On aging

Author's Note: The following post will sound whiney. But bear with me...there is a point.

I've never had a hard time with birthdays and the concept of aging...until last week when I turned 26. Suddenly, everything about me seemed old. My knees throbbed on runs, my hands suddenly showed age and looked worn, my gray hairs were in abundance, and I was not carded the few times I ordered a beer with dinner. It occurred to me last week that I hadn't been mistaken for a student in some time (my first year of teaching, I was frequently mistaken for a high school senior). In conversation a few weeks ago I expressed my love for cardigans, NPR, and...birds. Yes, birds. Late nights are a kick in the pants. I'd trade an evening on the town for a quiet night at home in my pajamas any day. I stopped in at some trendy little boutique here in Omaha last week and found myself scowling at the dresses that only reached my mid-thigh (WAYYYY too short for this old lady). Lately, excitement for me is a trip to Trader Joe's. I never worried about eating sugary foods, but as I ate a slice of homemade carrot cake a few days before my birthday, I wondered what part of my body I'd soon see this cake on.

I know it sounds crazy--especially to those of you have a few years on me--but for the first time in my life, I feel old.

I don't really know what to do with this. I don't know if I should do something crazy like get a tattoo or purchase a motorcycle to remind me of how young I am. I don't know if I should embrace it and give in to my not-so-secret desire to pick up a birds of the Midwest identification book. It's exhausting.

It's also difficult to accept that your life may not look like what you dreamed up when you were a kid. In my teen years, I had this romantic vision of what my life would look like at 26: a husband, a house, a few kids with popsicle stained smiles, long hair (because I seriously believed that all really mature chicks had long hair), a dog, a long list of countries traveled to, and casseroles on the dinner table. I do have a swell husband and a feisty little dog...but that's it from the aforementioned list. We have no kids in sight. I live in the basement of someone else's house. I've had short hair for three years because I'm too lazy to have long hair. I don't plan ahead enough to make casseroles. And I don't make enough Benjamins to travel around the world.

After my run this morning I flipped on the Today Show and watched the Smucker's Jam guy give birthday shout-outs to lots of people who are 100 years or older. The last woman on the list was 113 years old. I wondered if she felt the same way I do when she turned 26. I wondered how she feels today, on her 113th birthday. The Smucker's Jam guy said something about her secret to longevity is putting others before herself.

Of course that made me feel pretty terrible about my week of whining about "getting old." I feel like I lose so much time sulking and feeling sorry for myself (in many situations) that I miss out on opportunities to serve others or simply enjoy being alive and healthy. This year I'll embrace being 26--even if 26 doesn't include a house and kids.


An Argument I Embody

Author’s Note: A teacher in our NeWP institute mentioned an idea of having students write an essay about an argument they embody as a way to teach persuasive writing (there are so many great teachers in this course; it's both humbling and inspiring!). It intrigued me, so I tried it. When I sat down to actually write it, I found the task incredibly difficult! Here’s what came out in an attempt to write about an argument I embody. It’s not perfect---but it did help me to articulate how I teach and why I teach that way.

I've always wanted to be critical. I think that's why I wrote essays in high school comparing and contrasting Christianity with Buddhism, or persuading people to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Every now and then in my undergraduate degree program, I challenged my education professors who seemed to have all the answers for teaching K-12 but no experience actually teaching in this setting. I don't think I truly learned what it meant to be critical and intentional, though, until I became a teacher.

Suddenly I was tasked with educating students only three to four years younger than me. During my first few years of teaching, I lost sleep as I contemplated the consequences I could have on students. After year one I was exhausted, and I wanted to simply open the book and start with page one working our way to page 407 by the end of the year. I thought back to some of my own high school experiences, and few classes stood out to me. The ones that do/did were alive with discussion, allowed me to make connections with other subjects, encouraged freedom of exploration, and gave me hands on experiences. The unremarkable classes lie buried deep in the cobwebs of memory. These were the classes where the teacher remained rigid in the curricula---relying mainly on the textbook and his or her own knowledge as the method of delivery expecting the rest of us to simply soak it up. I wanted my class to come alive for my students--even those who hated English. I wanted my students to feel energy in the classroom that was irresistible--that drove them to write and speak because they simply had to. I wanted them to think because they wanted to, not because I told them. So though I wanted to, I simply couldn't rely on the textbook to teach the course for me.

I came to learn that I must be intentional, open, and teach out of love. I learned to research, revise, and talk to the kids about what worked and what failed. My students must be the center of my classroom. I had to learn to set my ego aside and let them drive their own learning. I had to convert lectures into student-driven discussion. I had to learn to listen instead of talk. I soon made a habit of taking classes myself so I could experience learning alongside them. I wanted to learn from other teachers how to teach with fire.

When I became critical about teaching, my classroom transformed. Discipline issues minimized, and students seemed to be truly learning and not simply memorizing concepts for a test that would determine their knowledge. They began asking questions and then came to synthesize information to formulate their own critical utterances.

As liberating as this method is, it's equally exhausting. It's not always successful, and sometimes I grow so tired that out of necessity I give a worksheet. I usually feel terrible after grading the worksheets knowing I could have done better by them.

In and out of the classroom, I try to embody the argument that to teach with love is to be critical and deliberate. I wonder if I will be able to sustain this argument year after year and teach despite oppressive curricular mandates and apathetic teachers and students.


One of Those Days

Author’s note: As I've mentioned before, I'm currently co-facilitating a course through the Nebraska Writing Project. Part of the course requirement is a daily writing expectation. Each day we are responsible for bringing a piece to our writing group. And each institute I take, I write a resistance to writing piece. This is my resistance to writing piece for the year. It was frustrating yesterday to sit and wait for a bolt of writing lightening to hit me...because nothing came. I sat outside for nearly three hours and wrote almost nothing. I tried reading to inspire me. I tried people watching. Yesterday was just one of those days....as a writing teacher, it's good for me to experience these so I can help my students through those dry days when they feel they have nothing to write. So...here's my sub-par resistance to writing poem:

One of Those Days

You know the ones---
the ones where
you don't talk
and you don't write
because you have nothing to say.
But really, the words...
they're present and floating.
you just can't grasp them long enough
to plug them on the screen.

Today is one of those days.

And besides,
who's gonna listen to a word I utter?
I’m 25,
few real struggles to overcome.
Who will listen to me blather about life
when I haven't lived long?
And who will listen to me preach about teaching
when I’m barely older than my own students?

But I do have stories to write.
I just don't.
I keep them locked in my bones,
and when they ache to get out,
I run as long and as fast as my legs will take me.
I like to think the stories fly out when I run,
landing in sparrows' ears
who later turn them into simple yet beautiful
songs outside peoples' bedroom windows.

It's a temporary release, this method of mine.
The stories,
they somehow find their way back into my bones,
and the next day they pulse begging to be told.

I should just write these stories down, I think.
But thinking is my problem.
Really, I think my thinking is more fear.
Fear of the weight my stories will bare
or the consequence I'll have for telling.
Fear of who might read these stories
and what opinion they'll assume.

Yet I know
our stories must be written.
So I will plod along
pecking these keys against my will.


Finding a place to call home

When I think of a dream home, I picture an old craftsman style abode with stucco instead of vinyl siding. I want a large, covered front porch from where I could sip my coffee from a swing early in the morning while I watch the neighborhood come to life. I picture built in bookshelves, bay windows, and original 1920s woodwork. Of course, this home would sit on a quaint street in a small town located outside an urban area. Our neighbors would be a mix of cultures and backgrounds and would be the type of people from whom you could “borrow” a cup of sugar. And of course, our kids would be able to walk to school by themselves and play catch in the streets with the other neighbor kids.

It’s funny how our dreams take shape; I’m not really sure when I concocted this romantic world. But as my husband and I transition from small town living to urban dwelling and begin searching for a home, I find myself struggling with more than simply sacrificing a bit on my dream home decor.

The issue of where to land and grow a family is a contentious one. Omaha is a much bigger city than what I’m acclimated to--and it seems there are more issues affiliated with living here. I talked with one Omaha native about looking in the west Omaha area for a home simply because it would be a manageable drive for both me and my husband. “Oh,” she stated. “Well, just know that people will think certain things about you if you live out there.” While the comment might seem rude on the surface, I believe she said it simply to let me know of the realities of living in a suburban and largely affluent portion of Omaha.

A significant part of me wants to live and raise kids in an area rich with diversity and easy access to arts, culture, and local flavor--somewhere that seems quite the opposite of west Omaha. At times I feel uncomfortable in suburban areas because I feel sorely out of place. I don’t have the clothes, the vehicles, or even the furniture to fit in. However, living in suburbia has its draw: proximity to jobs, the familiarity of a primarily homogeneous area (a quality similar to where we both grew up), and homes that are more than move in ready. Familiarity seems alluring because in my mind, familiar equals safe. Who doesn’t want to feel safe--especially if kids are added in the equation?

It seems crazy, but I’ve really been struggling with these issues this week. It’s hard not to assume that a diverse area is isn’t safe. It’s also hard not to assume that suburban areas are filled with white middle class folk who don’t want to interact with much diversity. I’m trying to dismiss my preconceived notions about each segment of Omaha and search instead for the “right” place to call home. For me, it’s important to be intentional about this decision so we can live well in our new place. I’m confident this will be a difficult decision for us. When it’s all said and done, I hope I can look back and be thankful that we were so deliberate.


Summer so far

The best way to describe this summer so far: whirlwind. Luckily we are all moved and are fairly settled in our friends' basement. I'm starting to develop a manageable routine with the summer class I'm co-facilitating. This week was exhausting. It was the first week of class, so there was a lot of prep work up front. I was trying to balance 30 miles or running a week (yeah, that's an unrealistic bench mark with my current schedule!), with about ten hours of total in-car time, 17.5 hours of in class time, and about 20 hours of class work---it's been intense around here. We've had many late nights and early mornings that all pounded me yesterday. When we got back to Omaha I crashed for two hours; it was much needed. Even though it's been tiring, there have been a few perks:
  • I love the class I'm helping with right now. The teachers I'm surrounded by are intelligent, creative, and intentional. It's a true breath of fresh air.
  • We tend to have late night chats with our housemates Amee and Micah. We sort of lost touch over the past few years, so it's great to pick up where we left of.
  • The bowl of Pad Thai I just shoveled into my mouth was delicious.
  • The writing habit my class encourages has helped me to pound out a few pieces I've been wanting to write all year.
  • The coffee date I had with my husband last week--I'm hoping we can make it a weekly occurrence this summer to give us something to look forward to at the end of a grueling week of courses.
  • It hasn't happened yet, but tomorrow we get to spend the day with our niece and nephew. these two kids always make us laugh, so we enjoy spending time with them.
Now that I've reflected on the perks, I'm off to pound out a major piece of writing this afternoon (I'm working on condensing my 40 page thesis into a 15 page article for publication). Then, I'm taking the evening off to do whatever the heck I want to do :)


God is Able

Lately I've become overwhelmed with the amount of uncertainty in my life. We are shacking up with friends because we haven't had any leads on selling our home in Ogallala. We don't know how long we'll be here. Our family situation is uncertain--we are unsure if we'll ever grow our family through adoption. Though the list of uncertainties is short, it's a heavy one that often weighs me down. It's been building over the last week or so. Luckily I've kept busy enough that it hasn't had a chance to paralyze me with anxiety.

Today in church (we started the church shopping process today by attending a service at Christ Community with our new housemates) I felt like I sort of came to grips with these unknowns. During the worship set, we sang Hillsong's God is Able--and throughout the song I focused on the words and felt a sense of peace knowing that God IS able. He created the world, brought life to the dead (literally and figuratively), broke through sin and resurrected His Son---the Bible is filled with many passages that illustrate God's power. Is God able to sell my house, help me find a new one, and bless me with a child? Certainly. But just because He's able to do it, doesn't mean it's a guarantee that these things will happen. One of the awe inspiring qualities about God is that He surpasses all human knowledge. Here are a few verses I've been meditating on tonight:

"'My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,' says the Lord. 'And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine'" (Isaiah 55:8).

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infintely more than we might ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).

While the selfish side of me wants God to bless me in my way and on my time, I take comfort in these two verses. He is a creative and intentional God. I can rest knowing that God is able to accomplish more than we could ever imagine.


Lessons on big city living

Sorry for the blogging hiatus! It's been a CRAZY few weeks. I'm actually typing this from our new temporary home in Omaha. On Wednesday we brought down the last of our stuff and worked on putting it in storage Wednesday and Thursday. For the past few days we've been busy unpacking and preparing for our LAST summer of classes! Nate is taking six hours to finish up his MA, and I'm wrapping up my thesis and co-facilitating a Nebraska Writing Project course at UNL that starts on Monday. By the end of the first week of July, we will be DONE with our Master's Degrees! We've been hard at work on these for the past four years....needless to say, we're ready for a break. Anyway...despite the chaos of moving, I've managed to learn a few lessons about big city living.

Lesson number one of big city living: always bring your phone. I never thought I'd live here because it's such a big city. I've preferred living in smaller cities/towns mainly because I have no sense of direction in order to navigate my way through these places. Prime example to illustrate this point: On Thursday I set out for a three mile run in our neighborhood. I didn't take my phone with me because I was confident I knew where I was going. My goal was to find the Papio Trail, and then head back. Like a small child, once on the trail I became distracted by all the pretty houses, flowers, and trees. Before I knew it, I was in an unfamiliar neighborhood with incredibly windy roads. I found my way back to 156th street thinking I could find my way back from there....that was ambitious thinking on my part. After running in circles for two additional miles realizing I had no idea how to get back to our new home, I finally swallowed my pride and headed into a nearby Walgreens to call Nate. He was sleeping when I left, and because we recently changed our phone numbers, I wasn't even sure I knew Nate's number. An irritated looking woman handed me a phone receiver and dialed the number for me (since the phone was behind the counter) and waited. The phone rang four or five times, but luckily my husband sleepily answered, obviously confused by the random number that just came across his screen. "Uh...can you come pick me up? I'm at Walgreens on 156th and Maple. I'm lost," I muttered. Of course, he laughed. For the past few runs, I've taken my phone and stuck to trails that don't require me to turn. I can't get lost if I'm running straight ahead, right?

Lesson number two: pace yourself...and drink decaf after five. With a coffee shop on nearly every corner in Omaha, I've consumed massive amounts of caffeine in the past three days....this explains why it's after midnight and I'm still going strong. I haven't slept much in the past three days, but I have been productive!

I'm sure I'll have more lessons to write about as we continue transitioning from small town living to urban dwelling!