impossible to ignore them and their negative attitude.  But lately, I've really been working on not spending time around people with negative attitudes (if I can avoid it in any way) and not letting others' negative attitudes drag me down.  I don't always succeed in these things, but I do find that being aware of how other's attitudes affects me helps me to not let it affect me.