Feathered Aspen


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Ate my ‘tato

Some of my favorite Lily-isms from this past week:

“Dearest wife? May I have some pancakes?”

“It stinks like someone pooped.”

“Lu is ridiculous.”

“I need some assistance.”

“It’s a beautiful day.  I bring the potty outside.”

“Oscar’s a naughty boy.  Ate my ‘tato.  Oscar like ‘tatoes, mommy?”

“Lu not eat lunch.  Lu eat boobies.”

“No want anything in my hair.  So long and pretty.”

***

In my last post, things were a little rocky, but I thought I’d come back to say that things are better again.  I’ve been so blissfully happy this fall and winter that I wasaught unawares by that bump.  I just have to remind myself that I set the tone.  I’m the adult.  I was responding to her outbursts with sadness and frustration, and then she was feeding off my sad/frustrated responses with more negative behavior.  But the next morning she erupted over something and I kept it light, smiling and making a silly joke.  She laughed, and the whole week unfolded with few mishaps.  It’s really astonishing.  Of course, I still get frustrated or feel like I’m not getting something quite right, but if I fake calm and ease, Lily responds positively, and we avoid that downward spiral.

Teaching, I tell you.  These were all part of my tool kit:  fake it til you make it, set the tone, keep it light, be the adult, and when all else fails, make a silly joke.  Glad they’re coming in handy now that I’m the parent of a toddler.


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All at Once

Lily

It’s been a while since I wrote about Lily’s milestones, and since this blog really the only baby book I have for her, I’d better catch up:

  • Words:  Since Christmas, Lily’s language has really begun to unfold.  About two months ago, we started hearing her string together words.  “Come here.”  “Sit down.”  “Baby sad?”  In Salida, I heard her form her longest sentence (of sorts) yet.  “Daddy ball up in sky?”  (Daddy, will you throw the ball up in the sky?)  Just last night, Lily said, “Margot read book?”  Her vocabulary, of course, is also growing.  She tries out words and many of them sound the same.  “Jacket,”  “Airplane,”  “Oscar,”  “Snack,”  and  “Hungry,” for example, all sound pretty similar.  Nevertheless, she’s communicating, and I love being able to look into her little face as she earnestly repeats the same unintelligible word, over and over again.  “Ball?” “Potty?” “Snack?” I say, guessing.  Finally, if it’s really important, she’ll take my hand and lead me somewhere.
  • Learning:  Last week, Lily and I picked out a potty, big girl undies, a stool, and a red plastic ball with a LED light inside that flashes on impact.  The final item is unrelated, of course, but boy, does this little girl love chasing a flashing light incased in a red ball.  Anyway, that first night, she went on the big girl potty twice, and since then, she’s pulled off nearly three whole days spent entirely in big girl undies.  Diapers?  So passé, she says.  Of course, I’m still putting her in them overnight and during longer trips out and about.  Her school can’t transition her quite yet, either.  But she’s made it through nap and even on stroller-runs without an accident.  Before we had purchased the potty, Lily had used the big girl potty with success probably a dozen times, and she would frequently ask.  I was beginning to think that she might just take up the potty without mishap, but pooping has proved to be a bit more challenging than peeing.  I could tell that she needed to, but every time we tried, it just wouldn’t come…  Until I saw Lily crouching in the corner, looking a little shocked.  We also had a little accident at my birthday dinner where she may very well have told us that she needed the potty, but I just wasn’t paying attention.
  • Preferences:  Would you believe that in five months that have passed since I weaned Lily, she’s asked to nurse every day?  Well, it’s true.  Thankfully, she says it with a little smirk, and when I tease her that she’s being silly, she laughs.  She’s still a hand-down-the-shirt kind of girl, and when mommy’s not around, daddy’s will do.  So much for my devious plan to have her forget the boob and all of it’s glory before Lu comes along…  I’m afraid we may have some heartbreak yet.  Other than boobs, Lily loves kitties (hence her kitty-themed birthday party), Cameron (her best friend at school), pulling wagons and pushing strollers, grocery shopping, “bar bars” (Lara Bars and Kit’s Organic Cliff Bars are our favorite), reading, and going to “Margot’s house.”  In terms of food, she loves fish, asparagus, rice, SOUR CREAM (which she’ll eat by the fistful, if you’re not careful), cheese, bananas, oatmeal, egg whites (but not yolks, yet), tomatoes, kombucha (“Bucha?”), sparkling water, and almond milk.  She’s such a dairy fiend that it’s hard to keep her away, but she takes after the As, so we try to limit her dairy intake.  The girl produces phlegm like it’s her job.  Lily’s other preferences are appearance based.  She likes piggies and ponies, but some days she prefers to wear her hair down.  Don’t worry, she’ll let you know.  When it comes to dressing, she’s got ideas of her own, and sometimes mommy’s ideas are DEFINITELY not what she had in mind.  She loves all of her doting grandparents, music, dancing, drawing, and being outside.  She loves smelling flowers, and she’s terrified of bees (been stung three times in her short life, poor girl).  She has an endearing love for cards, and she likes to fall asleep holding her sippy cup, a book, and either Curious George or one of her kitties.
  • Oof:  Lily is a pretty easy-going little lady.  She smiles a lot, and she’s very sweet.  While she certainly enjoys testing some boundaries, she’ll often clean, share, and walk to bed all by herself, even when she doesn’t want to.  I think our most difficult moments are mostly after nap, when she’s feeling particularly grumpy and sensitive.  Eating hasn’t been a smooth road, either.  Lily’s not terribly picky, but it’s tempting to capitulate to her preferences, rather than try to get her to taste and appreciate other things.  We’re trying, but we’ve definitely made some mistakes.  Around Christmas, I would have said that my biggest struggle with Lily was her rejection.  She went through a phase where it felt like she wanted very little to do with me, but thankfully, that’s mostly passed.  Now, I think our biggest battle is sickness.  Poor little Lily has had either a cold or an ear infection for nearly three months now, and she’s projectile vomited all night long twice now.  As you can imagine, it’s been hard for Lily, but it’s also been hard on us.  I feel like she’s had a cough forever now, and some days I’m convinced that my body will just cease to work on so little sleep.  But it keeps working, and Lily keeps coughing and her nose keeps dripping…  Oh lord.  It’s a crucible.  I think I’ve narrowed down the vomiting to a garlic sensitivity, and yesterday, we went to the doctor and they prescribed a low-grade steroid inhaler to reduce inflammation in Lily’s lungs (plus did a swab for pertussis).  All I know is that after the trauma of giving Lily her inhaler last night, she slept without coughing the whole night, and I woke up this morning feeling like God had personally decided to give me a reprieve and allow me to live for another day.
  • Size:  While I can’t remember exact numbers, Lily is in the top tenth percentile for height and fiftieth percentile for weight (28 lbs. as of yesterday).  Her hair is getting longer and longer, and some days she looks so much like a little girl and so little like the newborn I can barely remember that it makes my heart stop.

Pregnancy

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog with anything pregnancy related.  I’ve been better this time around taking the occasional bump photo, which I’m sure you can see in my little Instagram widget on the bottom right column.  The belly continues to grow, and while I initially found the ease with which my belly popped out for all the world to see a little alarming, I’m feeling a little more calm now that I only have eight weeks left until our due date.  The belly is a sizeable thing, but not of epic proportions.

My legs, though.  Those are epic.  Somewhere around 18 weeks, varicose veins began popping out on my left leg, and since then, it’s evolved into one purple, gnarly mess.  By mid-morning, my ankles are a thing of the past, and my calves are hard as rocks.  The bruise-like veins have spread down to my foot and all the way up to my knee.  It’s not attractive, but it is a little impressive.

Lu had the hiccups for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and her kicks are now just below my ribs.  For some reason, I got the impression the first time around that Lily would be this fiery little lady, because her kicks were so adamant and powerful.  Lu, on the other hand, is a gentle mover.  She moves frequently, but I joke that she doesn’t want to hurt me 🙂

I’m thinking more and more now about labor and a newborn.  I’m glad I took a break from nursing, because now I miss it, and I’m looking forward to it again.  As for labor, I feel wizened.  I’m going to try my best to got without medication, but I also know that if I hit the 30 hour mark again, I will probably do the same thing I did last time.  Only this time I won’t beat myself up about it.  I am nervous about tearing again.  Oof.

As for dreams of a newborn, I spend a lot of time thinking about carrying her close to my chest and wrapping her snuggling in swaddling blankets.  But then I think about summertime in Colorado, and I think she’ll probably just be naked most of the time.

House

Oh my.  We closed in mid-March.  Since then, Joshua has:  demoed the entire basement to get advice from a structural engineer, rewired the entire house, reinforced the mud-room floor, ripped up all the pergo, covered the walls in texture, painted the bedroom and living room, built a privacy deck out back, and installed an entire Ikea kitchen, including appliances, lights, and a breakfast bar.  He’s hired help to dig culverts for water diversion, lay concrete for a new walkway and sidewalk, add plumbing to the kitchen and mudroom, restore all of the painted-shut, broken sashed windows, and install new gutters.

Papa Tim came out to help this past weekend, and they were able to get quite a bit done, but Joshua’s had less help than last time, so most nights he heads over after dinner and doesn’t come back until midnight.  And that’s after a full work day.

Yet to do:  paint the hall, Lily’s bedroom, the sunroom, and the kitchen.  Install cabinet fronts to the kitchen.  Install Ikea bathroom.  Lay floor in the bathroom and kitchen.  Wire the lights and chandeliers I bought off of eBay.  Move in.  All by the second weekend of May.

To do once we’ve moved in:  finish up odds and ends at Gray.  Build out mudroom and craftroom with storage and floors.  Landscape the pile of rubble that is our front yard.  Begin work on the front porch for at least a little curb appeal.

To do in the next couple of years:  install a fireplace.  Refinish the basement into another living room, bathroom, guest room, and storage closet/work space.  Install structural supports.  Put in access to the enormous attic and finish into another bedroom, walk-in closet, and master bathroom.  Lay a patio in the small backyard for barbeques.

Joshua’s lofty goal:  build a carriage house out back for rent.

Does it make you tired just reading about it?  We miss Joshua.

Teaching

There are five and a half weeks left.  We’re in our final unit, and I’ve just completed my final round of formal observation and evaluation.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been teaching for five years.  It feels like a good year to end on:  a nice counting number and my best year of teaching.  Not to mention the five-year loan forgiveness that will virtually erase the last of my student-loan debt.

So this is the story of Ms. A, in a nutshell:

  • Before it all began:  In the Spring of 2007, I applied for a recruiter position within Teach For America.  I was hired, and my official title was “Campus Campaign Coordinator.”  Way back then, my main motivation for applying was the CCC the year before me.  Her name was Alex, and she was a religion major with an art history minor.  I thought she was fun, and I was completely enamored with her plans to go teach in New York City.  After I was hired, I read Savage Inequalities and One Day.  I was definitely drawn to the message, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t first drawn to the idea of having a job right away and going on a new adventure.
  • Accepted:  In the Fall, I was accepted with the first wave of applications, and both Joshua and I were placed in New Orleans and slated to teach middle school science.  Figuring, I better acquire some experience, I continued haranguing the rest of the my class to apply, signed up for two science classes my spring semester, and began working at a Montessori.
  • Institute:  Teach For America held an intensive training for all incoming corps members.  We were in Phoenix, and we spent 14+ hours a day learning about teaching, teaching, and preparing to teach the next day.
  • Year One:  I was hired at Schwarz Academy, a for-profit charter school run by Camelot.  What a crazy year.  There were nine corps members on staff, and eight of us were first years.  Camelot was hired by the RSD to run the alternative school, and we had a constantly changing roster of students who had been expelled from other schools in the district.  That first year, students died.  One was shot by the police, others were shot by rival “cliques.”  Some students were convicted of murder.  One student was shot multiple times in the gut and would wear a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.  My eighth grade students ranged in age from 12 to 17.  Some had tattoos on their faces, some had babies, and some were pregnant.  Many used.  Most lived in projects.  That first year, the police were called onto campus 52 times, and during the second semester, we never made it to fifth period.  We “locked down” after fights, and my main job was to keep students inside a classroom without water or a bathroom for multiple hours a day.  We had limited electricity and few resources, and the Camelot infrastructure was incredibly corrupt.
  • Year Two:  Schwarz was closed, and I was reshuffled into Excel Academy, the RSD run alternative school.  I taught Art and Spanish.  While less violent than our first year, the second was just as hopeless.  Our principal quit mid-year, and another principal was never hired.  Students dropped in and dropped out, died, and had babies.  One student used a screwdriver to stab another student in my classroom, and I was called into court to testify.  My students threatened to rape and brutally murder me every day.
  • Year Off:  After two years of heartache and trauma, Joshua and I took a year off to travel the world.
  • Year Three:  Joshua and I somewhat randomly selected a state on the map.  We choose Colorado.  On the charter school website, we found job openings, and we each applied to five of them.  Within a week, we had interview offers from almost all of them.  After a visit to Denver, we chose West Denver Prep.  Joshua taught at one campus, while I taught at another.  In many ways, this was really my first year of teaching.  I knew how to endure abuse, but I had no idea how to manage a classroom or write a curriculum.  Behavior was still a struggle, and it was a tough year.
  • Year Four:  I stayed at the same school, teaching sixth grade science for a second year.  I gained confidence with management, and I grew to really enjoy writing curriculum.  Behaviors were still challenging, but I saw growth in many of my students.
  • Year Five:  In my third year at the same school, the administration turned over, and I had the strongest managers yet.  We held fast to Teach Like  A Champion practices and executed a level of consistency I hadn’t seen before.  As a result, there were barely any behavioral problems.  I spent the majority of my time and energy on academics, and I saw incredible growth in my students.  I liked my coworkers.

It’s strange that in my best year of teaching that I also realized that I no longer wanted to teach.  It’s as though I had been hoping it would get better, and when it did, I was finally able to see the pieces that weren’t for me.  Lost in my nutshell are the sagas around licensure and pay, and these also contributed to my loss of love for the profession.  Despite having taught for five years and having seen impressive and measurable growth in my students, I am not a certified teacher, and in most states, that would mean another 18 months of school, including six months of student teaching.  As for pay, my network implemented merit-based pay in my fourth year of teaching, and despite policies they have since agreed were unfair and have laid to rest, I was, in a word, screwed.  I now make less money than I did my first year of teaching.

In the end, I find that teaching is both meaningful and demanding.  I believe in what I do; I care about the students; and I’m thankful for the many, many, many things I have learned.  I was so green when I started.  I hadn’t a clue about race or hardship or accountability or what it meant to be an adult.  I’m certain I’ve learned more than I taught any student.  This is meaningful.  And yet, I find the demands are too much.  Many hours, little pay, and the highest of expectations leave me feeling absolutely trampled by May.  I just don’t love it enough to give it what it requires.  I’ve felt my creativity leak out of me and a hard-scrabble determination take it’s place.  I guess that could sound like a good thing, but it’s put lines around my eyes and bent my spine into a permanent curve.  I’m so tired, and the end is never, ever in sight.  I’m so tired, and I will never, ever be good enough.

Part of me is afraid that I’ll leave and come back, and another part of me is afraid that I’ll leave and never come back.  I don’t want to teach, but I don’t want not to teach, either.  So I’m going to try something else.  ‘Cuz like my wake up call said, “Good Morning Ellison.  Lead the life you wish to live, for there is no other.  If not now, then when?”


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March

You guys, March isn’t my favorite.  Somehow, I escaped January and February relatively unscathed by the short daylight hours and break-less teaching grind.  Usually, I refer to January and February as “the dark days” when I question my sanity and my ability to persevere until Spring Break, much less June when all of the students leave and I have a reprieve.

I’ve heard that January/February dread is a common ailment, and while I’m happy to have completed these months with relatively little kvetching, I’ve got a bone to pick with March:  why can’t you be short, like your February predecessor?  Why must you wait until the 30th to give me Spring Break?  Why must you contain state testing???

I could go on, but I won’t.  These days, I teach my first period and I think, I have to teach that three more times?  I’ve got a serious case of the count-the-downers instead of the blessings, so this post is about turning that around.

Among the many things for which I am thankful, I will focus on just six, because six is a multiple of three and March is the third month, and I prefer symmetry, you see.  Also.  Tomorrow I’m six months pregnant.

  1. Do you like that segue?  I thought you would.  I’m thankful I’m pregnant.  With Henrie, I experienced the anticipation and excitement of welcoming a new person to my family and this world, but I really didn’t understand what that meant.  I had an idea, but when Henrie was born, I felt like my whole world changed.  My life swung into orbit around this new little planet, and my perspective completely shifted.  It was good and hard and wonderful, and it was something I had to experience in order to understand.  With this new baby, I understand more, and it makes me feel like my anticipation and excitement are even more genuine.  I am SO excited to have another little person in this house (or another house).  I am SO excited to get to know her, to love her, and to raise her.  I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to be a mom to not one but two girls.  I’m excited to teach them how to be strong women and to push myself to be a stronger woman for them.  I’m excited to see Henrie and Lu develop a relationship of their own.  There are so many things that I look forward to, and I’m thankful for that anticipation this Spring.
  2. I’m thankful for visitors.  Part of the reason that January and February were easier this year is because I got to spend time with people I miss during the rest of the year.  Yvonne and Dave came for a week in January, and their trip was followed by a short visit from Sarah.  During the second week of February, Stacy and Margot stayed for a week, and after months of feeling a bit friendless, I so much enjoyed their company.  Luckily, this month holds in store some more gems:  Hannah is coming the third week of March, Yvonne is making a quick trip, and at the end of the month, Henrie and I will be going to Minnesota for a week.
  3. I’m thankful for Joshua and Henrie.  After four and a half years of marriage and ten (ten?!) years of being together, Joshua is still my favorite person.  I love running with him, talking with him, and just being with him.  He’s the best companion.  He’s also crazy ambitious and busy.  I’m not sure how that happened, but I guess I’m along for the ride 🙂  As for Henrie, the girl is pure sunshine.  Her laugh makes my heart burst, and she has developed a wicked sense of humor.  Each day, she’s able to interact with me and her surroundings more, and I’m having so much fun.  I tell her a hundred times a day that I love her and I’m so lucky to be her mom.
  4. I’m thankful for running.  These days, my runs are not impressive in length or speed, but my consistency, given my growing belly, still gives me that boost of confidence.  For a girl who has often been plagued by feelings of self-doubt and poor esteem, running has been a touchstone.  I run every day because it keeps me healthy; it keeps my body healthy, but mostly it keeps my heart and my head healthy.  It’s one of the things that I feel proud of, and it’s one of the things that makes me feel strong.  I run every day, rain or shine, pregnant or not, happy or sad.  I have since I was 12, and not a lot of people can say that.  (Hey, I need to distinguish myself in some ways, now that my husband is an ultrarunner.)
  5. I’m thankful for security.  I’m thankful that I’ve had a job that has provided my family with the ability to travel long distances, buy a home (and maybe another), and raise a family.  I’m thankful that Joshua has a job that he loves and that will continue to provide us with the ability to own a home and raise a family, even when I won’t have a salary.  I’m thankful I can fill up the gas tank without worrying if I have enough money in my bank account, and I’m thankful that we can stop by Chipotle for dinner if I’m too tired to make it myself.  I’m thankful that I can buy enough maternity clothes to get me through until this baby arrives, and when she does, I’m thankful that we’ll have enough resources to take care of her as well.  I’m thankful that I get to dream about pursuing another career, despite the costs, and I’m thankful that I get to dream about traveling the world.
  6. I thankful for writing.  In the past four years, I’ve written on A Carpetbagger’s Tale and now Feathered Aspen both frequently and intermittently, through teaching, moving, traveling, and raising a family.  I’m thankful for the chance to process aloud, the chance to connect with my far flung friends and family.  I’m thankful to flex my fingers in a way that I have always loved and continue my passion for words, sometimes eloquently and sometimes completely artlessly.  Since October, I’ve begun a project that has always been on my bucket-list:  writing a book.  Barbara Kingsolver it is not, but I love it, and it’s giving me a sense of pride that I haven’t felt since my days of writing papers or traveling and writing every night.  Excluding outlines, character synopses, and other pre-writing I did before I began, I have now written 170 pages.  But don’t hold your breath; not even Joshua get’s to read it for now, maybe ever.

So these are just a few of the things for which I am thankful.  Hopefully, I can ruminate on them while I’m pacing the floor, proctoring state testing.

Love,

E


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January

  1. I’m 16 weeks pregnant.  I had an appointment with the midwife yesterday, and Lily, Nana, and I heard the heartbeat again.  I felt the first flutters of movement at 15 weeks, but they’re still very faint.  I’m definitely starting to show, and now I remember why I started wearing maternity clothes at this point last time…  I HATE having a tight waistband.  Definitely one of my top five worst pet peeves.  First trimester symptoms have worn off for the most part, but I’m still more tired than I remember being last time.  I’m off of napping, but by 8 PM, I’m absolutely sacked.  Our next appointment is for February 10, and we’ll have our ultrasound then.  Hopefully, my next pregnancy update will include a gender!  (I really have very little instinct on this…  For a while, I was certain that it was a girl, but I’ve been thinking a lot about a boy recently.  Apply 50/50 jokes here.)
  2. We’re into our second week of teaching after the Winter Break, and while New Orleans was fun, it was hardly refreshing.  Luckily, I have just enough energy back that I’m feeling fine.  While I’m not interested in teaching forever, I’m finding things to enjoy in the moment.  Today, I did a “flipped” lesson where I video taped myself last night and then crunched the video onto youtube (you can see it here), and I’ve started doing more jigsaw lessons where I disperse information between three groups and then have them teach each other.  I still haven’t told the students that I’m expecting, and although I had planned to wait until we know the gender, we’ll see if my belly gets in the way 🙂
  3. Thankfully, Lily’s all out rejection of me has slowed down.  I think being in New Orleans threw things off, and since we got back, she’s been much more loving with both of us and hasn’t pushed me away or refused me nearly as much.  I’m so relieved that this particular phase seems to be fizzling out.
  4. Joshua got a new job!  Next year, he’ll be the Dean of Instruction at the high school where he’s teaching now.  He’s super excited, and we’re all really proud of him.  Thankfully, the GRE won’t go to waste; he’ll also be taking classes at CU Denver for a Masters in Educational Psychology.  So we’re definitely in Denver for the next three years.  In the meantime, I’ll be taking prerequisites for a little program of my own (to begin light years from now in 2017).  While there’s still some debate as to where I’ll enroll in that program (Minnesota has an amazing one), Denver is proving harder and harder to leave.
  5. Momentum is gathering in the A household.  With a baby on the way and a new job, we’re tumbling into the near year with lots of grandiose, hair-brained plans (I mean, really, would you expect anything less?).  In the past week alone, Joshua met with a financial advisor, we’ve scheduled an appointment with an attorney to put together a will, and we’ve even met with our realtor to begin the process of refinancing.  Holy smokes, people.  We just don’t know how to live life in the slow lane.
  6. Nana and Grumpy are here for the week, and Lily, for one, is thrilled.  The weather is completely mercurial, and one day it’s snowy and the next it’s in the 50s.  Who knows what the rest of the week will look like.

What’s new with you?  Hope the new year is treating you well.  Lots of love,  E


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Merry Christmas, ya’ll

It’s been a lifetime since this blog began.  Four year ago, Joshua and I had just returned from a short vacation with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon in the Ozarks.  My dad suggested that I start a blog, and so I did.

It’s safe to say that I began much the same way that I’ve maintained the blog in years since:  with an effort not quite approaching moderation.  Three lengthy posts were followed by a few months of silence, and then a consistency which has been heretofore unrepeated.

What changed?  New Orleans.  Or rather, our departure from New Orleans.

Joshua and I joined the 2008 Teach For America corps and were placed in New Orleans.  The next two years were…  Difficult to describe.  Even now, I vacillate between an endless catalogue of the injustices I witnessed and speechlessness.  I crave a concise and accurate description that somehow encapsulates why I stayed or what it all meant, but in honesty, I’ve given up.  It’s been more than three years since we left, and since then, I’ve thought about New Orleans and those two years often.  I am no closer to an explanation than I was when I left.

Sarah, my sister-in-law, is considering a move to Denver this summer, and we decided to come back to visit before she left.  New Orleans is a strange, wonderful, and terrible city.  We wanted to revisit some of the wonderful.

Among the things that I love about New Orleans:  beautiful, brightly colored homes with gorgeous woodwork and enviable porches; the smell of magnolias and night blooming jasmine, even in December; the best pulled pork in the world; a complicated and fascinating history.

They’re still here.  We’ve walked through Holy Cross, the Bywater, the Marigny, and the French Quarter, admiring the ivy dripping from second story terraces and searching for our favorite color combinations.  We walked down St. Charles and then down Prytania, wondering who is fabulously wealthy enough to live in these palacial buildings.  In some ways, it’s even more stunning now.  More and more homes have been renovated, and it seems like every building has a fresh coat of paint.

We’ve visited The Joint, home of our favorite pulled pork sandwich, twice, and we’ve had brunch three times already.  Sarah is an endless fount of knowledge when it comes to local history, and she entertains me with anecdotal history as we make the long trek from Uptown back to the Lower Ninth Ward.

We’ve even spent time with some of our teacher friends who taught with us in the alternative school.  I’m stunned by how comfortable we are around one another.  It’s not the same as picking up exactly where we left off – we’re all in very different places now – but we have the same ease.  Everyone talks about those two years a little bit differently:  Katie and Phil see it as a painful but meaningful catalyst for their life’s work, Claire sees it as a crucible, and Joshua still holds out hope for meaning.  Strangely, it seems like I’ve forgotten the most, and whereas most of us can clearly see where our presence was beneficial, I struggle to distinguish between good and bad, positive and negative.

New Orleans is a puzzle of race, poverty, entrenched disillusionment and despair.  This is the first place where I came face to face with violence and death, and I still don’t know what to make of it.

In the same way that I struggle to sum up those two years, our time here in the past two weeks has only confirmed my confusion.  New Orleans is a special place, unlike any other city, and it is a place marked with the indelible etch of trauma:  in the crumbling streets, preserved National Guard graffiti, long list of the dead, and vacant homes in every neighborhood.

Last night, we listened.  On New Year’s Eve, it’s not unusual to hear the fire and pop of fireworks late into the night, but per usual, New Orleans takes decadence and danger to a whole new level.  It sounded like a battle.  After midnight, we lay in bed with Lily between us, watching light flicker along the walls and listening to explosions that sounded as though they were in the same room as us.  Papa Tim peered out the window and saw young children running out of their homes with lit roman candles and tossing them into the street were they would sing and burst.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back, to spend time with Nana, Sarah, Papa, and Granny.  I’ve loved the food and our long walks and runs.  Even better is the uninterrupted time with Lily and Joshua.  At night, we’ve watched a few movies, and I’ve slept a lot.  It’s been a good vacation.

And I’ll be happy to go home.  I miss Denver and our home.  I miss our bed.  Hopefully, there will be a dusting of snow when we return.

So thank you, New Orleans, for sharing with us the good and the bad:  your beauty and your dirty underbelly.  No, really.  You’re teaching a lesson I’m still learning.  I promise to miss your pulled pork, pretty porches and levees.  I promise to wonder how you’re doing and mourn your dead.  And if I never return, you’ll know that you’ve still managed to change me forever.

Merry Christmas from New Orleans, ya’ll, and a Happy New Year.


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Thanksukkah

It’s that time of year again.  For weeks leading up until Thanksgiving break, I think, just ____ more weeks.  You would think that those three weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter break would pass like that, but you would be wrong.  They crawl by, and you fantasize daily about what you’ll do, how wonderful it will be, and how revived you’ll feel.

This is a dangerous trend, my friends.  Trust me; it’s best to live in the moment, appreciate today, and snag little moments here and there that replenish you and make you whole.  It’s almost impossible for Winter break to live up to its expectations, and god forbid you calculate the number of weeks you’ve waited for break against the number of weeks in break.  I assure you, the amount of time waiting far outweighs the amount of time breaking.  I’ve found that wishing to speed up one week and slow down another almost always results in the opposite effect.  Time is a bastard that way.

She’s so wise, isn’t she?  I’m talking about the girl that wrote that last paragraph, because don’t be fooled, she certainly isn’t me.  I’m playing that waiting game like a champ.  Winter break is going to be AWESOME, and there’s just two more weeks left.  HALLELUJAH.

In fact, that’s why I’ve been a bit absent from the blog-o-sphere as of late; I’m waiting for when I’ll have time.  During BREAK, of course.  Then I’ll have all the time in the world to update you on these last two months, right?

So I’m taking a break from my delusions to update.  I don’t have time for prose here, and I certainly don’t have time for editing, so bear with me.

Thanksukkah:  That’s right; Channukah and Thanksgiving coincided this year for the first time in like, 187 or something years, and it won’t be another 17,000 or so until it happens again.  We lit the menorah, sang a little Maoz Tzur and we even nibbled on a little gelt while we watched Warm Bodies, an uplifting little film about zombies and the apocalypse (I’m actually not being sarcastic).

Sarah came up from New Orleans for the week and continued to mull over a possible move to Denver in the summer.  My dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon arrived late Tuesday night and stayed through Saturday.  We took couple short forays into the foothills, ate our body weight in mashed potatoes, pie, and latkes, and enjoyed one another’s company.  On Thanksgiving, Joshua cooked a stupendous meal (pretty much single-handedly), and Friday, we had a little Black Friday of our own at the local thrift.  (Ahhhhhhhhh….  The local thrift.  How I love thee.)

Let’s see, what else?  Lily just ate up all of the extra attention.  She was seriously happy as a clam, just bouncing from one attentive family member to the next, talking up a storm.  Joshua made a couple of life altering decisions, and I slept.  For days.  You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  I probably slept 5 solid days out of the 9 we had off.

I have so much to be thankful for:  a wonderful, hard working and loving husband who builds apartments out of basements, cooks fabulous 12 course celebratory meals, and makes Lily giggle like she’ll never breathe normally again; a gorgeous, clever, and funny daughter who smiles with her whole face, discovers the world with joy, and spreads love like an infection; a home filled with family and warmth; a state with mountains and sunshine and snow; a job that pays and allows me to help others; family and friends to love and share our lives with…

It’s a long list, I assure you, and as I write, I feel thankfulness welling up.

The practice of giving thanks isn’t always easy; even when you have a lot for which to be thankful.  In the past few weeks, I’ve felt swallowed up with exhaustion and depleted by my work.  In my fifth year of teaching, I’m finally coming to terms with something that dismays me very much:  I don’t want to do this anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many things about education that I love.  In particular, I’m blessed this year with an organized and consistent administration that has set us all up for success, and my team works hard to provide clear boundaries.  As a result, my students are able to be the sweet, motivated children that all children have the capacity to be.  In years past, disorganization, inconsistency, and poor teamwork meant that my students created the culture, and boy, it was like Lord of the Flies.  We were all a little bit afraid of each other, and I spent the majority of my energy managing behaviors.  This year, the adults created the culture and students (and teachers) feel safe.  It’s cool to love school, and so many of my students really do.  It’s wonderful to see, and now the majority of my energy goes towards instruction (which has always been my preference).

I’m thankful to for my schedule, which allows me to arrive at school at 5:30 AM (and lately, as late as 6:45 AM) and depart by 12:15 PM.  These days, I put in about 5 hours outside of work, and then I’m done.  It’s still a 40 hour work week, but it allows me to spend much more time with Lily, and that has been a wonderful gift.

So what’s not to like?  In the end, it comes down to this:  schools are changeable environments, and one good year compared to four years of chaos…  Well, these are not good odds.  I find the stress of preparing for and implementing classes every day, grading for 120 students, and accommodating for the special needs of many of my students overwhelming.  Even now, when I am considered “part-time,” this job is never part-time.  So I am left with this:  I am paid a part time wage for full time work, and I do not derive enough pleasure and satisfaction from my work to settle the balances, emotionally or financially.  In addition to this personal realization, my network has also made some pretty dramatic changes in their evaluation and compensation model.  Someday, let me tell you all about performanced based pay.  But not today.  Suffice it to say that the powers that be have made some unilateral decisions that have left me feeling unappreciated and of little value.  And while I’m building a case for you, let me add this:  it deeply saddens me that when I tell people that I’m a teacher, I feel ashamed.  I feel as though betrays me socioeconomically and says something about my intellectual and professional abilities that is suspicious at best.  Yes, these five years have done a number on me psychologically, but I do not think that feeling this way is solely the product of my experience.  I do think our society belittles the work of educators.

So this is my confession:  under the weight of my educational career coming to a close and with the sadness of letting go of that which I do love about education (and what I hoped it could be), I’ve been failing at my practice of thankfulness.

In two weeks, it will be Winter break.  Lily, Joshua, and I will fly down to New Orleans and eats lots of pulled pork.  We’ll do some other stuff too, but we have our priorities.  In the mean time, snow has fallen in Denver, and the lake has frozen over.  The mountains have on their white winter coats, and the geese are seeing how long they can stick it out.  We put white lights on the roofline of our home and in the apple trees on our front yard (ok, Josh did, but I like the grandeur of the royal “we” better).  It’s winter time, and we’re drinking lots of hot cocoa and listening to Christmas carols.  This weekend, I made posole, and then we just kept adding to it and now we’ve had warm, spicy soup for three days in a row.

And next week, I’ll have something to share with you 😉  Lots of love, ya’ll.  Happy Holidays.


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A Retrospective

Ok.  Consider the following a stream of consciousness.  Stacy posted a similar list on her blog a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been sneaking a few minutes here and there to write my own.  I had intended to link a bunch of the stuff to old posts, but I only had the time to do a few.  Regardless, I’ve written about most of the things after 2009.

The premise is to study the past in order so that I may divine the future.

2003:  In the fall of 2003, I began my Senior year of high school.  I had just returned from a summer in England with family, and I was the captain of the XC Team.  Mick, my boyfriend at the time, dumped me, and I spent the fall with my girlfriends; meanwhile, I was applying to colleges and crushing on that boy (Joshua) in Humanities.

Best: living and breathing cross country; England; hanging out with Ashlee.  Worst:  being dumped.  Hindsight:  that crush is the real deal.

2004:  That winter, I was the captain Nordic Ski Team.  In January, I mustered up the courage to ask Joshua to a school dance.  Soon, college letters came in, and despite all the odds, I was rejected from four of the five schools I applied to.  Although it was a huge hit to my confidence, I was accepted to the University of Puget Sound, and it just so happened that Joshua had applied there in the fall for early acceptance.  That Spring, I didn’t run track and I ran my first (and only, so far) marathon at Grandma’s in Duluth.  In May, I graduated with a 3.94 (sorry, had to add that in, lest you think I’m a dummy for having been rejected from four out of five schools), and I worked all summer for FedEx on the night shift.  That August, my dad and Hannah took me out to UPS.  During Freshman orientation, I went backpacking with Eric and Matt who would become good friends for the rest of college.  Joshua and I broke up for 24 hours, and my first roommate was a bust, but otherwise, life was pretty good.  I moved in with Stacy, and we got along well, but we didn’t really become friends (until 7 years later?!).

Best: dating Joshua; marathon.  Worst: rejection; first roommate.  Hindsight:  make friends with Stacy!

2005:  During the second semester of freshman year, Caitlin and I became friends, and a group of us decided to live together.  In the Spring, I took an Outdoor Leadership course, and I got to go on a weeklong backpacking trip along the Washington coast.  That Summer, I went back to Minnesota and worked for FedEx and Mandy’s office, and then in the Fall, I moved back to the UPS and started living with Joshua (in a house with six other people).  I took my first Art History and Gender courses, and I fell in love with them.

Best: backpacking, classes.  Worst:  choosing a major that’s pretty much useless.  Hindsight:  graduate with a credential, not a degree.

2006:  That winter, I remember studying hard and weathering the dramatic ups and downs.  19 and 20 year olds are a lot like sixth graders:  they want to be treated as though they are adults, but in a lot of ways, they still act like children.  The kitchen was a sty, and forging new friendships while maintaining others proved tricky.  That summer, Joshua, Caitlin, and I stayed on campus and worked for Conference Services.  That fall, the three of us flew to South America and spent four months on the lam, learning Spanish, trying out WWOOFing, teaching English, and discovering the life of travel.

Best:  living with Joshua for the first time; TRAVELING.  Worst:  dysentery, 19 year old boys that smoke weed and don’t clean the kitchen.  Hindsight:  send e-mails with all of the information (don’t through the family into a panic).

2007:  Back in Tacoma, the three of us got an apartment in the Proctor District, less than a mile from school.  In January, I went to the Humane Society, and we adopted Oscar, a shy and wonderfully grumpy mutt who lives with us to this day.  By now, I had declared an Art History major (good sense be damned) and Joshua had declared a History major.  That summer, Joshua worked for Conference services while I worked at the Office of Accounting and Budgeting Services and took summer classes.  That fall, I became a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach For America, and I recruited like crazy, compelling 10% of our graduating class to apply.  Joshua and I were accepted in October, and every morning, we would wake up early and run, talking about our future in New Orleans.

Best:  Oscar, running with Joshua.  Worst:  not much!  Hindsight:  that teaching thing?  It’s not a bed of roses.

2008:  That Spring, we finished out our degrees and graduated with Honors.  Joshua proposed, I said yes (of course), and in May, we packed our tiny little Hyundai with all of our earthly possessions – including Oscar – and set off for the Bayou, stopping at the Grand Canyon and Taos along the way.  We stayed with Sarah for a couple of weeks, exploring the new city and dying from the heat, and then we flew to Phoenix for Institute.  Six weeks later, we returned to New Orleans for our first ever teaching jobs.  In the same school.  (Crazy right?)  Together with 9 other corps members, we were baptized by fire.  It was the worst year of my life.  We lost 10 students to gun violence.  Other students were put in prison for taking the lives of others.  It was unsafe, unhappy, miserable – no more so for us than our students – but vicarious trauma has its own teeth.

Best:  the trip down to New Orleans, spending time with Sarah, our little quarters near the Marigny.  Worst:  ‘nuff said.  Hindsight:  ????

2009:  During our second semester, the police were called onto campus 52 times.  Gun clips in the yards, abusive administrators, and urine in the closets.  But then.  Summer.  We drove back to Minnesota.  Flew to Athens.  We spent a month biking around the islands, swimming in the sea, and remembering the good things in life.  In July, we married at Afton Apple Orchard among our friends and family, tan and happy.  That fall, I returned to another slightly better but still terrible alternative school run by the RSD.  Joshua went to New Orleans College Prep.  We survived.  Joshua working harder than ever, and me – coping.  That Thanksgiving, we spent a short vacation in the Ozarks with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon.

Best:  GREECE, wedding, Ozarks.  Worst:  ‘nuff said.  Hindsight:  ????

2010:  I remember New Years as one of the highlights in New Orleans.  We ate a fancy dinner and watched the fireworks up on the levee, dressed to the nines.  That Spring break, I flew to Portland to visit Caitlin for a week, and we poked around the coast like old times.  And in May, it ended.  If you ask me now, I can’t tell you why we stayed.  It was so horrible, and I honestly don’t think I did any good.  But we did, and when we left, we felt like we were being born again.  Free to live life.  Free to choose a new path.  In June, we flew to England.  We met up with Ashlee, hiking the Wicklow Way and exploring Andalucia.  Back in England, we biked from End to End (and side to side), visiting our fabulous English family the whole way.  After dunking our toes at John O’Groates, we headed for Turkey and then India.  We spent a short time in Northern India with the Tibetans and zen travelers, and then we hopped a train and a bus for Nepal, a dream of mine.  We hiked there for a couple of months, meeting up with the Ps, rafting down the Kaligandaki, soaking in the Himalaya, and then we flew back to England for a couple of weeks of mulled wine and scones with family before heading back to Minnesota.

Best:  TRAVELING, rafting with the Ps, finishing teaching in NOLA.  Worst:  not much.  Hindsight:  DO IT AGAIN.

2011:  In Minnesota, I came down with pyelonephritis, and lost the 10 pounds I hadn’t lost travelling.  We lived in Ellsworth with Yvonne and Dave for a few months, and then we applied to our jobs here in Denver, driving down for interviews in March.  We were both made offers on the spot, and we took them, renting a place in the Highlands before we returned to Minnesota to pack up our stuff.  In April, we moved down to our two bedroom apartment.  We took a little road trip into the mountains and down to Mesa Verde, and then I taught summer school.  K and Stacy moved down, and they became our close friends.  In July, we got pregnant, and that Fall, I suffered through the heat and learning how to teach for the first time.  In November, we bought our house.

Best:  Colorado, spending time with family, getting preggers, hanging with the Ps and Devanes.  Worst:  teaching while preggers in the heat.  Hindsight:  you’re so lucky to have the Ps and the Devanes!

2012:  Just as I started to get the hang of teaching in a place where teaching is possible but never easy, Spring Break arrived and so did Lily.  My pregnancy and her birth really do mark one of the most momentous occasions in my life.  Those first months were hard.  K and Stacy were living with us (in between renting and owning), and their company made things a little easier.  Gradually, we started to get the hang of this parenting thing, and in the fall, we returned to work, dropping off Lily at a wonderful little school.

Best:  Lily, visits from friends and family.  Worst:  the first few weeks of breastfeeding, episiotomies…  Hindsight:  take a hypnobirthing class, or something.

2013:  That second year of teaching was easier, but still difficult.  More and more, I’d gotten the feeling that something in me wants to teach, but I’m not really sure if teaching wants me to teach, if that makes sense.  I poured myself into my friendships and Lily, and we enjoyed numerous visits from family and friends.  This summer, we took a road trip to California, and this fall, we began another year of teaching.  This year, by far, is the best year of teaching, and yet…  Well, we’ll see.

Best:  Spending time with friends and family.  Worst:  the Ps leaving.  Hindsight:  none yet.

Hopes/Goals/Themes  for the Future:

  1.  What I want more than anything is a strong network of family and friends.  Brittaney was here last week, and I practically salivated when she talked about having friends with children, people who they see on a regular basis, bounce ideas off of, and count on.  I would love to have a loving community in which to raise Lily.
  2. One thing I haven’t found is professional satisfaction.  In college, I loved art history, religion, and feminism, but since then, I’ve struggled.  Teaching has been a lot of good things, but it’s also been a lot of terrible things (I mean really, really horrible).  In some ways, it’s more bad than good, more stress and heartache than joy.  I really want to carve out a space professionally where I feel like I have something unique and good to offer, but I don’t have all of the answers yet.
  3. Kids.  Having Lily is one of the most rewarding and profound things I’ve ever done.  We want more J
  4. TRAVEL.  Like Stacy, I’d say this is money well spent and some of the best experiences of our lives.

And that’s about it.  I don’t know about predicting the future, but that’s what I hope for.  Any divinations you find with reading?  What about you?