Context Clues

I’m reading Number the Stars with my class right now. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s a great story and very well written. Plus it’s short and on about a 4th-grade reading level, so it might take you a weekend to get through. It’s about a Danish family that helps their Jewish friends escape before the Nazis can “relocate” them.

My students are really enjoying it, and I’m using it to help them start getting comfortable using context clues to guess the meanings of unfamiliar words. We’ve done a lot of work on how to use the context to figure out what part of speech a word is, and now I’m starting to get them thinking about what’s happening so they can take a stab at the meaning as well. They still need a lot of help with it, though, so when they ask the meaning of a word, I walk them through the process by asking questions. Who is in this sentence? Where are they? What are they doing? What is that like? Imagine you were in this situation. What would you be doing? How would you do it?

Today, one of the words in question was “weep,” and I almost demonstrated involuntarily.

The context was that a Jewish mother and father were trying to escape with their baby when the Nazis arrived to investigate an unusual gathering of folks late in the evening. Everyone got through that particular encounter just fine, but it was understandably frightening, so when the Nazis came in, the mother held her baby tightly and started to weep.

Many of my students are mothers with young children, so I asked them, “What would you do if you thought someone might take your baby away?” And that’s when I almost lost it myself. I turned to write a definition of “weep” on the board, and I took my time erasing what was in my way and writing my definition so they wouldn’t see my face as I pulled it together. When I turned back around, I had on a happy face, and they were none the wiser.

I’m doing better. I really am. I don’t cry every day anymore. I can get out of bed and go to work. I exercise most days and eat good-for-me foods, and I feel good about myself for making those decisions. I laugh and sing and dance. I have more hope now than I’ve had since the summer. But I have also gotten better at hiding my feelings from most of the people I see regularly. It’s not that I’m trying to be fake. It’s that even though I don’t want to be sad, I still am, but I don’t want people to feel like they’ve done or said something wrong. They haven’t. If I’m crying, it is in no way your fault. I’m just sad. That is my context at the moment.

I know this is kind of a downer of a post, but today (this whole week really) has been hard, and I felt like I’d hidden it enough and needed to share it.


I don’t get sick often. Not really. I get a cold once or twice a year, but that’s about it. Nothing to even keep me from going to work. The thing is I am very good at knowing when I need to take a break and rest, and I’m very good at saying so and getting the rest I need. But the pace and rigor of this semester have been such that all the rest I get on the weekends simply isn’t enough. And it’s honestly easier to go to work than to get a sub and make lesson plans for them. That is, it’s easier when I’m well. But this week, I’ve been forced to slow down, and I’m very grateful for it.

Last Wednesday, I felt tired. But whatever, I feel tired on Wednesdays. Don’t we all? But I also felt a sort of pain in my ears, like someone was pushing a Q-Tip out from the inside. It passed, and I didn’t think about it again. Thursday, I felt way off. I texted Will in the morning and said I just didn’t feel right, and that I needed to go to bed early that night. By the time I got home Thursday evening, I was really starting to feel bad. I felt feverish and weak, and my throat felt disgusting. I thought it was post-nasal drip, so I took some cold medicine and went to bed.

I stayed in bed until 12:30 Friday afternoon. I tried to get up a few times. I considered it every time I got up to go to the bathroom. But I just couldn’t do it. When Will left for work that morning, we thought I had the flu. But as the day wore on and I didn’t have a runny nose or anything, I started to suspect strep throat.

We went to Urgent Care on Saturday morning, and he confirmed the strep and told me I was not to go to work at least until Wednesday. He also wanted to take some blood to test for mono and said I should stay quarantined until that test came back. So after a quick trip to Target for some penicillin, I’ve been at home since then.

All of that was fine. It was miserable, but it was fine because I wasn’t scheduled to work at all on Friday or Saturday. I was to be a woman of leisure regardless of my health. But then Monday came, and with it, the guilt. I knew I couldn’t go to work, and I had made arrangements and lesson plans for subs, but I felt like I should have been doing something with my WHOLE DAY OFF. Right? Shouldn’t I have been planning lessons or making up tests or doing something productive that I could do from the comfort and rest of my sofa? My husband said no. He said my only job was to get better, and that I shouldn’t do any school work at all. He told me to read, to sleep, to start and finish an entire TV series on Netflix. And for the first time in my life, rest was really, really hard for me.

I realize now that my life had worked up to such a frenzy that coming down so suddenly felt like jumping off the Scrambler while the ride was still in motion. It was scary and not at all safe. But you can’t live your life on the Scrambler even if you do occasionally close your eyes and breathe deeply. So I took the leap.

This week, I have watched all available-on-Netflix episodes of Call the Midwife. I’ve also watched several episodes of New Girl and Doctor Who and no less than four movies. And sure, I did some laundry and some dishes, and I made the necessary arrangements and plans for substitutes for extra days, but I didn’t do any of the work that could wait. I’ll get back to that next week.

One of the hardest parts about being a grown up is finding the right balance between work, play, and rest. It’s hard because it’s different for everyone, so you can’t use others’ lives and needs to prescribe your own. It will only make you feel guilty or crazy or weak. I have coworkers who teach insane hours while also taking care of kids and chronic health problems and who knows what else. They do it, and they’re fine. But their bodies are different from mine, their support systems are different from mine, and their passions are different from mine. Their struggles are also different from mine, and I don’t know what their struggles are, but I know they exist. Nobody has it all together. So all I can do is listen to my own body and give it what it needs. This week, rest has been very, very good.

Summer 2013: At a Glance

Since I last logged into my WordPress account:

  • I’ve received 338 spam comments.
  • I’ve had surgery on my face to remove a spot of basal cell carcinoma. Don’t tan, kids. And always wear sunscreen. I didn’t use moisturizer with sunscreen for a long time because they all made me break out, but I’m here to tell you that it’s worth continuing the search for a good product. You don’t want to have surgery on your face. You get black eyes from it, and you have to wear an enormous bandage that looks like a Pringle on your face for at least a week. Just find a good moisturizer with sunscreen in it, and don’t tan. Your skin is beautiful the color it is. I promise.
  • Will and I had our engagement photos done. Here’s one of my favorites.
    Photo by Amaris Fotographic -
    Photo by Amaris Fotographic –
    • I moved. And y’all, I’m done with the moving. I am too old to be hauling all my crap myself, and my friends are too old and too gluten-free to be paid in pizza. Next time, I’m hiring professionals.
    • I helped three other people move. So I moved on a Saturday, our friends Matt and Liz moved the very next day, Will’s mom moved the following weekend (she is smart and hired professionals, but we still helped her unpack), and Will’s sister moved the weekend after that. When that last move was finished, if we had had any kind of energy for it, we would have done a dance. Instead, we just felt really excited on the inside, and you’ll have to take my word for that.
    • I ripped off half my toenail helping with one of those moves. I couldn’t find my shoes, see, because they were all in a box buried under a mountain of my crap in Will’s guest room, so I was in flip-flops, carrying something, and I couldn’t see that I was about to ram my big toe into a concrete step. It hurt, I cried, we went to Urgent Care, they bandaged me up, and I wore those same flip-flops for another two weeks because (a.) I still couldn’t find my shoes, and (b.) the bandage was so big that I couldn’t get anything else on. I’m happy to report that as of last night, all the old, broken toenail is gone, and new, healthy toenail is growing. The tip of my toe still looks a little ragged, but between that and the face surgery, at least I know that my body is very good at growing skin. Way to go, body!
    • I had my bridal portraits taken. For obvious reasons, I can’t display them here, but the ones I’ve seen are GOOD. The rest are still being processed.
    • I had TWO bridal showers in two days, and let me just say, I had no idea people liked me that much. People came from out of town, some just for a night, some just for the day, and they all brought me presents! It was Crazytown. Honestly, I was kind of dreading that weekend because I knew it would be a lot of people time for this introvert, but by the end of it, I just felt so incredibly loved that I didn’t care how exhausted I was (and I was VERY exhausted). So if you were at one (or both) of those showers, thank you. Sincerely. Thank you for loving me.
    • I finished the looooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnggeeeeeessssssssssssssssstt semester in the history of teaching. We started on April 8 and went through August 9. We had a week off for July 4, which was nice because I needed that time to pack/move, but during that time, I was packing/moving, so it wasn’t really much of a vacation. We read three novels, several students “graduated,” and I learned to be very grateful for the lesson plans I made two years ago and the fact that I only had to teach 20 hours a week. Also, taking the summer off from State was the best decision of my life. I don’t know how I would have gotten so much wedding planning done with an extra class. Speaking of which…
    • I had three (four?) craft nights to make wedding decorations, which are now mostly done. We’re just waiting to see how many people are coming so we know how many tables we’ll need so we know how many centerpieces we’ll need so we know how many flowers we’ll need. A last-minute craft night may be in order. We’ll see.
    • We booked the caterer and set the menu.
    • We booked the venue.
    • Our awesome friend Meme designed us some really cool invitations/RSVP cards, which we’ve mailed out. It’s pretty fun now because we get mail from people every day.
    • Oh, and we’ve ordered about a million things from Etsy and Amazon, and people are sending us gifts from our Amazon registry, so we’re getting like five packages a day.
    • We did all of our premarital counseling, which was great. If you’re getting married, I highly recommend it. It gave us a chance to talk about things we might not have talked about otherwise, and it showed us what a great match we really are. When we got to the section on raising children, the pastor said, “Shoot, you could have kids now. You’re ready.” We told him we’d probably wait on that at least until after the wedding, but it was encouraging to hear nonetheless.
    • We planned our ceremony.
    • Our programs are in the works.
    • We got all the wedding attire.
    • I won’t go into all the wedding details as they are numerous, but I’ll just say that while there are things still left to do, if we didn’t do any of them but get a marriage license, the wedding would happen, and it would be fine. People would come, it would be documented, and there would be food. That’s all you really need, right? And to feel that way with six weeks left is a great, great thing.
    • I watched all of How I Met Your Mother. Again.
    • I’ve started watching Doctor Who. And I like it.

So that’s what my summer has been like and why you haven’t heard from me in a while. After my face surgery, I just slept for like two days straight, and Whitney and I decided it was like my body had shut down all other running programs to focus on repairing the breach in The Head. Something similar, though not quite as serious, happened after my toe injury. It’s just been one thing after another, and every time I’ve thought about blogging, an error message has popped up in my brain like the one you get when there’s not enough RAM available to run any more programs.

That semester is over, though, and with most of the wedding planning done, hopefully (fingers crossed), I’ll have more to say to you in the coming weeks. I have some thoughts stirring about engagement and wedding planning and rest and priorities. But we can talk about all that later.


Hey remember a month ago when I blogged like twice?? Sigh. Yeah, that was nice. Here are some things I’ve been doing/thinking about since then:

  • I went kayaking in Asheville last weekend. It was beautiful, I got to see some good friends, and I spent all my money eating delicious food (and maybe also on a teeny-tiny little visit to Urban Outfitters). I’d like to go kayaking more often. I would not like to get sunburnt every time. Guess I should work on my base tan.
  • Whitney and I stopped at pretty much every Lowe’s and Home Depot off I-40 on the way home and lifted a bunch of paint sample cards (I want to call them paint chips, but that doesn’t feel right. Is that right?) to spruce up our accent wall. If you’d like to come over and get your hot glue on, feel free. We’re also thinking of having a house-warming party wherein our guests would help us with this project. Don’t miss it! This was a pretty fun way to break up a four-hour drive. At the first couple of stores, we both kept a watchful eye out for the employees working the paint department, feeling like we were doing something dangerous, but by the time we got to Greensboro, we were brazenly stuffing our bags with the things and commenting freely on the colors we were taking. No one seemed to care.
  • I got a new computer because I filled up my old one. Filled it full. It literally has maybe room enough for another album’s worth of songs. I haven’t named the new one yet. Any suggestions?
  • I’m teaching a new class at NC State, which is pretty hit or miss. I’ve never taught this class before, and I’ve never been given textbooks to use before or had to make a syllabus, so it’s taking a little while to figure out. What I’m learning is that 18-year-olds are lazy, but they think they’re really busy and super cool, I should rely on my own teaching smarts and lean on textbooks for idea-sparks and support, cultural differences are probably more difficult for the students but far more annoying for the teacher, and a two-hour class FLIES by when you’re used to four-hour classes. So basically, there are pros and cons, but I think once I figure out how to add my own flair to the class, it’ll be awesome.
  • In the past week, I’ve been a part of or witnessed at least four conversations that went something like this:
    A: I really want to be more ________.
    B: Um, you are already totally ________.
    This has got me very curious. I’m wondering why we feel like we’re not enough of things we already are, if the reason we notice the lack of these qualities is that we also (maybe subconsciously) notice their presence, how we go about becoming more of who we are, and how we can help each other along. Your thoughts are welcome.
  • I can’t WAIT for fall. Oh my gosh. I just want to run through a big shower of red and orange leaves while wearing a scarf! That’s all I want.
  • We got a basil plant. It’s dying. How do you keep basil from dying?
  • I’ve read about six books this summer, which is not much for some of you, but for me, that’s a lot. I needed to find one to read with my class this semester, though, so I had to plow through a few pretty quickly. Let’s see, there was Godric, which wasn’t an option for class, but it is lovely. It just has some really nice lines in it – the kinds of phrases that you want to turn over and over in your head and hang on to in your life. Then there was The Giver, Playing for Pizza, The Kite Runner, Holes, and Hoot. I think we’re going to read Hoot in class, but next up is The Book Thief. If you’d like a review of any of these titles, let me know. I’d be happy to oblige. It’d give me a solid blogging topic.
  • I want to write more. I miss it. I’ve got so many little bits and pieces of ideas and so many big chunks of things already done, but nothing is even close to being finished. Also, I just miss playing with words, getting phrases just right, saying exactly what it is I want to say, and telling stories. Stories are the best.
  • I should write down a story every day. Nothing big or even fictional. Just something that happened. It doesn’t have to have a moral or anything. Just a story.

Ok that’s enough. Time to make a flow chart to help students decide if they need to use other, another, the other, others, or the others. Fun times!

And Now for Some Good Writing

Last week in class, we watched How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and the post-movie writing assignment (because they don’t get anything for free) was to write an article on one of two topics:

  • How to Lose a Guy
  • How to Win a Woman

They could use ideas they got from the movie or from their own personal experience, and y’all, I’m seriously about to submit some of these to eHarmony because they are spot on and better-written than a lot of dating advice out there. I’ll just share one with you, and I’ve edited it, but really not much. This is pretty much exactly what they wrote.

12 Tips for How to Win a Woman

  1. Ask her for a date – When you ask a woman for a date, you have to be sure, direct, clear and polite. Don’t be shy and nuts.
  2. Take her to a nice place – You have to choose a nice and original romantic place.
  3. Buy things for her – They day after your date, try to send her flowers or chocolate if she told you that she likes it. Don’t stop buying things for her. Try to buy simple and nice stuff.
  4. Call her the day after your first date – When you do that, she will feel that you’re interested in her and it wasn’t just a moment. And try to tell her that you had a nice time with her.
  5. Listen to her – When she speaks, you have to pay attention to her words even if it’s little details. And don’t let her feel that she annoys you when she is talking because women like talking.
  6. Try to be honest – That’s a secret to winning a woman; you have to be honest all the time. Don’t lie because she has a lot of questions, and she can find out the truth. Women are smart in this point.
  7. Give her a good compliment – All the time, you have to make compliments about her style, her attitude and her look. Tell her that she is beautiful, sexy, glamorous and smart.
  8. Make her feel safe – You have to be a hero for her. You have to make her feel that she is protected by you. And if she has any problem, you have to be there for her. It doesn’t matter where and when, you have to be there when she needs your presence, and you have to make her feel that.
  9. Don’t bother her – Don’t ask her a lot of questions, especially when she doesn’t feel well. Be quiet if she gets angry, and when she calms down, she will understand your attitude.
  10. Show her your affection – Pay attention to her. Ask her about her problems and try to fix them with her. If she gets a problem, be with her.
  11. Make her laugh – Try to be funny. Make good jokes.
  12. Talk about your future – Tell her about your plans and what you want to do in your life. Ask her for help and her opinion about your plan.

I realize that some of these are contradictory, but I think they all have their place in wooing a lady. Do y’all have anything to add?

Have at it.

I got what might be my most favoritest spam comment ever the other day. It was from Feel free to email him back. The comment said:

I used to be suggested this web site by means of my cousin.
I am now not certain whether this put up is written through
him as no one else know such distinct approximately my difficulty.
You are amazing! Thanks!

And I love it so much because this is exactly the kind of thing some of my students write, only they do it in five-paragraph essays, and I get to decipher it. This is what I mean when I say “word salad.” It’s a delightful mix of verb tenses and parts of speech all tossed together in a “paragraph.”

Lost…Lost…Lost…I’ve Lost My Marbles

Y’all, seriously. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I put things down, and they disappear. I can’t find my mailbox key, I keep forgetting to buy more almond milk, I have no idea what I was going to write about here just now, and I feel fairly certain I was supposed to do something. Oh. I remember. Please hold.

Ok, done. Whew. Apparently I haven’t blown all my brains out of my nose this week along with twenty pounds of snot. Hang in there, gray matter! I still need you! I know I haven’t used you much this week at all, but that’s just because you got such an intense workout last week, and I wanted to give you a rest. Plus, I’m tired. Oh so tired. But don’t worry, I have every intention of pulling you off the bench very soon because I feel like not being in school has made me stupider, and I’d really like to work on that.

I’ve been reading about William Tyndale, and one interesting thing I read last night was that while he was at Oxford, he used a book by Erasmus called De Copia, in which there was an exercise to give “no fewer than one hundred fifty ways of saying, ‘Your letter has delighted me very much,'” the point being to force students to “use of all the verbal muscles in order to avoid any hint of flabbiness.” I’m always telling my students how rich the English language is and teaching them new ways to say things so they don’t have to use the same, tired words all the time, but that only challenges them. It doesn’t challenge me. And I’ve found myself recently unable to think of the words I want. Simple words like “radiant” and…oh, see, I’ve forgotten them again. Something must be done.

I know I’m still recovering from a crazy week last week and a cold, but those are poor excuses for losing one’s marbles, and I’m far too young for that. I know I’ll never be one of those old people who does Sudoku to keep her mind sharp because Sudoku already makes me want to punch a baby, but maybe I’ll be a prolific letter-writer or something. Something.

And maybe one day I’ll find my mailbox key.

Procrastination: A Tutorial

I’m supposed to be finishing my lesson plans for next week right now. Technically, I was supposed to do them yesterday, but since I’m the one who set that schedule, I was also able to issue an executive order to obsessively look at Pinterest and watch Psych instead.

That’s lesson number one, friends. If you set the deadline, you can change it too.

So here I am. Blogging. Something I’ve also procrastinated on quite a bit of late. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Oh wait, I do. There is nothing going on that is of any interest to anyone. So lesson number two: Find nothing of value in your activity, and you will not have any motivation to do it.

Because I didn’t have any trouble at all focusing for an hour last night at craft night on making my Madonna skirt. Nope, none at all. I even recruited L-Josh to help. Because I had a party to attend, and there were going to be boys there. That’s right. I’m a 31-year-old woman who is still highly motivated by the presence of boys at a party. What? Don’t judge me. What motivates you? World peace? Pshh. A likely story.

Lesson three: Turn your procrastination into a discussion of something else entirely, AND make that discussion about someone else. That way, people forget that this is about you not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

If only boys at a party could motivate me to finish my lesson plans. Could I do a whole lesson on flirting? I’m pretty sure this week’s list could be a list of bad pick-up lines. Oh, it’s starting to come together. But I only do lists on Thursdays, and I still have to plan for Tuesday. I suppose I could do a list of slang words for good-looking one day and the list of pick-ups the other. And I could teach dating terminology like “blind date,” “go Dutch” and “crush.” What else?

And just like that, I’m back on track! Thanks, y’all.

A Few Unrelated Things

1. I’m totally addicted to Pinterest. I love it, and I want to spend more time browsing the internet looking for things to pin, but I just don’t have that much time to waste. I think it’s probably for the best.

2. I’m in the middle of the second Bible test, and so far, I think I’m doing much better on this one. It’s essay questions, though, so that is not shocking for anyone.

3. In my slang class, I’ve been teaching them lists of words that all mean the same thing. They’re usually 10, 15 or 20 words/phrases/expressions for something. I’ve done words for “easy,” “great,” “good-bye,” “money,” “crazy,” “nothing” and “vomit.” These lists have been QUITE a hit, and they’re pretty fun for me to come up with as well. The words we use for vomit, especially, are just so descriptive. If you have an idea for a future list, please share. I’m open to suggestions, and my students will love you for it.

4. I’m going to Wilmington this weekend, and I am super-excited about it.

The end.

What I’ve Really Been Doing

Ok so now that everybody pretty much knows, I guess I can talk about it.

I might be moving to Europe. It’s weird to type it out into the world like that. So far, it’s just been discussed privately among a few close, trusted friends and people I knew would understand and be excited with me. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’ve been taking things one step at a time, and really, at any point, the whole process could just be over, and that would be it. We’ll see. But for now, we press on.

I’m applying to go with World Team either to Italy or Spain. This is the same organization I went to Italy with back in June, and so far, this process has been…quite thorough. It’s been very cool – I’m learning a lot about myself as I go – but it has also been taking up lots and lots of time that I might have otherwise spent blogging. Or (let’s be honest) watching every episode of Bones (again) on Netflix. The application alone was at least twelve typed pages, and then they sent me the personality tests, the spiritual gifts test and the Bible tests (one of which I told you I flunked miserably, the other I haven’t been brave enough to take yet).

Then they sent me the official invitation to join them for a week of information, evaluation and mutual assessment, and suddenly things got really real. First of all, I need about $700 to make it happen, which is the first real commitment I’ve had to make. Until now, it’s all been literally on paper. Just theoretical. Just a really, really amazing dream of a possibility. Just paella and/or pizza, European public transit, Romance languages and adventure abounding on every side. But when it hits your pocketbook, it hits home.

Then, speaking of home, I started thinking about all the things I’ll miss if I leave. Weddings, birthdays, family reunions, my godchildren growing like weeds, Baby Josh, maybe Moravian Sugar Cake in my PJs with my family on Christmas morning. I don’t know what I’ll miss and what I won’t, but I know I’m asking my family and friends to make as big a sacrifice as I’d be making in going.

But then I started thinking of all the things I’d miss if I didn’t go, namely the chance to do something awesome, something bigger than myself, something impossible, something I’ve felt compelled to do for the last seven years. I don’t know the details of what’s in store for me. I just know that if I don’t at least try, I’ll always regret it and wonder.

I think y’all would too. You know me. You know I’ve got this crazy pull toward Europe. I honestly think if I didn’t at least try to go, some of you would be disappointed. So I’m asking you to sacrifice with me, but also to share in the awesomeness, knowing that your letting go is fueling something incredible.

I didn’t intend to make this a fundraising post, so you can stop reading now if you want it to not be about money. But if you’re still with me, and you want to give a little bit to help me get to the assessment week, please contact me. Comment, call, email, text, smoke signals, carrier pigeon, dream invasion, note in study hall, whatever. But maybe don’t send me a pigeon. You know how I feel about birds.