Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Christmas.

Here are some images from our excellent Christmas.  We were lucky to have my mom home and with us for all parts of Christmas this year.

For a few days prior, we wrapped gifts and baked cookies and tried to remember all the verses of the 12 Days of Christmas, even resorting to asking strangers in the grocery store for help with the words.  Reed's strategy, when in doubt is to sing/shout:  "FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!"

Seriously, the kids were so good.  They were cheerful and helpful and full of smiles.  

sharing Christmas with all of her stuffed animals. 

 We baked a batch of Chewy Molasses Chocolate Chip with Sea Salt.  Santa got none.

 Christmas morning!  So patient. 
 The hit of the year was the wooden marble run from Aunt Liesel and Uncle Craig.  I love that my kids still get thrills from toys like this.  Neither of them got anything that requires plugging in.
 New sweatshirts and hats and piles of books.  Happy, happy kids. 

My kids and my mom joined Tim and his kids and his mom for Christmas dinner.  Families are merging here people, and there was pork tenderloin, potatoes, squash and apple-cranberry crisp to mark the occasion.  And football.

Reed got a football for Christmas and a lot of help on his technique.

In case the resemblance isn't entirely obvious, these are Tim's awesome kids Ellis and Hillary.
Hillary and Ellis (both former students of mine) treated my kids right. They are rock stars to them.   All day long today, it has been:    "Hillary.  Ellis.  Hillary.  Ellis.  Hillary.  Ellis"
Tim rides a motorcycle (our second date), so there was some Harley indoctrination going on. 
Later in the day,  we all went down to the park where there was more football and chasing and tackling and rosy-cheeked cuteness.

Besides all of this loveliness, I also got a new Magic Bullet Juicer for Christmas from my mom, and I have been juicing up a storm all day.  That thing is awesome.  Speaking of storms, my kiddos are off for their 2nd Christmas (not a bad deal, they think) tonight and we are about to hunker down for a snow storm (finally!).  I have popcorn and a fireplace and snowshoeing and Mediteranean Chicken in the slow-cooker in my future.

Happy (happy, happy) New Year to all of you. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

fa la la.

Happy We-Almost-Made-it-to-Christmas! Phew.

This week has been a whirlwind of preparations and social gatherings. I just put my kids to bed and they only have 2 more sleeps until Santa comes. This is so exciting.

Behold an incredibly random selection of photos from the past week or so.
We'll call it the pre-Christmas Photo Dump.
cozy by the Christmas tree.

December does not keep us from the playground.

brrr.  And no snow. 

This is Tim.  If you live in this part of Maine, you already know Tim.
  We wore green and red on our last run together, but not on purpose.
This is Tim's daughter Hillary who also was once a student in my class.  She is making gingerbread houses with my kids. 

Indeed, Reed had two whole Twizzlers on his roof.

Reed's Christmas Card to his Kindergarten teacher. 
and on the back:  "I'm sorry I'm wiggly."

I surprised Skyler and showed up at her school Christmas party. 

and I made this pretty salad with pomegranate seeds, candied almonds and edible flowers.  I told you this was a random selection. 

Christmas party at the home of three former students.  I love knowing them as adults and being a part of their lives. 

Like I said, I don't need a thing for Christmas.  I'm all set.

Enjoy the festivities, all of you.  More soon.  xo

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

turning the tassel, again.

I graduated yesterday.

It was an unceremonious printing of a letter that came through email after I submitted my final project in my final graduate class.  I thought about playing "Pomp and Circumstance" on my laptop speakers, but I was too busy rushing off to teach my next class. 

And herein ends a very long saga of Emilie going to school.  I haven't really been able to stop going to school since I started.  I love school.  I love being a teacher, of course, but I also love being a student.  I love getting A's and positive feedback, shopping for back-to-school clothes, drinking coffee in the school union, and thinking of my life in terms of semesters.  Anyone who thinks the new year starts in January is crazy.  In my world, every year begins in September and ends in May or June. 

It's odd then, that I am wrapping up this school life just weeks before the calendar year ends.  Because there is no winter graduation at University of Maine, I will have to wait until the spring to wear my cap and gown, but as of yesterday,  I am officially d.o.n.e., turning the tassel from right to left.

When I was 22 and I graduated from University of Michigan, I thought I was happy to be done going to school, but the truth is, it took me only weeks before I pined for a classroom again.  My last years in Ann Arbor left me with such a love of reading and writing and ivy-covered buildings and course selection catalogs and all-night computer labs, that I was lost without the university life.  My very first job out of college was a paralegal in a law firm in San Francisco.  I found myself sitting at my desk and daydreaming about bluebooks and highlighters and college football and stacks of novels:  I started that job in September and quit in May (isn't this when the semester ends?).

After a year or two of bouncing around jobs in SF, I signed up for a graduate program to get my teaching credential at San Francisco State, the beginning of my teaching career and the beginning of many, many hours back in a classroom.   I walked onto the campus of San Francisco State 16 years ago, and I can still tell you exactly how I felt when I sat down in Bruce Avery's Teaching Shakespeare class on the first floor of the Humanities Building.  True, I was a little bit in love with Bruce Avery (so handsome!), but really, I was in love with learning and talking about learning.  When you create a teaching unit on Othello that you are so proud of that you move yourself to tears, you know you have chosen the right career.

When I moved to Maine and started teaching high school, I quickly took advantage of the fact that my school department paid for my continued education.  I wanted more.  I enrolled in the Masters program in English and took classes for four semesters.  I researched and wrote long papers and analyzed texts through feminist lenses and argued about William Carlos Williams' enigmatic prose.  My focus had shifted, though, after teaching high school, and I found this level of study kind of (gasp) pointless.

Somewhere in the middle of a Modern British Writers class when we were arguing for 45 minutes about one line in Thomas Hardy's  "The Darkling Thrush," I thought:   "Wait.  How is this making the world a better place?"

So I quit that English Masters program.

I realize that is a really crazy thing for a teacher of literature and writing to say.  However, I maintain that as a high school English teacher, I don't so much teach English as teach kids, and that I use writing and books to talk about ideas, and about all of the really important parts of being a human being.  All of the novels and plays and poems that we teach are just vehicles to talk about truth, lies, power, love, pain, suffering, joy, redemption, forgiveness, and on and on.  After a year or two of teaching, I just knew I wanted to keep talking about the ways to teach and engage kids, to help kids write more and better, and to help them love school as much as I do.

I transferred my English credits to the College of Education and earned my Masters a few years later. During those years, I met Rich Kent, a former high school English Teacher Rock Star, and now professor and writer and advisor and mentor and dear friend.  Rich encouraged me to co-teach some classes during the summers, to submit writing for publication, and to come up and talk to his classes full of future teachers; he basically kept a fire lit under me about writing and teaching it.   

After I graduated with my Masters, I took a year off (during which I had a baby or something to keep me busy), and then soon Rich told me about a new degree program he was starting at UMaine called Writing and the Teaching of Writing.  "Isn't this perfect for you? Aren't you ready to earn your CAS?" (In case you aren't familiar, a CAS, "Certificate of Advanced Study," is comparable to a second Masters).  It didn't take much for Rich to twist my arm.    

I started two years ago, took classes each semester, during summers, and two classes this fall,  and I wrote and wrote and wrote.   As of this week, I have finished the program, and now I have some extra letters after my name:  M.Ed, CAS.

All that is left now would be to keep going and get my PhD.  Don't think it hasn't occurred to me more than a few times.  But first, I'll take a semester off, until Rich calls me and starts bugging me to come back.

I know how lucky I am to have been provided so many opportunities to keep going to school.  My affiliation with UMaine has given me many cool challenges and ways to think about my teaching, to write, and to make great friends, to connect with other teachers;  and this summer, thanks to Rich's confidence in me,  I will teach my first graduate class.

No more homework for me for a while.  Next up:  It's POETRY OUT LOUD on Friday!   And then.... VACATION.

(Thank you all so much for all the love in response to my last post.  I seriously am humbled by and grateful for your words.  I'm so lucky). 

Monday, December 17, 2012

things I can't write about.

Over the past few months, I have said to myself many, many times: I want to write a blog post about x or y or z, but I can't.  I have been stopping myself. Of course, I can always write about food or running or swimming or the races I'm thinking about signing up for in the upcoming year,  but that isn't really what I've been thinking about. 

I want to write everything I have felt over the past year, but it is raw and confusing and sometimes contradictory.  Most importantly though, it is a story that is not mine alone.  I want to write about divorce and what it feels like to go through it, about visiting the courthouse to fill out forms, about using language like "plaintiff" and "defendant" and watching a huge part of your life turn into a pile of papers, stamped in red ink with loud clunking sounds that echo in the courthouse halls.  

I want to write about how, when you are divorced, when you have your kids with you (physically, that is) only half of the time, that people assume things about you as a mother.  And about how I probably assumed those same things about divorced people before.   People talk about what is best for you, or what you should have done, or what you could have done differently.   I want to write about divorce without sounding defensive.

I even hesitate to write about happiness, because I have this sense that people don't want to hear it yet.  At once I feel happy and guilty about my happiness. I hear the critics in my head.   I imagine it makes some people uncomfortable when I am feeling awesome, or confused when sadness bubbles up again.  Maybe it's all in my head. 

I want to tell you all about how I have moved forward in my life, and that I have found new love that is really freaking incredible, but I hesitate and (over)think about how it will be perceived. 

It seems there is an acceptable time-line for emotional shifts, that there is somehow a right amount of time to grieve, and a right amount of time before you should rightfully recover from a loss.  I still, when I talk about how deeply I miss my dad, sense that some people are thinking:  "are you still talking about your dad after 9 years?" Is it true that people think this? Or that I may have had this thought about someone else?    I hear from people (and from my own brain):   Do you think it's a good idea to post about ____________ or too soon to write about _____________ or to show photos of you with _________________?  I really don't know, actually.  Have I ever overlaid my own personal time-line onto someone else's life?  I hope not. Where is the line between moving on in a healthy way and being insensitive to others?

What I can or can't or should or shouldn't write about begs the question:  Who am I writing this blog for, anyway? Great question.  I am very aware, maybe too aware, of who is out there and that you all bring your own feelings to the screen when you read.   A lot of you are supportive and kind and loving, but some of you are quietly suspicious of me, or not sure you think I deserve to be happy just yet. But am I writing this for anyone but myself?  Well, if the answer is no, then I would just write in a diary and keep it in my dresser drawer. 

I do know that as a writing teacher, I preach how important it is to remove the self-critic, to disregard the doubt, to be brave, to write from a place of honesty and integrity, and that often our very best writing will make us take a very deep breath before we share it, before we hit "publish."

I wish that I had thicker skin sometimes, and that I didn't feel everything so fully. 

I definitely can't write about what happened in Connecticut on Friday.  I can't because I'm a mom to elementary school-age kids, and because I'm a teacher.  I can't write about it because if I think that hard about it, my heart will break or I will die.  

I can't write about how I have dared to go all the way in my imagination to the moment when I stand at the door of my classroom and come face to face with a gun, and my students are behind me, under my care.  I can't write about what it felt like to read in the newspaper the names of the kids who were killed.  I can't think about how their names were written all over that classroom, above coat hooks and on cubbies and on little job charts and on paper cutouts in the shape of pumpkins and butterflies.  I can't think about the little outfits their parents dressed them in that morning, or the way they turned and waved as they climbed up the tall steps of the bus that morning. 

And I can't tell my kids about it, either. 

The kids had a half-day on Friday.  They were hanging out safely in my office on Friday while there was utter chaos in Newtown, CT.
I can't write about dropping off my kids at school this morning, and how I swallowed my tears on the way back to the car after kissing them goodbye, how every part of that transaction felt tinged with more meaning than ever.  It's just too sad. 

I feel it all.  I feel it all deeply and my heart is sometimes too tender. 

I just wanted you to know that I'm still here.  I'm not blogging as often right now, but it's not because I don't want to or don't have a whole lot to say.  And, as friends remind me, "if anyone doesn't want to read what you write, they don't have to read the blog."  I'm just going to keep drinking coffee and keep thinking and over-thinking. 

I write on the blog because it's a part of me now.  If you stuck with me, or if you continue to do so, I am honored and grateful.  Bless you, thank you, and go hug your children. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

That's how the light gets in.

 I didn't mean to disappear from the blog after my San Francisco trip.  I've been happily busy teaching, being mom, getting ready for Christmas, and enjoying the cold weather.  No seriously, I'm kind of enjoying the cold.  I think a snowless December has something barren and beautiful about it.  The ground has a hardness to it, but the light is so soft. 

The above photo of the full moon and pink sky was taken after an early-morning swim practice last week.  That is pretty much what it looks like around here.  I would be happy for a big, nasty snow storm, too, but right now I'm enjoying this simple landscape and cold-weathery things like fires, hot coffees, and down jackets.

I have landed in such a quietly peaceful place, and I am grateful for that peace every single minute of every day.  Having had so much emotional tumult in my life has allowed me to now be truly thankful for the perspective it has given me.  I love the quote from Leonard Cohen:  "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."  And I can feel the warmth of that light, even on these cold December days.  

And yet, just when I was ready to shout happiness from the rooftops and declare that everything was right with the world, two family members, my brother-in-law and my aunt, have been diagnosed with cancer in the last 3 weeks.  If I listed off to you all of my family members who have now battled or are battling cancer, you would either not believe me or think I'm being dramatic.  For some reason, cancer has become a frequent visitor, a primary character in our lives, so much so that there is something disgustingly-not-even-surprising anymore when I get another dreaded phone call about the most recent bad news from the oncologist. 

We know the drill all too well.  You have the preliminary diagnosis, then the biopsies, the staging, then the waiting and frantic googling, then the beginning of treatment:  surgery or radiation or chemo.  We cry and shake our fists at the sky,  and then we roll up our sleeves and get ready to fight the disease, because we know how to do this.  My brother-in-law Craig is, as I write,  on day 4 of 5 straight days of his first round of chemo.  Just brutal.

I wish that cancer and all the terminology that goes with it were still part of a distant and foreign language I knew nothing about. 

Even before these new developments, I had been craving simplicity this Christmas, to be close to my loved ones, to spend little.  Recent cancer diagnoses have only reignited that need for simplicity, for warmth, for time together with the ones I love. 

I feel less motivated than ever to buy stuff for people this year.  I need a trip to the mall with people pushing and filling bags like I need a hole in the head.   I am pretty pared down in my possessions right now, in my small condo, and I don't need a thing.  I don't need stuff.   I just want to bake cookies and eat popcorn with my kids and tell people that I love them. 

We got our Christmas tree early this year, mostly because I wanted to savor the twinkly-light time I have with my kids for the season. 
This one?  No, Reedo.  Too tall.

This one.  Perfect. 
little Lumberjack.

I am counting and recounting my blessings.  Reed and Skyler are doing so well.  They are happy in school, funny, articulate, and full of energy and Christmas cheer.   

In the past two months in Kindergarten, Reed has gone from being able to write his name only, to being able to write in sentences and to read many words.  He is a total sponge right now, and is so excited about school.

At school, if he gets to place his behavior clothespin on one the highest levels, green or purple, which he does most days, he comes out of school at the end of the day with both arms in the air.  He tries so hard to be a good boy.    He still acts crazy and wiggles a lot, and has a dangerous affinity toward playing games on my iPhone, but it is a Christmas miracle to behold him sitting in his bed and WRITING each night before he goes to sleep.

Skyler is a budding artist and a fierce mathematician. While Reed drifts off to sleep after writing "I like apples. Apples are red," Skyler asks if she can keep the light on for a few more minutes to do a few more pages of her math workbook, or to draw portraits of her stuffed animals. 

Skyler is eager to please and help around the house, loves to help me cook, and most recently, fold laundry (praise God).  She is saving her money to buy her beloved 2nd grade teacher a present because she said it wouldn't mean the same if I just bought it for her.  She gets it.
Christmas ornament making at the library. 

Sharing the magic of this season with my kids means I already got everything I want for Christmas. 

Life is fragile and unpredictable and full of cracks (and therefore light.) And I know these cracks are necessary or inevitable in helping us really know what is good and important in our worlds,  but I would like very much to have everyone in my life to be healthy and cancer-free.  Please.

Eat well, stay current with your doctor's visits, be proactive about your health, simplify, and hold each other close.  Happy cold December and holiday season to all of you.