Well. That was a year. I don't know if I would call it good. But it was full of change that resulted in good things coming our way.

Mark quit his job. I quit my job. This took guts and was probably a little crazy. We freelanced and began the steps to launch our own business. But by the end of the year, we had both found ourselves employed once again, this time in positions we're excited about and believe in. Filing our 2012 taxes is going to be a epic adventure, perhaps on par with the year we lived in 2 states and worked in 3.

I taught a bunch of algebra with my very favorite co-teacher of all time, Nicole. She was my polar opposite in so many ways, but taught me to enjoy glitter pens and fancy Starbucks drinks. (She could never get me to wear heels in the classroom, though.) She taught me a lot about building relationships with high school students. I really loved teaching math while I was in that room. When I finally put in my letter of resignation, the hardest thing to let go of was the prospect of another year of Algebra 1 with Nicole.

I got to know people I never thought I would, like gastroenterologists and acupuncturists. My body went haywire and was slowly and gently coaxed back to health through a change in diet, plenty of sleep, and some major CTFO. (And just in time to start gestating the newest member of our family, which thus far, has been a blessedly uneventful process.)

Laurel quit diapers, got bossy, learned to negotiate, developed empathy, and mastered all kinds of early reading skills that I get super excited about observing. (Phonemic awareness! Pattern recognition!)

M spent a lot of time working on Margaret's farm. He brought home crates and crates of seconds and now our freezer is full going into winter. He ran in a couple of super hike events, always amazing me with how big his grin gets after he's covered 20 or 30 miles of trail in the woods.

We took our first family road trip and explored Florida. We discovered that Laurel enjoys hitting the road as much as we do. In fact, it's one of the most common make-believe games she plays now.

This wasn't a year of accomplishments, or goal setting. It was a year of life happening. It was a year of us saying no to things we didn't want to do. We spent a lot of time walking away and waiting. The amazing thing to me is that when you walk away from what you don't want, you end up walking towards what you do. Life opens up. Gives you opportunities that you didn't know were there before.

It was scary, though. I think the biggest change in me during this year was how I dealt with fear. Aside from my infamous fear of lightening, I'm pretty gutsy in the face of danger. I handle emergencies with poise and a clear head.  I can get things done and I don't overreact. I do a lot of things other people might consider risky, but I don't do them in an irresponsible or cavalier way. I try to be informed of the facts, and weigh my decision based on a reasonable assessment of risk. And I don't want to miss out on the fun of life, just because there's a remote chance I'll be harmed in some way by it.

However, when it comes to the larger decisions in life, I waver. I make too many contingency plans, err on the side of caution, and avoid taking risks with my career and goals. And as a result, I found that I was going down a path I didn't really want to be on. I had a lot of fear of walking away from a contract teaching job, because it's supposed to be a good thing. Steady paycheck, good benefits, great hours for a mom of young children. I was pretty good at it. Plus I had spent all those years and money on the credentials and blah, blah, blah. Point is, I had tremendous fear of even imagining another way for myself. I dealt with that fear in 2012.

M bought me this poster last winter, when I was in a generally panic-stricken state, as things seemed to be getting worse and worse. I learned about the history of this poster, and breathed it in and out until I figured out what to do.

Happy New Year. Whatever 2013 brings our way, I'll be doing this.


Christmas 2012

Christmas is such a big deal when you have a little kid. There's a lot of pressure to make it really magical, and in America, "magical" seems to equate "spending lots of money to buy Stuff." Laurel goes to preschool and watches enough television that she's influenced by all kinds of things besides us. People love to ask little kids if they're being good and what Santa is going to bring them and all that. So even though we don't really "do" Santa around here, we had to talk about him a lot. Hopefully she doesn't ruin it for your kid. In our house, Santa is a story. Stories can be enjoyed or learned from, but there is no need to take them literally in order for that to be the case. Kind of like the bible. Literal interpretation only causes more confusion down the road.

Our holiday was magical enough, despite Laurel getting the flu. She had a fever of 105 one night! Not fun. We had to cancel most of our plans, but the benefit was that we had a really nice and quiet Christmas at home. We made a lot of hot chocolate and read stories and took naps. Since we're about to add a little chaos into our home in the form of newborn due to arrive sometime in the next month, it was nice to spend some time "all three together," as Laurel puts it. She loves it when the three of us sit down to paint or play with playdoh or hang out in her armada of pirate ships made out of boxes from Uncle Pete. There is something very therapeutic for M and I about getting some time off work and just playing. I'm hoping that next year we'll be able to get together with my family, but that I'll remember to preserve some quiet time for us at home. 


Good Tidings of Joy

I'm currently reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, and nodding my head along with agreement as I recognize so many of her ideas in my own life. One of the things she talks about is the difficulty some of us have in really experiencing joy without thinking about the next bad thing that must be coming our way. She calls it "Foreboding Joy."

Oh man, do I do this.

M and I both just started jobs that feel right, we're expecting a baby, we're all healthy. It feels like all the news we're getting now is good news. Our days contain lots of joyful moments. But instead of simply  experiencing the joy, I'm reluctant to embrace it. I worry that it means bad luck is on its way. I feel the need to constantly prepare myself for this impending bad luck, and my imagination runs away to places I'd rather not put in words.

Brown's research interviews with women revealed that I am not alone in this. Lots of her subjects reported these foreboding thoughts when they watched their children peacefully at sleep. They could not help but imagine a horrific car accident or getting a phone call from the police. I felt at once relieved that other women reported feeling this way, and then immediately horrified that so many of us are walking around with these mental images.

It's not the Connecticut shootings. I would be experiencing Foreboding Joy even if somebody hadn't just gone on a murderous rampage in a kindergarten. But it does beg the question....just because bad things can and do happen to people, is it right to live your life anticipating them? Would that make a really horrifying event easier to deal with, if it actually happened to you? People who have experienced tragedy tell Brown no. And furthermore, people who have experienced tragedy often still experience a lot of joy.

This season is about Big Joy. A savior's birth, if you celebrate Christmas, or the retaking of a sacred temple, if you are Jewish. You don't need to wait for Big Joy, though. Joy also comes in the small moments. Ordinary moments. Peeking out the window on a frosty morning to see snow. Laurel asking M what kind of hot sauce he wants and digging around in the fridge until she finds the right one. Running into neighbors at the grocery store. Getting an email from a friend you haven't heard from in a while. Sitting around with some paper and scissors and glue sticks and making holiday decorations.

So, look for the joy in your life today and lean into it. Forget about what may come next.


Safe Zones

One day, when I was teaching in Phoenix, an announcement came over the speaker, "Attention all teachers, the eagle is soaring."

My heart stopped because that was the shit-going-down code word for lock your doors and get away from the windows. Someone was on our campus with a gun. I read it in the faculty handbook, but never in a million years did I expect to hear it actually used. Maybe a drill? Then I saw a group of police officers run by, armed with rifles, wearing bullet proof vests. So....not a drill.

I locked the door and gathered my small group of K-2 special ed students on the carpet. I figured if we were sitting down, we'd be more out of sight. I remember mentally scanning the room, and trying to picture what I would do if a gunman got in. I remember picking up my emergency handbook and scanning it, looking for clues on what I was supposed to do next. It was very vague...wait for the all clear announcement.

We carried on with our lesson - I think - although I went into some kind of robo-teacher mode and can't remember what I said. The kids were game for it, though. Only after the normal dismissal time had come and gone did they ask any questions. And it being a primary level special education class, half the kids were entirely unphased, and a few were under the impression that an eagle was on the loose in the school and had perhaps attacked a student.

I could hear the helicopters overhead, which was actually pretty common in Phoenix - the police used them all the time to look for suspects. This time, though, they were hovering over the school.

The lockdown lasted perhaps an hour. I can't remember the details anymore, but it turned out to just be some criminals on the loose. They had carjacked somebody, or something. No one at our school was hurt. No one came with the intent to hurt us.

It's not the same at all as the school shooting in Connecticut. I can't imagine what it must be like for that community. I don't want to imagine it. When I heard the news break yesterday morning, I couldn't concentrate on my work and ended up sewing covers for my throw pillows all afternoon. Make it go away, my brain seemed to be saying.

I think there should be safe places and dangerous places. With ample signage. And everybody who wants to have a gun and hurt people or wage wars can do so in the clearly marked Danger Zones, and the rest of us can go happily about our business in the Safe Zones.

Wouldn't it be nice?

But there are no safe zones. Anywhere. I'm registering Laurel for preschool right now, and one of the schools we could send her to had a fatal shooting just outside its doors last week. Father dropped kids off at school and was shot in his car on his way out. But that's different, you might think. Obviously drug related, and well, maybe he had it coming to him. And there's no illusion of safety in that particular neighborhood, anyway. Not like Newton, CT. It's supposed to be safe there. Especially in the kindergarten.

I am personally kind of against anyone owning a gun, but in my humble opinion, there's something far beyond gun control that needs to be discussed here. I imagine as details of the shooter's history and motives come out, there were will be plenty o' heated rhetoric in the media. The details will make it not-so-simple. Pundits will shout. There will be press conferences.

In the meantime, compassion, not blame, is in order. Solutions, not finger pointing. Care for all members of community....not isolation or punishment or revenge. And before you think for a second that you have landed someplace safe, where that could never happen, release both that presumption and your need for it. This is not "their" problem...it's all of ours.


Random Friday Thoughts and Links

Slow start, Friday morning. It's sunny, but the frost is still thick on my porch shingles. My desk sits next to the window overlooking the porch roof, and I can see everyone walking by. Perfect location for a nosy neighborhood association president like myself.

M took Laurel to school this morning. We're trying to get in the habit of him taking her so that when the baby is born, I won't be trying to get out of the house with a newborn in the morning. See? Thinking ahead. M & K are catching on to this parenting thing.

She was in a fantastic mood this morning for some reason, and happily got ready (it took some convincing to get her to wear pants, though). He sits her on the back of his bike,  and she hangs onto the rack. I suppose if we lived in Uganda or India, he would just pedal over to school, but that's frowned upon here, so he just walks his bike. Perhaps not the way you would do it, but it looks very cute and seems to work.

Here's where I've been clicking around on this week.

This poster from Brene Brown captures a lot of what I believe as a parent.

Interesting thoughts on Santa?

Just heard about yet another pedestrian hit-and-run accident this morning. This year saw a lot of sad headlines about incidents with pedestrians and cyclists. Check out the City Paper's write up here. I will be attending a lot of traffic meetings in the new year.

I obviously need to buy this for our new baby.

New show I just discovered. Kind of like the Daily Show but more raw.

My letter on behalf of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh went out today via email. I feel slightly awkward having asked half the county for money (I just don't normally do stuff like that. I have trouble sending invoices to clients.) However, it's an institution I believe in, and really, even just $25 makes a difference. Let's all pitch in!


Jumping off the Cliff of Uncertainty - (and discovering you can swim)

Last year, we started to realize that our current life was not working for us, and thus began a year long quest for a more workable arrangement. (And by that, I mean, I got so insanely stressed out that I got seriously, physically ill for months and months, and M went nuts trying to figure out how to help me and everybody quit their jobs with no real plan in place to deal with mortgage payments or water bills.)

When I was doing my annual reflection journaling for 2011 and 2012, I wrote out a bunch of lists of how I wanted to see my days go. Big ideas and little details, I put them all down on paper. Some serious, some silly. For instance, I really wanted to work in my community - to give back to the people I pass on the street every day or ride the bus with, instead of commuting to another place. I really wanted to return to my focus on literacy. I wanted a flexible schedule and to sleep in until at least 6am. I wanted to be able to pee during the workday. And wear yoga pants. I wanted to be able to pick up my kid from daycare when she had a fever without it turning into the Most Stressful Event Ever.

It took me 11 months, but yesterday I realized that I actually made it happen.

I was bouncing on my exercise ball in my little makeshift office (well, corner of my bedroom), happily typing emails and reading Common Core standards and brainstorming. Working. From home. In yoga pants. Until the phone rang and it was Laurel's teacher, calling to report that she was crying and had a fever of 101. So I picked her up and brought her home. Gave her a popsicle and read a story and put her to bed. Worked a little more and emptied my calendar for the next day.

It took me longer than I thought to figure all this stuff out. It didn't fall easily into place and there were some scary times in the past year where I definitely had trouble believing that it would all work out. As a result, I ended up interviewing for jobs while 7 months pregnant. Turns out, I'm not so alone in this. Pregnant women are seeking jobs in ever increasing numbers, and while a lot of them are not getting hired (and then filing discrimination complaints), it's becoming more common. More on that later.

For me, a big part of the process was reconciling my identity as a mother and as a professional. I realized my family required a lot from me...not just the in-person caregiver-type demands that I expected from motherhood, but also as a financial contributor to the household, and as a role model to my children by engaging in work I was passionate about. (I have a lot more to say about that, too. Later.)

Anyway, life isn't suddenly perfect. There's the whole broke sink/aging plumbing thing to contend with. Our chimney is falling down. A baby coming in 4-9 weeks (why is human gestation so imprecise?), and very little preparation done so far.

But, whatever. I'm happy. Life is good.

I just found this link to a workbook of journal prompts to guide reflection on the past year and plan for the year to come. If you are feeling a little lost, I swear this is a key step in figuring out what you are supposed to be doing with your life. Click the link! Click it! Fill it out, pick a word!

Unraveling the Year Ahead

Have fun!


School Again

I stepped into a school for the first time since my last teaching gig, in June. It was after school hours....25 or so kids gathered in a lunchroom, doing homework and eating snacks. Fourteen years of working with kids and I'm always amazed at the universality of their character. Within 5 minutes, I had a hug, a question about my giant belly, and 3 requests that I read books. "I don't know who you are," they seem to say, "But come sit by me." 

Torrential downpours with falling temperatures, and a very early sunset made for a gloomy day in Pittsburgh. On my way to the lunchroom, I passed some teachers still working in their classrooms. Hunched over their desks, faces lit up by the glow of laptops, I knew they were looking for the perfect web resource for tomorrow's lesson or trying to clean out their inboxes. I immediately sensed their weariness. Or perhaps just remembered it.

I'm doing some curriculum development for after school programs. Learning time must be maximized. Lessons aligned to standards. Billions of dollars are poured into this problem...why do some places suffer from such abysmal graduation rates? Why do some children have trouble learning to read? Why is there such disparity across our public education system?

And the biggest question...what exactly should kids be learning?

I could write volumes on standards in education, but I already nearly slipped down that rabbit hole, and I need to get back to work. (Note to self: do NOT read comments on articles about education. So many trolls.)

However, I will leave you with this. Google recently joined the conversation on the Common Core Standards in this piece on why they think computer science needs to be included.

When I first read the Common Core it never occurred to me that computer science was missing. And I'm not convinced that high school graduates need to have a high level of understanding of computer technology or programming. After all, most of us use computers for the purpose of communicating...we don't need to know how the operating system works. 


Just do it.

Don't wait until everything is perfectly aligned to invite your friends and family over. Just do it. Make a big pot of macaroni and cheese and cut up some veggies and just tell everyone to come. If you wait until the bathroom is remodeled or you finish painting or you have enough money to throw a catered party, it will never happen. If it is raining and fifty degrees outside, scrap the luminaria...you ran out of time anyway. If constructing the gingerbread house goes too slowly, and it's not done, just make another batch of dough into gingerbread men and put out some sprinkles and let everybody decorate them. If you don't have very many holiday decorations, improvise a wreath with some construction paper and magazine clippings. It does not have to be perfect to be a good idea.

Last night our house was filled with noise and laughing and the clankity clang of young children banging on piano keys. Christmas music in the background, warm cups of wassail clutched in hands. A small crowd lingering until long past my normal bedtime, helping us tidy up and put away food. (Or just pick at the food until it was gone!)

I'm 8 months pregnant, M and I both got new jobs in the last two weeks and Laurel is so very three. There were a lot of reasons not to throw a party right now.

But there were more reasons to just do it. I'm so very glad for every opportunity we have to open our doors, and for the people who walk through them when we do.

So, don't wait to invite those new neighbors over for dinner (they won't care how messy your house is).  Haven't talked to an old friend in a while?...send her an email today. Take out your stationary and drop a note to your grandma. Bake some cookies and drop them off to your kid's teachers. Don't overthink it, just do it, and do it now. You won't regret it.



The calendar year is winding to a close, and soon it will be time to write 2013 on our checks, if you are the type of person who is still writing checks in 2013.

Last year I bought a workbook to reflect on the year. It felt sort of silly and indulgent at the time, but when I reread my list of things to do in 2012 and questions I answered about 2011, I realized that it was well worth it.

2012 was a very intentional year, and for the first time in a while, it involved a lot of quitting and waiting and scaling back. When you are engaged in that kind of work, especially if you are a busy body like me, it can feel like you are doing nothing. But all that nothing led to me checking off a good chunk of the items on my "50 things to do in 2012" list.

Some of them were bucket list items (go on a solo backpacking trip). Some were chores I wanted to get in the habit of doing (wash car regularly). Some were grandiose and vague and I didn't make all that much headway on (learn Drupal). Regardless, reviewing that list made me realize that I woke up everyday with some kind of purpose in the back of my mind, and that makes a big difference in being able to sustain through personal hardship.

I'll be spending some time in the next week or so journaling about what 2012 meant to me (quitting teaching!) and generating a new list of things to do in 2013 (have a baby!).


Lessons (in no particular order)

1. Be sure to have a Saint Jude candle on hand at all times, just in case.
2. If you are not sure whether or not to take a job, ask yourself the Powerball question. (If I won the Powerball, would I still want to work here? If the answer is yes, you should take the job.)
3. When you can't figure out anything else, just make gingerbread houses. People are oddly impressed by them. Also, it makes your house smell delicious.
4. Lentils should not be cooked in a crock pot.
5. Breakfast dates are better once you have reached a certain age.
6. The mere mention of Rick Sebak's name makes everyone smile.
7. Don't turn off the football game before it ends.