Next, Please

I catch myself staring at my engagement ring a lot. It’s new, acquired only two Saturdays ago when the man I love more than I ever realized I could love someone got down on his knee as asked me to be his forever. It’s shiny and beautiful, a piece he had designed especially for me. I love it and everything it represents. Sometimes I can’t believe that it’s real, that this man loves me and wants me to be his bride, but it is. Promising to be his forever was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.

One of my students asked me today during our class’s morning meeting if I was planning to come back and teach at the same school after I get married this summer. It was a question that caught me off-guard because I didn’t think my kindergartners would consider me not coming back to be a possibility. Apparently, my kids are ridiculously good at drawing conclusions. I knew I couldn’t lie to my kids, so I told them the truth: I’m not coming back next year.

The plan had always been simple: when he was ready, the Boy would move up to my city (remember: he currently lives 2.5 hours away from me). After all, I love my job, my family lives here, and (the clincher) I own my home. Plus, my city is just better than his, an opinion shared by many people. After he felt settled we’d get engaged, then married, and then start a family. Our [read: my] plan was perfect. And then his company handed him a promotion that we couldn’t say “no” to. I really mean “handed,” too. He didn’t apply for a new position, his boss just called him in, told him how awesome he was and that she wanted him to be in charge of this huge project. And after a lot of discussion (and a lot more prayer), we decided to do what was best for both his career and our future family and have me relocate instead.

I don’t want to leave my job. I don’t want to leave my home. I absolutely don’t want to leave my family. But my desire to marry Andy so overwhelmingly outweighs the “don’t want”s in my life that it’s a no-brainer. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to walk away from the town I’ve lived in for the past 14 years and the people I’ve shared my life with, just that I know it’s the right decision, and I have peace about it.

This is about a month earlier than I planned to announce this (thanks, kindergarten!) so please, don’t be sad. Be excited with me that I’m engaged, that I get to spend the rest of my life with a man I love more by the day, and that I’m one step closer to getting to be someone’s mommy. Let me revel in all of these things, and revel with me, because it’s just more fun that way. There will be time in the future to be sad and to miss each other terribly, but it’s not today.

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Six Important Lessons

This year, I have an intern teacher in my classroom. It has been an interesting shift, but ultimately, a good one. I’m confident that she’ll be a good teacher when she gets her own classroom but in the interim, I wonder what, if anything, she’s learning from me.

Things I Hope I Teach My Intern

  1. You’re going to make mistakes. Yeah, I know. Way to start with a downer. It’s true, though. Sometimes it’ll be something small, like forgetting to make copies of a math worksheet. Other times it’s something more substantial. Regardless of the mistake, it’s what you do after that matters more. Those are the moments that show your character.
  2. Be humble. Whether you need to apologize to your students for your rotten attitude or you’re dealing with an irate parent, humility is the route you should take. It shows that you’re human too. However, be careful not to mistake being a doormat for humility. It’s a mistake I’ve made in life too many times to count and one that always ends poorly.
  3. If you’re not emotionally healthy, your class won’t be either. This one has actually been something I’ve continually had to keep in check. These kids in the classroom aren’t just sponges academically, they’re emotional sponges as well. When 85% of my class is having a rough day, that usually means that *I’m* having a rough day. Take 5 minutes to stop, regroup, and begin again. Similarly, these 5- and 6-year olds don’t actually have to dictate how I feel about my day. There is more to my life than just that classroom.
  4. Books and lectures cannot prepare you for what you’ll see in your classroom on a regular basis. Pain is a horrible truth in life and even more apparent when you’re a teacher. Kids will come back from long weekends with cracked lips, sunken eyes, and pouchy bellies because they didn’t have food to eat or clean water to drink over the past several days. Or they’ll walk in with dark bruises on their tiny bodies and be unable to tell you where they came from. Some will just sit in a corner and inexplicably cry. Some share stories of times family members have been forcibly removed from their houses, others tell you about that man from the park who touched them in their bathing suit area after he gave them candy. Learning that you’re very limited in what you can actually do for these children is beyond frustrating. These things will boil your blood. If you let it, all of these stories can pile up and overwhelm you until you throw your hands up and walk away.
  5. Love, first and always. I’m confident that this is why I’ve been successful in my career and still have a decent-sized portion of my sanity. I spend a massive amount of energy each day making sure that all of my students completely understand that their teacher loves them. Even the ones that drive me batty. Because regardless of how crazy that one kid makes you feel, that’s someone’s most important, precious thing in the world. Every single child deserves (and needs!) to hear that she’s wonderful, beautiful, creative, brilliant, unique, and every other attribute she possesses. Not just once, but continually. When you show people that you know they have worth, you build a stronger relationship.
  6. This job is so much harder than anyone outside of it believes. And still, it’s completely worth it.

Under Pressure

“…I’m an old lump of coal.”
“Yeah, I know, and I’m hoping if I put enough pressure on you I’ll get a diamond.”

I have had a rough few weeks.

School, for teachers, began three weeks ago. I spent the first week stressing out about whether or not our school would have enough children registered in kindergarten for all four of us on the K team to keep our jobs (for many, many days, we sat at 12 kids/classroom) and wondering if having a full-time intern was actually a good decision. I’ve never had an intern before (or done a teaching internship, for that matter) and the idea of a full-time, “I’m-there-when-you’re-there” person seemed so much less overwhelming in April when Caity was hyping me up for it. “You’ll be so great! I’ve learned so much from just being in your class for 30 minutes a week, your intern is going to be so lucky!” Now that my intern was actually there with me, I felt really inadequate and worried about whether or not she’d learn anything useful from me.

The second week for teachers was the first week for students. Most of the kids I’d seen at Meet the Teacher came back for Day 1 of school (one registered for kindergarten with us, filled out the paperwork I had at Meet the Teacher, and subsequently moved to a city 30 miles south of us. I’m choosing to see those as unrelated events). The problem with Day 1 of school in kindergarten is that it is literally the first day of school that some kids have ever had. It is nerve-wracking and difficult and thankfully, my principal understands that. He told us that as long as we get them to the right rooms, make sure they eat lunch and send them home safely, we’ve been successful on Day 1. No one cried, everyone ate lunch, and they all got home safely. Win.

This past week I tried to remember that I can’t compare this year’s kids to last year’s kids. Including the obvious reason that they’re just different kids, I remember last year’s kids at Day 180 and these kiddos just haven’t had the chance to get to that yet. They’ll learn the routines and procedures and so far, they’re soaking it all up. We’re learning Kagan structures, independence, and kindness. We know why we have rules, we know who the boss is, and we understand the consequences of not following directions. And for only being 10 days in, that’s pretty fantastic.

This past Friday I planned to drive down to spend the weekend with Andy, help him with a project and have good quality time. The past few weeks have been pretty stressful and he promised me a relaxing Friday night, which I was looking forward to. Only when I woke up Friday morning (late) at 5:45 a.m., the first thing that happened was the filling my dentist had put in a little more than 12 hours prior fell out. Literally, I was still in my bed. After the wave of panic subsided, I left a message for the dentist explaining what had happened, packed my car and headed out for work.

I should explain that when the dentist did this particular filling, the root/nerve/whatever it’s called of my tooth became exposed. He put a covering on it and explained to me that in the future, it would be likely that I’d need a root canal but that this would help delay that process.

Did you know that an exposed nerve + coffee = pain? Or that an exposed nerve + air = pain? I tried to teach my class on Friday. I really, really did. I had plans and goals and everything but about 30 minutes in, I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. The office found a sub for me and after a few phone calls, the dentist’s office set up an appointment for me at noon to have an emergency root canal at an endodontist‘s office.

[This is the part where I am reassured that I picked the right boyfriend.]

At this point driving up 13th Street, I had a meltdown, pulled over, and texted Andy. He had offered a few hours prior to scrap our plans and I had (pridefully) written that idea off because I had planned to go down and help him with his project. He had told me he could come up here instead and when I finally called him to ask if he would, he told me he’d run to his house after work and drive up.

Right now, we’re sitting on my couch. He’s been working on fixing my phone issues and I’ve been finalizing lesson plans for next week. He showed up two nights ago with flowers and fancy bacon from Lucky’s. We’ve had great conversations, cracked jokes, and fallen a bit more for each other. Peeking up at him over my computer monitor, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am. The past few weeks have been stressful, but I have an amazing man who will change his plans to support me when I need it. Having him in my life is a blessing that I plan to not take for granted.

Blueberry Maple Waffle Pie

glass-case-emotion-anchorman

Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate descriptor.

A few weeks ago, I went with the Boy on vacation to Milwaukee to meet his friends and family, eat a ridiculous amount of tasty food, and listen to some fantastic live music. It was wonderful and I wrote about it here. Since then, life has gotten a bit more hectic: tires blowing out on the highway, family members needing surgery to repair injuries (so thankful for skilled doctors!), and the beginning of the back-to-school nightmares. There’s a lot to do and not much time left to do it. So what do I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed?

Yeah. I bake. And this time, it was a pie.

Baking doesn’t make my glass case of emotions any easier to be in, but at least it all smells good.

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I normally don’t use pre-made things when I bake because I’m stubborn and a bit of a snob, but when I bought these cookies I immediately knew they’d be fantastic in a crust (they’re also equally amazing when dipped into chocolate milk and eaten while binge-watching Netflix). Eat one or four for quality control, then put the rest into a food processor. Pulse until you’ve got finely-ground cookies.

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I wrote that you want 2 cups of flour but really, you just want about 3 cups of dry ingredients (flour + ground cookies) in all. I poured the cookie pieces (grounds? puree? I’m not sure what to call them…) into the bottom of my 4-cup measuring cup and added about 2 cups of flour so that I had about 3 cups of dry ingredients. Mix well.

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This dough is STICKY, especially since you add 1 tbsp of pure maple syrup into the crust (and even more so if you spill the bottle of maple syrup on your counter like I did). I normally refrigerate my crusts for about an hour and then roll them out, but with this one I just greased up my pan and pressed it in (I used a springform pan but seriously, you can use pretty much whatever you’d like, pan-wise). Once your dough is spread across the bottom of your pan, pour that last tbsp of maple syrup in and brush it to coat the top of the crust with golden deliciousness.

Once you’re done with your crust, work on the filling. You’ll need 1 pint of blueberries pureed and put into the pot, along with the sugar, maple syrup, cornstarch, gelatin, and salt. Mix it really well to make sure there’s no clumps of cornstarch (hint: use a whisk!) and bring to a boil over medium heat.

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You have to stir basically the entire time or you’re going to have burned blueberry goop all over your pan. No bueno.

Let the mixture boil about 2-3 minutes. You’ll notice that it’s a much darker color than it was before and that it’s far more sticky.

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Mmm…

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Pour mixture over the remaining blueberries and then stir with a rubber spatula, trying to cover every blueberry. Add the filling into the crust, bake for 30-35 minutes at 350º and then let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

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My brother-in-law dubbed this “probably the best pie” he’s ever eaten. #win

 

Blueberry Maple Waffle Pie
For the Crust:
1 cup unsalted butter, cold
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1 package Trader Joe’s Butter Waffle Cookies, pureed
2 cups flour
2 tbsp pure maple syrup, separated

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in egg and egg yolk, mixing well. Scrap down the sides of the bowl.
2. Add flour and pureed TJ’s Butter Waffle Cookies to butter mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time. Mix until just barely combined.
3. Drizzle 1 tbsp of maple syrup into the bowl and continue mixing until ingredients are combined well.
4. Generously spray a pie pan with nonstick spray (I prefer coconut). Press pie crust dough into the pan. Brush the remaining 1 tbsp maple syrup on top of the dough before pouring in the filling.
5. Preheat the oven to 350º.

For the Filling:
4 pints fresh blueberries, washed and separated
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
4 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp corn starch
pinch salt

1. Puree 1 pint of the blueberries and pour into a medium saucepan. Add the other ingredients to the saucepan and mix well.
2. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to boil for 2-3 minutes, until the consistency is thick. Remove from heat.
3. When the mixture has cooled slightly, pour over the other 3 pints of blueberries. Use a spatula to mix well, trying to coat all blueberries.
4. Pour blueberries into prepared pie pan. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool 4 hours (or overnight) and serve.

Fifty One Percent

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?”

I spent last week exploring Milwaukee with my Boy, his sister, and his sister’s husband. We ate far too much at their favorite local places, curled up in soft blankets and slept in a bit later each day, and danced, concert-style, to bluegrass, rock, and soul bands at Summerfest. I got to see both condos he’d like to buy if he lived in Milwaukee. He indulged my request for a photo of us which, since he is anti-selfie, meant he set up his fancy camera equipment in the middle of a park and raced across the bridge and up the steps to where I was sitting before the 10-second timer elapsed and the image was captured. (Some of these pictures are more flattering than others.) He held my hand while we drove and I met his people, an eclectic group so warm and welcoming you’d think I’dve known them for years. And when we sat on a bench outside of the Colectivo Coffee that overlooks Lake Michigan, all I could think was “yes. This. For the rest of my life,” even when he quoted the first 5 minutes of Forest Gump line-by-line (something I actually really enjoyed). Because that moment, sitting with that man, knowing that he respects me and values me and chooses me, was perfect.

That moment, though, was vacation. It was five days that I got to spend with my boyfriend and without responsibilities. That gnawing reality of we-live-in-two-completely-different-cities was absent; I kissed him goodnight and then good morning hours later. When we had some of our more serious discussions, I was actually able to look into his eyes. You don’t know how much easier it makes those conversations when you can actually see the face of the person you’re talking to.

But then, suddenly, it was Monday and we were packing again. One of Andy’s major “plus skills” is the ability to find an amazing deal and for this trip that meant staying at three different hotels. Since I had extra room in my suitcase, I nabbed the random things we had both purchased and packed them with my belongings, just like I had the last two times. This time, though, was different. We weren’t just packing to go to the next place, we were packing to go home. To our individual homes, in cities that are two-and-a-half hours apart. His shoes and Penzeys spices would need to wind up with him after we got off the plane and before I started my long drive home. And then my eyes welled up because I realized that he wasn’t just packing his socks and toothbrush into his suitcase, he had parts of my heart in there too, parts that I hadn’t planned on giving away to a man I’ve only known for 6 months, especially not one who is just so busy and far away.

When we first started dating, Andy told me that the absolute hardest part would be distance. Long-distance relationships were something he had much more experience in and I didn’t doubt him. I don’t think I understood exactly how hard it would be and why it would be hard. Besides the typical “I just like being with him” stuff, there’s the “I don’t actually need my anxiety medicine when I’m with him!” part. And the “I want to take care of him” thing. And because of how well we connect, because I see glimpses of what it could be like when we’re together, it’s even harder to drive away from him at the end of the day. To feel like you’re closer than ever to something you’ve wanted your entire life and to know that you’re still not quite there yet is painful. For this season, however long it winds up being, I have to be patient. And, harder still, patient with a positive attitude.

It’s hard. Really, really hard. And I know there are so many other people who have much more challenging situations than I do. I’ve heard stories from people who have happy, healthy marriages after spending chunks of their pre-marriage relationship apart from each other. It is inspiring and humbling. I wish that those stories made it feel easier but for now, this is just something that I have to walk through as it happens.

One day, I will have someone who comes home to me after work, who I can cook for and talk to about his day. Someone with whom I can build my life, raise children, and grow old. And though that day is not today, it is ever-closer.

And I told you to be patient,
And I told you to be fine,
And I told you to be balanced,
And I told you to be kind.

iGeneration

So by now you know that I’m dating a man who lives far too far away from me. What I probably haven’t fully explained, however, is why I’m dating a man who lives far too far away from me. As he and I have both stated to each other when the other person (almost always me) is feeling insecure, if we wanted to, we could each date someone who leads a less complicated life and lives closer. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it for a minute but it was quickly rejected as an option. I mean, whoever that new man was wouldn’t be Andy. And though there isn’t (much to my chagrin) an established timeline for us to figure all of this out, he’s worth the frustrations associated with long-distance relationships.

Yeah, I didn’t actually answer the “why?” question there, did I? Ugh. I know. I got a little sidetracked! Okay, trying this again…

Part of why I’m dating this particular man is because of the conversations we have. I’m a fairly intelligent person so I need someone who can not just keep up with me, but challenge me. He’s able to bounce between serious and inane, handle my squirrel-moments (sudden shifts in topics that aren’t concretely connected), and express his thoughts articulately. He has opinions and while they don’t always match mine, we can have actual discussions about our unique points of view.

We talk about the future a lot. Not just ours, but the future of the world. As much as I’d like to continue to live in my safe, happy kindergarten bubble, the world is a really scary place right now. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better, either. There’s terrorism, racism, human trafficking, violence, destruction and disasters featured prominently in news feeds of every variety across the world. And in between recountings of sorrow and hatred, we’re inundated with the latest celebrity gossip. Do I think it’s my business to know the intimate details about Bruce Jenner’s transformation from “him” to “her”? Nope.

There’s also a different, yet equally haunting issue that scares me. It came up in a conversation this weekend with my Boy. He was pointing out the irony in how many creative-type people solely use Apple products, which are more rigid in design/function and thus limit creativity. (Note: I love Apple products. I’m actually typing up this blog post on my MacBook Air. I do, however, see his point.) This discussion shifted into one about how the younger generation has an easier time understanding how to use new technology but cannot troubleshoot their own problems.

Here’s how this all connects for me: we’re raising the iGeneration, a group of people who are impatient, self-centered, and alternate between feeling numb and indignant. And it’s not going to end well.

Earlier today, I was helping a nephew make cookies for his dad for Father’s Day (translation: I made cookies for his dad for Father’s Day. It’s ok, he’s little) with Lego’s Ninjago cartoon playing in the background. At the beginning of the episode the ninjas were asked, “what is the best way to defeat your enemy?” The answer [SPOILER ALERT] was “make him your friend.” I was really not expecting that much wisdom from a cartoon. And it’s easy to write it off or claim that it’s just for kids because we grown ups deal with “real issues” but that’s a cop-out.

I’m not suggesting that we round up all the child pornographers and invite them out to coffee, just that we need to do things differently. We need to pray, for protection, Godly justice, and wisdom.

What if we were different? What if we were people whose first reaction was love? What if we raised our families to value kindness, solve problems using critical thinking and effort, and attempt to see things from other people’s perspectives? I know it wouldn’t solve all of the problems we have going on now, but wouldn’t it make things easier?

What I’m saying is this: there is enough gloom, doom, and destruction already. It’s time for hope.

Chocolate Chip & Peach Cookies

My kids drew things they know I love them more than.

After a parent told me that my empty bulletin boards made the room “look sad,” I had the kids decorate them.

Last Thursday was the 180th school day. My kindergarteners and I celebrated in the most appropriate way we could think of: by watching a Disney movie and eating sprinkle cookies. At 12:30, I hugged each of my kids goodbye, tried not to ugly-cry (at least, not in front of them), and sent them off for summer break.

However, just because my students are on summer break does not mean that I’m done and beach-bound. For the past two days, we teachers have packed up our rooms and stripped the brightly colored decorations off our walls. Our classrooms are huge, empty shells and the whole thing is, frankly, incredibly depressing.

My coworker and friend Lindsay has been using the hashtag “#99daysofsummer” in her Facebook and Instagram posts, so I’ve got to believe that’s how many days we’ve got until we head back to school for pre-planning. And knowing how fast 180 school days went by means that I’ll blink and all 99 summer days will be gone. Since I’m not willing to miss out on pretty much anything, I need to jump start myself. Enter: peaches.

For me, no fruit screams “it’s summer!” louder than a peach. (I know, I know, watermelons, but aside from using them in seed-spitting contests, I’ll pass.) There isn’t a dignified way to eat a whole, ripe peach. Go ahead, try to bite into a really ripe, sweet peach and not have juice drip all over your face and fingers. That mess means summer.

#99daysofsummer. Don’t miss a single one!

Chocolate Chip & Peach Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tbsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup fresh diced peaches
1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Add in egg and vanilla and continue beating for 1-2 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt.
5. Add flour mixture into egg mixture 1/4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as-needed.
6. Add peaches and chocolate chips. Use a spatula to combine.
7. On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, scoop dough and roll into 1 1/2″ balls and place on cookie sheet about an inch apart.
8. Bake for around 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Note: because of the moisture of the peaches, cookies with more peach chunks may need to be cooked a bit longer.

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