Lent

Lent starts this week.

I low-key love the idea of Lent because I like all the things Lent is about less, about giving up, about making space in your life for the things that actually matter. It’s about cutting through the nonsense that so often occupies our minds and focusing on the things that actually matter.

It’s a little bit Puritanical, in the best way.

I don’t come from a background that makes a huge thing of Lent, and growing up, I mainly heard it from my Catholic friends and family as a time of giving specific things up – chocolate or pop or fast food or TV.

I’m not terribly interested in that concept of Lent. It’s weird, for me – the same as obsessively setting SMART goals, it’s a way to get yourself laser-focused on improving your life/spirituality in one very specific way, and often allows us to let everything else fall by the wayside, instead of trying to improve things with a more holistic mindset. You give up pop but spend the whole of Lent craving it, what’s the point?

It’s so tempting to be like “I’m giving up stressing about school for Lent!” but frankly, that’s unrealistic at this point in time – I’m stressed about school all the time, I’m frustrated with my management and the state of my classroom. It feels like I’m working really hard at management, and I’ve only seen marginal improvements. I have my second formal evaluation coming up at some point as well, and that’s huge and scary.

Giving up stress wholeheartedly isn’t an option, but I can work on narrowing my stressors down to the few things that really do matter – focusing on my management and worrying less about larger issues at play in the district, for instance.

Pope Francis had a perspective on Lent that I really appreciated.

Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in is word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.

Not focusing on giving something up so much as readying ourselves for renewal and conversion. Serving Christ in those in need. I can get behind that.

Unrelated: The world really needs a devotional for Nasty Woman that blends empowering scriptures and feminist theory. Someone who knows the Bible better than me, go write this.

The Cost of a Surprise Trip Home

I went home this weekend, unexpectedly. I had a family member pass away last weekend, and the memorial service was to be held this weekend, in Metro Detroit. I debated a bit, about coming – I was concerned that it was just too much, that I would be too stressed for the next week, that it would throw everything off.

My mom convinced me that I needed to be there for my family, so I went home. I left on Friday morning, using a personal day at school, and came back to Jackson today.

Airfare: I started looking up flights while I was still on the phone with my mom, discussing the potential of me going home. Flights out of the Jackson airport were nearly $700, so I looked into options out of other airports in the region – New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham – in hopes of finding some cheaper flight to Detroit. It worked out that my best bet would be New Orleans, where I used one of the vouchers I received in January to get a ticket, where I only had to pay for the “taxes and fees” portion of the price. It was $84.52.

Gas: I realized how low I was on gas somewhere in Louisiana, and then I was running late and I was anxious about running out of gas and missing my flight. I made it to the airport without filling up, then filled up my gas tank as soon as I could, when I arrived in New Orleans on Sunday. $27.91 along with the anxiety about running out.

Parking: I hate paying for parking, in any circumstances. It always feels like I’m spending a ton of money, and I’m not getting a thing or an experience that is worth anything to me. The experience I’m getting is not having my car towed, and while I would hate to have my car towed, it isn’t an experience that I pay for gladly.  It cost $41.31 to park at a parking lot near the New Orleans airport for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Food: I planned on packing food to bring to the airport with me, to save money on buying food in the airport. Somehow, in everything that was happening on Friday morning, that was forgotten, and while I ate breakfast, I didn’t eat lunch, leaving me ravenous when my mom picked me up at the Detroit airport. I stopped to buy a coffee drink on the way to the airport, $2.83, then spent $2.75 for an iced coffee at DTW before I got on the plane today. Let’s count the sushi that I bought at Trader Joe’s and ate on the way home as trip food as well, $3.49.

Total cost: $162.81. Less than I expected, and worth it, given the circumstances. Even while I was adding the numbers up, I expected it to be around $300. I’m not sure why I have such a bad sense of estimating that – I thought that I had spent almost twice as much as I did.

I write about this kind of thing because I’m endlessly curious about our attitudes, ideas, and feelings about money – there’s nothing else that makes people quite so uncomfortable and secretive than talking about how much things cost, and our own financial situations. I hope to shed a little bit of light on things by writing posts like this one.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded

Last night, I finished reading Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded. It was excellent, really – it’s a deeply personal memoir by Hannah Hart, of My Drunk Kitchen fame. Honestly, this book surprised me. Hart is awesome, and I love her YouTube channel, but I did not expect this book to be as vulnerable as it is. I expected this to be a pretty simple story – telling about how she reached YouTube fame by getting drunk and cooking, telling about some of the experiences she’s had as a YouTuber and content creator, that kind of thing.

Instead, this book was an intimate story about her troubled childhood. Hart’s mother has schizophrenia, and went without any kind of treatment for much of Hart’s childhood. This meant that Hart grew up in a home that was filthy, with a parent who was not fit to take care of herself, let alone care for her children. Hart was also raised Jehovah’s Witness, which is another dimension she touches on in the book.

The clean, easy way for this story to work would be that Hart had this troubled childhood, then she went off to college, then My Drunk Kitchen, then she lived happily ever after. Instead, life is messy, and she writes about the ways her mother’s mental illness has affected her today, and her more recent struggle to win conservatorship over her mother and care for her within a system that doesn’t make things easy. The memoir feels as though the ending is unfinished, and it works in the context. Hart’s struggle with her mother is still a work in progress, and it’s not clear what will happen next.

This was a compelling read, even if it was not the easy, funny memoir I expected. Parts of the book were funny, for sure, but it also had moments of pain and depth that I didn’t know to expect.

Dispatches from Pluto

I heard of Dispatches from Pluto sometime when I first found out I was placed in Mississippi, it was recommended by someone from TFA, as a depiction of life in the Delta. I had been meaning to read it for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to it.

I finally got around to reading it, courtesy of the Jackson Hinds Library System* and it was a really quick read – it was entertaining throughout.

The premise is that Richard Grant, a British journalist who’s been living in New York, moves to Mississippi with his girlfriend. Before moving there, he experienced the same thing I did when I told people I was moving here: people who had never been here telling me that it would be awful, everyone would be racist, and everything would be backwards. Grant states his purpose clearly, at the very beginning.

One of my hopes in writing this book is to dissolve these clumsy old stereotypes, and illustrate my conviction that Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America. Nowhere else is so poorly understood by outsiders, so unfairly maligned, so surreal and peculiar, so charming and maddening.

He had met a woman named Martha in Oxford years before he moved to Mississippi, and she had told him about the Delta, and tried to take him on a tour of the Delta. Years later, he came down for a tour. He stumbled upon a plantation house in Pluto, and persuaded his girlfriend to move there with him.

The book depicts a sort of exploration of things that are specific to Mississippi. The author goes to Parchman State Penitentiary, discusses the schools in Leflore County and Whitman County Elementary, with some details about the Barksdale Reading Institute and all the work being done to improve that school. The author plays golf with Morgan Freeman and a dentist who worked at Parchman, and covers the campaign for mayor of Greenwood.

I always want to ask people who live in the Delta how realistic they think this is – I know there isn’t a single story of the Delta, but does this book paint a picture that people living in the Delta recognize? Sometimes it seems unrealistic – his story covers a lot of unique people and places, but fails to acknowledge the high poverty rates and the lack of healthcare that many people face in the Delta. Those are likely a more realistic depiction of life in the Delta than playing golf with Morgan Freeman.

Sunday Story Delayed

I’m having difficulties using MailChimp, the service that I use to send out Sunday stories, which is causing a delay in this week’s Sunday story. Thank you for your patience. I will send it as soon as I can.

On Elementary Science

Engage NY was easy to use and my kids liked it. Perfect.

In my first year of teaching, I’ve received a wealth of information on teaching reading, and a decent amount about teaching math, and next to nothing about teaching science. I’m not complaining! I understand why – so much of elementary school (especially lower elementary) is about building a foundation so that students can learn later on. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on reading in first grade – it’s where students do so much of learning to read.

Still, science is a thing that I teach, and I really like teaching it. We do science after math, right at the end of the day. I like doing something that’s heavy on carpet time, and things that are immediate. When we were learning about the human body, we did a lot of movements – bending to help understand what joints are, flexing our arms to show what muscles are, that kind of thing.

For the first semester, I used curricula from EngageNY’s Listening and Learning strand – The Human Body and Animals and Habitats.

Both of them are read alouds with a flip book included, which I put up on my projector. Since the projector was on, I had the lights off, which had the added bonus of making my classroom feel a little more calm at the end of the day. Also, it totally helped with some our speaking and listening standards, right?

Now that I’ve used all the Engage NY curricula that are related to our state science standards, I’m kind of at a loss for what to do. We have a science textbook, so that’s one resource, but I’d like to do something more fun and engaging than reading a textbook.

The next topic we’re covering is living and non-living things, then we’ll move on to parts of plants. For the lesson plans I’m writing now, I’m using some passages from the textbook, some videos I found online, and some stuff that I’ve put together myself. When I make materials myself, I’m always worried that it’s not rigorous enough, not good enough, not challenging enough. That’s something that you get a better sense of with time, right?

Mosquitoland

I read this book because I heard someone recommend it, then I found out that it was set in Mississippi. 
One-click checkout, it arrived a few days later.

This is the first novel I’ve read in a while, and the first young adult novel I’ve read in a longer while. Most of the reading I’ve done lately is for school, so it’s nice to take a break from that. 

This book was set in Mississippi, partly, but most of it doesn’t take place there. The book follows Mary Iris Malone, Mim, a teenager with schizophrenia, as she leaves Mississippi for her home, Cleveland, OH. Her father and stepmother have recently moved to Mississippi, she hates it, and she wants to go home to be with her mom. She steals money from her stepmother to buy a bus ticket, then rides the Greyhound. Various disasters occour, at which point she’s making her own way back to Cleveland, with new friends she’s met along the way. The narrative includes diary entries, which were effective in giving us more of Mim’s personality, rather than making the book just a series of events that happen to her.
The story was interesting because Mim is interesting – she’s a strong character who has a distinct way of viewing the world. Throughout the book, I sometimes wondered if what she was saying was entirely accurate. Throughout the novel, there are mentions of the medication she takes for her schizophrenia, and partway through, she stops taking it. There wasn’t any major shift when she did, but it left me wondering if everything in the novel was as it seemed. 

The ending of the novel tied everything up a little too quickly for me – there wasn’t space for Mim or the reader to understand the entirety of what happened, and it left me wanting more depth.

New Orleans

At the end of 2016/the dawn of 2017, I spent a few days in New Orleans with my family. It was wonderful to spend some time with my family and explore a new city!

Will Ryman, America, 2013

I went to the NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and saw this piece of amazingness. Ya’ll. I was so deeply obsessed with this piece, America. It was made of railroad spikes, iPods and iPhones, spark plugs, insulation, and chains and shackles on the floor. It was ridiculous and gold and very timely.

Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge

We also found the time to go to this wildlife refuge, which was really lovely – there was a spring there, and it was nice to have the chance to hike for a bit.

Two Tickets

While I was waiting for my flight from Detroit to New Orleans, they announced that they were looking for other volunteers to take a later flight to New Orleans, since our flight was overbooked. My family volunteered, and three of us waited for a different flight, with Delta. Spirit gave me two vouchers for free round-trip tickets.

So now I have two tickets that I have to use in the next year, that are totally free. Where should I go? My ideal destination is somewhere where lodging/food will be pretty affordable – even though I have free tickets, I don’t have a mountain of cash to spend while I’m there.

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”2″]

Skittle Found in Backseat of Station Wagon

While on a family trip, parents Robert and Jennie Macy took it upon themselves to investigate the condition of their oldest child’s vehicle.

“I found a Skittle on the floor of your car, do you want it? It might be a peanut M&M, actually.” Jennie Macy said, while sitting in the backseat of her daughter’s car.

Their daughter was disinterested in the Skittle.

“It might just be a peanut that molded from sitting in your car in the heat for so long. It could be a cockroach that’s been sitting in your car for a long time. Maybe it suffocated and turned blue.” Robert Macy commented from the passenger seat.

“It’s actually orange.” Jennie Macy said.

“You really need to clean out your car, you have some genetic experiments going on in the backseat.” Robert Macy said.

Both parents have offered their assistance in cleaning out the vehicle, with Robert Macy commenting that the exterior of the station wagon could also use a wash.

Upon publication of this article, Jennie Macy corrected the journalist, saying “I didn’t say anything about it needing a wash!” The text has been changed to reflect this correction.