Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Branson Belonging

*I wrote this article with my 8th grade class today and loved it so much I wanted to share it! The prompt asked us to write a narrative about belonging and relate it to one of the readings.

As a kid, I moved around a lot. At one point, I counted eleven different houses. That had an impact on me as a kid. For one, we had boxes always ready and very few things we didn’t need. Mom never saved my art projects and outgrown toys were sold at yard sales. More than material things though impacted me: I wanted friends.
                Moving to Branson, Colorado in October of my sixth grade year changed my life. For the first time I felt like I belonged. My grandparents and my dad had graduated from this school and I felt as if I belonged long before I met a single student. We visited my grandparents frequently and everyone knew them. My dad’s former classmates had kids in my class and my brother’s class. I made friends with April, Amy and Melissa. Still today Melissa and I trade stories of our kids as we have launched into our own families. Finally, I also stored material things when we moved to Branson because we had out buildings that provided storage and we lived there for nine years.
                My sophomore year of college, I experienced an uprooting of sorts. My parents moved to Greeley so my mom could do her master’s degree. They ended up staying for the next 20 some years. However, Greeley never felt like home to me. I belonged in Branson. In fact, twenty years after graduating, I moved back and started a family of my own in nearby community.

                The article “Study Finds Americans Increasingly Rooted” seems to indicate the opposite of my experience. While most families stay put, mine always moved. Perhaps having a stable community like Branson where we could belong without even being there allowed us to move around with out losing the quality of belonging. I would not change my family experience. I loved all the new friends I met and the places I lived: Indiana, Arkansas, Texas and Colorado. However, I will always belong to this little ranching town in southern Colorado.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Canyon Fall

The school year started off with a family down with colds. Looking back over my question a day journal, I realized this happens to us every year. I spent Labor Day weekend resting and even took off a day. The kids and Damon caught it the next week which kept us sniffling for a full two weeks. The kids soon adjusted to riding into town three days a week because it meant playing in the sandbox at Ema's and on the playground at school. The elementary teachers have a front row seat to the entertaining duo every morning. When they stay home with dad, they fall asleep in Punkin, the old orange feed truck, as he checks cattle and water every morning and ends up stopping by the grandparents for a visit. Weekends I entertain the kids by having them help me hang up laundry (they especially love running through the pants as they flutter in the sunshine on the clothesline) or by heading down to the shop to ride trikes and tractors.

The creek has mostly dried up though we did have a week with over three inches of rain. In the big mud puddle in the driveway, John David started making up a fishing game. He found twigs, threw them in the water, sat down to wait, then jumped up declaring he caught a fish! Katy quickly mimicked her brother, throwing her hands up in delight and finding sticks and twigs to use too.

One weekend we headed over to see great-grandma Doherty, playing in her basement on the old sawhorses holding saddles and with all her fifty year old toys. After lunch, the kids slept all the way home on a sunny fall afternoon.

October brought our first junior high football game to watch my oldest nephew play. Surprisingly, the kids sat on a blanket eating snacks and cheering on the team. Katy immediately caught on to the cheerleaders role and joined by smacking her little palms together and shouting in glee. After the game, my nephews took John David over to the playground to play on the slides just like I did as an elementary kid. Katy stayed back, turning rocks into "babies" and covering them up with grass. She hugged on my cousin's girls and walked up and down the sidelines waving to everyone.

As usual, October gave us a little taste of winter. On our day off for Columbus Day, the clouds came in and dusted us with snow for a few hours. The kids delightedly ran outside, Katy yelling "noing!" at the top of her little lungs, throwing her face up to catch crystal flakes. John David found the amount of snow disappointing since we couldn't make snowballs or snowmen. Soon I am sure we will have plenty of snow but thankfully not in October!

Our most exciting news has to do with our health! We started a program in mid-September and have experienced amazing results which I am sure I will blog about soon. We feel and look better these days and expect to have many more. What treasured days to watch our little ones grow and interact with the world both at the canyon and beyond.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The First Half of My Career

Having finished my seventeenth year of teaching, I must admit I have calculated my retirement could be in about 17 years. That means I am half way! So what would I say about the first half of my teaching career? This:
1. I avoided formal education because I wanted to have meaningful relationships to influence students in leadership roles. However, I have found that seeing students every day in a classroom actually lends to a lot of opportunities to influence future leaders--especially those with academic promise. They want the tools they need--the ability to make connections with what they read and to write well. I feel so satisfied to be equipping future leaders in this way.
2. I also avoided the formal classroom my first few years out of college because I wanted to be able to encourage those who found themselves in a low spot in life. The English classroom actually lends itself quite well to this goal--journal entries, personal narratives, even just conferencing with students about their writing or their reading open up moments to pass along encouragement or just provide a listening ear. So many of my favorite memories teaching were not really about literature or writing, but about seeing the change over time in a student who needed an adult to say some positive words.
3. I'm a people pleaser. I love making people happy. Teenagers often give me negative feedback--they don't like reading, they hate grammar, they can't write. Even when I meet strangers on the street and they ask what I do I often get groans when they find out I am a teacher--let alone an English teacher. Through all of this I have learned to take the long view and its not personal. One fortunate thing about teaching in small schools is that I have students for several years. This gives me more time to convince them that reading and writing are tools, not enemies. I now know no matter how much they complain, they need to read a lot and write a lot. They need quality, timeless reading as well as up to date engaging reading. And I have so many tools in my box to support strong writing. I am amazed at student progress over time. And I just don't take their hate for my subject so personally anymore. I just share my value and respect and eventually they come around.
4. I used to be offended when anyone suggested new ways to teach. Now I plan on teaching something new every year. Can you imagine after teaching Lord of the Flies eight times, I need some refreshment? I love always growing. I wonder sometimes how my first students learned anything my first year. But instead of hating my earlier teaching self, I am just so thankful for the continued growth this profession gives me.
5. Testing is not going away. True, it may change from year to year but the core idea of evaluating student progress has not changed. I used to be delighted when my students did well and defensive when they fell back. Now I humbly acknowledge its one test one day. I have students who do well and those who don't. I continue to implement effective practices and hope to do better every year. I keep teaching those core pieces of literature and writing techniques trusting the system will work it all out.
6. I thought I might try teaching for a year. I hadn't majored in education in college but it seemed like a good temporary fit. Man! Now I know God drew me to this profession, gave me great mentors, fabulous students, engaging content, and growth opportunities like I cannot imagine in any other career I considered. What joy I have in teaching! I cannot imagine spending the next few years doing anything else.
7. What a great fit teaching is for me as a mom. As a single woman, it gave me community to engage wth every day. As a mom, I have an ideal schedule with lots of time off and summers with my kids. Soon my kids will be in the same building with me for 14 years (of my 17!) and that warms my heart. I know not every mom has a call to teaching, but for me it is such a perfect fit both for me and my family. I feel very blessed.
Here's to the next seventeen years being even better than the first!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Best Ways to Dig out of Ruts

While the main road we live on is covered in a sturdy white caliche that sloughs off the elements, pasture roads soak up the moisture and turn to goo after a good rain. We have had a lot of good rain these days. It's monsoon season in New Mexico. Cattle still need supervising. Fences need fixing. Ranch life must continue despite the elements. 
Recently, the kids and I followed my rancher husband as he drove a tractor out to the east pastures to fix fence more easily. Even though Punkin, the old orange truck he bought for $400, has four wheel drive we veered off onto a pasture road and immediately got into some trouble. The ruts from the rain had dried into deep groves, making it nearly impossible to navigate the road. My son observed that I didn't drive like daddy. I managed to jump the truck out of the ruts up onto the firm footing of the grassy pasture. We met our ranching guy over at his destination and took the kids home for lunch.
I realized I have a lot of ruts in my life. This past weekend I visited some friends in Colorado Springs where I spent twelve years as a young professional. Seeing my old friends and haunts reminded me many of my patterns of thinking have not changed. I still see the worst more often than through lenses of faith. I tend toward fear of the future rather than contentment with the present. There I had worries of taking care of myself as a single woman. Today I have worries taking care of my kids and being a good wife. The constant for me is to have faith instead of fear.
How do I break out of the rut of negative thinking? How do I refuse to let my worries water it until it is soggy with despair? How can I keep the path clear for hope and contentment?
This past week I have started a scripture writing challenge for the month of August. I realize that though I often get time to read the Bible on my phone or even in my journaling Bible, I don't often let it soak in or change my thinking. Doing this verse or two a day, letting it soak in, reading other's insights from the Holy Spirit--this truth and fellowship are drying up my doubts and feeding my faith. Already I have seen my hope begin to grow, my contentment peak its head out. This ends in a month, but the idea of focusing on letting God's word feed my faith and propel me to fellowship does not have to end. The only way to eliminate "Stinking Thinking" as they used to say is to replace it with meditating, ruminating, and changing because of the Holy Spirit's use of truth in my life.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bullet Journal Best Practices

Part to do list, part planner, part notes, the idea of a bullet journal combines all those little scraps of paper and pretty little planners or journals into one logical system for the creative at heart. Here are my best practices after bullet journaling for the last eight months. I started with a little spiral lined pages journal. Starting this fall, I will be using a Leuchtturn 1917 dot journal so I can do my own lines if I so choose. It also has numbered pages, two ribbon bookmarks, and a back pocket for keeping track of supplies or receipts.
1. Start with a weekly planner. I looked up layouts on Instagram, but any way to divide your two page spread into eight slots will give you one for each and one for notes or a to do list. I like using washi tape (Japanese masking tape with colorful pattern) to divide the days or make a title spot. Number the pages (if you aren't using a book with numbered pages).

2. For those of us who don't do calligraphy or have elementary school teacher perfect handwriting, washi tape makes us look creative. I do like having a roll or two that compliment each other such as a solid and pattern in the same color group. For my expenses page, I have red chevron so I can find it quickly. All my gratitude pages have a sunny yellow. I put this tape out at the edge of the page so I can find it quickly. I do have an index at the back of the bullet journal so I can quickly find pages as well. Paper clips also help with this process once you get further into your journal. Colored pens, stamps, and stickers also make for creative elements in the bullet journal. I've also discovered little sticky notes of various sizes add an easy way to carry over ideas from week to week.
3. What else do I have besides a weekly (and monthly planner)? Notes pages and lists. But more importantly, I have discovered a variety of trackers. I started with a vertical one but realized I just didn't have many trackable habits. So I started being a little more creative in how I track by using shapes and colored pens. I track things such as when I give the kids a bath or vacuumed. One of my favorite ideas is to have a year in pixels where I decide on a color for every day (giving a key on the side). This year it shows we have had a really amazing year! I also have a page to track precipitation. I write out fun pages too such as what I did on a particularly productive snow day or all the fun we had one day this summer. I keep little charts of my steps and calories (and sleep habits). I have pages of outfit or Jamberry manicure ideas. I started with a prayer requests page and notes one what I read in my Bible. I've decided to track expenses with colored pens to show where my money goes instead of just keeping expenses by dates.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Best Toys are not Toys

Watching my little girl empty water from an orange plastic bucket reminds me that kids need toys...that are not toys. She has two cups, one red and one purple, to transfer the water from the bucket to the toy she has deemed in need of refreshment. It's a fancy transformer that works better as a water reservoir than as a toy. In fact, most things my kids play with are not fancy toys which I think speaks well of their imagination.
Besides buckets, cups and water, I also highly recommend balloons and bubbles. A balloon serves as a ball in a pinch. It's small, portable, and doesn't break anything when you throw it. I love balloons. Bubbles also give endless hours of squeals and serve a side job of cleaning. With bubbles all over their hands, a little water and we are ready to eat dinner with clean hands. The little plastic jars and wands also make for great water and bucket toys later. Speaking of jars, anything with a lid that can be put on and taken off makes for happy kids. Any little thing they can stuff in there and take back out makes for great entertainment too. Right now my girl loves to put her plastic hair barrettes in a jar and empty them back out (preferably some place we will all step on them barefooted).
One of our favorite games is chase. This works best with laundry hanging on an old fashioned clothes line (both environmentally friendly and cooler for summer clothes drying than the electric dryer in the house). Kids especially love running through pants and hiding from each other. Playing chase is such a great game only enhanced with the presence of some string. Chasing the end of a string brings plenty of giggles and exercise for mom to complete cutting a watermelon or just going to the bathroom alone for a few minutes.
Living near a creek gives us another great place for entertainment. Throwing rocks in the creek adds some water splash back. Even creeks with as little water as ours offer a tadpole daycare. We check on the little critters every couple days and sometimes catch them in cups and move them from one little pool of water to another. They were the size of flies when we started but a few are dime sized with little legs now!
Pens and paper offer creative outlets for kids too. Especially if mom is trying to write in her journal or address letters, kids need those particular pens and papers. None of this construction paper and crayons for our kids--only clicky pens and lined paper favored by adults will do.
Kids need lots of physical activity so jumping on the bed and wrestling offer great energy outlets. My kids love any kind of jumping--on the bed, their beds, the couch--just on anything with a little give. Wrestling with mom on the hardwood floor also leads to cascades of giggles. They mostly prefer under arm and neck tickles or spinning up in the air (though I can only handle lifting my little girl for this one).
Bathrooms offer endless activities. Though we have finally convinced our girl not to throw toys in the toilet, she has found other ways to play in there too. For instance, our shower has a full length mirror on the door. The little people in that mirror are so funny! And they love kisses! Bathroom sinks also make for great "buckets" and a toothbrush in a stopped sink full of water--what bliss! Our potty chair has a lid so it serves as a stool as well. Stools help little people get to everything they need in the bathroom (and kitchen and bedroom). We particularly like scaring mom to death by climbing up and calling to her to see her expression when we need help getting down from stools.
I've therefore decided not to spend money on fancy toys. The kids like the ordinary stuff of life better and it engages their imaginations. Now off to eat some homemade popsicles made out of juice!

Five Love Years

I have a goal to write out our love story for our family. Five years have flashed by in a blur of being newly weds and a short eighteen months later new parents. Here's what I love about being Damon Brown's wife:
To begin, I just loved having someone listen to me. Damon shared my passion for education and loyalty to family. We had nieces and nephews to tell stories about and we had administration of schools to commiserate about. He tolerated my scrapbooks (most of them) and teased me about my constant mention of crepes in Versailles. He gave me wise advice when I struggled and hugs when I needed those too.
Then we had established this wonderful home together and God saw fit to expand the members of our family. We savored pregnancy together and marveled at the amazing little boy God placed in our care. Parenting can be such an all consuming endeavor but Damon maintained his love for me by sharing the load. He is a partner, not just a husband. He takes our children two days a week (and so do I--ha!). I admired his patience in fatherhood and his wisdom only blossomed when applied to family matters.
Just when we settled into the routine of having a child, God added another pregnancy and little person to our care. What a gift to have a daughter! She is all we could have hoped for to complete our little family unit. We get less sleep but we have more laughter and beauty because of her.
After knowing each other for only six months, we committed to this marriage adventure together. Five years has melted our lives together. I have memories of the time before Damon, but I imagine it only in reference to who I am within the context of our family. Now I am so grateful for all those international adventures so give me the pillars of respect for our world and grace for others. It gave me an outlet for my love for teaching students which today provides an opportunity for me to be employed in such a small community. We have both our families in the area and time to spend with them. I never imagined living and loving life in a rock house in the canyon twenty miles from a small town but when you have the right people around you, every place is paradise. What a blessing Damon brought me to his little slice of the earth to join him in making new memories in this life together.