This day ROCKS!

Today was a working mommy’s dream day. I’m convinced that God is rewarding me for all my jumping exertions in church yesterday. Here’s why:

1. Hair goddess/next door neighbor N stopped by to chat and give Super L her birthday gift. She had the afternoon free. So did I. This never happens.

2. J.C. Penneys is currently having a HUGE winter clearance sale. Now see #1.

3. Payday is tomorrow. Now see #1-2 .

4. My husband agreed that I should go look for a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding in a few weeks. I offered to take Little Miss G so that he would have an easier time of it while I was gone, but he said she didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to.

5. I asked Little Miss G if she wanted to go shopping at the mall, and she said no which meant I got to shop without kids.

6. At JC Penney’s there were dozens of dresses in my size that I loved. This never, ever happens.

7. I picked out six different dresses and headed to the dressing room, very very cautiously optimistic. I was thrilled to discover that they all looked nice on me, but two of them I needed a smaller size. By now, I was almost high from all the euphoria and practically convinced that this was all a dream.

8. This finding/changing/trying on dresses had only taken about 30 minutes total, and N’s daughter, Sweet L, was perfect the whole time.

9. New dress selection will not require purchase of new shoes, undergarments, or even pantyhose.

10. I believed this new dress to be $70. It rung up at $44.

11. A new shirt and tie for John also rung up at $44. That’s two wedding outfits for less than $90, folks.

11. Lunch was a yummy, freshly made Aunt Annie’s original pretzel.

12. When I arrived home, the house was still clean, Little Miss G was satisfied with the ice cream I bought her, and Super L was still napping, so she won’t miss me when she wakes up.

13. I still have time to write this blog, do a few more loads of laundry and some homework before the Oscars come on.

I’m wondering if I should go out and buy some lottery tickets. I am sending up a huge and sincere Thank you, Jesus for letting this mommy have such a good day, guilt free.

* I realize that most of my moments of celebrations were based on superficial things like shopping without children, clothing, and money spent, but I know that any mommy or husband to a hard-working mommy (and ALL mommies are hard-working mommies) will understand my delight at such an unexpectedly delightful afternoon.


I am still here

I know that it is dangerous for a new blogger to be gone so long, lest I lose all my readers. But honestly, my life has been about nothing except for grading papers, driving in bad weather, sorting laundry, and a never ending supply of dishes. Don’t we all read each other’s blogs to get away from that kind of stuff. Anyway, it’s only Saturday and it feels like Sunday because yesterday was yet another snow day! Woot! For those of you who say that teachers have it “easy” because we have so many “vacations,” and snow days, let me just say that however excited kids are about snow days, teachers are usually 3x happier, because we need a break from it all just as desperately as they do. Anyway, today’s plans are ceramics class and substitute teaching a 3 year old Sunday school class (on Saturday night). I’m sure I’ll have something to blog about when I get back.

And now, Super L, in the sweet little voice that only she has, has just beckoned me from the top stairs, “Mommy come back.” My heart is melting. I cannot resist. I must go. I promise I’ll try to be a better blogger this weekend and in the upcoming week.

Super L, deux

So my “baby” turns two this week. We’ve already celebrated on Saturday with cake, ice cream, and an extended family who loves her. What more could a girl want? She received some pretty spring outfits. Actually, Aunt T and I picked out the exact same outfit. I must say, Aunt T has some darn cute taste in clothes. I love everything she buys the girls. Cousin L and her family bought her a cool princess step stool and a veterinary hospital that comes with it’s own plush animals to be nursed back to health. Little Miss G has been fighting Super L for this toy since she opened it. Papa gave outdoor and indoor gifts, including more crayons and coloring books, 3D view-finders with sound effects and sidewalk chalk. Daddy and I gave her a horse and doll set, a squishy pig-ball, some clothes, animal figurines. We also bought her a new small backpack (my choice) because, hey, when you turn two you start earning your keep around here. She can carry her own pull-ups and sippy cups from now on. We also bought her and Grace matching Star Wars light sabres (daddy’s choice, can you tell?). He’s already mentioned that perhaps he should take them away. Gee, that only took four hours.

But really, what can I say about this kid? She’s just so…her. Second children are always being compared to their older siblings. Even if we don’t voice those comparisons, it happens. I can’t imagine how a parent avoids it. Super L made her differences from Little Miss G clear from the very beginning and those differences are even more apparent, even though L tries to do everything G does. It takes awhile to get out of the habit of always comparing your own children to one another. I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to stop doing that as much. But when I try to describe this kid, I’m left speechless. Sweet. Smart. Funny. Tough. Demanding. Loving. Nurturing. Aggressive. Observant. Soft. Pretty. Strong. Unique.–Super L.

The creative writing juices just haven’t been flowing this week. Maybe they haven’t thawed yet. Maybe I’ve been too busy to do much reflective thinking. I wish the weather would decide to be winter or spring. I vote for spring.

My candy heart

Your Candy Heart Says “Hug Me”

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out.
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you!

Your ideal Valentine’s Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you’ve planned out

Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking

What turns you off: fighting and conflict

Why you’re hot: you’re fearless about falling in love

The problem with research papers

I usually let the students choose their own topics because it must be a persuasive research paper, and I want them to pick something that they are interested in so that (hopefully) they’ll do a better job. I’m getting tired of reading papers about abortion and steriods. It makes for a tricky situation sometimes to get students to form an argument that goes beyond the usual platitudes you hear on TV. For example, “When you get an abortion, you are taking a life. Everyone has a right to life.” Whether or not I agree is irrelevant. My job is to try to get students to extend their thinking beyond those soundbites. Sometimes when I do so, I’m misinterpreted as being radical (which there’s nothing wrong with being radical once in awhile) when really all I’m trying to do is get them to think on their own. Once, when I told a student that just because George Bush hunts with his family doesn’t mean that he embodied family values, the kid looked at me as if I had three heads. I was trying to encourage him to connect the dots… to show how hunting = shared values/interests + time with family = family values (in a very simplified form). He thought he had put me in my place when he said, “I told my dad what you said, and he said only a Democrat would say something like that.” Ohhh, no! A [gasp] Democrat??? What could possibly be worse??? [eyes rolling]. Oh what would his dad ever do if he knew that I was an independent? Heaven forbid we actually teach these kids how to think. Honestly, it took a great deal of self control not to laugh. He thought he’d really burned me. And make no mistake, I’m all for family values. I just happen to disagree that hunting makes it a foregone conclusion.

But I digress…. There are those students who write persuasive papers and base their entire argument on stereotypes and genuine ignorance. It takes gentle guidance and a discerning heart to nudge them toward more critical thinking, and I must always be aware of the fact that I might be creating tension for them if I ask them to question something that they hear at home from their parents. One such stereotype I encountered recently was that we should ban homosexuality because “it would be nice to not have to worry about someone of the same sex going too far.” The implication was that we should ban homosexuality so that we would never have to worry about someone of the same sex making an advance toward us. Now, I don’t ever want to step in the place of a parent, but it is a dangerous (and highly offensive) stereotype to characterize homosexuals as sex-crazed beings who try to sleep with anyone and everyone. Not knowing where these ideas came from–his parents, the media, his own misconceptions–what do I say to get him to look at that assumption a little more closely? It can be a slippery slope sometimes.

Of course, if I limited their choices, it would make it easier for me. Everything would be safe with no potential for controversy, and I wouldn’t have to do so much thinking when I read these papers and consider their arguments. But, if it’s thinking that I’m trying to avoid, then I have no business being a teacher. And the bottom line is I don’t require them to write about controversial subjects. But some of them do because these are the issues that they are grappling with or want to learn more about. Isn’t school supposed to be a “safe place” where they can learn and figure out what they think? This is why on many other levels, I love love love my job. I like helping students figure out what they know, what they think, what they believe. I like being an agent for learning and understanding.

Weekend redux

Well, my first week of blogging has come to an end. How did I do? Maybe they’re a bit too long, but really, are any of you who know me IRL surprised?

So, the week’s wrap up:

The lie in the Seven Minute Narrative: I never tried out for the women’s Olympic softball team. Most of my students guessed this correctly. Not because I’m so open with these random details of my life, but because they have a hard time imagining the “middle aged,” chubby woman who stands before them as a hardcore athlete. I could blame this on changing values and mommyhood, but in all honesty, I was pretty much over the whole softball scene by the time I graduated college. If I hadn’t met my husband, who still loves to play the game, on the softball field, I probably would have walked away from it completely in my early 20s.

Little Miss G and her note from the teacher: Little Miss G insists that she couldn’t finish her work because the kids were too loud and distracting. This could very well be true, but we explained that she would just have to concentrate harder and keep going until she was finished. In a follow up phone call with her teacher, Mrs. V agreed, so she said she’s going to offer Little Miss G a choice to move somewhere else in the room when they are working. I was satisfied, but LMG must make a better effort, and we made that clear to her. In our discussion, it also came out that LMG also had two “yellows” this week. Yellows are behavior indicators. A green day means you were good all day. A yellow means there were some issues. A red means someone is in for a long day and a long night at home. Two yellows in one week?? That hasn’t happened since the first week of school. I’m not sure if LMG is going through a phase, or what, but a note from the teacher and two yellows makes for a not-so-good week at school… for me. She seems completely oblivious to all of it.

I realize that not much has been said yet about Super L, the younger of our two girls. This will change, I’m sure. With her, it’s not so much what to write about as what not to write about. Now she is the artist in the family. She’ll create her art on anything that is made of paper, or is white, or flat, or all three. Which means we have her masterpieces all over our walls. Little Miss G never ever drew on the walls because we never let her. I told her that all of Super L’s artwork is a testament to how little supervision she gets compared to what LMG had at her age. It’s a good thing we don’t have three. She/He would probably be walking her/himself to the babysitter’s by now.

I also wanted to ask any of you who pray to please send up some for one of my most special friends, “R,” who was double whammied with the flu and pneumonia this week. Both. Simultaneously. Can you imagine? R, if you’re reading this, say a prayer for yourself and get some rest.

Feel good art… or the art of feeling good

I love art. This is one thing that I’m not sure a lot of my good friends know about me, because it’s an interest that I never had in high school. It started with my freshman humanities class at Millikin. My dad has always been great about exposing my brother and I to many different learning opportunities, and so the St. Louis Art Museum was a regular stop on summer vacations. Since college, I’ve been able to spend a lot more of my time and energy just enjoying whatever I encounter, either at SLAM, art fairs, or special exhibits in the area. And I especially enjoy checking out the art creations of the students at my school. Some of them are so very talented. In fact, a student painting is the centerpiece of my living room decor now.

I’ve always enjoyed art for the aesthetic. I’m just an appreciator. I’m not especially knowledgeable about art history, art movements, art techniques. I just like looking at pretty/interesting/strange things and losing myself in whatever they make me think about. It makes me feel good, and y’all know I’m a sucker for a good story. Most art has fabulous stories if you take the time to read the little plaques on the wall. I must confess, sometimes I spend more time reading about the piece than I do actually looking at it. I also have an appreciation for the process… the difficulty in creating a thing… though I don’t know much about it and don’t have any practice in it.

Well, yesterday I took my first baby step in moving from appreciator to creator. I took my first art workshop – a ceramics class taught by high school students. Right away I knew that I was in trouble when all I had to do was “wedge” my clay (beat the clay onto the table to eliminate any air bubbles) into a square, I mean a cube, and I couldn’t do it. That’s right, I couldn’t pick up a wad of clay and drop it on a table properly. But art isn’t about competition, it’s about expressing what’s inside, right? No biggie. So next, we were encouraged to create a “pinch pot.” Such a cute sounding assignment is not at all threatening, and therefore, a perfect assignment for a beginner class. Better yet, the lady who can’t even wedge. And I must pause here to say that our teachers (three of which are former students of mine) were so patient and kind, and they really know how to teach. Pinch pots are little hand sized pots (or slightly bigger or smaller) made by “pinching” out the clay into a container. It can be circular or square. The goal is to have uniform thickness around the sides and bottom. Simple enough. Yeaaahhh. Um… my first pinch pot was an utter disaster. In fact, I set the whole wad of clay aside and started over. Second try wasn’t much better. I scrapped that attempt and practiced honing my lacking rewedging skills for our second assignment.

Assignment two was to build a container using a coil technique. For all you play-doh fans out there, that’s where you roll out a snake and you coil it to make a base. But you must remember to “score” and “slip” so that the dern things hold together. Then you must roll out uniform sized “snakes” and coil it around the base, remembering to score and slip, to build up the size of the containers. Now, if you’re imagining this as just a glorified play-doh session, let me tell you that clay has much more of a mind of it’s own. It’s stickier when wet, tougher when dry, and is more sensitive to pressure. You’d think rolling out a uniform piece of clay into a snake would be easy. Not so much from the girl who got a D in wedging and an incomplete in “pinch pot.” By the time I got my coil as uniform as it was going to get, scored the sides, I was breaking a sweat. I think it was painful for “E,” one of the student helpers, to watch. I was trying not to feel self-conscious. I was happy to have my container about a 1/2 inch high, but I was surprised at how much concentration all this scoring, slipping, rolling, and coiling took. Isn’t it supposed to make us feel good? After hunching over my coil for about 10 minutes, I stood up, looked at E and pleaded, “This is hard! Can’t I just read something?”

I did get my coil container to stand about 1.5 inches high. It’s lopsided. The coils are not uniform, it’s lumpy. E and another teacher, M, were very encouraging. I knew it was a piece of ceramic crud, but it was my ceramic coil crud. Plus, striving for perfection is completely contradictory to the learning process. As an educator, I know that. But as a gal who often excels, it’s hard to go back to square one and try something completely new. But it is good for us to do so. Other students made much prettier, uniform, smooth ones. Other’s made lumpier, uneven (but taller) ones. But I decided that I didn’t care. I worked hard on it and I was satisfied. It will be a good piece on which to practice glazing, and it will look great on my desk as a paper-clip holder.

Next came throwing on the wheel. Now this is what I came here for. I have heard a lot from my coworker, MB, about throwing on the wheel this year. It has always fascinated me, but the most I know about it is that scene in Ghost where Demi Moore is throwing and she has this impressively tall piece in the works, and then Patrick Swayze comes in and ruins it with all his shirtless sexiness. I was actually annoyed with that love scene between two beautiful Brat Packers, because I wanted to watch her work with that clay on that wheel more. Who cares about sweet love on a couch with the Righteous Brothers playing “Unchained Melody” in the background? Especially when there’s clay to be thrown?? I mean, seriously, that’s when you know you’re an art fan.

I couldn’t wait to watch someone do this process from beginning to end. I had a front seat to M’s demonstration, and watched, impressed by how she could do this so easily, and explain so clearly, what she was doing. This girl, I think, really has it in her to be a teacher. I watched her hand positions, listened carefully to her explanation, and the clay took a beautiful shape, and she made it look so effortless. But what was the most thrilling was to watch her mom and dad watch her. Her mom’s face had this beautiful combination of wonder and pride. Her dad’s face was not as easy to read, but his eyes were riveted to his daughter. I’m sure they’ve always known how talented M is, but to see her demonstrate, to teach, and to create so effortlessly, I think, made quite an impression on them. I was excited just to watch the process, and I opted not to try throwing on the wheel this week.

What I did do is I tried another pinch pot while I watched M’s wheel demonstration. MB had said that some of her students find that they do better by feeling the clay rather than looking at it. So, I kept my eyes on M, her hands, the clay, her parents, and lo and behold! I had a nicely rounded, uniform sized, smooth little pinch pot. And it is cute, just like its name.

So, I left the class a little wiser. Art makes you exert yourself. This is something I’ve always known but never really experienced. Kind of like when you watch an avid runner and they make it look so easy. You think to yourself, “Man, I’m going to start jogging. It’ll be good for me.” Then you jog to the end of your street, or in my case, to the neighbors’ house, and you realize that jogging=agonizing death unless you train for it. I never saw my life flash before me as tried to coil, but I did feel like I was being pushed. I was extending myself into something. And unlike my preferred medium – words – I couldn’t just hit the delete key and pick up where I left off. Scrapping a pinch pot meant re-wedging, something that’s already a challenge, and starting again with a material that just didn’t feel natural to me. But, it felt good to give my creative muscles a work out. I’m not sure that ceramics will ever be my medium, but the clay certainly felt more friendly after my successful pinch pot. We’ll get along just fine for the next two Saturdays. I am looking forward to throwing on the wheel. Most importantly, I left class feeling good.

Penny wars and letters from school

A few days ago I mentioned that a young man at my school launched a fundraising campaign for Ugandan children. Three weeks ago we launched a penny war among the first hour classes. In our penny war, pennies, dollar bills (of any amount), and checks counted as a positive toward a class total, and silver change counted as negative. After week one, my first hour class was in 4th place with a +$57 total. That means that we gave more, but the silver change thrown into our jar by students in other first hour classes counted against us. Week 2, we were in first place with +$150–again, that is after the silver had been deducted from our total, so we actually gave more. After week 3, we were still in the lead with +$195 after being barraged with silver change all week. Last week, though, we were bombed by silver change every day. In one day alone, over $100 in silver change was put in our jar. My students quickly pulled out their wallets and purses and threw $60 in bills on topĀ  of it all. It was so awesome! I kept an informal tally of how much money we collected last week, and we collected well over $333 just last week, but everybody was throwing their silver change at us because we had been in the lead the last three weeks. Well, the penny wars ended on Monday and the winners were announced today. We came in second with a final total of $465.00. The top team had $585.00. They won, fair and square, and we congratulated them. But later we discovered that our class was by far, the top money raiser when you combined all the money that was put in our jar–pennies, silver change, bills, or checks. As it turns out, our first hour collected $911, which represents almost 20% of the overall school total. I am so proud of these kids I cannot even begin to tell you. It has been inspiring, humbling, wonderful, spirit-lifting to see these teens give and give and give every day for a month. They are a testament to how much (maybe even most) of what people say about their age group is dead-wrong. They are compassionate, smart, resourceful, and driven… when they want to be. It is such an honor to get to spend my days with them.

On another note: We received a note from G’s kindergarten teacher. It seems Little Miss G has been “sneaking” her work into the “done” basketĀ  without even being close to finished. Her teacher sent home three examples of the same assignment. The first try had only 2 of 10 components completed. The second try had more finished, but not completed. On the third try she had to stay in from recess and complete the work in the office, and she completed it perfectly. So tonight, actually, right now, Little Miss G, her daddy and I will be having a talk. I’ll report back later and let you know how it goes.