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I work with children

I’ve been working with kids on and off for the past 6 years, from age 3 all the way to age 17.  Most recently, I’ve been working with kids/youth continuously since December 2009, and middle schoolers for a good portion of that.  When I tell people what I do for a living, I am met with mixed responses, many with the supposition that I must have sustained permanent brain damage at some point in order to have accepted my post.  I can’t say that I disagree with them.  But I’ve discovered that all inquiries questioning my sanity can be met with a single phrase.


Why do you have 47 paperclips in your pocket?  I work with children.

Why are you going to a job interview in men’s shorts and a t-shirt?  I work with children.

Is that paint on your face?  I work with children.

Is that jelly in your hair?  I work with children.

Is that blood on your shirt?  I work with children.

Why do you have tiki torches and hula hoops in the trunk of your car?  I work with children.

You got a bloody lip at work today?  I work with children.

Did you just laugh at a fart joke?  I work with children.

Why are you drinking wine at 10 in the morning?  I work with children.

Why haven’t you posted on your blog in four months?  I work with children.


Yes, that’s my excuse.  Some of you out there may know what I mean – when you work with children, you’re always working.  It’s 11:00 at night and I’m telling Wes about the social studies lesson I taught.  It’s 6:00 in the morning and I’m planning the week’s art activities while I brush my teeth.  It’s 8:45 pm and I’m mentally dividing my class into groups for their science project as I drive home from work.  So I may not be able to return to my blog with accounts of all the fascinating experiences I’ve had in my absence.  But I have something better.


One of the biggest challenges of teaching middle schoolers is that I’m not supposed to laugh when they say hilarious things.  I’m supposed to keep my teacher face on and continue with my lesson.  But there’s nothing stopping me from copying down their comments when they’re not looking.  And out of the classroom, I figure it’s all fair game.  Even better is that most of you guys aren’t teachers, and are in no way obligated to keep a straight face when you read these.  So, for your entertainment… the “I work with children” quote wall.  Names have been abbreviated to protect the minors from abject humiliation.


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Lent 2011

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. 

For those of you who don’t follow the Liturgical year, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the forty day period of fasting before Easter Sunday.  While Lent is most definitely a Catholic tradition, many Protestants observe it as well.  In an on-again, off-again sort of way, I am one of those.

I made the last-minute decision this year that I was going to observe Lent.  It was last minute because I didn’t have any idea when it started until the Saturday before, when I finally got around to looking it up.  So in the few days I had to think about it, in between work and Bible study and cleaning and more work and more Bible study, I decided I was going to give up sleeping in for Lent.

Sleep and I have a very tumultuous relationship, mostly because I am fully capable of sleeping ten hours a night, and have neither the time nor the desire to do so.  However, I never seem to remember these facts at 7:30 am when my alarm goes off.  Normally I hit snooze one or two or seventeen more times, until my alarm eventually gives up and turns itself off.  When I do get up, what follows is the most melodramatic five minutes of my day.  “I’m sooooooo tired!  Why do I have to get up this early?  It’s soooooooooo unfair!  I’m going to diiiiieeeee!”  I briefly contemplate quitting my job so that I can go back to sleep, because clearly that’s the best solution.  Then I brush my teeth, feed the cats, turn the coffee pot on.  By the time the coffee has finished brewing, I’m wide awake and glad I didn’t give in.  Mornings like that are great, they just don’t happen often enough.  So now I’m going to use Lent to force myself to get up.

Even those of you who aren’t familiar with Lent might catch a hint of wrong motive in the statement above.  Let me explain.  Despite my lifelong relationship with the season of Lent, I didn’t grow up in churches that practiced it.  My childhood church was non-denominational and charismatic, and Liturgy isn’t high on the list of priorities in a place like that.  We were lucky if we even got an Easter-themed sermon on Easter. (For the longest time, I thought I must have picked up the idea of Lent from my mom, who grew up Catholic.  Then I came home from college during Lent the year that I gave up coffee, and she laughed at me and told me we weren’t Catholic and brewed a big pot of Starbucks blend.)  But I did grow up in churches that practiced fasting.  You fast to clear the distractions out of your life so that you can hear God speaking.  You fast from something so that you can take the time you normally spend on that activity and spend it with God instead.  You don’t “fast” without seeking God.  That’s called a diet.  (And you don’t “fast” broccoli either – are you listening, 9-year-old self?)

 From the Catholic mindset, Lent is a time of penance, reflection, and fasting.  The penance part isn’t really part of my theology (although it would be an interesting study…), and the reflection part comes naturally to us internal processors.  So for me, Lent is really a time of corporate fasting.  And that, I can do.  I’ve been taught that you should fast the thing that’s hardest to give up.  In my case, it always comes down to sleep or coffee.  This year, it’s sleep.  Coffee isn’t keeping me from spending time with God.  Sleeping in is.

P.S. I realize that my observations on Lent are currently somewhat shallow, to which I will say: I’m not finished.  This is a blog, not a dissertation(I keep trying to remind myself).  And a season of reflection should call for…more reflection.  Right?

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So I hear that some people who have blogs actually update them more than once every two months.

I haven’t been one of those people lately, so I guess first I should apologize to all my dedicated readers who anxiously await my next posting.  And by “dedicated readers”, I mostly just mean Wes, who foolishly decided to make my blog his home page and has had to look at my “state of the union” letter to my car every time he wanted to go online for the past two months.  Sorry, love.

I’ve apparently gotten really good at rationalizing lately, so I could give you tons of reasons why I’ve been AWOL (I’m a teacher now!  For the rest of the school year, in fact), but making apologies for the way I spend my time really isn’t what I want to fill my blog with.  So instead, I’m going to give you the world’s longest excuse, cleverly disguised as a blog entry.

Are you ready?  Here it goes:

Stress is a commonly accepted part of life, even among Christians, and Stress and I have been in a long-term relationship ever since high school (we met during physics my junior year, and got serious when I started filling out college applications and spending my spare time laying on my bedroom floor.)  But stress is really just another word for anxiety, and anxiety is really another word for fear.  Why do we have stress?  “In this world, you will have trouble.”  (see John 16:33)  Conflict is inevitable.  So how do I deal with conflict?

Back in April, I did a presentation for Geneva’s elders on systems theory as it relates to the life of a church.  If you’re like most people, your eyes glazed over just reading that sentence.  But I’m a poli-sci major, so I think systems theory is “really interesting”.  (I used the same phrase when teaching atomic structure to my science class; now they groan when I suggest doing anything else “interesting”.  Being 23 can only buy you so much coolness when you’re a chronic nerd.)  During my research, I learned all sorts of fascinating things which the oh-so-fortunate elders at Geneva now know too.  But, believe it or not, I haven’t thought much about my systems theory research since then, until now.

Human beings are unique in that they have three “brains” – three levels of thought.  The reactive brain is the most primitive.  It controls our instinctive or unconscious reactions to our surroundings, and the physical needs of our bodies.  This is where “fight or flight” comes from.  When something is placed in a crocodile’s open mouth, it bites down.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a stick or a fish.  That’s the reactive brain, which is the one that almost all animals have.

Next is the feeling brain.  It’s responsible for our emotions and emotional needs.  A dog can be happy or sad.  Horses are lonely and anxious when separated from their herd.  Many mammals operate according to a feeling brain as well as a reactive brain.

The highest level of thought occurs in the thinking brain, which is the one unique to humans.  The thinking brain is responsible for things like our speech, our capacity for learning, and our decision-making capabilities.  It was designed to overrule the other two brains – which is where self-control comes in.  Sometimes, however, the thinking brain can be tricked into serving the other brains.  (Rationalization, for example, is the thinking brain justifying what one of the other two brains has dictated.)

So what does this have to do with stress and my blog?  If I don’t deal with conflict using my thinking brain, I have two choices.  I can use my reactive brain, in which case I’ll probably either run screaming and hide under my bed or throw a shoe at whatever’s causing the problem.  (If the source of the conflict happens to be papers that need grading, this is a particularly ineffective response.)  Or I can use my feeling brain and choose from a myriad of emotions with which to address the conflict.  My approach is based solely on how the outcome will make me feel.  And you know what?  I’d feel a lot better if I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow.

This all sounds ridiculous, until you consider that fear is an emotion.  So when I allow stress to determine how I use my time, what I’m really doing is letting my feeling brain rule my life.  I’m reacting to conflict, rather than responding to it.  Because rational thought exists in the thinking brain, reacting doesn’t involve a whole lot of rational thought, and therefore, doesn’t involve choice.  When I respond to conflict instead, I choose what my course of action will be, instead of trying to protect myself or make myself feel better.

Right now, I have tests and study guides to write.  My house needs to be cleaned and my yard needs to be raked.  And I’m tired.  Is this conflict?  Sure.  But I don’t want to react to it by getting stressed anymore.  So I’m writing on my blog, even though there are other things I “need” to do.  I chose to get up early this morning and read my Bible, even though I could have used more sleep.  Fear doesn’t get to dictate how I use my time anymore.

Isn’t it funny how we have three levels of thinking and we’re also three-part beings?  Isn’t it funny that we have a body, soul, and spirit to go along with our reactive, feeling, and thinking brains?  Isn’t it funny that our spirits, which are rightly connected with God, keep having to fight with our souls for control of our lives?  Isn’t it funny that living from our souls results in so much fear and anxiety?  Think about it…

PS – Aren’t you glad that the only part of my systems theory research I talked about was the three brains theory?  Although I can tell you all about disease and growth cycles if you want to know…

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Dear Mazda

Dear Mazda,

Whatever I did, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I’ve only washed you three times in the past five years.  I’m also sorry that one of those times was only a carwash fundraiser.

I’m sorry that I let you get 4,000 miles overdue for an oil change – twice.  (In all fairness, I haven’t had my hair cut in five months, so I know how it feels.)

I’m sorry I let my youth group kids make fun of you.

I’m sorry my summer camp kids hit you with a basketball.

I’m sorry for trying to fix all your rattles by banging on the dashboard.  I’m also sorry I applied this technique to your CD player.

I’m sorry for that time I backed you into a shopping cart, and that other time I backed you into a tree.

I’m sorry for all the coffee I’ve spilled.

I’m sorry I made fun of your aspirations to become a minivan.  It’s a great dream, really – shoot for the stars!

I’m sorry I never gave you a proper name.  “Mini” just seemed like a good fit – I didn’t know you were so sensitive about it.

I’m sorry for making you drive down a rutted dirt road at 45 miles an hour.  Trust me, I didn’t enjoy it either.

I’m sorry for refusing to vacuum you, and for repeatedly hauling around absurdities such as tiki torches and packages of men’s underwear.

I’m sorry for letting my friends ride in your trunk.  I’m also sorry for storing a microwave in your trunk for three months.

I’m sorry for mocking the sweet bass in your sound system.  I know you’re a bad ass.

I’m sorry I let my roommate abuse your sound system by playing songs like “Baby Got Back” and “Oops I Did It Again”.

I’m sorry for driving you around with a broken CV joint/suspension system/out-of-round tires for two months.

I’m sorry for the time I dripped caramel empanada goo on your seat and said I was leaving it as a “memory”.  And I’m sorry for actually leaving it too.

I’m sorry for making you listen to all of “Shutter Island” on tape.  We didn’t really enjoy the 2,397 f-words or creepy sex scenes either.

I’m sorry for the scratch all the way down your back right door.  I’m probably the only person that’s ever keyed my own car (although actually it was the bolt on the lawnmower that did it.)

I’m sorry for driving you around icy Indiana roads on a tire that was 15 pounds low on air pressure.

And I’m really, really sorry for making you drive through Kansas three times.


I miss you.  I miss your 30 mpg gas mileage and your broken radio that allows me to set my iPod transmitter to any station I choose.  We’ve been spending a lot of time together lately.  Why didn’t you tell me you were so unhappy?  I knew things were getting rough when you started threatening to stall every time you shifted gears, but I didn’t know it would all end with you getting towed out of the Living Waters parking lot.

Can’t we just work this whole transmission thing out?  We’ve been together for five years.  I’m just not ready to say goodbye yet.  And let’s be honest, dear Mini – at this point, no one else will have you.

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It’s 12:30 am on November 3, which means that in my world, it’s still November 2 because I haven’t gone to bed yet.  I’m drinking a cup of coffee and editing a paper, and my roommate (my sister) just went to bed.  And I’m watching the election coverage on CNN.


This time two years ago, I was at an Election Party at the Grey Barn, watching Barack Obama win the presidency.  The party was hosted by the History department and was open to the student body, meaning that in attendance were some history students, all the poli-sci majors, and the few students who weren’t put off by our somewhat-bluer-than-average political climate.  Dr. Rousellow had been wearing her Obama button for at least two weeks.  As educators, our profs were supposed to foster independent thinking and offer unbiased coverage of the subject matter, but they couldn’t quite hide their liberal leanings.  I loved that about them.  In a way, they did more to broaden the perspective of their students than they would have had they stuck to textbook impartiality.  Open-mindedness is not best learned through agreement.


This time four years ago, I was in the Student Union, watching the election coverage on a projector screen and trying to hear the results over the noise of all the non-politics geeks in the Union.  I was supposed to be writing a literary criticism paper, but was instead providing my own running commentary on the elections to my boyfriend, who was an English writing major and probably didn’t need to hear my detailed explanation of a filibuster.


Now I’m here again.  The paper I’m editing is actually a program application essay for a friend, and the coffee is meant to keep me up so I can finish my lesson plans, not write literary critiques.  (My lesson for tomorrow includes using Skittles as a visual aide.  I’m pretty much the best teacher ever.)  But I’m facing the same dilemma I’ve had every election since I started college.


I’ve always emphasized my love of politics by saying that I watch the national election coverage like it’s the Superbowl.  I shake my head at bad plays, yell at the TV screen occasionally, and shout the score down the stairs.  (“The Republicans took back the House this year, but the Democrats still have control of the Senate.  That means… two years of gridlock!  Yippee…”) The problem with this analogy is that I don’t really get football, and I only watch the Superbowl for the commercials.  So every election, I remind myself that I’m a poli-sci student and I need to thoroughly study the issues and candidates so that I can make an educated vote.  I did this year.  Anna and I researched the major candidates and talked over the pros and cons of each one’s platform.  But I also did what most Americans do when they go to vote.  I blindly marked “yes” to every judicial seat in Florida’s court system because I knew nothing about any of the judges and decided they should all get a fighting chance – besides, I’ve seen a picture of one of them and he looked really nice.  I voted along party lines when I didn’t know anything about either candidate.  I chose candidates based on whose name I liked better.  (Don’t even tell me you’ve never done that.)  Poli-sci student or not, does it really matter who the agricultural commissioner is anyway?  I guess the analogy holds true.  As excited as my inner politics geek gets around election season, I’m also reminded of how great a task civic responsibility really is.


PS – I learned today – after being interested in politics for years – after completing four years of college education as a political science student – what GOP means.  I finally gave up trying to pretend I understood what people were talking about and googled it.  It’s an acronym, and it stands for “Grand Old Party”, which is the nickname of the Republican Party.  So GOP just means Republican.  It does not, as I thought before, mean “the party which is currently not in control of the House/Senate/governor’s seat”.  Although in all fairness, that was a reasonable guess given the political climate of the last few years.  Is this new information to anyone else?

I think this officially makes me a bad poli-sci student.

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Just the essentials

In my car right now:


– two changes of clothes

– three coffee cups

– Windex

– a plug-in AC adaptor

– a log

– hair straightener

– my friend’s Bible

– 15 lbs.’ worth of middle school textbooks

– two ice scrapers (yes, it’s 85 degrees here.  Why do you ask?)

– an Ontario guidebook

– a piece of plywood

– empty to-go box from a muffin Anna ate in August

– vegetable oil

– corn syrup

– all my student loan paperwork

– empty water bottle

– leaves from Tennessee

– map of Louisville, KY

– a magnetic dart, stuck to a metal ball.  I don’t know where either of these came from.


Also trash.  Lots of trash.  Just thought you should know.

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Two things

I got this from the back of a Good Earth tea bag tag, back in my junior year of college.  I was a terrible procrastinator then (then?…), so I taped it to my desk as a reminder.  Three years later, I still need the reminder.  Time management isn’t just a tool to manage one’s crazy schedule.  It’s a discipline, part of growing up and becoming a mature adult and realizing that you’re too old to have a bedtime of 3 am.  So here are my two things for the day:

Number one: I put my clothes away.  Yes, you’re supposed to master this skill at age 10, but when I’m the only one who ever goes in my room, it’s so much easier just to leave the clean clothes in the hamper.  I used to dump them on my bed during the day, thinking that then I’d have to fold them all before I could go to sleep.  Wrong.  Instead they’d end up in a heap on my chair.  Now they’re all in drawers, and I’m trying to figure out what in my psyche is so opposed to folding laundry.  “For the very reason you don’t want to do them”?  Hmm…

Number two:  This really should count for more than one.  I gave Cujo a bath…

This is Cujo.  Bath time is clearly not his favorite.  Note the cloud of brown water around him.  That’s why I didn’t want to bathe him, and is also exactly why I needed to.  I think it’s been a month.  I would like to point out that he’s not actually mine; he belongs to my sister.  But she’s gone for the weekend, so “Uncle Lauren” is babysitting, and I definitely couldn’t take him to my dad’s house being as dirty as he was.

He goes ballistic after he gets out of the tub.  He starts snorting and rolling around and flailing his legs.  It’s intense.  Seriously, the first time I saw him I thought he was having a seizure.  But now it’s funny, and it almost makes up for the fact that I’ll have to bleach the bathtub before I’m getting in there again.

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