Om Namah Shivaya


Friday, February 25, 2011

Dress Code, ID Badges, Behavioral and Emotional Support...things they don't tell you in college about being a public school teacher.

So for years I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about my adventures in teaching so far.  One inspired title is "Tales of a Crazy White Lady; My life as a Public School Teacher in an Urban School District" and the other is the title of this blog "Things they don't tell you in college about being a Public School Teacher".  Even though this idea might never go further than this blog post, I do feel it necessary to lay out some things for those who are currently in school to become a music educator, or otherwise. 

August 2003.  School is two weeks away from starting and I have an interview for an Assistant Band Director position with Hickman Mills High School.  I remember everything about that day.  How hot it was, what I wore, my first drive along what is now my daily commute, how I had to wait in the mall area outside the office for what seemed like forever before being called in by Marilyn.  How I hoped and prayed throughout the entire interview that my wit, charm, and education was enough to land me the position.  3 days later it was mine.

My first day was actually a couple of days after school had already started.  Talk about getting lost from the get-go.  Not only had I missed out completely on the summer band camp, but I was also hired after all of the initial beginning of the year meetings so I missed out on all the pertinant information needed to start the year off right.  My first day was really weird and stressful.  I walked in through the doors that morning with my box full of stuff to encounter a throng of kids so vast, loud, and *taller* than me it was unreal.  I suddenly felt very small and out of place.  I went to the office because I had *no idea* where my room was.  There hadn't been time for a tour of the building and the head director wasn't there that day so I was on my own.  The scene replays in my head somewhat like this: I walk into the office that is a beehive of activity.  Kids are standing at the front desk needing everything from ID badges to schedules.  The secretaries are running around, answering phones, radioing to the administrators on the walkie-talkies and trying to calm down irate parents or students all before the first bell rings.  

What am I doing here.

Marilyn catches sight of me and says "Great! You're here!  Here are your keys, you know the way to your room, here's your schedule, have a great day!" and with a turn she was gone.  

What am I doing here.

I looked at my schedule and it said room 313.  Okay, I thought, I'm an intelligent human being, I can figure this out.  Surely there are signs on the walls that indicate what rooms are which way...thank goodness there were!  I found my way to the band room and met the other Assistant Director.  He was taking care of rehearsal that day and I just basically stood back and watched.  After band he took me on a tour of the district so I could see where the elementary school's I was assigned to were at.  We got back near the end of the day and after a faculty meeting where I sat in stunned silence I gratefully walked out to my car to head home.  Only I'd left the lights on all day and it was dead.  Thankfully a colleague gave me a jump and I was on my way home shortly after thinking the whole way...

What am I doing here. 

It's 8 years later and I still hold the same position, with a few tweaks.  Obviously I survived and have morphed into a pretty damn good teacher, if I do say so myself, but there have been numerous lessons along the way.  For those of you currently in college working towards a Bachelor's in Music Education or Bachelor's in Education, please allow me to give you a few pointers that you're not going to get in those MEMT or ED classes.

1) As a teacher you are not just there to teach your subject; you're there to teach yours *plus* everyone else's as well.  You're the band teacher and had panic attacks in school when doing math?  Too bad!  You have to incorporate math into your lesson plans and rehearsals.  This is still something I struggle to do.  I'm pretty good at it during marching season because we have drill that is written on graph paper and it's easy to talk parallel lines, right angles, perpendicular, etc and hit on "FOIL", and there are some signs between the two that are similar (< and >) but that's about the limit of my expertise but I do what I can.  Mixing in Comm Arts is easier because I can always have the kids write a concert critique, there's bellwork, vocab words all the time *and* most of those are in Italian.  

Science?  I'll tackle that one next year

2) You have to go to meetings...a LOT.  It's called #ProfessionalDevelopment breathe it, live it, own it, *love it* cause you'll be doing a lot of it.  If you're a core subject teacher, these PD's are useful and informational.  You're presented with tools that you can use immediately in your classroom that will produce results.  For the band teacher, especially at the high school level, who is trying desperately to get their group ready for contest it can be hard to work these tools into rehearsal.  Usually the criteria is met through the use of bell work but even then I don't feel like it's enough.  Oh well, there's always next week's PD to get new ideas to try.

3) You're going to be more to these students than just their teacher, you're going to become that constant adult presence in their life, their safe zone, the one they can trust.  Many of them you are going to invest a lot of time in, many are going to invest a lot of time in you.  Treasure that relationship because *that* is how you educate them and turn them into the productive and responsible citizens we *ALL* want them to become.

4) You've got to adopt your own style of teaching, that's for sure, but if I can give one piece of advice.  Always have them think you're *just* on this side of crazy.  I know my kids think I'm nuts, and they're right...I am.  You have to be a little crazy to become a teacher because otherwise you'll go insane!

5) Know that even the most incredibly, frustratingly, irritatingly, annoyingly, seemingly disrespectful student needs you.  They're the ones that need you to stop them in the hall with a firm word and ask them if they've gone and done lost their mind!  They need your redirection just as much as they need your softer side; the squeeze on the shoulder, the kind word, the "You did a good job"...those are the ones who need the full meal deal and then some.  We're the ones who can give it to them.

6) Know who *really* runs the school.  No it's not the students, and no offense to any administrators, but anyone worth their salt knows that the secretaries and custodial staff are the ones who keep the building running.  These people are the salt of the earth and angels in disguise.  They are your best friends and you should treat them accordingly.  They put up with a lot more than us teachers will ever know and they still manage to get donuts ordered for our staff meetings (at least they did before funding got cut...again).

7) You're going to have a lot of "extra duty" opportunities.  Some of them you can choose to do, some you have no choice.  Some you will get paid for, others you will not.  We all must do our share in order for the kids to be able to have their games and dances, career fairs and graduation.  Just make sure to still leave time for yourself.  Some of my teacher friends I worry about because it seems like they are *always* at school.  Granted I was there a lot more before cancer and now it's made me put some things into perspective, but I still have my 3 long days a week and usually 5 during marching season.  Suck it up and do what you have to do but also learn how to say "I just can't do that right now, you're going to have to find somebody else".  

8) You should have a mentor your first year and if something happens where you slip through the cracks, like what happened with me, please demand to be paired with a veteran teacher.  This is vital to our success in your first few years.  I felt like I was out there treading water on my own for a couple of years and even though I feel as if I've hit my stride this year I still feel like I'm playing catch up.
9) If you haven't already found time to substitute, DO IT NOW.  I spent a semester substituting and not only did it open my eyes to a lot of behavioral issues out there, but it helped me better prepare for when I had to do it for real.  So get your name out there and sub a couple of times, you'll be glad you did.

10) You are going to spend more time addressing dress code and ID badge violations then you know what to do with.  You are also going to fight the sagging, short skirts, legging as pants, untucked no belt-wearing issue all.the.time.  Prepare to give up portions of you plan time to deal with these issues when you're on hall duty.  It's just the way it is.

11) Your acronym vocabulary is going to *explode* your first couple of years.  AYP, QAR, MAP, NCLB, PBTE, SMART Goals, DOK, GLE, the list goes on and on.  Listen up in your staff meetings to find out what these are all about and ask your mentor or trusted veteran teacher what you're supposed to do with them.  

12) REMEMBER: YOU are in charge.  Not the students.  YOU run the show.  YOUR success as a teacher and their success as a student is more important than whether or not they like you all the time.  I've seen it happen before with first year teachers, especially those who are close in age with the seniors (i.e. 21 and 18).  They think they can just be the student's friend and everything will go just fine.  Not so much.  You can be their friend in a fashion but you are also the teacher, disciplinarian, adult in charge, and mentor.  If you just try to be their friend they're going to steam roll over you like they do their other friends (especially if they're a dominant personality), so rather define the line, let them know you're just about half crazy and proceed through your day.  Things will go a lot better for you.

13) Hall Duty, Bus Duty, Lunch Duty, Restroom Duty, Hall-sweep duty.  5 things in a teachers day that are all incredibly important and incredibly annoying.  Just like PD, live this, breathe this, own this, love this. 

There are so many other things that pop up daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semesterly, and yearly that I *still* think to myself "There's another thing I wish I would've been told in college", that it's impossible to list them all.  I'm not trying to scare you, brave soul, cause Lord knows we need you in our schools to take the torch from those who have gone before you and continue to carry on, inspire, and educate.  I just want to bring into the light some things that they don't tell you about in all of your method's classes as you're standing there in front of your friends who you just partied with the night before and who now have to act like teenagers in a classroom (reality? I think not).  I want you to know so you're not caught off guard when you finally sign on your dotted line, get your wad of keys and find the way to *your* room. 

Just remember to take deep breaths, go to your happy place and remember why you entered this profession in the first place and you'll find the strength to keep going.  

Good Luck!

Scary times to be a teacher these days.

8 and a half years ago I signed on the dotted line, received my wad of keys, walked down to the band room, met my kids, and started this chapter of my life entitled "Teacher".  I was *elated* because I had a JOB and not only that but it was a job teaching MUSIC!  I was a #ProfessionalBandGeek!!  *Finally* after 7 years of school and an anxious summer searching and interviewing for positions, I finally landed one in Hickman Mills (where I reside still to this day)

For all that time, I've had the wonderful task of #ShapingYoungMinds, #SpreadingTheJoyOfMusic, #RockingTheDrumLine, giving them the #"Stout"PerspectiveOnLife, on how to be a #Respectful and #Productive person.  Aside from all of the things I have to do on a daily basis that I never thought I would (another blog post coming soon), I love what I do without question.  Even on the days I'm frustrated beyond belief I still love it and I hope I always do.

With that said, it's a damn scary time to be a teacher.  I can't speak for my colleagues, or teacher friends scattered across the US, but I'm fairly sure that aside from the love of our subjects taught, we entered the education profession because it's a #SECURE least it was.  I'll admit that I don't follow politics and what's going on with the economy closely because it causes me to get *super* anxious and spin off the deep end into the chaos and that's not good for anybody.  There's also my feeling deep inside that something HUGE is going to happen in 2012 that makes this all so very very trivial, but that's another topic for another day.  

What I can't ignore anymore is the state of affairs when it comes to public education and the security of my job, my livelihood, my friends jobs and livelihood, but most importantly what this problem is doing to the future of this world.  It is beyond scary.  We all know that the our public education system has been lagging behind other countries for years.  I quite firmly believe this is due to the numerous rules, regulations, policies, procedures, mandates, and laws our *fabulous* government (note the heavy sarcasm) has been throwing on top of us for years.  NCLB anyone?  AYP?  Teaching for the MAP test?  Dress Code?  ID Badge violations?  No electronics?  ADA?  SMART Goals & Closing the Achievement Gap?

I wish, knowing what I know now, that I could have been a fly on the wall during staff meetings/Professional Development back when I was in high school.  Did the teachers then have as much anxiety over the security of their jobs?  Did they have to talk budget cuts every.single.year?  Did they have to spend as much time "Teaching to the Test" as they did on #DressCodeViolations?  Did my band teachers go home after their Wednesday PD thinking to themselves, "Great.  I'm trying to get ready for district and state competition and on top of all the rehearsals lost to snow day's, I now have to surrender rehearsal time to "Power Verbs", "MAP terms", and working math, science, and comm arts in somehow."  Never mind the fact that math gave me panic attacks, science was like a foreign language to me, and who remembers how to diagram a sentence anyways?  Yet I have to do it because it's mandated by the government that if *WE*, the teachers, don't raise the test scores, we're out of a job.  Add to that the stress over whether said government is going to cut MORE funds from our already limited resources #aremypaychecksgoingtostartbouncing? and it's no wonder that we're all a little on edge lately.

It's just so incredibly sad.  As my awareness spreads out around this crisis I am shocked and dismayed at the ignorance of the government.  You powerful men sitting in your ivory towers atop Capitol Hill have lost all touch with reality.  Seriously.  Would you all stop looking at your fancy suits and shiny shoes for a second and LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND CONTINUE TO DO TO THIS NATION.  Cutting funding for vital services such as Education, Police, & Social Services?  #AREYOUNUTS?!?!  I really resent the fact that you are trillions upon trillions in debt because you've given yourselves so many tax cuts, pay raises, and bonuses; borrowed who knows how much from other countries, have sold *our* souls to the oil devil so you could keep your Escalade and Bluetooth Blackberry, and have focused on helping the rest of the world instead of keeping us on track for so long that I don't know if we'll *ever* make it back.  I also *REALLY* resent the fact that I have to pay my taxes on time every year yet the possibility that I'll get a refund? #Small  The possibility that said refund will be sent on time? #ABSOLUTEZERO  I hold onto the thought that on Dec. 21st, 2012 a great chasm will open up under Washington and swallow you all and *poof!* all of our problems will be solved by mother nature...but I digress. 

Let's speak frankly for a second.  I really really REALLY resent the fact that I might lose my job because of your ineptitude at balancing the budget.  I'm a damn good teacher but because you're unable to manage your money #LETaWOMANDOIT!  and have been unable to manage your money for such a long time, I might lose my job because I'm not *essential* to meeting your ridiculous test score requirements.  Let me clue you in on a secret is #VITAL to a child's full, well rounded education.  Watch this if you're confused, he says it best Mike Huckabee: Art and Music essential to education.  I'll vote for this guy just based off of this.  He's a freaking GENIUS!  Why don't all of you on Capitol Hill take a second and think back to your days in school and how music and art played an intricate role in your education.  Bill Clinton playing the saxophone anyone?  Would you be where you are today without that experience?  Music makes you use both sides of your brain and develop greater, deeper, and more permanent connections.  Art makes you think spatially and helps with developing greater math skills, yet you are killing this connection because of your selfish decisions.

Yet on the flip-side, even if I get to keep my job, the opportunities the band gets to perform and travel are decreasing because transportation funds are being cut.  I swear, pretty soon the teachers are going to be expected to pick the kids up and bring them to school because we can't pay for busses!  I'm fixing instruments with masking tape, paper clips, and gorilla glue because we can't afford to pay a repair shop.  I purchase the music for my Drum Line not only to get the tax deduction (but what help *that* will be this year is debatable) but for the simple fact that if I didn't, we'd still be playing cadences and features from four years ago and you can't win awards with that.  

What's that government?  I win awards?  Oh yes I do thank you very much.  It may not be high score on the MAP test, but we're one of the best Drum Lines/Percussion Sections in our area, at least at the three competitions we can afford to go too, and a number of my kids are high achievers in academics, sports, and the arts.  They don't get into trouble for anything other than a minor dress code/ID violation (don't even get me started on how many hours a year I waste on this issue instead of teaching), and are outstanding citizens, anyone?  I'm a damn good teacher and #ShameOnYou for putting us in such a precarious situation.  You wouldn't be where you are today if it wasn't for the teachers who molded and shaped you and helped you grow.  We're trying to do the same thing for this generation but are being forced to give the bare bones to a nation of students who need the full meal deal and then some.

 You want higher test scores?  You want the U.S. education system to be a giant contender with the world again?  You want to ensure the success of this nation for years beyond your, or my, life?  Then stop all the #Bull$hit! and the carp you're feeding the public and do what you know is right. #FIXIT.  Don't try; DO.  Stop arguing with one another over who is right or wrong in the political world.  There's no effing time for that anymore.  How can you expect to leave this enormous problem you've created to a generation who is not "proficient" in math?  How can you expect a cure for cancer when there's not enough money to provide the science classes with basic necessities?  How can you expect them to be able to read at a level equal to their grade when there isn't enough money to #BUYBOOKS.  And STOP telling us to get on the technology bandwagon when we don't have the funds to provide that technology for our students, and the technology they could use to access it (cellphones) are not allowed in class?  It's ridiculous and incredibly disheartening.  Are you enjoying your ride to hell in a hand-basket?  Cause that's where you're going and unfortunately we're all along for the ride.


Cutting the funding to the the point where schools have to cut teachers, therefore increasing class sizes, thereby making the mandate of #DifferentiatedInstruction and one-on-one time with each student increasingly harder to accomplish, resulting in test scores that are less than desirable because this poor teacher is trying to teach 40 kids in a room built for 28 and they're so worn out because they have 7 classes of 40 kids each with that much homework to grade each night because God forbid the kids don't get immediate feedback on their progress.  Then on top of that this teacher has to *re-teach* material to the kids who aren't gettin' it for whatever reason, while still trying to keep the rest of the class on track with the curriculum and bench marks because if you don't stay with that then your summer gets sucked away by tutoring kids to pass their bench marks, *and*, if you don't stay on track with the curriculum then they aren't prepared for the next step in their math sequencing but sometimes it's really hard to stay with that curriculum because there's the MAP test scores that are so damn important to whether or not this teacher gets to keep their job that they work their self into a tizzy everyday and the end result is a burned out teacher after 2 or 3 years who is taking Zoloft daily to cope with the anxiety and stress but can't always afford the prescription because we're paid diddly.  Click here for an interesting "note" on what teachers *should* be paid.

Tired yet?  I'm exhausted and I'm not a "Core" teacher!

So come on Washington.  #GetYourActTogether.  Enough with the excuses, the fighting, the bad decisions.  Suck it up and make the hard decisions because in the long run that's what you need to do to turn this around.  In the meantime I'll await the news on whether or not I have my beloved job next school year, or if I have to go back to waiting tables, and I'll continue to run myself ragged each day picking up your slack while incorporating math, science, and comm arts into my rehearsals on top of the behavioral, emotional, social, and environmental lessons I am expected to instill, and the dress code I'm supposed to enforce, as well as the life I am trying to make for myself and my husband.  
Where's my Zoloft...I need a nap.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Well if this isn't a transformation/evolution; I don't know what is!

My friend Ben

Ben and TMS, our wedding 2005
I traveled to Lawrence this evening to have dinner with two of my *most favoritest* (yes I know that is bad grammar and not a word) men ever on the planet.  Ben "Po"Tatar and his dad, "Pa" Tatar.  What a treat to see those two this evening.  I think the last time I saw them was at our wedding almost six years ago. 

 Crazy how time flies.

Partying it up
Ben and I met during college.  We were all within the same major ("I want to be a professional Band Geek"), all in the band together (he in the Trombone section, me on the Drum Line), and partied with the same circle (toga party at the House of Funk anyone?) so naturally we became friends.  I remember many a crisp Saturday morning walking up the hill in full KU Band regalia with Ben, Oliver, Randy, and Greg, up to the fountain to line up in formation for our march down the hill into the stadium on game day.  

Wine at Olive Garden
Theory with Palos, History with Maxey, Band with Foster, Barnes, and TMS.  New renditions of the fight song set to Sitar and Mringdingam (sp?) while on the bus to the hotel for the pep rally.  Wine with BMills at Olive Garden on a Bball band trip, getting to see his childhood home and meet his family.  Taking the leap of faith with him when he let us cut his hair and shave his head (so upped his sex appeal when we did that!), partying with the Chancellor's son at the Chancellor's mansion, winter band formal...good times.   
Winter Band Formal

Now we're all grown up and adult-like. ;)  Out of our freshman class, I think Ben and I are in the minority in terms of actually becoming music teachers.  I run with the big kids, he hangs with the little.  I teach kids how to march and play at the same time, he teaches kiddos how to match pitch and keep a steady beat.  I teach them how to become productive members of society, he teaches them how to walk in a straight line and keep their hands to themselves.  I can't have a successful program without the foundation that general music teachers put in place, and he can't have a successful program without the lure of the high school marching band with all it's flash and glitz.  How I'd love to watch him in action.  I bet his students just adore him, I know I do.  Always have and always will.

So thank you for making a brief trip to Lawrence this weekend, and thank you even more for making time to have dinner with me.  I wouldn't have missed it for the world.  You and your family hold such a special place in my heart.  Love you all!        

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I can never have a bad Valentine's Day

Precious Hears Bouquet

Something happens to me at this time of the year and no it's not the giddy anticipation of a commercially infused holiday, although most all of them are commercialized anymore, no what happens is that I get frustrated.  I get frustrated at all the women out there who demand Engagements #waituntilheisready Diamonds #costtoomuchmoney, Dozens of Flowers #overpriced, Chocolates #whichmakeyoufatanyways, and "Gallant expressions of Love" from men who would otherwise #scratchtheirbuttsandbelch and when they don't get these things or don't receive them in the way *they* wanted, they then say they had a *bad* Valentine's Day.

These women, and yes I was included in that bunch once upon a time, get all worked up when their men don't publicly profess their love in the most ridiculous and commercialized ways.  In the grand scheme of life this *one* day is not what matters, it's the rest of them that do.  So instead of demanding grand gestures on this Valentine's Day, take it from a girl that knows about *real* bad Valentine's Days and count your lucky stars you've never experienced one of those.

I still have that vest
11 years ago a wonderful woman moved on from this world into the greater beyond when she lost her battle with breast and ovarian cancer.  Maggie Kling was her name and she was one hell of a lady.  I had the pleasure of being a part of her family when I dated her son, Greg, for about 2 and a half years during college.  I'll never forget the evening I met her.  We'd been dating for about 6 months maybe when he took me to the "OP" to meet his folks and his sister, Becki.  Oh I was nervous.  Greg was my first college, serious boyfriend and I wanted to make a good impression.  #Ishouldneverhaveworried.  Maggie welcomed me with a huge smile and open arms.  Never had I felt so instantly and totally included in someone else's family.  Before I knew it I was driving to OP to hang with Becki and Maggie before Greg got there.  Manicures, pedicures, my introduction to acrylic nails; my obsession with Old Navy, my short hairstyle, and my first encounter with breast cancer were all thanks to her.  Such fun times and such great memories of shopping with the girls: salmon caesar salads, diet coke with lemon, watching Becki cheer, movies in the basement, Easter at the grandparents, Thanksgiving with their relatives, and dinner at The American.

Thanksgiving 1999
We'd only been dating about a year when the breast cancer came back.  If memory serves, (Becki and Greg, if you read this *please* correct any of my inaccuracies caused by fuzzy memory) she was first diagnosed when Greg was 15, we dated when we were 19-21 if my math & memory are correct, so it reared it's ugly head again when he was 20 or so.  I remember thinking that I had #absolutely*no*idea what to do or how to handle the news when he told me, so I apologize profusely for whatever memory you have of that moment if it was less than supportive.  

David, Me, Maggie
Over the course of time I watched what the cancer did to her.  While I never attended a treatment of hers, she did talk about them with me (usually while I massaged her feet *laugh* or when we got our nails done) and I saw what they did to her.  She was fantastically brave and incredibly strong to endure the treatment course they had her on.  Now in hindsight having gone through my *own* battle with the stupid disease do I really understand what that was doing to her.  How she must have felt.  How tired and sick she must have been, more so than me I'm sure as hers was a more aggressive cancer that metastisized as ovarian cancer and ultimately took her life 11 years ago.  

Yet she still maintained that wonderful smile, grace, and loving warmth that radiated from her in palpable waves and touched everyone who crossed her path.  

When she went into the hospital it was #surreal.  She was so small in that big bed, surrounded by even larger bouquets of flowers.  #MenorahHospital.  I could still drive that route in my sleep I bet, and I'd wager my feet would find their way to the room she was in.  This became the reason I hated hospitals.  The smell, the food, the lights, and the sounds.  Passing rooms with doors ajar to reveal people just laying there looking dead or moaning with pain.  Doctor's and nurses checking orders and administering pain meds to ease the discomfort.  People smiling sympathetically at you, and you at them, as you pass each other in the hallway.  The universal understanding of a wounded soul grappling with the knowledge that a loved one either just had major surgery or is about to pass from their life forever.  
Mastectomy Oct. 15th, 2010

I'm better about it now having been in and out of one quite a bit during my own journey, but I still don't like them.  

Ultimately the cancer won, and Maggie became the true angel we all knew her to be on earth.  The funeral was beautiful and the outpouring of love was tremendous.  I'll never forget riding in the car with Greg and Becki, looking back at the line of cars that stretched so far it was through an intersection and stopping traffic.  "Just like mom to cause a ruckus" was Becki's retort and we all laughed. #Itwastrue

A couple of days later It was Valentine's Day and it just didn't seem important.  I don't even remember what happened.  Greg and I probably went out to dinner and I probably got upset when I didn't get my fantasy flowers or a card, or whatever.  Or maybe he gave me flowers and a card, I have no idea because it wasn't important.  What was important was the fact that she was gone and the world had lost a great woman.  

Life continued and we had to go with it.  Greg and I went our separate ways, Becki graduated from HS, Greg and I graduated from college, he started moving around, I got married, then Becki got married.  Her wedding was one of the most touching, heartfelt and beautiful weddings I have ever been too.  Tim and I had been married for about 6 months at the time of Becki's wedding and I hadn't seen Greg for quite a few years.  I was shocked to see him with a head full of hair!  It's a good look for him ;)  Anyways, after an emotionally charged ceremony, we went on over to the OP Convention Center for the beautiful reception.  The place was decked out in fancy centerpieces, soft lighting, a dance floor and DJ, and of course an open bar (Thanks David!). 

Becki and Jeff
The reception followed the same general format that most do.  Arrival and announcement of bridal party and the newly married couple.  Some greetings and cheers, then usually food followed by the obligatory dances except they did one better.  Instead of the traditional bridal party dance, Becki instead spoke of her mom and how while she wished that she could be there she knew she was watching from above, and nothing would make her more happy than to have anyone and everyone who had been touched by her in their life to come celebrate that life on the dance floor to Maggie's favorite song, one that she said was written for her *laugh* "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart.  I danced with Greg and celebrated not only Becki's marriage to a wonderful man, but the life of a wonderful woman who had touched the lives of many.

Over the years I have visited her grave whenever I feel the need to feel her presence and hear her voice.  Never did I need that more than the day I was diagnosed with #breastcancer.  Shortly after Tim arrived home to hold me and share in our life shifting news, I felt the need to go for a drive.  I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts and the breeze in the windows.  I had no idea where I was headed, or when I'd be back, but Tim understood so with a hug and a kiss he watched me go.  I got in the car and pulled out of the drive. 

I hit the highway with nothing but the sound of the wind through the windows as it dried the tears on my cheeks.  I turned onto 435South with no particular destination in mind as I stared out the window trying to wrap my brain around the weight of the news I had just been given.  Before I knew it I was crossing into Kansas and was headed towards the cemetary.  I felt instinct take over as I drove towards her grave and got out of the car; there on the rise, under the pine tree by the chime tower she lays.  I brushed the grass off her headstone, and moved the pine cones out of the way so I could sit down next to her.  Resting my head on my knees I let go and let the rest of the tears flow.  I talked to her in my head and asked her to give me the strength, grace, and courage needed to get through this.  I also requested that she watch over me like never before and just like Becki, she did me one better.  

She sent Sue.  

First Chemo
On the day of my very first chemo, Sue was my nurse.  She walked into my cube and over to the sink to wash her hands while introducing herself.  I was instantly calmed by her voice, the motherly inflection, the soft tones.  Then she turned around and I got to see her face.  I swear on my life it was Maggie looking back at me.  She was a little shorter, and the hair was different but it was #her.  For the briefest of seconds that was like an eternity to me I saw that familiar smile and crinkle at the eyes that said "Everything is going to be all right, I'm here."  Then Sue began explaining the whole process from oral meds to chemo drugs, but then she touched my arm and #Maggiewasback.  The soft fingertips, perfectly manicured and sculpted fingernails painted in a soft pinky blush.  The diamond ring, and gold bracelets.  I never felt the needle go in.  I looked up into her face and saw the glimmer of a gold necklace as she winked at me, then she was gone but Sue was still there.

I will always be eternally grateful to Maggie and to Sue for getting me through my chemo.  Even though I didn't have Sue for every treatment, she always stopped by, and really I wouldn't have wanted to hog her all to myself.  Maggie gave me the strength needed to get through it and was there at the very first one, which was the scariest.  She needed to do the same for others, as did Sue.
So on this Valentine's eve, I implore you to look past the social view of what this holiday is supposed to look like.  Instead of wanting expensive flowers, gifts, or dinners from your loved ones, why not want what they are already giving you?  Sure I would love some flowers and a beautiful card from Tim but if I don't get them, or if they're not what my fantasy has built them up to be that's okay because you know what?  He's already the best Valentine I could ever have, want, or need and he's already given me Valentine's gifts a million times over.  With every hug, kiss, laundry pile that's folded, dishwasher that gets started, back rub given, trash taken out, games of ball played and baths given to the dogs, and every other little day to day thing he does that tells me he loves me is my Valentine enough.  I can never have a bad Valentine's day because losing Maggie 11 years ago made me see what's really important about that holiday...the people that you love.    

 Happy Valentine's Day!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

To My "OGV"...My Original Valentine

On this Valentine's Day I felt it was appropriate to profess my love for someone who is not my husband.  No, I'm not talking about some hidden boyfriend, I'm talking about my "OGV", my Dad, my Original Valentine.

Every little girl has a man constantly by her side as she travels through this life, her father.  I was lucky enough to grow up with both of my parents in the same house (married 47 years and still going strong), and I was lucky enough to grow up with a father who cared for and loved and supported my sisters and I every single minute of every single day.

I vividly remember one Valentine's morning in our house, I was maybe 7 or 8 at the time.  My parents, mom especially, would go all out for breakfast on Vday, St. Pat's Day, Easter, etc.  Red oatmeal with strawberries in a white bowl sitting on top of a red paper heart with a doily.  Conversation hearts scattered across the table, cards on each of our plates, chocolate tied up in little bags, and a little gift for each of us.  I remember my dad coming into the kitchen, as mom was hurriedly trying to get us all to eat so we could get to school on time, with a bag full of surprises and an armful of flowers for my mom and us girls.  After he gave mom and my two sisters their gifts and flowers, he squatted down in front of me and presented me with my first Valentine's Day flowers (at least that I remember ;).  I can remember the scene as if it were yesterday; I thought my heart would burst with love for my father, as I'm sure his was bursting with love for me.

As I get older with each passing year, I understand his love and concern for me even more because now the tables are turning and it's becoming MY turn to take care of my original Valentine, my daddy.  It's the nature of the beast, the way the world works.  They take care of us as we grow from infancy to adulthood, then we in turn take care of our parents as they descend into "old age"...that's such a horrible phrase but it's true isn't it?  

I remember the day with perfect clarity that I was told my dad has diabetes.  This was the first chink in his armor, the first tear in his superman cape, the first time I looked at him through the eyes of an adult and saw the reality that my daddy, my valentine, was a human being and not some superhero who would kiss my scraped knee and make the world better with his smile.  After my mom told me the news I went out into the living room to find him asleep in his recliner with his beloved Chigger in his lap, and I was struck at how my childhood glasses were ripped off my face and I saw how, in the blink of an eye, my dad had aged, and he seemed incredibly frail to me at that moment.

As life would have it, we all proceeded along the course that has been plotted out for us.  I was finishing up college, dating my future husband, planning our wedding, obtaining my first job and generally just coasting along in life thinking all was hunky dory.  I hadn't given the diabetes a second thought, and had pushed from my mind the fact that *both* my parents were getting older and more problems were cropping up each day.  Mom's back surgery, dad's cartroid arteries had to be cleaned out, both of them had to start wearing special shoes, their eyes were changing where driving at night isn't such a good option anymore (that must be incredibly frustrating).

But there were great times as well, along the way.  The first grandchild, my nephew, was brought into our lives and I have had the chance to witness my dad be a *Dad* again.  They laugh and play, kiss and hug, and of course "TB" gets taught a lesson or two from ol' "Nampa" along the way.  I hope that my father's diabetes doesn't get out of control because I really hope he gets to see TB graduate from high school  and get married, but if we don't *all* own up to the fact that the boogeyman is under the just never know what can happen.  

But after a while the other shoe has to drop doesn't it.  

All of our lives came to a crashing halt when first mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, then me a little over a year later.  I can only imagine what that did to my dad.  I remember calling them after I had gone into the ugly cry over the phone with Julie.  Dad answered as mom was driving and I remember him laughing and saying "This is funny.  I have a daughter in each ear" (Julie was on his phone, I was on mom's) *laugh*.  Then I had to sucker punch him in the stomach because the words "Daddy it's breast cancer" had to leave my mouth and change our lives forever.  I remember being sucked into the vortex of time and feeling like I was five years old again, afraid of ET in my closet, calling out for my superman in the middle of the night to come and chase the boogeyman away and make me feel safe. 
The father's day right after my first chemo I wrote a poem for my dad about how he was helping me realize that cancer would not beat me, or us.  I wish to take a moment to remind him of what he said to me when the boogeyman was under my bed.

A little girl needs her daddy
To give her a father’s love
To soothe her when she’s hurt,
And keep her safe from harm.

A girl needs her dad
To show her a man who’s good,
To help her make right choices,
As only a father could.

A woman needs her father
To diligently be aware,
He’ll always be there for her
To sustain her and to care.

I love you because you're my father,
But you're really so much more;
You're a guide and a companion;
My first shining knight with his mighty sword.

You pay attention to me;
and listen to what I say.
You pass on words of wisdom,
That help me along my way.

When trouble rears its ugly head,
You always have a plan.
You flex your mighty muscles and tell me that
Yes in fact you can!”

You’ve been all these things and more to me,
And I hope that you can see
How much I treasure you;
You mean everything to me.

So on this Valentine's day I just want to say that I love you more than you'll ever know, just as your love for me is beyond my perception.  We all go through rough times, and we all have our own demons to fight and that's okay because we *WILL* win.  Let me be your knight in shining armor (a girl can be a knight in this day and age right:), your superwoman with her cape, your boogeyman chaser.  Whatever you need, whenever you need it is only a phone call, text, or email away.  There's nothing I wouldn't do for you as you have done for me.  

I'm with you every step of the way so let's put on some bada$$ shoes and kick some serious rear.  
  Happy Valentine's Day Daddy!  I love you!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

1:30, 3:30, 5am and 6. This is why I love my dogs,

though they drive me crazy!  My babies right now are four-legged and furry with tails that wag, tongues that slobber, noses that are wet, and personalities so different and distinct it's crazy.  They might be dogs, but they are my children, *our* children, and aside from the obvious physical differences and the fact that I can leave them at home with a bone and a kiss while I go off to work, they are a great training aide towards the future.

*Nobody get excited.  I'm not pregnant, nor do I plan to be in the near future; still have Chemo to get out of my system.* 

I grew up a cat person, at one point we had 5 cats in the house.  From left to right: 
Me holding "Pussums" (such a regal girl)
My sister Romanda holding "Pip" aka "Fabio" (honestly the *best* cat ever)
My mom holding "Miss Mona Mae" (such a lover)
My dad holding "Hunka Munka" (I miss the ol' b!tch)
My sister Julie holding "Rasta Pasta Rosie" (she's the only one left)

So it came as no surprise when we moved in together, we got a cat, Booger (aka every bad word you can think of *laugh* no. really. he's one bad #MuthaTrucka).  There was definite hesitation when Tim announced he wanted a dog.  I'd always known this, he grew up with dogs *obviously* he'd want one, but there were still a few years to go before we could actually get one so I had time to get used to the idea.  

We got married, a year later we bought our house and not more than a couple of months later, this precious girl entered our lives.  Her official name is "Peter & Patty's Lillian Black Stout".  We call her Lilly, Sweet Girl, Niller-bean and other variations.  She is truly spoiled rotten and a sweet heart down to her core who sounds ferociously vicious but knew about the cancer before I did.  She was amazingly easy as a puppy and we had her housebroke and trained in no time.  She's definitely the princess of the house and defers, really, only to me the Queen ;)  She had us both wrapped around her little paw the day we saw her and it's been that way ever since. 

Two years after starting our family with Lilly, we brought "Buckley's Sweet Grass Stout" home.  This guy...*wow*.  We had completely forgotten about the puppy stage when we took him on and he took complete advantage of the situation. *laugh*  Lilly was so easy and we started out doing the same thing with Buck that we did with her.  It wasn't until I came home to find a 2" wide by 6" long strip of felt torn up out of the middle of the pool table in our basement (which we had completely emptied of everything but furniture during his "destruct-o mode") that things had to change with how we were training this guy.  Into a kennel he went during the day and it's been nothing but pink hearts and butterflies since then (he's been out of the kennel for about a year and a half now).  He's incredibly smart yet amazingly dumb.  His head has to weigh 100lbs, we should know cause he's smacked us both in the face with it on numerous occasions, he gets beyond fixated on items (a #B.A.double L, or #K R A F T c h e e s e) and he's like a bull in a china shop most of the time but we love the dumb oaf and he loves us unconditionally in return.

They've tested our relationship, who can forget the great recycling bin argument of '07 *laugh*, they've made us worry *midnight run to the emergency vet because Lilly woke up scratching with hives* and *Buck and his broken pelvis* and I still get woken up at 130, and 330am during the week for Buck's potty breaks, then throw in 5am and 6 on the weekends where I inevitably give up and get up to start my day catering too and entertaining my dogs.  We've watched them grow, and given them baths, administered medicine, and cleaned up their trash.  Toys and vomit, treats and balls, rides in the car, they always follow me wherever I go.  They're our companions, our shadows, our entertainment, and our joy and we can't imagine life without them.  

So here's to our children, our four legged darlings may they live a long and wonderful life with us and our future child, whenever that may be.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I did it! It worked! It's true!! But boy is it a b!tch to do. "Abs are made by what you put in your mouth"

It's everyone's ultimate dream...a "flat stomach", a "six pack", "washboard abs", a "defined mid-section", a strong back, the essential core.  If you're health conscious and an avid exerciser like me then you know that no matter how many crunches you do, the key to that defined mid-section is by what you put in your mouth *and* how intense your cardio is.  You *HAVE* to sweat with the intention in mind to melt that fat off and you *MUST* be mindful of the food you put into your body in order to keep that layer of mid-section flub at bay.

It's hard, no doubt about it.  Exercising every day for at least 30min and eating "clean" 24 hours a day sucks.  It's definitely better when you have a friend to sweat through the torture with you *Thanks Bonnie!* but only YOU can control what YOU eat.  I strive to maintain as clean a diet as is possible for me, but what can I say? #ILikeToEat  I love everything that is good for you of course, but I also *lurve* that which is bad.  The fried, sugared, carb-ridden delicacies that leave you in such a sugar coma, gut-bomb state that you can't hardly move for 3 days; oh yes I love those too.  I don't eat it near as often as I used to which is a good thing, but it still creeps its way into my pantry and calls to me at all hours of the day.  Sometimes I can resist, had an apple and slice of cheese for a snack yesterday, other times I cannot *cough* ate a whole sleeve of cookies last night *cough*.

My point for this rambling is two fold.  1) I want people, women specifically and *young* girls even MORE specifically to know that you *can* have what you want with a little discipline and a whole lot of sweat (and the payoff is DEFINITELY worth it) and 2) many of my friends wonder what is is that I "do" to stay in shape, so here it is in print form.
Let me start by saying that "Skinny B!tches have body image issues too" and if you have any gag reflex going right now because I, a "Skinny B!tch" is discussing my mid-section, health, exercise, and diet then #PLEASESTOPREADING.  I am wanting to help whoever out there I possibly can, as well as my girlfriends who have inquired, be the best they possibly can be and *feel* the best they possibly can feel by divulging my own issues as well as my solutions.

Are you still reading?  Good.

It is possible to actually whittle your waist down to that coveted "flat stomach".  With a little willpower around the kitchen and the help of Jillian Michaels' "6week 6pack" I went from my standard, TOTALLY NORMAL little stomach pooch to the smallest waist and flattest stomach I've *ever* had.  Even when I was working out 2 hours a day, six days a week getting in shape for the wedding I never had a stomach this flat.  SO here's something for you to see.  I've never done this before and might not ever do it again, but here is a before and after shot of my midsection.  This is after about a month of working out daily (mostly 30min a day with Jillian during the week and an hour a day with Bob on the weekends), doing the 6wk6pk DVD every other day, drinking lots of water, and being very conscious of what I put in my mouth.  
 Quite a difference isn't it?  I couldn't believe it myself.  I'm sure you're wondering if my midsection *still* looks like that (the after picture was last Friday morning)...sadly it does not.  I gave into some indulgences when I got home from MMEA and my body readily rebounded to it's normal state, BUT THAT'S OKAY because I *know* I can get back there #IF I want to, and #WHEN I want too.  I'm already on my way back because I don't stay one way for long.  I'm constantly evolving in my relationship with food and exercise.  It's definitely a "love-hate" relationship and thankfully we're in the "love" stage right now.  That always makes it easier. 

There's the big exercise "secret".  Commit to YOURSELF.  Not some idea, not some "man I *wish* I could look like that" notion that you have stuck in your head; commit to yourself.  If you do that then it becomes much more the act of making yourself healthy rather than thin and by doing so, you'll love yourself that much more whatever state you are in because you will be the healthiest version of you there is.  *THAT* my friends is the goal. 

So, the next question many people have asked me is "What exactly does your daily food intake entail?"  Quite frankly it's not very exciting and usually revolves around the same controlled foods.  I'm a creature of habit and if I cycle through the regular recipes and allow myself treats in moderation I'm pretty happy.  Here's what I eat *daily*:

Breakfast (NEVER skip breakfast.  Your body needs this fuel after fasting all night long)
During the school week I drink a protein shake comprised of whey protein powder (Jillian Michaels), a packet of Carnation Instant Breakfast, 2 servings of Almond Milk (more calcium and less fat than cow's milk and no growth hormones), then a good sized splash of whatever "Naked" juice I have on hand.  Currently the "Berry Veggie" flavor.  I drink this in my car on the way to work and take all my vitamins at the same time.   

Here's the list of vitamins...I warn you it's long.

Vitamins (taken with breakfast)
Vitamin E, D, and C (E & D are two that women are severly lacking and that could be a contributor in cancer)

Calcium  (also lacking in women.  This is a MUST!)




Gingko Biloba 

Multi-Vitamin for Women 



I *used* to take Borage Oil (a mix of 3 Omega Oils) but was told that *could* have been a contributor to cancer, so I took it out hence the Co-Q10 instead.  Use your own judgement here.

I also have my beloved coffee and creamer in the mornings.  *NEVER* miss that. :)

Lunch (I make this my largest meal by far of the day)

Lunch is either left overs from dinner before, or a turkey or chicken breast sandwich.  Regardless I always make sure to include a veggie of some kind, currently in LOVE with cut up bell peppers, baby carrots, or sugar snap peas (all just raw, thrown in a baggie and eaten with no dip).  I also make sure to include a fruit, right now we have honeycrip apples (the extra $$ per pound is so worth it), pears, grapefruit, grapes, and one lone banana left.  Something "bad" is thrown in; i.e. couple of cookies, a lunch sized bag of chips (preferably baked but sometimes not), wheat thins, whatever I feel like.  I also throw extra food in because I *have* to have a snack around 930/10am, then again around 3pm.  

Snacks (I eat something about every 3 hours so I don't just blow through the pantry and grab whatever I can when I get home)
Hummus with wheat thins or veggies
Apple with a scoop of organic peanut butter
Cottage Cheese
String cheese
Cheezits (LOVE CHEEZITS! #CanIGetALifetimeSupply)

 I also have a drawer in my filing cabinet at school that has an area dedicated to food.  I keep granola bars, fruit roll ups, oatmeal bars, dried fruit, almonds, cheezits, etc, etc, in there for whenever I get hit with the #HungryStick  and for those times when my students haven't been supplied with enough food for the day and are literally starving #YesItHappens.

Water needs to become your new best friend.  Please invest in a reusable bottle that has a carbon filter built into it or a Brita pitcher that you can keep in your fridge and refill your reusable bottle with.  Put an end to disposable plastic bottles to help the planet.  I also enjoy soda water.  It's not everyone's taste, I acknowledge that, but sometimes I need something bubbly and POP is a bad bad BAD choice.  Don't drink your calories.  The only other liquid I'll drink throughout the day is tea.  Preferably Green Tea (love Arizona's tall cans of it) but I'll take a glass of plain ol' iced tea over a pop any day.  NOT SWEET TEA PEOPLE, un-sweet with lemon.

Dinner (I make this the smallest meal of my day and try to not eat anything past 7pm)
I rotate through the same standard recipes for the most part.  Spaghetti, Chinese Chicken, Stir Fry's of varying sorts, Spicy dumpling soup, Killer chicken noodle soup, Chicken with veggies and baked potato, Chili, Tacos, Sloppy Joes & Mac'nCheese (this is a husband dinner), Black Beans and rice with veggies, Beef noodle soup, Turkey Sage Meatloaf, Gluten free Lasagna with some experimenting along the way as well as some evenings where "We're having cereal" or "Breakfast for dinner".  

The main points I can stress on dinner are this.  
1) (Second smallest portion) LEAN PROTEIN.  Ground turkey, ground chicken, ground LEAN beef, lean cuts of beef, FISH (love salmon and tilapia), bison/buffalo (found it at Target and it's very tasty), lean pork.  We also eat a lot of venison which is naturally lean and good for you but unless your hubby is a hunter like mine, you might be out of luck there.   

 2) (Smallest portion) WHOLE GRAINS.  When I make spaghetti I use whole grain OR gluten free spaghetti.  I don't notice a difference and neither does Tim.  It's better for you and in the long run doesn't turn to black "tar" in your stomach.  I heard that's what enriched white products does and whether it's true or not it's an image that has stuck with me.

3) (Largest portion) VEGGIES VEGGIES VEGGIES.  Dark, leafy, and green are your best bet but if all you can handle is an iceberg salad with carrots and red cabbage that's better than nothing just make sure you don't coat it in dressing.  DIP into your dressing.  You'll use a LOT less and it's friendlier to your waist line.  Truth be told olive oil and vinegar is the best but if you insist on using a creamy dressing *please* put it on the side and just dip the ends of a forkful into the dressing.  You'll thank yourself later.  

4) INDULGE in something you love.  Whether it's sweet or salty or a combo of the two, go ahead and have what you want but try this trick.  Let's say it's chocolate cookie dough ice cream you're after.  Scoop yourself that bowl of ice cream like normal, then take HALF of what you scooped out and put it back IN the carton.  You'll find that what you wind up is more than satisfying and you'll feel less guilt later.  

Here's another trick I use for indulgences.  I *love* cheezits and peanut m&m's.  Neither are particularly good for you, but sometimes during my mad dash through the day I gotta have one or the other.  I'll zip to the vending machine, drop my money in and punch the buttons for my beloved treat.  I'll eat HALF the bag then either crunch up the rest and throw it away or give it away to someone in the hallways.  Not only am I cutting out unnecessary calories but not depriving myself at the same time but I'm also brightening someone's day when I hand them the rest of the bag of M&M's with a smile and walk off.  

Such a tricky place to eat.  Here are a few tips and tricks from someone who has worked in the industry for half my life and likes to eat out.  

Fast food places.  #JustStayAway.  If this is your *only* option either commit to working out extra hard, OR getting the least damaging thing on the menu.  Use your common sense.  You know what's relatively good for you and what's absolutely horrible for you at fast food joints so make the right decision.  

Sit down restaurants#ChooseWisely.  Don't be fooled by the pronouncement "We only use fresh ingredients in our dishes" or the servers advice that everything's "Good for You" because it's not.  Follow this rule of thumb.  Ask for your side of vegetables to be STEAMED otherwise they'll toss them in the skillet with "butter product", unwanted fat that you don't need.  When you receive your entree ask for a box and put HALF of what you've ordered into the box to take home.  Most restaurants portions, of even the "healthy" items, are too large and so even if you are eating a "healthy" meal if you eat all of it you're still taking in too many calories.  Always, always, ALWAYS start with a dinner salad.  Dressing on the side and DIP, don't coat.  Try the balsamic vinagrette (most all restaurants have one), I bet you'll like it.  #STAYOUTOFTHEBREADBASKET.  It'll just fill you up and you would rather fill up on veggies than carbs.  Don't fall victim to the "upsell", i.e. loaded mashed potatos, waffle fries, extra cheese, etc.  While it pads the restaurants pockets and admittedly those options are quite tasty, they're definitely not good for your waistline.

Last thing I'm going to mention about eating out.  Desserts.  Oh they are so delicious but evil and wicked.  Either SHARE a dessert (preferably with more than one person), OR when it arrives, cut it in half and send the other half back without even blinking.  Not only will your server love you (because they will undoubtedly scarf the untouched half in the back with their friends and they can afford to eat it because they're working their tushie off walking that restaurant), but your waistline will too. 

I don't want to ruin your eating out experience anymore than I possibly already have so I leave it with this.  Sometimes you just gotta say #ToHellWithIt and have what you want when you're out.  Don't feel guilty when you do that...enjoy it.  Just don't do it every day. 

So that, my friends, is what I do on a daily basis.  I make sure I do at least 30minutes of a sweat inducing workout at least 5 days a week, and incorporate yoga whenever I can.   I drink lots of water, focus on lean protein and whole grains, and indulge without over doing it (most times ;).  I love my body and how far it has brought me in life; I want to make sure we make it quite a bit longer.

I must go do my yoga now.  Namaste.

**Please note I am NOT a doctor of health expert in any way shape or form.  These are just things that work for ME.  Please consult your doctor when making any exercise and/or nutrition changes**