Mom to the Left

I'm a mom who tends to live just to the "left" of most of the people around me here in Indiana.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Approaching Advent

Advent is a religious season that is not even practiced by all Christians let alone your average UU. However, as my faith has evolved, I have found the liturgy of intentional practice during both Advent and Lent to be very fulfilling. This will be the third year that I've practiced Advent in my home and each year I "tweak" the process. Our Advent observation is very UU in orientation. I have gathered various reflections and readings from sources on the internet and have compiled them into something that works for our family.

December 2, 2007 is the first Sunday of Advent this year. In preparation for Advent, I make an advent wreath to place as a centerpiece in our family's dining table. I use a regular wreath I've bought at a Christmas supply shop (fake so I can reuse it each year although a real one would work as well). Inside the wreath I place four taper candle holders (one for each Sunday of Advent). In the center of the wreath I place a white pillar candle to be lit only on Dec. 24. On each Sunday of Advent, after dinner I will have some sort of dessert during which we will have our Advent focus. On the first Sunday, we will light one candle, recite some lines together, and then I will share the focus of the day. Then we will have a reflection for that day.

I really feel that since we have begun observing Advent as a family, the holiday season has become less about consumerism and "give me, give me" and more about the thoughtful and joyful celebration that we get through our faith and a reminder to reach out and be God's hands in the world.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Brand New Elementary School Art Teacher

This is really long and I apologize in advance. But if you've ever wondered what it is like to be a teacher, maybe this will be a glimpse into that world...

6:30 The sound of my husband getting out of the shower and rumbling around in the restroom wakes me and I shuffle to the kitchen for a cup of instant coffee and my first caffeine of the day. After checking in with my teenage son quickly about his plans for the day, I trade with my husband for the bathroom and step into the shower. By the time I am out of the shower 20 minutes later, my oldest son has already gone out to catch the school bus and my husband is eating his breakfast and about to leave for work.

7:00 Clad in bathrobe and a towel around my hair, I go into the younger boys’ room to wake them for the day. They grumble, but stumble out of bed and head for the dining room table as if led by a beacon. I make them each a bowl of instant oatmeal and pour small glasses of milk. Then for me it is back to my bedroom to change into my clothes. I usually have the local news on the TV so I can catch the day’s weather forecast and decide what to wear. Once I change my clothes, I am in the bathroom to dry my hair, apply makeup, and use my flatiron to style my hair. If I’m lucky, I’ll bring a bowl of cereal or oatmeal into the bathroom with me so I can eat bites in between makeup application. Fortunately, my 11yo son is independent. After finishing breakfast, he dresses himself, brushes his teeth and hair, and puts on his shoes and socks. When I am finished with myself, I track down the 5yo to change his clothes and brush his teeth.

7:50 We all grab our bags and whatever coat fits the day’s weather and head to the van. After quickly dropping the boys at the sitter’s house, I am on my way to the school.

8:15 When I arrive at the school, I stop in at the office to sign in. (I’ll only have to do this for the first few weeks until I switch over to “teacher pay”.) I order my lunch for the day and chat with the two secretaries and another teacher who is standing in the office. Then I head to the teacher’s lounge for another cup of coffee. Fortified with more caffeine, I head down the long hallway to the art room. Glancing around the room, I remember I wanted to double check the paintbrushes that the kids cleaned yesterday to make sure they’d gotten all the paint out. I set down my coffee and turn on the computer. Yesterday’s artwork was left in the drying rack over night to dry so I have to collect 3 different classes worth and put them into the correct storage drawer by grade and class. A third grade teacher whose class I had yesterday sticks her head in the door and we have a conversation about two girls that I had to reprimand for painting each other’s faces with tempera paint when the went to clean their brushes. I glance at the clock and notice I need to head outside for car rider/bus drop-off duty.

8:30 Putting my coat back on and grabbing my walkie talkie from its cradle on the window ledge, I walk up the main hallway to the front door and out onto the sidewalk where 20 or so children have already congregated. I notice the second graders are all wearing pajamas. Today is “pajama day” and they’ve brought slippers and pillows with them. Several of them want to show me their pajamas. I stand under the awning with them chatting about how comfortable they all look and supervising them to make sure they stay back from the incoming traffic as the buses arrive. Fortunately it’s a balmy morning for November. At 8:40 the first bell rings and the students are allowed into the building. They begin pouring out of the buses and slowly making their way to the two entrances. The gym and music teacher are also here supervising. We’re spread out along the sidewalk greeting the kids and making sure they all walk. Running is not usually a problem in the morning. Now, in the afternoon at release time is when running is a real temptation.

8:50 I stand inside the main doors by the office as the last of the car riders straggle in. When the 8:50 tardy bell rings, I have to direct any students who come in to go into the office for a tardy pass. Meanwhile, the morning announcements begin on the TV’s in each classroom as well as the one in the entryway of the school. Two sixth-grade girls are leading the school in the Pledge of Allegiance and the school pledge and telling us what is for lunch today. I make my way back to the art room to get ready for my first class of the day. I have 6 large tables in my room and on each table is a basket with 4 pencils and a plastic eraser. Every morning I sharpen all 24 pencils. The chairs are upside down on the tables but I leave them for the 6th graders to take down.

9:00 A 6th grade class has arrived for my first class of the day. They are finishing up chalk pastel drawings they’ve made using magazine photographs of nature scenes as their guides. Some of them are absolutely beautiful. In a couple of examples, they carefully blend chalk in shades of yellow, orange, pink, and purple to make a sunset scene at a beach or yellow, orange, red and brown to show a country hillside with the changing leaves of fall. A couple of slow boys still have 75% of their picture to finish and they get more chalk on their fingers and table than their artwork. But generally I am pleased. This will be the last day they work on this project. Next class we will start a project based on Islamic art.

9:40 The 6th graders clean up their tables and leave just as a 5th grade class arrives. They have been working on printmaking. They’ve made prints of fish they’ve drawn on rectangles of foam. They apply ink by rolling it on and then press the print onto paper. This class has already made one print each of their fish using black ink on white paper. Today I am placing trays of red, blue, or yellow ink on the tables. The students are to make two additional prints of their fish using the ink color of their choice on the paper color of their choice. This is a big class so it is rather chaotic as they move around the room making their prints. The final result, however, is nice. They are also finishing this project. Next class we will begin talking about primitive cave art and will make a mural for the hallway.

10:20 The 5th graders clean the ink off of their tables and leave as a 4th grade class arrives. Today we are starting a new project. Before we get into the project itself, we use the 4th grade art textbooks to discuss pattern and motif. I lead a long discussion to make sure everyone understands what both motif and pattern mean. I draw examples of different kinds of patterns on the board. We look for other examples of patterns around the room and think of some back in their classroom or at home. During the last 15 minutes of class I hand out a worksheet about pattern and motif to help me determine if they’ve understood the main concepts of the day. Next class we'll begin creating a paper quilt using two different motifs and two different media.

11:05 The 4th graders leave and I have a 5 minute break. I put the stack of pattern worksheets on my desk next to the computer so I can grade them later during my prep period. Then I go over to my sink to wash off the ink plates and rollers from the 5th grade class. I get the water too hot and scald my right thumb and a blister pops up. I leave the plates and rollers to dry, grab a sweater, and make my way downstairs to the cafeteria. I meet the librarian in the hallway. She and I have lunch duty during the 1st and 2nd graders’ lunch period. We walk around making sure they don’t fight or get out of their seats without asking and they keep the talking to a dull roar. Today some of the classes are eating in their classrooms so it is a quiet day. It is the day before Thanksgiving and one class is dressed as pilgrims and Indians. After they finish and take their trays up to be washed, the librarian leads them all in a rousing game of Simon Says before their teachers come to take them out to recess.

11:45 I have one hour and 20 minutes to eat lunch and for my prep period. Usually I eat lunch with the 3rd and 4th grade teachers first and them have my prep period after lunch. Today I decide to do my prep first so I can eat lunch later with my friends, the 5th and 6th grade teachers. First, I have to track down one of the custodians. I am going to have a class painting this afternoon and we need papertowels. Lots of papertowels. Once I get an industrial-sized roll of towels, I head back to the classroom where I grade the worksheets from 4th grade. Then I look at the planbook for next week. I need to write up the lesson plans for the 6th grade Islamic art project, the 5th grade cave art mural, and a 3rd grade mosaic project. I have to gather all the demo materials and other resources for each project. Once I gather all the materials, I place them into my bag in the closet so I remember to take them home. I’ll have to write the lessons at home as there is no time during the school day. Then I fill in the planbook with the continuation of ongoing projects for 4th, 2nd, and 1st grades. Just as I finish, I notice it’s time for lunch.

12:30 This is one of my favorite parts of the day. I sit in the teacher’s lounge eating a tray of food I’ve brought up from the cafeteria and we talk about whatever is on everyone’s minds today. There is a lot of joking around and teasing the few males in the room. Between laughing, we actually manage to eat. Everyone is in a good mood because we are starting a four-day weekend.

1:00 I go back to my room to brace myself for 3rd grade and painting. After yesterday’s face-painting escapade, I am going to be much stricter about letting the students loose on this. Despite mounting excitement over the coming weekend, this class goes pretty well. The third grades are working on a painting based on .Thiebaud’s Pies, Pies, Pies. They have lots of desserts. I’ve been teaching them how to mix various colors of paint to make pie crust, chocolate, pumpkin, strawberry, banana, etc. Some of them look really good. Others are kind of a mess, but they are learning about mixing colors. The mess and clean up are the worst parts.

1:45 The 3rd graders clean up their tables and brushes and hang their paintings to dry in the drying rack as the 2nd grade class comes in. We are starting a new project. Using the textbook, we look at black and white photography and discuss value. I’ve also brought in a book of Ansel Adams photography from home. We discuss how the photographs look using only shades of black, white, and gray. I show the students how you can make different values of gray depending on how hard you press with your pencil when drawing. At the end of class I have them do a worksheet so I can determine if they understand what is meant by value. At their next class we will begin a value painting with geometric shapes and paint in shades of black, gray, and white.

2:30 The 2nd graders leave and first grade comes in. I am teaching them how to make bubble letters. They each get a sheet of practice paper and use pencils to practice the bubble letters as I draw the entire alphabet one letter at a time on the chalkboard. They are really excited about this and I notice that this particular class can benefit from the review of the alphabet. After we practice all of the letters, I have them practice making bubble letters for their own names. Then we begin a project where they make bubble letters for their name on slick paper. Next class we will use markers to color in the letters and add graffiti around the outside of the letters.

3:10 The first graders go back to their classroom as the principal comes on the intercom for the daily afternoon announcements. He announces each class that had perfect attendance that day and we can hear that class cheer. Meanwhile, I go get my coat and my walkie talkie again and head outside for dismissal duty. At 3:15 the car rider bell rings and those children come out to find their cars. By the time the last student is picked up, it is almost 3:30. We signal the buses who are parked across the street to come over and line up next to our sidewalk. As they come, we attach a colored bandana to each right side mirror. The buses are color-coded from day 1 to help the youngest and special-needs children find the right bus. Once the buses are in place, the secretary comes over the intercom and asks teachers to “dismiss all buses at this time”. The doors burst open and the children flood the sidewalk. In a matter of minutes, it is quiet again and the buses are loaded. We wave and retrieve the bandanas as the buses pull out.

3:40 The last students have gone. I make my way back to the classroom to make sure all of today’s supplies are cleaned or put away. The first graders forgot to turn the chairs upside down on the table, so I begin doing it. The custodian comes in to sweep my floor and helps me with the chairs. I erase the chalkboard and go turn off my computer for the night. If it was a weeknight, I might stay and grade papers or work on hanging some artwork into the hallway. But it is the night before Thanksgiving and I am ready for the weekend too. At 4:00 I grab my things and make my way slowly to the parking lot, wishing Happy Thanksgiving to the teachers I pass in the hallway.

4:30 Once I’ve picked my 5yo up from the sitter, the first thing I do when I get home is sit down in the recliner and put my feet up. I am so tired and my feet and hips ache. Once I rest a bit, I have to go take some Tylenol. There are dirty breakfast dishes on the counter, but even standing right now hurts. I’ll have to wait until the Tylenol kicks in before I can deal with them. And dinner? I’ll call my husband and have him pick something up. At least my lesson plans can wait until after the holiday to write

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Honey and vinegar

"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." That saying has been weighing heavily on my mind for several weeks now. Particularly, there is a person in my life for whom this saying always jumps to mind.

She and I lead very similar lives. We have children similar ages and in similar activities. We are both substitute teachers who are trying to get full-time teaching jobs. We even have similar appearances. I've been mistaken for her on more than one occasion.

However, there is one notable difference. It is our dispositions. Now, I don't pretend to be Miss Holly Golightly. I have been down, particularly in the last few months. But I make a conscious effort not to take that face out into the world. I know it won't do me any good and won't further my causes.

This particular person is...well...a grumpy gus. She is always complaining about something. She snaps at people over the littlest things. She's just generally not a fun person to be around and I've noticed more and more people avoiding her lately. Her vinegar isn't attracting any flies.

She and I have commisserated over our struggles to get a job. I have made a decided effort to keep from complaining, but it is something that we do have in common. I have recently become aware of the fact that, while she in some ways is more experienced than me, she is having more trouble getting long-term gigs. I've learned that she is "not liked" by teachers and students and parents. I have also become more aware that I am generally well liked. My opportunities have started exploding on several fronts.

To help me get through my difficult times and keep fighting the good fight, I have prayed daily that I may be God's hands in the world. I try to be grateful for what I have and know that I have all that I need. God will provide. In every interaction I have with people, I try to remember to see the face of God in everyone and carry that awareness into the world. I really do feel like it has made a difference for me.

Meanwhile, I feel sort of bad for this woman. While I admit that she gets on my nerves too, deep down she is really trying hard to get a job. She honestly has no idea why she is having such a hard time. She is always grumbling about some kind of political subterfuge. She doesn't realize that her personality turns people off. I have not been able to think of a tactful way to suggest that maybe she could be a little friendlier to people. And I don't even know if it is my place. I was really uncomfortable when we were recently in a common group situation and others were talking to me about my upcoming maternity leaves. She was suddenly quiet as I believe the news was a surprise to her. And I felt a little guilty. I know that I got the jobs because of my own qualifications.

It is just awkward. I have my own opinions about what this woman's problems are in getting a job, but my sense of good manners keeps me quiet.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Changing focus

I miss my blog world.

I've been so busy with life lately that I'm neglecting my blog. But it's all good. Next Monday I start a new job teaching elementary school art full-time. I'm filling in for the art teacher who is having a baby and taking 10 weeks off. I'm really excited about it. I will be teaching children all kinds of art projects and I'll be able to explore my own artistic side which will be really cool.

My intention and hope is to share some of my projects with you all. I'm having digital camera issues at the moment so I can't make any promises, but I'm going to try.

Wish me luck! I'll see you all in the teacher's lounge!

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Vegetarian Families

Now that our life is getting back onto a more even keel (knock on wood) we are trying to practice vegetarianism more. My 15 year old is the most devout vegetarian in the family. He has consistently been vegetarian since about last April. The rest of us, however, have not been very good at avoiding meat lately. To be honest, we have had to make use of some charitable food sources and have found them to be heavy on the meat. The saying, "Beggars can't be choosers," immediately comes to mind.

But as we have more power to decide for ourselves what we eat, I am trying to merge back onto the vegetarian highway. ;-)

I have a small collection of recipes that I can fall back on. But generally, I have found that most of my veggie recipes don't go over well with the kids. I look at vegetarian websites and vegetarian cookbooks and find recipes that are just not very tasty to kids. Now, as an adult, I often love the recipes. But if I have to listen to complaining during every meal or watch my son's pants slide down on him and see his ribs because he's so thin, I need to find something else.

There especially seems to be a dearth of plain old vegetarian websites. The "in" thing seems to be vegan. Hey, at this point, I'm doing well just to get my kids to cut out meat - I'm not ready to push it.

And I do admit to being more than a little put off at the holier-than-thou tone on some of the websites. Contrary to what some may think, meat eaters are not bad or even stupid. Different people have different opinions. A little more respect for that reality would be welcome, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, I've added a few links to my blog over on the right side of the page. I'm hoping to find some good resources to jumpstart our veggie eating again. If any of my readers knows of a good website or can recommend a family-friendly veggie cookbook, please leave me a comment. Thanks!

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