Monday, March 31, 2014

One Month Later

A month ago, I sang duets each morning with Mandisa as her voice boomed in my bathroom while I curled my hair.
               Today, I was too busy brainstorming ideas for future slices to notice any of her words.

A month ago, I was a careful driver, mindful of every twist and turn I needed to make on my way to sub at a new school.
               Today, I nearly missed my exit because I was lost in contemplation of the lessons I have learned from daily slicing,
               how this challenge has changed me, and how I want it to keep changing me.

A month ago, I thought blogging was an individual, isolated hobby.
               Today, I smile at how wrong I was, having experienced first hand the support, camaraderie, and even friendship that
               abounds in this wonderful community of writers.

A month ago, I was terrified to click "publish" on my first blog post.
               Today, hints of fear still resurface, but I now know that it's okay to be afraid, as long as it doesn't keep me from

A month ago, I thought that only people who led interesting lives wrote intriguing slices.
               Today, I recognize that the best writers can transform even the most mundane, menial event into a beautiful,
               descriptive, thought-provoking "slice of life."

A month ago, "surfing the web" in my spare time meant perusing Facebook and Pinterest.
               Today, I find myself less interested in DIY crafts and more engrossed in exploring the writing craft of other slicers.

A month ago, "writers block" was an excuse not to write.
               Today, it is an opportunity to persist.

A month ago, 31 days of consecutive writing seemed like a daunting, even insurmountable, task.
               Today, it is an accomplishment I'm proud of.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

One Day, One Sentence (plus a little more..)

For better or worse, I've always been a girl of many words.

Well, let me add a caveat to that claim. In settings where I am comfortable, I'm one of many words. Put me in a large, unfamiliar group of people and you might forget I'm even there. My extreme introversion means that in groups, I would rather listen than talk, prefer quietly observing to being observed, and always choose blending in over sticking out.

But I change into a completely different person when I'm with people I know and love, in settings that are familiar to me. Get me comfortable, ask me a question, and you had better get a cup of coffee, because we are going to be there for a while. Happily, I will chatter away, having no sense of time whatsoever, until I look at the clock and realize, "Oops!--I've been talking for far too long."

This has become something of a running joke in my family. My mom recounts days when she would sit at the kitchen table with my sister and me, enjoy an after-school snack with us, and ask us about our days. While it was often like pulling teeth to get my sister to say much of anything beyond, "Fine," my lengthy responses could very well carry us until dinner time. Even today, my parents know that they need to rest up before I visit, because we will inevitably be on the couch until midnight every night, talking until our throats are too sore to continue. My husband tells me that he always knows when I am really happy or excited about something, because I won't stop talking about it.

For this reason, my interest was sparked when I saw a few slicers (Kevin and Lisa) challenge themselves to create a description of their days in just one sentenceAlthough it seemed easy at first, it proved to be much more challenging than I originally anticipated. I can barely do anything in one sentence. I attempted this task on a few occasions this month, but each time I started, I felt like my sentence was either extremely long, or completely insufficient. So I stopped and just went back to my old, verbose ways. A "Day in a Sentence" was fine for them, but I just couldn't do it. I told myself that they had a gift for conciseness that I just didn't possess.

We are in the final days of the Slice of Life March Madness challenge, though, so I'm trying to stretch myself in new ways. Yesterday, I tried poetry for the first time. Today, I'm going to try out this Day in a Sentence adventure.

And yes, I realize that I've completely cheated by writing quite a long introduction! I couldn't help it. I swear. It just happened. It must mean I'm comfortable and happy while blogging...

Without further adieu, here is my Day in a Sentence (just ignore the 28 sentences above!):

My heart is full after being fed from the Word this morning, 
and my body is excitedly anticipating a blissful Sunday afternoon nap. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Poetry, Writing Goals, and "The Good Old Days"

Throughout this Slice of Life challenge, I have read and enjoyed quite a few poems from other slicers. I am always amazed at the creativity that flows from the words in each poem and always find myself wishing that I had a similar poetic gift. However, ever since I was a kid, I have felt like poetry and I just don't get along. I sometimes struggle to appreciate (or even understand) it fully, and I always struggle to compose it. I vividly remember loathing poetry projects in elementary, middle, and high school. Visions of Little Laura standing in front of large audiences at obligatory poetry recitals or competitions still haunt me. So, needless to say, poetry wasn't something I anticipated experimenting with during this March challenge.

But then I woke up today and read Anna Gratz Cockerille's post for the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge. One of the questions she posed to readers, "Have you met your own personal writing goals?" unsettled me. I started thinking about the reasons I committed to the March Slice of Life Challenge, and remembered that two of my primary goals were to: (A) improve my writing craft and (B) be able to better relate to and assist my future ELLs.

Poetry is not something I am comfortable with. It scares me. I feel inadequate and untalented. And that's just how my future ESL students will probably feel when I ask them to write in English.

So, today I am going to attempt to take one more small step toward achieving my goals listed above, as I try Anna's idea of using Ralph Fletcher's poem The Good Old Days as a mentor text. As she did with her rendition of The Good Old Days, my first and last stanzas are exact replicas of those Ralph Fletcher used in his original poem.

The Good Old Days

Sometimes I remember
the good old days.

Riding bikes on summer vacation with Dad, 
wondering if my legs would ever be as strong as his. 

Pedaling fast to feel the fresh White Mountains breeze on my face
and slow to hear Dad's directions and careful warnings. 

Feeling my legs burn with fatigue, 
but pressing on to make Dad proud. 

Stopping to savor a thick chocolate milkshake, 
from our special father/daughter ice cream stand. 

I still can't imagine
anything better than that. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sprinting to the Batu Caves

Beads of perspiration dripped off my brow as my legs propelled my body forward with force and celerity. My brain must have stifled the part of my nervous system that detects pain in order to focus solely on my end goal, because the only feeling it registered was the rush of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I had already dashed through a Malaysian airport and raced passed the Petronas Towers, allowing myself only seconds to marvel at their grandeur. As I did, visions of visiting this landmark in another life flashed through my mind.* I immediately pushed them out, not permitting daydreams of past memories to cost me precious time in this race for a million dollars.

It had been a grueling journey to get here, but I was now in the final segment of this leg of the race. After hurling myself out of a taxi cab at the entrance of the Batu Caves and throwing some ringgit at the driver without bothering to retrieve my change, I poured every remaining morsel of energy I could muster into my final sprint.

As I neared the entrance of this monumental shrine, I spotted Phil Keoghan standing on the familiar mat. Its bright red and yellow hue beckoned me. Were my competitors nearby? I didn't look behind me, for fear of slowing my pace. Moving my legs as quickly as I could, I watched the distance between Phil and me decrease until finally, my feet jumped on top of the mat.

I waited in anticipation for sweet, congratulatory words to flow off of Phil's lips. My heart hammered against the walls of my chest with such force that its beats echoed in my ears.

"Congratulations, Jet and Cord, you're team number one!" Phil announced.

Wait a minute. Jet and Cord? Hearing these names, and not my own, jolted me back to reality.

I looked around me. Suddenly, the awe-inspiring scenery of the Batu Caves had vanished, and in its place were rows upon rows of treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals. My eyes returned to the small screen in front of me and The Amazing Race credits scrolling across it.

It dawned on me that I hadn't been sprinting through the exciting metropolis of Kuala Lumpur as a contestant in a million-dollar competition, but had merely been watching one of my favorite reality TV shows, completely engrossed, as I ran alongside scores of others at my gym. Disappointment ensued.

My brain released the hold it had temporarily placed on my nervous system earlier in its deceived state, and suddenly the flood gates of pain opened, my body feeling all of the effects of an intense 50-minute sprint.

Anyone else like to make indoor exercise more interesting by letting your imagination run wild? Maybe it's just me...

 *The visions that flashed through my mind while running on the treadmill came from my trip to KL in 2012. Check out some of the beauty of the city! 
The Petronas Towers by Day and Night 
The Entrance of the Batu Caves

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Revisiting Thankful Thursday

Last Thursday, I modeled my post after Janna's Thankful Thursdays. I like the idea of pausing each week to reflect on what I'm thankful for, so I'm going to do it again! 

Today, I'm thankful for...
  • weather forecasts with mentions of sunshine and temperatures above 50. Could Spring actually be here to stay?
  • random text messages from friends that have no purpose other than to remind me that I'm being thought of and prayed for. 
  • this strange, transitory phase of life I'm in right now, and the lessons it teaches me about waiting, trusting, and blooming where I'm planted. 
  • moments when I realize that I'm "thinking like a writer," and the satisfaction I feel knowing that my choice to stop avoiding blogging was a great one, even though it's often difficult
  • the opportunity I will have tomorrow to enjoy a farewell dinner with one of my former M.A. classmates, who will return to Shanghai on Saturday, and the friendship we have formed over the last year and a half. 
  • subbing assignments, like those I had on Tuesday and Wednesday, when I actually get to teach real Spanish and/or ESL lessons. 
  • subbing assignments, like the one I had today and will have tomorrow, when I don't feel like much more than a glorified babysitter, but I do get to catch up on some reading. Too many of these days would drive me crazy, but I will admit that they are pretty relaxing and enjoyable every now and then! 
  • first period "preps" as a sub, and the extra time they give me to read through plans, get to know a new building, and review emergency procedures. 
  • "Spring Break" cancellations of some of my regular weekly activities, and some extra "me time" at night. 
  • these rapidly dwindling numbers: 7, 37, and 72, which mark my countdowns to the days when I will visit my family in New York, watch  my husband graduate from business school, and embark on a Grecian adventure
For all of these blessings, and so many more, I am thankful! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Could've...But Didn't

8:00 on Tuesday Night

I could have...
...worked on job applications,
...replied to the emails that have been lingering in my inbox,
...researched for our Trip of a Lifetime 2.0,
...washed the dishes,
...baked some cookies for my husband,
...called my sister or my mom on the phone,
...started compiling pictures for our annual photo album,
...brainstormed ideas for my next slice,
...kept myself busy until midnight.

But I didn't. 

Instead, I...
...put on my most comfortable jammies,
...crawled into bed,
...started a new book,
and until my eyes burned with fatigue and refused to stay open any longer (about 30 minutes).

6:00 on Wednesday Morning
I feel...
...thankful that I put all of the "could have"s and "should have"s out of my mind for one night.

After all, they will all still be there waiting for me tonight.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Case of the Lock That Refused to Open

"Come on....please!"  I pleaded.

I had exhausted all reasonable options already. I had calmly spun the dial back and forth in the appropriate fashion, just as I had almost every day for the last several months. When that didn't work, I gave the black knob a few extra twists and started again. Seeing that my efforts were to no avail, I resorted to begging, yes, begging, an inanimate object. I stared at my gym locker and the combination lock that seemed determined not to allow me to access my phone, my car keys, or any of my non-sweaty clothes.

"Three, seventeen, twenty-seven," I muttered under my breath. "I know that's right! Why won't you open?" I wondered aloud in frustration as I twisted right, twisted left, twisted right one more time, and then  yanked the silver gatekeeper with much more force than I knew was required. Nothing happened. I was quickly losing this battle to my combination lock. I had always trusted him to keep my belongings safe while I exercised in peace, but today my former friend was now my foe. And not just any foe at that, but one keeping me from everything I needed and from a doctor's appointment that started in less than an hour.

I could feel eyes on me and I wondered if curious onlookers thought I was trying to break into someone else's locker. I felt the need to defend myself, but resisted and instead tried to focus on how to solve the problem at hand.

Suddenly, an image of a poster I'd seen hung on the locker room walls flashed through my mind. For months, I had ignored its warnings, but today, I took comfort in its words: "Locks that are not removed by the end of the day may be cut off by Planet Fitness staff."

"That's it! I'll just go ask someone at the desk to cut my lock off," I thought to myself, relieved at discovering a potential, though not ideal, solution.

Deciding to give him one final chance before ending his life, I pleaded with my lock yet again. I spun to the right, stopping at three; I spun to the left, stopping at seventeen, and I spun to the right, stopping at twenty-seven. "Here goes nothing..."

Nothing was right. He didn't budge.

With no other option, I made the Walk of Shame to the front desk to explain my predicament, ensuring the associate that the locker was, in fact, mine, and that if they called my phone, they would hear it ring inside. The look of desperation on my face was enough to convince her, and she reached behind the desk to retrieve a massive tool that almost seemed like an unfair match for my poor little lock.

Together, we returned to the site of the battle. "This one right here?" she questioned, motioning toward locker 20.

"That's the one..." I replied, trying to hide my embarrassment and simultaneously wondering if I'd ever be able to show my face at this Planet Fitness branch again.

She opened the jaws of the giant lock-cutter and slowly put its mouth on the silver neck of my lock.

"Wait!" I cried, stopping her. I'm sure she already thought I was insane. She was definitely going to go home and tell all of her friends about me tonight. Maybe she'd tweet about it. I didn't care. "Will you just try it for me...just to be sure?" 

I recited the combination for her out loud, and watched her fingers twist the dial carefully--right, then left, then right again.

Once again, it refused to budge. Still not wanting to completely destroy my lock, I gave it another "last" feeble attempt. If it did actually open at this point, it would be downright humiliating, but I had to at least try. He was a committed little bugger, though, and so, as he refused to open, his life had come to an abrupt end.

I gave the associate a nod and she raised the Jaws of Death to his shiny silver neck. With one snip, the battle was over. The gatekeeper had been removed from his post, and I was free to access all of my belongings.

After thanking my rescuer, I immediately checked my phone, where I had stored the combination to my lock in case of a momentary brain lapse (don't ask why I locked the phone, which held this essential information, IN the locker...). "Did I just remember the combination incorrectly?" 

I peered down at the screen. "Three, seventeen, twenty-seven," I read. I had been right all along.

Shaking my head in confusion, I slung my backpack over my shoulders and walked out to my car, grateful to be holding the keys that had seemed so far away only moments before. It was, and would forever remain, The Case of the Lock That Refused to Open.

Ten minutes later, I found myself wandering through the aisles of Kroger, approaching yet another sales associate. "Excuse me, ma'am. Could you please tell me where I could find the combination locks?" 

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Letter from Your Substitute Teacher

Dear Mr. B,

We've never met before. In fact, we probably will never meet in person, as the worlds of Industrial Technology and ESL don't often seem to collide. Still, after spending a day in your shoes I feel like I know so much about you and what kind of teacher you are.

"How?" you ask?

Well, I saw hints of your personality as I sat down in your chair and admired the tidiness of your classroom and the careful way you had assembled your detailed substitute teacher binder.

I sensed your concern for your students and your desire for them to succeed as I read your note encouraging me to read all of the IEPs for your students so that I could know how best to help them in your absence.

As my eyes wandered around the room and read the posters challenging your freshmen to earn college credit, to get involved in after-school activities, and to THINK before they speak (words that are True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind), I learned that you are a teacher who wants students to pursue excellence, and who believes that your job as an educator is not limited to the confines of the classroom.

I saw that you are loved, valued, and appreciated by your students, as their faces fell in disappointment when they peeked into your room and discovered that you were missing.

I deduced that you are self-sacrificing, as I realized you do not feel entitled to isolated planning periods or even a quiet lunch, but instead view those parts of your schedule as opportunities to open your classroom door to kids who seek a quiet place to work or just want to escape a crowded cafeteria.

I ascertained that you are trustworthy and considerate, as athlete upon athlete arrived at your door, toting heavy sports bags, explaining that you always allow them to store their belongings in your room.

Finally, I saw that you have high expectations for your students and maintain a productive classroom, as your students worked diligently all day long, knowing exactly what to do and making good use of their time--even in your absence.

So, you see Mr. B, we have never met, but today I feel honored to know you. I respect you, and quite honestly, I want to be like you.

Your Substitute Teacher,

Laura M.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Unexpected "Thank You"s

"Thanks for doing the laundry," my husband said as he pulled a freshly washed and folded pair of socks from his top drawer.

This was not the first time my sweet husband has thanked me for an act that was, in my eyes, so small. For some reason, though, his words this morning struck me as unbelievably kind and precious.

I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary. Laundry duty is something I do every weekend without thinking about it, and certainly without expecting a "thank you" in return. It has become such a habitual action that, to me, it hardly merits recognition. And yet, he took the time to stop and thank me for it.

Those two simple words touched my heart this morning, communicating to me that even though I saw this household chore as an assumed duty, he didn't take it for granted. He didn't take me for granted. As he unfolded his socks, he looked beyond the black cotton foot warmers and saw the time that it had taken from my Saturday to wash, dry, and fold our clothes...and subsequently took the time to express his gratitude.

His words echoed in mind this afternoon. We live in a culture where we tend to throw the phrase "thank you" around quite a bit. We give "thank you"s to cashiers for passing us our receipts, to employees who load our shopping carts with grocery bags, to waitresses who bring us our restaurant bills, and to kindhearted individuals who hold doors for us. These "thank you"s are certainly merited, but their meaning is often lacking because they tend to be spoken out of obligation. The power of my husband's words this morning was due, in large part, to the fact that he didn't have to say them. It wasn't a social nicety. It was just him being nice.

In light of his kindness, I find myself wondering, "Do I regularly take the time to brighten others' days with unexpected, yet deserved 'thank you's?" As I get ready to start a new week, I want to learn from my husband's example and actively look for ways to bless others with this little phrase. Thank you. The words are so simple and so easy to say. Still, when they are spoken from a sincere heart to an unsuspecting person, their power is magnificent.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sensing Spring

Yesterday, my morning commute was the inspiration for my Friday "slice of life." My evening commute was equally as inspiring, but in a different way. As I drove home, I soaked in the beauty of spring all around me and mentally wrote the lines below:

Spring made a grand appearance today! I could sense her all around me...

My ears heard her whisper in the cheep cheep of little birds and then shout through the roaring music of passing drivers who, like me, couldn't resist the urge to drive with the windows down.

My nose smelled her in a wonderful, appetite-inducing whiff of a charcoal grill, fired up for a springtime BBQ.

My eyes saw her in the joyful smiles and furious pedaling of the neighborhood children as they raced around on their bikes.

My skin felt her as the sun's rays touched and warmed my bare arms, thankful to no longer be covered up by a winter coat.

My lips tasted her as they relished a delicious frozen afternoon snack, grateful to savor cool treats after many months of sipping hot drinks.

Yes, Spring was here today. I sensed her all around me. 

Did you?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Music & Memories

It was one of those mornings when, despite its best efforts, my under-eye concealer simply could not hide the effects of a night of sleep cut short. The caffeine from my second over-sized mug of coffee desperately tried to compensate for the lack of natural energy I possessed, but it wasn't succeeding.

As I drove to school, I took a deep breath, turned on the radio, and attempted to assure myself that I would survive the day, despite my heavy eyelids.

Just then, my ears perked up as they absorbed the first few notes of a familiar tune. My brain knew that it had heard that string of notes before, but it was so long ago that I couldn't quite remember the band who sang it or any of the words. Yet, the song felt so familiar.

Then, like a flash of lightning, recognition struck! As I suddenly remembered the song, the band who sang it, and every single lyric, I was brought back to my junior high days, when I used to belt out this tune with my youth group pals.

I couldn't resist. Ignoring the stares from traffic in parallel lanes, I proceeded to crank up the volume and, letting out my inner junior higher, I belted out the song just as I had many years ago.

A few minutes later, the music faded and I noticed that, although I felt twinge of disappointment at the song's end, I suddenly felt a surge of energy that no amount of coffee could have supplied.

My blood was pumping and I was ready for whatever was in store for me at school. I had found my ultimate energy cocktail: music and memories!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Inspired by Janna's blog posts each week, which have reminded me to stop and be grateful for the many blessings in life, I decided to do my own Thankful Thursday post.

Today, as with every day, I have much to be thankful for. Among a myriad of other things, I am thankful for... 

...sweet students and their words of affirmation. They have no idea how much it means to me when I hear comments like, "Yes! You're our sub again today?!" or "You're our favorite sub!" flow out of their mouths. Those words can keep me going for days.

...opportunities to practice trusting and praying when I am tempted to be stressed. I had one of these "opportunities" this morning, when I arrived to my substitute teaching assignment and discovered that several critical materials for my lesson were missing. Eek! It all worked out, as it always seems to. I'm thankful for the end result, too!

...the incredible outpouring of support and the thoughtful comments I received in response to my prayer post yesterday about my sister and niece. Thank you!

...the fact that I finally submitted my very last grad school assignment yesterday!

...a husband who shares my affinity for celebrations. A friend once told me, "You guys find a reason to celebrate things all of the time!" I guess it's true...we do tend to celebrate the little things and the big things...and I'm glad!

...a husband who yesterday walked for 15 minutes in the rain just to buy me my favorite drink at Kroger (flavored sparkling water) as a way to celebrate my completion of grad school. It's the "little things" that mean the most.

...for spring and reminders of new life!

...leftovers and the extra time they are giving me away from the kitchen tonight (even better when the leftovers consist of curry!).

...opportunities to learn. This year has been full of growth opportunities for me!

...accountability partners and friends who are willing to check in with me and ask "the hard questions."

... little moments in my day when I can squeeze in a bit of reading time and escape to another world. and videos of my 2-year old niece that make the 600-mile span that separates us a bit more bearable.

...the arrival of my "Greek Islands" Lonely Planet travel guide that arrived today and the promises of adventure it holds for my summer.

For these things, and so many more, I am thankful! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Prayer for My Niece

Dear Heavenly Father,

You knew how badly my sister H wanted another child. It came as no surprise to You. 

You knew how elated we would all be when she shared the news with us at Christmas that you had blessed her with with a new little baby! We screamed and jumped with enthusiasm as we anticipated meeting this new blessing in just 8 months. It came as no surprise to You. 

You knew how joyful H and her husband L would be when they learned that their 2-year old daughter B would soon have a sister! It came as no surprise to You. 

And... You knew that H's heart would sink when the doctor told her that something on the ultrasound was irregular. Five months into the pregnancy, there was evidence of a cyst on Baby's brain. It came as no surprise to You. 

But God, it did come as a surprise to all of us. So, we ask You...please comfort us all...especially H&L as they try to understand, stand firm in their faith, and trust. And we ask you for BIG things. We ask you to work in mighty ways to heal Baby W, because we know that You are capable...and that none of this was a surprise to You.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Vow to Stop Skipping the Details

I have a confession: When I am reading a book, I have a tendency to skip details and jump right to the dialogue. It was not until recently that I realized I do this, but in the last few months, I have caught my eyes on several occasions hopping over descriptive paragraphs in order to reach the inter-character conversation more quickly.

I don't know what this reveals about my inner-psyche. I'm sure I could conduct some sort of psychoanalysis to find out what this tendency of mine signifies. I haven't figured that out yet, but what I have begun to realize, is that I'm missing out! The last few books I have read have made me realize that by skipping the details (consciously or subconsciously), I am not only neglecting to experience the book as the author intended, but I am really doing myself a disservice as I fail to fully connect to and imagine the characters and scenic details. There is so much more to me than the words others hear me say, and there is so much more to the characters in the books I read than I can learn from their thoughts and words.  Details and descriptions are there for a reason. What's more, I am missing out on the beauty of words that is so often present in the descriptions authors so carefully craft.

Take for example, this excerpt from a book I have been reading this week called Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai (thanks Jennifer for the recommendation!):

Fadi felt like a hairy single-celled paramecium, immobilized under a microscope, squashed between two plates of glass. He wished he could fly right out the window, but he couldn't. Trapped, he sat in a slippery vinyl chair under Principal Hornstein's probing gaze (p. 195).

I had been reading furiously, trying to find out what was going to happen to the main character and his family, when I came to this description. I stopped. I reread it. And I smiled.

I just love the way Senzai has perfectly captured how Fadi felt in that moment as he sat in the principal's office. Honestly, at first, I thought to myself, "a 'hairy single-celled paramecium'? Who describes someone like that?" but as I re-read the words, I fell in love with them. This description is just wonderful!

These are the types of depictions I fail to see and treasure when I skim through books, focusing too heavily on the dialogue. In every other facet of my life, I am about as detail-oriented as one can get, so I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to apply that aspect of my personality to my reading. But that's all in the past. Today, I am vowing to stop skipping... and start savoring...the details. 

Monday, March 17, 2014


January 12, 2012

As our boat slowly made its way back to Tonsai Pier, we breathed in the fresh air, admiring the breathtaking limestone cliffs and the jade-colored ocean waters that surrounded us. It was day 6 of our long-anticipated "Trip of a Lifetime," and we were relishing the beauty of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand. On our snorkeling tour that day, we swam and kayaked among a myriad of brightly-colored aquatic creatures in the crystal-clear Thai waters.

In less than a week, we would be required to tell our boss definitively if we would commit to teach in Beijing for yet another school year. It was a decision we had discussed, analyzed, prayed about, and toiled over for months. Should we return to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies, or should we stay in Beijing to teach students we loved in a place we had considered "home" for the last 3 years?

We huddled closely to keep warm as the sun set and the air cooled around us. As we did, M (my husband)  looked at me seriously and announced that he was "ready to take the plunge" by telling our boss that we would be leaving Beijing at the end of this school year. For several months, we had been pretty certain that this would be our decision, but the gravity of it struck us as our boat continued its journey back to the pier.

Returning to the U.S. meant leaving a land and people we had come to love. It meant abandoning security and the place we had called "home" for our entire married life. It meant willingly entering a lifestyle vastly different than the one we had be living, and a significant drop in the amount of time we could spend together. It meant subjecting ourselves to what would inevitably be an intense 2 years.

Something in that moment made us cherish our time together on that boat. We were 1/3 of the way through our "Trip of a Lifetime," and we recognized that when we returned to Beijing after day 21, our life would begin a journey down a very different course. It was the beginning of the end of "The China Season" of our life.

Feeling emotions of both sadness and anticipation mingle in our hearts, we decided that at the end of the next phase ("The Grad School Season"), we would go on another "Trip of a Lifetime." We committed to saving our pennies (and our airline miles) and excitedly began to dream about the places we could visit. Trip of a Lifetime #1 took us to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Where would Trip of a Lifetime #2 bring us? Part of me wondered if this "Trip of a Lifetime #2" would ever truly become a reality, or if it was just a way to make us stop thinking about the massive life changes that awaited us upon the conclusion of this wonderful adventure. Either way, it was a welcomed distraction.

March 16, 2014

Our dream is becoming a reality! The trip that began as a dream on a small snorkeling boat more than two years ago is starting to become a reality. Piece by piece, it is coming to fruition! Our plane tickets have been "purchased" (with miles) and our itinerary is almost finalized. We have poured over hundreds of pages of travel guides and have found lodging we can "pay for" (with points) for 15 of the 18 nights we will spend on our second Trip of a Lifetime. The "countdown clock" has been set: 83 days until we officially declare an end to The Grad School Season of life and embark on our Trip of a Lifetime 2.0.

A midst my excitement, questions linger in my mind. What will we name the next season of life? What landmark events will characterize this upcoming stage? And will we one day embark on a Trip of a Lifetime 3.0?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

SOL So Far

It is March 16th, which means that I have completed 15 of the 31 blog posts in my first-ever Slice of Life Challenge. Today, I'm taking a moment to ponder my feelings about accepting this challenge. 

There are days when I love blogging. These are the days when I feel connected to a world of other writers whose words encourage and inspire me. These are days when the words just flow and my only problem is that I can't move my fingers across the keyboard fast enough to keep up with the thoughts pouring out of my brain. These are the days when I realize that I've been "thinking like a writer" and seeing details in life I would have missed only 16 days ago. 

But to be honest, there are some days when I don't love it. There are days when I give up on the idea of ideas pouring out of my head and just pray for a trickle...something...anything. There are days when I spend thirty or forty minutes writing, only to re-read what I wrote and then delete it all, discouraged by the blank screen staring back at me. 

After contemplating my love-hate relationship with blogging, I have come to this conclusion: 

That first set of days is wonderful. They are the days when I have the most warm-fuzzy writer feelings. But, I believe that perhaps the second set of days--the ones others might call "bad"--are the ones that keep me coming back. The days when it is hard remind me of the reason I accepted this challenge in the first place. When I struggle to improve my own writing craft in my native language, I am reminded of the difficulties my past and future students (will) face as they write in a second language. When I discover ways to improve my own writing, I think of future opportunities I will have to share these discoveries with students. When I fear that people will think my writing is sub-par, I think of those kids who have certainly felt similarly. And so, I'm glad that I accepted the SOL Challenge 16 days ago! It is most certainly a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A "No List Saturday"

Last night, as I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I sighed.  And then I did it again. They weren't exhalations of exhaustion, like the one that often escape my lips. These were were sighs of relief, of satisfaction, and of accomplishment. The week had been a long one and on Friday night when I closed my eyes, I finally breathed out the last of my pent up stress and inhaled the hopeful promises of a restful Saturday.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of nothing. No screaming alarm clock. No immediate thoughts rushing through my brain of all the things I had to do today and all the tasks I didn't finish yesterday. Just peace. And then suddenly...a novel thought..."What am I going to do today?" I don't remember the last time I asked myself that question. Even on Saturdays, I usually wake up to a list that is so long it would take superhuman powers to actually accomplish everything on it in a mere 24 hours. But on this beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning, there is no list waiting to be tackled.

Just the thought of a "No List Saturday" put a pep in my step as I strolled to the kitchen to make some breakfast. "Today is going to be wonderful," I thought to myself, as I began to think of the many activities I could fill my day with. I even popped an extra gummy vitamin into my mouth in the midst of my glee. After all, if it's fun to start each day with something that is "officially" healthy, but secretly just feels like candy, it's even better to begin a Saturday with more! 

So now, I'm excited, I'm full of anticipation, I'm at 200% of my recommended daily vitamin intake, and I am so ready to commence my day.


Friday, March 14, 2014


"A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day." 

This powerful Emily Dickinson quotation begets both conviction and inspiration in my heart.

I am convicted when I realize that a daily running record of my words would not always prove that I agree with Emily Dickinson in this quote. Sometimes, I haphazardly speak in a way that suggests that I  believe words can leave my lips and then simply dissipate into the surrounding air. I neglect to pause and consider the type of seeds I am planting in the minds of my listeners. I let raging emotions trump reason or kindness and foolishly assume that apologies will somehow retract the words I so thoughtlessly spoke into being. Sometimes, I fail to speak the words of love and affirmation others need.

If the above quotation is true, and I believe that it is,  I'm dismayed to think of the type of life I have, at times, put into being as a result of my own carelessness.

At the same time, I am inspired when I imagine the beautiful bits of life I can put into the world when I choose my words intentionally. I can speak small seeds of truth, motivation, empowerment, and love to those around me. I am encouraged, knowing that although my words may sometimes seem to fall on deaf ears, they very well may be continuing to grow far beyond the day I first utter them. All of the "I know you can!"s, the "I believe in you!"s, the "You are so smart!"s, and the "I care about you!"s that seemed to be in vain may one day grow in the minds of students I interact with to such an extent that they will conquer the condescending giants that now rule their minds.

I aspire to live in constant awareness of the fact that, as Proverbs 18 says, "the tongue has the power of life and death"...and to use mine for life.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Dear Mom....10 Things Right Now"

As I've perused various SOL blogs recently, I have come across a series of "10 Things Right Now" posts, inspired by the previous creative work of Ali Edwards and Mandy Robek.  Many of these have been tender thoughts written from mothers to their children. I contemplated writing my own "10 Things" post but abandoned the idea quickly after I realized that I didn't have a child to direct my sentiments toward. I felt like I didn't have anything to share. That is, until my mental light bulb illuminated and I had the idea to compose a "10 Things" post in reverse--from daughter to mother.

So, without further adieu: "Dear Mom...10 Things Right Now..."

10. I hear your voice come out of my own mouth almost daily. "It's happening...I'm turning into my mother!" Our culture often tells us that this is bad thing, something to be lamented. I am so fortunate to be able to sing these words with glee. "You are just like your mother" is the kind of compliment that could put a spring in my step for the rest of the day.

9. I wish we lived closer. Being 500 miles away is definitely better than being 6,600 miles apart, as we used to be, but it's still too far. As great as the cliche of "miles apart but close at heart" sounds, it really doesn't cut it when I just want to meet up and have a 2-hour lunch/gabfest with you. Have you made any progress on convincing Dad to move out here?

8. For some reason, when you look in the mirror, you see the emergence of wrinkles, bags, and sun spots. There must be something wrong with your mirror because when I look at you, I see nothing but beauty.

7. To this day, I will not...I cannot... shop for clothes with anyone besides you. Whenever I need a new outfit, I find myself aimlessly walking around Kohl's, wishing you were with me. I may have inherited your desire to be trendy but unfortunately I missed the chromosome that contains the ability to look at individual articles of clothing and put them together in a combination that "works." I need you with me when I shop. Don't even get me started on searching for jeans. There is not a single other person on the planet that I trust to honestly answer the question, "Do these pants make my hips look big?" Even if the answer has, on occasion, made me cry.

6.  Thank you for always being there for me. Thank you for loving me, encouraging me, inspiring me, disciplining me, coaching me, teaching me, and caring for me. Just, thanks.

5. You are not only my mom, but also my best girlfriend. I don't know how I ended up with such an amazing 2-for-1 deal, but God certainly blessed me with you. I love our mother/daughter friendship and the crazy, open, honest relationship we have with each other.

4. I think you are amazing for switching careers and for excelling in your new role! Few people would have had the guts to make such a "life change"...and even fewer would have been so successful. You are an incredible woman.

3. I hope that one day I will be the kind of mom to my child(ren) that you have been to me. Sometimes being a mom scares me because of how much responsibility comes with that title. How will I possibly care for someone like you cared (and care) for me? How will I just "know" when they are in trouble... or when they are hiding something? How will I exhibit the enduring patience that you have with me? How will I know exactly the right thing to say, as you always do? Will you teach me?

2. Growing up, I always thought that great marriages were the "norm" because that was what you and Dad modeled for us at home. I naively assumed that most kids grew up in a family similar to ours. It wasn't until I got out in the "real world" that I realized how atypical you and Dad really are. Thank you for modeling what a loving, committed, selfless, godly marriage looks like for me every day for the last 26+ years.

1. I love you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thankful for a Schedule Change

I am the epitome of a creature of habit. For better or worse, I live of life of patterns and schedules. My mornings almost always start the same: I wake up, brew a pot of coffee, check my email, eat a half cup of oatmeal and 6 oz of yogurt for breakfast, and then spend time reading and praying. I then "primp" while I listen to music playing from my Kindle and before I leave for school, I grab my purse, my gym bag, and my lunch (all of which I packed and carefully laid out the night before) and head out the door. The habits that form my daily schedule are probably bordering on the line of a compulsion.

But tonight I am thankful to have a schedule change. A Wednesday night that is unlike any other.

Normally by this time on a Wednesday, I have rushed through a workout at the gym, scarfed down some dinner, and am on my way to help out at program my church hosts for primary school students. I love volunteering in that capacity. Although I am frequently exhausted on my drive there, I always leave with a happy heart. There's nothing quite like chatting with third graders, listening to them recite memory verses, or having some run up to you and treat you with a hug for no apparent reason. Without a doubt, my Wednesday nights are usually pretty great.

But tonight will be great in a different way.  My munchkins are on "Spring Break," which means that tonight I'll get a little extra time with my best friend. I'll get to prepare a homemade dinner for us to the kitchen table! Tonight, I'll get to hear the full story of his day instead of the 10-minute "Reader's Digest" version I usually hear on Wednesdays. Tonight, I might even get to snuggle up and watch an episode of Person of Interest  with him or curl up with a good book! Yes, tonight will be a welcomed upset to the normal patterns of my life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Running Companions

I'm not the type of girl who dreams of saving up my pennies to buy a pair of Jimmy Choos. I'm more of a Payless kind of girl.

That is, until it comes to my running shoes. I have my brother-in-law to thank for my sneaker snobbery. He introduced me to my first-ever pair of Brooks' running shoes a few years ago and I've been a changed person ever since.

That's why I was so thrilled when a package from Finish Line arrived on my doorstep.

Bursting with excitement and anticipation, I tore open the outer box and then carefully lifted the lid of the shoe box inside.

Their name--the Adrenaline GTS--suited them perfectly. I felt a rush of adrenaline flow through my veins as I stared at them--still in the box; still pristine (a condition that wouldn't last very long). The vibrant pink and orange hues just seemed like fast colors to me. Can colors be fast? If I hadn't thought so before, I certainly was a believer now. Yes, I could feel it...I was certain to set a new P.R. sporting these.

Slowly, I loosened the laces and slide my feet into them. Ahhh. I wiggled my toes, bounced up and down, and then jogged in place. These were the perfect running shoes.

Running shoes. The label didn't fit. It just didn't sit right with me. To anyone else, it would have been an adequate description. Running shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers...depending on the location, those might be words that one could read on a shoe box or in an online product description, but to me, those labels just didn't suffice. They minimized the significance of what was inside the box.

No, these were my running companions. They would accompany me for hundreds of miles. They would willingly strike the pavement with each stride I made. They would endure hard runs as I sprinted away my stress. They would patiently tolerate slow jogs as I pushed through exhaustion. They would join me as I contemplated life, wondered about my future, prayed for my family and friends, planned my best lessons, and rocked out to my favorite music. They would trek through cold spring mornings and hot summer afternoons, celebrating the sun but still enduring through the rain. As  I ran... sweating, smiling, singing, and even crying...they would be right there with me.

Staring back at me were so much more than two new shoes. They were my new running companions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Saying "Hello" After Already Saying "Good-bye"

"I have made my final decision and am going to accept the offer of OSU these days..." 

Joy filled my heart this morning as I read these words in an email from a former student.

Q's first year of high school coincided with my first year of teaching (at the same high school). We both learned how to navigate new waters that year.

At first, Q was a very quiet student. He seldom spoke up in class and disliked most lessons that involved class participation. Most of that was due to the cultural differences between the Chinese and American teaching style and the fact that I was probably his only teacher who encouraged class participation to such an extent. This was, after all, an Oral English class. How were the students going to learn if I did most of the talking?

Q eventually warmed up and it wasn't long before he was not only participating in class but had become an "Office Hours Regular." Soon, he was excitedly signing up for our English Club Parties and coming over to our apartment with his friends to sample Mr. M's famous hamburgers and try his first bites of Mexican food. We learned that he loved anything with cheese. Oh, did he love cheese. He consumed it with such glee that it made those bike or subway rides to the import store completely worth it.

My husband and I got to know Q quite well during our three years at that high school. Our first year was Q's first year; our last year was Q's last year (high school is only a 3-year experience in China). When we attended that class's high school graduation ceremony, we watched with glassy eyes as thoughts about how hard it would be to say "good-bye" to so many beloved students raced through our minds.

And now, my heart can't quite contain its excitement as I learn that I will, once again, get to say "hello" to Q! My husband and I will likely pick him up from the airport in August after his first painstakingly long journey from China to the U.S. At the airport, we will welcome him with smiles (and of course, a glittery sign) not just to this country, or to this state, but back into our lives.


Update: After posting this blog, I checked my email and received a message from another student to share her news that she, too, was accepted to OSU! If I can't go back to Beijing anytime soon, maybe I can just convince all of my students to come here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Springing Forward with Excitement

This time of year, groans and complaints fill the air as people lament over "springing forward" and losing an hour of sleep. In an effort to look on the bright side of things, I want to focus on the events that are now a wee bit closer. We may have lost an hour of sleep, but I'm 60 minutes closer to these life events which will, Lord-willing, happen between now and November 2nd (when we "fall back")...

  • I will get to watch my husband walk at graduation after he has poured himself into pursuing excellence for the last two years and finally earns an MBA. 
  • I will finish all of my TESOL endorsement coursework thus, the last of my graduate studies. 
  • I will cherish the days of spring, summer, and fall, and marvel at the beauty in the change of seasons. 
  • I will submit job applications to every school in the near vicinity and hopefully receive some positive news from one of them, thus allowing me to begin my first ever full-time teaching job in the U.S. 
  • If the above happens, then I will get to experience a true American "first day of school," where I will see the faces of those whom I will spend the next year reaching out to and trying my best to do everything I possibly can to assist them in their language development. 
  • I will get to sit in the audience as my "little" brother walks across the stage at his high school graduation. 
  • I will spend two and a half weeks "island hopping" in Greece with my favorite travel partner (my husband). 
  • I will send my husband off to his first day of full-time work in the U.S. at a company he truly loves working for. 
  • I will celebrate with my sister and welcome a new little niece or nephew into our family. 
  • I will try, struggle, fail, and try again in so many areas as I seek to become a better Christ-follower, wife, daughter, sister, teacher, learner, athlete and friend. Then, hopefully, through persistence, I will make small steps toward achieving my goals, recognizing that the ultimate attainment of them will not come easily but it is important to persist in my pursuit of them each day. 
  • I will treasure the days God has given me and seek to use them well! 

With so many things to look forward to, I can't help but be delighted that in springing forward, I am slightly closer to all of those events and experiences...and so many more! 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Missing My China Life

Every now and then, there's one thought I can't quite shake. It lingers with me all day and directs my daydreams. Perhaps I can't shake it because I don't want the thought, and the warm sentiments it brings, to leave. What is it?

 I miss China. 

I lived in Beijing for three of the best years of my life, working as a "foreign teacher" at a Chinese public middle/high school. I've been back in the U.S. for about a year and a half now, and while there are many comforts that come along with life on this side of the ocean, there are so many elements I miss about my life in Beijing. This morning, my heart is heavy with a longing to return, so I thought I'd write down some of the things I miss about my China life. Maybe it will be therapeutic. Or maybe it will just make me cry. 

I miss my students.
I miss my students terribly. All of them (that's about 250 students each year). I still keep in touch via email with many of them, but I miss seeing and talking with them every day. I miss hearing about their lives, their worries, their dreams. I miss helping them practice and improve upon their English. I miss watching their eyes light up as they accomplished a task or gave a speech that they never thought they could. I miss the hilarious comments they often made or the antics that were inevitably present in certain classes. I miss hearing them insert our "Phrase of the Week" (an idiomatic expression) into their conversations...sometimes using it correctly, and sometimes finding "unique" ways to use it that just had to make a teacher smile.

I miss being a "real" teacher. 
Spending the last year and a half as a full-time grad student/part-time substitute teacher has been rewarding in many ways but it has also left a big gaping hole in my life in other ways. Oh, how I miss being a "real" teacher...seeing the same students each week...developing relationships with them...watching the progress in their language use....having my own classroom.

I miss hearing my last name shouted out classroom windows, from basketball courts, down hallways, and along pathways.
By the end of three years at our school, either my husband or I had taught basically every child in the entire middle/high school. And it was a big school. Combine that fact with our students' tendency for extreme excitement, and it often resulted in hearing our last name (only the last "Mr." or "Mrs.") shouted in glee every time we walked outside. We called the lunchtime walk to/from the cafeteria our "walk of fame," as we passed by almost every student and heard a chorus of children singing a one-word song that happened to be our name. I loved it.

I miss teaching students and colleagues how to bake cookies, decorate cupcakes, and cook American meals. 
As the "foreign teacher," everything I did was intriguing to my students. They were particularly interested in American food. So, on Saturdays when I wasn't hosting a themed English Club party in my house, I often spent the afternoon teaching students (and some colleagues) how to measure ingredients (something they don't do in Chinese cooking), use an electric mixer (oh man, what fun they had with that...), follow a recipe, and then enjoy snacking on our finished products.

I miss the look on my students' faces when I would randomly respond to something they said in Chinese. 
There is nothing quite like shocking students by eavesdropping on one of their conversations (which they had assumed you didn't understand) and then saying something about Chinese. Gleeful cries of, "Laoshi ting de dong! (Teacher understands!)" would fill the room. So. much. fun.

I miss biweekly "Office Hours," when I never knew quite what to expect but I always left with a smile on my face.  
Would we play hours of UNO or Headbanz? Would we talk about books? Would we chat for hours about life and school? Would we help students who were considering applying to universities in the U.S.? Would there be 25 students there, or just 1? We never knew what our "Office Hours" would hold...but it was always a good time.

I miss coming together with other "foreign teachers" on Sundays and swapping stories of our most recent teaching escapades.
There is something good for the soul about knowing that as you have daily crazy, hilarious, frustrating, inspiring, and sometimes unbelievable experiences, your friends are going through the same things. When you share your stories with them, they "get it." When I taught in China, there were 40-50 other teachers from my organization at other schools scattered throughout the city. On Sundays, we all got together to share a meal and have a church service. Inevitably, our meal time was spent swapping stories about our recent teaching escapades. I miss those Sundays...

I miss my daily visits to my Chinese merchant friends. 
The owner of the local fruit stand...who always gave me secret deals on my purchase and wanted me to try samples of random pieces of fruit;
The lady who served lunch at my favorite line in the school cafeteria...and always seemed to dish out slightly bigger portions for me than she did for anyone else;
The shop owner who sold us our lunchtime Coke Zero...and thought we were insane for drinking so much soda;
The worker at the checkout line at our grocery store... who always seemed intrigued by what "the American" was buying.

I miss the relationships I had with all of these people. When I first arrived in Beijing and couldn't say more than "Ni hao" in Chinese, our "conversations" were limited to smiles and gestures. As time progressed, though, our conversation expanded. In the U.S., I bring my own lunch to school and only do grocery shopping once a week. I miss those daily interactions.

I miss how much time I had with my husband. 
For three years, I had the exact same schedule as my husband. We taught the same classes at the same school and we did everything together. In fact, in our entire first year of marriage (which also happened to be my first year teaching in China), we were never apart for more than 6 hours at a time. Even that only happened once or twice. Most of the time, it was a rare day when I went more than 2-3 hours without seeing my husband. Everyone always asks if we got sick of each other or got on each other's nerves, but we didn't. We loved the borderline excessive amount of time we got to spend together. Perhaps it had something to do with dating long-distance for a year (I mean really in, the distance between China and the U.S. long). Either way, it was wonderful. We knew everything that happened in each others lives. Now that we are back in the U.S. living more "normal" lives, we just simply don't see each other as often. We still carve out time to spend with each other, and the time we do have is more precious because it is limited commodity, but sometimes I miss the days of 24/7 husband/wife bonding.

I miss those random moments that tested my flexibility. 
It's two days before the first day of a new school year and my husband asks the school officials if there is an update about which classes we'll be teaching. No? about tomorrow? Maybe? Ok...

The bell just rang and there isn't a single student in my classroom. Ten minutes later, a Chinese teacher walks into my room and informs me that, due to a schedule change, I will not be teaching this period. They forgot to inform the "foreign teachers" of the change.

My entire lesson involves the use of technology. I unlock the computer desk and press the "power" button...nothing happens.

My phone rings at 7 in the morning on a day when I normally don't teach until 10. Oh, I'm teaching a class in twenty minutes? Wonderful...

Before I taught in China, I was not a flexible person. I always had a plan and always followed it. China beat that right out of me. I still like to have a plan, but my ability to be flexible and "go with the flow" has improved dramatically.

There are so many more things I miss about my life in China. I could go on for hours, but I've already written far more than I ever intended to, so I'll leave it at that. Now, I need to go grab a tissue to wipe my eyes. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Watching My Textbooks Come to Life

Nestled in the office of my apartment is a library of books on language pedagogy. Throughout their pages, I have been challenged, inspired, and intimidated by the seemingly endless list of research-based recommendations for my teaching they provide.

I have studied countless pages about the importance of authentic assessment, creating positive home/school connections, valuing students' home languages and cultures, allowing ELLs to share their "funds of knowledge," maintaining high expectations, and tapping into their multiple intelligences.

I have learned a lot from the pages in these books, but yesterday, something amazing happened. Yesterday, I saw my textbooks and their recommended strategies spring to life before my eyes.

I have recently been observing a currently-practicing ELL teacher at a local high school as part of the final class I must take before getting my TESOL endorsement. This teacher's classroom has been a flurry of activities for the last few weeks, as her ELLs have been working hard to create poster presentations about their home countries. The mission was for them to create these presentations in order to share information about their cultural backgrounds alongside native English-speaking peers at a school-wide celebration of cultures.

I attended this celebration yesterday and as I walked into the school cafeteria, I began to see the pages of my textbooks spring to life:

I saw ELLs engaged in an authentic assessment, boldly presenting information about their experiences right alongside their native English-speaking classmates.
I saw pride in their eyes as they shared their expertise.
I saw ELLs of all proficiency levels eager to talk about their cultural backgrounds with others.
I saw them taking risks with their language use.
I saw parents who stood off to the side, proudly watching their children. 
I saw other parents who joined in the excitement and provided snacks, clothing, photos, and personal stories for their child's presentation.
I saw U.S.-born students delighted to learn from their classmates who were born abroad.
I saw the dissipation of labels.
I saw a room full of people excited about cultural diversity. 

I saw all of the things my textbooks have told me to do...put into action.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Experiencing the Power of Language

It started as a simple search for an outlet. I just needed to plug my laptop in so I could charge it. 

"Excuse me," I asked the Mc Donald's employee who was diligently sweeping the floors nearby, "Do you know where I could find an outlet to plug my laptop in?" 
She looked startled. Then, hesitantly, she replied, " English..." 
"¿Hablas espaƱol?" I inquired. 
At first, she seemed startled. Then, there was a light that sparked in her eyes
I repeated my earlier question, this time in Spanish, and she immediately helped me find an outlet for my laptop. 

Fifteen minutes later, we were still talking about her family. She told me about her daughter, a lawyer, who lives in the United States, and another one who is studying to become a teacher by taking online classes at a university in Mexico. I learned about her grand kids who still reside in Mexico. She asked about me...what I did and where I studied. We were two complete strangers but in that moment, we were connected by a common bond. 

In that tiny slice of life today, I was reminded of the power of language. Language connects us to each other. Knowing more than one language isn't about becoming more marketable or about making us looking better on a resume, but about possessing the ability to connect with an entirely different group of people. 

This morning, I am thankful for language and the wonderful opportunities I have had to study the languages of other countries. I am thankful that today it allowed me to connect with a kind woman from Mexico and I hope that maybe, just maybe, I was able to be a bright spot in her day, as she was in mine. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Phone Call That Made Me Reflect on My Inspirational 5th-Grade Teacher

My phone rang at 7:22 this morning. Curious, I looked at the caller ID to see that it was my sister calling. "H. is calling me at 7:22 in the morning....something must be wrong..." I immediately thought. Before I could let my brain race through the list of potentially horrible events that must have happened in order for her to be calling earlier than possibly ever before, I picked up the phone anxiously.

"Hey..." I answered, tentatively, waiting for the bomb to drop.

The enthusiasm in her voice was far too chipper for something to be wrong. Could it be that she just wanted to chat at the beginning of our days, rather than on our way home from work like we often do? Maybe the pregnancy is messing with her body's clock. 

"I was just listening to the radio in the car and heard that there is this new app you can get on an iphone that transfers smells!" she exclaimed.

My tension released. A few days ago, I had asked her to describe a smell to me of a substance I had never smelled before. Have you ever tried to do that? It's hard! Anyway, in light of our recent conversation, this radiomercial was just too intriguing to not call this morning.

Arriving at her destination, she had to hang up almost immediately, but although our conversation was short-lived, my thoughts about it were not. 

Apparently, this "Scentee" accessory that can be plugged into a smartphone to emit smells is not as new as we had thought. (We're not incredibly tech-savvy in my family.) It is pretty incredible, though.

I started thinking about the person who developed this nifty little tool. What kind of reaction did he get when first shared his idea with his friends or teachers? 

I can almost picture it:
"I'm thinking of developing a device that will let you send smells to your friends through a smartphone!" 
Cue the laughter.

I bet it sounded absurd to the first people who heard the inventor's idea. But along the way, someone believed in him. Someone had to help him make his dream become a reality.

I was brought back to my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. C. I can remember clear as day when she asked us to create a plan for any invention we would like to make in the future. "Be creative. Dream big!" she told us. After giving us time to design our inventions, she then conferenced with each of us about what we had created.

My dream invention was a car that could drive itself. I will never forget that response I got from Mrs. C in our conference.

She didn't laugh or say, "Now, wouldn't that be great?" No, she encouraged me to do it! 

My little 5th-grade self was shocked. I'll admit, I thought she was a little crazy. "Me, build a car that can drive itself? Riiiiggght." But Mrs. C persisted. She encouraged my dream, explaining that if I wanted to build this invention, I could do it! 

She spoke with certainty. She spoke with belief. She spoke with inspiration.  

I may have left my self-driving car dream back in that 5th-grade classroom (Google found it and made it a reality, though!). However, I will never forget the confidence that Mrs. C showed in me that afternoon. I walked out of that classroom a little taller that day. Someone truly believed in me and was confident that I could do great things.

Thank you, Mrs. C., wherever you are. I no longer dream of making cars that can drive themselves, but I do dream of inspiring students the way you inspired me. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A New Year's Resolution Redo

I'd like to request a mulligan on my New Year's resolutions. I need a second chance to start over, bring my theoretical ball back to the beginning of the course and take another crack at swinging successfully. Is that allowed?

You see, sixty three days ago, I decided perform an act that is very uncharacteristic of me. I created a list of New Year's resolutions. I can't remember the last time I made a single New Year's resolution. That's not to say that I don't constantly seek to improve in various areas of my life, but I have just always avoided the formality of calling it a "New Year's resolution." I'm not sure what came over me this year, but I caught an intensified version of the bug everyone else seems to catch at that time of year and I sat down to write some goals for 2014. 

When I finished, I had composed a document of 35 New Year's resolutions. That's right...thirty five...organized into five different sub-categories. A bit excessive, right? When I do something, I apparently go all out. 

The document I created that day mocks me from my computer's desktop, causing me to cringe each time I acknowledge how many of those 35 resolutions I've already given up on. My motivation to keep such specific goals waned as soon as I experienced my first failure(s). 

However, I refuse to let my failure over the course of the last 63 days dictate how I will live the next 302. I recently read a quote by Oswald Chambers that convicted me: "Never let the sense of failure corrupt your new action." 

So, it is with Oswald Chambers' words running through my mind that I am requesting my New Year's resolutions mulligan. 

This semester, I have been observing a currently-practicing ESL teacher as part of my graduate coursework. I seem to learn new things from her each day I am in her class, but one thing I learned of in the beginning of the year was a new (or at least new to me) "trend" of making a one-word New Year's resolution. Rather than creating a laundry list of goals that are easily forgotten and forsaken, the idea is to embrace one single word that describes how you want to live and the kind of person you want to be. 

Inspired by this teacher and neat concept, I have been pondering this idea for the last month or so and have decided that it is one I want to embrace. I have "tried on" various words, but one that keeps coming back to me is: 

persist tells me that to "persist" is to "continue steadfastly or firmly in some state of purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc."

I want 2014 to be a year characterized by my continual, steadfast pursuit of becoming the Christian, wife, daughter, friend, teacher, learner, reader, writer, runner, cyclist, chef...and all-around person I want to ultimately be. 

Sometimes, I will fail. But failing to perfectly fulfill a New Year's resolution is not going to be enough to keep me from persisting on toward my goals. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

6 Benefits of "Apartment Living"

My husband and I have lived in two different apartments in the 4.5 years we have been married. We have loved both but have recently started feeling ready to "move up" in the world and into a house. I'm not sure what exactly the catalyst was that pushed us over the edge, but the desire has been growing stronger and stronger all the time.

Perhaps it's just the feeling that we are getting to "that point" in our lives. 
Perhaps it's my desire to expand our family... by getting a puppy (sorry Mom, no baby yet...). 
Perhaps it's the idea of hosting a big family holiday event in our home.
Perhaps it's the notion of decking out an entire house in Pinterest-y crafts 
Perhaps it's our neighbor's need to serenade us with his thundering rap music every day and night.    

Or maybe it's a combination of all of those things, mixed in with a plethora of other miscellaneous reasons.

Regardless, Hubby and I spent our Saturday townhouse hunting. It was a Goldilocks-type adventure, with homes that were too old, too cramped, or too expensive. Unfortunately, unlike Goldilocks, who eventually found a place to lay her head that was "just right," we did not have such success.

At first, I was feeling a bit discouraged, but I then realized how many reasons I have to be thankful and what a wonderful home we really do have. We are so unbelievably fortunate and I can truly say that we have been blessed beyond belief.

It could be years before we move into a house and if it takes that long, that is totally fine! I honestly have more than I could ever deserve (material and immaterial).

So, in the spirit of being thankful for what I have and blooming where I'm planted, here are 6 Benefits of Apartment Living:

(*Disclaimer* Most of these are intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I by no means think that my reasons to be thankful are limited to the things listed below.)

It saves time. 
Living in a smaller space definitely saves time when it comes to cleaning. I can vacuum every carpet in our apartment in just under 15 minutes. Add sweeping/mopping the tile floors and I'm still not at more than a half hour. I can do a full-blown "my-mom-is-coming-to-visit" style cleaning in about four hours (does anyone else have a separate level of "clean" reserved only for when your mother visits?). I've never timed my cleaning of a house, but I'm sure it would take a lot longer!

We don't pay for heat in our apartment, so I feel the freedom to crank up the thermostat as high as my heart desires. Due to my extreme frugality, if my husband and I were spending our hard-earned money to pay for a heating bill, our apartment would probably be unbearably cold. Right now, it's 20 degree outside but 74 in my living room and I am loving it. :)

It saves money. 
At about 900 square feet, our apartment is small enough that it keeps our electric bill really low. I was recently talking to a friend who paid over $200 last month for their electric bill! Yikes! I almost choked on my food when he told me that. I'm quite content with our $27 AEP bill.

Repairs are a breeze. 
Fridge making an annoying rattling noise? Loose handle on the tub faucet? Dishwasher needs to be fixed? No problem. Fill out a little pink slip, drop it off at the rental office, and within 24 hours all of my maintenance needs have been no extra cost to me. That's my kind of home repair.

Improved upper body strength.
Since moving into an apartment, I have perfected the skill of hauling an entire load of groceries from the car to the apartment in one trip. I'm sure this is quite the sight for the random onlooker. For some reason, I have an extreme aversion to making multiple trips from the parking lot to our apartment, so I have learned to hang about $75 worth of groceries off of my arms all at the same time. I have to believe that this is good for my upper body strength, and since I do nothing else to exercise my arms, I am choosing to count this as a benefit of apartment living.  :)

It prevents excessive accumulation of "stuff." 
Both my husband and I detest having lots of extra "stuff." "Clutter" might have 7 letters, but it's a 4-letter word in this family. If I don't have somewhere specific to put something or a way to use it, I'd rather not have it. Living in a place with limited storage space has magnified this trait in both of us. I love a good garage sale but seldom buy things for lack of  a place to put them.

I could go on, but the moral of the story is that I want to choose to be thankful and content. A "grass is always greener" mentality is no way to live. So, the next time I start hearing Eminem blasting through the walls of our apartment, I'm going to remember all of the wonderful things I have. And maybe I'll just go buy some earplugs.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Taking a Nap: Easier Said Than Done

“Are you going to try to rest today? I really think you should try to take a nap,” commented my well-meaning husband.

It was a simple question, really. It was most definitely not one that necessitated a rise in my blood pressure, but I could feel it happening anyway.

“I don’t know yet,” I responded, tension rising in my voice. “I'd like to, but I don’t know if I can.”

I sighed as I looked around our home, my body yearning for sleep, but my brain running through a rapid-fire mental list of all of the things I needed to do. There was no way I could take a nap right now...not with so many things I needed to accomplish. So, I started with the most noticeable task, cleaning the kitchen, which was still in disarray from a busy Saturday full of non-stop activity.

“I’ll just clean the kitchen  so I feel better and then I’ll lie down,” I promised my husband and myself.

We both knew better, though. That’s how it always starts, but the story almost never ends with me taking a nap.  One “small” task inevitably turns into another and soon I am I telling myself, “I can’t very well start that within finishing this…” and before I know it, dinner time rolls around, and by then, well,  it’s much too late to consider taking a nap. I knew that this Sunday afternoon, like so many before it, was going down a very unrestful path. 

Then it happened.  There should have been a flash flood warning. One with loud alarms and bright flashing lights, announcing to everyone in the near vicinity that there was a desperate need to take cover.  It surprised even me as the tears poured out of my eyes.

My husband, who knows me better than I even know myself, comforted me with a soothing embrace and encouraged me once again to rest.  

Suddenly convinced by my unattractive burst of emotion, I knew that he was right. I lay down, snuggled up under the covers, and closed my eyes, determined to sleep for even just a short while. 

Easier said that done. I felt like a ninja, trying desperately to combat an army of thoughts about tasks awaiting completion. Little enemies called laundry and making dinner and doing grad school homework called all of their friends and simultaneously attacked my mind. 

But today was unlike other days. I was determined to find some rest in the middle of my Sunday. I don’t know how it happened, but I began fighting off the attacks one by one and before I knew it……

An hour later, I was jolted out of a sound sleep by the cry of our alarm clock.

Approximately three and half seconds after waking up, those little enemies resumed their attacks . They hadn’t gone away while I was sleeping (wouldn't that be a fantastic super power to have!), but with my energy cup now a little fuller, they seemed much smaller and less intimidating.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Avoiding Blogging...Until Now

For years, I've avoided blogging. Sure, every now and then I toy with the idea of starting a blog after I've had some new monumental thought that I want to share with the world. Inevitably, I start to consider blogging about said thought and go to the internet to find a blogging website. I sit down at my computer, intent on sharing my thoughts with the world.

Then, it happens. Every. Single. Time.  A swam of hesitations attack my brain:

"You don't have a niche. You can't have a blog without a niche."
"What's your blogging name going to be? All good blogs have a clever name. No name? No blog."
"Have you seen your to-do list recently? You don't have time to write a blog."
"Do you really think other people would be interested in reading your thoughts?"
"Do you really want other people to read your thoughts?"

Surrendering in defeat to the attack of doubts, I  close the blogging webpage on my computer (yet again), resigning myself to the fact that I should just keep my twisted web of thoughts in my head.

Until today.

I still don't have a niche. I still don't have a clever name. And my to-do list is still a mile long.

But, the teacher I have been observing as part of my TESOL field experience has encouraged her class to participate in the "Slice of Life" blogging challenge, which involves blogging about something for every day in the month of March. I'll admit, when I first learned about it, I thought it was an amazing way to encourage literacy and was inspired by the example this teacher was setting for her students. "I should do it, too!" I thought. I may not have English Language Learners to inspire right now, but I can certainly start creating habits now that will (hopefully) influence the lives of my future students.

Then the attack happened. The same old hesitations came back and I reverted back to my old tendencies. I closed the blogging window on my computer and decided not to do it. "That's a great thing for them to do," I thought, "but I just don't have the time...or the ideas...or the right niche...or..."

I couldn't get rid of the nagging in my mind, though. Why not try? Why not start writing more often? Why not choose to start setting examples today for students that I might have in the future?

So, here we go...."Slice of Life" challenge accepted. My postings might not be witty, insightful, or inspiring. More likely, they will be a tangled web of thoughts that happen to be posted to the internet.  But perhaps somewhere in the writing down of that tangled web, I will become a better writer, teacher, and role model for my students in the future. If not, what's the worst that can happen?