Treasure Hunt

I’m on a treasure hunt. I’m looking for beauty in the every day. I’m searching out and documenting the fun in the normal, the ordinary, the forgotten.

I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to draw or paint a few of these eventually.

 

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Embracing Vulnerability

I started teaching over 20 years ago and every year I start with huge goals and big dreams.

NOT THIS YEAR!

Why? Because, my philosophy of education and teaching has changed dramatically over the last year and I am going to go about teaching and mentoring and leading from a humanistic and empathic standpoint instead of a goal driven and data driven place.

And.

I’m tired.

And my students are tired. and beaten. and defeated.

I’d like to say that I had nothing to do with that. But the bottom line is that our deadline driven and mandated education has sucked the life out of students and teachers.

So this year, I’m fighting back!

And I’m starting with me.

This summer I have filled my soul with books by Brene’ Brown and Rachel Hollis. I’ve processed hurt and bitterness and despair. I’ve looked sorrow in the eyes and said that it doesn’t get to define me.

I’m embracing the exquisite torture of vulnerability.

I’m going to model this for my children and my students.

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And in doing so, I’m hoping that authentic learning and leading happens.

Yes, my expectations for my students will still be high. Yes, my expectations for myself will still tend to be unrealistic.

But I’m choosing to slow things down. I’m choosing to focus on smaller tasks. I’m choosing to (as Brene’ Brown describes) lean in to the uncomfortable space so that I can fly.

I know. All of this sounds rather vague. But how is this really going to be seen in my classroom and in my life?

Well, I’m focusing on SMALL TASKS that translate into COMPLETED PROJECTS!

My first one has been getting Back To School postcards out to 137 of my students!

In years past I would try to get personalized letters out to every student and family over the first few weeks of school and it was a beat down and often times I wouldn’t be able to complete the task. So instead of waiting until school started and life was insanely busy, I decided to go smaller and less personalized, but to just get the task completed!

And I did. 137 hand addressed postcards were mailed on Thursday.

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And it felt GOOD.

That’s the gift I want to give students the year. I want my students to feel a sense of accomplishment when they have completed a smallish task. I want them to feel JOY! I want them to find pleasure in the everyday.

At the end of the year my students may not win as many competitions. Heck, they may not enter as many competitions. But I’m choosing to not care about winning. I’m choosing to stop worrying over competition deadlines. I’m choosing to turn my back on prestige and championships.

Instead I’m focusing on relationships. I’m focusing on hope. I’m focusing on hearts.

And that means I’m going against the grain and putting this out for public consumption is scary.

But personally, I’d rather be known as authentic and a little wacko than for be unwilling to learn and grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a leader.

So there you have it… my new mantra.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Brene’ Brown

Education’s Greatest Thief

Over the last two days I’ve had the opportunity to attend an incredible teacher training called iChampion Summit at Tarleton State University. The school district that I work for is a partner in presenting this conference and it truly is a worthwhile event! Heck if you attend, you could even see me present a workshop or two. ūüôā

The keynote speakers challenge and engage.

But this post isn’t about the incredible things that these speakers are asking us to do.

Instead, I am just going to be real for a minute and while some might label me an “awfulizer,” I’d tell Jimmy Casas (the really good keynote who had awfulizer as a slide..) that until we can talk about Education’s Greatest Thief, then we can’t really move forward.

And what is¬†Education’s Greatest Thief?

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Think about it.

We all have stories of bitter teachers. In all likelihood we have all commented on that bitter teacher and how he/she needed to retire ten years ago.

But have you ever stopped to wonder about the generations of bitter students, much less the teachers!!

And why do we have so many bitter people in and around education?

Because….

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Unfulfilled Expectations + Justified Disappointment = Bitterness

And in education we don’t talk about unfulfilled expectations nor do we acknowledge justified disappointments. We are just supposed to pretend that everything is fine and that leads to bitterness.

No! I’m not saying everyone is bitter.. but I am saying that until we are ready to have a conversation about the reality of education and the challenges that students and teachers face in the classroom on a daily basis, we will always have unfulfilled expectations and justified disappointment.

I feel so passionately about this, I’ve made a little video. If you feel so inclined, I ask you to watch my video and join the discussion.

And yes, I completely messed up the title of my new favorite book.. It’s called The Gifts of Imperfection.

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Comments appreciated. Haters not so much.

Tips for Families with Special Needs on Enjoying Disney World

Disney World is a place of magic and wonder. Sure, it’s also incredibly expensive and crowded and hot… but those things just don’t seem to matter when you are standing in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom!

There is something so incredible about being at Disney World and the feeling of expectation and fun and hope. I don’t know if everyone feels it, but as a family that has lived in the world of doctor visits, special diets and treatments, diagnostic tests and rare diseases for the last 18 years, Disney World gives us a chance to live and love and laugh “just like everyone else.”

No, the problems that we face everyday don’t vanish on Disney time. But the problems just don’t seem so big or so hard. Instead of researching unknowns and sitting for hours in doctor’s offices, we research which restaurant to eat at and how to get the most out of “magic hours.”

So here are a few tips for families with special challenges from a seasoned Disney family! Truly… we just returned from Disney for the 5th time in 6 years.

  1. Plan early!

    We typically use a travel agent (Cowboy Way Travel) because they know us and know our needs. But Disney online and over the phone work great as well. I’ve just found that for our needs (two connecting rooms with ground floor access and a scooter), the travel agent can take care of everything and it works.¬†And since we use a travel agent, we also purchase trip insurance. EVERY. TIME. It’s worth the cost.

    Also, by planning early you can make the best use of the early reservations for meals and fast passes. We are talking making plans 180 days out for dining and 60 for rides/attractions!! I know the needs of my family and waiting till the last minute to plan a trip means that you miss out on the best times for rides and meals.

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  2. It’s not an adjoining room.. it’s a CONNECTING room!

    Even as seasoned veterans, when we got to our rooms we found that we had rooms next door to each other, but not connecting! Uh Oh. This doesn’t work with an 8 year old! Disney defines adjoining as touching and adjacent as near by.. if you need the rooms to be able to open inside to each other, you need a CONNECTING room. Our rooms situation was easily remedied, but it’s an important distinction to keep in mind as at peak times you might not get a connecting room if you asked for an adjoining room!

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    Rooms at Riverside
  3. Speak up!!

    When you run into an issue, SPEAK UP! Give Disney a chance to fix the problem.
    One night when we ended up in a monsoon and the bus driver was horrible, we spoke up. Why? Because Disney cares and they work too hard for a bad experience to color the rest of the trip. Taking the time to talk calmly with the concierge allowed us to express our frustration and gave Disney the chance to make it a positive.

  4. If you need the disability access, USE IT!

    But, remember to take ALL of your family’s magic bands with you when you set up access at guest services. You only have to do this once each trip as the disability information is in the magic band. Also, once it is set up, any member of the party can “badge in” and request disability access to a ride/attraction. The key here is to manage your disability access as you can only have one outstanding at a time! The gift of disability access is that you don’t stand in line. It doesn’t make the wait go away, so plan accordingly! We know that we can’t wait in the heat/sun, so we go to shows while we wait for the next attraction.

    And if you haven’t seen Festival of the Lion King, it is WORTH IT!

  5. Plan down time.

    One of the hardest things for me to do is “waste” daylight at Disney, but I’ve learned that in order for Maddie to function for the duration of a trip, she has to have down time. So while the big girls napped, Kylie lived it up at the pool and the playground. Port Orleans Resort has great pools and a fantastic playground. Side note: besides being more spread out, Port Orleans is great for families as the rooms are larger, the place quieter and the amenities spot on.
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  6. Expect to wait for a bus.

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    Hands down, the most UNmagical thing about Disney is waiting for the bus to transport you from park to park or park to resort. If you are in a wheelchair or scooter, the wait can be a while as they only take one or two chairs on each bus. Sometimes these waits are in the rain and sometimes these waits can be an hour (or longer!). Plan for at least a 40 minute wait and then be pleasantly surprised every time you arrive at your hub and find a bus on its way in!

  7. Take your own ponchos and an extra pair of shoes!

    In case you didn’t know.. it rains in Florida. Plan on getting rained on.

    The ponchos at Disney are expensive and tear super easily. We purchase our own ponchos that are heavier plastic and bring them with us! Also, since Maddie uses a scooter, she gets a larger poncho that will fit over the scooter so that she can drive it and stay dryish.
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    Bring an extra pair of shoes.. or be like me and spend an hour sitting in the laundry room holding the door to the dryer closed with your back!
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  8. Find the accessible areas for watching the parades.

    Parades are really cool to watch. Unless you are in a scooter/wheelchair.¬† Find the accessible areas for watching the parades and take a seat on the curb. It was so fun to watch the girls watch the parade. We are big fans of the Fantasy Parade as it is at 3pm in the afternoon at Magic Kingdom and we can see that one. It just doesn’t matter how late of a start we get, we can’t make it to a firework or evening show as a family. When the sun goes down, my family fades fast.

  9. Ask to speak to the chef.

    IMG_2333If you have special dietary needs, Disney can’t be beat!

    We really wanted to eat at Be Our Guest.. I mean really, who doesn’t want to eat at Belle’s Castle?! But the menu options were not great for Lexi and Maddie who can’t have the normal breakfast items!¬† So we special ordered off the quick service menu and the chef came out and asked us a few questions and then like magic breakfasts for both girls appeared that were egg and milk free!¬† And it’s not just this one restaurant, it’s all of the Disney restaurants!!

  10. Make sure the other kids don’t get left out in the process.

With so much of what we do and who we are as a family focused on keeping Maddie well, our other girls get lost in the shuffle. Disney is a place for magic for them as we are able to devote special moments and memories for the girls by themselves.

Magic hours have become our special one-on-one times and are truly those magical memories that get us through some of the hard spots throughout the year.

Lexi and I stayed at Magic Kingdom until almost 2am one night!

And Kylie and I snuck away in the afternoon to Epcot one day and then Hollywood Studios one morning. Spending time with one child is so different than with the group!

I truly have so much more to say, but I’m thinking just this is overwhelming. So I’ll leave you with GO! Just Go for it. I know it’s expensive. But we spend SO MUCH MONEY on healthcare that we have to spend some on our emotional health and our family too.

I commented the other day to the girls and Doug that as we move into the next phase of our lives I don’t know that we will go to Disney as often. Lexi and Kylie were very quick to speak up and say that Yes, we will be back soon!

Dust from the Arena

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” but better known as “The Man In The Arena”¬† that he gave at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on¬† April 23, 1910.

I’m sure you have read it or heard it quoted, but in case you haven’t…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It’s hard for me to read the quote and not get stirred up! I want live daring greatly! I guess you could say reading the biography of Theodore Roosevelt in fifth grade made an impact on my life!

To live life IN THE ARENA. That’s my goal.

And you know what?

There are times when living in the arena means that you get beat up and are covered in dust and sweat and blood.

This is where I find myself professionally. I’m in a season of living in the arena and I’m coming up short over and over again.

In my picture below, I’m on my way to my most recent round in the arena.

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And I lost again.

But you know what? I didn’t do anything wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

And that is why I’m writing this post.

When we are in the midst of the dust and sweat and blood inside the arena, all we can see is that we are being trampled and that once again we have to pick ourselves up. And no one wants to share that. No one wants to put themselves out there for ridicule or worse.

But here is what I have to say.

I am PROUD that I am standing in the arena taking the hits. I could have easily given up. I could pretend that I didn’t try. I could pretend that it doesn’t hurt like hell to be passed over again and again. I could pretend that my self confidence hasn’t taken a huge hit.

But I’m not.

Because I’m determined to live an authentic life and I want my daughters to see that life is about “great enthusiasms,” “the great devotions,”¬† and I truly believe that I’m spending¬† my time and efforts on a “worthy cause.”

So for any of you out there that know me in real-life… if you notice the dust on my face, I wouldn’t mind it if you helped wash it off. The dust is pretty thick in this arena and its getting hard to see….

My Imperfect Masterpiece

I FINALLY FINISHED the quilt that I started working on back in March.

I wanted to give up so many times. I even blogged about two months ago…¬†¬†Remember these pictures?

But I didn’t.

And I am so proud of myself!!

Through this process I was reminded that often in life we don’t have good instructions, we don’t have a real method and we don’t even know how things will end, but we have to just keep on moving forward.

And here is the finished quilt. It’s a good thing that I don’t have a son or a child with the initials JTC, or I’d be tempted to keep this masterpiece.

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The backing fabric that we wanted to use initially was to stretchy and the front was so heavy due to the appliqu√©s that I ended up using a set of microfiber sheets as the backing. The sheets are perfect…. super soft and cozy, but lightweight. The sheet material is the binding edge as well.

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The entire project was so much harder and so much more work than I realized when I said I would do the project.. and I won’t ever do anything like this again.

But I’m incredibly proud of the work, imperfect as it is, and am thrilled to be able to ship this keepsake off.

14th Annual Family Lakehouse Adventure

The 2018 Maxwell Lakehouse Adventure was in my opinion the best of the 14 we have had so far! I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my children are old enough to just play and enjoy their cousins and I can sit and observe them and am not constantly doing the mom thing. With all of my free time, I took 413 pictures from 4pm Friday to 4pm Sunday…. that’s a lot of pictures! I can’t help it, my family is rather engaging.

Here is a glimpse of our weekend at Cedar Creek Lake.

The overview

  • 23 people
  • 3 generations
  • Youngest child.. Jake at almost 5 months
  • One 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with a perfect backyard, fantastic lake access and deep water.

 

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Our group picture is one of the highlights each year and this year with everyone wearing the shirts that Dad and I screenprinted made it even better!

The fishing was pretty bad. In fact, Kylie was the only one that caught a fish. But these “little middle” cousins are adorable!

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Jumping off the dock was an absolute highlight. With really deep water at the end of the dock, everyone could run and jump, twist, flop and cannonball to exhaustion.

Kylie and Nora both love tattoos. Uncle Mike allowed them to put as many tattoos on his back as they wanted. I don’t think he planned on them using entire sheets all at once… including the trademark information!! They had a ball. I love to hear their sweet giggles.

Lexi and Dillon, our “middles” bought fireworks with their own money and gave us a great firework show! We didn’t grow up around fireworks so I was leery, but they were great and with uncles and adult cousins around to supervise it, I was thrilled for Lexi to share in this new experience.

Lots of corn hole was played along with some badminton and other games.

The house came with three kayaks. This was PERFECT!!

And then there was baby Jake. Oh my. That boy is the sweetest and happiest baby ever.

There was so much more, but I’ve already made this a very slow loading post I’m sure! But I’ll end with a few pictures from my favorite spot… the chairs in the yard. The breeze, the family, the view of the lake and my family. It was great. My dad and I very much enjoyed our time in these chairs just watching those we love play and laugh together.

So until next year, I’ll leave you with one more picture of lakehouse #14.. cause #15 is going to be EPIC. ūüôā

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Rebuking the Lie

I am 44 years old and I have lived most of my life thinking that I am fat. The reality is that I’m not. Yes, I need to lose 15 pounds. But I’m fit. I’m healthy. I’m strong. I’ve been these things most of my life.

But the reality and the mind are not necessarily friends.

This weekend while sitting and talking with one of my sisters, she told us the story of rebuking a lie about herself and her parenting that had taken hold in her head. Last fall an incredibly mean-spirited person called her some ugly names and said she was a bad mom. She is NOT a bad mom. She is an INCREDIBLE mom. She is so thoughtful and consistent in her parenting. Even though she is still early in the parenting journey, I listen and learn from her all the time. The reality is that the person who said ugly things about her, didn’t know her and knew nothing about her parenting.. but the seed was planted and she realized that she had to rebuke the lie and claim freedom and grace and strength in the fact that she is a GOOD mom.

I listened to the story and was outraged and ready to go fight this nameless person. I was so mad on my sister’s behalf.

Last night after we got home and I was getting ready for bed, I realized that I have been struggling for YEARS with a lie that took hold in my head and has paralyzed me. Everyday when I look in the mirror and consider my food choices, in the back of my mind a little voice has said, “what does it matter, you are just a fat a** anyway..”¬† I was shocked. I realized for the first time in probably 30 years what was happening to me.

So this morning, I decided to do some research and look for physical proof that I have been a fat a** all of my life.

Here is what I found. I was not fat.

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Out of 44 years, I have three years where I was overweight and one year where I was very heavy. During the 2010-2012 years I had a very sick child where I took her to the doctor over fifty times each of those years… and I had a baby in 2009.¬† In June 2012 I realized what was happening and took control of my health.

To anyone else, I would have called out that lie that they were saying about themselves. I would have preached grace.

But for myself, I believed the lie.

So today, I am rebuking the lie that I was told so many years ago. Oh the power I gave someone else’s words. The careless words of others have wounded me daily for years.

And no more.

I am not fat.

Today I am embracing freedom and grace.

Today I am claiming my mental and emotional health back.

Today I am standing on the promise that I am created in God’s perfect image and that I am STRONG. I am HEALTHY. I am FIT!

Today, I rebuke the lie that I have allowed define me for all of these years.

No more.

Momma wasn’t ready to go from Walking Boots to AFO braces

IMG_3463If you have been around here much, you know that my sweet daughter Maddie has faced 18 years of health struggles, mysterious symptoms and daily pain. Her strength and grace in the midst of chronic health problems simply amaze me.

The past year has been no different. In fact, if anything, she has been more resilient and more determined that her limitations would not hold back her dreams.

She graduated a month ago from high school, 23rd out of 216 in her class. She crossed the stage wearing walking boots on both feet because of a spontaneous bilateral foot drop.

Since that time she has been to three different specialists, has had nerve testing and has had body scans completed.. and there is no medical reason for her feet to not work. The only explanation is that this must be a side effect of her auto-immune disease. And because there is no nerve damage and no “reason” for this manifestation, there is no prognosis or timeline for recovery. Her first episode with a foot drop was back in November and it just affected one foot. This episode took out the other foot and set back the first foot that had been recovering. The only link.. she was in a flare of her kidney disease.

So here we are in Texas and it was 105 degrees today. Neither of her feet work to be able to walk without support and they aren’t getting better. The walking boots are bearable if you don’t have to wear them all the time, and if you know its just for a few weeks… but not if there is no end in sight.

Today we went to the Hanger Clinic and Maddie was fitted for AFO braces. This was real. And IT. HURT.¬† It hurt because we had to acknowledge that we don’t know when/if she will get better. Every night I tell her that maybe she will wake up tomorrow and her feet will work. But we have to make realistic decisions and choices.

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Maddie chose the Noodle AFO brace as we were able to take it home today. She can get custom ones later if we see that she will need them.  These braces are carbon fiber and will allow her to have more mobility.

She walked around in them and then we paid our portion of the bill.. Dang. These things are expensive…

The specialist that helped us was fantastic and she went to college at Texas Women’s were Maddie will start in the fall, so that was nice as she had first hand knowledge about the terrain that Maddie will walk.

From there we went to Fort Worth Running Company for shoes. I hated to go there as Maddie can’t run and has never been able to run. But I get my shoes fitted there and I knew that they would treat her with respect and courtesy.¬† And she was! Oh my! The salesman worked with Maddie and did a phenomenal job. When he finished I commented that he hadn’t expected something like this when he got to work today and his reply was that in his previous job he helped fit orthopedic footwear! What an incredible gift to us today. He had no idea the level of stress and heartache we were feeling.. instead he focused on Maddie and making sure that she felt stable and comfortable.

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As we left the store, I couldn’t help but notice her steps and her legs. I’m so thankful that she has these horrible braces. But I am so very mad that she has these horrible braces. I ache for her.

Maddie’s entire life has been about keeping her well and away from germs. I’m used to questions about her kidney disease, her immune system, her chronic pain. But I wasn’t prepared for mobility issues. None of us were, but I guess we should have been given that she has been in physical therapy on and off since she was 8.

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There you have it. This beautiful young woman is strong and is going to do incredible things one day. She is a bright and shining example of all that is good in this generation. Despite all the crap that life throws at her, she smiles, survives and loves others.

If nothing else, I am praying that the AFO braces in all of there “realness” will give the sense that Maddie’s struggles are real and long-term. Lots of people wear walking boots for a short period of time.. but no one wants AFO braces.¬† For someone that has lived with an invisible illness for 18 years, this is like turning a spotlight on her life.

And for all of you out there, I have one request.. PLEASE STOP asking her about her feet. Please help me cut off the random stranger in the parking lot that practically runs us down to ask what happened to her feet. Please help me stop workers (and even hospital workers!) from asking how she broke both feet. Please help me stop uncaring and uninformed people from asking callous questions and making hurtful comments. This experience has shown us that adults are significantly ruder than children and that the self-importance of people knows no bounds.

We leave for Disney World in just under a week. She will use a scooter as she has in the past…

I’m so glad she has the braces for the trip.

I’m so sad that she has the braces for the trip.

My heart was not ready to go from walking boots to AFO braces.

It’s not ScreenPrinting, It’s SCREAMPrinting

My dad is a master screen printer. He has screened thousands upon thousands of paper/plastic/metal items over the years. We have screen printed flags and even blankets together. But he doesn’t screen print clothing items.

But we did this week. Last spring I was able to purchase a four color screen printing system for my classroom with an education grant. It is really cool and we used it with my students for one color jobs and have had great success.  We are working our way up to the more advanced projects!

So for our 14th annual Maxwell Lakehouse trip, I asked Dad if he wanted to screenprint shirts for all 22 of us. Kylie and Dad came up with the design, I fine-tuned it and printed it, and we ordered tshirts. We made the screens and are increasing our skills with the  emulsion process.

Finally we were ready to print. Kylie and Lexi had to come help. Given that I grew up screenprinting with Dad, no way were they not going to help us! Just getting the shirts ready to print was an undertaking given that our sizes start with a 6 month old and go up to an adult xl.

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I took a time lapse video of our work. If you watch carefully you can see Kylie and Lexi screenprint a little themselves at the end! Lexi was the master at loading the shirts exactly right and Kylie pulled the shirts and set them on the drying rack.

We were doing fine.. actually we did great until about shirt number 17. At that point the fact that we were not putting the shirts under the flash dryer between colors became an issue. I knew it would be.. but I had hoped that we would make it to the end first. But no. Dad was so disappointed. I wasn’t. I guess twenty years of teaching public school has me thinking that getting 16 of the 22 done without too much of a mess is a win. Dad said we weren’t screenprinting, we were SCREAMPRINTING!

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After we took stock of the shirts, we decided to run white on top of the blue. I LOVE the way it turned out! There are a couple of shirts that are not great, but overall, I consider this a successful project.

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And next time, we will stop and figure out that blasted flash dryer so that we can print all the colors without ending up with “psychedelic” shirts!

I can’t wait to get our Maxwell Lakehouse family picture taken in a week or so.