Sunday, May 29, 2016

eat this for breakfast, soon

Stephen has one of those jobs where about three times a year he just has to go to some "work conference" in some boring location like Portland, Baltimore, or Scotland.  His direct flight is paid for, and he usually has to stay in a swanky hotel with giant bathrooms or beaches on the roof.  Lame.  And if that weren't enough, he eats at all these local hot spots all in the name of "networking." What a drag.

Teachers go to conferences, too.  The past two summers I attended the All Write Conference at Warsaw High School in Warsaw, Indiana.  My favorite session was the one in the band room.  I also went to the Indiana First Grade Teachers' Conference a few times.  That one is usually at the Holiday Inn Express.  Nice continental breakfast.  The best part is that we get a whole hour for lunch, AND we get to leave "campus" to enjoy a local hot spot like Cracker Barrel or Applebee's.  A whole hour!!!  No students to drop off, no parents to call, papers to copy, and no line at the teacher's bathroom.  Oh, and the school does pays gas mileage, but only for one car, so we all have to cram in.

I like my conferences, but they are a little different than Stephen's.

Every once in awhile, the stars align in my favor and life just works out that I get to tag along.  (I wonder why Stephen has never tagged along to any of my conferences.)  Two years ago, we called on the grandparents for babysitting duty and spent Memorial Day weekend in San Fransisco.  Stephen spent the better part of the day at his conference while I'll explored the city, and then we met up in the evening for amazing food.  Not too shabby.

Our last morning there, we walked through Little Italy and had breakfast outside at Caffe DeLucchi.  Stephen ordered a polenta, gorgonzola, and egg breakfast that was so simple but so delicious we've been talking about it for two years.  It was so easy to recreate, I wonder why it took us so long!

He's so cool.

Let me first talk about polenta. 

Polenta is ground cornmeal, and can be served creamy, like a porridge, or can solidify and be baked or fried.  It is a staple in Italian cooking, and as general rule of thumb in our house - if the Italians eat it, we're gonna eat it, too.  Similar to most grains, the cornmeal cooks low and slow until the texture is creamy and the grains are tender.  

Good news - this is a simple recipe.  Make polenta, an egg, and bacon.  Pile it in a bowl with blue cheese and honey.  Done.  (And that is why I'll never write a cook book.)

If that is too vague, here are a few more details.  

Serves 4
  • 4 cups water
  • teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 strips of really good bacon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (gorgonzola is perfect)
  • a drizzle or two of honey

Fill a medium size pot with the 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.

While you wait for it to boil, start cooking your bacon in a frying pan.  Set bacon aside to drain on a paper towel-covered plate, but don't get rid of all the bacon grease yet!

Once the water boils, add salt.  Slowly pour in the polenta, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and there are no lumps, 1-2 minutes.

Turn the heat to low and continue cooking the polenta about 20-30 minutes.  Stir often.  If the polenta becomes too thick to stir, add a small amount of water. 

While the polenta is cooking, empty most of the bacon grease from your pan but leave just enough to cook your eggs.  I like a runny, sunny-side up egg, so I usually cook it for 3-4 minutes and throw a lid on the pan for the last minute.  Poached eggs would be lovely as well (and in looking back at Caffe DeLucchi's menu, that's how they prepare their eggs).

Just about this time, the polenta should be creamy.  Take it off the heat and stir in butter until melted.   Season with salt and pepper, and be ready to serve the immediately.

Assemble your plate with a good size scoop of polenta, your egg and crumbled blue cheese.  Top it off with a good drizzle of honey, salt, pepper, and bacon.

Yum!  You will not be disappointed.

Have a great weekend! 

Friday, May 20, 2016

we had a great run

I had one thing on my list for my tenth birthday: an overhead projector.

I know many little girls play school, but I'm just going to say it - my school setup was legit. 

When both of your parents are teachers, they score all sorts of goods like unused lesson plan and grade books, real math textbooks, spelling workbooks, and those cool chalk holders that held five pieces and made straight lines across the board. (Yes? Anyone remember?) In addition, my weekly allowance was usually spent on shopping sprees to the teachers' store, and nothing thrilled me like new school supplies. I had dry erase boards (I was so ahead of my time), a calendar complete with decals for all the holidays, a weather chart, desk name tags, rubber stamps, pointers, and those EZ Grader cards teachers used to calculate a students' percentage score. 

I would fill the grade book with the names of my friends, and you could always tell when I was mad at one of my girlfriends by the string of Fs next to her name. I lectured students dolls when they were off task, and I handed out stickers for good behavior. There were many July days when school started in my basement at 8 am and continued on a regular school schedule all throughout the day, complete with bathroom breaks, lunch, and recess. I had this teaching thing down.

In what goes down in history as my greatest childhood present ever, my dad was able to snag an old overhead projector from his school. I was the envy of the neighborhood girls, and when I wasn't in the middle of a riveting long division lesson, the transparencies were used by all my friends to doodle the names of all the boys we loved. Hmmm. I wonder if those transparencies are still in my parents' basement.

It was clear pretty early on in my life I was destined for the classroom. As discussed in my first blog post, the writer in me dabbled with a career a journalism, and I actually entered college as a journalism major. When it came time to sign up for journalism-related classes, I wasn't feeling it. Days later I sobbed my way through an episode of Oprah honoring teachers who had changed the lives of their students.  I called my mom to tell her I was changing majors. 

"Yeah," she said.  "I knew this was coming.  You're meant to be a teacher."


Surely you've seen those Facebook posts that break down a teacher's salary into an hourly wage only to find that a fifteen-year-old babysitter could make double my salary. No one teaches because of the money.  

We teach because of the kids.

The kids give this job value, and they ensure one day never looks like the next. They make us laugh, they make us think, and they stretch our minds to keep learning. They freak out with excitement when we make applesauce and gingerbread houses, and they scream in disgust when we dissect owl pellets and carve pumpkins. They ask questions I don't have answers to, they clap at the end of really good books, and they love me even when I'm crabby. They have millions of stories to tell (but never have anything to write about during writers' workshop...???) and usually just have to tell their stories right in the middle of a mini lesson. They're honest and funny and curious, but they are also exhausting and frustrating and kinda annoying every once in awhile. 

They ask so many questions and always need to go to the bathroom right after we finished a bathroom break. They forget simple routines like how to sign up for lunch, how to roll dice so they don't fly across the room, or how to put books back in the CORRECTLY LABELED TUBS!!! They get loud and silly and squirrely, and by golly, there are so many of them all in one room! And then, just when teachers thinks we might lose our minds, we remember we have a staff meeting after school, a parent conference during prep, and data charts that need updating by Friday. We have report cards going home next week, a newsletter that should have gone home today, and Halloween decorations hung up in the hallway even though it's December.


On those days, we survive until 2:30, get those darlings out the door, and stumble into a coworker's friend's room.  We plop down into chairs that are too small for us and hope someone has a good story to tell. We count on each other to remind us why we do this job. 

Yesterday I said good-bye to the kids. That was hard.

Today I said good-bye to my friends. That was worse.

These are my girls - the ones who have made the rough days tolerable and the good days even better. 

When you work alongside people for eight years, the line between personal life and professional life is quickly blurred, and pretty soon you're just family.We laugh, cry, tease, celebrate, annoy, apologize, advise, and endure. Then we come back tomorrow to do it all over again.

There have been babies, parent illnesses, and deaths.

There have been new homes, engagements, ex boyfriends, first dates, second dates, and weddings.

There have been an insane amount of group texts (most of which I never join).

There have been overnight conferences, dinner celebrations, and life-changing desserts.

We've sent kids to college and to kindergarten and to sitters for the very first time.

We've raced down the hallway in trash cans and built human pyramids.

We've endured the wrath of angry students' parents and a hand slapping from the boss.

We've pulled off some good pranks. (Do stolen cars, flipped desks, tuna cans, and dirty diapers ring a bell, BECKY?!?)

We've lost kids on fields trips (What?!!? NO! That never happens....), and danced our hearts out for some of the greatest Talent Show teacher acts in the history of Connersville.

We've sent text messages to our boss that were intended for our husbands - oh wait, that was just me! (Ugh.)

And for nearly eight years, we've sat around a lunch a table - in a room the size of a closet - and lived life together. 

We had a great run, and I couldn't have done it without them. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

my last sunday night

Every teacher dreads Sunday nights.

We love our jobs, we love our students, but we hate Sunday nights.

The weekend always goes by too fast, and we never get through all the work we bring home in our giant, teacher bags that will most certainly lead to massive chiropractic bills in the near future.  We pack up lesson plans, papers (both graded and ungraded - oops), quarterly awards, Cheerios for math lessons, juice and cookies for writers' celebrations, newsletters, data spreadsheets, teacher manuals, curriculum maps, books and more books and probably a few more books, and get to bed before any of the good shows come on because 7:45 AM is so sticking early to be standing at a door, happily greeting small children.  We usually feel better by 8 AM Monday morning and are back in the groove by 8:15, but oh, Sunday nights are the worst.

Tonight I have a different kind of dread; the kind of dread that comes with change and good-byes, the kind of dread that comes when you're terrified but confident all at once, the kind of dread that comes when facing a week filled with last times.

Tonight is the last time I'll sit up on a Sunday night thinking about my school week ahead.

After 12 years in education -- about 480 Sunday nights -- I have resigned from my job.

I hope that one day I will be back in the classroom, but for now, I am going to be staying home full time with my darlings, and I am thrilled. 

But, oh the feelings.
All. The. Feelings.


In early August of 2008, my mom drove with me from Chicago to Connersville, Indiana, a small rural town in what I would describe as the middle of nowhere. I've heard people call it a "city," but they are really playing fast and loose with the word "city."

Stephen and I were weeks away from moving from Chicago to Ohio for Stephen to begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology, and I still had no teaching job. As the sole bread winner for the family and with elementary schools starting in ten days, I had past desperate and was pleading with the Lord for any job, any grade, anywhere.

A few days earlier, I had received a call from Fayette County Schools in Connersville inviting me to an interview.  They were unable to tell me what school or what grade they would have openings.  (What? Didn't school start in two weeks?!?!) I was told I would have to wait until after registration day. (Registration day?  In August?!?!) After teaching in a school district where we had class lists given to us in May, I was confused by terms like "anticipated enrollment," and "possible teaching opening."

But as I said, it was the ninth hour.

As my mom and I drove into Connersville, I fought back tears. The town was so different than anything I'd known, and let's face it - different is scary. There were couches on front lawns, abandoned buildings, more pick-up trucks than I'd ever seen (some adorned with Confederate flag bumper stickers), and a lot of country roads - like the kind with no lines down the middle. I knew there wouldn't be a Trader Joe's for miles.

Three days before school started I was offered a job as a first grade teacher at Eastview Elementary.  Whew. Stephen and I would get to buy food and have heat that year.

The night before school started I was (frantically) working in my classroom when a shirtless, shoeless, and nearly toothless man knocked on my window, inquiring about who his son's teacher would be this year. I proceeded to dialog with him as I crouched down to a small opening in my window, and if I can be vulnerable here, I'll admit that every part of me hoped I wasn't his child's teacher. Fear and pride can bring out the worst, and I was consumed with both.

About ten minutes later I saw this same man and his son in the building (need I again emphasize the shirtless, shoeless part?) and was relieved to know he'd found his teacher (and it wasn't me). I remember thinking in that moment, "Surely, this is not the place for me.  But just one year.  One year, Joy. You can do this for one year."

Fast forward seven months to spring break -  a week I had set aside for job applications.

I sat in our little apartment with my resume opened on my laptop. I began searching for job openings in local school districts, but after about ten minutes, I wasn't feeling it.

Close laptop. Try again tomorrow.

The next day I again started browsing through local school listings. I still wasn't feeling it.

Close laptop. Try again tomorrow.

By the end of spring break, I'd applied for zero jobs and hadn't so much as updated the address on my resume.

It wouldn't be so bad to stay in Connersville one more year. The forty minute commute was tolerable, I liked my partner teacher, and the idea of being the "new teacher" again was exhausting. Surely, I could manage another year.

Eight years later

I guess it would be fair to say I fell in love with this little town of Connersville. (I still can't call it a city.) I never ended up applying for any other jobs, and even once Stephen finished school and the opportunity to stay home full time was available, I didn't jump at it.

I love my job. God made me to be a teacher, and there is great pleasure in doing what you're made to do. Personally and professionally I have been stretched, changed, and knocked upside the head as I've become part of a community so different than any I'd known before.   

How foolish and arrogant I was to think Connersville wasn't the place for me? 

And now I am sitting here, on my last Sunday night, dreading tomorrow. I just want the week to start so it can hurry up and be over - so all the lasts, all the good-byes, all the blubbering as I throw out old committee binders and science units can just be over.

But then it's over, like really over.

You can only imagine the tears I am unashamedly weeping right now. But these tears should not be mistaken for doubt. I am confident about this decision, and the Lord has affirmed it over and over in so many ways.

I'm just also really sad because I love my job, I love my people, and I'll miss it so much.

And now I have to eat lunch with toddlers. God help me.

P.S. Prepare yourself because in about four days, an incredible sappy (but very true) post 
about how teachers change lives will be coming your way.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

she wanted the last piece of cake?

It didn't seem to matter the circumstance - the bigger piece of pizza, the last piece of cake, the Friday night movie selection, the Sunday lunch destination, or the college I wanted to attend - almost as if automatic, my mom would graciously let her preferences slip into the background saying "No thanks, you can have it" or "It doesn't matter to me, you pick."

As a child, I was blissfully unaware of the constant sacrifices my mom was making for me. It never occurred to me that she didn't want to watch Father of the Bride (again) or eat at Chili's (again), and frankly, it hadn't crossed my mind  until recently that she really would have liked that last piece of cake.


"Is there more of that cake, mom?" my daughter asked.

Just keep washing dishes and pretend you don't hear. 

"Mom. Is there cake?"

Start singing to yourself.  Put something away in the pantry.  Head to bathroom.  Anything to avoid the question.

"Mom!!!  Is there cake?"

Ugh. She's so persistent.  I'm probably not supposed to lie.

"Yep, but only one piece left."

"If I eat all da tings dat are good for my body, can I pease hab it?"

 Shoot. She even said please.

Stephen and I often joke that our greatest display of sacrificial love for our children doesn't come in the form of 3am feedings, cleaning up puke, or playing Candy Land for the zillionth time.  It comes in the sharing of our food.  For Stephen this means handing over large wedges of blue cheese or breakfast meat.  For me, it is dessert.

I begrudgingly scooped that last piece of cake (chocolate coconut cake with buttercream frosting, mind you!!!) onto a Minnie Mouse plate.  I opened the fridge to grab the milk, and that's when I saw it - my saving grace - a small Tupperware with leftover frosting.  There had only been a small amount of unused frosting left; I'd almost thrown it away.  (Fool.)  But there it was, to cheer me up as a mediocre substitute for that last piece of cake.

I was taking no chances.  As soon as Charlotte got started on her cake, I grabbed that Tupperware and a spoon and headed straight for the bathroom.  I shamelessly closed and locked the door, and enjoyed every bite of that chocolate coconut buttercream while sitting on the edge of the tub.  It seems I should be embarrassed - I mean, I wasn't even eating an actually dessert, just frosting from a container - but instead, I was rather proud of myself.

I was proud of myself for sneaking away so casually, arranging the circumstances to give me at least four minutes alone with my frosting.  And proud of myself for reaching a new level of motherhood, a level where shame slips away because silence and dessert are just that wonderful.   At that moment, I felt a sense of comradery with all the mothers of the world - knowing I fall in a long line of mothers who have eaten dessert in the bathroom to avoid sharing with their child.

It took three years, but I had been officially initiated into motherhood.

As I sat in the bathroom, I began thinking about my ridiculous behavior over the past few years (all in the name of motherhood, of course).  Some of it out of intense head-over-heels love; some out of sheer exhaustion, the kind where I'd offer up my kidney for five minute without a baby on my hip and a toddler on my leg. And I soon started to wonder about my own mother's ridiculous displays of love and exhaustion.

Did my mom ever eat dessert in the bathroom?

Did my mom ever sit on the floor of my room staring through the bars of my crib to watch me sleep?

Did she constantly squeeze my chubby cheeks?

Did she announce to my brother and me that she was putting herself in timeout?

Did she try to imitate my laugh or purposely get me to say words I mispronounced just to laugh with at me?

Did she negotiate deals where I could watch one more episode of Daniel the Tiger (previously known as Mr. Roger's Neighborhood) but only if I promised to cuddle and not talk?

Did she skip pages in the really long, boring stories?

Wait, did she really want that last piece of cake?

Far too often I succumb to a good old-fashioned pity party, allowing pride and selfishness to shine through in all its ugly glory.  I go all crazy mom, ranting and raving about all I do for my kids - the meals I prepare, the toys I pick up, the poop and puke I wiped off myself, the sleep I don't get.

Certainly all that earns me the last piece of cake.

In my best moments, it is so easy to give, almost as if the Lord has been rewiring my gut response to willingly (perhaps even happily) give up my preferences for my children without a second thought.  But just when I start thinking too highly of myself and my sacrificial ways, I find myself hiding in the bathroom with a bowl of frosting, bitter about the cake that's probably been devoured (and not nearly appreciated as much as it should be) by a three-year-old sweet tooth.  Oh, I'm such a mess.

But Jesus tends to remind me of truth in my messiest moments, and today He is reminding me that He never stops giving His best to me; His constant, gut response is to give me the best, over and over.  He never tires of giving, and in fact, I think He finds great joy in it!

Isn't that one of the best parts of motherhood? We begin to grasp just how crazy Christ is about us, and we begin this transformation process where we find joy in giving our best, over and over.

So to all the moms who have read Brown Bear, Brown Bear no less than 53,482 times -

To all the mom who play hide-and-seek every day, pretending you can't find your child even though they hide in the same spot every dog-gone time (it was cute the first dozen times, but seriously, how are you gonna make it out in the real world with those kind of survival skills?!?!) -

To all the moms who give happily without thinking twice -

To all the moms who grit their teeth and give anyways -

To all the moms who have ever found themselves eating dessert in the bathroom because good grief, we're human and sometimes we just don't want to share!!!

And to my mom, who constantly said "No thanks, you can have it" or "It doesn't matter to me, you pick."

Keep doing what you're doing.

Keep allowing the grace of God to teach you what it means to love like crazy.

You have children who are watching and learning a lesson they might not realize for another thirty years.  You are showing them how head-over-heels in love Jesus is with them.

Well done, and happy Mother's Day.

P.S.  Sorry it took thirty years, Mom.  I owe you some cake. 

P.P.S.  In case you need some cake (or a bowl of frosting) this weekend, 
here's the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs!