Category Archives: Happiness

Ahead of my time

The day I was offered my first teaching job in 1997, I was introduced to “the best teacher in the building” — a lovely woman in her late 50s whose students sat in neat rows and quietly filled out worksheets all hour.

I’d just spent four years listening to my professors tell me students should never sit in neat rows and quietly fill out worksheets, because they need to talk, teach, create, collaborate, move around, and engage in lessons that appeal to as many of their senses as possible, so after politely observing The Best Teacher in the Building and her woefully outdated methods, I proceeded to spend the next year rearranging my classroom about three times a week to accommodate poetry readings, mock trials for Shakespearean characters, mock episodes of Jerry Springer featuring dysfunctional families from Greek mythology, Lord of the Flies-themed scavenger hunts, and similarly noisy, active lessons that made it abundantly clear I was never going to be The Best Teacher in the Building.

At the end of the year, my contract was not renewed, mostly because my principal saw my kids out of their seats every time she walked past my room and concluded that I must be The Worst Teacher in the Building.

My current superintendent’s office is next door to my classroom. The walls are thin enough that I can hear her every time she laughs or speaks in an animated tone, so I know she can hear us every time we laugh, speak in animated tones, have a spirited debate, act out a scene from a play, listen to music, play a game, celebrate a success, or watch a movie.

Today, I wandered over to her office during my plan time to sign some paperwork she had for me. While I was there, I apologized for today’s noise level and explained that the kids were taking their test over Hamlet, which involves watching the movie Strange Brew and identifying all the similarities they can find between it and the play.

She told me I never need to apologize for that or worry that we’re bothering her with our noise, because she likes to hear the kids having fun in class.

I wish my 22-year-old self could have heard that. She wasn’t The Worst Teacher in the Building. She was just ahead of her time.

Emily

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New job, new house, New Mexico

I’ve been threatening since 2001 to run away to New Mexico for vacation and never come back. Last month, I made good on that threat.

I’d intended to post an update earlier, but things happened so quickly, tonight is really the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath.

In late September, I interviewed for a job teaching English at House High School in House, New Mexico. I was offered the job Oct. 2, with an Oct. 9 start date. In between, we’d already scheduled our vacation, with plans to leave Cape the morning of Oct. 5 and arrive in Tucumcari the evening of Oct. 6.

This is the view from my front porch.
We rolled into town in time for dinner Oct. 6, put an offer on a mid-century house with a view of Tucumcari Mountain from the living room on Oct. 7, and I started my new teaching gig the morning of Oct. 9. House is up on the Caprock Escarpment, about 47 miles from Tucumcari; my 50-minute commute across the Llano Estacado and up the Caprock takes me past Tucumcari Mountain, Bulldog Mesa, and Mesa Redondo every morning and evening, usually just in time to watch the sun rise and set. That picture you see at the top of this post was the view as I came down off the Caprock one afternoon during my first week of school.

This is my new kitchen. I need to do a whole post about the glorious mid-century time capsule that is my new house.
We’re on a four-day school week, which basically means I get to use every Friday as a planning period, and I have a grand total of 14 students, which means I rarely, if ever, have to bring home papers to grade. My kids are hilarious, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Living in a small town with limited amenities makes some of the prep work a little challenging (I can’t just run to Michael’s or a teacher-supply store when I need something), but ultimately, it forces me to plan better and be more creative, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ll have some stories about that — along with tips and tricks for other teachers — in future posts.

At the moment, the only real drawback is the fact Ron, Walter, and the dogs aren’t here yet because Ron is still trying to tie up loose ends in Cape Girardeau. (Speaking of which, somebody buy our house. It’s cute, energy-efficient, and totally move-in ready, thanks to all that work I did to whip it into shape over the past two years. Tell your friends.)

I’ll have more detailed posts about my adventures — with plenty of photos, of course — at some point in the future. In the meantime, keep chasing your dreams. They really do come true, and sometimes in finer style than you imagined possible.

Emily

Small Homes

Remember when we had a friend over to take pictures of our house for possible inclusion in Lloyd Kahn’s new book, Small Homes?

We were included, and two copies of the book arrived in the mail today. Eep!

This is a cool book. We’re on pages 142-145.

It was fun to look at the pictures, which showed how the house looked in December 2015, before I redecorated four rooms, swapped out a bunch of furniture and discovered the magic of cheap IKEA shoe bins. Sometimes I forget how far we’ve come in here, and seeing old photos — accompanied by a narrative showing my thoughts at the time — gives me a nice sense of accomplishment to counterbalance all the times I walk in here, see what needs to be done and get frustrated with myself because I haven’t done it yet. (Yeah, kitchen floor, I’m lookin’ at you.)

The photos were taken near Christmas, obviously.
I’m amazed we got four whole pages. Not bad for a house we didn’t even build.

Even before all my projects last year, our house looked fairly spacious, and I’m proud to have it featured in the book, where hopefully it will inspire somebody else to experiment with minimalism and downsizing. It isn’t carved out of the side of a hill, sculpted by hand from cob, rescued from the brink of demolition or located in a picturesque forest or desert, but Kahn’s justification for its inclusion delighted me, because it sums up my reasons for sending him photos and information in the first place:

“As you may know, our building books are generally heavy on graphics and light on details. However, this meticulous rendering by Emily and Ron of their ideas for living in a small space, and the cost-conscious ways they’ve carried out their goals is rare and useful, practical information.” — LK

I hope people do find it useful and practical, and if anybody found out about this blog by way of the book, I strongly encourage you to search my Eco-Saturday and Tiny Tuesday tags to see more examples of our efforts to save space and live lightly on the planet. And, of course, if you found out about the book by way of this blog, I encourage you to support Kahn’s work by buying a copy or clicking over to The Shelter Blog to see what else he’s got up his sleeve. He’s done some great work over the last few years, and we always keep a copy of his Tiny Homes book handy to fuel our daydreams.

Oh, and mad props to our friend Laura Simon, photographer extraordinaire, who shot a bunch of the photos that ended up in the book. (We’ll be giving her the second copy of the book, of course.)

Emily

Squiggly friend

Look at my new squiggly friend! I met him in the garden this afternoon.

Isn't he pretty? I think he's a garter snake.
Isn’t he pretty? I think he’s a garter snake. He’s about two feet long and about as big around as a penny.
I love his little red tongue.
I love his little red tongue.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.

I would like the record to show that I was a very good girl and did not try to pick up my slithery new friend or pet him, even though I really, really wanted to.

I showed my pictures to people at work today, but nobody there likes snakes. I don’t know why. I think he’s cute. I like his racing stripes and his pretty brown eyes and his flickery little tongue. I was pretty excited to find him in the garden, partly because I’ve never seen a snake in my yard before and partly because cold-blooded animals are a sure sign of spring.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Countdown to spring

“The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past … . It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

— Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

The 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs* have announced their spring-training reporting dates. Pitchers and catchers are due to arrive in Mesa on Feb. 14.

In other words: It’s 37 days to spring.

We are SO having Chicago-style hot dogs for lunch on Valentine’s Day. And probably either gooey butter cake or Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard for dessert, because Ron’s Cardinals report the same day.

Spring is coming. I am at peace.

Emily

* I promise I won’t be insufferable about this, but I really never expected to utter that phrase. Let me have my moment. If history is any indicator, it may never happen again in my lifetime.

Tiny Tuesday: Done with mirrors

Need a quick way to expand a small room without knocking out walls or building an addition to your home?

Hang a mirror.

Or two.

Or more.

By reflecting both the room and its contents — including any available light — a large mirror can make a small room look brighter and feel bigger than it really is.

My living room is decorated with mid-century modern furniture and accents. I adore it. And what I really wanted to do was install a set of large, mid-century-style mirrors in there, but I couldn’t find anything with the right proportions, so I finally gave up and decided I’d just have to settle for something from a different era.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Target and picked up a large mirror in a nondescript frame and hung it above the (also-nondescript-and-not-mid-century) piano.

It looked pretty good, but I knew I could one-up it.

As a small child, I watched a movie about Thomas Edison and became fascinated with a scene in which a young Edison used a candle and several carefully positioned mirrors to light an entire room. Thirty-five years later, the image of all those mirrors reflecting the light from that tiny flame remains lodged in my memory.

I don’t have the space to arrange my mirrors as strategically as Edison’s, but I figured several reflective surfaces on the wall opposite a window would yield more light than just one, so I spent Saturday evening shopping for the most eclectic assortment of mirrors I could come up with.

My first stop was Family Dollar, where I found a cute pair of highly geometric, quasi-mid-centuryish mirrors for $10. Score.

My next stop was Annie Laurie’s Antiques, where I’d hoped to find a vintage mirror or two. I came home with seven and managed to hang six without breaking them, which is pretty impressive for me.

I may or may not have hummed Leon Russell's "Magic Mirror" while I was hanging these.
I may or may not have hummed Leon Russell’s “Magic Mirror” while I was hanging these.

I’d like to acquire a few more as time and my budget allow, but the assortment I have now is pretty cool, and while it doesn’t exactly match the rest of the living room, it certainly reflects it nicely and extends the visual space.

You can bet when I build that tiny house in New Mexico, big mirrors are going to be part of the decor.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: The Doctor is in

I had a long list of stuff I planned to get done yesterday. I did some of it, but I ran out of steam by the end of the evening and decided it was time for a break, so I let a candy cane and three marshmallows melt into a cup of hot cocoa while I settled in for an appointment with the Third Doctor.

I can think of much worse ways to spend a cold evening than sipping cocoa and watching the Doctor’s most elegant incarnation protect the Earth from Silurians, Autons, and rogue Time Lords while my dogs sleep on the floor beside my chair.

Emily