Almost a year since Maria

As Hurricane Florence leaves its sodden mark on the Carolinas, I feel the anniversary of Maria creeping closer. From the hurricane graphics, to tuning into listen to facebook-live weather report by Ada Monzon, it all brings me back to the uncertainty we felt last year, first with Irma and then again with Maria. 

For our family, things have settled into a new normal. My mother, who we evacuated to Rochester, ten days after Maria passed, spent the rest of the fall and some of the winter with us while we waited for things to normalize in Puerto Rico. She went back this spring. She rejoiced to reconnect with friends, spend time with her church community and she negotiated with the weirdness of the normal and new normal of it all. She documented the flamboyans that survived and flowered again on her instagram. She helped along with her Salvation Army connections to bring needed supplies and other things to communities still hurting around the island. She reported to us how the landscape had changed on her trips to check our apartment on the south side of the island.  

Even though my mother had insurance and the repairs to her apartment relatively minor (new windows and sliding glass doors) we ended up having to wait months to have them replaced and paying for them out of pocket.  I am thankful we had the ability to do so, but I think of all the people who did not have that option, who still a year after Maria are waiting to repair their homes. Every time a family member goes back they note all the blue-tarp roofs still visible from the sky and if insurance is dragging their feet on paying apartment complexes and offering only a fraction of what is needed, it is not a surprise that they must be doing even worse to individual home owners.

After my sister and her wife decided to move to town, my mother, like one of her sisters decided she shouldn't spend another hurricane season in Puerto Rico and instead move close to us. We have put in an application for a apartment not far from my house and are making plans to ready her apartment in Puerto Rico for sale or rental.

My apartment in Puerto Rico is fine, although I haven't been there in a year. My father, who has made his home in Florida his main residence now, will be helping us renovate it this fall and hopefully we can spend part of Christmas or Feb break there soon.

I keep thinking about how blessed we were. Even if the ten days my mother was stuck without water or power in PR, seem like a minor suffering compared to those who had not option but to stay put.  We didn't lose anything, and so many lost so much.

 We get frustrated hearing the Puerto Rico government resist updating the death totals for so long and then president, deny the death totals so casually, when we know how the poor and ill suffered because of lack of preparation and the slow response.  We all watch the weather news in PR carefully, noting each storm, and hoping it veers away or dissipates.

Don't forget about Puerto Rico. A year on, there is still so much to be done.

Worth the Chimichurri

Growing up we didn't grill steaks  very often but if we  did, they were well-seasoned skirt steak smothered in salty-garlicky chimchurri.

Chris and the girls  don't  have the  same  garlic addiction I have so  over the  years I've stopped making  chimichurri when I make  steak  (My siblings, Rosie and Juan D. can  groan in disbelieving unison here).

Maybe because's today's weather  is so PR-like or because in recent months I've started being better about taking care of myself and not just  everyone else's needs.  I treated myself by making some Chimichurri along with our steaks. No one else enjoyed it with  their dinner, but  I sure did.  

As a mother and as I wife I'm very  loved and appreciated, my life is not one of sad martyrdom but I do sometimes forget to cater to myself the same way I care for others. My joy in each bite was  a reminder that I needed to remember that I'm  worth the effort of making the Chimichurri,  even if I am the only one that enjoys it.

Processing: The Gap between inspirations and aspirations

I love going to conferences. I'm blessed in every way when I can pack up and take a break from the everyday hustle and concentrate on learning and listening. For me conferences are not just opportunities to listen to speakers but opportunities to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I learn something from every interaction, not just in the workshops or presentations, but at the breakfast line and luncheon table. I've only been here a little over 24 hrs and my mind is bursting.

I feel a little anti-social right now writing and trying to process instead of sitting down at hotel bar networking, but I felt a stronger than usual need to think and process on my own tonight. I feel caught in that productive discontent of sorting through the inspirational, convicting, challenging and occasionally frustrating things I've learned & trying to think about what things I want to bring back and do & which of those things I can realistically tackle.

This school year I made a choice to scale back some of my efforts, to reserve my energies and not over perform to the sacrificial degree I had done in the past. That was not a easy decision. I love my school, but it is a part-time position that I was treating and working as if was full-time because I love them so much. But in the long run it wasn't fair to my family nor did it set up the realistic expectations. I advocated for myself, and was able to get a schedule that didn't set me up for overwork. I've asked for help more than I've ever have in the past, and said no to things that couldn't accomplish within my paid hours. It has been hard to scale back my expectations of myself but it I needed to pull back in order to respect myself and my family.

I thought I knew what I was going to do with the time I was reclaiming. I had plans. I thought I would sub more, clean more and catch up with everything but that wasn't what I've ended up doing. While I am reading more and writing more (which I deeply love to do), in the end the majority of my reclaimed time has been taken up by unexpectedly by homeschooling. While there is still a gap there between what I aspire to do, and what we have been able to do, I've at least I had the time to try to tackle it.

Despite my greater than usual need to pull back and process I am as always incredibly thankful of being been able to come. I know that I can't aspire to do everything I'm inspired to do, so I'm storing up some of those big ideas for later, and I will content myself with the smaller ways I can improve my practice.


When I want to do.

I don't know about you but I'm a very practical person. I like to be able to fix and do. I have a hard time listening to people vent without suggesting solutions or taking it as invitation or request to take over and fix the issue. This can lead to unwarranted frustration when the solutions or fixes are not wanted or in fact requested. Over the years I have learned to set boundaries, learning to ask and double check to see if people in fact want me to take over or help them. I've learned that there are some kinds of venting that I can simply listen to, and learned to excuse myself from the conversations I can't handle listening to without intervening.

Last week in Sunday School we were watching the second 1/3 of a video on the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We talked about his ministry and activism in Germany as part of the resistance movement against the Nazis. As those conversations are wont to do, we ended up at the end of class talking about Putin and the ISIS, and what kind of responses our nation and we as people should have. A few people suggested bombing or military intervention, others like me didn't feel that would be the right response, but we all understood the desire to act, to do, to not simply stand aside and watch atrocities occur.

Afterwards I was talking to a friend, and I tried to express how saying, Pray and actually praying in the face of injustices, atrocities, feels so small, so feeble, so inactive. But again and again, it should be where we start.

Nearly 8 years ago I was part of an amazing conversation with a nun at Coptic Convent in Cairo. She was serving as the interim Mother Superior, and welcomed our small tour group into her office for tea, when we showed up at the convent to see some of their amazing icons on the wrong day. It was a Friday, a day when the convent is normally closed to tourists and open only to friends and family. She would have in her rights to simply turn us away, but instead she welcomed up and treated us like family. We asked her questions about her life in the convent. She told us she had not left that convent for over 50 years, only seeing the friends and family when they came to see her on family Friday's. We asked what it felt like to see the world outside the convent walls change as dramatically as it had in her lifetime and how she felt about being cloistered within the walls of her convent. She responded by telling us about her call to a life of prayer. How she dedicated her life to it as she saw the Coptic church in Egypt face greater and greater persecution and upheaval. The certainty and peace she had in her call was a powerful and unexpected lesson.

I am in no way saying protests, calls to action or even military interventions cannot be the right response, but over and over for me, I need to remember to pray, especially when my first desire is to move and act under my own power.

When a friend calls or texts with tough situation, I will always offer my hands, my sympathy but I need to remember that it is no minor thing to say, "I will pray".

Praying is a surrender, a sacrifice of my will to God, and to say, "this is not something I can do alone". It is often painful, quiet and lonely but we are called to pray, and I so often need to remember that.

Dark clouds at the Horizon

Ocean view

One of the magnificent pleasures of our Maunabo apartment is it's fantastic ocean view. I love just sitting in the living room, reading or writing and being able to look out at the view. It is always captivating, always changing. I love watching the clouds roll in from the northeast. The Trade Winds bring us all sorts of skies. Some are bright and clear, some hazy with "Bruma", but most often full of big lazy clouds.

Playa Larga, Dark a Clouds

Today as I prepared coffee and breakfast I watched a bank of extremely dark clouds appear on the horizon, deep gray sheets of rain trailing behind it into the ocean. As I looked out I wondered what it meant for our day. Will the bank of clouds roll past us or over us, will we be able to go down to beach or be stuck in the apartment. Should we try to wait it out, or run out and do what we can now? After much internal debate I decided that even if all we could get was 15 minutes at the beach before it started to pour it would be worth it. Soon everyone had changed into their bathing suits, grabbed towels, chairs, bogie boards and books and climbed into the car. We got a lot more than 15 minutes. We had 45 before the first light sprinkles urged us to pack up. And when the rain didn't follow us in-land, Zee and Chris enjoyed another half hour in the pool. We took a chance, and didn't keep the specter of dark clouds keep us from doing what we wanted to do.

Bogie boarders wade in surf

I've been thinking about that morning sky all of the day. Right now Zee's mood swings, and flash meltdowns are the dark clouds in my horizon. I think it of them often as I evaluate my daily plans. I evaluate how challenging certain social situations might prove to be, how difficult it could be to leave and often question future plans. Will this be okay or will this push her over? Will I be able to go to that conference I booked? Are our sight-seeing plans too ambitious? Am I helping her enough or too much? There are lots of great days where no plans are upset, we try new things, and have a lot of fun. Some days are long days, where everythig goes great, till it suddenly doesn't, and of course it is front of people who don't understand or have any context. Other days are filled with a string of mini-battles and situations, not a single one terribly remarkable or difficult, but still exhausting. Most days I feel like, like I felt this morning, determined. There are dark clouds, and many challenges ahead. I can make plans, and give myself appropriate expectations & the clouds might miss us and we will have a better day than expected or we might get drenched and overwhelmed but it is better to get going and enjoy the day we have been given, instead of sitting inside and wishing we had a different one.


Cocooning -- Day 12

IMG_4703It is really cold outside, but we can't just stay home everyday. There is school for Aay, Karate practice, Drs & Vet appointments to go to, groceries to fetch, church activities & meetings to attend.  However I feel we have been cocooning or nesting these past two weeks.

It started as lark, last Saturday, I had grabbed one of the blankets from my bed to cuddle up with and read in Chris's big chair.  I was feeling not quite sick, but worn down. I had spent all morning driving the girls back and forth from Choir & Karate. Zee came to check on me, said I looked like I was in a cocoon. She brought me snacks, and water, climbed into cuddle with me. It was a lovely way to spend the rest of my afternoon.  All this last week whenever one of us feels tired, fussy or out of sorts, Zee suggests we cocoon.

We have also been nesting.  I haven't been home for most of the day this many days in a row in years outside of summer vacation.  The house is cleaner than it has been since I started working. I actually moved furniture today to dust & vacuum.  I deep cleaned the kitchen, even wiping down walls. It is isn't all I do everyday, just something to do, something to burn up the energy I would normally use up at work.
There is no way I will be able to sustain this when I get back to work in February (sorry Chris!), but it is nice to do it anyway.  Nice to tend to parts of my life that have been neglected, to tackle projects I always mean to do when we have a school break but I never do because all I am good for then is a good books and stiff drink. This isn't vacation, but it is still something restorative.

I am thankful for this time cocooning and nesting.

Impostor Syndrome

Homeschooling has been going well, it has been fun to order books, to experiement with our schedule. Instruction has been going well. But there is nothing like filling out paperwork to remind me how much a big deal this is.

I've been a teacher in New York state for almost 5 years.  I write lessons plans all the time, I have only received overwhelmingly positive evaluations for my teaching style and effectiveness and I am responsible for the library and computer curriculum of a small school, yet none of those experiences have activated a sense of being an impostor more than filling out homeschooling paperwork for our school district.

I feel the weight of the responsibility of what we are taking on.  Intellectually I know that the curriculum I have put together for Zee is top notch. That it is challenging, and on par with what she was receiving at school. In order to reassure myself that we will not be doing Zee a disservice, I have turned to friends who have been doing this successfully for years for advice and guidance.  These friends have been incredibly generous.  They have shared their intent to homeschool letters, copies of the their individualized home instruction plans (IHIPs) and pointed me to trustworthy information sources. I am so glad for their example. 

In my faith walk, in my careers, in any new endeavour I always feel a need to find mentors I can trust, because it can be terribly easy to make things harder on myself than it needs to be or to make bad choices based on lack of information. Sometimes we need to blaze new trails, but why reinvent the wheel if someone else has done it already. We will be making a lot of important choices on our own for Zee in the next little while, and I am going to work as hard as I can to make sure I am making those decision in the best informed way possible. 

A conversation I had last week with Aay's piano teacher, emphasized to me how good it is to be nervous and to be open to question about our choices.  Ms. W was wishing us luck on homeschooling and promising to intervene if we started wearing jumpers and bonnets. Turns out she grew up with reformed hippie parents who decided to out counter-culture the counter-culture, by taking up homeschooling in the late 70's- 80's. They made lots of questionable choices and she said she has plenty of horror stories to share, classes she didn't get to study, censored textbooks & materials. We talked about  how her brothers had to demand access to the courses their parents were ill-equipped to teach them, eventually persuading her parents to allow them to leave homeschooling for a traditional high school. Her stories were familiar, but thankfully not something I have seen play out recently, as my friends who homeschool go out of their way to find the right instructors and opportunities for their children.  I don't doubt there are many parents who homeschool out of fear and who are ill-prepared to take up the responsibility, but I am thankful that this isn't our situation.



Day One -- Homeschooling & Temporary Single Parenting

Today was a very big day in our household. 

Chris left for Grand Rapids Michigan this morning. He will be there for most of the next month, serving as guest lecturer and co-teacher for an interim class at Calvin College. The class will be reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace. Chris will be lecturing on the religious life and conversions depicted in the novel.  We are hoping that this time away from the pulpit, and pressures of everyday ministry, help him return refreshed and renewed when he is done with his Sabbatical.  

I've been asked a lot about how I feel about him being gone for so long, and all I can say is that I encouraged him to do this and I support him.  Everyday life will be strange.  Not having another adult to decompress with, to comfort and encourage me will be hard, probably harder than I can anticipate. I am a very independent person, an introvert and generally happy doing my own thing, but I am surely going to notice his absence, and not simply because the garbage & kitty litter will need emptying. People have asked me how they can help support me. And I am struggling to figure what to answer. I just don't really know yet.  Maybe a meal will work, even if my girls are picky, maybe just checking to see if I need to get out for some adult time will be the thing.  I just don't know. 

The second momentous event in our lives is the fact that as of today we have started homeschooling Zee.  Aay went off on the bus back to RCS without her and that was weird, thrilling and frighting.  Zee has been emotionally struggling with school for years. About 5 years ago Zee was diagnosed with ADD, and we went through the whole ADD medication rigmarole for about 2.5 years. The drugs were very helpful in helping her settle down and focus long enough to learn to read and write, but eventually the side effects of insomnia & suppressed appetite were just too much to ignore.  She would have successful school days but become an emotional mess due to lack of sleep, low blood sugar and over-stimulation at the end of her days.  So after playing around with various dosages, and types of meds to the point she said she felt like a science experiment, 2.5 years ago we took her off the ADD meds and tried to make it work at school without them. Academically she has done well. She struggles with organization, and sometimes rushes through it, but she loved to participate in class and was certainly learning even her homework was late and somewhat messy. Socially and emotionally she really started thriving at home, looking happy, healthier and better rested, however school became a battleground.  Her impulsiveness aggravated conflicts at school, her disorganization made it so she was often defensive and aggressive with her teachers. So last year we found her a good psychologist, who understands her and together they are doing a good job helping her figure out better ways to deal with stressful situations.  She has made incredible progress in being able process and control her emotions  but  despite learning a lot of techniques and the school making huge accommodations to help her deal with stress/difficult situations, we felt things were escalating negatively at school.  Essentially school provided too many conflict opportunities, and there were too many variables for her to cope with on a daily basis.  We felt we were setting her up to fail each day.

As parent, I have always felt my job is to equip her to be the best person she can be without crushing all the tender parts that make her who she is.  Zee is an amazingly bright, creative, open-hearted and happy kid and we hated that this was not who she was at school.

After talking to her teachers, the principal, her therapist, Zee, and crying and praying at ton we decided that the best thing we could do for her was to pull her for the rest of the school year  Which posed an incredible challenge for us. How can we homeschool when I work part-time  & Chris full time (and he would be out of town for month!). But things fell into place. I reached out to lots of our church friends who homeschool for advice and resources and we now have a pretty good idea about how this will work. The school graciously offered me a leave of absence for the month of January. I will be on call for tech related emergencies, and providing virtual support.  We found a wonderful sub, who is willing to take on my classes as long as I keep writing the lesson plans.

When Chris returns we will alternate the home schooling responsibilities. I will be able to go back to teaching my regular schedule. Thankfully Chris has flexible schedule, and the ability to work from home when needed and be able to provide supervision and instruction to Zee during my work-days.  

Today was day one, and it went really well. We picked up where she had left off in her math book, we worked through the next part of her social studies chapter, reviewed her science lesson together and then did some ELA work.  In retrospect tackling science straight after math and social studies was just too much. So tomorrow we will flip the order around and see if we like it better. We cuddled, we laughed, and school wasn't this dreaded anxiety monster. She missed her sister and her sister missed her, but she is peaceful and so is our home.  

So please pray for us as we try these new things.  We are trying to figure things out, so this might not work out, and we might need to try something else, but I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do it. 


What is making you happy this week?

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR's Pop-Culture Happy Hour.  It covers music, comics, books, tv and movies. They end every show with the hosts take turns calling out something that made them happy that week. That is the only criteria, it can be an awesome commercial, a great book, a funny story, a fun song. No judgement just joy. I always look forward to that segment and learning about the variety of things that bring people joy.  

If you see me on a regular basis, you probably have noticed that I have been looking rundown, and even a bit sad in the last month.  It was a rough month for me emotionally for a variety of reasons.   But in the last few days I have been feeling the fog lift a bit.  I still get teary just thinking about saying goodbye to our good friends the Ratigans, but overall I just feel a bit lighter.

So here is my list of things that are making me happy this week:

  • Sneaking out to a movie with best-friend Heather.  We rolled our eyes at the giggling teens/women sighing over Four in Divergent, and just enjoyed being with each other sharing buttery popcorn.
  • Chris crossing off teams on my March Madness Bracket.  For one brief moment yesterday afternoon my bracket looked fantastic.
  • Finishing up another review and being invited to write article on Makerspaces for Teacher Librarian. 
  • Dancing around my kitchen to the I-Tunes Top 100 Pop station.  I am not really music person, I hardly pay attention to lyrics.  I rarely take the initiative to play anything other than NPR's talk radio but I like listening to music when I write. And I writing all day today, I took advantage of my new blue-tooth Bose speakers and blasted Alt/Pop songs all days.  These were my favorite catchy danceable songs.

            My favorites today:
OneRepublic's Counting Stars   
Pitbull's Timber
Pharrell's Happy
Sara Bareilles's Brave


What is making you happy this week?



Thank you!

    Over three years ago I had a conversation with my father that changed my direction. I was telling him that with A in school and Z soon ready to start pre-school that I was starting to think it was time to return to the workforce.  My plan at the time was to go to work, help pay down our debts and then at some future date down the road go back to school for a Master degree like I always intended to.  My father then asked me why I wasn't just heading straight back to Grad school, and the obvious answer was cost, we had enough grad school debt from Chris to pay off.  My father encouraged me to go back anyway...letting me know that he would help me out, so I could go back. It was so liberating to just get to go straight to Go. I got GRE study book, started researching programs. By the fall of 2007 I had zeroed into SU's School of Information Studies, Library and Information Science program. I visited Syracuse, looked at the program offers, learned of the school media program and even if I didn't decided on it then, it was on my radar. I lined up my references, transcripts, contacted former professors. I then spent New Year's Day 2008, working on my online application, ticking off my one resolution for the year. I was accepted six weeks later, and I attended my first class in 10 years that summer, and I have loved every fun, stressful, challenging moment since.

     Today I handed in my very last paper for my very last class at SU. In the next few weeks I will be applying for my public and school media certifications from the NY state. I have already started submitting applications for jobs in the area. I am excited as most of the openings seem just the kind of schools I would love to be in. I have put together a physical and electronic portfolio representing the work I have done in the program, If you want to know what I have been up to for the past two years, feel free to check it out.

     In just over a week I will be traveling to Syracuse for the Convocation, where I will hopefully get to see a lot of my friends who are finishing up the program too and get a chance to chat with my professors in person.  I know that over the next couple of weeks I will experience moments of phantom stress (thanks to @madmarvelgirl for that phrase).  I fill find myself sitting on my computer, thinking there must be something I need to hand in, some project I should be working find myself surprised at the fact that doing the family laundry is not an act of procrastination.

    While I have loved every minute, I know it hasn't always been the easiest time for my family. Chris and the girls have been incredibly supportive, but I know they are ready for Mama to be done doing homework. My second full semester in the program, I took 613, one of the best and most challenging classes I took at SU,during that time, I found myself telling Chris every few weeks, " It will be okay, I think the worst is over..should be downhill from here" only find out I was lying and find myself putting even more hours into my project.  When I told the girls that I was done, they were so very excited because to them it meant that I will not be saying "I am sorry but I really need to work on this...",and yes, I know they probably expect my undivided attention now, although they won't be getting it, after all I still job applications to fill out, and two years worth of house projects to get too, but I will have more time and less excuses,  for the summer at least. 

I have loved every minute of my time in Grad School, I am so glad I had a chance go back and do it. I am excited about the future, because I know that I will love schools and libraries very very much.

So thank you! Thank you for encouraging me, thank you for praying for me, thank you for asking about what I was studying, thank you for listening to my often overly long explanations of what I was working on (or reading), thank you for letting me work on projects with you, thank you for sharing your experiences, thank you for hugging me when I looked dead on my feet, thank you for rejoicing with me when I had a little milestone to celebrate. Thank you for letting me love this. THANK YOU!