Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Giggles echoed through the parking lot as little boys with shiny mohawks ran circles around girls with bright barrettes. Through the open doors, cheerful rhythms of corridos and cumbia drifted on the warm breeze.

"My first quince!" I scampered ahead, pulling Husband along. "Too bad Amit's wedding ran so late, or we could have been here for more of it!"

It was just before 9, and we hadn't been home since 10 a.m. From C.'s quinceañera mass to several fascinating stages of our college friend's Hindu wedding, and now back to catch part of the reception for the quince... we were running on pure adrenaline.

"Thank goodness!" As soon as we walked into the reception hall, we could tell that C. and her chambelanes (honor court boys) were getting ready to start their carefully choreographed dances. "We made it just in time!"

Relief turned to frozen apprehension as we turned to look for seats. Feeling like the new kid in an overcrowded cafeteria, I dizzily gazed out onto a vast expanse of unfamiliar Hispanic faces. Carefree kids dodged tables, chairs, and outstretched arms. Aunts, uncles, and neighbors chattered as they sipped their drinks. Where were the guidance counselor and social worker who were supposed to be here? Were those chairs open, or just waiting for someone who was in the restroom? Umm, I saw those people at mass this morning... they got there almost as early as we did! They seemed nice...

 Perdón... I started rehearsing in my head... ¿Alguien se sienta aquí? Was that even how someone would actually say it? Everyone was going to wonder what on earth we were doing there!

"Mrs. M!" Suddenly, one of my students was bounding up to us.
"Hi, D!" How nice of him to come up and say hi! He's one of my more timid kids.

"Um, do you want to sit with us?!" His grin seemed to light up the whole room.
"Thanks, D! We'd love to!" It was all I could do not to let out an audible sigh of relief as the high-school-cafeteria-feeling evaporated. We wove through tables behind him, melting into the crowd and settling into a table of students right beside the dance floor.

"Mrs. M, guess what!" M. leaned over as soon as we sat down. "Me and D. are dating now!" D. grinned sheepishly and they both chattered away as we waited for the dancing to start. "When did you and Mr. M start dating?" "How many quinces have you been to?" "Do you want something to drink?" (Even though we said we were fine, M. grabbed a bottle of water for each of us, shooting us nearly-maternal "I'm taking care of you" looks.)

Sitting back, we marveled at the graceful twirls and careful steps of C. and her chambelanes. White gloves and her purple dress swirled elegantly like echoes from another time, and I breathed in the privilege of being welcome at such a special night.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recipe for Stress Reduction

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Teaching is exhausting and inspiring. It cracks your heart wide open and leaves your mind spinning. It has you running constantly on more cylinders than you even knew you had...

and it doesn't leave much room for recharging your batteries.

Even when you try, it's difficult to completely disconnect. Even if you find some downtime, there are students to worry about and new lesson ideas to ponder.

So how can we possibly keep ourselves sane? I found a pretty good recipe over the weekend:


  • wild, rolling, open spaces:

The view from our balcony at Pine Lakes Lodge!

  • extraordinary encounters with friendly companions:

At The Wilds, these wild horses wanted to ride along!
At the lodge, Carl the Camel loves to make new friends... especially if they have chips!

  • surprising discoveries and hidden secrets:

Who ever heard of a Takin?
The Asian rhinos are elusive and unique!

  • a cozy sanctuary wrapped in luscious green and brilliant blue:

The lodge! <3 I didn't want to leave!

  • and a step back in time:
Even though Husband gets to see John Glenn more than most people, visiting his childhood home was a treat!


Combine all ingredients with a special loved one and mix for 30 hours, far removed from all sources of stress. Breathe deeply and keep your eyes wide open.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Best Present

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
After weeks of hearing Husband giggle gleefully about his present for me, I wasn't completely surprised when I opened the door last Tuesday afternoon to find a cheerful birthday balloon. Seeing my stuffed Thumper holding a note below the balloon didn't come as a huge surprise either, but it was exciting. Oh boy, another birthday scavenger hunt
Thumper's note began: "Happy Birthday, Jennifer! Didn't we just do this last year?"
Clutching Thumper in one arm, I scampered around the house, following clues and discovering little gifts along the way.
"Happy Socks"!
A new mini-Boo!
When I got up to the computer room, this year's hunt had a new twist:
This note said there was something on the computer for me to see, but Husband would have to pull it up...
Luckily, after all the craziness of the unexpected birthday celebrations my students threw me and a surprise trip for ice cream with my mom, I'd gotten home from school late enough that I only had to wait about a half hour. Still, I was practically bouncing with excitement by the time Husband finally opened the correct program on the computer.

A birthday video? What could it be?

From my friends?!

"Happy Birthday, Jennifer." A familiar, cheery New Zealand accent bubbled out of the speakers. Renee made me a video?! My thoughts drifted back to childhood birthdays from second grade onward, when the phone would ring at 3 or 4 a.m. with a special call from my pen pal's family, who inevitably miscalculated the time difference every year.

Before my brain could completely process what was happening, the screen shifted to my best childhood friend, smiling outside in sunny North Carolina. By the time Christina stopped talking, tears were running down my cheeks.

Now Renee was back, showing pictures of New Zealand artwork and flowers in her house. So cool!

A little closer to home, Laura was sitting under a digital banner of birthday balloons on her webcam, explaining how much she'd learned from observing my classroom this year and how glad she was that we'd gotten to know each other.

The familiar strains of "Buckeye Battle Cry" blared in the background as Renee cheered, reminding me how excited she'd been to learn about OSU football and the marching band when she visited me, and how proud she'd been when I made the band while she was staying with us.

From Seattle, Megan's sharp wit left me convulsing with hysterical laughter. My friend since 6th grade and my roommate for two years, she held up a picture of us in our dorm room, proudly posed beside the towering pile of trash neither one of us wanted to take out. What silly freshmen we were! I'd forgotten about that picture!

Gleefully holding up a bunch of bananas, Renee brought back memories of the language differences we've discovered over the years. Apparently, they only use "a bunch" for bananas in NZ -- she laughs at me every time I use it as a synonym for "a lot"!

On the other coast, Ben peered into the screen with birthday greetings from Washington, D.C. He and his wife can't wait to tell stories about the trip to Spain that I helped them plan.

Just in case I didn't get the message with the bananas, Renee declared that she hoped I had "bunches of fun" on my 30th birthday and sent "bunches" of love from New Zealand!

Finally close to home again, my sweet rookie Becca gushed about how much she looked up to me when I was her squad leader and how grateful she is that we've since become like sisters.

I buried my face in Husband's shoulder. The best presents don't come in boxes. The best presents don't have price tags. The best presents are filled with love.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Something Right

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
(Except that yesterday I was still living my very special day!!!)
"That's when you know you're doing something right!" My Russian bilingual aide smiled as she surveyed the plethora of presents piled near my desk after school yesterday.

All from students. WOW!!! 
"We seriously have the sweetest students in the whole world!" I replied, thinking back over my day...

  • 1st period: A student shyly handed me a gift bag: "This is from my family and me. Happy Birthday! We hope you like it!"

It's a TAPE DISPENSER for my desk! SO CUTE!!!

  • 2nd period: Another teacher covered the first few minutes of class as I finished translating for a parent who'd come in unexpectedly to talk to a guidance counselor. When I opened the door to my room, the lights were off. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!" An eruption of joy emerged from under the tables as my whole class (and a few friends from other classes who'd apparently gotten passes to join in the fun!) jumped out to greet me. V. ran up to hug me, and I was immediately mobbed by other girls who all wanted to hug me too. When the hugging died down, I noticed a cake and a card on the table! While I cut the cake, the Mexican students sang "Las Mañanitas", two girls sang "Happy Birthday" in Arabic, and then everyone sang together in English! 

2nd per. cake!

2nd per. card! 

  • 3rd period: As I was trying to figure out if there was enough cake left to share with the students in this class, a beaming boy walked in carrying another cake! He proudly unveiled number candles and grinned. "If you want, we can make it say '03' instead of '30'!" As kids gathered around our biggest table, H. sidled up to me with a card in her hand. "Oh my gosh, you didn't have to get me anything!" I shrieked when I saw the gift card inside. Another student proudly spoke up: "I have a surprise for you tomorrow! You're going to like it!" Since I'd made the mistake of mentioning last year's mordida, several Mexican kids gleefully (but gently) pushed my face into the corner of the cake, much to the amusement of the rest of the class.  I got another round of "Las Mañanitas," another rendition "Happy Birthday" in Arabic, and even a solo of "Happy Birthday" in Russian! We all dug into the cake, sharing stories about special birthday traditions in our families and countries. 
3rd per. cake!
H.'s sweet card & gift card!
True to his word, the student who spoke up yesterday showed up this morning with a huge smile!
Chocolate & a journal? Of course I love it!
  • 6th per: Thank goodness, there was not another cake, because I couldn't have eaten any more! However, when we were talking about Tuesday Slices of Life, one student gave away this class' surprise: writing slices for my birthday
  • After school: My eyes did not believe what they were seeing. Right there, walking through my classroom door with a huge bouquet and a balloon, was a former student who now attends a different school in our district. "Happy Birthday, Mrs. M!" Unreal

One of the students who brought cake texted him that it was going to be my birthday!
I may still have a lot to work on, but yes, I'm doing something right. And it's the most important something of all.