Sunday, April 24, 2011

Please, Don't Judge.

The season of Easter came and went this year.  I hate how little time I spent focusing on it this year.  It would be easy for me to make excuses about how moving into a new house, trying to raise a new puppy, or trying to get my students to pass their state reading tests got in the way.  But I know better than to do that.  And I know that next year I must do better.

I went home to Superior for the weekend, just as I always do.  When we got home (on Good Friday), this basket was waiting for Harper on the living room floor:

It was full with toys and treats.  Harper was elated!

She must be something special, because it is against my parents' fashion to offer gifts before the actual day of the holiday.  Andrew and I had to wait until Sunday for ours.

Yes, I'm a 23-year-old, and my parents still give my brother and I Easter baskets.  Please don't judge.

Usually, we try to take a nice family photo on each holiday, but this one was a fail.

Please don't judge my family's lack of tidiness.  Harper tore up my dad's newspaper, and spread it all over the floor.  Normally, the place is spotless.

Also, please don't judge my hair.  I was very tired and didn't wake up in time to shower.  Ick.

Finally, please don't judge my brother.  He removes dress clothes as soon after church as possible, regardless of whether or not his sister would like to take a family photo.  Also, he knows how much it irks me when he chooses not to smile for a picture.  Dang it.

I gave up altogether on taking pictures before my dad even got home.  I know a lost cause when I see one.

But, after these [hideous] photographs, a lovely Easter lunch ensued, and our family was able to spend a delightful afternoon together.  And that, more than tidy houses, clean hair, and cute photos, is what really matters.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Football Preview

Today was Brother's Spring football game at Peru State College.  Conveniently, the date of his Spring game is always on the same day as the Huskers' Spring game, forcing me to choose between supporting family and supporting my alma mater.

Family wins.  Every time.

A fun thing about Brother's football stadium is that they don't have a pet policy.  In fact, dogs are welcomed there.  I'm pretty sure that Memorial Stadium would never consider such a policy.

So, I packed up Harper, and we headed to Peru.  She really is a good passenger.

My parents absolutely love spending time with their grand-dog, and they delight in having her around:

It's hard to evaluate the performance of the team, since Peru's Spring game (like most) was merely a scrimmage.  Brother played for most, if not all of the game.

At least I think he did.  I'm afraid that I may have spent more time watching this little monster than I spent watching football.

She's cute, no?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Moving Day(s)

It's been awhile, hasn't it?

Moving is a lot of work, as it turns out.  Thank goodness for my terrific friends and family.  I don't know what I could've done without them.

On Friday night, Ashley suggested that we go ahead and clean the floors and counters in my new house and move over all of my kitchen things to get them unpacked.   It seemed like a reasonable idea.  We met at the new house and made a list of things (cleaning supplies, mostly) that I needed to buy.

I headed off to Wal-Mart to get said supplies while my friends went to my apartment to start loading things up.  I was gone for maybe thirty minutes, and by the time I got back to my apartment, they had loaded up ALL of my boxes... not just the kitchen ones.  Also, they had loaded up clothing and knick-knacks.  My apartment was nearly empty.

This was my armada of movers:

Here we are, unpacking the kitchen things.

Keith kept Harper entertained.

So did Jeff...

Ashley and I did the cleaning and unpacking

While Harper played with the newspaper

And Kelli and Keith just hung out.
By the end of the evening, we were pooped.

On Saturday, my official moving day, I met my movers across town to pick up a washer and dryer that I purchased from an elderly gentleman who was moving.  After a minor mix-up, we were back at my apartment loading up the moving van.

The rest of that day is kind of a blur, but what I remember most is how amazing my friends were.  While the moving truck unloaded my things, I stayed at the new house to start unpacking and rearranging.  During that time, Ashley and Amber went back to my apartment to get all the random extras that weren't packed yet.

The only picture I have from that day is this one:

It's Jeremy hooking up my washer and dryer.  He did an awesome job!

When I got back to my apartment at the end of the day to do some final clean-up, it looked like this:

My old living room.

My old kitchen.

My old bedroom.
It felt really strange to be there without any of my stuff.  The last time my apartment was empty, I viewed it as a place of promise... the first place of my own.  Now, it seems like such a dump.  It really was a nice apartment, but compared to my brand-new house, it doesn't even compare.

It wasn't until I saw the place like this that I truly became excited for my house.

And so, I walked out of Apartment #105 for the last time...

And I haven't looked back since.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"The Test"

Yesterday and today, my students are taking their state reading test.  "The test" is two days worth of reading passages and answering questions to check their understanding of the state standards.

For many, "the test" is something to be feared.  With current legislation, jobs can be lost and schools can be closed if results are consistently not meeting state expectations.

I, however, am not worried.  Together, my students and I have worked diligently this year to make sure we know those state standards forwards and backwards.  Not just because of "the test," but because they are things that the powers-that-be think that 6th graders need to know.  And not once did I utter the phrase, "...because you'll need to know it for the NeSA."  We, as teachers, don't even get to know what the test looks like or what will be on it.  We simply teach the state standards and hope that "the test" is an accurate measure of how well students know them.

The kids, however, know that many things ride on the results.  They know that "the test" can affect whether or not they are in differentiated classes or if they need to be placed into a reading intervention class.  They know that there is pressure for them to make our school look good.  They know their parents want to receive notification that they have "met" or "exceeded" the state expectations.  But it is my hope that they want to do well just for the sake of showing what they know and how much they've learned.

These kids are tested a lot.  And I know how much it frustrates them.  But this test, arguably the most important one they will take this year, has been better than I expected.  I worried about them feeling fatigued by all the testing.  I worried about them staying quiet while we waited for others to finish.  I worried about them rushing to finish.

None of those things have been an issue.  And I couldn't be more proud to be their teacher.

Teacher of the Year

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who couldn't name the teacher who most influenced them.  For me, this teacher's name is Mr. Barnard.

Mr. Barnard was my agriculture education teacher and FFA sponsor.  Yes, agriculture education was part of the curriculum in my hometown school.  Growing up, I wasn't raised on a farm, and I never intended to pursue a career in farming or agriculture, but I was eager to fill my resume with as many clubs and organizations as possible.  In my school, the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America, presently the National FFA Organization) was the biggest and most active club in existence.  And Mr. Barnard was the driving force behind its success.  And only for him would I wear this awfully tacky jacket:

During my 8th grade year when Ag. Ed. was a required course, Mr. Barnard convinced me to compete in the district Ag Quiz Bowl competition.  Though I knew nothing at all about scientific names of livestock, gestation periods, ruminant stomachs, or types of grass, Mr. Barnard met with my teammates and I every morning before school to help us memorize all the information we would need to know.  We ended up winning districts that year and advancing to the state tournament.  Who would've thought?

During my freshman year of high school, there were more opportunities to compete.  Mr. Barnard asked for us to sign up for a livestock judging competition.  I was going to pass, as I knew nothing about any type of livestock, but I desperately wanted a free day out of school.  So, I signed up for poultry judging.  Again, with the thorough study materials and coaching from Mr. Barnard, I learned how to judge live birds, how to grade carcasses and broken-out eggs, how to candle eggs, and how to check for molt and measure a vent.  It's now both a blessing and a curse when I try to find the perfect carton of eggs in the store when I go grocery shopping.  I ended up placing first individually and as a team, which qualified us for the state competition.

This was the shock of my life.  And my parents were in even greater disbelief that their anti-farm, anti-small-town daughter who didn't even like to be without shoes and socks had outsmarted actual farm kids in a poultry competition.

At State, we also won first place, which advanced us to nationals.  And so, poultry judging became my livestock event-of-choice.  I went on to place or win at state for the next three years in a row, which earned me a trip to the National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky each year.

I also successfully competed in parliamentary procedure competitions, natural resources speaking, and agriculture sales (I am still quite well-versed in Scott's lawn care products).  With Mr. Barnard's coaching, I found success in all of these competitions.  And that's without even the slightest bit of prior knowledge.  This man works miracles, I tell you.

Besides the FFA contests, he taught me more skills related to agriculture than I thought I cared to know.  I now know about horticulture and floriculture, I know how to electrically wire switches, I can build a machine shed and shingle a roof, make things out of plywood, build a hog trough or a sawhorse, identify and use any and all kinds of tools... heck, I can even weld (arc, mig, and oxy acetylene).  Who knew?

Mr. Barnard is a man of character and a man of God, and he isn't afraid to let you know it.  The man made "shut up" and "suck" bad words, and if you accidentally let one slip (I never did), watching his face turn red was more than enough punishment.  In all interactions with students, adults, and strangers, he epitomized professionalism, and a handshake was standard protocol upon entering his classroom.  He was extremely hard-working - often the first car in the school parking lot in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening.  And summers off?  Forget it.  He was slaving away in a fireworks stand around the time of the Fourth of July to raise money for FFA activities or was planning the annual water balloon wars.

When we, his students, should have been going out of our way to thank him for all he had done for us, he was planning the annual Chicago Leadership Trip for incoming seniors.  All expenses were paid (because of his connections with local businesses), and it was a reward for us - the seniors who had contributed to the organization over the past several years.  During all FFA-related trips, he provided the perfect balance of structure and freedom and the perfect balance of work and play.

The man is amazing.

During the final weeks of my senior year of high school, when it was time for all the end-of-the-year banquets and awards ceremonies, I couldn't wait to be done with high school.  I wasn't at all emotional about leaving my school or leaving my town, but for some reason, I got very emotional at the FFA banquet.  When it was time for me to retire my jacket on the stage in front of my fellow FFA members and their families, I may or may not have shed a few tears.  Saying goodbye to Mr. Barnard was almost more difficult for me than saying goodbye to my classmates.


Tonight, I returned to Pershing Auditorium for the State FFA Convention.  It has been six years since I last put on the national blue jacket with the corn gold emblem, and it was pretty nostalgic to be back in that place.  While there, I had the pleasure of watching Mr. Barnard receive the Adviser of the Year award, and I had the even greater pleasure of talking with Mr. Barnard after he received the award.  I think he was surprised to see me, but I am certain that I wasn't the only former student of his who was in attendance.  It was so good to catch up and wish him well.

I only regret that the 30-second spiel that was read about him didn't do him justice.  They didn't even begin to explain what a significant impact he has had on so many people.

Mr. Barnard is retiring at the end of this year, and I am sad for the young students in my town (or anywhere, for that matter) who won't get to be Mr. Barnard's students.  I can say with great conviction that Mr. Barnard was an integral part in shaping the person who I am today, and is without a doubt one of the main reasons I became a teacher.  If I could be a fraction of the teacher and human being he is, I would have it made.

Congratulations, Mr. Barnard, on an an award that is long overdue and well-deserved.  Thank you for all you have done for me, for our school, and for our community.  I am so proud to have been one of the lucky ones who got to learn from you.  Superior High School won't be the same without you there.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This is My Life

As it turns out, buying a house is a lot of work!  So much work that I simply haven't made time to blog.  Also, my puppy walks all over my keyboard whenever I get it out, which makes me not want to even try to open my computer most nights.

Spring Break
Oh, how I needed Spring Break.  I had a mountain of papers to grade on top of getting paperwork finalized on the house.  Though I could've used another week off, I am grateful for the time I had.

On Monday of that week, Harper went to the groomer.  I was unaware that it isn't like a human haircut where you go in, get cut, and leave.  Instead, you drop off the dog, wait for several hours, and then go pick him/her up when they call you.  It was nice to have her out for awhile, because it gave me some time to clean the apartment.

On Tuesday, I went to the dentist.  I decided it was finally time to break down and find a dentist in Lincoln rather than going back to my hometown every time I needed a check-up.  I found Cherry Hill Dentistry through a teeth whitening Groupon, and I couldn't have had a better experience.  Dr. Tanya and staff were excellent!  That said, I just love going to the dentist in general.  I've never had a cavity or any need for awful drilling, so I always just walk away with clean teeth.  I was surprised to not only walk away with a dental care kit (standard toothbrush, floss, etc.), but one of these:

An electric toothbrush!  With a charger and everything!  Granted, it's not the fanciest of models, but it retails for about $40.  I have great insurance, which doesn't have me pay a dime for a dental check-up, so I view this as a very profitable visit.

On Wednesday, I realized that I needed to kick it into grading high-gear if I was going to get everything done before 3rd quarter grades came out.  So, I decided to take Harper to Camp Bow Wow, Lincoln's premier doggy day care.  It is quite the business plan, let me tell you.  The staff was awesome, and as I filled out paperwork in the lobby, I made small talk with other dog owners, who all assured me that my dog was in good hands.  Even so, I nearly cried as I drove away.  I can now empathize with parents who have to take their child to daycare for the first time... absolutely heartbreaking.  My favorite feature of Camp Bow Wow is the camper cams, which allows you to watch online as your dog plays.  I picked her up at around dinner time, when they presented me with a digital picture of Harper playing with another dog named Frank.  Also, they fill out a D-Tails sheet to let you know about your dog's day.  Harper loved it (I think), and she was exhausted when we got home, which allowed me to get even more work done.

I had a haircut on Thursday and an eye appointment on Friday.  I took Harper back to Camp Bow Wow both of these days to allow me to get work done at school.  It was money well-spent, as I was able to get most of my grading done.

March Madness
I don't follow college basketball at all.  I don't fill out a bracket.  I simply do not care.  But, when some friends asked me to go to a local establishment to watch the Final Four, I agreed.  I didn't watch one minute of the game, but I did have a good time catching up with friends.  Afterward, we went to Red Mango, Lincoln's newest frozen yogurt place.  I am generally underwhelmed with the taste of the yogurt... if given the choice between Red Mango and Coldstone, I'd pick Coldstone in a heartbeat.  If given the choice between Red Mango and nothing at all, I'd take nothing at all.  But it was fun to be with friends and take pictures of them:

Ugh.  I loathe packing.  During college, I got pretty good at it.  I moved ten times in four years (being an RA during the school year and a summer conferences assistant).  After college, the move to my apartment was just as simple as the other dorm-to-dorm moves because I bought all my furniture new, so the furniture stores delivered everything and set it up.  Since moving in, I have acquired much more stuff, which is making this move a bit more tricky.

I have the best friends in the world.  So many of them have offered to help me move, which, in my opinion, is the worst kind of work you can sign yourself up for.  I've had to start turning people away because I know there just won't be room for everybody who has offered to help.  Too many movers is a good problem to have, I suppose.  In addition to moving, my dear friend Ashley came over last night to help me pack my kitchen.  By that time, I had already finished packing the living room.

None of this packing was easy with this little monster running around:

Poor Harper doesn't know what to think about all of this.  She does, however, enjoy chewing on the boxes and attempting to get her paws on the newspapers I've been using to wrap the breakables.

I hate the feeling of emptiness that packing creates - nothing hanging on the walls, nothing on the shelves, the lack of color.  It reminds me of the last few days of school when the classroom gradually starts to empty itself of color and decorations.  I always get such a sinking feeling when I realize that another year of school has gone by.  And I have a similar feeling as I prepare to move out of this apartment.  I never intended this to be a long-term living arrangement, but in the short time I've lived here, I really have enjoyed it.  I had just gotten to know all of my neighbors and had just gotten to a place where I felt like I had everything that I needed and wanted.

I'm still not confident that buying a house was the right decision, but now that everything is packed up and ready to go, my feelings of stress have finally been replaced by feelings of excitement.  And ready or not, I'll be picking up my keys in fewer that 48 hours.  I am really looking forward to having a place to call my own.