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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

First Responders

Summer ends a month from today for me. I will be back in the classroom with students, shoring up for another year of critical thinking and writing. While I know God has given me talents as a teacher, I continue to "keep my knees bent" even going into my eighteenth year of teaching because students and methods are ever changing with the times.

Spending extra time with my own children this summer has been an honor and humbling. I say honor because I had begun to believe as a single woman that God might have only students for me to invest in with my life. What an honor to have two healthy children of my own! Marriage at the age of 38 simply made children statistically unlikely. I am thankful for these two every day! Watching them develop new talents, discover new experiences, and change humbles me. I have so little to do with their growth! They just constantly amaze me! Thank God for making them so complex and creative.

Spending time with these two little ones also humbles me. Just today, I woke up early with my girl. Weary from the start makes for a rough day. I know when they get disobedient or grouchy, I can often attribute it to their fatigue. We try to keep a routine to help them stay well rested and fed. But some days just start rough. I realized today as the parent, I have an opportunity to set the climate for my children for the day. They respond to me first. If they see my temper is short, theirs becomes short too. If they see me use a harsh tone, they answer in a harsh tone too. Rarely is their spirit simply sinful (though at times I am sure it is!). Usually, they are responding to me. I read today in Proverbs (and this sentiment is repeated in the New Testament as well) that we have to discipline our bodies physically. For me today, that meant maintaining a good attitude in spite of my physical state of fatigue. When my little girl started being ornery, I started redirecting her instead of unleashing my tiredness on her.

We've had a good day. We've had lots of good days this summer. We walk. We ride trikes. We play in the water and blow bubbles. We read books and watch shows. We nap and snack. We visit grandparents and go out on trips. It's just been a delightful summer. Every day, I choose a color for my day (it's called year in pixels)--so many days are green for good or even purple for amazing.

This humbling parenting lesson today will carry me through the school year too (though I am sure this is one I will learn over and over!). As the adult, I can set the climate for positivity. What a gift to have a God who gives direction and opportunities to practice this wisdom!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

All the Girls

For my 89 year old grandmother, all of us girls gathered in Red River, New Mexico for a weekend of fun together. We debated what it should be called--retreat? vacation? Whatever its called, I want to do it again.

We gathered Friday evening about five miles out of town in a development of vacation homes one could only rent to enjoy. Our four bed-room lodge had a beautiful covered deck overlooking a mountain river, auible above the laughter of cousins and aunts. We gathered outside for lemonade and cookies, drinking in the twenty degrees cooler mountain air. All three aunts, two daughters-in-law, four granddaughters, two granddaughters-in-law, and four great-granddaughters rounded out the crew. We spent the first evening gathered in the kitchen for some pasta and salads followed by a movie--a chick flick many had not seen. Before midnight, three of us headed for the hot tub sans babies and talked in the cool evening air as the hot tub warmed our happy bodies. Babies didn't last long without moms so the time ended in a hasty retreat upstairs for comforting of toddlers.

Saturday started early for me with my sweet girl eating cereal while I drank coffee and talked to grandma (also an early riser). By nine we had the rest of the crew for bacon and eggs around the large kitchen tables. I spent some time in both the morning and afternoon painting nails and applying wraps. Four of us went on a walk around the neighborhood pushing a stroller on the dirt roads that wound over the creek and up hills. An hour later with sunburned necks, we had a sleeping toddler and happy moms. After a group testing session for Lipsense, we smiled for a group selfie in front of the fire place.

That evening we loaded up vehicles to head in to town for a meal at Texas Reds. The BBQ with live music hit the spot, even for fussy little girls like mine. She ate her ketchup via a few fries and calmed right down after protesting our group photo at the lodge. We walked downtown for some chocolate and shopping before heading home for more movies (or puzzles--whichever suited us best). That evening I didn't go to the hot tub but I did have a happier girl having figured out she needs to rest in a cool room.

Sunday I woke up early again and ended up taking my girl on an early stroll for a nap. She seemed to know when she needed a little down time, pointing to the stairs and snuggling right up in the stroller. We stayed for lunch then headed home even though most of the pack stayed through the next morning. Something about extended time together fosters conversations you don't get around the branding luncheon tables. I am so thankful for women I enjoy right in my own family. We support each other, laugh together, and celebrate together. May we have more weekends like this one!

For me the greatest encouragement came from the wisdom of other moms who saw my toddler melt down before meals or naps and simply observed they had been there too and I was doing a great job. As a still new mom, I didn't need secret formulas or chastisement to use methods I had already tried and failed. Instead I got the strong hugs and stories of women with similar stories that ended in happy kids and strong character. Being a mom takes so much courage, especially for a people pleaser like I am but I know that I have a heritage of strong women who stand together and raise children who follow Jesus and experience grace. So thankful for my family.