Hanging onto Christmas

It's four days after Christmas, and I am still listening to Christmas music. Last night I drank cocoa out of a Christmas mug one of my students gave me a few years back. My tree and decorations are still up. Nate mentioned taking them down today, and he got a scowl in return. I just can't let go of Christmas this year.

On the 19th my Grandma Kush passed away after battling cancer. This was not out of the blue as she had been steadily declining for a few months, and we did get to say goodbye. Nonetheless, it was a difficult loss for my family. My grandmother was one of the most selfless people I have ever met. She was always thinking of others. If you went to my grandma's house and told her you liked something at the house, she'd send it home with you. Because of this, our Christmas plans changed a bit. We were originally going to spend a few days at home before we galavanted to Ogallala to see our best friends. Our last day of school was the 20th, so we decided to stick out the last day and then drive to Columbus on the 21st after we celebrated our Christmas at home. We're a new family, so we had big plans of starting new traditions for the holidays. Nate and I always spend Christmas Eve looking at Christmas lights while drinking a steamy beverage, and since just about every little likes bright and shiny things, we wanted J to experience this, too. J had been struggling with his behavior for two weeks (I think he's struggling with missing his birth family...more on that later), and had a terrible day at school on Friday. We struggled through dinner and one tantrum wanting badly to keep this tradition alive. We managed to get all of us in the car, pajama clad, and spent an hour gawking at lights. We planned on doing the traditional cookies for Santa shenanigans afterwards, but as the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (he used way more Scottish vocab than that). When we got home, all hell broke loose. J had a major melt down that ended with us putting him in bed early kicking, screaming, scratching, and begging to get out. We spent thirty minutes in the hallway catching him when he ran out putting him back in bed. Santa did not get cookies that night.

The next morning we ate monkey bread, opened presents, played with our new toys, packed and hit the road for Columbus. The next few days were spent prepping for what would be a beautiful funeral service to celebrate my grandmother's entrance to heaven. Though we spent our days in a hotel, we had an adjoining room with my parents, brother, and his fiance so we enjoyed quality time with them. There was just a twinge of sadness that clouded our time as we all struggled with losing grandma.

After this, we drove to Broken Bow where my parents now reside to spend a few days. We exchanged presents with the family on Christmas Eve and then eagerly awaited Santa's visit on Christmas morning. J has never shown any interest in Santa before (he even told our 4 year old nephew that Santa was fake), so we really hadn't played the Santa game. But my brother had an app on his phone that showed where Santa was, so throughout the day, J and my bro tracked Santa's whereabouts. J's excitement grew. When we put him to bed, he was anxious. Nate and I traded off for an hour laying next to him, helping him fall asleep. J was scared of Santa because he couldn't see Santa's mouth through his beard; he worried that Santa would catch on fire when he came down the chimney. Eventually, he fell asleep. On Christmas morning, in true J fashion, he came tearing into our room at 5:30 screaming, "He came! He came! There are toys in the stockings!" We spent the morning opening presents from Santa; I think we all enjoyed watching J's excitement. Because our car broke down on our way home from church on Christmas Eve, we had to catch a ride with my brother and his fiance back to Grand Island to spend some time with Nate's family. Though it was a bummer not having our own car, it was great to spend a few more hours with Nathan and Abbi.

J was so excited to see his cousins; he had been asking about them for the past two days. We enjoyed Christmas day in our pajamas as we watched all of the kids tear into gifts and then play the day away. We all went our separate ways at the end of the day. Because our car was still in Broken Bow waiting for my dad to fix it (thank God for mechanically inclined papas!), we enjoyed extra time with Nate's mom and his brother, daughter, and his new girlfriend and her kids.

6 days, 3 towns, 2 Christmases, 1 funeral, and 1 broken-down car later....we were home. Saturday was spent unpacking, purging the house, and playing. We ended the night watching J's gift to me: All Dogs go to Heaven. J fell asleep in his new tent, snuggled in a sleeping bag. While Nate showered and readied for bed, I spent a little extra time downstairs staring at our tree (which was decorated this year with my Grandma Kinzer's old ornaments) thinking about the crazy vacation we had already had. My grandmother died, we didn't get to see our best friends in Ogallala, we're having to pay hundreds of dollars to fix the remaining crap on our Subaru, and we weren't home as much as we wanted to be. Surprisingly, none of this bothers me (well, we really were looking forward to spending time with the Josjors, Parrishes, and Cones in Og) because all of this was shrouded with family. Maybe that's why I can't let go of Christmas this year.


What do you do when you feel like the world's worst parent?

On Sunday afternoon, we asked little man to clean his room. He had spent most of the day dumping out all of his toys playing. We gave him about 15-20 minutes to clean; a perfectly acceptable time frame in our eyes. About every five minutes, we went into his room to remind him to keep cleaning and that all of his toys that weren't put away would take a time out. Each time I walked in, he was deep in play. Cleaning was clearly the furthest thing from his little mind. I wanted so badly to toss the toys into his bins; a task that would've taken me all of two minutes. I knew that after the 20 minutes, there would still be toys on the floor. We'd take them, and then he'd throw a fit. I wanted to avoid that, but I knew I needed to let this learning opportunity unfold. I resisted. And then all hell broke loose.

We explained (again) that his toys would take a time out for the rest of the night since he did not follow instructions. He screamed. We asked him to please stand up and take a deep breath. He threw his body on the ground. We asked again.  He kicked and hit his fists on the ground and yelled. We asked him again to stand up and take a breath, and if he did not, we would continue to take toys out of his room. The screaming continued. And pretty soon, his room was empty. Literally...empty. The bunk bed and dresser remained. He even lost his sheets and blankets because he ripped them off the bed during his tantrum (it's been our policy at home that if he cannot treat things nicely, he will lose them for a while). All of his room went into the next door office despite his pleading, sobbing, and trying to pull toys from our hands. When the room was clear, we asked him to stand up and take a deep breath or we'd start to take his birthday and Christmas presents too. The tantrum got worse. We took his presents. We made him sit in his bare room until he was done and calm down. An hour later, he was ready to talk and we were exhausted.

We made him put all of his stuff from the office back into his room by himself and explained the presents would have to be earned back by not receiving safety rooms at school (these are isolated time outs away from the other kids that really take a lot to get). We know he can go without safety rooms because he's done it many, many times. We know that he can snap out of his tantrums and we're trying to teach him how to do this, but I feel like nothing we try is working. It's two days until his birthday, and he has only earned one of three birthday presents back and has earned no Christmas presents.

My fear is his birthday will come and we'll have to return presents because he did not earn them back. Part of me wants to stick to my guns and take the presents back to show him we will follow through (though I really don't think he questions our follow through. We are not wafflers!). The other part of me thinks this would be a great lesson to demonstrate God's grace and explain how God gave us the free gift of salvation and eternal life even though we make bad choices. How do we know which is the right decision? I'm exhausted thinking about it. Today I feel like the world's worst...and meanest...parent.


"Growth in the Midst of Obstacles"

This weekend I've been thinking an awful lot about priorities and how I divide my time. On my 10 miler yesterday, I listened to Mumford and Sons, and the song, "Awake My Soul" , my favorite Mumford song, came on. There's a line in here that reads, "Where you invest your love, there you invest your life..." The truth of this lyric hits me every time I hear it.

Then today at church, our pastor's sermon was titled "Obstacles in the Midst of Growth;" he preached out of Acts 6:1-7. If you're not familiar with it, Acts describes the birth of the Christian, New Testament church. In this portion of Acts, the disciples experience a huge increase in the number of believers...the text doesn't say exactly, but our pastor likened it the growth to going from 500 to 8,000 believers in a matter of months. His sermon focused primarily on how the church should respond to obstacles presented by growth. In this particular instance in the New Testament church, the number of believers increased so rapidly that other things were being neglected, namely helping widows and preaching the word of God (Acts 6: 1-2). So, the leaders of the day suggested that they choose seven wise men who were filled with the Spirit to carry out these deeds. The body commissioned these men by praying for them, and the text tells of the results: "And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Our pastor pointed out that growth requires an element of change without changing our principles, just like the apostles decided in the situation above. They knew they had to adjust things in order to keep their principles alive. I kept thinking about this in terms of my own life--as my family grows and as I grow as a teacher, there are more demands on my time. Sometimes I slip into survival mode; our pastor described this by saying we get so busy doing things right that we don't stop to reflect on whether or not we are doing the right things. My survival mode doesn't always maintain my principles. When I'm entrenched in this mentality, I trade my Bible time for grading time. I spend more time working than with my family. I eat crap food instead of healthy food. My principles get shoved aside in survival mode.

The leaders of the early church had things figured out. When they experienced the obstacles of growth, they didn't slip into survival mode. They spent more time praying than planning, they studied the word, they relied on the power of the Holy Spirit, and fellowshipped with other believers. This is what allowed their growth to be successful (Acts 6:7). It's a great template for how to manage our own obstacles as we grow in our families and careers.



I guess I realized this week that this is the only space I haven't made our upcoming adoption public, so this is me making it public. The end of this month will mark four months with our little man. It's been a trying four months, but last week we were reviewing some of his files and doing paperwork for our adoption finalization, and we were reminded how much he's grown in a year. He's an incredible little boy whose traveled a rough road, and unfortunately his memory is impeccable. We are not rock star parents, but we are stable for him. And stability does a whole lot of good for kids.

After he's with us for 6 month, he can officially become ours. He has begun calling us mom and dad more consistently, and a few times he's said his last name was Helzer. He also claims Sampson is his brother, so I'd say he's fairly warm to the idea of us adopting him. 

While the road to parenthood has not been easy for us, I wouldn't trade it for anything. This little guy has captured our hearts and made us feel a love we've never known before.


Why I'm okay with being mediocre this year

Three years ago I spent some of my free time creeping on teacher acquaintances CV's on the inter-webs drooling over their publications, their awards, their conference presentations...many of these were teachers under the age of 30. In addition to feeling like a stalker, I felt unaccomplished. I wanted an impressive resume like these folks. So I read, researched, wrote proposals, presented at conferences, drafted articles (that have never been sent), and networked like crazy in hopes of someday making it big in education...whatever the hell that means. The truth is, I really love that nerdy stuff, so it was easy to immerse myself.  But my ultimate goal was to have a kick-ass resume, to be the best teacher western Nebraska had ever seen. I about killed myself striving for this; I quickly reached that burn-out phase by my last year in Ogallala and hoped a change of venue would give me a pick-me-up. Turns out, it made things worse. Last April I resigned from my post in Gretna and vowed to take a year off to give myself time to breathe. Yet, I find myself in a classroom again. This year is different, though. Instead of striving for perfection, I'm skating by on mediocrity...or that's what it feels like anyway.

With a four year old, I don't have time to lesson plan, grade, reflect, research, call every parent, keep my house clean, run, eat well, etc. etc. Life is so much busier now...I simply can't do all that I did three years ago. I think the real reason I wanted a year off while we acclimated to parenthood is that I was afraid of not being "the best." I have always been a motivated little booger especially with things I love, so settling for less than the best is a difficult concept for me to grasp. But I'm learning to realize that the adjective "best" is relative. While I may not be the best teacher this year, I'm working hard to be the best mom for our new son, the kind of mom he needs right now; I'm striving to be the best wife for my husband--a supportive and consistent partner who has a firm foundation on Christ. These roles are my priority now; they take time away from my job, but I'm learning to be okay with that. I'll still continue to work hard every day to do what's best for my students and give them the best education I can but not at the expense of my family. So if that feels like mediocrity in the classroom, I'll just eat candy to cope :)


This is me attempting to write

A busy four year old, student papers, work commitments, and my own laziness have kept me away from writing far too long. Nevertheless, I'm back. I hope to be back writing more substantial posts on a more regular basis. Here's what's happened while I was away: 

  • Little man has begun calling us mom and dad intermittently. His understanding of family is becoming more "normal." I think he finally realizes that we are not leaving and we're not giving up on him. It's been a rough three months, and while we still have work to do, when I look back and see how much this little guy has grown, my heart swells. It's hard to contain my emotion on this topic.
  • I'm hitting a teaching stride at my new school. I finally feel comfortable in the classroom again. Last year I second-guessed every decision, no matter how insignificant the decision was. A change of venue has been good for me.  My students are challenging, but I like challenging. My goal is to engage them in a way that is natural and thoughtful without all the bells and whistles and entertainment. Currently we're wrapping up the play Our Town, a play that many students find boring and irrelevant. And while I'm sure many of students feel this way about the play, for the past few days while we've read and discussed it, 97% of my students stayed awake. This is no small accomplishment, so I danced out of school that day in celebration. 
  • My voice is still raspy and exhausted. I just finished a round of voice therapy and will visit the ENT again (I'm pretty sure I've paid her mortgage this month) to be told, I'm sure, that I just need to talk less and wait it out. For three months I've been unable to sing; this seems silly, but it's bringing me down hard core. 
  • I've cut my mileage down to focus more on being a mom...and guess what: I've come to enjoy running more without the pressures of training weighing down on me. Hopefully this elation carries through the cold winter months. 
  • I'm reading again...I've vowed to leave pedagogy alone for now. I'm currently reading Catching Fire and after that am hoping to pick up a copy of The Fault in our Stars. I just need to escape more often so I don't fold under the stresses of parenting and teaching and run away to Portland to become a barista. 
The rest of what I could write most would find dreadfully boring...not that this post is riveting, but it does launch me back into a habit of writing. Stay tuned. 


Headaches and hair loss

Today I think I truly realized that our little dude is way different from us. It's not a bad thing, it's just when I got married, I assumed we'd have kids naturally who would then share some of the same qualities as us: charming, hilarious, smart (stroking the ole ego here)...stubborn, fiery, sassy, clumsy...Even if the kid displays the non-desirable qualities, it seems like they might be easier to deal with since they are at least familiar. However, parenting another person's kid who is nothing like either one of us is proving confusing (that's putting it mildly). Obviously I knew little man is not equal parts me and Nate (the curly hair is a dead give away), but watching him play soccer today really reaffirmed it. I am a competitive person, and I think I was pretty high energy as a kid--as was Nate--so watching our little man stand on the soccer field with his hands in his mouth while most of the other kids herded around the soccer ball on the opposite side of the field was a frustrating experience for both of us. I still can't talk, so I could only text things to Nate to say to encourage little guy to participate---but nothing we said worked. He continued to mosey along the field like nobody else was there. I don't know why it frustrated us so much, but by the end of the hour long ordeal--Nate and I were just frazzled. It seems like this is a common feeling for us lately....

We're two months into this parenting gig, and of course, we are doing the best we can for our little man, but I often feel like we come up short. What works one time with him, doesn't work the second time; I'm all out of creative ideas. Pinterest isn't helping either; those tips may work for super moms but apparently I am not a super mom because having little guy hold his tongue for a time after he says bad words just makes him scream louder, or directing him to stomp on the driveway instead of tantruming again just makes him scream louder and makes us seem like the neighborhood crazies. And the book our therapist gave us on the Boys Town model of parenting: CRAP. None of it worked.

We try our hardest to be consistent with our expectations and consequences, but still, it seems like we do little good. I know it will take time for him to adjust to our home--probably way more time than we originally thought. But my head is pounding, and Nate is losing more hair (if that's even possible)...So what's a parent to do when all hope seems gone?


Musings from a sick day

Since about July 23rd, I've been battling sinus infections, coughs, a sore throat, and an incredible raspy voice. I've been on three rounds of antibiotics and have been to my family practice doctor three times since the end of July. Last week I was running a fever again and just felt crappy--not that this was an out of the ordinary feeling since it's been ongoing for about 8 weeks now--but my doctor finally referred me to an ENT. Yesterday I had the "pleasure" of experiencing a throat scope. They first tried to stick a giant tube and camera down my throat (after they numbed it of course), and though the doc ensured me the numbing medicine would soften my gag reflex, the minute she stuck it part way down my throat, I gagged and nearly vomited all over her. The back up plan was the scope through the nose and down into the throat. She tried my right nostril first, but it was too swollen from my sinus infections. Finally, she got a good look through my left nostril and concluded that I have severe laryngitis. She mentioned there has been some recent bleeding on one of my vocal chords due to the excessive coughing I've had in the last 8 weeks. She prescribed me three different medicines, gave my probiotics to help my digestive system return to somewhat of a normal balance, and then issued a blow: no talking or running for five days (after I run my coughing is just nasty).

"But I teach," I responded.

"No talking," she retorted. "Starting now."

"But I have a 4 year old," I persisted.

With a smile of empathy, she simply replied, "stop talking" and handed me a letter that stated I couldn't return to work until Tuesday.

So here I am. 8:30 AM on a Thursday in my pajamas, writing. While it's a pain in the backside to miss school (luckily tomorrow is a staff development day), I have to admit that I felt a little relieved when she handed me that letter. This school year has been exhausting. This week in particular I've been swamped with grading and feel like I just cannot catch up (guess what I'll be doing during my time off?!). I often catch myself wondering what it would be like had I followed through with my original plan to sub and work at the Writing Center...it's a fantasy, really. No grading. No pressure. More time with my husband and little man. I'm sure it wouldn't be as perfect as my mind has created it to be, and I know that my current position allows me to make a bigger impact on kids since I'm consistently around them; the consistent pay check is nice especially as we consider planning a vacation to Colorado this summer so little man can experience the mountains. I just get myself so worked up and wrapped into my job. I confess that I've (dare I say it) cared too much about my job--I'd even say I've made my job an idol. And because that's been my habit for 5 years, it's difficult to break. It's true that little man's mere presence forces me to invest less in my job, but there is an anxiety and a guilt that come with this. I feel anxious that I'm not as prepared as I should be. I feel like I'm not doing enough for my students. I try not to work when little dude is awake, but I suck at that...especially on the weekends. I use every minute of my planning period and my before and after school time, and when little guy goes down for bed, it's off to work I go, but I still feel behind. I think that's just the curse of an English teacher...especially a type A English teacher. Life would be easier if I could be more laid back and just learn to chill out. But that's just not me...and it drives me to the point where my body just shuts down and gives me a big "f-you."

I wonder if I'll ever be able to find a balance between teaching and parenting/marriage/personal life (what's a personal life?!?). Teaching is one of my passions, but I don't want that passion to be number one in my life anymore. I know that I need to work less, I just don't know how to do it. If you have the answers to this, feel free to send them my way; I'm all ears.


No longer a hare

Note: My students are currently writing personal narratives with fairy tale motifs. I try to write with my students each time, so this is the piece I will be sharing with them tomorrow. It's a debrief of this weekend's events. 

The alarm sounded with a screech at 4:30 AM on a Saturday morning. Perturbed, I poked the snooze button and pulled the covers over my head wishing for two more hours of sleep. The cobwebs of sleep were still thick in my head, and last night’s Nyquil had not yet worn off. My head was heavy with congestion and my throat burned. After five minutes of wishing I were sleeping, I mechanically kicked off the covers and swung my legs to the side of the bed. It was race day. Normally on race days I hop out of bed to the alarm, no matter how early, in anticipation for the event for which I’ve spent weeks and hours of my time training. But this race did not excite me. The task itself was daunting: The Double Half Mary. Run 13.1 miles on Saturday and 13.1 miles on Sunday. What made it worse was a lack of preparedness. For every race I’ve ever done, I’ve spent weeks diligently training, running through snow, hail, wind, sinus infections, and sore muscles. I’ve monitored my food intake and documented miles ran, never missing a weekend long run. But this race was different. I was running this race with a new hat: my momma hat.

We were thrust into parental roles a little over a month ago when we began the process of adopting an energetic, lovely, and challenging four-year old. No matter how a couple becomes parents, the event requires a lifestyle change. I no longer had the leisure to run whenever I felt like it because our new son dictated my schedule. My long runs felt exhausting because of the later nights I put in working after he fell asleep. To top it all off, since our little boy moved in, I’ve battled a sinus infection. I simply did not have the energy to diligently train for this race. I did what I could and felt selfish for being away from my family for four hours at a time on the weekends so I could run; I no longer had the spring in my step that allowed me to run 8:30/mile pace. Honestly, most days, I didn’t even want to run.

With my momma hat lingering above me, I lined up at the starting line to run my first 13.1. The starting signal sounded, and I shuffled out feeling more like the tortoise than the hare. It felt like hoards of people were passing me. By mile 10 the sun was hot and my head felt heavy. The trail seemed to be spinning around me. Out of fear of passing out, I slowed my shuffle to a walk and silently cursed myself for signing up for this race…I still had 3.1 miles to the finish line and another 13.1 miles the next day. The last time I had to stop and walk in a race was during my first full marathon. I gave myself a minute of walking, and then picked up the pace a bit. The last 3.1 miles to the finish line were mentally and physically brutal. I crossed the finish line with no sense of satisfaction or pride.

As I walked off the pain of the morning’s run, a fellow runner and momma caught me, gave me a high-five, and yelled, “Great job!”

Sensing my disappointment, she reigned in the enthusiasm and said, “Just remember…this is your new PR as a mom. It’s hard to run and be a mom, and it will be until your little man is grown. I ran my fastest time in years today because my daughter is grown and in college. You’re just entering a new phase in your life. Cut yourself some slack.” 

While I didn’t feel okay with my time that was eleven minutes slower than my PR immediately after this chat, later that afternoon I came to accept my 2:03 half marathon time. I will not be a speedy hare for probably quite a few years as I juggle my role as a mom. But being a mom is something I’ve wanted for seven years, and if this comes with my new role as a tortoise, then so be it.

The next morning my alarm sounded again at 4:30 AM, and despite the soreness in my legs, I woke up quicker than the previous morning. Soon I was pounding pavement for another 13.1 miles. My time was four seconds slower than the previous day’s, but I crossed the finish line today with a sense of accomplishment: I am no hare, but I managed to survive my first month of motherhood AND run a Double Half Mary. I’d say that’s an okay accomplishment.


A fish out of water

I've sort of survived three weeks of a new teaching gig.

Going into this, I knew teaching in an urban school would come with its challenges---however, I could not anticipate the breadth of the challenges I'd face. My students are diverse, culturally, academically, economically, and in maturity. I'm gathering that many do not easily trust adults. Appropriate interaction with authority figures is sometimes difficult for many of them. Rules? Many will tell you where you can stick those rules. While these qualities apply to most adolescents anywhere in the country--they are more noticeable in urban areas simply because of higher populations. I knew before that urban areas are hugely under resourced. But knowledge and first-hand experience are two different beasts.

I'm still learning the nuances of my new district and its students we serve, and I feel a bit like a fish out of water. I left school today feeling pretty defeated. I've prided myself on being a good problem solver who is quick on her feet, but some of the problems I've already faced in the classroom have left me dumbfounded. On some levels, my classroom management has to change. My expectations need to be revised to better meet the needs of the students I serve. I have to think more creatively about how to approach reading and writing with a lack of resources. Unfortunately, I can't immediately come up with a solution to these dilemmas.

This year will be messy.


Some verses to sink your teeth into

"When I think of all this [Christ's death on the cross that wiped away our sins and allowed us to come directly to God rather than through Old Testament type sacrifices], I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God" (Ephesians 3:14-19).

This is Paul's prayer for the Ephesians...tonight it's my prayer for little man.


Dwelling on blessings

It's easy in the daily grind to dwell on how difficult life sometime is. This week in particular has been trying for our new family. Little man is still trying to find his place and role in our family, so he is busy pushing every boundary. A lot is changing in his life, too. He's experienced more than many adults have, and because he's only four, he doesn't quite have the language to express himself. He expresses himself the best he knows how: through tantrums, fits, and negative behaviors. Oh...and we started school last week. It's been an exhausting week.

I'm still balancing this mother act (poorly, I might add), and this week I feel like my Bible time has been limited. Pre-kid, my quiet time was in the morning before school. It set a great tone for the day. I've tried to read the Bible in the mornings while we all eat breakfast, but inevitably I'm interrupted with puddles of syrup dripping from the table, at least six almost spilled glasses of milk, and random facts from little dude as he muses about the world over frozen waffles (I seriously never thought I'd feed my kid a frozen waffle...now I have a box of 60 in my freezer---thanks Costco). Morning Bible time= 0, little man= 17. I've tried reading at night after we put little man to bed and after I squeeze in an hour of work. This is usually an utter failure as I wind up asleep after two verses (no offense God). Tonight I switched it up. Right after we put little man down, I grabbed my Bible--before my work. I was heading to my favorite chair when little man wandered out in his Angry Bird pj's and whimpered, "I'm scared...will you come rub my back?" ASDOIUHAGER('8350q57717357! I thought. I love this child dearly, but I feel like the minute I might be able to sneak a bit of me time in, I'm needed again. After the week we've had, I was really ready for some quiet time in the Word. Nevertheless, I brought my Bible into his rom and laid out the conditions: I'd sit in his room with him, but I was going to read from the Bible...and not the one with pictures...and he couldn't talk and needed to close his eyes. I flipped to Ephesians for no reason other than I felt like it and began reading.

A few verses in I read, "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding" (Ephesians 1:3-8). The whole first chapter of Ephesians is gang-busters. I just love it. But these five verses really sunk deep into my heart tonight. This week I've let my frustrations claw their way into my heart and fill it almost entirely so that I was blinded from the blessings God has given me...the most important: My inclusion into God's family; His grace through His son. It was like a dope-slap from God.

This year will be crazy as we figure out how to be a family on top of teaching full time, and I'm sure the crazy will sneak up on me drive me bananas. But I know it's easier to be a good mother and a decent teacher when I'm overflowing with joy than seething with irritation, so my goal this year is to guard my heart from frustration replace it with gratitude. No easy task for sure, but a worthwhile venture, I'd say.


I never thought I would...

I never thought I would...
  • Wear capris (in 6th grade I remember walking through a JC Penney with my cousin when capris first came out again...I thought they were the dumbest excuse for pants)
  • Enjoy the sound of a well-picked banjo (in my younger years, punk music could often be heard blaring from the crappy speakers of my 1983 Acura)
  • Run a marathon (I was a sprinter in high school)
  • Stay in Nebraska (I had big aspirations of becoming an actress in Chicago or New York)
  • Hold a full time job (after reading Kerouac and Steinbeck, I dreamed of being a wanderer pausing here and there to work odd jobs)
  • Become a foster parent (five years ago we attended 2 hours of an 8 hour foster-parenting workshop, and I left at the lunch break sobbing and swearing I could NEVER be a foster parent)
  • Become a teacher (the Peace Corps was more up my alley back in my high school days)
  • Settle down (see bullet 4)
  • Crave bacon (I was a vegetarian for two years...and now I LOVE bacon)
  • Miss living in a small town (I love Omaha, but a lot of times I feel cramped and just need to stretch out my legs, breathe in fresh air, and hear only the sound of gravel beneath my feet)
This is just an abbreviated list of things I thought I'd never do. Some of these are insignificant but others on the list are such huge pieces of my identity. I cannot picture my life without running. It's just about the only activity that allows me to feel...clean. I know that sounds crazy, but running to me is so pure. There's not much to taint it (other than eating macaroni and cheese before a 3 mile run in 91 degree weather with humidity that instantly sticks to your face), and it's an incredible detox from a crappy day. Though I'm weirdly in love with Portland and the Pacific Northwest, Nebraska has such a diverse landscape from end to end. Its wide open spaces have a way of forcing me into myself. I always imagined I'd marry young, but I never thought I'd have a desire to lay down roots. I think marriage has a settling effect on a person, and the longer I'm married, the more I long for a sense of community to share with my husband. 

Today I can add another one to the list: I never thought I would accept a full time English job for the 2013-2014 school year.  


I resigned from my teaching position in Gretna last year (a district with an incredible leadership team) ready to be done with teaching English maybe forever. There were a lot of factors that played into my sudden nervous breakdown and early mid-life crisis, but the main issue was that I really wanted to have more time. So I resigned and swore that I'd substitute teach for a year until I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. As the school year approached, I wasn't sad about my decision like I thought I would be. I felt relieved. Our lives have been absolutely nuts since we've become full time foster parents. Our little boy is wonderful, but he's also exhausting and challenging.

Then on Friday morning, someone from HR at Omaha Public Schools called to schedule an interview with me, but she wouldn't tell me for which position. I figured it couldn't hurt to interview; I actually kind of like interviewing (is that weird?!). So on Monday I interviewed twice--once at HR and once at Burke High School where Nate teaches. At the end of the interview, the principal offered me the position. Rather than being excited, I wanted to cry when I left. The last thing it seemed I needed was a full time English position. But Nate and I talked through our options until we fell asleep that night. This morning I made four pro's and con's lists and then threw them all away. I sent a few emails, made a few calls, read a few Psalms, prayed a bunch, played the "what-if" game until my head hurt and then called to accept the position. While I'm nervous about the balancing act, I'm excited to be in the same school as Nate, to have only one prep, to teach some cool books, to work with diverse students, etc. etc. I start tomorrow--about a week later than the other new teachers, and kids start in one week. Nothing like hitting the ground running. 

What's funny is that the things that we think we need the least, often become significant components of our lives...like bacon. Perhaps this sudden change in plans will be like that for me. Time will tell. 


My fears

Last weekend was our first full weekend with the little man, and like we expected would happen during our first long weekend--we experienced the behaviors people had been telling us about. The trigger: exhaustion. He met my family on Friday night and played hard outside with them, and then Saturday morning we set out for an overnight camping trip nearby with the Helzer family. He spent the entire weekend being active outdoors (he also has bad allergies), and on Sunday when we got home, he melted. All over. Loud enough for the neighbors to hear. It was like we were dealing with a completely different kid for about 25 minutes. I won't go into specifics about his behavior, but at one point I ended up in the living room sobbing, and Nate--my typically strong, unshakable husband, had a slight quiver in his voice. Eventually the storm subsided. We talked through it, brainstormed better behaviors, and dished out consequences. But the rest of the day and really, for about three days after, my fears about this placement, a possible adoption, and parenting took root in my mind.

There's so much I fear about this new stage in our life. I fear that we're not prepared to parent this child who is resiliant beyond belief yet still delicate. I fear Sunday's tantrum will happen when he's at children's church and that it will cause him to be labeled by the other kids and their parents. I fear people will not be understanding with his behaviors, that they'll fail to realize there is a very good reason why he acts this way. I'm nervous that the other grandkids on Nate's side won't get along with him. I've always had this fear that if we adopted/fostered a child, that he/she would be an outcast in the family since he/she isn't a biological, blood relative. I fear our marriage will suffer. I'm nervous that little man will pick up on the fact that we're novice parents feeling our way through. I'm nervous that I'll be too overbearing with him. I fear we're not "spiritual" enough to develop in him a hunger for the Lord. I worry about disciplining him--do I give time-outs or time-ins?  I fear if this does end up as a long term placement, he'll never attach to us or we'll never attach to him.

The truth is, I'm nervous about the entire transition to becoming full time parents. In one week we will catapult into an entirely different lifestyle. We've desired to be parents for nearly 7 years now, but that's 7 years of adapting to a certain lifestyle where we can go where we want, when we want. I'm ecstatic about the opportunity to be parents to little man whether for a short time or long term--but I guess I never realized the adjustment it would be for 7 year DINKs (double income no kids) like us.

Despite being utterly exhausted yesterday, I stayed up late reading just about every article about adoption, attachment, and discipline that is posted on Focus on the Family's website to try and prepare myself and ease my mind. I ran across this verse in one of the articles, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). Peace for my worrying heart will not come from articles. They may help ease my mind, but prayer and faith in God will bring true peace.  I fell asleep yesterday praying for wisdom, peace, and guidance as we parent this boy. I prayed that we'd be able to protect this boy from harm, nurture him well, and help him grow into a well-adjusted young man who serves the Lord. I was able to fall asleep that night peacefully for the first time in three nights. It will take a lot of prayer and time to help settle my troubled heart, but over time I hope replacing worry with prayer and faith will come more automatically to me.


Foster care 101

Let me begin by saying that I am still trying to feel my way through this whole foster-parenting business. I don't have all of the answers to every question, and sometimes I don't even know where to begin to find out the answers. On our walk last night, Nate and I talked through a few "foster care issues" we'd each been mulling on individually, and it was surprising to hear how many varied questions we each had. As we talked we realized that if we had this many questions after taking a 10 week training course on the topic, we can't imagine how many questions others might have. So this post is an attempt to address some FAQ's or anticipated FAQ's; I tend to take on a bit of a snarky tone at times mainly because I appreciate sarcasm. Please don't be offended.

Why do you always call him "little man" in this space? And why haven't you posted any mug shots of the cutie-patootie?!
Believe me, I WANT to post pictures of little man, but due to confidentiality, we cannot. We cannot share photos online, reveal identifying information, share personal information about his background/family story.

So, what's his story? Why is he in foster care? Where are his parents?
Many people have asked these questions. And while I think people are generally well-intentioned when asking, I also find the questions a little nosy. This information is incredibly personal and cannot be shared with others. It's not our story to tell.

What should I call him? 
Okay, I know this seems like a bizarre question, but let me explain:  Nate and I talked last night about how we will introduce him to people--he's not our son and he knows we're not his parents (though we will treat him and love him as if he were our own), and saying he's our friend just makes us look creepy. We also don't want to introduce him as our foster son because that's a big label with lots of connotations. He's young enough that he doesn't understand the concept of foster care; he doesn't know he's a "foster kid." So, we will introduce him to others by calling him his name. And if you should meet him, please don't ask, "Oh, is this your FOSTER KID?!" No matter how much the question is marked with enthusiasm, it will still provide for an awkward situation. And nobody likes to be awkward. If you don't know his name or who he is, treat him like you would any other person and ask him his name.

How long will he be with you?
He'll be with us for however long God wants him to be with us. This is part of the excitement and uncertainty of foster care.

Why does he do ____________?
If you've spent any amount of time with children, you know they are unpredictable little boogers who sometimes do odd things that leave adults scratching their noggins. A teacher once told me that there is a reason behind every behavior. The more time I spend with people (not just kids), the more I believe this. When I keep this concept in mind, I tend to be more understanding and gracious with others. That doesn't mean I let people get away with murder because they were exposed to violence at a young age--appropriate consequences still apply for unacceptable behavior. However, this does mean that I try to understand why said person did said thing instead of labeling the person by his/her behavior. For example, I had a student once who would punch the wall or drop F-bombs whenever he was angry. Each time he did this, I'd give a consequence (a trip to the office for the demonstration of excellent vocabulary acquisition) or a detention or other appropriate consequence for his incredible pain threshold (seriously, the kid never flinched when he beat the concrete wall). It would have been easy to label him as a "bad kid" because of his behaviors. Doing so would've made the years I spent with him unbearable. Though it was frustrating and difficult, I tried to step back and understand why he engaged in these behaviors by talking to him after he was cooled off (it never did me any good to talk to him when he was punching walls or spitting out swear words). If our little man does something odd, like dip his pizza in his applesauce (which he is prone to do) or otherwise, please, please don't write him off as weird, messed up, bad, etc. Remember: there is a reason behind every behavior. (Side bar: Please tell us about unusual behavior, but don't ask why he did _____ either; we likely can't tell you anyway).

How much do you get paid to be a foster parent?
Really? How much do you get paid to do your job? 'Nuff said. (All sarcasm aside: I have no idea how much a foster parent gets paid. I think it's a case by case situation.)

This post has dragged on long enough. If you have other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or email me personally. I promise to avoid sarcasm in my response. We truly appreciate your interest in our process of becoming parents!


Needs and would-like's

Preface: This post makes me feel a little selfish, but many of our family and friends want to help and have asked for specifics on what we need for the little dude. Now that we've spent a little more time with him and have done our first overnight (that was successful, I might add!), we know more about what we need. So for those of you who have asked--here's our more specific list of needs and would-like's to help make the transition to our home a little more smooth for the little guy:

  • Little kid medicine stuff (we had to give him some liquid allergy medicine this weekend, and he was insistent that our Pampered Chef teaspoon was not what we should be using to give him his medicine)--thermometer, medicine spoons, etc.
  • We have started a small collection of clothes thanks to some awesome friends, but we could always use more. He currently wears a 4T. Pajamas, athletic shorts, socks, underwear, church clothes, etc. would all be nice. 
  • Shoes--he wears a size 10 right now.
  • An outdoor storage system for all of our outdoor toys. We have become "those" people--the ones who leave their kid's baseballs, bats, buckets, trucks, etc. scattered throughout the lawn. 
  • Toys--he LOVES, LOVES, LOVES firetrucks, police cars, and motorcycles. He was also smitten with the play tool set that we saw at Target. He's a big Spiderman fan as well.
  • Games/puzzles/tactile learning games--this kid is brilliant. He can put together a 48 piece puzzle in no time. He loves problem solving, tactile games. 
  • Boy books--have I mentioned how heartbroken I am that he's not a fan of reading? I won't give up hope here. Boy books about trucks, superheros, gross things, etc. would be fantastic. 
  • Bath stuff--toys, towels, wash cloths (we actually only have two wash cloths...is that weird?!), etc.
  • Clock for his room--he's very into knowing what time it is. 
  • Kitchen stuff--Plates with a lip around the edge; the plates without the lip don't work well for him. Most of the food usually ends up in his lap or in Sampson's mouth. We have enough cups (thanks to the Nebesniaks and Valentis!), and he has one Camelbak bottle that he loves, but another water bottle might be nice. 
  • Inflatable pool--he's a bit freaked out by water right now, so we thought this might help ease his fears. 
  • A slip and slide--really, this is more for me than him.
  • Movies -- examples such as Veggie Tales, SpongeBob, Dora, Thomas the Train
I think this is about all for now.  Again, we are not too good to receive hand-me-downs, garage sale items, etc! Hopefully we'll get a chance to introduce him to many of you in the next few weeks! Thanks to those of you who have helped us so far through prayer, kind words, or by buying stuff for us. We appreciate it! 


The joy of making music

This weekend I spent some much needed time with friends at the Flatwater Music Festival in Hastings. Three years ago I stumbled upon this festival when I saw a flier advertising it at the Back Alley Bakery (quite possibly the best bakery in central Nebraska). For two years I attended as a festival goer, enjoying the music and local artists. This year was different because the band I used to sing in when we lived in Ogallala got a chance to open up the festival and play on Friday night. 

I've always had a bad case of stage fright that comes out in my singing with a trembly vibrato and flat notes. It's been almost a year since we all played together, so it took me quite a while to work through my nerves. Our sound check a few hours before was shaky at best. I had lugged my guitar along but left it in the car because I was so nervous that I didn't think I could play and sing at the same time. I wasn't even sure I could make any sort of sensible notes come out of my mouth (especially considering how terrible I sounded during our sound check). After the sound check, I was convinced that our performance would be a flop. I had visions of tripping over mic cords and falling into banjos. The worst-case scenarios continued to build in my mind as the clock ticked closer to performance time. While we waited to take stage, we continued to play through our set list, pausing here and there to joke around. About a half hour before we went on stage, I suddenly realized I was with a few of my best friends doing something I love: making music. I've spent a lot of my life worrying and stressing about being absolutely perfect that I've missed opportunities to just enjoy moments. I didn't want this moment to be stolen by worry. It took a lot of inner-head talk, but before we went on stage, I vowed to just have fun and enjoy the time I had with my friends. And 'ya know what? It worked. I've been performing in different capacities for many years, but this is probably first time I've really enjoyed myself.

On the drive home I was coming off of a serious music high. I couldn't help but think back through all the great memories I have: high school choir concerts (Celeste, Hannah, and Autumn--remember our last concert and what we "wore" beneath our choir robes?!), directing musicals with my husband, dancing with my niece Alexis on the deck at my mother in-law's house to Old Crow Medicine Show, falling in love with a clean-cut guy in a pink tie across the room my first day of college choir (that was Nate in case you were wondering!), playing and singing on a street corner in Norfolk with my high school friend Jon, sitting around Bob and Shannon's kitchen table drinking wine and singing...the list of great memories involving music in my life feels endless. All of my closest friendships are with musicians. I wish I could express this in a more eloquent manner; there's just something about making music with people that forges a unique and deep bond. Music has a way of connecting people and forging communities.

I'll end with a few photos from the weekend for your viewing pleasure--
During our performance as we waited for our guest clogger to come join us for a song
On Saturday we played for a group of senior citizens at an assisted living facility in Hastings; they were the best crowd!
We made the front page of the Hastings newspaper!


Everything I need to know about parenting, I'm learning from a four year-old

Today was our first "full day"with the little dude. 11 hours straight. Some of you parents with one, two, three or more children, won't even blink at our 11 hour visit, but it was exhausting for us. For seven years we've basically had peace and quiet with just the two of us. A busy four year old can quickly shatter that silence...in a good way. Tonight when we dropped him off, I expected to be excited to return to a quiet home. But once we got home, the house was just too quiet. Little man's mini-CamelBak water bottle remained on the table from dinner and our towels and sunscreen from today's escapade through the sprinkler lingered on our back deck. The house just felt feels empty. I'm glad we're taking our time with the transition to move him over to our house (it's looking like he might be living with us by late July/early August), but the joy and excitement he brings to our house is incredible. Our visit today wasn't all unicorns farting butterflies--there were some serious good choice/bad choice conversations, a time out here and there, and some pure head-scratching instances.

Aside from common sense and what we've learned from our foster/adoption classes, I'm basically and idiot when it comes to parenting. Luckily, this four year old is teaching me all I need to know. Here's just a few lessons from the day:
  • Farmers markets are not as interesting to a lively four year old boy as they are to me. He was well-behaved after we bought him donut holes...(except for the small incident where he threw the last three on the ground because he didn't like them any more...and after Nate made him pick them up and throw them in a trash can)
  • Sometimes donuts ARE the answer. The minute we got to the farmers market he told us he was hungry and proceeded to tell us he was hungry every two minutes until we finally found a vendor selling something that wasn't green. 
  • Kids are messy; ergo, a house with a kid in it will not be spic and span. The kid tries incredibly hard (after he's reminded) to eat with a fork. But he's still at the stage where he has to steady his watermelon with his left hand and stab it with his right hand. Of course, the juice from the watermelon and the broccoli from his plate ended up on his arms, shirt, pants, chair cushion, and floor. Sampson has now taken perch beneath his chair during meal or snack times. 
  • Along the same lines, give a kid sand and it will end up in his hair. Little dude's foster mom sent over some of his toys (have I mentioned how awesome that woman is?! She could keep these toys for her little one at home, but she wants little man to be comfortable in this transition and have some of his own stuff at our place), one of which is a water and sand table. There's a little compartment for the sand and another section for the water. The two elements remained separate for about two minutes before he decided to combine them. About thirty minutes later I caught him dumping the sandy water on his beautiful, curly locks. And I did not stop him. I just let him rub the sand into his hair (don't judge me). A few minutes after that, he realized he could use that sandy water and some lingering dirt in the yard to make mud. And once a boy has realized he can make mud, there is no stopping him. 
  • Boys who say they hate reading simply haven't found the right books yet. Last visit I was thrilled to show the little guy all the picture books I'd been collecting over the years (including a picture book of Bob Dylan's hit song, "Forever Young") when he crushed my spirit by telling me he hated books, turning instead to his more "boy" toys. That night I purchased a kids collection of DC Comics. We read one today before his nap, and he was enthralled.
I feel like I could go on and on about what I learned today during our short time with the little man. I know we have so much more to learn, and I'm looking forward to all he will teach us. If you're the praying type, please pray for this little guy as he transitions. I know this is tough on him (conversations with him and some of his behaviors tell us it's tough on him), and we just want to do what's best for this kid. Pray that we'd find that very delicate balance between attachment and guarding our own hearts. Like I mentioned earlier, nothing is ever absolute with foster care/adoption until certain papers are signed, and we care a lot for this kid already. Pray for patience for us and strength in our faith and marriage as we increase our visits with little guy. And pray for his foster mom; she loves him so much, and I'm sure it's hard to see him transition out of her home. Pray also for his biological family, that they'd have wisdom and would make decisions based on his best interest. 

Many of you have indicated you'd like to help us out by purchasing things we need---here's an update: we will likely be putting together a more specified list/registry in the near future. We are waiting to see what his foster mom sends over, and the more he comes over, the more we realize what else we need. Once we get the list created, I'll post it on the blog. 

We truly appreciate the support so many of you have offered through prayers, kind words of encouragement, kid items, etc. Hopefully we'll be able to introduce him to some of you in the near future! 


My new job

This summer I'm working part-time as a consultant at Omaha Metropolitan Community College's writing centers. I'm happy to still be using my Masters Degree, and this writing center gig seems to be a great blend of writing instruction meets social justice. It allows me to talk with writers about their writing rather than talk to/at writers about their writing. I've only had four consultations so far, but from what I can tell--I'm not as good at this as I thought I'd be, and I think my experiences as a high school English teacher have contributed to this.

I'm learning that a writing center consultation should be writer-centered. As a consultant, I should work to understand (via questioning and listening) the writer's background, context, and the institutional demands of the assignment. My goal seems to be to help students creatively and critically negotiate these concepts through their writing. This seems difficult to me because there is no concrete blueprint of what this looks like. I've read about five articles on writing center theory and practice, and while they were provocative, I struggled through each one. Maybe it's because I'm not as intelligent as the people meant to read each article, or maybe it's because I'm accustomed to teachers' guides filled with suggestions and tips--but what I really wanted was a list of questions I could ask each writer during a consultation. Of course, these probably don't exist because each consultation will be different since each writer is different. I have to rely on my own intuition, education, and knowledge, which, for someone who is a bit overly analytical and self-conscious, can be intimidating.

You might be thinking: Helzer, you're an English teacher! Don't you "consult" with kids every day about their writing? The truth is, no, I don't. I can't always do this work in the traditional high school English classroom because of the institutional demands I face: timeliness, curricular confines, pressures to be on "the same page" as the other section teachers of my class, expectations of administrators/parents/students, etc. It is a teacher's responsibility to be critical and negotiate these demands with her own background, strengths, student make up, knowledge of best practice, etc. However--depending on the space and its culture--teachers are limited in what they can do. I would've loved to have sat down with all of my 110 students each time we wrote to talk with them about their writing before they turned it in; perhaps if I had stuck around Gretna long enough, I would've learned how to navigate this. But I just didn't have time. I felt like I was racing through the year from one assignment to the next (I can't imagine how my students felt!). When I did get a chance to talk with my comp. students about their writing, it was clumsy and awkward because we simply didn't do enough of it. Oftentimes I handed back writing assignments with editing marks and a brief justification of their grade scribbled at the bottom. I felt like a gatekeeper who controlled everything; admittedly, the writing process was not very democratic in my classroom.

Thus, the opportunity to work as a writing center consultant is an exciting challenge. I'm hoping to learn how to do this "negotiating" business so I can help students develop agency in an institutionalized setting. I suspect that when I return to the high school classroom I'll be more equipped to navigate the system so I can help my students more democratically. Hopefully I'll get better at this writing center business as the summer progresses!


The end of a beginning

Well, in less than a week we will be completed with our PS-MAPP foster training coursework. After we're finished, the licensing department of our agency will come out and inspect our home, likely give us a list of things we need to do, and then come back to be sure we're in compliance and to do some interviews with us before sending our paperwork to the state. The state will then decide if they'll issue or deny us licensing. We've waited somewhat patiently for five years to be parents, so the wait for our license to be foster parents could seem like an eternity.

In the meantime, we plugged our outlets with those super swanky plastic outlet plugs and outfitted our dangerous stuff (like my gummy multi-vitamins) with child locks...and we prepped one of our spare rooms because we are currently working on transitioning a little man to our family!

Our new bunk beds courtesy of an incredibly generous colleague of mine from Gretna High...thanks Steph! 

 We've had two visits with him already, and I can tell you that he is a handsome charmer. He's four years old and incredibly intelligent for his age. He is in foster care, so we're not sure how long we'll get to spend with the little guy, but as of now, the plan is to  transition him from his current foster family to us. His current foster family is awesome, but they cannot provide a permanent home for him should he become free and clear for adoption. The agency is trying to be proactive in finding families who could meet his needs now through foster care and perhaps in the future permanently. Because we're open to both fostering and adoption, we're working on the transition to our home. Moving a kid to a new home, even if it is a good home, is a traumatic experience (as you can imagine). So, we're taking the transition slowly. We'll use the time between now and the time we receive our license (assuming we will), to get to know the little man. I have big plans which include trips to a paint your own pottery studio, a bounce house, the zoo, a few museums, lots of trips to the park, etc. After a certain point, he'll be able to spend a night or two with us, hence the bunk beds pictured above! Periodically we'll post updates, but please know that we cannot and will not share specific information in order to maintain confidentiality.

We're not quite sure on the time frame, and we've learned that with foster care and adoption, nothing is ever certain until papers are signed by the appropriate folks. So, there's even a chance that he may not move in with us. All we know is that right now the plan is to transition him to our home. So he will be spending time with us at our home. The dilemma: We don't have a lot of kid stuff. We bought bedding and we've acquired enough furniture for the bedroom, and my folks bought us a carseat (thanks mom and dad!), but otherwise we don't have anything. I'm sure if the placement will go through, we'll need clothes, toys, toiletries, kitchen stuff, and whatever else a four year old needs. Because, like most people who first have children the "normal" way, we cannot afford to go out and just buy all of this stuff on our own, we have created a wish list of items. We didn't complete a typical registry at a store, because we didn't want to limit people by specifying items. We are down to earth folks who are okay with hand-me-downs and gently used items. In a nutshell, if you have some of the following items lying around the house or if you simply want to contribute, check out the list below. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me via cell phone (if you have my number) or email (helzerdm@gmail.com).

Our list of needs for the little man: 
Clothes (size ??? I'll confirm this one later!)
Kids bath towels
Step stool
Toys (he likes Spiderman, trucks, cars, Dora the Explorer, Spongebob, etc)
Toy chest
A bike
Bike helmet 
Kids movies (Dora and Spongebob are his favorite TV shows)
A toy lawn mower (back story: at our last visit, he pointed to our lawn mower and asked if we could teach him how to use it)
And anything else a four year old needs... 


Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Half Marathon

Last week I ventured to Deadwood, South Dakota to run a half-marathon with my running partner, Kristin. Although Kristin was a trooper and trained all the way up to 18 miles with me during my marathon training, she had never run an "official" half-marathon until this race. It was awesome to join her for this moment. Not only did she run the race, but she ran it in well under two hours smashing her goal all while battling a barrage of recent injuries including IT band issues and a dog bite. Kristin and her husband, Jim, are from the Deadwood/Lead area, so this was also a trip home for the two. It was fun to see their stomping grounds. This particular area of SD, including Spearfish, are gorgeous. The weather was unusually cold, so we didn't get to do much hiking, but we managed to squeeze in a few chilly spurts of hiking and even ventured into an old mine for a tour. The run was on a beautiful course complete with roadside streams, mud puddles, and breathtaking views. The course was mainly downhill, so it was easy to PR on it. I ran a 1:52:59--a PR for me. This wasn't my official recorded time and didn't include stoppint to tie a shoe earlier on, but I think it still counts :) All in all, it was a great mini-vacation.

A pre-mine tour action shot 
A waterfall near Spearfish Canyon

The guy in the middle is Doug; he's a colleague of another runner we know from Ogallala. This was his first half also, and he was a pleasure to run with! About every mile, he'd call out, "Coach! What's our pace?" Dutifully, I'd holler out our pace and mileage...and he'd mutter some sort of profanity and a concern that he might not survive with us...but he did! He ran the half in under two hours as well. It was fun to push each other. 

Providing entertainment for the camera man

Last 1.5 miles of the course...still smiling!


Our new HOME!

It's been a year since we moved, but we've finally been able to purchase a home! I bet we walked through or drove by (and decided not to walk in!) 15-20 homes; after several heated conversations and some compromise, we finally agreed on one. When we walked into the home, Nate and I both knew right away that it was "the one."

Nate really wanted to be a few blocks from Burke, and I wanted to be in Midtown--but we purchased a home in northwest Omaha. It was a bit difficult for me to compromise and agree to looking in this area because I feel like I'm more conscientious about little things than most. But when we considered the needs of our future family (however unpredictable it is), we felt like this was a good area for us. The neighborhood is filled with mature trees (we have an excellent climbing tree in our front yard...as soon as the rain stops, I'm shimming up that bad boy!), diverse families, a park and pool down the street, a soccer and baseball/softball complex a few blocks away, and running trails less than a mile from here. Plus, it's only a ten minute drive for Nate to get to work. The neighborhood is quiet and is tucked away from any major street. 

The house itself is nothing fancy, and it needs a bit of work (we'll be staining the deck and painting the exterior in a few summers...so mark your calendars!), but it's comfortable and inviting. We moved in this last weekend, and after a few days of utter madness, it is finally feeling like our home. Fortunately, we didn't have to do any major work; with the help of our families, we painted nearly every nook and cranny in the house. The only thing left to do is to hang stuff on the walls...it's probably my least favorite part of moving because I'm just not patient or careful enough, and Nate is. So it's a frustrating experience for us!  One of the selling points for us in this house is the massive fenced-in backyard. After nearly a year of being outside on a leash, Sampson has enjoyed the last few days outside on the deck or in the yard flirting with the miniature Dachshund next door. A bonus for us was the basketball hoop in the driveway; needless to say, I've been teaching Nate a thing or two about basketball.

We're excited about the possibilites this new house might allow for! 


Second guessing

I haven't really thought twice about resigning from my teaching job at Gretna...until this weekend. Well, to be fair and honest, a few weeks ago I panicked while driving to school one morning as I thought about not having a definite salary--but today was the first day that I really wondered if resigning was the "right" thing to do.

I have felt like a terrible teacher this year. My personal life has been in such disarray this year, and I feel like it's really caused me to take a step back in the classroom. This chaos coupled with learning the ropes of a new district that works hard to hold kids accountable, left me scrambling. I pride myself in the connections I've been able to make with students during my teaching career. But this year I feel like I merely survived without really getting through to my students. I feel like I've cheated them, and I've often wondered if I've done any good.

I gave a final test on Friday to my juniors. The last question asked them to reveal what this course (English 11 CP) has led them to think more deeply about; many of the responses surprised me. Much of our literature and writing has led us to converse about indifference, intolerance, and empathy. More kids than I expected wrote about how they think about how what they say or do will impact someone else. Some wrote about the lessons they learned about society and the world around them. Others wrote about how challenging the course was, how hard they had to work, and how much they actually had to think about the material. A few left notes of appreciation for me. And because I'm a bleeding heart, many of these responses made me cry. Sure, it's my job to teach these kids English, to make sure they read and write well and are prepared for college. But the most important part of my job, the one I take the most seriously, is teaching my kids how to be humane individuals who look at the world with eyes wide open, who see themselves as individuals capable of making a difference. One of the most rewarding experiences of being a teacher for me is knowing that a kid has picked up on the "secondary" curriculum. I took photos of a few of my favorite responses to the last question on the final so I could keep them. Here are just three of these:

 And as I graded these, I wondered if I had made the right decision to resign. So much of my identity has been wrapped up into my job as an English teacher; it's difficult to imagine life without this.

I lamented to my parents on Friday night about this very concern, but my dad reminded me to remain level-headed about it all. He explained that I decided to leave this job for good and honorable reasons and not to get so wrapped up in the emotions of the end of a year. Simple advice, but it was what I need to hear. I know next year will be difficult to be out of the classroom doing what I love, but I have faith that God has bigger plans for our family. This is not the end of my teaching career. It's just a break in it.