Recognizing color

In my experience, the most meaningful, revelatory conversations happen while we're washing our kids up in the bath. Maybe it's because it's the only time they get to themselves free of stimulus so they are more apt to ponder. Maybe it's the proverbial washing away of the day's worries--whatever it is, I appreciate hearing their insights during bath time. This time as Nate washed K up, I busied myself in the kids' rooms putting clothes away and arranging their books while I listened to Nate and K's conversation unfold.

"I wish my skin was white," she told Nate.

"Why do you wish that?" Nate inquired.

"I don't know," she responded.

To be honest, I didn't hear the rest of the conversation because I immediately began taking inventory of all we did or didn't do to make her wish this. She only has one brown Barbie among a sea of white Barbies; she has one brown baby and two white babies. Characters in the books she has: all white. I immediately felt terrible. All of the stuff we have for her has been acquired in the form of gifts from others--which has been a huge blessing, but it finally occurred to me this weekend that these gifts scream of whiteness. There are only few times in my life where I have been the minority, and each time was uncomfortable. Moving into a new home in a new part of town with a new family of a new skin color...I cannot imagine how awkward she must feel at times. I feel terrible that we didn't think and plan for this.

On Friday I showed my sophomores this TED Talk video from a Nigerian writer (it's embedded below) as they begin to identify the single stories they think people assume about them so they can write pieces that speak back to those stories and reveal who they really are. In the beginning of the lecture Adichie explains that all of the stories she wrote when she was a small girl featured white characters drinking ginger beer playing in the snow and talking about the weather--none of which she actually knew of but had learned about through all the books she read since most of the books she had access to were British. She mentioned that she did not ever see herself in literature as a young child. Sandra Cisneros (one of my favorite writers) also talks about this very concept which is why she wrote The House on Mango Street so she could finally see people like her in books. I don't want K to ever feel inferior because of her skin color...I want her to love her deep chocolate skin and her kinky hair...I've got some work to do.

So, today I spent a good chunk of time online researching the best books for African-American girls and made a trip to the library to find books with main characters that looked like K. I brought home a stack for both kids to read through. After the holidays, I think I will swap out some of her white dolls for darker skinned dolls and invest in more books with kids like her. It's not huge, but at least it's a starting point.


Adjusting to a new identity

I've debated whether or not to write about this or not, but I figured that writing always helps me process things (and this "thing" needs processing) and my writing could help others process similar situations. So...here goes:

I'm done teaching at Burke on December 19th. After lots of praying, I resigned from my teaching contract so I can be more available to my family. It was obviously a hard decision. For too many years I've let my identity be my career (which is very exhausting by the way), so adjusting to my new identity as a mom has been tough. I wish I was one of those people who could do her job, be a loving wife, and parent well. When I come home from school, I'm wiped and have little left to give to my family. So instead of being stressed out for the rest of the year or complaining about it, I just resigned. My teaching certificate was not negatively impacted since I'm not leaving to teach in another district. Instead, I will sub in the Writing Center at Metro Community College until I can get on regularly in March. I am planning on subbing in two districts here in Omaha, and I might adjunct a class in the spring to keep my resume from becoming stagnant. Finances will be tight, but we'll make it work.

I told my kids today at Burke and will tell another group tomorrow--my kids tomorrow will likely not bat an eye, but I had a group of kids today that was pretty upset :( It's hard to leave kids--as much as I want to say that teaching is just a job, it's really not. Teaching is so much more.

I have 14 days left in the classroom. I'm actually feeling pretty good about the decision; I'm sure it will be different when I start packing my boxes, but for now--I'm at peace because it's one we made with great care. Until December 19th, I'll be going gangbusters grading kids' work and packing boxes looking forward to a more free schedule...


Protecting My Marriage

My favorite wedding pic...
I've been thinking a lot lately about marriage. We've been married for about eight and a half years, and in this time we've watched quite a few of our friends' and acquaintances marriages crumble. Each time we hear of another couple we know separating or divorced, I just get so sad. There's no other way to describe it.

It's no lie: Marriage is hard. The first three years of our marriage were rough as we struggled to figure out how to be grown ups (we were both young) and how to be married. I was in my third year of college and Nate in his first year of teaching, so we had no money; we were insecure ourselves and insecure in our relationship with each other. Quite honestly, I think I expected my marriage to fail, so when times got tough, divorce seemed like a solution. It was always a passing thought, but there was one argument in the parking lot of the Columbus Hy-Vee--I don't remember what the issue was, but I mentioned divorce out loud to Nate through sobs. I didn't ask for a divorce or anything, but I said something like, "Maybe we can't fix this..." but we did. We dug our heels in the metaphorical ground, and screamed and cried it out. And in the car that night, we decided that divorce was not an option for us. Some will argue with me, label me as idealistic, and throw out "what if" scenarios. Our marriage has never been perfect. We've hurt each other (sometimes deliberately), we've been tempted, we've been unkind, we've been torn apart by grief, and we've been confused, but I simply refuse to give up on my marriage. I've thought a lot about why our marriage hasn't ended in divorce. I keep coming back to these qualities:

1. We realize our need for a Savior, so we share a foundation in Christ that drives our decisions and sometimes, our actions (we both could use some improvement in this area!).
2. We have fun together. One of the things I love about my husband is his sense of humor and fun-loving personality. We don't do a great job of going or getting out, but we laugh a lot. Even if we're just doing mundane housework at home or watching a stupid YouTube video, we manage to find ways to laugh by being sarcastic.
3. We talk. Too many couples don't find time to talk honestly, and we struggle with this at certain points each year. When our communication decreases, the tension increases, so we try to touch base with each other. We talk after school, as we're getting dinner ready, after we put the kids to bed, and as we fall asleep. These chats aren't always sit down, face to face talks that last a long time. Sometimes they're phone convos, sometimes they're short. We make do with the time we have. It's not always convenient or comfortable, but we realize it must be done.
4. We try to be honest. This is the most difficult for me, I think. I'm not a pathological liar who likes to keep secrets from her husband, but because I'm a thinker and a dweller, I will run things over in my head for weeks wondering if what I have to say will upset or hurt Nate. I'll come up with five different ways to talk to him about whatever it is I need to say instead of just saying it, so before I can even get it out, I've exhausted myself. Then when I do finally say something to Nate, I'm often at the end of my rope. I'm learning to be honest and open right away with Nate (he's a forward person, so he doesn't struggle with this quality very much!).

Nate is a swell dude.  He prays for me when he's not praying with me, he makes me laugh, he's supported me 100% in every decision I've made, and he does dishes. But even being married to a great guy takes work to make it right because sometimes, our spouses can be downright annoying (like right now, he's snoring loud enough for the neighbors to hear and farting). Our marriage is far from perfect, but we will continue to work to protect our marriage.


Reflections from a tired momma

K's arrival to our home seemed rushed and a bit unplanned. It was a delicate situation for various reasons, and K didn't find out she was moving in with us until the week she moved in. Nobody really explained to her what was going to happen and why it was happening. So, we had lots of explaining to do when she moved in. We noticed that she was not very expressive--she didn't say how she felt about the situation, she didn't ask questions, she didn't ask about her foster or biological family. She would just get kind of a blank stare whenever we talked about it. Towards the end of week two she told us, "I like y'alls house. I get to play in the living room and y'all cook good." It was her first display of expression--I wanted to hug her, but I didn't want to freak her out because she hadn't been affectionate with us (though she would try to touch strangers' hair or jewelry and give them hugs...).

It's been a little over five weeks since she moved in, and she's opening up more and more over time.  She's expressed a fear of being adopted--mainly because she's afraid of the judge. She told us a few weeks ago that this is the first time she's ever had her own bed. She's asked questions about her birth mom and foster mom and has accepted the truth very well. She has taken to Nate a lot quicker than me--she's never met her birth father before, so Nate is the first male to be in her life. She calls him dad sporadically and she tells him she loves him at night. But it hasn't been so easy for her to make the transfer that I will be her mom. She calls me mom 5:10 times, and she's only returned my "I love you" with an "I love you too" once...and it was mumbled and uncomfortable. If I'm being honest, this is really difficult for me. I understand that it will take her a while to trust me because the "moms" in her life have not been trustworthy. I understand that she has been hurt by these women, but it's a hard pill to swallow. 


For the past few days J-man's been talking an awful lot about police officers, asking questions like, Why do police officers ask people to put their hands up? What happens if someone doesn't put his hands up? Why do police officers point guns at people? Tonight the questions continued in various forms. I know J's bio parents have a history with law enforcement, and he's seen his fair share of violence. When he first moved in, he told us lots of stories involving violence, arrests, and his birth parents. I've learned with J and other foster kids to let them talk and ask questions, answer honestly, and then use it as a moment to ask my own questions. So tonight I asked if he had ever seen his birth dad be arrested. I knew the answer to my question, but I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk about it if he wanted to. 

"Yeah," he said hurriedly. "And, and [he stutters when he gets excited] the cops were pointing a gun at the house like this" he blurted as he kneeled on his chair and mimicked holding a shot gun or a rifle. "I don't know why they were pointing the gun at the house," he said curiously. 

"Well, did your birth dad have a gun?" I asked. 

He said that he didn't have one, so I explained that sometimes when police officers are called to a house, they don't know what's going on inside, so they have to be ready to protect themselves and the people around them just in case the people inside are doing something really bad that could put others in danger. J explained that the cops took his birth dad to jail. 

"Is that when you went to Aunt C's [his foster mom before us]?" 

"Yeah," he said in between bites of rice, "but I didn't get to go with the police. I asked them if I could, but I went with two guys instead." And as quickly as our conversation started, it ended as he changed topics like five year olds are known to do. J has been with us for over a year, but tonight reminded me that his trauma is deep. 

As I reflect on all of this tonight, I am pissed that parents could neglect their children. My heart aches when I think about all my babies have seen and been through. If I could transfer all of that to me so they could be trauma free, I would. I feel inadequate to help them through all of this in a loving and patient way, and I feel tired. The tantrums, the out of control, over the top behaviors  (while all justifiable considering what they've experienced), constant redirection, etc. etc. have just worn me down and left me feeling...well, tired, I guess. My whole body feels it. My arms and back ache, I'm not motivated to run or cook, and all I want to do is eat cereal. When I talk to some people about this, they kind of brush it off and say things like, "Yeah, parenting is hard." I recognize that...I do...but what bothers me about statements like this is that I don't think people (unless they've been foster parents themselves) really understand how hard it is to be in our shoes. I don't want a pat on the back or an award, but what I do want is acknowledgment that our situation is different and complex and difficult. I guess I want my feelings to be validated--which sounds lame now that I've just typed it. I know this stress is worth it--but parenting two children with backgrounds like ours is just tough...and tiring. 


Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?

Author’s Note: It’s been a while since I posted any of my personal writing that goes beyond thought spewing or a chronicle of life’s happenings, so I took time today to work on a poem to get it ready enough to be posted on my blog. This is the second draft of a poem I wrote after my grandma’s auction last month. It’s not perfect yet; it needs at least one more round of revision. I didn’t think her auction would be difficult, but, apart from the funeral, this day turned out to be the hardest part of saying good-bye to my grandma.

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding

Lining one room in the exhibit hall at Ag Park in Columbus were
rows of banquet tables, 35 total tables separated into sections--
knick-knacks, kitchen items, antiques, toys, electronics, books, glassware
each table piled high with Corningware, brass figurines, china,
stuffed animals, pots and pans, VHS movies, toys, baskets, afghans, and other trinkets
One smaller room connected to the larger exhibit hall contained furniture
Appliances and antique chests and chairs and benches and upright radios
stood like soldiers around the tables
and a 1961 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was parked in front of it all
gleaming white, hood propped open for passersby to examine
an American flag stuck proudly in its antenna hole
and the doors open displaying the car’s maroon leather interior: flawless
Strangers and a few distant relatives and family friends filed in and rifled through boxes
turning things over to examine and then dropping the items carelessly back in boxes
making lists of what they’d bid on

I weaved in and out of the aisles thinking of the memories attached to each item
the apple peeler---
that peeled the skin from Red Delicious apples--
a luxury our parents denied but grandma gave into
the multi-colored afghans---
my cousins and I layered on the living room floor,
enough to make us feel like we were sleeping on a mattress
sleepovers at grandmas watching
The Sound of Music, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Lion King, and others all on VHS
a cast iron skillet---
grandma used to teach Shantelle and me how to fry an egg
7 years old, pieces of shell stuck in the yolk,
the eggs scrunched into an accordion
as we made our first attempt at flipping an egg.
that held orange jello salad, deviled eggs, tortilla roll-ups,
cranberry jelly in the shape of a can, and instant mashed potatoes at every Thanksgiving.
A clear coffee mug--
the only mug I ever saw grandma drink from,
coffee, hot water, or a little boxed wine.
I moved to sit on the side with my kids resting next to me,
coloring quietly in their notebooks unaware of the significance of this day
and I watched the items disappear from the tables and into the hands of strangers
the remnant of my grandmother fading
and suddenly I found myself desperate and frantic to hold something of grandma’s
My legs wobbly, my hands shaking, I hurried to the row of kitchen items
Where’s grandma’s clear coffee mugs? I asked a cousin, my voice breaking
She reached into a nearby box and withdrew the only clear coffee mug left

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding
and strangers and a few familiar faces held up numbered slips of papers
and carried away the apple peeler, afghans, skillets, and Corningware
back to their homes where the items would take on new narratives
but the clear coffee mug rested safely in my bag

After the auction ended, and the stuff in new homes,
I slowly sipped my coffee from the clear coffee mug
watching my kids play the night away
Mom, that’s a weird mug, my son quipped as he pumped his legs on the swing
My voice steady, I replied It’s from Great Grandma Kush
and satisfied with that answer, he went back to his swing
another sun setting
another day gone.


Hey! I have two kids

It hit me tonight that I have two children. It's a little late for the revelation, I realize. But I guess I've been so overwhelmed with scheduling doctors appointments and therapy sessions and helping K and J adjust to school and a new family that I haven't really taken much time to think about it all. I don't really know what it was about tonight that sparked a sudden epiphany. Maybe it was because Nate was gone at a show choir competition, so I parented solo (quite the handful with two five year olds!). Or maybe because tonight might have been the first night that the kids did not fight at all...it really was quite amazing. They talked about school in the car on the way to violin, they laughed through dinner, they wrestled and giggled underneath the kitchen table, and K helped J cut his hair tonight while I stepped out of the room for literally 30 seconds. I've always wanted two kids and for so long, this dream felt out of reach. All of the struggles with infertility and our failed adoption have been worth it though I never thought they would.


Seeking wisdom

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty" (Proverbs 27:12). 

I'm reading a book right now called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands because my curriculum specialist at work send me a message one day stating she heard about the book and that it's one she wants to read and thought I'd want to as well (you'll see the irony in this later). She's a pretty stellar person, so I took her word for it and just ordered the book. Plus...I have been feeling overwhelmed for the last year--but especially so the last three months; I figured a little outside perspective with making smart choices wouldn't hurt. The book is written with a Christian perspective and is grounded in scripture, which I appreciate. The writing is a bit cheesy at times, but the woman's (Lysa Terkeurst) insight is practical, wise, and backed up with truth. It's left me thinking and praying a lot about making smart choices.

In May when I signed my teaching contract and agreed to teach a grad class through UNO and continue my stint as a co-director for the Nebraska Writing Project and signed Jon up for a weekly violin lesson for the entire year, I did not know we'd be welcoming another child to our home. Had I known that, I probably would have made different choices.

Terkeurst writes, "A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul. An underwhelmed soul is one who knows there is more God made her to do. She longs to do that thing she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about" (21). I rarely wake up in the middle of the night; I sleep like a rock. However, throughout my day I daydream about what it would be like to have more time to be a mom--to spend as much time on my children and family as I do on my job and on other peoples' kids. I enjoy being a teacher and find fulfillment in it, but in the past year and three months, I've just felt torn between my job as a teacher and my role as a wife and mother. Terkeurst challenges her readers to think about and plan for how we can pursue these dreams of ours that we push off because of our busy schedules.

Later in the book she brings in the verse from above, Proverbs 27:12. She quotes Andy Stanley on his description of prudent men and women; he explains that prudent people "[...] 'understand that today and tomorrow are connected. [...] They ask what I refer to as the best question ever: 'In light of my past experience, and my future hopes and dreams, what's the wise thing to do?'" (74).

This book and my quiet time with God is making me think a lot about making a wise decision for my job. A wise decision for right now and a wise one for the future. I'm stretched to the max right now, and I'm not sure what I can give up. I'm tired of feeling guilty for working and guilty for not working. I'm tired of feeling like I should stay in teaching and remain a co-director and take advantage of every career opportunity offered me because of other peoples' expectations of me. I will be scaling back on my commitments with the Nebraska Writing Project, but I'm not sure that will be enough. It's not a huge time commitment or stressor for me, but it's the only thing I can scale back on in this moment. I've got a teaching contract until May and this grad class lasts until December 2nd. While the grad class does take me away from my family on Tuesday nights, I enjoy my time there. The biggest stressor in my life right now is my job as a teacher. It's the commitment that is the most frustrating, the most time consuming, the one I can control least, the one that gets most of my attention. Even though I'm taking 4 weeks of maternity leave, I'm still bombarded with emails and expectations of things to do while I'm supposed to be taking care of my family.

At the end of the chapter I just finished, Terkeurst advises, "What's a decision you are in the midst of making? Chase it down. If you do this, where will it most likely lead? And then what? And then? Keep going until you walk it all the way out" (74). For the past month the decision I've felt in my gut that's begging to be made is whether or not to keep teaching. Should I keep teaching throughout this year? Should I attempt to break my contract because of the recent change in my family? Should I stick it out and not go back next year? I don't want to sabotage my career, but more than that desire, I don't want to be pulled anymore from my family. I don't want them to deal with crazy, stressed me--I don't want them to get what's leftover of me at the end of a day. I've been praying about this, filtering through peoples' advice, and seeking counsel. I want to be prudent--I want to consider today and tomorrow to make a wise decision. If you're of the praying persuasion, please send up a few requests for wisdom on my behalf. And if you have prayer requests for yourself, send them my way.


Getting Schooled in Haircare

Shopping for ethnic hair care products is a lot like traveling to another country and navigating a menu in a different language. When we first met K, her hair was neatly done with two braids snug against her head traveling to two beautiful "puffs" (think afro pig-tails). The next time she had at least 20 barrettes clanging at the ends of five sections of braids and it looked beautiful. We called Jon's former foster mom (Michele) and her sister to teach us a thing or two during K's first overnight. The two women came over with bags of products and supplies explaining each one to us, showing us how to use it on their own hair while our 7 kids (yes...7) tore around the house like wild animals. They left most of the products with us as a gift. The first time I tried two simple pig-tail puffs in K's hair, I bawled as the hair frizzed and fro'd out and pony tails snapped my fingers. After the third try and two trips to Wal-Mart for products we thought would help, I finally got the rubber bands to stay with minimal flyaways. It looked nothing like her tight piggies she came with, but I threw a headband on her head to make them stay, and it looked fine enough to be out in public. A few visits ago we took the kids swimming at a hotel. We should have just left her braids in, but we thought we needed to wash the hair right away after swimming to prevent it from drying out, so we unsnapped 20some barrettes and popped 15 rubberbands to loosen the braids in hopes they'd be easy to take out after swimming. FAIL. When we got home at 8:30 PM (their bedtime), I tried taking out each wet braid---an hour later, the braids were out and K was falling asleep in the bathtub. I washed her hair haphazardly because she was so tired, and then sent her to bed with a giant, uncombed, wet fro. BAD IDEA. The next morning her hair was a tangled mess. Again, I spent an hour struggling with pig tails that lasted no longer than an hour before I had to redo them. She cried as I combed her hair, and I cried afterwards feeling like a total, incompetent nincompoop.

In the last 48 hours I've scoured the blog Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care, watched YouTube videos, and read an entire book on how to care for and style African-American hair. I feel more prepared than last time, but still anxious about my own inabilities to make K's hair look great (and not like an uneducated White girl is doing it!). Hair is so important in her culture, and I just want to get it right so she can feel confident (she's already picking up on the differences in our skin colors--more on that later). Based on tips I've received, it's good to have a styling routine. So Saturdays will be our wash and style day...today is Saturday...gulp. As soon as I'm done writing, I'll start the long process of taking out K's cornrows to wash her hair (she's been scratching a lot) and start with a fresh style. Wish me luck.


Our first night with K

15 months ago we were a family of two, and then Jon came along. Today we became a family of four...

After work, we picked Jon up from school and then drove to pick up K. We spent about a half hour saying good-byes to her foster family, and then ran back home to meet our foster care specialist to fill out some final paperwork while the kids played. Since K was here last, we've stocked her room with toys and books given to us from friends; it was great to hear squealing as she sifted through My Little Ponies and books. We wanted to make the night special, but it was already 6:00 by the time we were finally on our own with no case workers. So, we opted to let her pick a restaurant for dinner. Because Pizza Machine was too far of a drive, her second option was fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. KFC it was. Yup, KFC. Praying seems to be a new thing for her since meeting us; usually at dinner time, one of us prays for the food. Tonight K begged us all to pray. We went around the table thanking God, remembering our blessings, and praying for various things. She loved dinner...so did Jon. After a quick stop at Target to pick up a few more things for K, we finally came home to wind down. We talked as she got ready for bed, and she expressed her anxiety for going to a new school and a fear of mean teachers. I tried to repair one of her beautiful beaded braids (it's merely a white girl's temporary fix!). We prayed as a family before each kid went to his and her own bed. K and I read the Bible together; as I finished, she said, "Can we pray again? I just love praying." How could I resist? So we prayed again before she drifted off to sleep. It was a long day but a good day. I'm not sure she fully understands what's going on yet; she knows this is her home, but I'm not sure if she fully grasps this. She asked me tonight if I was going to be her mom, and I told her I was. She didn't respond. It will take time for her to really understand all of this.  I keep praying that her transition to our home would be a smooth one, that she would feel loved and safe and cared for, that she would know the love of God and take peace and comfort in it.



In a few weeks we'll be expanding our home by two feet, but there will be no major construction--just a lot more noise...we're adding a little girl to our family.

K is 5 years old--she's just a few months younger than Jon. Over the past few weeks she's been spending time with us. It's a welcome transition, but it will definitely be a challenge for all of us. The kids already bicker like siblings, and Nate and I are slowly learning how to juggle two kids.

K is a fiery, sassy girl who loves dresses and playing dress up, having her nails done, wearing high heels, playing with Barbies and dolls, and carrying a purse. These are all things I'm slowly coming around to :) I did buy her a dress the other day...it is a Grateful Dead concert dress, but a dress nonetheless.

Both kids are unique with different personalities, but what they do share is trauma from their past. I'm hoping that as they grow and mature, they'll be able to talk about their pasts and help each other work through some tough emotions.

In the meantime, Nate and I feel like we're hanging on by a thread. We're ready and excited for this new opportunity, but it has all come about so fast, that we feel like our wheels are spinning but we're not moving. I'm overly committed this semester and am searching for ways (and coming up short) to lighten my load. I'm planning on taking some maternity leave to acclimate. What's hard about being a new mom through adoption is the general public views my entry into motherhood as an easier one that doesn't require as much help. For example, when babies come, people bring meals and offer to come over and stay for a time with the kid so the parents can sleep. People squeal with delight when a woman announces her pregnancy. Parents have nine months to plan and prepare for their little one's arrival. And, teaching moms have nine months to plan for their six week leave without the immediate presence of said little one. Because five year olds seem pretty self-sufficient, few will offer to bring us meals or watch the kids while we nap. My announcement of adopting a second child has been met with a few sympathetic smiles and some polite congratulations--far from elation. We've had exactly six weeks to plan for K's arrival, and I'm scrambling working all hours trying to create lesson plans for my "maternity" leave while I parent both children--including the one I'm planning to take leave for all while bracing myself for judgemental questions (What will you do when the kids are in school?) and opinions of my decision to take time off. I understand that parenting a newborn is different than parenting a five year old (each has its own struggles), but the acclimation to a new child is no different. It's hard, and we're struggling with it right now. I don't know if we'll make it out alive. Okay, that's a bit dramatic...but it really will be survival mode until May! If you're the praying type, throw a few up to the big Guy on our behalf for patience, a sense of balance, and a closeness with God as we walk this new path.


My favorite job

When I was 15 years old, I scored my first job as a telemarketer renewing peoples' auto insurance. I've held a job ever since then. I've worked as busgirl, a para, a recreation aide for mentally handicapped adults, a bagel/coffee extraordinaire, a chocolate seller at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, a barista at a coffee shop, and finally, a teacher.  My jobs have been varied, but each one has been great and has served me well in whatever phase of life I was in.

My current job as a teacher has been amazing. I've had the opportunity to work with hundreds of kids from all over the state of Nebraska, and from all walks of life. I've been able to help kids navigate terrible situations. I get to talk about books and writing--two things I love--everyday. Through professional development opportunities in the Nebraska Writing Project, I've traveled all over the country learning about education (which fascinates me), and I've learned how to live more responsibly and think more deeply. Teaching has also taught me how to be a parent; it's been the best job....until now. 

Yesterday I headed out on a long run--leaving my family behind. Anyone who knows me, knows I love running. But yesterday on my run, I found myself wanting to be at home playing with Jon or preparing a meal for my family--I wanted to at home doing my job as a mom. When I have to bring work home (which is often), I find myself stressed and resentful that it's pulled me away from serving my family. Being a mom is not a glamorous job; it doesn't pay the bills, and it can be incredibly frustrating and reveals so many of my flaws and failings, but I love it. It's what I desire to do almost all of the time. For me, it feels like the best job right now. 


One foot in light, one foot in darkness?

Last week our church kicked off a new sermon series that comes out of 1 John. Today we looked at 1 John 1:5-10 (click here to visit the church website--the sermon from today was powerful; check back tomorrow or Tuesday to hear it), and to be honest--I've got a lot stuff heavy on my heart that I just need to confess and write about.

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth" (1 John 1:5-6). 

I confess to living with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness--let me clarify: with my words I profess to be a believer, but my actions profess darkness. We cannot live with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness, because as the scripture says, there is no darkness in God. We simply cannot live in light if we continue to live in darkness. I fear that my actions have cheapened my faith to outsiders who hear me say I'm a believer and then see me drink too much, hear me use swear words, hear me gossip about others, see me react out of anger, watch me put my job before my family. That stuff is not the stuff of Jesus.

"If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. [...] If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts" (1 John 1:8, 10). 

For at least a year, I've felt a nagging sense tell me not to drink that 3rd or 4th beer or use that four letter word or to reign in my emotions and think before I speak--but I've pushed off that nagging feeling and made excuses like, It's not that big of a deal; people make mistakes--God doesn't expect me to be perfect. I've made excuses for my sin--I've lied to myself and have basically set an extra chair at the table for sin. I've used God's grace as a "get out of jail free card." I don't want to confess this stuff just to free myself from the heavy feeling of guilt; I want to confess because I don't want to call God a liar anymore by making excuses for my sins. I know I've done wrong--I know I need help turning away from the darkness and running toward the light.

"But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). 

For a few months I've battled anxiety--I'm almost to the point of seeking a doctors help via medication to help me cope with the stress of balancing my job and my role as a wife and mother. But the more I pray on it and dig into scripture, the more I'm forced to examine my own life. I've created anxiety for myself, I think, primarily from living in darkness. My choices have launched me into a downward tailspin of anxiety and guilt and instead of running towards the light, I've walked in the darkness and used alcohol and swear words to cope with the stress of my job and have run to my job to cope with the stress of raising a family and all it's done for me has created more anxiety and a deeper feeling of emptiness. The words each other are so pivotal in the above verse because it implies that when we live in the light, we have fellowship with God and we know by having fellowship with God (by living in the light and confessing our sins--see the verse below) that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross takes away our sin. 

"But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness" (1 John 1: 9). 

When we confess, we are then free to enjoy fellowship with God--to live in the light. But we must make a deliberate effort to admit our sins and then rely on God's power to overcome our sins so we don't fall into a constant habit of sin or a habit of guilt that only beats us up and doesn't empower us to overcome our sin. This morning I've come clean with God, but I feel like I need to come clean to people who've watched me try to lead a double life. I'm sorry if my actions ever made you think negatively about Christianity or Jesus. My life has not always been made up of the stuff of Jesus; I'm working on getting that right. 


Just call me Martha

I write about this a lot...I'm sure those of you who read this blog or just tired of reading my back and forth on this concept. If you fall into this category of readers, just do yourself a favor and stop reading. Go watch cat videos on YouTube instead...it'll probably be a better use of your time.

This morning I started a new devo on my Bible app that explores the topic of simplifying. Not simplifying in the materialistic sense, but a kind of lifestyle decluttering. Eliminating the kind of business that distracts from the kind of stuff that really matters--like fellowship with God. First up on the Bible study was Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus visits Mary and Martha. Mary chooses to sit and fellowship with Jesus while Martha runs around the place cleaning and cooking missing out on an opportunity to spend with Jesus while he was in the flesh. All of her running around while Mary sat with Jesus made her bitter and angry causing her to blow up out of resentment and stress. Jesus gives Martha a 1-2 punch and gently explains to Martha that Mary is doing things right. I think Martha was well-intentioned in her actions. She saw Jesus as an important guest worthy of a good dinner in a clean home. I think she started out wanting to serve Jesus, but what she missed out on was a true fellowship with Jesus. In church this morning our pastor started preaching from 1 John. We studied the first four verses where John shares the good news about experiencing Jesus and that we can also be in fellowship with Jesus. Key word: with. Our pastor emphasized that we are to be in a relationship with him and not for him. Martha missed a great opportunity.

In the last three years, I think I've become a Martha. I've made myself so busy that I've missed out on many opportunities to fellowship with God and with His people. Teaching can certainly be a ministry, and I think it was for me when I taught in western Nebraska. I had opportunities through FCA, coaching, church, and sponsoring activities to build relationships with kids. In my role as a teacher and mother here, I'm rather limited in the type of relationship I can have with my students. Can I make an impact on them? Absolutely. Do I have the time to coach or sponsor an activity at this time in my life? No. Has the busyness of my job made me resentful like Martha? Unfortunately, yes.

I'd like to be involved more in my community or my church, but I've created such a tight schedule for myself and my family that adding one more thing seems close to impossible. I really hate this. We have some potential family changes on the horizon, and as I think about these changes, the more I realize I'm moving into a different season in life. Teaching and education truly is something I enjoy, but I think I'm ready to serve in a different ministry. I think I need to start praying about how to clear space in my life for fellowship with God and with His people (including my family!). It could be a long year as I struggle to become more like Mary while stile honoring the commitments I made a month ago for this school year.


Reflections on 26.2

Yesterday I ran my second full marathon. The humidity, my crappy back, and the heat during the last 6 miles made it a particularly tough run for me, but my family was excellent crowd support. My husband, son, mother in-law, brother in-law and his girlfriend, and sister in-law and brother in-law and their two kids all came out to cheer me on. 

They had an abundance of great posters. Thanks  Amy for the picture! 
Here's some run-downs of highlights and my thoughts throughout the event: 

Miles 5-6: I ran with Marv from Colorado and Tom from Grand Island during this stretch. Marv is 75 years old and has run over 200 marathons and ultras. He's completed the Leadville 100 TWICE. He told stories about different races, but he was quick to talk about others and rarely talked about himself. I asked him what his favorite race was, and he said he couldn't pinpoint one but that he preferred ultras over marathons. He explained that in marathons, people are out to run a specific time; they run their own races. Conversely, in ultras, people are focused on merely finishing, and because they're so difficult, runners band together to push one another. I think Marv talked me into running an ultra. I caught him coming in at mile 11 when I was coming out at about 13, and he gave me a big hoop and cheer as he ran. Tom was running his first marathon. He was middle-aged, wasn't built like a runner, and wore cheap basketball shorts and his long-sleeve shirt from the event (it was a brutal 90% humidity at the start, and it was not cool by any stretch of the imagination). He smiled proudly as he talked about finishing this race he never thought he'd even attempt. When I saw Tom again, he was at mile 18 and I was at 24...he was still smiling. 

Mile 15: I ran past three teenaged girls who were volunteering at one of the intersections. They cheered as I neared, and as I got closer one girl yelled, "Keep going! You're almost done!" between bites of powdered donuts. Almost done?!? I still had 11 miles to go! And why didn't she offer me a freaking donut? For some reason I hit the proverbial wall at miles 15-20. I was just starting to feel terrible when she yelled this, and I was not in high spirits. It took all I had in me to refrain from yelling at the girl to go back to basic math class and learn how to count. 

Miles 18-23: This was a point of utter desperation for me. My back was aching and the pain had reached down into my glute and hamstring causing me to feel so tight. I was just entering the worst part of the course: an out and back for 7.5 miles on Highway 30--one of Nebraska's most boring highways. The clouds had begun to clear out and the sun beat down reminding me why most sane people avoid summer marathons in Nebraska. I tried switching from podcasts to music back to podcasts. I tried silence for a while. When I felt like I could go crazy, I called my running partner Kristin and left the most desperate voice mail. Fortunately she called back within ten minutes. She kept my mind occupied until somewhere between miles 22 and 23. 

Mile 24: I had to do some walking earlier to try and loosen up my back, but this time I had to take a walk break because I had a side ache and had a hard time getting into a rhythm with breathing because the damn humidity felt like I was breathing into a mask of cotton balls. I also felt nauseated I think from not having enough food in my system.

Mile 25.75: I came to a fork in the road where the course wasn't marked. I assumed the volunteers were supposed to direct the runners which way to go. I got closer and could see one girl, about 16 years old, asleep in her bag chair. ASLEEP. At mile 25. I damn near pushed her out of her chair. The other girl looked to be about 12. I had to shout at her to ask her which way to go, and she just pointed in the direction. No cheers, no good jobs. Just a blank-faced point in the general direction of the finish line. "Unbelievable!" I shouted to nobody. 

Mile 26.2: I looked at my Garmin and saw the finish line was still a tenth of a mile away and cursed the day I started running. 

This marathon was much tougher than my last one. That's what happens when you get older, I guess. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. There's something about pushing my body to it's absolute limits that makes me feel so alive. I realize how crazy this sounds...I'd love to sign up for a 50k here in Omaha in early October, but I'm not going to. I'm going to cut back on the running for a few months to let my body rest and to give Nate a chance to do the kind of working out he wants to do. He's done a lot of solo parenting this year as I've ran various races, and he's never complained about me running. It's time I did the same for him. Plus...my legs will probably still be tight for the next 8 weeks anyway...


Mom guilt

My friend Amee is a stay at home mom of two littles. She has the patience of Mother Theresa and the creativity of Martha Stewart (minus the criminal streak). She cooks healthy foods, has a nice smelling home, plays with her kids, and does it all while looking like a million bucks. I admire her. After being home for a good chunk of the summer with Jon, I realized how ill equipped I am to be a stay at home mom. I'm just too selfish. I found myself "fake" playing cars each day, half-heartedly looking for Jon in the same hiding place for each round of hide and seek and faking being surprised when I found him there, and just being snippy. I need time each day that is just me--time to read, write, think, create. When I don't get this time, I become rather unpleasant. Work tends to be my outlet. It's where I am challenged and sharpened. Unfortunately, it's also where most of my stress comes from. A few nights ago Jon and I flipped through photo albums and for the first time since we've had him, I become aware of just how fast the time has gone. As the photos flipped on, Jon's face lost the baby chub in his cheeks that he had when he first moved in with us. I started taking inventory of all the things he can now do on his own that he couldn't do a year ago: brush his teeth by himself, make his bed, reach the sink without a step stool, change the toilet paper roll, read, tie his shoes....seriously. I wondered then how many moments I had missed because of work or spoiled because of being stressed from work. I thought about what it would be like to work full time with two children (should our family expand)....and then I just felt guilty. It's the curse of all moms I think to feel guilty about some aspect of their parenting. I hate that my family often does not get the best of me, and I feel guilty for "indulging" myself in work. I wish I could just grow a pair and try the whole stay at home mom thing even if it was just part-time. Great thoughts for the beginning of a school year, folks...


A hitch in the marathon training

About five weeks ago on an 18 mile run, I felt a twinge in my back. It was sharp but short. The rest of the run turned out fine, but afterwards my lower back and right glute were sore and required attention. The pain lingered for about 24-36 hours and then would fade. Each long run after that, the pain traveled from my lower back into my right glute and down into my hamstring. The pain was not unbearable as I ran, and I maintained a good pace. Each time afterwards, though, I paid for it. My right hamstring, glute, and lower back were sore and tight for a few days no matter how much stretching I did. This got worse through the weeks. On Thursday I finally caved and went to the doctor. I found out I have a pulled hamstring....10 days from the marathon.

The doc's medical advice was to sit this one out and let it heal so I don't tear it. His advice to me as a stubborn runner was to sit out for five days, take some steroids during this time, ice/heat/stretch deliberately, and then take my legs out for an easy 2 miles on Tuesday to see how I feel. If I feel good, he said I could run (but there's still a risk of tearing it).

Of course I want to run this marathon. I've put hours of training into it away from my family and have put my body through the ringer to prepare. Plus...my training runs indicate I was on my way to a PR. I've been in a better frame of mind with this marathon than my last. I haven't been as uptight, and it's definitely been a mostly enjoyable process. For now I'm trying to set my emotions aside to make a choice that is smart for my body.

This is the first weekend in about 5 or 6 years that I haven't run. It sounds stupid, but I feel huge and lazy and empty. I confess to have made running my identity. I try to hard to keep Christ as my identity, but I know that running has made its way into my life as an idol.


Year 7

This week I'll be starting year 7 in the classroom...it's hard to believe. I'm no longer the youngest teacher in my building; I fall into the "teaching for 5-10 years" category. I'm not a new teacher anymore. Of course there's some sadness affiliated with this as I grapple with aging, but this also means that I'm more confident in my abilities simply because of my experience, and it means I've learned some teacher hacks to make the overwhelming task of teaching easier.

There's a few things I'm particularly excited about for this school year:

1. The kids. Kids now are different even from kids seven years ago---the needs are much greater and the struggles are often deeper. What I love about teaching is simply being present for kids; being an adult they can trust and look to for guidance. I love exposing them to new ideas or challenging them to think of old ideas in new ways. I love their energy, their passion for finding themselves, their uninhibited ways (admittedly, these very qualities can also drive me batty). Every year one of my goals is to build relationships with kids. This year I want to work extra hard on the marginalized students--the quiet ones, the difficult ones.

2. New classes. When haven't I taught something new in my teaching career?! I still have 3 sections of sophomores, but this year I'm also teaching a grad. class for teachers and I'm teaching 11th grade (American Lit) at Burke for the first time. Teaching teachers is something I've always wanted to do, and I've loved American Lit. since I was a junior. All exciting things...

3. A renewed perspective. For the first time in two years, I'm not starting a new job! What?!? There are some amazing teachers at Burke, and they and the kids make me excited to come to work. I'm also re-learning how to create my own happiness even around people and situations that are anything but pleasant. Surrounding myself with positive people, reading funny things (like Jimmy Fallon's book of thank you notes), watching cat videos, and doing things I love help me to achieve the kind of balance that keeps me centered and not freaking out when the kid in the back of my room falls asleep again.

To those of you starting school this week: I hope you find a way to enjoy it. Education is an opportunity (no matter if you are a student or a teacher) not to be wasted.


Teaching as Subversion

Note: this is just a rambling piece of writing that I used to process through a discussion we had in class early this summer. It’s not quite finished, but it’s a piece that has been ringing in my head throughout the summer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a teacher mentioned one week in class--her question of, where is the book that encourages teachers to step outside the walls of their own classroom and engage in changing education? I’ve read so many pedagogical books that are critical but are solely focused on classroom practices. These are helpful books, but they aren’t doing much to change the educational landscape. The truth is, research shows that kids in the US are actually performing better than they have in many years. There are teachers and administrators across the country who give their lives to kids and who care about helping kids to become critical, passionate, creative people. While the state of education is not falling apart, there are, however, major cracks in its foundation. When a building has cracks in its foundation, it becomes structurally unsound….I fear this for the state of education in our country. Running schools using a business model, a push for seemingly all students to attend college, keeping teachers from having a part in creating school, district, state, and national level policies and standards, a heavy emphasis on assessment, the devaluing of creativity, inequality in resources based on tax base, treating teachers as paper-pushers rather than the professionals they are….the list of problems is overwhelming.

In my experience when teachers do step out, voice concern, or attempt to enact change, they are labeled as subversive, insubordinate, disobedient. For many, these labels are terrifying. They can damage one’s teaching career. I tend to be idealistic when it comes to teaching, so I think being “let go” from a job and labeled as insubordinate may not destroy a person’s career entirely if he/she can justify the insubordination and back it with sound and acceptable research. Is stepping out risky? Of course. But what happens when nobody says anything? Historically, when people are silent about inequity and injustice, the gaps of inequality widen and the injustice spreads like ringworm in a wrestling room. I want my son to attend public school, but if we continue to sit back and let things get worse, what will education look like in ten years when he enters high school?

I believe it is teachers’ responsibility to not only be engaged in their classrooms but outside as well. Most teachers devote much of their lives to teaching and helping kids. They go early, stay late, make phone calls home during their personal time, drag their families to games and concerts and performances, stay up late to create lessons, grade papers during any free time they may have left. The families of teachers often get put on the backburner just when teachers are meeting their daily obligations. My own son has said, “Mom, you always grade papers.” Granted, he’s five, and things are very black and white for him. I really am not always grading papers, but the comment did cause me to halt a bit, step back, and rethink my priorities. How do we balance our families, our jobs, and being an activist? Ultimately, I do want my son to see his parents as involved in his life AND involved in the lives of others. I want him to see his parents as people who fight to make a difference for the good of others because that’s who I want him to become.

There’s not an easy solution to these dilemmas. But, my parents always told me that nothing worth fighting for comes easy...


Making time for the important stuff

This post will not reveal anything earth-shattering, but it's where I'm at this morning. I felt like I needed to dump this all out before I could move on with my morning.

Since my early college days, I've always been a morning Bible reader. During my freshman year at UNK, I got into a habit of reading my Bible in the cafeteria while I choked down Chartwells' food. The habit continued into my married life. I tried reading at nights before bed, but always found myself falling asleep a few verses in (no offense, God). As much as I despise rising early, I know myself well enough to know that if I don't get in my Bible reading before my day begins, I won't get it in. Now, this has proven challenging with a child. I don't eat by myself anymore. During the school year, Nate leaves by 6:30 to get to school for his zero hour class (suck!), so he gets J ready while I get ready. Then J and I eat breakfast together before we leave. While we eat, I try to read at least one chapter or half of a long chapter each day in between Jon's morning musings about trucks and the shape his cereal is taking that morning. It sounds bad, but I've kind of learned to mostly tune him out and let him just talk while I read the Bible. It's not that I'm totally checked out from him or that I don't care what he has to say--I just have to make reading the Bible a priority in the morning. I think it's important for kids to see their parents in the Word. So this is also a good time for modeling. Sometimes I'll read out loud to him while he eats. It's not been perfect...I don't get my Bible reading in every day....like today.

Yesterday I spent an afternoon planning with another teacher for a college class I'm teaching. It was incredibly productive, but there is still a lot to be done for it. And when my to-do list is long, I tend to get zoned in on it. This morning I slept in until 7 since it's a rest day from marathon training. After grabbing breakfast for Jon and me(Nate was on his way out the door for a meeting), I did not reach for my Bible. I opened my laptop. Bad idea. Once the laptop is open, there's no going back to the Bible. I ate my breakfast while working on our class website--it's typically a simple process, one I've done loads of times, but this morning I was clumsy and had to undo several stupid mistakes. Soon, the clock read 7:49--we had to leave by 8:30 to get to J's last day of summer camp. I was still in pajamas and disheveled. For the next 40 minutes, I raced around the house like a crazed woman barking orders at J. We pulled out of the garage at 8:31. At 8:32 Jon asked if we could listen to Wagon Wheel, but because I was stressed, I needed a more calming song...so I vetoed his request and opted for my song. By 8:45, it hit me how incredibly awful I had been this morning. If someone had been watching me, they would've assumed I didn't really enjoy my child.

This is what happens to me when I put work or personal things in front of my time with God. I become this selfish, crazed, uncompassionate, impatient being. I get so zoned in sometimes on my to-do list, that I push God aside and then end up pushing my family aside to cross things of a stupid to-do list. A pastor once told me something along the lines of: make time for God a priority and watch how He adjusts your time. (At first I thought God would give only me an extra hour in the day while everyone else remained frozen...not really, but I thought this would be nice of God to do). I'm not sure God adjusts our time, but I think making time with God a priority definitely helps us to prioritize better. We have better perspective.

On my walk from J's summer camp to a coffee shop, I read half a chapter of Matthew and apologized to God for shoving him off. I'm praying this week that I'd have better discipline this year even during busy seasons.


The wanderin' blues

Recently we went on our first family vacation--we trekked to Hasting where I sang with the Platte Valley Skunk Runners at the Flatwater Music Festival, made it to Parks for a few days to see my brother and sister in-law, enjoyed a few days hiking and bumming around Rocky Mountain National Park, and ended our travels by spending time with our dear friends in Ogallala. It's no secret that I miss living in western Nebraska. I often have these romantic recollections of our time there, and these (and the pleas from families, students, and friends) often fuel the desire to move back.

But when I'm honest with myself (which doesn't always happen because being honest with oneself is quite the ordeal), I'm not sure moving back to Ogallala would be the right thing to do. Nate and I have talked about it, and there'd be a lot of cards that would have to fall into place---A LOT. Then there's the fear that we'd always compare it to what it was when we lived there nearly three years ago...part of me doesn't want to spoil these memories. When I'm honest with myself, I think what I really want is not to move back to Ogallala--but to be in a place that has some of the same values and themes (so to speak) as Ogallala. I've never been one to set down roots what with my nomadic tendencies, but now that we have J, I find myself longing to set aside "the wandering blues" for roots---maybe not deep ones, but roots nonetheless :)

Omaha is a cool city. There's lots of cultural opportunities, and we're starting to build some good relationships. I'm just not sure it's where I want to set down roots. I thought it was before Jon. Now that we have a living, breathing child, I question everything I thought I ever wanted for him when he was just a hypothetical notion. What I want for him is to attend a small school where he knows all or most of his classmates. I want him to be involved with many activities if that's what he chooses (in big schools, it seems there's not a lot of crossover between athletics and fine arts). I want to know his friends' parents and maybe even their grandparents. I'd also like him have access to the outdoors--to play, to run, to climb, or just to sit and be amazed at God's creativity. I want him to be exposed to people who are different from him so he develops a cooperative spirit, a soul of tolerance and acceptance. I want him to have opportunities to create if that's what he chooses to do. I want him to feel safe. I want him to be in a school that engages him and sees even his challenges as opportunities.

I'm not sure I can have all of this in Omaha or Ogallala. Sure, we can meet all of these by living in one place and then traveling during the summer. And maybe that's what we'll do because I don't know where we can live to have all of these desires met in one location. Perhaps I'm being an idealistic parent...but I think it's important to be deliberate about the values we instill in our children. I think the next year or two or three will be a time of exploration for us. Before we decide to pick up and move and tear Jon away from the only city he's ever lived, I want to explore Omaha more. We need to be deliberate about breaking out of our "Burke bubble" venturing into other pockets of the city. After our trip to Colorado this summer, Nate and I began talking about the possibilities of living there, but this is quite the move. There's a lot of research to be done before we can even consider this as a possibility to avoid regrets.

While I want to set down roots, part of me wonders if I'll ever "quit my ramblin' ways..." Will my heart ever feel settled? That's the question of the day, folks. It must be exhausting to be married to me...Nate, thanks for being a patient dude. I'll leave you with a song by The Be Good Tanyas that pretty well sums up my gypsy soul (if you watch the video, you can go back to the trends of the 90s...spaghetti strapped midriffs, wide legged pants, and clogs....).


Marathon #2

I am nearly one month out from my second marathon. On a whim, I signed up for the State Fair marathon in Grand Island that happens on August 23rd. It might be  It will be difficult. It's central Nebraska (which is "fortunate" enough to have some of the eastern Nebraska humidity) in August. On an out and back course. And it's the first marathon GI will hold. This could all translate to humid, boring, and poor crowd support. I knew this signing up, but I wanted to run another marathon and I knew I couldn't train during the school year. So, here I am--about a month out, three stupid-long training runs left. Here's what I'm learning this time around:

  • Getting older sucks. For the first time since I hit puberty two years ago (sarcasm), I can feel my body change. I can't eat three bowls of cereal for breakfast and drink two dark beers before bed like I used to without feeling sluggish on my next run. I'm also discovering that the aforementioned diet leads to a stomach pooch that is more difficult than ever to tone. 
  • Being a mom means my priorities have changed. Meticulously planned fartlek runs have been swapped for helping little man sound out words while he reads books, settling simply for an easy 3 miler. "Early" morning long runs that start at 8 am now start at 5:30 am before my little guy rolls out of bed. A strict diet means I can only have 2 packs of fruit snacks with 10% fruit juice instead of 4. 
  • Long runs are better enjoyed solo. During my first marathon, I trained with Kristin--the best running partner in the world. Now, I'm happy to hit the road for 3 hours or more by myself because it means...well...time alone. I've loaded my phone with audio books, podcasts, and soothing music (instead of pump up music) because this solo time is rare and vital for me to attack the day. 
  • Having a small group of folks to run with every now and then is helpful. On Wednesday mornings I have a mid-length run (7 or 8 miles), and I've joined a small group to help keep me accountable. We are all at different stages in life, but it's nice to have company to keep me honest and running early. 
  • Sometimes it's okay to rip the shirt off. I've been a runner for over 7 years now. Before this year, I've only ran once without a shirt. Now that I'm training in high humidity, I have little reservations about letting all the goods hang out.
  • Slow runs are okay....and are needed. Gone are the days when I could pull a 10 minute mile for 15-16 miles. I'm learning the art of negative splits---conserving energy the first half so I'm not dead the second half. It's making my recovery time much quicker. 
  • Hydration is vital. I've had to teach myself to drink while running. Before this marathon, I'd drink and spill water all over my face. If I drank more than 6 ounces, my stomach bounced loud enough for spectators to hear. With time, I've learned how and when and what to drink during long runs. I now drink at least 24 ounces of blueberry-pomegranate Gu Brew during 2+ hour runs.
This weekend I have 18 miles to cover which will bring me to about 40 miles total this week. Then I'll only have a 19 and a 20 miler before I begin a slow taper. If you're out and about in Grand Island on August 23 at 6 am with nothing to do, come out and support the runners with noise makers and funny signs. We'd appreciate it. 


what i miss about western nebraska--REVISED

Note: In class today we discussed poetry and read several different pieces. One was by Sherman Alexie, one of my favorite writers. The piece really twisted the traditional concept of poetry. It blended traditional line breaks with rambly, poetic prose. I kind of thought my list piece would fit with that format. So tonight I played around a bit. Here's a revised version...the form has changed, but I've also tightened in a few spots. 

what i miss about living in western nebraska:

the streets cracked and pot-holed,
about three stop lights in the whole town.
a slow fade into gravel--
the gravel roads placed in neat rectangular grids
surrounded by fields of corn.

a five minute grocery stop
turned into twenty-five minutes
because nobody goes unnoticed in a small town.

our students--a wonderful mix of quirky and serious with a longing to connect to something outside their small town. many lamented their rural upbringing and dreamed of cities like denver as their escape. our students, who initially resisted our ideas. “we’ve never done it that way” or “we don’t usually do this much work in class” or “you want us to do what?!” like most kids, we invested in them long enough and they bought into what we were selling: fight apathy, work hard, be respectable and respectful, make a difference. the crazy group of kids who’d show up at our house dressed as sailors, plainsmen, indians, pandas, and construction workers in March. students who’d sit on our back patio at 6 am playing chess and drinking coffee. their weird antics an odd sign of affection.

my first running partner.
my 4:30 am, 20 mile running partner
who showed up midway through my long runs
with gatorade and water and companionship
just when i needed her most.
who listened for hours,
who taught me what it means to listen and not just hear.

our tomboy neighbor girl we watched grow up---
5 to 9 in the blink of an eye.
with a curiosity like scout finch--
always outside when the weather invited her out.
who knew we were a sucker for her brown eyes
and anything she was selling---
wrapping paper, girl scout cookies, candies, candles.
who dragged her shy, hesitant older brother
(our student) to our house to say hi.

whose husband died a few years before we moved in.
who kept a wonderful garden every year--
tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers,
who swore every year,
“god damn it. this garden’s too much damn work. it’s the last year, i swear.”  
who fed our terrier extra large milk bones--
so many he couldn’t keep up
and turned to burying them in holes throughout the yard.
who found our dog after he’d gotten loose
on her front porch waiting patiently
for perhaps another milk bone.

85 year old ruth, a long time smoker, a transplant from baltimore whose husband died two months after they moved to town, unaccustomed to the dry air and the peace. ruth, who shared stories about city life--about crack houses and gang violence and falling down houses. ruth, who fattened our dog that eventually learned to just sit at our shared gate, his body pressed on the fence, fur sticking into her yard, yapping until she caved and brought chicken nuggets, pieces of hamburger, bread, and anything else she had at the moment.

bob and shannon our western nebraska parents who fed us on the weekends and watched out for us, made sure we had our fill of good wine and music and the stars that could be seen in an abundance pricking the black sky on a clear night. who developed the wrinkles around our eyes from late nights of laughing.

ryan and tracy
who taught us what it truly means to work hard and invest wisely.
late twenties but already a businessman--
five gas stations and a home medical supply store--
with dreams of owning his own ranch.
a farm girl, a compassionate but strict first grade teacher
who took no bullshit from anyone, including her husband.
our first taste of ranch life---
using horses and dogs to herd cattle from the pasture.
ryan and tracy
who attached spurs to my nikes
and set me atop an embarrassed horse on their family’s ranch land.
the only people who ever trusted me with a gun--
shooting rusted, homemade targets listening for that magic “ping.”
big lake mac--in winter or summer, a 22 mile spectacle. in the wind, the wild grasses bowing to the lake’s beauty. beaches of powder white sand. the tops of trees poking the surface of the lake recovered from a ten-year drought. an entire town submerged in the waters, myths of rooftops peeking above the waves. the canyons begging me to jump the fence and sit a while.

our tiny, two-bedroom home. 1950s ranch, original wood floors, kitchen so small not even a table could fit in it. pool blue, obnoxious green, burnt orange, deep red, chocolate brown, slate gray--each room a different hue to soothe my gypsy soul. our first home, $400 mortgage payments. the home where my husband and i finally fell into a rhythm, discovered what it meant for two to become one--where we learned what it meant to be in it for the long haul.

being a wonder in a small town--
one of three 68 county subarus.
our keens and chaco sandals were definitely not boots,
were not functional,
could not be worked in.
“are you from boulder?”
a game and parks officer asked skeptically,
nodding to my tie-dye shirt and hiking pants.

the people--
honest and genuine,
sprinkled throughout a misunderstood landscape.

the 6 pm slowdown.
businesses closed,
streets nearly empty.

the stillness of an early morning run,
the crunch of gravel the only sound.