Things I’ve Learned

I haven’t posted in over a year, and I don’t really know why I’m posting now.
I suppose that I want to solidify some of the things that I’ve been thinking about, and I want to make my blabbering, craziness into some form of coherent thought. 

Mostly, my life over the past few months has been great. I fell in love with my students this year (again), and they did really well on the standardized tests that we took. I have found my stride as a teacher, and I have found myself completely in love with my profession. I love being in front of 8th graders…I love their energy, their earnestness, their thirst to figure out the world. Sure, I hate their pop culture (#yolo…what the hell? Why should I care who 2Chainz is?), and they are moody sometimes, but they genuinely want to learn how to make sense of this world, and they listen to me. They’re moldable AND independent, and I guess that’s mostly what I like about them. 

My relationship with God continues to grow. It doesn’t grow because I’ve had unwavering faith…I have doubted and questioned and been confused. There have been many things going on in my family (and my extended family) that have made me wonder about the power of God. I have felt myself blocking him out, consciously saying that I didn’t want to trust him today. However, as I overcame those doubts, I’ve realized that He is continuously there, and that only if I listen to His will for me will I be completely whole and find my true self. 

My boyfriend of 6 years (on and off) and I called it quits in September. He is in Maryland, soon to be LA, and I am here in Memphis. There was no sign of us meeting in the middle and living in the same town, so we said good-bye. Long-term long-distance relationships are very difficult, and I think that it takes people who are extremely confident in themselves and in the relationship to make it work. Neither he nor I were confident that the love we had could sustain the time and distance that it would take before we could be together. I love him dearly, but sometimes love isn’t enough. People who think so are naive. It takes compromise and time and so much else. But that really isn’t the point of this post.

After he and I ended things, I started dating. I started putting myself out there more, going to coffee shops to do work instead of sitting in my house, saying yes to social events, and generally just trying to meet more people. I even joined a dating site. I dated several people, one of which I saw for about 4 months, and ya know…None of them were right for me. I wanted so badly for all of them to be “the one I’ve been waiting for.” I mean, c’mon. People from high school and college are getting married and having babies (including those people younger than me!), and that biological clock just started ticking away. Is there something so fundamentally wrong with me that I cannot find a suitable partner? Am I ugly? Is it because I don’t drink, and that I have a big problem dating people who do on a regular basis? Am I flawed in some way? Those were the kinds of questions that were going through my head at the time. I was getting really, really down on myself, and I found myself going out with people that I knew weren’t right for me, just in the hopes that they would validate me, give me some sort of semblance of self-esteem that had just gone right out the window the moment that the long-term boyfriend and I called it quits. 

Thankfully, that time is over, and I have learned a few things about myself and about dating that I find immensely important. I’m not writing these down for any reason other than for me to be able to refer back to them in moments of weakness. 

Things I’ve Learned from the “Dating World“:

1. Never, ever compromise who you are for anyone else (unless you’re a sociopath). I am a person who, while not overly religious or militant about it, strongly believes in God. I do not drink alcohol, and I find myself incredibly uncomfortable dating someone who does. Because those two criteria kind of limit a lot of people out there in the world (and honestly, a whole lot of spiritual people who don’t drink alcohol tend to either be complete conservative idiots or granola-chomping, vegan, pretentious and completely unrelating weirdos who tend to be so self-involved they don’t notice you are in the room), I found myself wavering on those things. When I found out that one guy I dated was agnostic (and not at all curious or seeking), I told myself that it didn’t matter. When another guy I dated got drunk and called me, I justified it by saying that it was OK, he’s not an alcoholic, he can drink as much as he wants, it’s my problem, not his, etc. Even though the third guy didn’t drink, and he meditated every day, he was just plain mean. I thought that it didn’t matter, he had a good heart (somewhere in that hard, cold, lawyer-chest of his…), etc. However, I am looking for a person who is compatible with me and someone who brings out the good qualities in me. While I think that is very important for me to be “full” on my own (which is going to be a lesson in a minute), I do think that the person I end up loving, marrying, and living together for the rest of my life, must help me to grow and to become a better person. Other people probably have other incredibly important criteria….and whatever it is that is important to them, they shouldn’t compromise that, either. 

2. You must be whole in solitude before seeking someone else. Too often, I have found myself and too many other women out there who think that in order to be a complete person, they must seek it in men. They think that they need a man to “complete” them, or that something is fundamentally wrong with women who do not seek to have men be the most important thing in their life. Maybe it’s because I had a fantastic father who told me that I must be independent before I could be interdependent (you can quote him on that), or a mother who taught me how to be a strong woman, but I have never thought that I had to have a man to tell me who I was.

Or, at least, I held this belief theoretically. Sometimes, though, it is very difficult to remember to feed your own self and to take action to grow into the person you need truly are, especially when everyone else is getting married, Cosmo tells me that if I just do this easy thing, I can have a great man in my life! And I truly lost sight of that. DL, my long-term boyfriend of six years, nourished me and helped me to see who I truly was on the inside…I didn’t need him to “complete” me, but I did need him to help me see that who I was is really freaking awesome. Then I lost him, and I thought I wasn’t that awesome anymore. So, I started needing guys to tell me that I was pretty or smart or awesome in order to have self-confidence. When something went wrong, I went down the self-deprecation rabbit hole. However, over the past couple weeks, when I was forced to be alone on the beach in North Carolina with my family…I remembered. I remembered the lessons my father taught me (Independence before Interdependence), and the guidance that my mother gave me (When I told her I want to be a cheerleader, she said that she would rather have me be the basketball star instead of a girl on the sidelines looking to the man for happiness…). 

I remembered that I have to be a complete human being on my own before I can date. Men don’t want a shriveling loser who doesn’t know who she is! Why would they? I don’t want a man who is telling me that he needs me in order to know who he is! Those guys suck, they are needy, and they are annoying. 

3. If you are happier alone than with him, don’t date him. Why in God’s name would I want to spend time with someone who is not entertaining, intelligent, funny, or challenging? Why would I waste the precious and rare gem that is my free time on someone that is boring or stupid when I could be reading a good book or catching up on Mad Men? If I am happier by myself, I’m not going to waste my time anymore. I have realized that I really can be an awesome person alone, and I’ve learned that if he doesn’t challenge me in some way, I’m not going to waste my time. My life is short and valuable (like everyone else’s), and it cannot be cluttered with people who don’t help me grow into a better me. 

4. Look for someone who would be a good father. I’m not saying that I necessarily want children. I have a lot of hang-ups with it, and I sometimes think that I would just be OK with Alvin and Conley (my cat and dog). However, if I keep my eyes open for someone who would be a good father, I get the following qualities: 

a. He is selfless. A father must be willing to sacrifice some of the things that he loves (comic books, cars, sports, his band, or even elements of his career) in order to nourish his children. Does it seem like this fella would actually do that? Or does he get all bent out of shape when there is any kind of compromise when it comes to Monday night football or band practice? If he can’t drop band practice to go see your parents, then he’s probably not going to drop band practice when Ben has soccer game and Clara has a piano recital. And he probably won’t come home early to help you put dinner on the table and put the kids to bed. And I’m a teacher. I’m going to be tired. I’m going to need help. That father sucks. And if we don’t have kids, that guy still sucks. 

b. He is kind. A good father has a big heart for his children, his children’s friends, and his friend’s children. There’s a lot of love in there. And a man who has love for the people, especially for the kids around him, is sexy. Is he kind to you? Is he kind to the people around you? Is he kind to the waitress who messed up our order? Is he forgiving to the old man who is driving really slow in front of you? If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then he may not be nice to you or to your kids. 

c. He is funny. A good father makes their kids laugh. And not with dirty jokes. With silly, goofy, kid jokes. 

d. He is discerning and wise. Does he lack all self-discipline and make poor choices? He probably wouldn’t be a good dad, and he probably won’t be a good husband. Does he suck at giving advice? Probably not for me. Does he blow money on really stupid things and then whine about how he has no money for groceries? He’s not mature, he’s not good for me, and he would be good for no child ever (unless he’s the cool, wacky, and unmarried uncle that every child seems to have). 

5. He’s gotta have a full-time job with benefits, ya’ll. I’m done dating college students who don’t know what they want to do with their life. I’m done with bartenders or waiters or dishwashers. I dated those guys in college. And they are guys. They are not men. I want a man who knows that in order to be a contributing member of society, you need to get up every morning at a reasonable hour (that means 8 or earlier unless you work weird hours), put on clothes that are clean, don’t have holes in them, and match (unless you’re a painter or work in construction) and go to work. You will NEVER be able to relate to me, how hard I work, or what my life is about if you spend 3 hours on Reddit every morning (well, does 11-2 count as the morning?) And for god’s sake, get medical insurance. We are not 20 anymore. 

6. No more indie-hipsters or musicians. Unless music is strictly a hobby.  Do I really need to explain myself here? I didn’t think so. 

Seriously. Best. Icing. Ever.

From Joy the Baker

 

The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes or one 8-inch layer cake

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup Ovaltine

Cream together butter, cocoa powder and salt. Butter mixture will be very thick. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add powdered sugar. Turn mixer on low and mix in powdered sugar while adding milk and vanilla extract. As the sugar incorporates, raise the speed of the mixer to beat the frosting. Beat until smooth. In a 1-cup measuring glass, stir together heavy cream and Ovaltine. Turn mixer speed to medium and pour cream mixture into frosting in a slow, steady stream, until you’ve reached your desired consistency.  You may not need the full amount of Ovaltine and cream.  Spread or pipe onto cupcakes.  Yuuuuuuuuum!!

Haiti Trip #2

Pictures of 2011 Haiti Trip

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I have been asked to write about Haiti. Our trip is going to be highlighted by the church conference, and a former NPR person is going to put it together. Usually it takes me a long time to put some thoughts together. The previous post is the only thing that I have managed to put together, and I wrote that mostly just to sort all of it out myself. In the next few days, I will be posting various vignettes or narratives in the hopes of sorting them out for our really cool project.

Also– if you get a chance, check out Mountains to Mountains’ website; my mom keeps it up, and she does a pretty good job!

Mountains to Mountains

Thoughts on recent Haiti trip

In the United States, we have been programmed to expect happy endings. Just turn on the T.V. Romantic comedies hypnotize us with expectations of a perfect resolution to the star-crossed lovers’ plight, and the American media airs fluff pieces of some cat dialing 911 in order to add some kind of necessary insulation against the images of violence and human rights violations in breaking news. Money, hard work, and effective intervention can solve any problem, or at least that is what our capitalistic-pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture has taught us.

We can’t help it. We want things to turn out right, especially with our work in Haiti. Christian missionaries, humanitarian charities, and nonprofit organizations in the country expect that because we have money and—I’m sorry, I’m only being honest here—we are white Americans, when we intervene, things will work out in perfect harmony with our intentions. There is nothing wrong with that mindset. Prayer, disciplined thought, building relationships, love, time, money, and privilege all do facilitate good works and greater “human security” (Paul Farmer, Haiti After the Earthquake) in Haiti.

The Trinity United Methodist team that just returned from Mizak, Haiti, learned this humbling lesson: While money can encourage some situations to come to more acceptable solutions, hard work does pay off, and effective, timely intervention can curtail negative situations, life is hard. In reality, we are imperfect beings who have no real control over the events that unravel before us. We can’t understand the way that God works.

Our last day of clinic, Wednesday, July 29, started like any other day. Laurie was working with Christopher, and they were doing patient intake and eyeglasses “triage” (Laurie has an important and sometimes thankless job). Abbey was out sick, and so patients started out with Emmanuel (our translator) and Kelsie. They would come to Steve and me next, where we worked with premade glasses and the focometer, finding an approximate reading for their prescription glasses. Patients then went to Mike, Donna, and Genelle for their prescription glasses, or Dave and Rhonda for readers, sunglasses, and drops. I’d been very proud of our team this year; we are a well-oiled machine. We even managed to work around the medical clinic that the Haitian nurse, Yolande, was running that day.

I had left a patient with Steve and was probably running to Chef Brenda (what they call Rhonda in Haiti) with a question, when I encountered Laurie, who was crying. I asked what was wrong, and she said, “The baby, it’s just so small, I can’t take it,” or something to that effect. I went inside of the clinic, where I saw Dave holding the smallest child I have ever seen. He was swaddled in a green blanket. Dave was praying for the baby, named Carl Edwards, and we all joined in the effort. I didn’t know what was wrong with the baby, but I knew something was incredibly wrong. We finished praying, and I went back outside to work.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I learned Carl Edwards’ story: He was 29 days old, from Mizak, and horribly malnourished. He was three pounds. The mother had not been feeding him. Was it from lack of food or neglect? We don’t know. What we do know is that a neighbor had to bring Carl Edwards into the clinic, and the mother had to be retrieved from her home. Rhonda later told me that she knew Carl Edwards was beyond just eating some more or finding a wet nurse. He needed intravenous fluids, and he needed them fast. She directed Genelle to give Carl Edwards back to Yolande because she was terrified that Carl Edwards was going to die in her loving arms. Abbey thought he was dead. Carl Edward’s arms were ashen, he wasn’t moving, and his face had an ominous deflated look.

I learned that we had given a nurse and the mother $150 USD to take a moto down to Jacmel to get to a hospital. They left, hopeful that the hospital would be able to offer this child the hope of survival. We finished up clinic, seeing 170-something patients that day. We loaded up our suitcases, cleaned up the clinic, and headed back through the beautiful farmland to Paul’s house. We had finished our clinic, we had done God’s work, and we did darn good.

They told me shortly after we got back to Paul’s house that Carl Edwards died. We don’t know if he even made it off the mountain.

Fury and frustration built up inside of me. Every day, in countries like Haiti, children are dying from preventable diseases and easily treatable maladies, such as hunger. A child born in the US might weigh only three pounds, but he gets rushed into the NICU and the chances of survival are much higher. A parent may be neglectful in the US, but we have Child Protective Services to step in and take that parent to jail.  A family may be hungry, but they can go to any food bank or get an EBT card to eat. We have the infrastructure necessary to prevent death and pain.

We had given $150 USD to make this broken child whole. We support the Medika Mamba program, specifically designed to prevent child hunger. We have built homes to provide shelter, micro-financing to provide the opportunity for small business growth, eyeglasses to provide sight, food to provide nourishment, birthing kits to provide infection-free births, mosquito nets to provide protection from malaria, health kits to provide sanitation, school bags to provide greater access to education, and the list goes on and on. The prayer that Dave offered over Carl Edwards should have prevented his death. The disciplined thought that Mountains to Mountains engages in so that we can best serve God and our friends in Haiti should have predicted, and thus prevented, this. We have worked for years to build relationships with Haitians, and it is in our mission to break bread, eat, pray, love, and discuss alongside and with the Haitians (in contrast to to the Haitians). We have leveraged our privilege as white Americans to rally support, supplies, and, most significantly, money for Mizak.

So why did Carl Edwards die? We contemplated this and prayed to God for answers for over 24 hours. The answer came in the age-old paradox: We can never know God’s plans. Our human egos attempt to logically surround an infinite God with a cardboard box, when in reality, we can’t even begin to fathom was God has in store. C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, conceived of a heaven where visiting humans were in such intense pain because Earth and our human minds are just a dull shadow of what God’s reality is. How am I being a vessel of God’s good will on Earth, a personal goal of mine, when I am consistently asking God to tell me what he’s doing! There is no trust in God when I am demanding that he explain to me why Carl Edwards died.

It’s so easy to get discouraged. So what do we do? Do we throw up our hands in frustration, pull out of our efforts in Haiti, and get angry because a child died? Or do we delve further into the work, continue with our prayer, disciplined thought, relationship building, proliferation of love, and distribution of wealth so that we can offer the timely solution that can prevent the death of the next Carl Edwards? Do we keep bugging God with answers and reasons why bad things happen to innocent children? Or do we continue practicing trust and faith in God and the love of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives, respecting the glory of God’s infinite wisdom?

I don’t know. The answer is pretty clear-cut to me.

God is Good!

The past year has been a roller coaster of emotions. Frustrations, heartbreaking reality, and headaches at the beginning of the year evolved into joys, excitement, and falling in love with my students. I fell in love with teaching English this year, and I fell in love with teaching at Wooddale High School. At the end of the year, I spent a long time reflecting upon what I had done right and what I had done wrong, creating a multiple-page vision of my classroom and an awesome long-term plan, specific to teaching tenth grade English at Wooddale High School. I had taken my students into account and had formulated procedures, rules, and plans that would best fit those particular students.

I finished up my vision/plans right before I went to the beach. I still had to create an end of year assessment, but that was OK. I went into the beach excited, and trying to think about what novels I was going to teach. I have also been working on my spirituality, and so I have been doing a lot of praying and meditating. On Monday night, I was sitting out on the dock next to the canal at Holden Beach and was just staring up into the sky, praying. I asked God to teach me how to trust Him, to teach me how to do His will, not mine.

On Tuesday, I came in from the beach at lunch, and I had a voicemail from Teach for America. I had been laid off from Memphis City Schools. (Check out the link for more information about why I was laid off; it really makes me angry to think about the processes that involve layoffs, seniority, and allocation of money at the systemic level, but that’s really tangential to the point of this post.) At first, I cried. Then, I started throwing things. I was finna QUIT, damn it. Then, I started walking it off, calmed down, and realized that if I had to teach math (yuck), I would. There was talk of me teaching Spanish; it won’t be on my license starting on September 1, so that plan wouldn’t work.

On Thursday, I got a message from TFA, stating that Freedom Prep had an opening. I immediately sent my resume and cover letter to them, and ended up securing an interview for Monday (yesterday).

Now, I had interviewed at Freedom Prep last year, when I first got to Teach for America. I didn’t get the job, and I was a little hurt/resentful/mad. Now, I had gotten over it, but I was hurt for a while. I didn’t think that I would get the job because I didn’t feel like I was good enough for them. This place is my dream job, and I just didn’t think I was good enough to teach there.

Long story short, I got the job at Freedom Prep. I asked God to teach me how to trust him. He rocked my world for a couple days, but then I secured my dream job at my dream school.

My faith in God is, like, 100% stronger now.

God is good!
All the time!

Miracles

My students are the light of my life. I love each and every one of them, and they are showing me each day how stereotypes that I and every other person in the country have made about inner city kids is completely wrong. I have two stories that I want to share, about how some students are really rising to the occasion and proving the achievement gap and everyone else wrong.

DP and DW are known members of a gang, the Vice Lords. They miss a lot of school and each of them have gotten themselves a lot of suspensions for various things. DW got in a huge fight in my classroom this fall, and it scared the bajesus out of me. I’m not going to like, I thought that DP and DW were a little bit of lost causes. I thought I had tried everything, but that’s not true. I told all of my students that had failed last nine weeks, including DP and DW, that if they came to tutoring after school and made up the work that they had missed last nine weeks, that I would change their grade accordingly. And God bless them, DP and DW have been coming in, every tutoring day, until 5, 5:30, to make up their work. They do care. They aren’t lost causes, and they are proving that even inner city gang members CARE about their education and WANT to do well. I love it.

Another one of my students, MB, isn’t in a gang, but he does have a little behavioral problem. MB reads on a first grade reading level, and until this nine weeks, hasn’t shown much effort in his work. However, his mom recently told him that if he got his grades up, he could get a job. The boy has an 84 in my class, and the effort he has been showing recently is OUTSTANDING. He had finished his work early yesterday, and so I let him get on the computer. Usually when he finishes his work, he gets on YouTube and listens to rap music. However, I was circulating as the other kids were finishing their quiz when I looked over. MB was on the Reading Plus (a remedial reading program that my school does), doing a lesson. NO ONE HAD TOLD HIM TO DO IT. I went over and asked him if Dr. Terre, the Reading Plus teacher, had asked him to do that. And he said no, he just wanted to get better at reading. He got 70% comprehension on the program, and I heard him reading outloud to himself.

These three students are why I do what I do. I can’t believe that I almost gave up on them. Thank God I didn’t, because they are proving me and everyone else wrong.

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

Recipe Courtesy of Barefoot Contessa at Home and the Food Network

What You’ll Need:

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Directions:

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

2.) Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.

3.) In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

4.) Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

5.) Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.