Category Archives: Happiness

Anniversary celebration

Today was the anniversary of my first day at my current teaching gig.

My kids didn’t know it. I forgot to tell them. But they helped me celebrate anyway.

I had an observation today. Because we’re a tiny district with only one administrator, our superintendent does one of our two mandatory observations every year, but in the interest of fairness, she brings in an outside evaluator to do the other.

Knowing our outside evaluator would be observing English IV today, I decided to let the kids teach. The class developed a rubric for grading the discussion leaders and another rubric for grading themselves on their class participation. We’re reading John Gardner’s Grendel, and the kids are REALLY getting into the part of the book in which Grendel encounters a dragon with some decidedly nihilistic views. The kids LOVE dragon symbolism and spent the hour connecting the dragon’s words to other books they’ve read, movies they’ve watched, mythology they’ve studied, and discussions we’ve had earlier in the semester. I participated, but only a little, and only when the conversation had gotten so interesting that my English-major soul simply couldn’t resist joining the fun.

I won’t know how I did on my evaluation until I meet with our guest on Thursday, but I think it bodes very well that she asked the kids a few questions, which they answered beautifully — including a couple of questions about their objectives for the lesson and how they’d know when they’d achieved them, which is the kind of question evaluators generally ask teachers during a post-observation debriefing. (They were a little baffled, as she hadn’t asked any questions like that in their other classes. I assured them that was a good sign: They taught like grownups, so she treated them like grownups.)

I don’t know how many points I scored. I don’t really care. My kids were awesome, they knew they were awesome, and somebody besides me got to see them being awesome.

That’s a pretty great way to celebrate an anniversary.

Emily

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New baby

I took three dogs out for a test-drive today at the local animal shelter. The first was a beautiful German shepherd who acted a complete fool on the leash, despite the shelter volunteer putting a pinch collar on him to get him to pay attention. Nope.

The second was a smaller, female German shepherd-Lab mix who behaved better on the leash and was definitely in the running for a bit.

Three litters of puppies were roaming around — some sleek Doberman mixes, some pretty little Australian shepherd mixes that I’d been eyeing on the shelter’s website, and some pit bull mixes that could have passed for coonhounds if the insurance adjuster asked. (Don’t think I didn’t think about it. Y’all know how I feel about pibbles.)

One of the Aussie mutts knocked the rest of the pack out of the way to get to me, so I looped the leash through its own handle to create a makeshift training collar and took her for a walk, followed by one of her littermates and an overenthusiastic Dobie.

pup1
If I didn’t know for fact that her mother is a purebred Australian shepherd, I’d swear I was looking at a Belgian Malinois pup. Just look at that red coat and black muzzle!

Despite the distractions created by the other pups, she paid attention to my voice, responded quickly to leash corrections, and seemed content to follow me along without needing much direction. When I found out she was about 12 weeks old, that pretty much sealed the deal; years ago, Scout’s trainer told us years that 12 weeks is the ideal age to start obedience training. Bonus that she reminds me of that trainer’s late Belgian Malinois, who was an awesome dog.

pup3
Lillian really wishes these damn kids would get off her lawn.

Riggy seems to like the new kid just fine. Lillian is less impressed, but the only thing that has ever impressed Lillian is bacon. Either you are feeding her a piece of bacon, or you are a peasant worthy of the utmost contempt. There are no other roles in life. (Rather Elizabethan worldview, as I think about it.)

pup4
My oldest friend saw this picture on Instagram and told me Lillian says a lot of bad words with her eyes. This is an accurate assessment, I think.

We haven’t named the new pup yet, but I’m leaning toward Ramona (after the beloved Beverly Cleary character, of course), because she is a lovable pest.

Emily

 

View from the Sidelines

If someone had told me, two years ago, that I could be happy sitting on the sidelines, watching other journalists work, I would have organized an intervention, because I would have been absolutely convinced that person was smoking crack.

As it turns out, the view from the sidelines is rather striking.

About a month and a half ago, Ron got an unexpected job offer from our local weekly newspaper. A week later, I took over the journalism program at the tiny, rural high school where I teach.

I’ve spent most of the past 30 years chasing stories, designing pages, and mentoring the occasional promising rookie. I’ve known the frustration of fruitless investigations, the excitement of breaking stories on deadline, the tedium of crunching crime stats, and the frenetic energy of a newsroom on Election Night. I’ve pored over court records, coached young reporters through their first breaking stories, redesigned entire pages in less than 10 minutes after technical glitches suddenly ate two hours’ worth of work, and done shots of peppermint schnapps to remove the stench of dead bodies from my sinuses.

Living like that, a girl can get jaded.

The past few weeks have been nothing short of magic. I’m watching Ron rediscover the unique rhythm of weekly deadlines, the exhilarating madness of covering four events in a single day, and the fun of getting to know a community intimately by talking to its residents.

This afternoon, I watched my students distribute their first issue of our monthly school newspaper. It looks incredible. Their writing sounds professional. Their photos are well-composed and technically sound. And their superintendent is delighted (even if we did unnerve her a bit by using her as our guinea pig to practice filing Freedom of Information requests).

Their enthusiasm is palpable — and contagious. Watching them discover the joy of journalism at the very moment Ron is rediscovering it, I remember how the business felt when I was a 17-year-old high-school senior freelancing for my hometown weekly, young and hungry and hopeful, and I am content.

There’s something to be said for vicarious joy.

Emily

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

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