Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here's to you 2014!

Oh 2014, where did you go? It seems like we were just getting acquainted and now you are gone. Starting tomorrow, I will be writing 2014 on everything and quickly erasing or marking it out. The struggle is real, folks.

Anyway, this year has been a good one. Jackson turned 1 in February and Lily turned 3 in June. It seems impossible to think they are going to be 2 and 4 in the new year. I might be in denial. It seems particularly surreal that Lily will officially be headed to preschool, her last school year at her beloved school. Jackson had his first trip (hopefully only, but given the clumsy nature of both of my kids, probably not...) to the ER in June when he had a wheezing spell. We had many adventures at the shore, the beach, and in the backyard. We took countless walks, played in the sandbox, drew chalk drawings, played with friends, made new friends, and had dance parties. We lived out the journey of 2014 as best we could.

And yet, we know we have so much more to offer in 2015. There are many more adventures to be had. More stones to overturn. More life to live. My brother and his fiancee will begin the road of wedding planning, which is really just the beginning of traveling a new life together, as an old married couple. I am so excited for them and their new chapter. A new year is big, and open, and scary, and thrilling. There is the anticipation of the fun to be had-- the friendships, the love, the laughter. There are so many possibilities in a new year.

I hope our world continues to heal. That we learn love and abide in peace. That we help our neighbor. That we give ourselves to hope.

Here's to you 2014. You added one beautiful chapter to my book. And, 2015, welcome. May you bring health, hope, and love.

A little look back...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jackson was 22 months on the 23rd and I am terrible at updates!

At 22 months Jackson loves...

1. ...singing every Wiggles song and jumping around to the music.
2. ...his "dash" (also called a pacifier in regular English).
3. ...deet-za (also called pizza).
4. ...being naked and then running around saying "I NAKEY!"
5. ...his cousin Re-sa (also responds to the name Theresa).
6. ...telling everyone his favorite color is pink.
7. ...pretending to sleep.
8. ...holding hands with mama or dada or sissy or the closest person willing to hold hands.
9. ...being a little ball of personality!
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!

This picture cracks me up. "Excuse me, would you like to buy this tree? I can give you a deal!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jackson is 21 months and I am late...again

At 21 months Jackson loves...

1. ...The Wiggles. Well, watching for 5 minutes, jumping around like crazy, then moving on...
2. ...jumping...all the time...while saying JUMP JUMP JUMP!
3. ...grabbing you by the finger and saying GO!
4. ...requesting a DVD switch every 2 minutes. 
5. ...guacamole. He eats it by the spoonful.
6. ...playing with a cell phone/leap pad/any shiny thing...
7. ...fake whining by saying, "shoesssssss".
8. ...wearing hats. Any hat. Loves hats!
9. ...walking (ok, running) around stores.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

This is so late...Jack at 20 months!

At 20 months Jackson loves...

1. ...singing BA BA BA BA BAAADAAA!
2. ...The Wiggles.
3. ...Little Einsteins.
4. ...trying new foods. Today-- stuffed shells. He liked!
5. ...being a cuddly little boy.
6. ...doing every single thing his sister does.
7. ...reading a-book!
8. ...dancing like a little dancing fool.
9. ...pretending he is in Lily's class at school.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!

My little Gus-Gus mouse!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

So things have been busy...

This fall I have been a horrible blogger. Why? Things have been insanely busy. Sometimes I am happily busy, sometimes I am insanely overwhelmed. Sometimes it's a little bit of both. I took on coaching this fall knowing very well that it would lead to a much busier fall than normal. At this point, the word "busy" isn't adequate to describe our schedule. 

Coaching has been going well, and I don't regret taking on the extra work. The girls are a really good group of kids, and I enjoy working with them. The time commitment is a huge one, and most days I don't get home until after 5pm. If it's a game day, make it 8pm. That means there are some days that I don't get to see Jackson. It does make me a little sad, but somewhere along the way, I learned to deal with mom guilt, and, honestly, it hasn't been so bad this fall. I am so lucky that Tom happily agreed to be a quasi-stay-at-home-dad while I coach. He gets to have kid time, and take a break from the craziness of school, and I get to have some of my own time playing and coaching a sport that I really love. I haven't made any decisions on coaching next year, as I do have other things I need to pursue (most notably, finishing out my graduate credits). While I do love getting back to volleyball, I will be happy and relieved when the season is over. 

Additionally, Tom and I are well into our second year as SGA advisers. When we took over the SGA we had big dreams and visions for the program. Many of these dreams are coming true and we couldn't be happier with the results. We had 72--yes, 72-- students at our first SGA meeting. This might be the biggest number of students in school history. We have an awesome core of officers who basically run the program for us. Our president makes our job exponentially easier, for which we are grateful. We are about to kick-off spirit week, which is going to culminate in the first annual homecoming festival. The festival has been in the pipeline for about a year, so we are excited to roll out the event. It has been a true team effort and, we hope, will prove to be a huge success.

On the home front, things have been, you guessed it, busy. Lily is a full on three year old. For Lily, that means lots of "fits" (her word). She throws epic tantrums, calms down, and apologizes for throwing a fit. Her explanation- "I am SO tired", "I really miss my grandma", or "I really miss my mommy and daddy". I think the back to school transition has been hard on both kids, and, for Lily, that means tantrums. Other than those tantrums, Lily has been growing and changing and becoming a kid. A real kid. Not a toddler. Not a baby. She told my mom she wants to learn to read. She (usually) wants to read to Jackson, so she said she needs to learn to read. She loves school. She is curious and smart and inquisitive. She loves to help. She questions everything. She is joyful. I look at her and marvel that she's mine. I thought losing that baby-ness would make me sad, but watching her grow erases any feelings of baby loss that I might feel. I just love her.

Then there's Jackson. He is a 1 year old, but looks like a 3 year old. He is huge. My little boy weighs 30 pounds and is over 3 feet tall (he measured at 36.5 inches, but he might be longer...the nurse didn't have a big enough measure!). He is so happy, unless he gets "hurt" then he is so sensitive and cries. He has curly blond hair. Big brown eyes. He looks like Uncle Tim. He is talking like crazy. It amazes me the words that pop out of his mouth. He adores his sister. I think he loves Fred, but is a little scared of him...especially when he has food that Fred wants. He is just the best little boy. He makes me laugh, and brings me constant joy. He is my little guy, my little buddy (and Lily's little buddy-- she calls him her buddy, and he calls her buddy-- it is so sweet!). 

I don't know if there if there are words to describe the blessings in my life. It's surely busy, and sometimes I am overwhelmed to the point of tears, but I have such support in all of my endeavors. My parents step in with the kids when Tom and I are busy with work. My mom, "the babysitter" (sometimes, Lily calls her that...ha!), watches the kids, which has been an enormous help. Tom is truly my partner in raising our children. He hasn't only watched the kids this fall, but also made dinner. My co-workers Becky and Sarah have supported me with lesson planning. I am so grateful for their support and help at school. Our ninth grade team is really awesome, and it makes the job so much easier to have best friends working by your side. 

This fall has been crazy, but I know the crazy will begin to slow after homecoming, and then volleyball come to an end. Once that crazy ends we enter the holiday season and the crazy that comes with those things. I am looking forward to everything the rest of this year has to bring!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jack is 19 months!

Time flies when you're having fun...and somehow Jack is closer to 1 than to 2! Eep!

At 19 months Jackson loves...

1. ...talking non-stop!
2. ...spicy black bean dip.
3. ...playing outside in his cozy coupe.
4. ...sitting in adult chairs to eat meals.
5. ...imitating everything his sister does.
6. ...biting as revenge (trying to get him to stop this one...).
7. ...acting like he goes to school with Lily.
8. ...reading "a-book".
9. ...snuggling and cuddling.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to School

I haven't posted here in a while, so I decided tonight would be the night to play a bit of catch up. While we have only been in school for 3 days, things have been very busy and very crazy. This year I teach 5-- yes 5-- preps. I have English 11, AP English 11, English 9, English 9 Honors, and Freshman Seminar. So far, I think I am really going to enjoy my classes. The 9th graders seem engaged and excited to be back (or to be starting!). My 11th graders are a bit of a handful, but I think I can channel that energy into some productive class time. I think my biggest challenge with the 11th graders will be getting them into the correct learning groups and keeping them on their toes.

My AP class presents a new AP challenge-- the class is big at 32 students (my biggest class)-- and that presents a new set of problems in the AP setting. My first problem is that I am basically out of room in my classroom. I have abnormally large desks, plus high school sized humans, and that means not much room. Additionally, about half the class are students who I moved from honors. I always try to pull up students from honors into AP because I believe that every student needs to take at least one AP class in high school. A large class size makes providing support for students who need extra help  bit harder. It's definitely not impossible, and there are ways to work around it, but it is harder. Finally, because the class is only offered during one period, there were students who were slated to be in AP (they did the extensive summer reading and everything), and then were bumped from the class because it conflicted with another class they were supposed to take. If another section of the class had been offered I think more students would have been able to take the course. I know I will make the class work, but it is a bit daunting thinking of how I will need to accommodate the class size while working to support each student in the way that they need.

I would recount my opening day activities, but my friend Sarah already did this over on her blog. If you follow this link here you can read all about the ice breakers that we did in our classes. They were a huge success, and the students made some awesome class connections. I too have pictures for a classroom tour, but I haven't uploaded them yet, so that will be saved for a new post.

All-in-all, I am looking forward to this week upcoming. We have back to school night and my volleyball team plays its first game. It is going to be a busy week, so my posting may be quiet. Between school, coaching, and the kids at home my free time is minimal!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jack is 18 months!

At 18 months Jack loves...

1. ...playing ball (any ball game).
2. ...mashes potatoes.
3. ...pretending he can go to MDOW with Lily.
4. ...holding hands with mama or Lily while in the car. 
5. ...reading books.
6. ...blowing bubbles.
7. ...saying new words.
8. ...blowing raspberries.
9. ...dancing like a crazy man!
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!


Friday, August 22, 2014

School Year 2014-2015

I have been trying to write a back-to-school post for days now. I am very excited for the year. A big part of that excitement stems from the 9th grade team. This year, I get to work with Sarah and Becky on the 9th grade team. Sarah and Becky are my best friends and working with them is natural. Nothing is forced, we have great conversations, and we work through things well. I am looking forward to seeing how the year unfolds. I have never taught ninth grade, so I am looking forward to this new adventure!

Back to the happenings this week. Our principal started her second year and rolled out a ton of new initiatives. I knew most of these changes were in the pipeline, so nothing was a total surprise. We are working on school climate, so our biggest changes involve improving school climate. SGA has been working on this by doing school beautification projects. We swapped out posters with random students for posters with our own students. We adopted the "We are..." motto (borrowed from Penn State) and printed it on the posters and on tee shirts. We already unveiled our homecoming theme- The Wizard of Oz- using the quote, "There's no place like home" as the unifying idea. Things are coming together slowly but surely.

I can't say this week hasn't been without stress. When a bunch of new initiatives are rolled out, it can be stressful. There are new things to remember, new ideas to adapt, and new rules to implement. The amount of data and documentation is unbelievable, and, honestly, is a bit intimidating. I will say, the new changes have forced me to rethink how I run my classroom and that has been refreshing. I want to cut back on the number of assignments and really focus on quality of work and grades, rather than quantity. I want students to have a really authentic experience that enables them to get their hands dirty. I want them to dig into, and play with, really rich texts. I am a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of all of this change, but I think that, ultimately, it will make me a better teacher. That is always my goal: to be a better teacher. 

So, here's to school year 2014-2015...to being a better teacher...to new possibilities...and to big changes! Here we go!

Friday, August 15, 2014

My thoughts on #icebucketchallenge

As one of my mid-week confessions I wrote this:

3. I wish every horrible disease and illness got as much attention as ALS is getting right now (and without the gimmick!).

I am sure that this was taken the wrong way by some people, but I have some fairly strong thoughts about the #icebucketchallenge. Let me begin by saying I think it is amazing that so much money has been raised for such a devastating illness. For people to donate millions of dollars in a time period that typically only sees thousands is nothing short of awesome. ALS is a truly horrible illness that needs to be properly researched and funded in order to find a cure. 

However...

I think of many social media "causes" that began as hashtags-- #kony2012 and #bringbackourgirls are two that jump immediately to mind. At their height, these two causes were viral. They were all over FB and Twitter. Celebrities were tweeting their solidarity, teenagers were updating their statuses and attention was heightened about these two causes.

And then there was silence. 

Where are these two causes today? I can't really tell you.

This is why #icebucketchallenge isn't philanthropy. This is what concerns me. This year, millions was raised for ALS research, but what about next year? Or the year after? Certainly, people will tire of filling buckets with ice water and pouring it over their heads in the name of solidarity. Certainly people will forget that this hashtag phenomenon even happened. 

So, is there a solution? Well, I think so. Rather than dumping a bucket of ice water over your head or donating $100 and calling it a day, why not take $10 every month and donate it to a cause (or, a % of your income). Maybe it's ALS research. Maybe it's a cancer fund. Maybe it's a soup kitchen. Or, if donating money isn't your thing, why not donate time? Feed the hungry. Serve the community.

I know the inspiration behind the challenge. I understand the significance. But we can't pat ourselves on the back for supporting a cause and then forget it a week, a month, a year later. Charity should be ongoing. It should sustain. 

Social media is amazing. It spreads the word faster than any other outlet, and makes causes go viral overnight. But it's also a snapshot--an instant--and then it's over. We need to be a society that looks beyond the confines of our FB feeds and twitter updates. We need to see the long term picture. Sure, something is better than nothing, but it's not enough and it never should be.

So, certainly, take up the cause, but don't forget the cause when social media goes silent. Donate, volunteer, and give back as part of a life routine. Don't let the phenomenon fade away.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Confessions

Decided I need to indulge in a few mid-week confessions this week. Here it goes...

1. I cannot stand it when people think their hobby should be their profession. No. No it should not be. I blame this on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media outlets (two people tell someone what they did is pretty and suddenly the person thinks they have a new calling). Just because you can sew doesn't mean you should be selling clothing. Just because you have a nice camera does not mean you are a photographer. Just because you can use wire and ribbon does not mean you were magically meant to have an Etsy shop. Now, I know some very talented people who do awesome things, but, please, not every hobby is meant to be a job. There is a lot more work behind the scenes than just executing your craft or your picture. Keep your hobby just what it is-- a hobby. (unless it's cake pops...)

2. When people who clearly aren't listening then proceed to ask 6,000,000 questions that were already answered (when they weren't listening).

3. I wish every horrible disease and illness got as much attention as ALS is getting right now (and without the gimmick!).

I have other things I would love to confess here, but it's not the appropriate place for those confessions. My next post will be the big back-to-school post!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Back from vacation!

We are back from vacation, and, quite abruptly, thrust into back-to-school mode. I will write about going back in a separate post. Right now, I want to focus on the week away with my family.

This year we went back to Myrtle Beach. It was Lily's second trip and Jack's first trip. The ride both ways was long and rainy, but the kids did wonderfully. We watched a lot of Disney movies, a lot of Max and Ruby, and a lot of The Land Before Time. Jack was a champ on his longest car ride to date (the trip down took 12 hours!). We decided that North Carolina has a lot of rain, Virginia has a lot of traffic, and next year the car ride needs to be shorter. I sat between the kids in the backseat (thank you, mom and dad, for letting us borrow your Pilot!), so that was just an adventure in itself.

The week started rainy, but quickly cleared to sunny and, generally, mild (for SC in the summer). We had a string of beautiful beach and pool days, which made our munchkins very happy. The resort had a playground this year, which they didn't have the last time we were there. This was great for evening walks and play time. Overall, we had a very nice week and were able to enjoy some fun time with the kids. It was nice being on the beach with the kids, but the pool was really the shining star for both Lily and Jack. Lily loved everything about the kids area this year: the slides, the misters, and, eventually, the mushroom thing that pours water all over you. Lily even did the big slide (that is for older kids and adults), which was a big step for her (especially since, not so long ago, she was scared of water)! Jack also loved everything--even the slides! He rode with adults because he wasn't super sure how everything worked (and he would have sunk like a brick).

Here are a few pictures from our trip-- the castle building, swimming, shell collecting, fun!

Jack selfie at the aquarium.

Lily loved the aquarium! It was a great distraction on a rainy day.

Let's go, guys!


Brave enough to take on the water this year!






Vacation 2014. Love this one!

She's crazy. Asked her to smile. Got this.


Common for Lily. Played hard, slept harder.




Friday, August 1, 2014

An uncharacteristically religious and political post...oops.

This morning, I was reading a thread about the two American health care workers who are being transported via isolation plane back to America for treatment in Georgia (near the CDC). These workers contracted the ebola virus while helping patients suffering from the virus in West Africa. For those who might be living under a rock, or refusing to watch the news/read Twitter/check Facebook, the virus is rampantly spreading across West African nations, and is being touted as the worst outbreak in years. That being said, fast-forward to this morning.

The thread was via WBAL and the post mentioned the two Americans and how they are coming back to America even though they have this deadly virus. It asked readers to respond to the question, "Should people who are ill with a virus that is known as being highly fatal come back to the US?" (Ok, it was something like that, but you get it.)

The responses ranged from, "yes, we can give them better medical care" to "no they shouldn't, it's too much of a risk." Then there were these responses:

"Yea great idea, just send the presidents Air Force one plane over to pick them up."


"Take them to the White House."

Wait? What?


A lot of people posted about how this happens in movies and everyone dies, so I kind of threw out those 
posts because movies are sensationalized and, oh yeah, we live in real life.

The reason these posts really bothered me is because (I am generalizing here, so please bear with me) the people who posted these responses are probably conservative, and therefore, probably Christian (again making assumptions, but I have a point, so hang on). These posts are part of a greater problem about conservative Christianity in America (oh, and I am Christian (Catholic, so some Christians probably say I am not Christian)). The problem being the lack of compassion, of living a life of Christ, that these people display.

People can disagree with the President, but to wish him ill? To wish him dead? That sounds Christian to me. The man is a husband and a father, and people wish him dead. Christians wish him dead. 

I guess I missed that sermon in the Bible, "love one another unless a person isn't a race you like, a gender you like, a socio-economic status you like, etc..." 

My biggest issue with this form of Christianity is that it isn't Christian at all. Christianity says love another. But only if you check the right boxes. Only if you fit a certain type. And Christ just didn't preach that.

The Christ in my Bible said to embrace the weakest and poorest of these. He healed the sick (and even hung around lepers!), he loved the poor, he embraced the outcasts. He didn't reject or judge or hate. He rejected the "eye for an eye" and said "turn the other cheek." (He even said that divorcing your wife makes her a victim of adultery, so maybe we need to look at that divorce rate a little more closely...)

My point is: how Christian are you being when you hate blacks, homosexuals, poor people, immigrants, and any person who fits in a category that you aren't in? You can't be.

Until you extend the mercy and compassion that you give to an embryo at conception to every single person regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, circumstance, or creed, you cannot rightly say that you are acting like Christ. Because Christ loved all. Christ accepted all.

"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5: 45-48)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The quest for a perfect chocolate smoothie...

I am on the quest for the perfect (or almost perfect) chocolate smoothie. Why? Because why not? Ok, that's not a real answer. I have been having fun trying new smoothies for breakfast or lunch and I wanted something packed with protein. I have been working on tracking my eating habits, and I noticed the two major areas where I consistently lack nutrients are in the protein and iron categories (this isn't a shock to me, with both pregnancies I became anemic and had to go on iron pills, so I am sure I was already behind before the pregnancies).

I did a lot of research on various types of chocolate smoothies. Most have the same basic ingredients: cocoa powder, honey, some creamy base (banana or avocado), and then a variety of other things to round out the flavors and nutrition content. I decided to start with a smoothie with the following ingredients: frozen banana, honey, vanilla, spinach, cocoa powder, peanut butter, and Greek yogurt (I think that was everything). I added some ice just to make it extra cold, and finished it off with some chia seeds. Overall, I liked the texture, but it was too banana-y for me. I felt overwhelmed by the banana flavor.

Today, I tried the following: cocoa powder, peanut butter, almond milk, 1/2 avocado, honey, vanilla, spinach, and Greek yogurt. This one was MUCH better. It was too peanut-y though, so next time less PB. I also got almond butter to try, so I might try that.

I am going to try a few other concoctions this week to see how they turn out. I like the high protein of this smoothie, plus, I feel like I am getting a sweet treat without being totally unhealthy! Both smoothies were definitely filling. The first one filled me through dinner!

If anyone has an ideas or contributions for chocolate smoothie recipes, please share!! I would love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Living a life offline

A few days ago I was scanning Facebook and came across a blog/article from Baby Center titled "Do we live in an 'anti-mother' culture?" I am not a huge fan of mommy wars posts because I believe they are perpetuated by mothers and steeped in our increasingly social media-centric culture. I think the only way mommy wars will stop is if female bloggers/tweeters/Facebook users (etc) stop worrying about being 'perfect' and just work for happy (and stop sizing themselves up against other moms). Anyway, the reason this article caught my eye is because it says this:
The rise of social media and the spread of technology has made the sharing of opinions much more accessible and while nobody wants to believe they are impressionable, a good deal of what we read is considered when we develop our own opinions. There is clearly a void where mothers and fathers used to have approval, help, and compassion from other parents.
Finally, someone acknowledged the role that social media plays in the perpetuation of these 'wars'! Recently, I decided to cut back on some of the social media outlets I read and subscribe to in an effort to disentangle myself from the web of negativity that this competition breeds. I try not to fall into the trap of comparison, but I know I do because the Internet is full of mom blogs, tweets, pins, etc...that are constantly telling me I should try this and do that and be this. I want to do and try and be for myself. I don't need other people telling me, showing me, how to raise my kids. 
That said, I don't think I can completely cut the ties to social media. Our society is too steeped in these forms of communication (and, increasingly, my profession is too tied to these forms of communication) to totally remove myself from the online world. As I grow as a person and a mother, I have come to realize that the best support I have on this parenting journey are the people that I have in my life-- my husband, my parents, my family, and my friends. The proverbial village isn't found across Internet wires, it's found in the real world, in my real life, with real people. 
So, here's to living a life offline, stopping the wars, and living life in the real village.
(And, yes, I realize the great irony of this post is that I am writing it online...I said I was cutting back (cutting things out), not giving it all up completely!)


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

17 Months!

At 17 months Jack loves...

1. ...doing the booty dance (long story, learned from Lily...).
2. ...trying, and trying, and trying to jump!
3. ...saying a very few words, his favorite being sit!
4. ...mango. He inhales it.
5. ...cheesing at everyone he sees (and waving, too).
6. ...his sister. He loves to imitate her.
7. ...using a fork and spoon (or, at least, trying to do so...).
8. ...blowing his nose and wiping his face.
9. ...wearing hats. Any hats.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To create an education blog or not...

When I started this blog my intent was to write about my kids. I used it to update friends and family about our goings on and about our family life. As I started writing more, I started touching on other topics-- crafts, food, etc...-- a bit of a variation on the original, but still related to family life. Recently, I started blogging more about education, another topic in which I am deeply involved. I have written a few education-related posts, and have discovered that I really enjoy writing about education. It forces me to research, and, more importantly, engages me in my vocation in a way moves beyond the classroom. I try not to dispense advice (about anything...because I am no expert in any field...), but, rather, to provide insights and experiences (both good and bad) about the things that I do and enjoy.

The reason I am rambling on about this is that I am considering branching my education posts off into their own blog. I am not quite sure that people (mostly family and friends) who want to read about my kids, also want to read about educational topics. Maybe they do, a lot of my readers are also teachers, but these topics are fairly different, and I am starting to think each deserves its own space.

So, everyone, thoughts?? Separate the blogs? Or just maintain one...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lily's Loves July 2014

This month Lily loves...

1. ...being an "awesome big sister!" (her words...)
2. ...baby pizzas (lunchable pizzas).
3. ...swimming!
4. ...doing everything all by herself.
5. ...having dance parties.
6. ...pretending to be a pirate, or princess, or snakes, or...
7. ...swaddling her teddy bear like a baby.
8. ...talking about going to the beach with grammy and grandpa.
9. ...playing with her friends.
10. ...and, of course, mommy and daddy!


Friday, July 18, 2014

"Are you happy?"

"Are you happy?"

In the world of Fahrenheit 451 happiness looks like television walls, seashell ear buds, and dangerously fast cars. It embodies the "pleasure" of burning, the "love" of "the family", and the thrill of danger. Mildred's happiness looks like tiny pills; Beatty's like flames. "Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag," is all the world really wants, achieved by the cleansing flames.

Fahrenheit 451 should, in this 21st century world, deeply disturb anyone who reads it. Bradbury's dystopian novel about the rise of technology, the eradication of books, and the death of knowledge and curiosity is a warning to us, a prophecy, about our own society and its destruction. 

Other dystopian novels--The Giver, or The Hunger Games--work in similar ways. In The Giver, the world is void of color and emotion. Don't feel pain, don't get upset, don't disrupt the status quo. And, definitely don't be an individual (this isn't hard because the construct of society won't let you be unique, everyone is essentially, the same). 

In The Hunger Games the people of the Capital believe they are high society. Pictures of sophistication they wear the latest fashion, have the most money, and eat the most food. They can afford to be lazy and live lives of excess. Really, though, they are mere caricatures of people, and their dyed hair, artificial skin tone, extravagant clothes, and outlandish lifestyle is all mockery. They don't see it because they live it, but the people outside the Capital, especially those in the most impoverished districts, they see it very clearly. 

Three very different novels all held together by one very strong thread--in our future happiness will fail to exist if we let "things"- technology, money, power, etc.- become more important than people. 

This morning, I was talking to Tom about cell phones. We were discussing a dinner we had been to where our dinner guest was on a cell phone for almost the entire meal. Neither of us said anything, unsure if it would be rude. Similarly, my students cannot seem to live without a phone in their hands. Texting, tweeting, snapchatting, technologies that did not exist 5, 10, 20 years ago, have captured the hearts and minds of 16-year-olds everywhere. 

This is my fear-- that happiness is no longer equated with human attachment (to love and to be loved); rather, it is equated the next quick fix. Tired of your cell phone? Get a newer, better, faster one. Tired of your job? Quit! There is always something better out there, right? Tired of your marriage? Get a divorce! Tired of your house? Just sell it and move! Do everything quickly. Do it now. Don't wait. Happiness is just over there, if you squint really hard. Just...see it...over there?

These writers, Bradbury in 1950, Lowry in the early 1990s, and Collins today, all knew, and know, what so many fail to realize: if we stop interacting on a human-to-human level; if we abandon natural human curiosity for the next quick fix; if we live a life denying our emotions (good or bad) that we will surely be the makers of our own destruction. 

And that is terrifying. And it should be terrifying.

It should be so frightening that people should want to do something about it. Reclaim the family, reclaim friendships, reclaim life. And yet, I see students sitting at long cafeteria tables with their friends staring at cell phones. I see fewer and fewer kids playing outside. I hear of more destruction.

Happiness isn't at the end of a cell signal. Look up from your phone. Look at your life. Reclaim it now before its too late.

"...We're going to build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them."

(The quotes are from Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Philadelphia

This past weekend I attended the 2014 National AP Conference in Philadelphia, PA. Tom also attended, so it was our first extended trip away from the kids. The conference itself was awesome! I attended 6 sessions, and while 2 sessions proved to miss the mark just a little, the other 4 were awesome.

The two sessions that I thought were the best was a session on AP boot camp and a session on using literature and poetry as evidence in an argument. The boot camp session leader was phenomenal! He was so engaging and enthusiastic and his passion for teaching was so evident. I learned a few tips and tricks to implementing an AP boot camp, and I think it is something I am going to try to do with my students. The basic idea is community and skill building prior to content learning, so that content learning will be "easier". I say "easier" because the skill building helps establish those things students need for content learning. I got some really awesome resources from the session, too, so that is always helpful.

The lit. and poetry as evidence in an argument was facilitated by Renee Shea and Robin Aufses who co-authored The Language of Composition (a text I use in my class). Needless to say, seeing these women was the English teacher equivalent of meeting a celebrity! Their session was awesome. I got a ton of ideas for using literature as evidence, and I think the information will really enhance my students' writing. I love to teach non-fiction and poetry in my AP class, but it is hard to integrate it with the non-fiction upon which the course so heavily relies. This session helped me figure out how to integrate those pieces, which will help break-up the use of non-fiction.

Beyond the sessions, I picked up 26 books! There was a hall filled with vendors who were pushing their books, and other AP related materials. Tom and I picked up some very expensive books, which is awesome (and just the cost of books was worth the trip!). I am excited to share these new materials with my colleagues!

In between the sessions, we went to dinner at Max Brenner with my colleagues who also attended the conference. Max Brenner was awesome! The food was delicious, but really, the restaurant is known for desserts. Tom and I shared a delicious s'mores sundae. I would definitely make the trip back for more delicious chocolate (and food!).

The second night we went to the Phillies game. The night was perfect-- not too hot--and there was a nice breeze. We got our cheese steak fix and had Crabfries (which is so Baltimore, but was trademarked by Chickie's and Pete's). They claim that the fries are a special blend of seasoning, but it tasted like Old Bay. Totally Maryland. The Phillies played the Nats, so there was so hometown pull, but ultimately, I didn't really care who won. The game was fun and very relaxing.

It was very nice to spend some time away from the kids, and to be able to sleep without being beckoned by a little voice multiple times throughout the night. The kids did a fairly good job being away from us for 2 days and nights. Lily did ask my mom if Tom and I still love her (seriously, Lily!?! break my heart a little more!). Other than that, they had fun with grandma and poppy and grammy and grandpa. And, of course, a HUGE thanks to our parents for watching the kids. We always appreciate the helping hands!

I am already hoping to attend next year's conference in Austin. I am also hoping to be a presenter, so fingers crossed as I work on my proposal!  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Working on work.

At the end of this week, Thursday through Saturday, I am attending the AP conference. I am really looking forward to the conference and I am hoping to get some new ideas for AP Language. I already looked over the list to choose my sessions, and I think there are some that will give me some good information for my class. I got my AP scores back, so my wheels are turning on ways to improve my class for next year. I know I still have a long way to go as an AP teacher, so I am trying to put myself in situations where I am constantly learning. I love teaching the AP Language course, so I want to work to be the best teacher I can be for the course and my students.

Next year should be interesting. I have two classes that I already taught-- AP Lang and English 11-- and three new courses-- English 9, English 9 Honors, and Freshmen Seminar. I feel so lucky to be able to teach English 9 with Sarah and Becky. I think we will make a really strong English 9 team, so I am looking forward to planning out the year together. I am a little nervous to teach a totally new grade, it's been a while since I taught something totally new. Last year, I taught English 11 for the first time, but having already taught AP 11, I had a grip on the literature and non-fiction material. English 9 is totally uncharted territory, and it's the last core English class to add to my list. The classes I have taught to date are: English 10, English 10 Honors, English 11, AP English 11, English 12, English 12 Honors, Broadcast, and accelerated English. Next year, I will add Freshmen Seminar and English 9 and 9 honors to that list. I am glad that I have the opportunity to teach so many different classes, I think it really helps to know what other grades are doing, so you know what students have and have no covered.

So as summer moves on, I start thinking more and more about my approach to next year. Every year my one major goal is to be a better teacher. I know it's a broad goal, but it's something I strive to achieve. I think, in many little ways, I do get better, but I know I have a long way to go...and I know that even the day I retire there will be things that I could do better. So here's to doing better for 2014-2015. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July! As I sit here, contemplating the holiday, I can't help but think about teaching American Literature. Every year, I get to re-live the founding of our nation when I teach early American literature with the Puritans and then move into the age of Rationalism and the founding documents. I get to read and re-read The Declaration of Independence (I even make the AP kids diagram the first sentence of the document-- for you English nerds out there-- it's a doozy, but it's totally worth it!), recite Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention, and delve into Thomas Paine's works.

After considering all of these works- documents, speeches, pamphlets- I can't help but think that people forget what this day is really about. It's interesting, because as I scroll through Facebook, I notice that many people post about soldiers and remembering them today. I do suppose you could argue that today we remember those first soldiers who fought for our ultimate freedom, our independence from the British. Just thinking about the odds that we had stacked against us- lack of real training, or really, of any true military; little monetary funding; few resources- really, we should have lost. This rag-tag group of men banding against the greatest military in the world. The underdog. Maybe that's why America loves an underdog story because we were founded on the underdog. 

All this said, today, we don't really celebrate soldiers. We have holidays for that-- Memorial Day, Veteran's Day. Today is for celebrating a document that called for our independence. Aired our grievances. Looked the King in the eye and said, simply, "no more". The Declaration of Independence, when studied closely, is a truly fascinating document. Take a look at the first sentence: 

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

It's beautiful. It's absolutely a work of beauty. It could say, "we are breaking away from you and here is why" because that is the basis of what Jefferson does in this document. He lists the causes of separation. But this first sentence does so much more than that. It says that we, as a nation, are entitled to our rights in accordance with the laws of Nature and of God. Of God. Each word was chosen with such precision and craftsmanship. It is truly beautiful.

This is why we celebrate today. We celebrate the words and the actions of the Founding Fathers. We celebrate the passion of Patrick Henry. The dedication of George Washington. The conviction of Thomas Paine. We remember that our nation rose from the humblest of beginnings, and was founded by people who all journeyed here for vastly different reasons. Yes, these men, these people, were flawed. There is no picture of perfection in the backgrounds of any of these individuals. And, I believe, that is important to remember. We come from what is real, what is passion, what is grit. 

So, today, pause and remember that founding document. Read a line or two. Remember the first of us who bravely trekked to this land for freedom, money, a new start. Remember all of this on the Fourth.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Some reflecting on my commentary in The Sun

So it's been almost two weeks since my commentary was printed in The Baltimore Sun. I have read numerous response letters, sifted through emails, read tweets, perused Facebook posts, and scanned the comments on the article. The responses are all very mixed-- some say I am narcissistic, some say I simply follow the company line, some say I am brave. I have been called some nasty names, but have also been given wonderful compliments. It has definitely been an interesting process, one that I am glad I decided to go through with.

The thing that really strikes me, though, after reflecting on my writing and the comments of others is that no one really read my piece. They read the title.

The Baltimore Sun titled my piece, "Quit Complaining about Common Core". I did not give the commentary that title. I did mention the Common Core three times in my commentary as a part of new changes that are happening in education, but that is where my "support" of the new standards ends. Once my commentary had a title with the words "Common Core" in it, people latched on and camped out on the extreme sides of hate and love (or maybe, more appropriately, support and opposition).

I was interviewed twice about the piece. I was mostly asked about my thoughts on the Common Core, and I answered those questions truthfully. The truth really is that I do support the Common Core for secondary English. I think the standards are rigorous, and really, are not too different than those that were pre-existing with the MSC.

All of that aside, though, my piece wasn't about the Common Core.

It was about teachers who whine. Who complain. Who are so firmly entrenched in negativity that they forget why they teach. Every teacher feels negative sometimes. Maybe its a particularly challenging class that plucks every nerve. Maybe its a problem student who has potential and refuses to acknowledge it. Maybe the copier is down for the 5th time in a week. The problem is, when teachers dwell in negativity, it breeds. It takes over. That negativity can be felt by colleagues and students alike. That is what I was writing about.

I believe teaching is a true vocation and not everyone is cut out for it. Just like I know I am not cut out for nursing. I love working with people, I don't love bodily fluids. I couldn't be a nurse. I do love my job though, so I work hard every day to be positive. Why do a job that you hate, or, seem to hate? If you hate it-- get out. Do something you love.

That is what I writing about.

Each day that I enter my school building I know I will see over 100 students of varying levels of need, ability, and security. I need to be on my toes. I need to be ready. If I hate my job-- I complain, I whine, I put up a fight at every turn over everything-- how does that help those 100 students? Ultimately, my job isn't about standards, it's about students. It's about knowing my students, and working to meet their needs. There isn't place or time for whining and complaining. There just isn't.

So, the moral of this: don't let The Sun give your commentary a headline. And, the headline is really what is worth a thousand words.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jackson is 16 Months!

At 16 months Jackson loves...

1. ...dancing, especially Ring Around the Rosie.
2. ...his mama; he is a cling-on lately!
3. ...playing in the baby pool and the big pool.
4. ...playing with balloons!
5. ...saying all sorts of new words (newest words: balloon, clock, got it).
6. ...getting into everything he can possible reach.
7. ...screaming and screaming (for fun!).
8. ...carrying any bat-like object like a club.
9. ...cheesing!
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lily at 3!

At three years old Lily loves...

1. ...being a ballerina and dancing her feet off.
2. ...swimming.
3. ...playing in the sandbox.
4. ...calling her brother "Jack attack".
5. ...opening the baby gate by the steps (the only one she can open).
6. ...taking Fred outside by herself.
7. ...well, really, doing everything by herself.
8. ...fishing at the shore.
9. ...dribbling a ball.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lily Turns 3!

Lily is three! She had quite the few days of celebrations, beginning on Thursday afternoon with a small party at Grammy and Grandpa's house. We drove up to Jefferson, hoping to swim, but arriving a little too late to do so. We did get to have a family dinner, eat cake, and open presents. It was very nice and Lily enjoyed seeing everyone for her birthday.

Yesterday was her actual third birthday. She had school in the morning and took in cookies for her class. She wore her Izzy (from Jake and the Neverland Pirates) birthday shirt and had her birthday hair clips in her hair. She looked very cute! After school, Grandma and Poppy brought Chick-Fil-A over for lunch.

After lunch, we noticed Jackson was wheezing fairly loudly. I called the pediatrician and they said to bring him right in. When they heard Jack, they immediate said they were going to put him on a nebulizer. They did two nebulizer treatments, which helped control his respiration and wheeze, but it didn't help his oxygen level (your oxygen level should be 100 (the ideal); his was 90). After the nurse practitioner had a doctor check him, they both agreed that we should take Jack to the ER. I drove home, got changed, picked up a few things, got Tom, sent Lily to my parents, and we went to the ER. Once they checked Jack they ordered a chest x-ray. The x-ray showed a little mucus in his lungs, probably from a minor infection or asthma. They put him on an inhaler and prednisone to help with the breathing. By the time we were discharged, his oxygen level was 99, so they felt comfortable sending him home. We have to use the inhaler every 4 hours for 2 days, and he stays on the steroid for 3 more. Certainly not what we were planning for on Lily's birthday!

After we got home from the ER, we ate dinner, then Lily got home from grandma and poppy's and she opened her birthday gifts. We got her a LeapPad 2, which she seems to enjoy. We are hoping it will be a good distraction for the long car ride when we go on vacation.

Today was a much better day! Despite the overcast, cooler weather, we had a great time celebrating Lily's birthday at the shore. We had friends and family come down, and we played, ate lunch, had cake, and opened gifts. Unfortunately, Lily got a splinter on the pier and simply could not walk for the rest of the day. Once we got home we finally got the whole splinter out, but she still insisted on walking on her heels. She is so dramatic!

Now, a few pictures from the birthday...






















Thursday, June 19, 2014

A letter on the eve of 3...

Dear Lily,

Tomorrow you turn 3! That means, three years ago tonight, as in right now, I was in the hospital with an epidural waiting for you to be born. And boy do I mean waiting. You kept us waiting until 6am the next morning!

I cannot believe three years have passed by. When they say it goes quickly, well, they aren't lying. It's amazing how slowly time seems to move when you are child, but how quickly it passes when you are an adult. When I want to hold onto time a little longer--to snuggle your little self for a few more minutes--time just says NO and keeps on going.

In these three years you have become such a huge personality in a little person. Your smile and dimples just melt me. You can be the sweetest of the sweet, the sassiest of the sassy, and then grumpiest of the grumps. You are so smart. Truly. You surprise me with things all the time-- like when grandma told me that you said, "I want 5 jellybeans- 3 red, 1 blue, and 1 green" and you knew that added up to five! You are so pleased by your artwork that you make at school. You show it off so proudly to everyone who comes through our house. You also say the craziest, funniest things. Every night, when I take you up to bed, you say, "Goodnight father" to daddy. It cracks me up! You are so free spirited. You dance. You make up songs. You jump. You just are you.

I wish I could bottle up this three year old you and show it to teenage you. Why? Because when you are a teenager and things might get tough, I want to remind you just how magical you are. You are so sure of yourself, so confident, so determined. I love every little bit of the kid you are.

Lily Lou, you are my sunshine. Very truly. You are an awesome big sister to Jack. Your love for him is really the purest, most joyful love I have ever witnessed. I hope the two of you grow closer, and stay close, as you get older. Remember, he is, and will always be, your best ally. You two make me smile every single day.

Be bold, be brave, be Lily. I love you to pieces. I can't believe you're three!

Happy Birthday!

Love, Mommy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wow, this was a surpise!

So that blog post I deleted--my rant about teaching--has apparently made some waves, at least locally, about my perspective on the common core. After The Sun ran the post in their "Reader Commentary" section, it immediately got comments, both good and bad, on the post. When it hit the online paper, it got more comments. My email was attached to it, so I wasn't sure what that would mean, if it would bring many reader emails, or if it would go unnoticed. Well, it brought emails. Two emails from WBAL radio, an email from BCPS saying that Tim Tooten wanted to speak with me, an email from Loyola saying they posted the article, and numerous emails from teachers, parents, and others about my post. Initially, I thought that most responses I would get would be negative, but I was wrong. Most of the emails I have received are extremely positive; many of them saying that it is nice to see a different perspective. I am seriously humbled by this whole experience, and will definitely be more willing to make my opinions and my own voice heard in the future.

If you missed the piece in The Sun it can be found here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-common-core-stop-complaining-20140616,0,2591545.story

I will say, the title that The Sun gave the piece is a bit misleading. My post was never about the Common Core, specifically, so to name it as such is not the entire truth of the article. Fortunately, in the phone interview I gave, the interviewer did recognize that. I am still a bit shocked about some of the waves this has made. I have tried to make it abundantly clear that my point-of-view is that of a high school English teacher, which is clearly different from other viewpoints. I am just tired of hearing about viewpoints that I don't share, and that, I was sure, many others did not share.

Also, a big thanks to my colleagues who pushed me to share the piece with The Sun. I wasn't so sure about making it public, and they encouraged me to do so, as they feel the same way that I do. I surely work with inspiring and amazing people. I am so lucky to be surrounded by wonderful people. Hopefully, this post is only the beginning of a dialogue that I think needs to be had. There are so many components to education reform, but no one ever sees the whole story, and, when something is flawed, it automatically means to scrap the whole thing. Unfortunately for the new standards, the true test of their worth won't come to fruition until this year's kindergartners graduate from high school...and I am sure they will have been replaced by then.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day! We had a low key day spent with family. It was great after a busy wedding weekend (will write about that later!). It was great to celebrate my favorite guys-- my daddio, my pop-pop, and my husband. Each of the men in my life bring me great joy and I am a better person because of each of them. Now, for a few pictures of my guys...