Thursday, February 25, 2010

I get it?

I will be the first to admit that, as much as I wish to, I do not have it all together. Not even close. But then again, I can't imagine that this comes as a shock to anyone out there.

My mind is a cluttered mess these days. I've been thinking about a lot. Like, can I really save money and buy post-consumer products? Are coupons worth the trouble and in which situations? Should I write a letter to the city council requesting curbside recycling? What if I don't have a full-time job next year? How can I become a better steward of what I have? Will basketball in Atown be better next year? Should we put more money toward paying off our student loans, at the expense of our savings account? What if I'm not accepted into my master's program? Will I really play piano as much as I think I would if we bought one?

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The questions (well, some of them) can sometimes be overwhelming. Lately, I've felt like I'm drowning in uncertainties, feeling desperate to strike a balance in my life - I'm holding on until spring break, when I have a few free moments to piece some thoughts into coherence, to take control of small elements of life.

Every once in a while, even in the midst of my questions, I "get it." I had one of those days recently.

Last Friday, I decided to stay in town after work for Brad's game. It was only a couple of hours, and it didn't pay to go home. So I ran by Dillon's to pick up a few things (like air freshener for my classroom - desperate by the end of each day full of sixth grade boys straight from PE) and waste a little bit of time. As I left, I was driving up Andover Road and glanced over at the Hallmark Store that's going out of business.

Briefly, the thought crossed my mind. Maybe I can find a really good deal there, in the 40% off sales. I could just go in and waste a few more minutes.

The I realized - good deal on what?! Junk?! Instead, I kept driving.

I'm sick of stuff.  It's cluttering my life. Weighing me down. Suffocating me.

Granted, we all need some things. We all want some things. (And I have to admit that I do think a healthy amount of "want" is okay, too.)

But there are clothes in my closet I don't wear anymore (and some I've never seen my husband wear). Shoes that hurt my feet too much to wear again. Cookbooks above the fridge that I have never opened. Books on the shelves that I will not likely read again (although giving away beautiful books is a little bit painful - nerd?).

Obviously, none of this is a new concept, not even to me. But it's gone to a whole new emotional level for me, and I'm not sure why. Stuff just makes me shudder. Maybe part of it is because it feels so good to feel in control of something right now, in the midst of the uncertainties.

I have to admit that maybe I'm taking that control to a new extreme. I've made a personal resolution to someday donate most of my future hypothetical kids' old books to teachers. I rifle through my side of the closet daily. I peek into boxes over and over to see if there's maybe one more thing I can just put in the garage sale boxes. I stack objects at the top of the stairs for my next trip down to the garage sale heap. I look up where to recycle old electronics and how to give away a computer or camera.

So unless it has a specific purpose, it's not coming through the door. It's not hopping a ride in my car. It's flying to the basement until our summer garage sale/great giveaway.

Can you really blame me, though? It just feels so liberating.

p.s. thank you all for the sweet and meaningful comments on my last few posts. crazy as it may sound, those do mean a lot to me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

25: The List, Update #1-2

This weekend, thanks to my wonderful husband, I crossed two things off my list...

Remember a couple months ago, when I, shocked by my own strength, ripped off a drawer front?

Yep, it made it as item #13. fix kitchen drawer, or persuade Brad to do it for me. Done. (Brad did most of it, but I helped hold the drawer front in place as he put in the screws. Don't look too closely, Grandpa Varden. It may not be quite perfect.)


A few months ago, Brad bought this cookbook from his school book fair.


Pretty exciting stuff, I know. Perfect for #17. find a completely new recipe that both of us love. Done. (This one was at least a 50/50 project...)


Benihana (which is a lot like Kobe's or Sumo's or whatever Japanese steak house is in your area) Hibachi Steak
4 5-oz. sirloin steaks
4 tsp. soybean oil (we used sesame oil, since we couldn't find soybean in the Augusta Dillon's - surprise, surprise)
1 large onion, sliced
8 large mushrooms, sliced thick
2 c. bean sprouts (we skipped this one)
1/4 c. soy sauce
4 pinches salt, or to taste
4 pinches pepper, or to taste
4 dashes mustard-based steak sauce

1. Preheat broiler.
2. Broil the steak until rare; cut into 1-inch cubes.
3. Heat a nonstick skillet and add the oil.
4. Add the onion and cook until slightly browned and soft.
5. Add steak and mushrooms and cook to the desired degree of doneness.
6. Add the bean sprouts and soy sauce.
7. Add the salt, pepper, and steak sauce.

And since everyone knows you can't have hibachi steak alone...

Benihana Japanese Fried Rice 

1 1/4 c. uncooked rice
Soybean oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. finely diced green onions
1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
1 medium carrot, chopped
4 tsp. soy sauce
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the rie according to package directions. Once done, empty into a mixing bowl.
2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tsp. oil. Scramble the eggs into small pieces until cooked. Empty the scrambled eggs into the bowl with the rice and stir together. (In the future, we will add another egg... two wasn't cutting it for us.)
3. Using the same pan, add additional oil, the diced green onions, the peas, and the carrot.  Let simmer on low for 5 minutes.
4. Add several scoops of the cooled rice and egg mixture to the skillet. Keep gradually adding a scoop at a time to the pan and stirring.
5. While mixing, slowly add the soy sauce a tsp. at a time until the fried rice is a golden brown color.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

It may not have turned out quite the same as dinner out, but it sure beats the $20/person price tag.

So, here is the updated list, with a couple crossed off - blue, a few in progress - red, and some still in the wings with added comments - green... (because I'm sure you're just that bored right now and need more entertainment from me!)

1. have a garage sale at our house - this will require purging of every room in the house (purging ongoing, started pricing some books)
2. finish black and white quilt (in progress)
3. start grad school (if I get in, of course)
4. take and print wheat pictures
5. donate old camera
6. sew a skirt for myself
7. plant a tree
8. grow a big vegetable garden (fill all four beds)
9. can salsa and possibly tomatoes/tomato sauce (found recipes for safe salsa canning)
10. catch up with Brad's basketball book
11. make braided cinnamon bread
12. touch up ceiling paint mistakes and stains (discovered that bleach will work on the water stains)
13. fix kitchen drawer, or persuade Brad to do it for me
14. make a fray blanket with mom
15. write down Christmas memories
16. make something old/ugly/cheap into something nice
17. find a completely new recipe that both of us love
18. organize coat closet
19. plan/run VBS (in progress)
20. visit Sarah and Jamie in Seattle (set dates, ordered Washington guide book from AAA)
21. take Brad to a Wingnuts game
22. get my African violets to bloom (in progress)
23. try seafood
24. plan and go on a Kansas day trip (in progress, sort of. ordered Kansas guide book from AAA)
25. have dinner guests (not family members - ones I will actually clean for)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Day in the Life

Lest you somehow think my everyday life is not completely full of glitz and glam... here is a little peek into my 9-5. (Okay, so most days it's really more like 7:24 - 4:02, but who keeps track, anyway? 9-5 adds to the glitz and glam.)






(though i promised myself i would not write much today, i must interject here. usually my life is so glamorous that i bring my own lunch. this is the first time all year i've run out to grab lunch... it's been a rough couple of weeks.)


 (i've decided i need some more life in my life. plant life, that is. i only have one at school. any suggestions for great, low-maintenance plants that can life in my classroom during the year and on my deck in the summer?)






Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Important Question

I put up a video. I'm pretty excited about embedding a youtube clip for the first time. Check it out.

But that's not really why I'm posting today. I have a question. I covet your answer. Because I'm confused. And maybe crazy?

I have this quotation on my desk at school, because these are words that tug at my heartstrings, words that help me keep my own "issues" in perspective, words that mean to me that my job is worth every second.

"For these are all our children; we will all profit by or pay for what they become." -James Baldwin

Politics and whatnot aside, what does this mean to you? Do you agree with it? Think it's stupid? It means nothing? Please take a minute to respond. I really want to know.

Hillary Duff

Don't worry. This post is not about how I'm a big fan. She just has this little video I like. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekends are for...

Weekends are for...

...belated birthday lunch with an amazing friend and belated birthday cake from two of Brad's freshman players.

 ...wearing the 2003 Cross Country state championship long-sleeved t-shirt. The one that has holes on the sleeve. The one that's so soft I can't get rid of it.

...10:00 p.m. visit of encouragement to Coach K. from a community member/future basketball parent.

...revisiting an encouraging Valentine from a fifth grader. and a great Sunday School discussion (thanks, Sarah, for the great suggestion).

...checking my list and realizing I'm not doing too great at it so far. Oops. I did print it to hang as a reminder. The violets will bloom any day now, though.

..conquering the mountain of laundry. (Almost.)

...typing notes from the first VBS meeting and working on an agenda for the next. And getting pretty excited about this summer "project."

...making a dent in the reading list. I've read two (not today). Five are in progress. One is in the wings. I feel sharply the pull of the phrase "so many books, so little time." I've gotta find a way to make a living reading.

...watching the sun shine in through the blinds and dreaming of warmer days soon-to-be.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Win or Lose

"It's not whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game."

I've learned a lot this basketball season (and there are still 3 weeks left!). I've learned that there are things you cannot coach - passion, pride - not matter how hard you try and how exuberantly you display them. I've learned that today, high school basketball is becoming more and more about winning. Winning big. Winning at all costs. It wasn't like that when I was in high school. Maybe it's still not, back where I come from. And maybe it always was like that here.

And I've learned that it really is how you play the game. You figure that out when your team is 1 and I-can't-keep-track-of-how-many. In the past, I dismissed this quotation as silly. Most people comment that "whoever said it must have lost." Well, maybe. But maybe not.

My senior year in high school our basketball team wasn't amazing, but we weren't terrible, either. We won some and lost a few. We didn't get blow out (that I remember), and we didn't win many big, either. I don't have a lot of vivid memories from games, but there is one that stands out. It's one my mom pointed out to me when I was lamenting the lack of class by a coach who was pressing with his starters with five minutes left in the game, up by 30 points.

We played that night at Central Christian. They had aluminum bleachers - the kind you find at little league football games. They were not very good, and we were pumped.

We only pressed for two minutes - maybe not even that long. Coach pulled the starters from the game in the middle of the third quarter. Not one of us checked back in. Sure, we whined to play some more; it wasn't quite fair. We got five quarters, after all, and hadn't even used four. But Coach was adamant.

If we had played more of the game, we might have had a school record. The one for "lowest point total by an opponent."

Now I'm grateful to Coach Wert. He knew what it meant to win with grace. I wish more coaches embraced that ideal.

And looking back, I know that's not a record I would be proud to own. I may not have realized it until six year later (am I really that old already?!), but I learned a valuable lesson that night. Sports aren't just about winning. Sure, winning feels good. It's fun. But if you can't win with grace, and allow the other team to lose with more of the same, there's no point in winning at all.

Brad and I both believe that teaching (in the classroom, in the gym, on the track) is about a lot more than the subject. We want kids to learn that hard work pays off. It's about teaching kids respect and how to treat others. Teaching means we do our best to help kids become better each day - better at whatever they are working on. I hope that we show that in our words and our actions.

I remind Brad every so often to remember this year. Not because of the misery and the doubt and the anxiety. But because some day, he might be on the other side of the scoreboard. And I want no part of a team that that cannot win and lose with grace. Call it my small town idealism or maybe I'm just a sore loser right now, but I think it really is about how you play the game.

Click on the collage to see Coach K in action.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Not in the Mood...

I have to admit that today I was not in the mood to listen to the news that, if one of my coworkers is unable to move next year (which I had to gather from the information we were given), I am on a level playing field with two other teachers to have my job cut in half.

I was not in the mood to sit in the library for an hour and a half after school today to listen to our superintendent holler at us (yes, yell he did) about budget woes.

I was not in the mood to get gas in the obnoxious drizzle when I finally got back to Augusta at 4:45.

I was not in the mood to start online applications to other school districts or e-mail HR people.

But I did it all. And I have lived to tell the tale.

So could you do something for me? For yourself? For your kids/grandkids/neighbors/hypothetical future children? For the kids who will some day be your doctor and nurse, the police officer down the street, the firefighter who saves your life?

These kids are being cheated. They are not getting the education they deserve, and it's only going to get worse. Our legislators (yes, the people that we the voters put in office) are refusing to fund schools at the level our kids need. These law makers refuse to find way to raise revenue. (It's not just schools. It's kids who don't have health insurance. It's police officers who risk their lives to keep you safe. It's the roads you drive on....)

Yet in the past year, they have granted two major tax exemptions. One to Westar Energy (who went ahead and raised our rates - 23%, according to KWCH - anyway) and another on the estate tax. The estate tax only taxes estates over $5 million. But they can't afford taxes?

The students in the state of Kansas perform in the top 10 states in math and reading achievement. Our funding is in the bottom 15. A Legislative Post Audit from 2006 showed that, for every .83% increase in education spending, there is a 1% increase in achievement. Imagine what our kids could do if the funding level matched our achievement level. Just imagine.

Imagine. And then do something about it - about the fact that, if we continue in this current vein, it will never happen. Mom, dad, grandma, everyone else.... I'm calling you out. Communicate with your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers. And, more than anything, communicate with your legislators. They are creating a mess. Tell them it's time to clean up. On the left-hand side of the page, find the House and Senate links. Once you are on the page, you can "find your legislator" by name, city, county, district, or committee number in the gold box on the right-hand side of the page. This will have contact information for your legislators. I've been told it will mean more to them if protests about school funding come from parents and concerned community members, rather than teachers whose pay and jobs are directly affected. I will still do what I can.   This webpage explains the budget cuts better than I can.    On this website there is a power point presentation (Powerpoint Presentation Video with Tallman Voiceover) over the achievement of Kansas schools and how it is connected to school funding. It also shows how Kansas consistently achieves in the top 10 states, according to national measures, yet has less funding than any other top ten state.

Please see - it's not just about my job (even though that's why I've bawling for the last 30 minutes). It's about the thousands of Kansas kids who are losing here. You only get 6th grade once. We can't screw that one chance up for our kids.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Expect to have hope rekindled. Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways. The dry seasons in life do not last. The spring rains will come again." -Sarah Ban Breathnach