This picture is a good indicator of my current state of mind. I am fighting the overwhelming urge to scream and quit a few things. Stress is taking hold of me--I can feel it in my shoulders.

Teaching three classes isn't so bad, but throw in leading the high school Student Assistance Team, figuring out how to pilot iPads for two weeks in my English 12 class, coaching the quiz bowl team, directing a musical, taking a graduate class that I'm over four weeks behind in, and planning a workshop that I'm leading at a conference in Arkansas this spring is killing me. I haven't even mentioned anything that deals with my personal life: training for a half-marathon so I stay healthy and feel like I've accomplished something other than just in my job, writing (one of my stress relievers), singing and playing more guitar, the adoption process....oh and being a wife. Seriously. What have I done to myself?

Today I've found myself in a race against time---and time keeps winning. It's 3:37, and I still need to get groceries for the next week, read and grade 23 student journals, attempt to close the gap in weeks that I'm behind for my current graduate class, make dinner, and tackle the massive load of laundry that's been taunting me for a week.

Someone at church this morning asked us if, once we are placed with a child, I would continue teaching or stay home. More and more I am thinking about staying home. Though I love what I do and am passionate about teaching and improving the quality of education, I just don't know if I can handle everything. We have no kids right now and I feel like I'm barely giving myself enough time to breath...I don't want to be a stressed out mom who has no time for her kids.

For now, I'll keep plugging away; let's hope I don't have a serious breakdown this week...because I don't have any time to spare!


Faith and religion

Author's Note: This is very rough---but I've been writing about it for the past few nights and feel like I should just post it already. I'm sure I'll go back and make more edits as I continue to try and wrap my brain around faith...

This week I heard someone say, "...and that's the difference between religion and faith." So, for the past few nights, I've been trying to figure this out. I know there is a difference between faith and religion, but explaining it is harder than it seems.

To me religion is a human institution---it's facilitated by humans and often created by humans. When I look at religion in this light, it scares me because human institutions are temporary. Religion also tends to become a series of steps--a to-do list for achieving spirituality. I know that fellowship with other believers (this often comes in the form of bible studies, small groups, etc) is essential, but I fear that if I attend small groups, Sunday school, commit to a one-year Bible reading plan, etc. that it'll just be one more thing to add to the to-do list. I'm afraid my faith and my relationship with God would lose meaning.

Faith is incomprehensible. When trying to describe it, I find myself tongue tied and stammering. Faith is messy---it doesn't come in a square box wrapped with iridescent paper and adorned with a beautiful ribbon. Sometimes faith comes to us at our lowest and most despicable moments. Faith is knowing without seeing; it's walking through complete darkness when the world feels as if it's crumbling around you yet still feeling some peace because you just know there is a purpose, a divine reason for this darkness. Though I've met some pretty rough times that brought me to my knees wanting to throw faith away, faith has remained. While religion is a human institution, faith is created by God. I don't know all the theological reasons why faith exists, nor do I really want to know these---I like that faith has left me stammering, lying in my bed in awe as I try to figure this thing out via a measly blog post.

Religion doesn't leave me with the same kind of wonder that faith does. Instead, religion often makes me tired, irritated, and cynical. And for these reasons, I don't want religion. I want faith.


Testing Out iPads

Our district is doing some trial runs of iPads in a few classrooms, and I am blessed enough to be able to test them out in my English 12 class over the course of the next few weeks.

To be honest, I'm skeptical. After seeing some of my students carelessly throw their laptops on the desks, I worry about the durability of these tiny little things. Typing for a long amount of time on the iPad is also tedious---I should be writing this blog on the iPad, but I'm using my laptop because it's quicker to type text.

Currently our students have laptops, which I use everyday in class. This year I've moved to cloud computing so students don't have to store items on their individual machines. So in this sense, an iPad is sufficient; they don't need a hard drive. I also like that the iPads are so compact---they are lightweight and easy to carry around while I teach. I love the touch screen feature, and though I complained earlier about the typing---it is getting easier the more I use it.

My 12th graders and I are making a list of assignments/projects we want to try while we have access to the iPads so we can get a good feel for how conveninent and inconvenient they are. Cost wise, it seems that an iPad is the smarter choice for a 1:1 type program, but I want to test out as much as possible in order to give our technology committee the best feedback possible. If you have any ideas for what to try out on the iPad (please don't say "play Angry Birds" as I've heard that ALL day from my 9th graders!), please send them my way. I am attending an iPad training seminar on Thursday, so I do hope to post more about this later!


NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts: The Low Anthem

Since stumbling across NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts last year, I've been hooked. I've learned of so many great bands, and the podcasts I've downloaded onto my iPod have provided me with hours of entertainment on long car rides and flights and have lulled me to sleep while in unfamiliar places.

On our way to Lincoln on Saturday I watched the Tiny Desk Concert the Low Anthem played back in January of 2010. The concert is hauntingly beautiful. The songs are comforable, soothing, and a bit sad. I think I've listened to it at least five times in the past 36 hours. It's what helped me fall asleep last night and it's what is playing now as I wind down from a long weekend.

This concert is one you really have to watch---the band isn't particularly charasmatic, but they play such diverse and unique instruments. The first song is simple with a clarinet, an upright bass, and a guitar. The second tune features an unidentifable horn instrument and sound effects formed by two cell phones, while the last includes upright bass, synth, harmonica, and some sort of cymbals.

I tried to upload the video, but after an hour of a spinning wheel, I decided to cancel it. Watching this is definitely worth all 13 minutes and 39 seconds of your time. Just a side note--if you're offended by curse words or have small children around you, you'll want to skip over the second song (though it really is moving).


Acony Bell

For the past couple of weeks I've been singing and playing (I use that term very loosely!) with a few guys; below is one song we've been practicing. Gillian Welch's incredible voice and the hopeful lyrics have made this song one of my favorites.

"Acony Bell"
By: Gillian Welch

The fairest bloom the mountain knows
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which I'll tell
Known as the brave Acony Bell

Just a simple flower so small and plain
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon

Well it makes its home mid the rocks and the rills
Where the snows lie deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world why should I wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away

And so I'll sing that yellow bird's song
For the troubled times will soon be gone


Sharing the news of a pregnancy with infertile friends and family

I'm sure most of you are growing tired of reading my posts about adoption or infertility. I realize this topic may be a bit depressing or seem irrelevant to some. I promise to take a break from blogging about these issues for awhile, but first--I want to post a few tips for sharing the news of a pregnancy with friends or family members who are infertile or are struggling to conceive.

I can't even count the number of articles, blogs, and books I've read that deal with infertility. This past year I've searched high and low for advice and validation that my emotions and reactions towards announced pregnancies weren't out of the norm. For three years, the news of pregnancies has shaken me to the core. Again, it's not because I'm not excited for these friends, family members, and acquaintances---it's because it reminds me of what I can't have. As one adoptive parent put it this weekend---"It sucks to struggle with getting pregnant when it seems like some people can just sit on the toilet and get knocked up."

I think I've received pregnancy announcements in just about every way possible: cute cards sent out in the mail, Facebook status updates, emails, phone calls, blog posts, text messages, and face to face interactions. The first time I heard that someone close to us was pregnant when it was obvious that for us, getting pregnant was a chore--I bawled the minute my husband broke the news. I drove to the nearest parking lot and cried until I had nothing left. The second announcement I received in the mail---it was one that was meant to be hung on the fridge, but I just couldn't bring myself to tack it on the freezer door and have to walk past it each day. The next announcement came via text message while I was running a speech practice. One minute I was laughing at a student's humorous prose and the next minute tears were streaming down my cheeks as I excused myself from my classroom. The Facebook and blog posts announcing pregnancies that came with 412 excited comments were unavoidable for an avid Facebook user such as myself. Thank God for the "Hide" function on Newsfeed items.

But probably the hardest way to hear of a pregnancy is via telephone or face to face. In this method of communication the person announcing the good news expects a reaction that is similar to his/her joy...and rightfully so; this is a beautiful piece of news. But when you struggle with infertility, receiving this information and then trying to react positively on the spot is so difficult. Once I was at a graduation party for a student---as we were filling our plates with food, I inquired about the bright red pickles in front of me. The mother proudly explained that these were her world famous cinnamon pickles. I thought, Holy crap. I love cinnamon...and I love pickles. What could be better?!? Before I could begin thinking logically about the flavor combination, I shoved two in my mouth right in front of the mother. They were awful, but she was so excited about these dang pickles. I wanted to spit them out in my napkin, but I had no choice but to chew quickly and strategically so as not to let them touch my tongue. I didn't want to hurt the mother's feelings and make her feel bad about something she was so excited and proud about. That's kind of how I felt each time someone announced their pregnancy via phone or face to face. I was excited for these people, but it brought a bad taste to my mouth right away (not as bad as the cinnamon pickles) and I couldn't let my own problems squelch the joy these people were experiencing.

It seems like we infertile-ites would rather receive an email or a personalized letter announcing pregnancies. Though it's still hard to stomach (no pun intended), this type of announcement shows that true concern was made for our situation. A good friend of mine who struggled with infertility before becoming pregnant made it a point to send me the kindest, most considerate email announcing her pregnancy before she posted it on Facebook and told a bunch of friends. I don't quite remember what was in the email, but I do know that she acknowldged my struggles and explained that she understood if I didn't email her back right away. She understood that I needed some time to let the news settle and come to terms with it. I can't tell you how much this meant to me.

Some of you may be thinking that this seems like a lot of work and that infertile people are just selfish and can only think of themselves, and that's why they grow sad at what is supposed to be happy news. It is a little extra work--and we may seem selfish, but we don't want to feel upset about someone else's pregnancy. It tears us up inside that we can't handle these announcements from people who are close to us. Sending out a personalized letter or email will make it a little easier---we'll see that you are being so considerate to be delicate with your happiness.

If you're reading this blog, you are either lost and stumbled upon it by mistake or you are truly interested in what my husband and I are experiencing. So--if it's the latter, thank you for taking the time to try and understand our situation. We truly appreciate it.

Adoption is built on loss

After our two-day meetings at the Nebraska Children's Home, one thing really sticks out to me: adoption is built on loss. Adoption is nobody's first choice. From what we learned about birth mothers and listening to a few birth mothers speak, making an adoption plan for their child isn't their first choice. For adoptive parents their first choice is conceiving children, but when that fails or after that has been done--people chose to adopt. I remember hearing one of the case workers say that adoption is nobody's first choice, and I wrote it down. It was one of maybe five things I wrote down during the whole two days (I didn't take many notes because I was so emotionally drained that I couldn't bring myself to put pen to paper). And three days later, this thought still resonates with me.

I just finished reading Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother and in it, the author reveals her concerns about adopting her son--she shares her apprehension about parenting a black child, her struggles to bond with her new son and claim him as her own, bringing up her black child in a racist society, and laments her infertility. It's a great book because it's so honest. The author, Jana Wolff, writes, "Adoption is a bittersweet solution to a two-way problem. Sweet, because a baby in need of a home finds a home in need of a baby. But bitter because it is nobody's first choice, and the baby will grow up one day to understand that" (111).

Many people see adoption as this beautiful thing that is all rainbows and butterflies. And it is at times---but it is also painful and built on loss. I can't begin to imagine the day when our adopted child is old enough to realize this. What emotions will he/she feel? Am I equipped to deal with it? It's an overwhelming flood of emotions when you think of adoption in this light....


Thoughts on baptisms, baby showers, birth announcements, and other baby related items

Author's Note: I've struggled with whether or not I should chronicle our journey with infertility and adoption. After many years of dealing with this in solitary confinement, I've decided to blog about it. It's good therapy for me, but it's also insight for others on the real-life infertility battle.

This morning we went to church with my sister in-law and her family here in Lincoln. We walked into the huge sanctuary and my eyes immediately focused on the baptismal fonts that had been pulled out a bit--signifying that baptisms were going to be performed at this particular service. When we took our seats in the very front row of the church (there were none left anywhere else), I pulled open the bulletin to see that there were four baptisms scheduled for the service we were attending. Immediately my heart started racing, my hands became clammy, and a lump the size of a ping-pong ball formed in my throat. I turned to my husband and said with a hint of panic, "There are baptisms today." At once we both began scanning the sanctuary for the nearest exit.

Right before the baptisms began, Nate and I made a break for it. As we stood and hurriedly walked out of the church, I felt like the entire congregation was staring at us. My face burned with embarrassment. Not only are we infertile, we can't even sit through a baptism. We found the restrooms, and as soon as I locked myself in the stall I expected the water works to begin. But they didn't. I took a few minutes and many deep breaths (so many I felt like I could pass out) and we headed back to the sanctuary just as the baptisms concluded.

Our struggle with infertility has been nearly a three year process, and it is getting easier to stomach sudden birth announcements and read Facebook posts about the feeling of that first kick or every other monumental step in a friend's pregnancy or child-rearing experience. But---I still feel like it's appropriate to remove myself from these vulnerable positions. It's not that I want to be a kill-joy but because I don't know when the grief of infertility will punch me in the gut and send tears to my eyes that may ruin the, what should be, joyous moment for everyone else.

Avoiding these moments isn't always possible. Plus---not all people understand exactly why we avoid them. I feel like many think we are just feeling sorry for ourselves again, that we are overly dramatic emotional wrecks that just need to cowboy up and get over it. Unfortunately, we who are infertile are the minority. And minority groups often stick out like a poinsettia plant among a field of sunflowers. So if someone backs out of a baptism, baby shower, or doesn't rush over to meet your new bundle of joy, and suddenly seems distant at the same time you announce the exciting news of your recent pregnancy or child's birth---please don't take it personally. This exciting news may remind that particular person of what he/she is struggling to do or quite possibly can't have. Your joy may represent a loss. You may never understand, nor does the person expect you to. But please be sensitive, for you never know what a person is going through.

On a closing note--if you're struggling with infertility, miscarriage, or adoption or simply want to learn more about these issues--check out the following resources that we've really found helpful:

  • Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother--A brutally honest, humorous, and insightful look into the thoughts of a woman struggling with infertility who later adopts a child of a different race.
  • Hannah's Hope--This book is written by a woman who struggled with infertility, miscarriages, and failed adoptions. The book is saturated with Bible verses and contains a section at the end of each chapter called "Burden Bearers" that offers advice to friends, family, and acquaintences of those struggling with child loss (which does include infertility by the way).
  • 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need To Succeed--A guidebook for parenting adopted children.


Fun with Denelle

Nate and I had some fun with our four year-old niece, Denelle, today. We played around with Photo Booth by taking silly pictures---it was great hearing her laugh hysterically at the distorted faces on the screen. Once we finished taking photos and making videos, Nate did a great job of putting it all together to create this short iMovie:


Social Action in the Classroom

So I have to share what's been going in on my English 9 classes the past few days. My classroom has been alive, and students' energy for our current unit has been inspiring to me.

On Friday we started a unit on social action in my English 9 classes by brainstorming what issues were important to students--we had a nearly 45 minute long discussion in each class where all of the students participated either in the face to face discussion, or the online discussion that followed. It was great to hear what concerns they have....they're pretty insightful for 15 year olds!

We continued the unit today by listening to and examining the lyrics in a few songs of change--Where's The Love by the Black Eyed Peas, Testify by Rage Against The Machine, and Ani DiFranco's Subdivision was mentioned--but unfortunately, we ran out of time. The majority of my students ate this lesson up---they loved talking about what issues were raised in the songs. Their homework for tonight was to find a YouTube video of a song that has themes of social injustice, social change, activism, or issues that matter to them. I gave them about 5-10 minutes of class time to begin searching for a song---it was great watching them get so into the assignment. As they left the classroom, many of them were sharing song ideas. Tomorrow we'll listen to songs that students bring into class, and on Thursday students will begin watching Pay It Forward (it actually works out perfectly since I'll be gone from school for three days). My hope is that the songs and the movie will spark an idea for a project they want to tackle.

Next week we'll explore Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Once we are finished with that, we'll start working on their change projects. The project is pretty open-ended for now, but students will be required to choose an issue they're passionate about (encouraging students to stay in high school, respect, promoting literacy, encouraging parents to take an active role in their child's life, eliminating negative stereotypes of the skate park, and encouraging the community to offer more to teens are just a few issues students mentioned) and complete a project that either raises awareness about the issue OR takes action to move the issue forward. Then--together we'll plan a project display night similar to a good, old-fashioned science fair where students can show off their work to community members, teachers, and parents.

I really thought I'd have some resistance with this, but most of my students (there are always a few apathetic beings) are bonkers for this unit! I'm anxious to see what they produce and how they connect with Dr. King's piece.

I'll try to post more updates about this project later!


Some great scripture for your snowy, frigid Tuesday morning...

"Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, 'That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for god feeds them. An you are more far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can't accomplish a little thing like that, what's the use of worrying over bigger things? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? And don't be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don't worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.'"

--Luke 12:22-31


Adoption update

This week we are venturing to Omaha for a two day training session with Nebraska Children's Home Society for prospective adoptive parents. After that, if we're still interested in moving forward with NCHS, we'll be assigned a case-worker and begin the homestudy process.

As we get ready for this next step, there's a lot going on in my mind. Over Christmas break I really struggled with figuring out what plan God had for me with our adoption (side note: this is a huge downfall of mine--I'm a type A control freak who always has to be "in the know"). I do feel that God has given me this beautiful burden so I can relate to and reach out to others who are in a similar situation. And though it's been painful, our infertility has brought my husband and me closer together and more importantly, has given me a deeper relationship with our Maker. I truly see Him as a father figure now---a comforting, just provider. But...I'm scared to death that part of God's plan for us is...more waiting. I fear that we'll have to wait another year, two years, or even more until we are placed with a child. I don't know if my heart can bear it.

A friend of mine (more about this later) emailed me today with a copy of a Puritan Prayer--The Valley of Vision. It reminds me that there is something to be learned and even gained by walking through valleys...even though it might be painful. I always tell my students that they grow and learn the most when they stretch themselves; full growth is not attained when we remain in our comfort zones.


Hobbies. What are those?!?

Since we've moved out to Ogallala, I've done a terrible job of developing hobbies. I've put almost all of my effort and energy into growing my career. My free time is spent grading, lesson planning, developing activities, reading books/articles/blogs relating to teaching, responding to an insane amount of emails each day, and taking classes. It's stressful. I am passionate about my career, but this year I have wondered if teaching high school is really in the cards for me. I think the main reason I'm questioning my career choice is because I'm burnt out...I've lit the candle at both ends and I'm now down to the middle part of the candle that is about to become a pitiful puddle of wax.

Today I joined two local musicians to play and sing some great music. The owner of the music store asked me to come play with them over New Years Day, but I was running a fever. I'm not going to lie, I was a little relieved that I couldn't join them. Not because I didn't want to join them but because I don't feel talented enough to sing and play with other people. What irritates me is that I possess a fair amount of musical talent, but in the past three years I've not taken the time to hone my skills. In high school I played guitar, wrote, and sang nearly every night. I continued this into college by playing guitar with friends on the weekends and then leading worship for Navigators. I was even in a few choirs for two years while studying at UNK. But the minute I started teaching, my guitar was shelved and was more or less a decorative item in whatever room it sat.

So today when we began playing, I froze. I had my guitar out, music open, and was ready but couldn't find a rhythm. I found that I could still sing, but my range has shrank so much that I struggled to hit a C (above middle C). The two musicians were patient, but it was humiliating and extremely frustrating.

Before I go any further, please know this is not a pity post. I don't want your pity. Actually---this is more of a realization for me that I have not allowed myself time to step away from the role of Mrs. Helzer--the crazy teacher who works too much, to be Danielle--the 24 year old woman who enjoys spending time with her husband, running, singing, playing guitar, cooking, listening to music, writing, and reading. For the past three years I've longed to have time to indulge in these leisurely activities. Now it's time to put my foot down.

This isn't going to be easy. This week I was invited to participate in a pretty cool professional opportunity with the National Writing Project that I wanted to be a part of, but after a week of making pro's and con's lists, I realized that I am overbooked, so I turned it down. It was painful. But, I think it was the right decision. If I'm going to stay sane, I need to be able to say no to some opportunities and allow myself time to partake in hobbies. And who knows---maybe stepping away from my job will actually make me a better teacher....


New Album

I love the music that NPR features on their site. I always find an eclectic mix--from folk, to rock, to jazz, to classic punk, to bluegrass. Today as I surfed the newsfeed on Facebook, I caught wind of the new album from The Decemberists, The King is Dead that is featured on NPR. I took some time this evening to listen to it, and it...is....beautiful. The band features bluegrass singer Gillian Welch (I just happen to be learning a few tunes she sings...) singing warm alto harmonies which is a good balance to lead singer Colin Meloy's classic, bright tone. This is an album you can work to, read to, or simply sit and listen to. Check it out before it hits shelves in a few weeks; it'll make you want to buy it!


To-Do in 2011

New year's resolutions suck. I hate making them because I never keep them and they are so cliche. But........I am such a list person....I can't fight it. I make at least two lists everyday because it keeps me organized and focused. So I will fall victim to the cliche by creating yet another list--a to-do list for 2011:

1. Deepen my spiritual life and relationship with Christ.
2. Work on eliminating my need to seek man's approval.
3. Invest in people.
4. Read more--especially fiction. So much of what I read is educational philosophy and though I love it, I want to indulge myself with non-work/school related material.
5. Finish my Master's degree---that includes choosing a thesis topic and (yikes!) writing my thesis (I'm terrified of this....).
6. Play more guitar.
7. Run two more half-marathons.
8. Figure out what to do with my life---the more I think about it, the more I wonder if teaching high school is the career for me.
9. Put work aside to focus on more important things---faith, marriage, relationships, etc. I'm going to try and set a goal to leave school by 4 (on days that I'm not coaching).
10. Enjoy life.