Friday, August 30, 2013

Can You Ever Really Blog for Yourself?

Blogging's a funny thing---on the one hand, you (my reader) know more about my day-to-day life than almost anybody else (with the exception of my husband), but on the other hand, there are some glaring holes that I purposely leave out of the blog.

One of those "holes" has been about blogging itself---most blogs that I follow have regular posts on the act of blogging and what it means for them, but I've very rarely done any such thing. Perhaps I've left it out because I didn't want to admit how much time I actually spend every day on this particular hobby, or maybe it's because to me, blogging about blogging just didn't seem true to the character of my writing.

It's like what I always say about books---if I'm thinking about what's going through the author's head while reading a novel, there's a problem.

All that aside, I've been thinking a lot lately about why I blog--I've been thinking about the reasons I started to really blog regularly and the reasons I still continue to post 4-5 times a week. I've been thinking about the motivation that's coming somewhere from deep within that keeps me coming back to the blank page night after night and that spurs me on to be ever on the lookout for new post ideas, eager to put more of my words out there for all of you.

I'm not sure of the complete answers to all those questions---many of them seem to be at a subconscious level, but one thing is for sure:

Even though I think it's impossible to truly blog just for yourself (I mean, that's what journals are for, not blogs), I still think it's always been super important to me to blog in the way that comes most authentically to me.

I made a comment to Matt the other night that went something like this:

"You know, it's weird---I almost always know exactly what posts are going to get the most traffic and comments, and I know what kinds of posts I could regularly do to get the most traffic and comments, but I almost always choose not to do them. Not because they're bad ideas or because more traffic wouldn't be nice, but because when it comes right down to it, a lot of those ideas aren't really 'me.' Sure, I know if I did more posts on hot topics like the current happenings of the popular media or the latest issue in the political world, I'd probably get a lot more hits. But in the end, that's not who I am. So even though I'll probably never be a 'big' blogger because of it, I have to stick with what's really 'me.'"

Matt nodded and agreed with my motivations, always willing to listen to my constant droning about this here little blog.

That's not to say that I think that blogs who do write about those types of subjects are sellouts--for them, those kinds of posts are probably true to who they are. Besides, other bloggers do those kinds of subjects so much better than I could, so I figure I'll just let them have that thunder.

As for me and my corner of the blogging world, I'm content to stay exactly how I am. Sure, I might be more serious than a lot of bloggers. I might be a bit more focused on abstract ideas and deep introspection. But in the end, that's who I am.

And you know one main reason why I keep coming back again and again to blogging fresh posts almost every weekday?

Because of all of you---you who accept this blog for what it is, and who don't criticize me for what it's not.

You who have followed along despite the fact that maybe I do things a little differently.

So in the end, even though I'm not blogging entirely for myself, I'm still being true to myself.

Does that make sense?

Are you a blogger? Have you ever asked yourself if your blog is an authentic representation of yourself? Or am I the only one that thinks this deeply about blogging?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Traveling & Inspiration

 I was first bit by the travel bug when I was fifteen and on my way to Florida with two of my best friends. Aside from enjoying the splendor of the beaches and the lake in the backyard and the tropical climate, that trip opened my eyes to include more of the world than my little slice of life in Bountiful, Utah had been able to provide.

And now, since investing in a DSLR camera this last summer, traveling is like a double whammy for my eyes and mind---not only does the new place expose me to new ideas and rich images, but now they're being doubly imprinted on my mind because I'm trying to capture them digitally as well.

I find that I naturally feel more creative in a new place, so the camera gives me even more of an incentive to put some of that inspiration to good use.

This particular batch of pictures is from our trip a couple weeks ago to Kansas City, Missouri to see my dad. Because it was Matt's first time going, a lot of the trip felt like I was seeing things for the first time too since I was imagining how things seemed through Matt's eyes.

I'm guessing that's what parenthood must kind of be like---it's like the world opens itself up to you anew as you learn (again) how to see the world through a child's eyes.


One thing I always wonder about after taking trips is this: is it possible to train ourselves to look at our everyday, very familiar surroundings with the fresh eyes that a tourist would have? Is it really possible to "vacation" in your own city? To tap into that creative energy that seems to be ever-present in unfamiliar surroundings?

Case in point:

In Missouri, we did things such as trying out the famous local restaurants (the original Oklahoma Joe's being one of them), visiting historical LDS sites (including Far West, the visitor's center at Independence, and Adam-Ondi-Ahman), and checking out the beautiful surrounding landscapes by going on long drives and fishing in some secluded ponds.

After trying such a varied amount of new experiences and places, it was no wonder I felt so inspired as to come up with story ideas galore and indulge in some pretty big daydreaming.

Why don't I do that kind of stuff on my home turf?

To be honest, I don't know if I'm mentally capable of truly seeing my city with brand-new eyes.

But I think it would be fun to try.

(Another random cool thing about this vacation? On the spur of the moment, I decided to read My Antonia (the classic novel by Willa Cather) while on this trip, which happens to be located in the exact geographical area we were in.

There's something magical about reading a classic while in the land it's describing. It reminded me of reading Jane Eyre while traveling through the European countryside.

It was yet another life source for my inspiration pool.)

Regardless of whether or not I can really get those same feelings at home as while traveling, I know one thing for sure:

I sure am grateful that I've seen as much of the world as I have.

It's a pretty awesome place.

Does traveling inspire you, too? Or does it just make you miss home and routine that much more?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All, First Day of School Edition

*I've got three words to describe the first day of school today: Considering. Early. Retirement. Here I am, only starting my second year, and I think I'm about to be defeated and driven to insanity by a handful of particularly rogue and rambunctious 12-year-olds.

*Now I'm kinda starting to get why people are always telling me I'm going straight to heaven for teaching 7th graders. With teaching kids like this, I'm going straight to heaven with a basketful of eternal chocolate and caffeine.

*My first clue that this year might not be quite as blissful as last (although that wasn't exactly a walk in the park most the time)? Literally three minutes into my advisory class, after I've spent all three of those minutes going over what "respect" means and how I expect the students to demonstrate it while we brainstorm ideas of what to call our "team," a kid calls out loudly (after another kid volunteers a team name): "That's the STUPIDEST, most UNORIGINAL idea I've ever heard. Seriously lame, man." I called him out sharply on this, but he only sat there grinning at me like he thought I was kidding. After I threatened to take him out into the hall for a chat, he slightly sobered up, but he was muttering rude comments under his breath and sticking a balloon animal in his mouth for the rest of the class still.

*And I have that kid TWICE in one day, for two different classes. Oh the horror! The horror!

*I had been hearing about how hard this particular group is since last year, when they first entered the school year. All of us 7th grade teachers collectively had decided, though, that all of them would "grow up" and "mature" over the summer, and we wouldn't have nearly as many problems as the 6th grade teachers had last year.

*Oh, how naïve we allow ourselves to be. And hopelessly optimistic.

*All day long though, I continued to remind myself: think of the poor students who never give any teachers any problems who have been stuck with some of these kids since kindergarten. Hang in there for them. (Some days it's necessary to give myself little pep talks in between periods. Other days I just give myself straight shots of caffeine and sugar.)

*Did you have a kid like that in your grade growing up? One you just KNEW would be causing teachers problems til the end of time?

*Good things that happened today though: I had leftover pork chops and potatoes for my lunch (num!), and I had a decently positive experience with teaching Spanish for the first time ever. Oh, and I also felt better knowing that every teacher pretty much had the same struggles as me with that one kid (I was worried it was just me!).

*In all of my classes today, I did a short intro to myself and let the kids ask me whatever questions they wanted to know about me. Without fail, guess what the first question was every time? "How old are you?" After revealing that I'll be 27 next month, the classes all let out collective gasps, and such comments as these followed: "There's no way!" "You're that old?!" "I thought you looked like a teenager," and, from one particularly outspoken boy: "You look like you're my age!!"

*To which I replied, "Heck no! I already survived middle school, thanks." (After which I realized I probably should have been more sensitive considering that they're just about to go through it. The suckers.)

*I thought it would be hard to keep up my resolution to keep on running three times a week this school year, but today I came home and remarked: "Maybe I'll be running FIVE times a week with how this week is already looking...freak."

*I also made the comment to Matt (you know it was bad if I'm thinking like this) that on the car ride home from school today, I thought to myself, "Maybe I'll just get pregnant already so I can get out of this nightmare."

*Yeah, I know. I'm terrible.

*On the other hand, I do have some students that will probably be perfectly delightful. It was just hard to notice them considering that 95% of my attention was being spent taking care of kids that were feeling WAY too comfortable in my class for the first day of school.

*Funny thing, though---as the day went on, I started getting tougher and stricter so those kids would know I meant business until by the end, I was purposely trying to scare the crap out of the kids with talk of how hard of a teacher I am (which is true) and how much work they'll have to do (also true). It was already so bad by 3rd hour that by the end of the class (when I half-teasingly said that it looked like I'd scared them all half to death), one small boy tentatively said, "Well, you kinda have actually" (after which, half the class nodded with big saucer-eyes).

*I smiled real big on the inside at that comment.

*One day down, 179 to go. Maybe this won't be the year I finally learn to unequivocally love teaching.

*But I'll still try to remain positive :)

*I mean, at least I got to buy (and wear) new school clothes, right?

Monday, August 26, 2013

End of Summer = Canning

As if tomorrow being the first day of school (eek!) wasn't enough of an indicator, summer announced its official end by two important events:

1. My mom driving up to Logan to teach me how to can tomatoes so we can start to deal with the masses of ripe, red maters that are positively gushing out of our garden at the moment, and

2. The morning "chill" in the air that has been the undeniable indicator since my childhood that the new school year is just around the corner.

I think it goes without saying that I'm not quite ready and am a little nervous and paranoid and anxious about school starting tomorrow.

But I'll say it anyway: I'm not quite ready and  am a little nervous and paranoid and anxious about school starting tomorrow.

But, putting my first-day jitters aside, let's talk canning.

Before last Thursday, I'd never really learned how to can.

I mean, I helped my mom out when I was a kid when SHE would can (and by help, I mean I would crank the machine that gushed out the apricot guts while I snuck that blushing fruit of goodness into my mouth as fast as I could).

But last weekend, as I stirred up a steaming pot of tomato sauce that had cinnamon and nutmeg in it of all things (DELICIOUS!), I realized a couple important truths:

Firstly, canning takes a LOT more produce than I previously realized. For our tomato sauce, we used fifteen pounds of fat tomatoes, and it only produced two big jars (quarts) and four little jars (pints) of sauce.

Second, canning requires that you put in a LOT of work for only a little bit of product (or so it felt like to me).

But the most important truth was of course my final realization:

There are few things in life as satisfying as knowing that you've provided food for your family during the coming months that's based on produce that you grew on your own, harvested on your own, and canned on your own (well, with help from your mom).

This was a proud moment for me, friends:

Side note: We actually did can more than what is displayed in this above picture, but it wouldn't all fit on that counter.

Of course, after spending about 8 hours straight to produce what you see above, I realized with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach that our garden produces that many tomatoes in a week, easy.

So the question is this:


Friday, August 23, 2013

Goodbye Summer Version of Myself

Goodbye, summer Torrie. I'm sure Matt appreciated you while you were here.

Goodbye to the me that:

*didn't care if her hair was pulled back more days than not
*always felt like she had plenty of time for everything
*took morning runs
*learned to be okay with wearing less makeup
*took naps whenever she read too long
*finished 4-5 books a month on average
*did writing right after the morning run
*laughed about problems
*acted her age
*didn't think about school one second longer than she absolutely had to
*naturally wanted to eat healthy due to the plethora of produce around
*had plenty of motivation to do everything and anything, including housework

Hello, fall Torrie. I've gotta say, you're way better than winter Torrie, but I'm still not exactly excited to see you again.

Hello to the me that:

*constantly stresses over 150 kids that aren't hers
*has a hard time not talking about school 24/7
*either acts like a middle-aged, no-fun dictator or a 13-year-old girl
*has to try and fit in runs at night
*craves comfort food and Diet Dr. Pepper to get her through the day
*never feels like she has any time for anything
*is lucky to finish two or three books a month
*gripes about all her problems
*has no motivation to do anything upon getting home from work
*feels like she has to look "put-together" all the time, which includes a full face of makeup and hair that doesn't involve a top knot (too often, anyway)


I need to bring a little more summer Torrie into my life year-round, I think.

Are you a different version of yourself with the changing of the seasons? Or am I just a weirdo?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Last Year of Certainty

While in Missouri, we checked out the Rockhurst campus (above) to consider it as an option for Matt's DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) degree. While we wandered the lush campus and tried to avoid the chiggers (which bit me all up and down my legs), it hit me:

This is our last year of certainty.

By that, I mean that unless catastrophe or tragedy strikes, we know exactly what our plan is for this year: I'm going to teach for another year at Harris and Matt's going to finish up his degree and work part-time at USU.

And that's where our road map ends.

Right now, we're in the thick of possibilities as Matt prepares to take the GRE, fills out his applications for various PT schools around the country, and continues to get volunteer hours at the hospital under his belt. Right now, a hundred different doors wait down the hall, and we have no idea which one we're going to go through---in a year, will we be in Kansas City, living with my dad? Will we be here in Utah? Will we be out in the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, consoling ourselves with the fact that they at least pay their teachers really well?

It's unnerving.

I've always been the kind of person that generally feels more comfortable once a decision has been made, so all this uncertainty freaks me out. I like to plan, I like to prepare, and I generally like to know what's going on in the short-term future.

But most of our life will be decided for us in March or April, when we start to hear back from all the grad schools. It will be those phone calls that will determine whether my Utah teaching license will be used, or whether I will need to search the requirements and certify for another state. It will be those decisions in the hands of other people that will determine where we move, how much money we'll have to go into debt for, and where we're going to live.

Matt keeps telling me not to worry and that it will all work out. I know, deep down, that of course it will. Even if he doesn't get accepted anywhere this first year (heaven forbid), things will still work out.

I just hate having major life changes be completely out of my hands.

But I guess that's how life is, eh?

Do you have a time of uncertainty coming up? Or that you just got over?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tips for Surviving Your First Year of Teaching [Part Three]

In honor of back to school, I present to you the third (and final) set of my teaching tips for first-year teachers. For part one, click here. Part two, click here.

27. Since this set of tips has to do with last third of the school year, here's my first tip: use some of your personal days to take off some time in March (or whatever month is seriously lacking in holidays). At my school, our spring break isn't until April, so March was a VERY long stretch of teaching without any breaks. Do yourself a favor and take some time off. We went to Bryce last year, and it was the best thing I could have done for my students because I wasn't such a stress mess when I came back.

28. You'll have probably discovered by now that teaching is often a thankless job (if you've found it to be otherwise, please share your secret!!!). When times get tough and you find yourself getting down about whether or not you're really making a difference, make a list of the triumphs and successes you've seen that week (or that month, or over the year). I know I'm definitely more likely to only focus on the negative stuff going on, so this practice is super important for me to keep my perspective.

29. By this far into the year, you might be enough out of "survival" mode that you can concentrate on adding some more flavor into your classroom. The easiest way to do that? Give students choices, or bring the kids in when it comes to planning how you're going to present something. Not only will they be WAY more invested when they've gotten to choose, but it also takes some of the pressure off of you.

30. As you sit down to broadly plan your last semester or trimester, make sure you have your students working hard up until the very end. Nothing's worse (as a student or a teacher) than a class where there's not enough to do.

31. Since by this point, your classroom routine and management should be well-established and your students should overall be behaving (hopefully), try to loosen up a bit. Play around with your typical lesson plans and make them more fun. Crack jokes with the students. Give yourself permission to get creative in your teaching. I left this tip until later in the year because at the beginning, I really stress being strict and tough (it will save you SO much grief later). But it's hard to stay that way all the time, and you know the saying about all work and no play...

32. This far into the school year, the kids who have always driven you crazy will likely be driving you crazier still. Try the following two strategies (if calling the parents and getting the administration involved haven't done anything): one, meet with the student one-on-one and either give them a special responsibility in the class or make a behavior contract with them ("if you do this, I'll give you this reward..."), and two, pray or meditate specifically about that student each day. I pray daily about teaching and about kids, and I can't tell you how many times my feelings have been softened towards a particular student because I'm praying for him/her. If prayer isn't your thing, try meditating about the student---not in a "I hope this student gets strep throat" kind of way, but in a "let's try to see things from his point of view" kind of way. Make plans to go out of your way to serve and love that student--it's amazing what little acts of kindness can do.

33. The kids will start to get tired of school and antsy by the end. Make sure you build in learning activities throughout the year that will give your students a chance to move around (and a chance to get outside every now and then, weather permitting).

34. Although teaching is somewhat of a lifestyle instead of just a job, try to set boundaries wherever possible. After several months of teaching, I realized that my students and classroom were almost all I ever talked about, especially with my husband. Once I recognized this, I made much more of an effort to talk about the kinds of things that we used to before I became a teacher (like books, movies, and non-teaching experiences), and I found that it made me feel much more like the "whole" version of myself (if that makes sense). I imagine that becoming a parent probably has a similar effect.

35. Don't neglect taking care of yourself, especially when it comes to diet and exercise. I learned this one the hard way, as the end of the school year saw me putting on about five pounds of stress weight. The truth is, when you take care of your physical self, you're so much more able to take care of everything else. So make a goal to exercise at least 3 times a week and to not rely on sugar and simple carbs to get you through a massive pile of grading. Not only will you feel better, but you'll be more focused, too.

36. Ask an administrator or experienced teacher to explain the standardized testing procedure to you beforehand. I had been meaning to do this, but what ended up happening was that on the first day of testing, I suddenly realized with a sick feeling that I had no idea how to get the students onto the computers or what my role in everything was. Trust me, it is NOT the way you want to spend a day that's already kind of stressful anyway, so do yourself a favor and make sure you understand everything beforehand.

37. Speaking of standardized testing, try to keep in mind that standardized test scores are only a miniscule measurement of your success as a teacher. And, if I could do it all over again, I would try to avoid comparing my students' scores with the other teachers'. (But, as it happened, I was so excited that 91% of my students reached proficiency that I raced over to the other teachers to share the news, only to feel silly and insignificant when I realized that the other teachers' scores were far better than my own). The sad thing about comparison is that it almost always robs you of any joy you might have felt---I was overjoyed with my scores when I first saw them, but it was only after comparison that I felt bad about the whole thing. Avoid comparing. Better yet, just keep repeating this to yourself: "My worth as a teacher is not determined by test scores."

38. Buy a yearbook. I wasn't sure if it would be worth it to me to buy one, but I was shocked at how many of my students really wanted to sign mine (plus it's the only way I have pictures of all my kids). Since teaching can often feel like a thankless job, it was cool for me to read some of my students' comments thanking me for the difference I'd made in their life.

39. My last tip? Get out there and celebrate! You've successfully completed your first year, and you probably helped more kids than you screwed up. I'll tell you one thing---the second those kids graduate your classroom, you just love them unconditionally (because they're now no longer under your charge)--it's like being the fun grandparent. And now that's YOU! Congratulations!

Any teachers out there? What tips would you give a first-year teacher?

P.S. I'm one of the sponsors on this big giveaway. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*I had hoped that by tomorrow, I could get my big post with all of my pics and thoughts on our Missouri trip up and running, but considering my huge mess-up with when my teaching orientations actually started, all you get today are these two pictures. Maybe I'll be ready with the rest by Thursday or Friday, eh?

*Currently, I am at the school waiting for Back to School night to start. Almost all the other teachers just went home after our big meeting this morning, but considering that I have a 35-minute commute each way, I decided to just wait it out. Of course, I was hoping that with all this time, I'd magically want to get everything prepared and ready for about three weeks out, but THAT is apparently not happening. There's just something about long staff meetings that kills all motivation for anything remotely to do with teaching.

*I'm sure I'll talk more about this later, but can I just say that I am trying very hard not to panic about this upcoming school year? Normally, I would be panicking much less if I was just looking at the fact that this is going to be my second year of teaching rather than my first, but the problem is that apparently this incoming group of students is the worst the school has ever seen. Everyone's been saying it, too, from the administration down to the teachers who taught the kids last year...even the health teacher, who never has anything bad to say about kids ever and is the most beloved (and probably most effective) teacher in the whole school said that she's never had such a hard group.

*Case in point: yesterday, our training was all around a poker theme, with the motto of: "Play your cards well." Basically, the whole idea behind the training was to try to tell us that we can't control which cards (or students) we get--just how well we play the cards. Of course, then the training went on to talk about how we label some kids "jokers" or "low cards" and some kids "aces" or "kings," with each type of card being represented by an actual incoming student's picture (and behavioral background). Of course, rather than encouraging us to judge less, I think it all just made us make prejudgments even more, especially since many of us had never met these particular students last year. The most terrifying thing? I think almost every single one of the "joker" (aka trouble) kids that they mentioned were in my classes. I am not even kidding. Every. Last. One.

*Nor am I kidding about the theme of yesterday's staff workshop. In fact, the theme is going so far that as teachers, we're going to get playing cards for doing the things that the administrators are encouraging, and we'll be able to turn in our "hands" at various points throughout the school year for poker chips, which we then can trade in for rewards. One thing is certain: the new administration at the school sure doesn't go halfway on stuff.

*Other than the fact that the underlying motif of the conference had to do with gambling, it actually was really well done. For an orientation meeting anyway. Except for the fact that now I'm even more terrified of my new students than before.

*Another thing about my incoming classes is that they are WAY bigger than last year. Last year, I only had one class of 31, and the rest ranged from 24-29. This year, my smallest is 31 and my largest is 35. Kill me now.

*Soapbox moment: isn't it strange how everyone is always so concerned about whether or not we're spending enough on each student in the educational system, yet none of those dollars per kid actually go towards teachers' salaries or hiring more teachers so that the class sizes are smaller? It boggles my mind.

*My last complaint of the day? Our school has no A/C, even though almost every other school in existence has finally invested in air conditioning for the building. Lame.

*On a non-school note, I had the awesomest thing happen on Sunday. So remember a couple weeks ago, when I mentioned that our best friends moved and I was bemoaning how hard it is to make friends once you're married? Well, I was sitting in church and the meeting had just gotten over, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw my favorite mission companion and her new husband right behind us! They apparently had moved in a block over from our apartment, and neither of us knew that the other was so close. We were so stoked that we promptly invited them over for dinner and games, and we had a blast. It was actually because of that that I was up so late on Sunday when I found out that I had to go to that orientation the next day.


*I learned an important lesson yesterday: you know those little pegs that hold up the shelves on a bookshelf? Well, apparently you can buy replacements at Smith's (or probably most other general stores). I was worried I'd have to get all new shelving for my classroom because my students last year hashed the little one that was already in the room, but a small investment of $3.09 saved me from that particular expense. Awesomeness.

*Only 1.5 hours until all the parents and students arrive. Iwillnotfreakout Iwillnotfreakout Iwillnotfreakout....

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Worst Way For It All to End

 There are a million ways I would have liked my summer to come to an official end--with a cake-decorating fiesta perhaps, or by riding on a rollercoaster while eating a churro, or with a massive ice cream fight.
Yes, I realize those all have to do with food. I know where my priorities are.
You wanna know what actually happened?
Last night, I was in a blissful state of mind as I contemplated how I wanted my summer to go out--I was planning dates, dreaming up creamy concoctions, and raiding the fridge. You see, I still had two whole days of freedom before going back to teaching, and I was going to ANTM and Psych those days for all they were worth.
Oh, how ignorant I was.
When 11 PM struck last night, I thought I'd better check the school calendar "just in case" I had somehow gotten my days mixed up.
Imagine my feelings when, to my horror, I discovered that I actually needed to go back to it all TODAY, a feat that would require me waking up in the 5:45 AM range and somehow pushing onward through all the orientation sludge on only six-ish hours of sleep.
It wasn't pretty, friends, but at least today's faculty meetings, plannings, gossipings, and worryings about the incoming students are over.
And now I'll drown my sorrows in Diet Dr. Pepper and a fudge bar while I reminisce of happier days, mainly the awesome picnic we took up to Tony's Grove last Saturday (which ended up being our "real" end-of-summer bang).
Seeing as how the whole thing was basically awesome, I guess I can't be TOO mad about the way the whole thing went down.
Plus, after all, I didn't lose my job due to my stupidity.
 Is your summer going to go out with a bang?
01 09 10