Thursday, May 25, 2017

To the class of 2021: Thank you for being my miracles in the mundane.

When I went back to school at the age of 37 to get my teaching license, I thought that maybe since teaching was my third career, I would find that it fulfilled that professional space in my soul that had been lacking. And while there have been definite seasons of this over the last 9 years, I have never felt like I do this year.

This year has been that “finding my stride” year where the energy I put into this overwhelming job has been worth it. Totally worth it.  The class of 2021 is the class that will absolutely change the world. Some of the distinguishing features of this class is that they are kind, funny, smart, loyal, curious, driven, and I am going to really miss them!
{Well, most of them are these things... I do teach 8th grade, so, I mean, I’m not delusional that ALL the kids are like this!}

They have sparked a love for teaching in me that I hope lasts for a long time. If you have read any of my past end of the school year posts, you know this isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s been the opposite. I have been dragging myself to the end of the year finish line and I've been a bit worse for the wear. This year I am still craving the rejuvenation of summer, but my soul seems more at peace and I am not looking for the next thing. I am relishing my place in this profession and giving it my all.

Yes, you read that right. :)

The tangible evidence of this being a fantastic year with fantastic kids showed up at the end of a "book club" unit I put together. The kids were in groups of four either reading I Am Malala or I Will Always Write Back. I wanted them to read a nonfiction book that challenged their world view. These books fit the bill perfectly.  

Their discussions, responses to reading, and general "ah-ha" moments were great, but when they presented their cumulative projects; I was BLOWN AWAY! I can't even begin to tell you how incredible their synthesis of these books was. I was able to take pictures of many of them, but several people did electronic projects that were just as insightful and thorough as what you see here.

Their presentations were creative and well thought out. For example in the I Will Always Write Back book, one connecting point between Caitlin and Martin was The Spice Girls. So, one group played “Wannabe” as they started their presentation. It was amazing. {BTW, the video for that is quite inappropriate for school--luckily they didn’t want to show it! Ha!}

Two groups organized a shoe drive and one group organized a school supply drive to help impoverished people in Africa. They made posters, made announcements in classes and gathered a ton of shoes and supplies!  

One group took on a “kindness campaign” where they left signs like this across the school:
This was their poster explaining the cause and effect of kindness:
I mean, wow. Just wow.  It was so inspiring to see them take action like this. They wanted to do something tangible, and they did!
I continued to be in awe when I read their one page papers reflecting on what they learned about themselves and the world from reading their book. I captured a few of these below. As you read them, feel confident that our future is in good hands with the class of 2021!

The book I Will Always Write Back has changed my life. Its moral speaks louder than any other story that I have ever read. One American girl changed a life and once saved a life in a miraculous friendship with a Zimbabwean boy. This has changed me into a more aware person, because through Caitlin’s and Martin’s story, I now know that I can change a life. Save a life, and that one small act of kindness will make a huge difference.

I never would have guessed how the smallest of actions or the simplest of wants could make a huge impact on the world. After finishing the astonishing book, I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai, I believe the biggest lesson was that you must be determined to complete a journey in order to accomplish it.

I learned that we are all different and we can learn from each other’s differences. We can benefit from generosity whether we are receiving its direct benefits or awaiting to see its results.

I never predicted I would learn something about myself. I always knew I had a love for reading, but I had no idea how deeply I could feel for characters until I read that book.

The most important takeaway from this book was that you should stay true to you heart, and if you don’t stop trying, then the world will reward you in return. If you never give up, like Malala, then you will be rewarded.

Throughout the story, I Will Always Write Back I have learned many life lessons from Caitlin and Martin. They have taught me to never take my life for granted, that every penny counts, and that one small act of kindness can change someone’s life.

What I  learned  from reading I Am Malala is that if  you don’t stand up for what you believe in, the world will never change. That is bad. The world always needs to change, it will never be perfect, but we need to stand up for what’s right.  

You have to stand up for what you believe in, and to speak up for others who can’t or are too afraid to.

I think that before reading this book, many members of my group, including myself, were ignorant to what we had and took everything for granted.
I learned that I take what I eat, school, and what I wear for granted. Some people don't have the luxury of getting to choose what they wear, or to eat good food, or to even go to school. I used to take my education for granted, not thinking it was really that big of a thing, until now, because now I know that some people don't have that privilege.

As l read the book I Will Always Write Back I not only learned more about the world, but I also learned about myself. Before this book I knew I was very fortunate and I knew that children in other countries didn't have the life or opportunities I have. But not until I read the book did it seem real.

Sunshine, wind, threatening storm clouds and a seed of hope, this is I Am Malala. In this autobiography by Malala Yousafzai, I learned to be thankful for my life. My schooling. My food. My rights. In this book I learned that life is hard; many people have it worse than others. “Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born” (page 192). I know now that hope and light can, has, and will shine in the darkest places.

{This last one is a bit over the top, but in my world, in the BEST possible way!}

Aren’t these excerpts amazing!!! I am so proud of these kids!!!!

I am so very grateful about how these kids showed me consistent Light and Hope this year.
I feel energized to jump into year 10. {10????!!!!!! Whoa.}

But first, summer.
CABIN! I am coming for you!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You, Cheryl Thompson, Are a Miracle!

I was honored to be a part of the retirement celebration for my dear, dear friend, sister and colleague, Cheryl. Cheryl has been teaching for 32 years (!!!!) and we met 9 years ago at the beginning of my teaching career. She has been the most consistent voice of Truth for me in this profession and I am forever grateful for all that she has taught me and given to me.
As a surprise to her, I was asked to say a few words about the incredible person and teacher she is. My words don't seem like enough, but I want to preserve them here in order to honor this true Miracle in my life.

It is absolutely no small feat that you have been a teacher for 32 years. Since I teach Language Arts, I am not going to do the math to figure out how many lives you have changed in 32 years, but it’s in the thousands. Thousands of students have been influenced by you. Thousands of students have learned to love reading and writing because of you. Thousands of students have been given roots and wings from you. Thousands.

You do a unit on Transcendentalism and the power of “everyday” miracles as your students experience the beautiful words of Walt Whitman. Within this unit, students search through their own “everydayness” to determine Miracles that surround them. They see the beauty that is right in front of them and they realize that Miracles are all around--we just have to look.

You my friend have been this “everyday” Miracle to thousands of people. Students, staff, administrators, parents, and community members have seen you as a Miracle in their life. Through these people, there has been a ripple effect. Anyone who has been in your “Miracle-ness” realizes that they are better than they were before they met you and that naturally transfers into other parts of their lives. Your consistency of influence has reached far and wide. You are a force to be reckoned with and anyone who has been lucky enough to be in your space has been given this Miracle of you--and we are better people because of it.

I can say this because, you my friend, are a Miracle to me. When I chose this career in my mid-thirties and decided to teach at West, I was terrified for multiple reasons. I was facing a new career, an unfamiliar district, and zero friends in the biz. When I arrived at West, you became my mentor. At first it was because the district made you and I hang out--the mentorship program paid you to show me the ropes. Boy am I glad that you took the “cash”. From this mandated mentor/mentee relationship, you have become a capital “M” mentor in my life--the real deal, the kind of Mentor that money can’t buy. You have given me endless amounts of advice and help. You have given me space to vent, cry, wonder, worry, fear, love and embrace all there is to this crazy career. You have been a Miracle to me.

I want you to hold onto to the fact that you are a Miracle to everyone you meet as you enter into this new phase of this journey. Your job description will change and the daily routine you’ve had for 32 years will change--and this won’t be for the faint of heart either. Transition is never easy--even when it is expected. But, the trepidation you may feel needs to be underscored with the Truth that you are a Miracle--and those that you will meet and influence in this next phase of life will interact with you, and they will never be the same.  

I think I speak for the thousands and thousands of people you have met, and I know it is true of me when I say
‘Thank You’ for so, so many things... Thank for for giving of yourself over and over and over again. Thank you for taking risks. Thank you for fiercely loving your students. Thank you for your passion for literature. Thank you for your passion for writing. Thank you for being flexible within the myriad of changes you’ve seen. Thank you for speaking up for things that needed your voice. Thank you for showing us that commitment and passion for this job is worth it. Thank you for being true to yourself. Thank you for showing us that Miracles are all around. Thank you for being one of those extremely valuable and special Miracles and for allowing us to be a part of this journey with you. I love you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Today Is The Perfect Date!

Stan Fields: Miss Rhode Island, please describe your idea of a perfect date.
Cheryl "Rhode Island": That's a tough one. I'd have to say April 25th. Because it's not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket.
Thank you, Miss Congeniality, circa 2000, for this moment of pure genius. Miss Rhode Island isn’t wrong, either. The perfect date IS April 25! {Or, ANY spring day, really. :) }
I wrote in our Christmas letter that since the election I have been in a state of searching for Hope and Light. I am still in that mode, for sure. There are a myriad of things that show up every day {and not just politics!} that challenges this for me. I am consciously framing the information I see or hear into roughly three areas: 
Take Action
I have been more active about issues in politics and my personal convictions on other things than ever before. My actions look like posting on social media, writing postcards to my senators or bringing something important to me up in conversation. Sometimes by simply saying something, action is taken.

Let Go
Daily On occasion, I fume about the "President" what is happening in our world and it usually happens in my car while listening to the news. I try to limit my fuming to the duration of my commute and let that be the only energy I put into any given issue...I am really, really trying to let go of things that need to be let go of….really.

Be Aware
Learning how to recognize awareness has been the most consistent for me. I am trying to let a conviction or an “ah-ha” moment take hold and be a part of my personal transformation. Many of the convictions I have are “new” to me and who I am and what I believe in. I am learning to let my intuition guide my journey.
My plan is working--for the most part. My “let-go’s” are easier said than done, but I am learning to be creative in how I integrate awareness and taking action into my daily life.

I was recently reminded of this quote and it gave me a new resolve for all of this:
 There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle. ~Albert Einstein
I choose to live my life as though everything is a miracle. There are way too many precious places of Light and Hope that cross my path daily, and I don't want to miss them.
Spring has, as always, given me ways to see this and it helps me remember that every today  is the perfect date.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Yet, here I am blogging about it.

Let’s just get this out there: HBO is damn good television. Am I right?
We eat ramen because we love our HBO subscription.
{Not really, but I feel like if push came to shove, the beef flavored ramen wouldn’t be all bad…}
Image result for HBO logo
I love the show “Girls” and am already grieving the loss of my friends when the series ends this month. The new hit “Crashing” is quirky and fun, as is “Silicon Valley” and “Veep”. I adore John Oliver and I think the world is a better place because of the good old days of “Sex and the City” and “Entourage”. The world is a weirder place because of “Westworld” and, even though I am not a huge fan, “Game of Thrones” brought back John Snow and that’s just good television.

My latest obsession was, of course, “Big Little Lies”. The 7 part mini-series was pure brilliance. Based off the book of the same name, HBO spared no expense in showing us a lavish Monterey, CA life that causes deep ocean view envy. Who knew I wanted to live in a glass house so badly!
Image result for big little lies image with ocean
While the primary reason for watching the show each week was its pure entertainment value, I was thrown off by my emotional response after the last episode. I was pretty much sobbing because of Nicole Kidman’s character’s storyline. Her portrayal of living with an abuser and the effect of this on her kids left me gasping for air. I think, besides the vivid imagery of her hell each week, the fact that NO ONE knew it was happening had my mind spinning.

Women I know could be living in a nightmare.
Women I know may be in danger.
Women I know are suffering.

I feel like I have to say right here that I have never been involved in a domestic violence or a sexual assault situation. But I think my working with teens for most of my adult life has created a space in my heart that fears the worst for the girls I know and love. I fear the worst about what normalizing abuse could look like for them and I am kept up at night worried that “my girls” could be hurt in this way.

Some of the layers that were built within this issue happened during the presidential campaign. I get that within politics abuse and sexual assault has, sadly, been normalized. But the vivid descriptions, blatant disrespect for women, and dismissal from Trump and his team around sexual assault made me sick. Then the spin of “locker room talk” came to light and I couldn’t breathe. The perpetuation of normalizing assault like this became vivid, scary and all too real.

{When I started this post, I did not know DT declared April “Sexual Abuse Awareness” month nor did I know that his hypocrisy within this insane declaration from him could multiply exponentially. The sheer terror of this headline:  “Donald Trump Kicks Off Sexual Assault Awareness Month By Defending Bill O’Reilly” makes me sick. I can’t. I just can’t….}

So with all of these layers and in reflecting about my response to the “Big Little Lies” portrayal of domestic violence, I felt like I had to do something. I noted that there wasn't a PSA for victims after the show so I thought I could do my own. I Googled “domestic violence hotline” I found It seemed like a great organization so I posted the link to my Instagram and Facebook pages in hopes of raising awareness--even a little bit.

I then felt like I needed to try to support the hotline itself, so I donated $30.

I then wrote an email to HBO and asked them why there wasn’t a PSA of sorts after the episode to give women a resource to get help. I offered a suggestion that they put one together and add it to the show if it gets more playtime.

I didn’t know what else to do because what I did seemed futile and lame.
It felt lame to post the hotline on social media because I only got a total of 13 likes for my IG and FB posts. This made me wonder if I was overreacting or being weird about this topic. I know this is silly...but we live in the  world of “likes” and “likes” hold value-- {Which is SO DUMB!} and in my brain the more "likes" the more awareness there would be.

I felt lame for donating to the hotline because I felt like $30 might as well be a penny. It was a one time gift and I, for some reason, think $30 won’t do a thing.

I felt lame for emailing HBO because I felt like the big wigs at HBO will probably
A.) Not see my email.
B.) Dismiss it because I still have a Hotmail account for God’s sake!
C.) realistically do nothing about it if they do see it.
{Of which I am confident they won’t. Did I mention I used my Hotmail account?}

Yet, here I am blogging about it.

My convictions about this issue run deep and I can’t stop thinking about it.
The girls in front of me every day should not live in a world where they could be the subject of a conversation of someone grabbing them by the pussy.
They should not live in a world where they are controlled and hurt for no reason.
They should not live in a world where fear is reality.
They should not live in a world where the statistics for abuse victims dominates their gender.  
They should not have to wonder if they are good enough or important enough to receive
healthy love and affection.
They should not live in a world where they are afraid to be themselves.
They should not hear someone say that whoever hurt them “did nothing wrong”.
They should not live in a world of silence on this topic.

Talking about it, doing something about it, and fighting for what’s right is what needs to be normalized. But it feels like this will never happen.

What I hope will happen is that if you are in a domestic violence situation or you are a victim of sexual assault that you know help is out there for you and you are not alone. Or, if you know someone who needs help, please, please, please, speak up. They may not be able to, so speak for them.

Image result for hotline for domestic abuse

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Be Merry and Bright

Hey look! It's your Laniel holiday card!
You're welcome. :)
We are doing well and reveling in all the ways our lives are Merry and Bright.
Brian is still enjoying work and thriving at his job. He manages a few people and is learning the ropes of what that entails. He will be attending CU Denver to round out his education and we are so excited for this! He still cooks like a restaurant chef and enjoys cheering on the BRONCS! at home games with his brother in section 528. 
I am in my 9th year of teaching and am probably having my best year yet. 
Yes. You read that right. 
I am happy at my job right now.
I think I have truly settled into the rhythms of this ever changing profession and cling to the life giving friendships I have at work and the moments of great connections I have with kids.

I am OBSESSED with my nieces Nora and Georgia 
and I can't get enough of my family time with these two rascals. 

Other places of Merry and Bright this year were of course the
BRONCS! WINNING the Super Bowl ,
our AWESOME family reunion at the CABIN! and celebrating my parent's 50th wedding anniversary. 

Brian and I  are still loving our neighborhood, awesome neighbors, and friends that make our life Merry and Bright.

For the sake of keeping it real and for getting some of my thoughts in writing--I want to address a bit of the not so Merry and Bright of 2016 as well.

Image result for the grinch
Over the last several years I have learned a lot about myself and my core beliefs. I have experienced a value shift that became clearer and clearer as 2016 trudged on. One catalyst for this was the infamous election. Since about mid-September I have experienced many, many emotions because of it. The majority of them have been anger, frustration, sadness and disbelief. I want to believe, as it is in my nature to do so, that Love always wins and despite brokenness, hope is possible. But man. This election took a toll on this belief for me. It will take a lot to have faith that the leaders of our country won't shit on the unalienable right that Liberty and Justice is for ALL.

My fears about people doing the right and best thing for ALL was challenged further when I read this article about the Christian organization, IVCF, that I was deeply involved with in my former life. Unfortunately they are choosing the path of becoming even more narrow, exclusive and hypocritical than ever before. Their stance on Gay marriage sickens me and I am overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and sadness when I consider what they think the Gospel is all about.
It fuels my Truth that Evangelical Christianity is a farce.  

Lastly, my stupid knee continues to affect how I get around. I am still not 100% mobile and I am very limited in what I can do without feeling pain. Ugh. I am in the process of figuring out if a knee replacement is in my near future. I know I need to do something, so hopefully I can figure it out sooner than later. 

It wouldn't be very Merry or Bright of me to end our holiday card on such a sour note, so here is a picture of Baxdeer. He makes everything better. 
We truly hope that as we head into 2017 we find more places of Light and Hope than we do ugliness and hatred. I hope we can come together and hold each other up--even if we don't feel strong enough to do so. Thank you for being a Merry and Bright part of our lives.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Yay Sports!

They won. 
They FREAKING WON!!!!!!!!
My favorite part of any World Series is the mound rush. It makes me cry every time...
{These pictures are taken off of my TV, btw, classy. I know...}

Right now, I am clinging to the high that is a Cubs WIN at the World Series. 
They didn't make it easy. 
Game 7.
A tied game.
Ten Innings.
Rain delay.
Relief pitcher. 
Ground ball for the out. 
My god. 
I'm exhausted.
History. Made.

But as I watched my Facebook feed explode with the highs and lows of the entire game, I felt it. I felt the beautiful moments of humanity when we come together to experience something bigger than ourselves. I get that there is something mildly superficial about watching sports. I get that it is a male dominated layer of our society that is taken too seriously. I get that the inordinate amount of money spent on any given aspect of sports could be considered a crime. 
{$15 for a beer? REALLY???}
And if I begin to overthink these things I can get pretty riled up. I want to be a person that advocates for equality, doesn't give into societal stereotypes, and pays a reasonable price for a ballpark beer.
There's a purity and a goodness that gets stirred up in me when I am cheering with the throng of  crazed fans--virtual or otherwise.

This type of win brings us together--even if we don't love the Cubs. The fact that I can all talk about this historic win with anybody-- kids, strangers, family and friends, shows me that being a part of humanity like this is something I cherish and savor. I think I captured some of this feeling in my post about the BRONCS! winning the Super Bowl because the BRONCS! win was my Cubs win. I was with them every step of the way--blood, sweat and tears. I didn't wait 108 years, but man, it felt like it!

The experience of being a part of something bigger than us gives me hope. 
Hope that pure unadulterated joy is possible.
Hope that being fully invested in something has its rewards. 
Hope that if the Cubs can win the World Series, anything is possible. 

I've been on the flip side of all of this too.
I took this picture of an Indians fan during the first inning:
Poor guy. 
I get it. 
I've been this guy soooooo many times.
So many. 
But this too is a part of the experience. 
I woke up in the middle of night thinking about the heartbreak this guy must be feeling today--his team has been waiting too....he believed. 
But it wasn't meant to be.
And even though that is true for him {and all Indians fans} for me, all of this boils down to the fact that we're not alone.There's a unified solidarity that inspires me that there is good in the world.
I get to cheer with Bill Murray and feel his joy, his relief, and his experience with magic.
Let's face it. 
Life is too complicated and chaotic not to embrace the miracle that is a Cubs win.
We all needed this. And I for one am grateful to have been a part of it.