Category Archives: Just for Fun

So This is the 20-21 School Year?

Shortly before school began, I accepted a position teaching back at my old school in Muncie, and shortly after my school began and before their school began, I accepted a one-class overload teaching at another school in Muncie, so to say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

For some reason, even though school is online, I feel like I am spinning my wheels and can’t get a good footing on my teaching. I try something, and it doesn’t feel right, so I change to something else that still doesn’t feel right, and then I try something else, and so on. I think part of the problem is that I feel like I am just having my students do tasks, and that it’s hard to make those tasks meaningful for them.

I wonder if it’s because I feel unsettled in my own life, so that rubs off into my teaching. I live on the East side of Indianapolis with my brother, but on Sunday and Monday night I stay with some friends on the outskirts of Muncie. With my dog. In my van. And it is hot right now. Today the temperature was in the high 80s, and there is no air conditioning in the van when it’s parked, so Luna and I are roasting as the van cools down, and I am working on school stuff and writing about my life.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I love this life I am living right now. I have a beautiful dog. I live part time in a van, which feels super free. I am teaching in a place I really enjoy. So, here I am, sweating something fierce, in a van, in Muncie, IN, while my dog sits on my right arm, and I think about what I’ll have my students do in class tomorrow. And I love it.

But even things you love can give you stress.

Force-Feeding “Literacy”

A young African American male sits directly across a typical American middle school classroom from me, sighing heavily every time the computer puts a new question on the screen. He’s asked me several times how many questions there are, and all I can tell him is somewhere between 30 and 50, because this test is a test that gives a different amount of questions to each student dependent upon their success or failure on the proceeding question. Another young African American male keeps falling asleep so frequently I ask him to stand up to take the test, so he’ll not be tempted to put his head down. He is only on question 14, and I am sure this moment in time is only further cementing his hatred of reading. A young white female, who has obviously done this before, flew through the test, just fast enough for the “disengaged student” filter not to catch her apathy. A young white male clicked through too fast yesterday, and had to take it again today.

I am not okay with my students being this frustrated and disengaged with the written word.

I’m sitting in this classroom, giving my student the NWEA assessment, which isn’t a bad assessment in and of itself, but it’s one of three assessments I will give to my students within the first three weeks of class, and I will give another one the week after next. We use Achieve 3000, IXL, NWEA, and SRI to assess our students’ reading levels. We are expected to share this data with the students, have them track their own progress, and have them reach for grade level by the end of the school year.

I am not okay with giving more assessment than are absolutely necessary to gauge my students’ abilities.

Having students be responsible for their own data is like multi-billion dollar corporations asking me to ring out my own groceries, so they can cut the jobs of my fellow workers. I work with students who do not need one more thing to make them feel bad about themselves, students who are on average a couple of years below grade level, and it is my job, as the one with the college degree and license in education, to make sure they improve, to make sure they learn, and to make sure they grow.

Most importantly, my job is to help students love language and literature. If they don’t love it, they won’t engage in it, and they won’t change the world for the better, because they won’t know how to read. But I cannot do this by using a canned program that exists solely to make money for its purveyors, no matter how well intentioned it began.

I am not okay with Capitalism in the classroom.

Language and literature appeal to me precisely because they are wild and unruly and unpredictable. These facets of culture move with us; they are alive and changing and growing. They aren’t subjects that are fixed in time or place, and they should bring us joy, sorrow, information, relationships, anger, love, and all those human emotions. We shouldn’t expect students to read something, answer a couple of program-based low-level comprehension questions, and be done with it. We shouldn’t put a dead and static text in front of a teenager and ask them to fall in love with words.

I am not okay with teaching students to hate reading by participating in what passes for English Language Arts in American schools.

Those of you who love to read: when was the last time you read something you were forced to read, other than for work? When was the last time you sent your friends a list of basic comprehension question when you had a book recommendation for them? Do you keep reading a book or a text you hate because you have to? Is there someone in your life who forces you to read things that have no meaning to you or for you?

Personally, I like to pick my own texts, talk about them with my friends, and write about them in my own ways. I like the freedom to stop reading something that doesn’t interest me. And, you know what? I end up reading all types of texts, having all kinds of amazing conversations with people I’d normally never discuss those subjects with, and I write all types of writing in response.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could afford our students the same pleasures we have with language and literature, instead of jamming them inside tiny boxes of canned programming and contrived literary situations?

Peace and Cats

There is perhaps nothing more peaceful than sitting in a quiet house after a long, rather unfulfilling day at work and being surrounded by cats. Sleeping cats.

Just to my right is Pudge, our big, grey tabby cat, whose breath could knock out a rhinocerous, but he’s snuggled right up against my right thigh and purring softly as he sleeps. When he’s awake, his purr is the most amazing thing you’ve probably ever heard. You can actually feel it from quite a ways away, like the new $8,000,000 speaker we have at work that thumps and vibrates on the display table.

A bit further down the couch is Frodo, our “little” orange, toothless cat. He had to have all of his teeth pulled at once, so he just has two sticking up from the bottom or down from the top—he never lets me get close enough to see what’s up with the remaining ones—and he eats big chunks of dry food like it’s going out of style. He snores, but very quietly.

Three cushions down sits Kermit, Elizabeth’s Cuban boyfriend, and an all-black menace. When he was younger, we jokingly said his Mafia nickname was Pubes, because he has white chest, underarm, and pubic hair. He snores loudly and likes to stick his very white butthole in my face whenever he can. When E lived with us, she would also say he looked Cuban, like he needed one of those straw hats and a cigar. He does. She was right.

Across the room, on the floor, in her special spot, is Spaz, and it’s a mighty miracle that she’s not here in my lap, prohibiting my typing. She smells bad, her hair is constantly and magnificently matted, her teeth fall out occasionally, and her claws are very pointy in all the worst ways—I have numerous pairs of pants that have been ruined by her affections. She is my love, my harbinger of peace and wellness. We hold paws whenever possible, a habit that began when I was tired of being skewered, but that continues because having her paw in my hand heals me. Every time.

I look around and there are four animals within eye sight that don’t care if their electronic devices aren’t working; they don’t care if their email syncs or if they don’t know what their home button is. And I think we, as humans, have it all wrong. Life is about naps, food, and love. Life is about resting, snuggling, and love. Did I mention, life is about love?

I am so lucky to have a beautiful old dog and five odd cat children who love me unconditionally and who show me every day what life is really about.

Beauty and peace and love are where we find them. For real. And usually we find them right below our noses wherever we last look.

Mental Health

For the first time in my life, I called in to work and said I was having a bad mental health day. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more honest about my mental health, so I was honest. I didn’t say I had fallen down the back steps, I didn’t say I pulled a muscle in my back while shoveling, I didn’t say I had a migraine, and I didn’t say I had food poisoning from the Chinese buffet I didn’t stop at on the way home. See, there’s one thing I will lie about, just one, and that is what is hypothetically wrong with me so I can take a mental health day. Well, no more. I struggle, sometimes, and there is no need to hide it.

I am in the bell jar today. I called in sick today, because I was certainly not going to be my best self for my customers today. As much as some of them get on my last nerve, they deserve the best me I have to give them.

Today wasn’t that day.

Some days I don’t have a best me to give.

Today was that day.

I got to spend way too little time with my friends and family in Indiana, and then I spent 13 hours in the car on my way home watching countless cars slide off the road, sit in the ditches, and be pulled out of the ditches. I contemplated the government shut down and what that means for whom. I listened to podcast after podcast. I took some pictures. I stopped for some food and beer. I listened to more podcasts. I contemplated more politics. I got angry. Then I got sad. Then I got inside my own head. And couldn’t get out. I was stuck in a metaphorical snowbank in a metaphorical ditch inside my own head.

Usually Bec can drag me back out of there—she hitches up her tow chain and gives a few good pulls (did I take that metaphor too far?)—but I only saw her for about an hour before we fell asleep last night.

Before I left for Indiana, I put Facebook back on my phone, so I could communicate through messenger with people whose phone numbers I didn’t have, and now I’ve taken it off again, because I was checking it compulsively, just to see. And, sadly, I broke my own half-hour-limit resolution, and I spent way too much time on Facebook over the weekend, reading the nonsense that others were posting and arguing about. I know my self worth doesn’t rest in social media, but you know sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking I’m not good enough, smart enough, fast enough, beautiful enough, articulate enough, or popular enough. I quit my PhD, I quit my Ironman pursuit, I quit my ordination, I quit my diets way too fast. For being someone who was raised never to quit anything, I’ve quit a lot of shit since adulthood hit. I even quit my own half-hour Facebook limit! I wrestle with that. I wonder constantly where I’d be if… If I had finished my Phd, if I had kept pursuing ordination, if I had just sucked it up and done what it took to get my teaching license when we moved here, if, if, if…

So, I’m sitting here after shoveling paths like my own personal labyrinth around my yard, drinking a delicious small batch roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that my brother gave to me, snuggling with my cats, and trying to get right again.

I am posting this to say: I had a beautiful weekend with everyone in Indiana, I had a beautiful run on Saturday night, my drive was good except for the last 3-ish hours, and I’m snuggling cats, but I have this gnawing feeling that what I do and who I am isn’t good enough. I keep hearing these voices say to me, but you could have been so much more if you had just applied yourself, like an appliqué, to your studies, to your art, to your church, to your athleticism, to your…

I call bull shit.

What I do and who I am are good (enough).

Now just to convince my brain of that. Maybe a run will help; shoveling certainly did.

5 Lakes 1 Day; Or How a Trip I Helped Plan for My Brother Changed My Life

On June 30, my brother and I swam in all five of the Great Lakes in about 13 hours. He turns 40 this year (and because it took me so long to finish this post, he’s actually been 40 for several weeks), and I wanted to help him celebrate that in a big way, since my 40th birthday was a bit disappointing and, along with some other events in my life, threw me into a two-year-ish long depression. I had no idea that this trip would, in fact, change my life as well!

We started by meeting at my Aunt Zoe and Uncle Fred’s house in Rapid City, MI, because we hadn’t seen them for a while and because it was close to where we thought our first swim would be. They live right near Lake Michigan and just an hour or so south of a place where many other say they’ve hopped into Lake Michigan as part of their 5 Lakes Challenge.

We woke up at about 5AM and got on the road shortly after, but when we got to the first swim sight, we were met with a closed sign and then the only other place we could find was a private beach. We hopped in there, but the experience wasn’t quite what we were hoping for.

Next we headed to Lake Superior at Brimley State Park on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The woman who was working in the office, did us the first solid of the day by letting us not pay, since we were only going to be in the park for about 20 minutes. I know, I know, the park is supported by donations. Trust me, I’ve given my fair share to various park’s departments over the years. When we got to the beach at Superior, we cautiously waded in, because we assumed that the water would be very cold. However, we were pleasntly surprised to find the water not excruciatingly cold, but quite pleasant. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back in the car.

On our way south from our most northern point in Brimley, we decided that we wanted a real experience with Lake Michigan, instead of our illegal quick dip at the rich folks’ private beach. I remembered that I had passed miles of public beach along the northern shore of the lake as I passed through the day before on my way to my aunt and uncle’s house from Minnesota. All along US 2 in Moran, MI, you can access the water via stairs and boardwalks that line the coast. They are free and you just pull over to park and go down to the water. We reset our start clock for when we went into the water, and made a detour to one of these access points and revisted Lake Michigan. It was cold. The waves were big. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back into the car.

Next up was Lake Huron, which we accessed at Cheboygan State Park. We were able just to drive into the beach, and didn’t pass a park office, so we still didn’t have to pay to access any of the lakes, which is awesome in my opinion, since you know I support many parks systems all the time. (By the way, if you use parks without helping them to stay operational, you are a colossal butthole. Just kidding about the butthole part, but it’s not very nice or thoughtful, so you shold maybe consider donating some money for the resources you’re using.) Huron was by far my least favorite lake. Even tough we were only about 30-40 miles away from where we’d dipped into Michigan, there were weird things floating in the water, it was weedy, and it was colder than Michigan. The park was beautiful and they had the best facilities of anywhere we stopped; I’d go back and vacation there to hike and visit Mackinac Island. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back in the car.

Once we were finished at Cheboygan State Park and once we were finished with Michigan, we changed clothes to be dry for the long drive to Lake Erie in Ontario. On our way to Turkey Point Provincial Park, we stopped at Snowbelt Brewery in Gaylord, MI and had some pretzels and nachos. Health food. After lunch, we proceeded to drive to the north side of Lake Erie. We didn’t expect Erie  to be anything really, but it was clear, not incredibly cold, and the sand was beautifully pale in comparison to the other lakes we’d been in. Turkey Point was settled in a cute little lake town, and had some toilets for changing and a couple of little restaurants that were closed by the time we got there. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back in the car.

Finally, we were on our way to Lake Ontario, our last stop of the day. Our goal was to stop at a public park in Hamilton, but it was already getting dark, and by the time we found the park, not an easy task along the very dark, unlit coastline, we’d been on the road for 15 hours and been lake jumping for 13 hours. Our original goal was 12 hours, but we realized we’d have to flexible, given that we spent about an hour sitting in line trying to get into Canada.

By the time we got out of the car it was 10PM and we had to use our flashlights to guide us to the water. Lake Ontario was by far the coldest of all the laes we experienced that day, but I imagine that could change given the day. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos (in the dark), and then hopped back in the car. Okay, really, we went in and got back out as quickly as possible, because the water was leg numbingly cold. In fact, I originally wasn’t going to go under; I learned my lesson in Loch Ness about  very cold water nad being able to walk on a rocky shore with frozen feet. My brother told me that I’d regret it if I didn’t do it, and he’s right. I would’ve regretted it very much had I not gone back and gone under. There are no photos of this moment, because it was dark.

So, I said in the title that this trip changed my life, and it did. The beauty of the Lakes, the kindness, good humor, and genuine love of my brother for me and for fun, helped me to see that it’s okay to be content with what I have.

I can stop wishing for something else. I can be joyful about where I am, even if I thought I was going to be somewhere else.

I’ve been on a two- to three-year journey from depression and lots of self-doubt to a self-aware, confident, and generally joyful person.

What I learned on this trip is that you never know what you’ll learn, you’ll never know what you can do, and you’lll never know who you are if you don’t put yourself out there.

I’ve spent a lot of time since turning 40 comparing myself to others, feeling sorry for myself that I am not teaching, and generally just being angry that I don’t have what I think I deserve.

This trip taught me that I will only ever be as joyful as I allow myself to be, that I have a very solid group of amazing people in my life who will support me in whatever I do (thanks to my parents and aunt and uncle for the Great Lakes blanket to celebrate the journey; I use it for camping, which I am planning to do much more frequently), and that I don’t need to compare myself to other people to see where I stack up.

I do, in fact, enjoy life, and I do, in fact, have a lot to be thankful for.