Monday, December 31, 2012

Check Up On It

It's the last day of 2012! Errybody's status is rocking info about the SUPER SICK party they're attending and I am loving the vibes that come each year on today and tomorrow's date. There is something wonderful about celebrating a fresh start. About starting clean. About starting over. About trying again. (And who can resist a blog post with a title taken from this Beyonce song?!)
This year, on January 1st I made a list of 5 New Year's Resolutions or goals for the following 365 days. Since today is the last day of the year, I wanted to look back and see how I did. (Can you see now how I'm very goal-oriented? Love those lists.) Looking back, there were times I lost focus, and times where I definitely did the opposite of what I wanted to do, but I am generally happy with what I set out to do and how I worked at my goals. Let's review:

Goal #1: Listen to my own body.
Goal #2: Stay Open.
Goal #3: Practice the best kind of love.
Goal #4: Be brave.
Goal #5: Cut myself some slack.

I would say I failed miserably on Goal #1, except for the fact that I have come lightyears in this category from the dismal food and sleep habits I employed in college. I still have a ways to go, as I often sleepwalk into school after staying up too late the night before, and the fact that I go into hibernation mode when it gets cold outside needs addressing. Goals #2 and 4 are those that I am most proud of. I've stayed really open minded and (I think) brave with my application process, acceptance, and work through Teach For America as well as my move to the city of Chicago. I didn't know where or how (or if) I'd ever find good new friends after my graduation dispersed those closest to me, but God definitely showed me his providence yet again in that area. Goals #3 and 5 also showed a lot of improvement, but are things that I need to continue to work on. Learning to love others above myself and learning to not be so hard on myself are two areas that always need work for me. But hey, it's good for me to realize that I'm inching along with a lot of help from God and others.

It's important to me that I continue to do this kind of stuff. A lot of people see resolutions as somewhat silly and shallow, but to me they are really important "north stars" that keep me headed in the right direction. I like the person I am today so much more than the person I used to be. When I think back to freshman-in-college Anna, I almost laugh at the self-importance I touted around. Let's keep moving forward, shall we? Tomorrow will feature a new post with my goals for 2013...hopefully I get to talk with some of you about your goals too!

And since I love Zooey and you, here is another re-post of her beautiful voice singing a song perfect for tonight. I'm currently in Cali with a college friend reunion and very much looking forward to waking up with a fresh outlook on 1/1/2013. Cheers!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Notes of a TFA-er: Halfway.

I've been waiting to say I'm halfway done with my first year of teaching (probably since my first day of teaching). Well, here it is: I'm halfway done with my first year! 

I can honestly tell you that this is the hardest thing I've ever done. It's been full of stress, frustration, a few failures, and a LOT of work. Between two classrooms, two co-teachers, two different groups of challenging 7 and 8-year-olds, new cultural norms, standardized test pressures, behavior management issues, home life challenges, grad school classes, and all the while facing the idea of becoming a teacher on the fly, I think it's fair to say that these past six months have been crazy for me. There were nights where I did not know how I would get up the next morning and do it all over again. I'm sure there will still be nights like that to come. I still do not feel like I'm a good teacher. This is not false modesty. It's honesty. I think I've come a long way since August 1st and will still keep (hopefully!) improving.


But. These past months of my new life have also been wonderful. The first half of this year has introduced me to an amazing opportunity to push myself, lean on God for each day, and learn about and from amazingly wonderful people I've never met before. I've made new friends, met new people, gone on new adventures, and had some great reunions with old friends. I get to live in a beautiful apartment in a beautiful city full of beautiful people. How lucky am I?

And, lest you still be tempted to look at me with approving pity in your eyes for the valiant sacrifice you think I am making, let me ask you a question: If this is the hardest thing I've ever done, is that a problem with my job or a problem with me, or even more: a problem with our American society? Don't get me wrong: I appreciate the support, prayers, and friendship so many people have given me. I do believe doing Teach For America has made me a tougher person, and has required of me a great deal of courage and perseverance. But this is my first 5 months in this cultural climate. I drive there in the morning, drive home at night, and still get to enjoy my education, family background, steady job, and sense of self. My kids live in this. They are SEVEN and EIGHT years old and live in the same environment that throws a vaguely (haha) competent, well-adjusted, and adequately intelligent college graduate into a whirlwind.  While to me it is a struggle, to my kids it is just another day. They don't drive away to their "real" lives at the end of the day and they don't pat themselves on the back for making it halfway through their second grade year. This isn't the hardest thing they've ever faced in their lives. To them, it is just life. And they have to deal with it. They have to hang in there. To me, that is really impressive. And brave.

This is what has struck me very strongly in this whole thing,  and we need a lot more than quasi-adequate teachers like me to spend time, talent, and passion on helping the situation. As I continue into the second half of this year I'm going to try to put myself in situations where I'm listening more than yelling, slowing down to understand more than rushing to move on, and loving more than controlling. My kids deserve it. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

To and Fro

The past ten days have been a whirlwind of goodness, busy-ness (someone please cue me in on the proper spelling of the word that means the essence of being busy), and familyness. I finished up my last week of teaching in December (PRAISE!) and have officially enjoyed 4 days of my Christmas break...which by the way...the thing about Christmas break... that it is awesome. Tomorrow I jet off to California to visit my dear friend Lauren (!!!!!!) for 6 days and am spending today catching up with some old friends, packing, and soaking up the last bit of Wisconsin on this break. On Friday the 21st, I drove straight up to Wisconsin from my school, only to drive back down to Chicago on Saturday the 22nd for family activities, only to drive back up to Wisconsin on the 24th for MORE family activities. Dang. Here is a chronology of pictures to tell you what I've been up to these past few days free from school and obligation.

The Morning Message (a daily tradition) last Thursday. So close to break! 
These came on Tuesday to my classroom on my lunch break. Gawgeous.
Home sweet home. Alex thought I looked J Crew worthy in my glasses.

Was going through papers to grade and found this gem.
Every year we go to the Ritsmans' house on Christmas Eve to play
an epic game of Risk. I stockpiled armies up in Siberia but I think
they got too chilly and didn't serve me well. 
A gift of a bundt pan and ingredients. I think
my mother is trying to send me a message. 
From my parents. 
You know you're in Wisconsin when Brandy and Milk combine for
a Christmas cocktail. Nutmeg on top made it delish.
SO. GOOD. I cried. 
This was in the foreward to the new book I'm reading, The Promise by
Chaim Potok. It is great so far. This is why books are so important.
My new favorite shirt. 
This poster was found while at a truck stop for breakfast.
There are no words. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Suh-currity! Suh-currity!

This weekend was fabulous. It just was. Friday night started it off with a low-key, wonderful reunion with two of my favorite people. Hannah and Emily, currently seniors at Trinity, were quickly adopted into our class our sophomore and their freshman year. We love the people in the class below us, and people like these ladies are why. When we had our house senior year, Emily and Hannah were fixtures on the weekends. What I would give to wake up one more Sunday morning in that house to see them there ready to head to church with us followed by a trip to Chipotle. They are both adventurers to the max and I love that about them both. Hannah will be in Kenya, biking across the country, then off to teach children somewhere cool. Emily is going places as well, whether that's abroad or somewhere cool here in the states as a social working super hero. It's awesome to have friends that inspire you.

at Pilsen Vintage and Thrift on 18th.
We walked around Pilsen and checked out a few thrift stores. There are the most adorable vintage and thrift stores near my apartment. It all coordinates with the artsy little community feel we've got going on down here on 18th street. I love my neighborhood. We strolled around and ended the night at Simone's, my favorite place in the area to take visiting friends.

I wouldn't be walking around my neighborhood alone at night in the dark (...I wouldn't be walking around anywhere alone at night in the dark...) but one very concerned citizen stopped to chat with us three girls as we were walking to Simone's after our thrift store excursions. He hit the brakes on his bike very abruptly to tell us that...and I quote..."EVERYONE IS GETTING SHOT AROUND HERE. STOP WALKING AROUND." Thanks brah. Lemme quick call suh-currity. Needless to say, I did not heed his warning because he himself was biking alone in this neighborhood he called a war zone. Well, Pilsen might not be everyone's favorite, but I love going with friends to enjoy its thrift stores and bars with sweet potato french fry appetizers. Naysayers should just keep on biking north.

(And for my concerned family, it's not that bad. Yes, you shouldn't be stupid about it and remember to employ the Brian-Gesch-patented Situational Awareness at all times. But, no, everyone is NOT getting shot around here. For example, me.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Peace Out

On Friday night, my girl Karley Mae came to my apartment for some downtown shopping, hot-chocolate-sipping, and general soak-up-the-Christmasness-of-the-city fun. I love nights like this because we didn't need a plan, we simply went with it and had an awesome time just doing whatever, buying gifts and trinkets at random stores for others and ourselves. Karley is such a special person to me because she knows me, the real me. It is such a relief for me to be around her.

I was thinking about this yesterday, after she left, and was trying to figure out why I had such a fun time on a Friday night meandering around doing "nothing" with my best friend. It was the best Friday night I've had in awhile. It's not that she is exactly like me, agrees with everything I say, and therefore we get along. She is a completely different person than me. We disagree. We have different strengths, styles, tastes, interests, talents, and personalities. We don't gravitate towards the same things. But somehow we speak the same language. I've got her back, and she's got mine. And when I fumble up my words in an explanation of something I just said, she's right there nodding her head. She gets it.

True friendship. Yes. 
Maybe that's what makes friendship and relationships work. Maybe we don't need to be the same, we just need to be understood. 

I think it was an Oscar Wilde quote that said something about how people just need to be loved, not understood. Well...I slightly disagree. A lot of loving people happens in the pursuit of understanding. Not that you can ever completely understand anyone (that's the fun of continually getting to know anybody), but I think that a big part of loving somebody is committing to patiently working to try anyway. To try to understand. I can immediately think of those people who have patiently put in the time for my sake, and I know without a doubt I can truly be myself around them. The patient people are also the people that I trust. I don't think that's a coincidence. 

I'm one of those personalities that likes to relate to people. This makes meeting new friends and making connections tons of fun and actually really exciting. This also means that, when I'm with someone who understands me already, I have an unbelievable sense of peace that I didn't even know I was missing. It's easy to get hyper, wound-up, and flighty when you're spending your weeks running around and talking to parents of your students, trying to be professional with your bosses and co-workers, and in other situations fresh out of college where you meet new people and need to represent yourself at a new work, church, and life. When all that is taken away and I'm with someone who doesn't need the introductions and first impressions and friendliest version of myself, I realize what a peace that really is, especially at a time in my life when it's hard to feel peaceful about almost anything. It's a huge opportunity to exhale. I think we all want and need people like that. Those people are becoming more and more important to me.

This is something I want to do. I want to allow people to feel this peace to be themselves around me.  I'd like to put in the time to try and understand others on their own terms and let them feel free from the hyper runaround of making a good impression. To feel free to not always make connections and relate and be alike, but to be who they are as an original. To give them a chance to calm down and just beThat's an amazing gift to give someone. I think instead of Starbucks cards, clothes, and books these days, I could stand to invest in giving gifts like that.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


One time on Seinfeld they referred to barfing as "refunding." I thought that was a nice way to put it.

Here's one aspect of teaching that I never thought would come naturally to me, but I'm dealing with it more maturely than I expected.

I don't know what it is with all you 7 and 8-year-olds, but you guys barf a lot. 

Today, my kid D just let it fly during Writing Workshop all over himself, his chair, and the floor and stared at me like I was his mom or something. Like I was his person! Like I had to be the one to take action!

In the past, I might have run away screaming or more likely just vomited myself out of pure grossed-outedness. But somehow God has decided to develop the nurturing gene that I somehow have way deep down in my soul and gave me the strength to go over there, clean him up, and help him to the garbage can. It's happened three times this week in my classroom and I've seen it 3 times in the halls/recess areas in the past two days.

I think the reason for my unexpected compassion in these gross situations is that I know from experience that the second I throw up my immediate thought is, "WHERE IS MY MOTHER?!" as if she is going to come in and clean me up and make me toast while I watch The Price is Right on the couch. So I can understand the tendency to look around the room as a second grader when you refund your lunch and to immediately look for the closest thing that looks like your mom. I mean, I look nothing like my kids' moms, but I am older than them and I am a female. Close enough. 

Props to my mom for putting up with my crybaby self whenever I barf. Heck, props to ALL THE MOMS. One day, if I join your ranks, I'll be thankful for D who saw me as qualified to help his poor self out.

Onward and upward. Hopefully my naming today Throw-up Thursday isn't prophetic for the rest of the year. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

So Happy Together

Sam. This chick's necklace game is always killer.  
On Saturday night I went downtown for Teach For America's Holiday party. We got to get all gussied up to hit up Macy's downtown on the ninth floor. Pretty fancy schmancy. We hung out, had drinks, danced, and just enjoyed being together again. I realize how much impact these people had on my life in such a short time when we get nights together like this. Since I'm the only Teach For America person at my school, I soak up any chance I get to be with those who are doing this crazy thing alongside of me in Chicago. Love them to pieces. Great way to start off the holiday cheer. 

Julia, Colin, and Sam. Amazing teachers and human beings. We all
taught at the same school for summer school Institute. 
Mackenzie. Runner and fungirl extraordinaire. These are my new glasses, BTW. 
Uh oh they're picking me up. This turned out badly. 
Bathroom pic after a night of dancing and fun. I'd say it was a holiday party success.