Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice of Life: March 31 -- This I Believe

I suppose if I'm being completely honest, I'm cheating tonight as I post my last Slice of Life.  As I sat at work today, my mind kept being drawn to my final post.  I felt this intense need to impart one last bit of wisdom, to leave some sort of lasting impression or final moment that would fully justify this experience and the impact it has had on me.  I also felt the need to give back to my students, to help them learn something that would somehow make a difference in their lives.  As I struggled to think of what to write, I remembered an essay I wrote last year for another sixth grade teacher titled, "This I Believe."

As I thought about what I wrote in that essay, I felt the need to share it here.  Not because I wanted to get out of writing something new for my last post, but rather because I felt it needed to be shared.  Just as a Slice of Life has impacted me this month, the events described in this essay were defining moments in my life and have helped shape me into the person I am today.

I will warn's a long post.  I hope you will stick with it and I hope the message will inspire you to believe in the power of others and the the ability to rise above difficult circumstances.

I believe people can rise above their circumstances and good can come from difficult situations.

I often tell students to enjoy being a kid while you can.  “You have the rest of your life to be an adult,” I frequently remind students.  Perhaps I make this statement based on my own experiences as a child growing up.  I suppose I always knew I was blessed and was thankful for my family, particularly my parents.  My childhood, you see, was what some might call extraordinary.  I don’t think I realized this until I grew up and recognized that not everyone shared the same experiences.  My parents were the ones who attended every game, every school program, and made sure my brother and I were able to share in special experiences with them.  I remember going to breakfast each Saturday morning with my dad and nights when my mom drove all over town, serving as a sort of taxi service as she shuttled my brother and me from one game or practice to another, often making multiple stops at the drive through just to make sure we had something for dinner.  Even now, my brother and I talk to my dad on the phone every morning as we each drive to work, I talk to my mom each afternoon on my way home, and my parents still find ways to create special events for my brother and me, even as we are both married.

I also was fortunate to have a caring and supportive brother, who to this day is still my best friend.  In many ways, he was my cheerleader and my coach.  Don’t get me wrong, we fought like brothers and sisters do, and there was even one episode where he tied me to a tree while we were playing.  However, more often than not, he was the person who challenged and encouraged me.  I remember how he used to set up cones in the driveway and make me dribble through them to practice my basketball skills.  He would then make me shoot layups while he intentionally fouled me, reminding me “It will only make you better.”  During my high school basketball games, I could count on my brother to make his way to the bottom row of the stands during halftime.  He would make a point to provide me with some sort of insight into how I could play better.  “Drive to the basket,” or “Shoot more three-pointers,” or sometimes the less encouraging, “You need to make your free throws” would be offered.

I tell you these stories to help you understand how my childhood could have been very different were it not for my dad’s ability to rise above his own circumstances.  My grandfather, my dad’s dad, was not very involved in his life.  My dad cannot tell stories of his dad attending his games, school programs, or investing quality time with him and his three siblings.  My grandpa certainly loved my dad, but found it less important to invest that kind of time with him.  My dad persevered and went to college and became a teacher.  I’m not sure my grandpa understood my dad’s desire to teach.  Nonetheless, my dad went on to earn his master’s, specialist’s, and eventually his doctorate degree.  I don’t particularly remember much about my grandpa growing up.  My grandma, my dad’s mom, developed Alzheimer’s disease when I was five and spent much of my childhood and teenage years in a nursing home until she passed away twelve years ago.  My grandpa died when I was seven, so my memories of both of my dad’s parents are somewhat limited.  I do know my grandparents loved my dad, but particularly my grandpa’s way of showing him love was much different than what my dad did to show my brother and me how much he loved us.  My dad, you see, decided he would be different.  He vowed at a young age to rise above his circumstances and be involved in his children’s lives.  My dad kept that vow and perhaps his greatest reward thus far is watching my brother with his own son, Hudson, knowing that he raised my brother to be a loving and involved father.

As I mentioned, I realized I was blessed growing up, but I still was guilty of taking my family for granted.  I became very aware of this fact during my freshman year of high school.  My family had moved to central Missouri when I was in seventh grade.  The move had been difficult, but good for me.  During the summer before my freshman year, my dad accepted a job as a professor at Pittsburg State University.  My brother was a senior, and given the fact the move had been pretty difficult for him, my parents decided not to move our family until my brother graduated from high school.  As a result, for one year, my dad lived in Carthage during the week with my mom’s parents, and then came home on the weekends.  Being the involved father that he was, my dad often drove hours to arrive at my basketball or volleyball games on Thursday nights and would then leave early Monday morning to travel back to his job.  Given the fact that my family was so close, it was difficult not being together all the time, and my mom took on the challenge of doing everything for my brother and me while my dad was away during the week.

As if this experience wasn’t difficult enough, my world was rocked that December.  I can still remember the spaghetti dinner that went uneaten seventeen years ago as my mom told my brother and I that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer.  It was as if someone had dropped a bomb right in the middle of my spaghetti.  I was in shock, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding whether or not my dad would be okay.  The situation was made even more difficult by the fact that my dad wasn’t there with us.  Instead, I had to settle for talking to him on the phone, asking questions and hoping everything would be okay.  I remember going to sleep that night, staring at my Christmas tree glowing in the corner of my room, thinking the Christmas I had so looked forward to really didn’t seem to matter any more.  Presents seemed especially insignificant and the few remaining days of school didn’t seem that important either.

I remember going to school the following morning and sitting in the cafeteria with my brother before school.  He sat at one table with his friends while I sat at another.  I remember making eye contact with him, both of us reading each other’s expressions.  I went to my first hour class and part way through the class the principal came in to speak with my teacher.  I didn’t think anything of it, until at the end of the hour, my teacher asked to speak to me.  He asked how I was doing and told me he had heard about my dad.  What I later learned was that my dad had called the principal and asked if my teachers could check on my brother and me during the day. 

I had always been a pretty self-sufficient kid and school had always come naturally for me.  I enjoyed my teachers, but I never had to really rely on them.  That changed on that particular day in December, as I came to rely on my teachers who were so caring and helpful during one of the most difficult times of my life.

My dad had surgery a few days before Christmas, and we learned the doctor was able to fully remove his tumor.  My dad would make a full recovery and was able to celebrate Christmas with our family.  What began as the worst Christmas of my life turned out to be the very best, as the best present I ever received was not wrapped under the tree, but the knowledge that my dad would be okay.

People can rise above their circumstances and good can come from difficult situations.  My dad has been able to share his experience with others and has helped numerous other individuals who have battled cancer.  His cancer has returned twice in the past seventeen years, but each time, he has battled and beaten it.  I am proud of his courage, determination, and most of all, his desire to rise above his challenges.  While much good came out of this difficult situation, I also learned a valuable lesson that has served me well.  I saw the compassion my teachers had for me during a very challenging time in my life.  Their compassion has been an inspiration to me.  As I have pursued my own career in education, I often think back to this experience and remember how teachers supported me at a time when I felt very much alone.  My hope is to help my students rise above their own challenges and realize good can come from situations that often seem hopeless, just as my parents and my teachers helped me learn the same lesson.

People can rise above their circumstances and good can come from difficult situations.  This I believe.  This I remember.  This I teach.  This I hope to never forget.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slice of Life: March 30 -- Smile Because it Happened

"Don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened."  ~Dr. Seuss

I doubt any of you will cry when a Slice of Life is over.  I certainly hope, however, that you will smile as you look back on what you have accomplished.

It's moments like these, when I see so many of you who have accomplished so much, that I, as your principal, am filled with pride and joy.  I often tell students that anything worth doing in life is hard.  The things I am most proud of in my life are those that required my perseverance, diligence, and effort.  I look back on some of those moments in my life, and to this day, the very thought of them brings a smile to my face.  I think of the day I learned I had been hired as the assistant principal at the middle school.  I can tell you exactly where I was standing and what I was doing when I received the news that my hard work and perseverance as a teacher had been rewarded with an amazing opportunity to continue to develop my skills in a leadership position.  I think of the day I walked across the stage and received my doctorate.  I'll never forget the man who shook my hand and said, "Congratulations, doctor."  Those words gave me goosebumps, as at that moment, I realized my dedication had helped me reach one of my dreams.  These are the moments that bring a smile to my face, not only because they happened, but because I recognize the diligence and effort that was required to make those moments possible.

As a result, I recognize that a Slice of Life has been hard.  It's been much more challenging than I could have imagined.  But that's what has made it great and that's what makes me smile.  My hope is that you will smile, too.  My hope is that you will have discovered in yourself the confidence and the knowledge that you can do something you may have not believed you were capable of doing.  My challenge to you is to remember that feeling, to use the lessons you have learned from this endeavor to help you in the future.

As I look back on my own posts, I see how my writing has evolved and how many different topics I wrote about.  A Slice of Life has given me the chance to be a blessing to others.  It's given me the chance to offer inspiration and encouragement.  It's given me the chance to take everyday details of my life and use them to hopefully motivate others.  It's even been a blessing to me on days when I needed encouragement of my own.  I've offered humor, laughed about my golf game, told stories from my youth, and have shared some of my favorite quotes.  It's truly been a journey and one that I am proud of.

So my message to you, on the next to last slice of this journey, is to be proud of what you have accomplished.  I'm sure you won't cry on April 1st when you don't have to write a slice.  I know I won't.  But I know that I will be smiling.  I won't be smiling because it's over.  No, I'll be smiling because a Slice of Life happened.  I'll be smiling because I will have accomplished a goal I set for myself.  I'll be smiling because I had the chance to share it with all of you.  And finally, I'll be smiling because I know someday I will look back and remember this month and the lessons I learned from a Slice of Life.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Slice of Life: March 29 -- Sophie

After meeting each of Miss Collins' dogs through her Slice of Life posts, I thought it was time to introduce you to my cat, Sophie.

I got Sophie seven years ago when she was four months old. I hadn't been looking for a kitten long when I walked into Pet Smart on a Saturday morning.  I saw Sophie sitting in a cage and noticed her cute face.  Her coloring reminded me of the cat we had when I was growing up, so I was instantly interested.  The worker from the Humane Society told me I could take her out of the cage and hold her.  I picked her up and she immediately began purring.  Sophie captured my heart and I adopted her that day.

Sophie, like most cats, has her own unique personality.  First, she loves to eat.  If she runs out of food, she will meow and follow you around until you feed her.  Each day when my husband comes home from work, Sophie greets him at the door and expects him to give her treats.  My husband claims Sophie's happiness is directly related to her stomach and whether it's full or not.

Second, Sophie loves to catch insects.  She has been known to catch a fly in mid-flight and can pounce on a bug with lightning fast quickness.  Sometimes she will stare up at the wall and meow, alerting us to a spider that she can't reach.

Third, Sophie loves to spend the evenings laying in my husband's lap.  As soon as he sits down and puts up the footrest on the recliner, she hops up and lays on his legs or sometimes his chest.  She can lay like this for hours, purring and sleeping.  With me, she likes to curl up next to me when I lay down on the couch.  She has to get as close to me as she can, and tucks herself right up next to me, often laying her head on my arm.

Fourth, Sophie loves to purr.  She is always purring.  Sometimes she purrs so loudly she squeaks or snorts.  She's generally happy, and loves to be scratched behind the ears or under the chin.

Finally, Sophie hates going to the vet.  She is a really loving, happy cat, but going to the vet brings out the very worst in her.  She seems to be able to sense when it's time for a trip to the vet's office.  She will run and hide to avoid getting in her cat carrier and will literally growl and hiss once she's inside.  When being examined by the vet, Sophie makes noises that I never knew could come from a cat.  It actually sounds like she is screaming.

Sophie is good company.  It's nice to know she'll be there to greet me when I come home, excited to see me -- even if it is because she's run out of food.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Slice of Life: March 28 -- Reliving the Glory Days

Tonight was our annual middle school fundraiser. It includes a variety of activities, but the main attraction is a basketball game between the middle school staff and the police department. It's a fun night, and one that proves profitable for our PTO, who so generously supports our students and teachers.

For me, however, tonight is the one night of the year that I relive the glory days of my youth. Each year at this time, I for some reason believe I am in high school again, playing basketball as I did almost fifteen years ago. As I sit at home now, after having played in the game, it is very obvious I am not 18 any longer. My knees are sore. I'm tired. My shots don't fall quite as easily as they used to.

Despite the ache in my knees and the tiredness, tonight was fun. While I'm reminded that I'm not in high school anymore, I also get to remember how much fun it was all those years ago to play the sport I love. For that reminder, I am grateful.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Slice of Life: March 27 -- It's a Choice

I went to the high school today for a meeting.  As I was walking down the hallway, I was greeted by one of the custodians.  He asked me how I was doing and I replied with my typical, "Good.  How are you?"  His response surprised me.

"I'm having a great day," he said.  "Everyday is great.  It's a choice."  Yes, it is, I thought, as I continued walking to my meeting.

I couldn't help but think how often I choose to have a great day.  Maybe I should say how often I fail to make that choice.  It's so easy to focus on the problems of the day.  I can find myself absorbed with the stressors in my life, even waking up in the middle of the night worrying about the responsibilities on my plate, the tasks that must be accomplished, or the difficult decisions that have to be made.  Those worries can rob me of my day.  Sure, the hands on the clock still tick and the sun still rises and sets.  The day goes on, but I miss out on its greatness.

I began thinking about my day today.  Were there moments of greatness that I missed or simply failed to recognize?  It was then that I realized there were many pockets of greatness tucked into my day: the positive conversation with a student, the laughter I shared with colleagues, sharing my burdens with a friend who listened and offered encouragement, and the compliments I received today.  The list could go on.  I then had to ask myself why I chose to focus today on the frustrations and the irritations that came my way instead of choosing to have a great day.  I haven't quite answered that question yet, but I know I want to focus on choosing greatness rather than focusing on the stress and worry.

Problems will still come my way and I'm sure there will be other sleepless nights.  It's nice to know, however, that I can still choose to have a great day.  The custodian was right.  It's a choice.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Slice of Life: March 26 -- Lessons Learned From Calculus

During the spring of my junior year of high school, I began the process of selecting the classes I wanted to take as a senior.  I was excited about preparing for my final year of high school and was planning on taking several advanced classes.  I had already accumulated enough math credits for graduation, and considering the numerous other difficult classes on my schedule, had not planned on taking a math course during my senior year.  It was then that I was approached by the high school calculus teacher.

She stopped me in the hall one day and asked me if I was going to take calculus.  I told her I hadn't planned to, and she literally begged me to take her class.   Well, maybe she didn't beg, exactly, but she did tell me that she had never had me in class and would love the opportunity to have me in calculus.  Looking back, I don't remember her having to do much to convince me.  I suppose I was impressed by her compliment, and despite my already difficult schedule, I enrolled in calculus.

I eagerly began my senior year of high school that fall.  Calculus was the last hour of the day.  Two of my friends were in the class with me, as well as ten other students, making calculus a class of thirteen.  My two friends and I stationed ourselves in the back corner of the classroom.  This was probably my first of many mistakes in calculus class, but nonetheless, I plowed ahead.  

The first two weeks I found myself comprehending what was being taught.  I was feeling pretty confident about my decision to take calculus.  Unfortunately, the main reason for my confidence was due to the fact that up to that point the class had mainly been a review of trigonometry, the math class I had taken my junior year.  I had no idea that my self-confidence was about to hit rock bottom.

I was lost the moment my teacher began introducing new calculus concepts.  While some of my classmates were asking questions about why the formulas worked, I was still trying to figure out what formula to use.  As a result, I made my second mistake in calculus.  I began to tune out my teacher as she went through these explanations, convinced they would only add to my confusion.  Adding to my difficulty was the fact that we had a homework assignment every day, however, none of the homework was due until the day of the test.  On a positive note, this meant I didn't have to worry if I couldn't complete that day's homework or if I didn't understand how to do it.  On the other hand, it also meant I never really knew how I was doing in class.

Feeling frustrated, I began seeking out opportunities to meet with my teacher for help with my homework.  I would arrive at school early to ask questions and work on problems.  I gave up my lunch hour to work with her.  I was playing volleyball, so I was unable to meet with her after school.  Unfortunately, the problems we were doing were so long and complex, I would only be able to complete one or maybe two problems each time I met with her.  Quickly, the homework began to pile up.

As our first test approached, I organized a "calculus party" with my classmates.  We all brought food and gathered at my house to study for our test.  Unfortunately, most of the time was spent completing homework rather than studying.  My classmates would try their best to explain the concepts to me and help me complete my homework in order to turn it in when we took the test.  

I don't remember what grade I got on my first test, but I vividly remember the grade I received on the last calculus test of the semester.  I had already decided to drop the class at semester, realizing that I had given it a try, but that calculus just wasn't for me.  It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and I remember my horror as my teacher laid my test on my desk.  Written in red at the top of the page was my score: 58%.  For the first time in my life, I had failed a test.  I was crushed.  

The truth is, I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw that score.  I honestly had no clue what I was doing in calculus.  My friends were my saving grace in the class.  They worked with me to help me complete my homework, doing their best to explain it to me and making sure I could complete the problems and get the right answer.  Unfortunately, I never really understood what they were explaining to me, and when it came test time, I was lost without their guidance.  I managed to get an A- in the class because I completed my homework (and because of some very generous extra credit).  

Little did I know that I would end up being a math teacher.  I used to tell this story to my sixth grade students to help encourage them and to let them know that even their teacher knew what it was like to struggle in math.  I also reminded my students that my choice to sit in the back of the classroom and my tendency to "check out" when I felt lost were poor choices that only added to my lack of understanding.  I've also used this story to help my teachers understand the importance of providing feedback to students.  Waiting to turn in all my homework on the day of the test gave me no chance to see if I understood the concepts we were supposed to be learning.  

I don't regret enrolling in calculus.  I learned a lot -- not about calculus, mind you -- but mostly about failure, how to deal with it, and realizing that it's okay if I'm not good at everything.  I think it made me a better teacher, too, and for that, I will forever be grateful.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slice of Life: March 25 -- Imparting Knowledge

Today I had the opportunity to speak to a group of college students who are majoring in education.  I absolutely loved it!  I've had several opportunities to do this in the past, but for some reason, today reminded me of how much I enjoy doing this.

There's something fun about seeing these eager, young, future teachers.  They are so excited, so happy to learn, and can't wait to soak up every bit of information I have to share with them.  My desire to share with them, however, is somewhat selfish.  As much as I enjoy helping them learn and hone the skills they need to become effective teachers, I also love being able to share my knowledge and feel blessed to be able to teach them just a little of what I have learned during my time in education.

As I reflected on my presentation, I began to ask myself why it was, exactly, that I enjoyed this opportunity so much today.  I've presented before, but for some reason, today was particularly enjoyable.  After thinking about it, I came to one simple conclusion.  Talking to this group of teachers was a distraction from some stressful situations I'm facing right now.  This is a really busy time of year, when I'm preparing for state testing, hiring new teachers for next year, and dealing with the normal day to day responsibilities of my job.  For the hour I presented today, I forgot about all those things that were weighing on my mind and was able to enjoy the moment.  I found myself in my element and for that period of time, was solely focused on sharing my knowledge with a group of people who were willing to listen to what I had to say.

The affirmation and compliments I received after my presentation served as another reminder of why I enjoy presenting so much.  It's nice to feel like you've helped someone, and it's an added bonus when you feel like you helped yourself as well.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Slice of Life: March 24 -- Back to the Routine

My alarm sounded this morning with its familiar tone, startling me from my night of slumber.  "Surely it can't be 5:30," I thought to myself.  Like normal, I pressed snooze once, then again, and again, until I finally crawled out of bed at 6:15.  It's a good thing it doesn't take me long to get ready for school.  I was running late due to my excessive snoozing and had intended to forgo my morning cup of coffee.  However, as I walked into my kitchen, my Keurig seemed to be beckoning me, begging me to brew a single cup of coffee.  I gave in and enjoyed the hot, dark, liquid shot of caffeine as I drove to school.

While it was a little hard to get up this morning (especially for someone who is not a morning person), in so many ways, it seemed like any other morning.  It was familiar.  It was routine.  It was normal.  As much as I enjoyed my break, in many ways, it was nice to return to normal.  I like normal and I enjoy my routine.  Sure, I'm a little sleepy today and my bedtime will inevitably come much earlier tonight, but I appreciate the familiar and enjoy the comfort of my daily routine.

Now if I can just avoid hitting snooze in the morning...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Slice of Life: March 23 -- Sunday Nights

Sundays are a paradox. In so many ways, Sunday is one of my favorite days of the week.  I enjoy going to church, our weekly lunch with my parents, and my customary Sunday afternoon nap.  On the other hand, Sunday is also one of my least favorite days of the week.  It means the weekend has come to a close.  It means that I begin thinking about all the things I should have accomplished during the weekend and didn't.  It means my mind begins to focus on work again and all that has to be accomplished in the coming week. 

Sunday nights are especially interesting.  I find myself trying to squeeze out every last minute of my weekend, while at the same time, trying to ready myself for the week.  Sunday evenings entail getting my clothes ready for Monday, packing my briefcase, considering what I'll eat for lunch the next day, and mentally going through my calendar for the approaching work week.  I find myself wanting to stay up late watching a movie or reading a book, but then find myself hitting snooze when my alarm sounds on Monday morning.

Spring break Sundays are even more challenging.  I've truly enjoyed my break.  While I didn't do anything particularly exciting, it was nice to cross a few items off my to-do list, enjoy visiting with friends and family, and enjoy several dinners at some of my favorite restaurants.  At the same time, it will be nice to get back to a routine tomorrow.  It will be good to see my students and my colleagues and begin tackling some projects that need my attention. 

Yes, Sundays are a paradox.  I'm planning to enjoy the last few hours of mine before it's off to bed and time for a new week to begin.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Slice of Life: March 22 -- What I've Learned by Slicing

I must admit that I'm starting to lose a little steam with my blogging. As I look back on my posts, I recognize the moments of true inspiration and the moments when I was clearly grasping for straws. Either way, I have learned so much through this experience. As a result, on an evening when I'm tired and lacking inspiration, here are a few things I have learned through this process:
  • It feels good to commit to something and stick to it. I was a little reluctant when Miss Collins first asked me to participate in the Slice of Life.  I suppose my jitters were a little more about actually creating a blog that about the writing.  She convinced me creating a blog was easy, walked me right down to my office to show me how to do it, and I agreed to commit to writing for 31 days.  It feels good to know I'm only a little over a week away from fulfilling that commitment.  I'm notorious for "committing" to things and then failing to follow through like I had hoped.  Each year I "commit" to exercising, losing weight, being healthier, playing more golf, etc.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way or I simply fail to fulfill those commitments.  It feels really good to know I have fulfilled a commitment not only to myself, but to Miss Collins and her students.
  • Writing each day has been difficult.  Little did I know that creating my blog would be the easy part.  It's been the writing that has been challenging for me.  I feel obligated to offer something meaningful, compelled to share some pearl of wisdom or grain of inspiration.  Some days I feel I have succeeded.  On other days, however, I feel like I'm simply checking my blog off my to-do list.  I've struggled to generate new ideas, I've started posts only to erase them and start over, and on numerous occasions, I have written a post, saved it, and then come back later to read it again before finally submitting it.  Either way, committing to write and creating posts that are meaningful has been a tremendous challenge.  
  • As difficult as it has been, the Slice of Life has rekindled my love of writing.  I haven't always enjoyed writing.  I suppose high school was when I first began to experiment with writing for fun.  I had a friend in high school who loved to write poetry.  She was quite good at it, and challenged me to try my hand at it.  At first I was reluctant, but I soon found myself writing poems to explain my feelings or to document important events in my life.  In college, I began writing short inspirational stories.  I never shared those stories with anyone, but it felt good to write.  I was inspired by authors I enjoyed and began to pay attention to the way they put words together and how they formed sentences and organized their thoughts.  As I progressed through college, however, writing became more technical and less enjoyable.  I had to write countless reflection papers for my college degree, a huge research paper for both my bachelor's and master's degrees, and a massive dissertation for my doctorate degree.  In essence, writing became about accomplishing a task and fulfilling a responsibility.  The papers I wrote became hoops I jumped through to fulfill class requirements.  All my creativity and the craft of writing that I admired in authors was replaced with citations and technical language.  In all honesty, after completing my doctorate dissertation, I was through with writing.  I even remember thinking that I would be glad to not have to write again.  The Slice of Life, however, has allowed me to write what I want to write.  My writing hasn't had to be fancy, I haven't had to worry about citations and following the rules that govern technical and research writing.  I've been able to express myself and write in a way that fits my personality.  I forgot how much I love writing and have felt empowered and humbled all at the same time throughout this month.
  • I've loved learning more about our students and my co-workers.  My school days are busy.  They are jam packed with meetings, lunch duty, visiting with students, observing in classrooms, communicating with parents and teachers, and all the other tasks that fill my schedule on a daily basis.  As a result, I rarely have time to just sit and visit with my teachers or students like I would like to.  A Slice of Life, however, has given me a glimpse into the lives of some of my teachers and students.  It's been fun to read about Miss Collins' adventures in Florida, to laugh at Mrs. Williams' story about her fortune cookie, to vicariously experience constructing a fence with Mrs. Booher, and both laughing and thinking when I read one of Mrs. O's posts.  I've also enjoyed seeing the creativity in our students and have admired their commitment to writing.  I've been impressed with not only their writing ability, but their willingness to share their experiences and their writing with others.  
The Slice of Life has become part of my daily routine.  While it's been challenging, it's also been rewarding and fun.  I honestly think I will miss it when this month is over.  Perhaps I'll just keep that would be a commitment!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Slice of Life: March 21 -- A Good Walk Spoiled

Several posts ago, I mentioned that golf has been referred to as a good walk spoiled.  Today I experienced that, although my round could better be described as a good cart ride spoiled.  Here's what I learned from today's round of golf, my first since July:
  • Warm weather in Missouri this time of year must be accompanied by wind.  Yes, it was warm today and I appreciate the nicer temperatures, especially after the winter we endured.  However, my golf game was not appreciative of the wind.  I lost track of how many shots were blown off course or completely lost in today's stiff gusts. 
  • Yes, I am partially blaming my poor round on the wind.  I couldn't possibly blame my terrible play on the eight months that passed between my last round and today's eighteen holes...
  • Your short game is the first thing to go and the last to come back.  Chipping and putting is always a challenge for me, but when you haven't played for eight months, it's simply brutal.  If only that could explain my poor driving and iron play as well...oh yeah, I have the wind to blame for that.
  • It's difficult to putt when your nose is running and your eyes are filling with tears from the wind.  I've been battling a cold all week and being out in the wind didn't help matters today.  Maybe I can't entirely blame the wind.  Perhaps my tears were due to my terrible play (just kidding).
  • If you can't play well, at least you can dress the part.  I've learned that part of playing golf is looking like a golfer.  Titleist hat?  Check.  Polo shirt?  Check.  Fancy golf shoes?  Check.  You get the picture.
  • Playing golf is a good excuse to buy cool gadgets.  I had the first opportunity to try out my new golf GPS.  It's a tiny device that clips to my belt and tells me the yardage to the hole.  Mine even talks to me.  Too bad I couldn't hear it over the wind. 
  • Sometimes it takes more than one good shot or one good hole to make you want to come back for more.  I had one par today, followed by a quadruple bogey.  If you don't play golf and those terms mean nothing to you, here's a little hint:  Par equals good, quadruple bogey equals atrocious.  At the end of our round, my friend asked if I wanted to play another hole.  My response?  No, thanks.
  • Time really can heal wounds.  Now that I've been home for several hours, I honestly would love the chance to play another eighteen holes.  Not today, mind you.  Rather a day that's a little less windy.
  • I shouldn't complain about the wind or my time at the golf course.  I really did have fun today.  It would have been more fun had I played better, but who can honestly complain about a day at the golf course?  That's what my husband reminded me when he asked how golf went as he was on his way home from work.  And the wind?  That's just a poor excuse for my poor play.  Hopefully, however, it provided a little humor for today's post.
  • I enjoyed spending time with a friend.  Golf provided me with a chance to spend time with a good friend who I hadn't seen in a while.  Regardless of how poor both of us played, it's fun to spend time with someone you care about.
That pretty well sums up my first round of golf in eight months.  Notice I didn't mention my score.  Let's just say it wasn't worth writing down, let alone mentioning.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Slice of Life: March 20 -- Character Counts

"Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." ~John Wooden

I was once told that your character is more important than your comfort.  That statement made me stop and think.  What does it mean?  How is my character more important than my comfort?  After pausing and considering the statement, it began to make sense.  My character is based on who I really am.  It's reflected in the decisions I make and the way I treat others.  It manifests itself when I am faced with difficult situations.  My character can be tested.  It can be challenged.  In those situations, there are several questions that emerge.  Will I do what is right, even when it is difficult?  What if no one is looking or no one will know what I have done?  Will I stand firm in my character, even when it's not popular to do so?

That's when I must recognize that my character truly is more important than my comfort.  It's not comfortable when I have to make unpopular decisions that make others unhappy.  It's not comfortable to go against the stream and remain true to my character when others may be following the crowd in the opposite direction.  Doing what's right isn't always comfortable, but it is rewarding.  At the end of the day, it's nice to look back and know you have remained true to your character.

That's where the John Wooden quote begins to make sense, too.  Your reputation truly is based on what others think about you.  Sometimes people can get the wrong impression.  Sometimes what people think about you is based on assumptions.  However, when someone examines your character, that's when they see you for who you really are. 

My character is based on my values, morals, and the way I conduct myself.  Consistently demonstrating positive character will lead to a positive reputation.  Concern yourself, however, with focusing on your character.  It may not always be comfortable, but doing what's right feels pretty good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Slice of Life: March 19 -- Birthday Wishes

Today is the day my dad used to jokingly tell me he was going to mark off the calendar when I was a kid. Yes, today is my birthday.

It's interesting how birthdays change as you get older. As a kid, it was all about the presents and the party and an entire day to celebrate "you."  There are those milestone birthdays that hold special significance as you get older: your sweet sixteen and being able to drive, turning eighteen and earning the privilege to vote, and turning twenty, knowing your teenage years are behind you. Thirty was also an interesting milestone. My entire staff wore black that day in my honor.

Today I turned 32 and like other birthdays as of late, it's the simple things I appreciate about this day. It's the dinner with my family and cake with ice cream. It's about enjoying a nice lunch and then an afternoon nap and time spent with a good book. It's ordering takeout and enjoying dinner while sitting on the couch with my husband watching a movie. It's also about the birthday texts, phone calls, cards, and even a video message from the summit of the Colorado ski slopes. Yes, that's what birthdays are all about. I enjoy taking pleasure in the simple things and celebrating another year.

It's been a good day. Even if my husband did tell me I am old. He's just kidding, of course. But I'll be sure to return the favor in two months and five days when he celebrates his birthday.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slice of Life: March 18 -- Spring Cleaning

I seem to do a lot of confessing on my blog, so I suppose it's time for another.  Let it be known, I don't like cleaning. 

One might think, judging by appearances alone, that I don't mind cleaning.  I appear organized.  My office looks tidy.  I seem to have things put together.  The truth is, however, that I stash things in desk drawers, have coffee mugs hidden under my desk out of sight, and like to hide clutter behind closet doors.  Even in my car, I'm notorious for stuffing my console and glove box full of receipts or trash, just so my car appears clean.  Out of sight, out of mind, seems to work for me. 

The other truth is, however, that this clutter drives me crazy.  I hate opening my desk drawers and seeing the clutter staring back at me.  The disorganized closet weighs on my mind.  Each day when I open my console to reach for my garage door opener, I stuff the receipts and junk back inside, vowing that I will clean it out and rid myself of the clutter.

I suppose time is a big reason that I dislike cleaning and why I accumulate clutter.  I sometimes feel as though I meet myself coming and going, arriving home late, going back to work for school events, and trying to work around my husband's busy schedule as well.  When we do have time at home, the last thing I want to do is clean house or organize the spare bedroom closet. 

This week, however, I found myself having little reason to put the cleaning off any longer.  So yesterday, I tackled the cleaning.  I organized our closet.  I picked up the clutter in the garage.  I even washed and cleaned my car.  I did all this, along with the normal dusting, sweeping, and cleaning that I do at our house on a regular basis.  I must admit, at the end of the day, when I sat down on the couch and admired my work, it felt good.  It felt nice to know my house was clean and I could enjoy the rest of my week without it weighing on my mind.  As I pulled my car in the garage, it was nice to know it really was clean and that I wouldn't be grappling with receipts and trash as I opened my console. 

Spring cleaning feels good.  No, it's not my favorite thing to do, but eliminating the clutter is refreshing.  Just don't open that one closet I haven't organized yet.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Slice of Life: March 17 -- Planting Seeds

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." ~Robert Louis Stevenson.

I don't have much of a green thumb.  Each summer I plant flowers at our house and, more often than not, by the time school starts, they have long dried up and withered away.  I don't fare much better with house plants.  The two that are in my office are only alive thanks to my secretary who faithfully waters them.  My husband wants to eventually plant a garden, but I worry that my lack of skill with flowers and plants will transcend into vegetables as well.

My life is much the same way.  Sometimes I forget to "water" the relationships in my life.  I don't spend enough time with my friends or family or I forget to tell others how much they truly mean to me.  Sometimes I get preoccupied with being busy and simply fail to be as effective as I want to be.  There are days when I feel like I haven't reaped much of a harvest.  I feel like I haven't made much of a difference, that I haven't been impactful, or that I've let others down.  It's in those moments that this quote comes to mind.

Farmers don't reap a harvest each day.  They plant seeds, water them, fertilize them, and over time, watch them grow.  It's only after lots of work, time, and effort that the harvest is reaped.  While the harvest is what receives the attention of others, it's the daily effort that goes in to planting the seeds that makes the harvest possible. 

The message is simple.  Live each day with the intent of planting seeds so that one day you may reap a harvest.  Invest time in a friendship.  Spend time with your family.  Give your schoolwork or your job your best effort.  Even on lazy, spring break days, find a way to make a difference.  Pay someone a compliment.  Do something nice for someone else.  You may not know the impact those little acts of kindness will have on someone.  You may never see the harvest, but know that each simple act plants the seed that lets someone know you care. 

Remember, the daily effort is what makes the harvest possible.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slice of Life: March 16 -- Beezer Weezer

I mentioned in an earlier post that I might at some point enlighten you about my nickname. Well, lucky you, today is the day.

Growing up, my family had what my parents referred to as their "adopted son."  No, he wasn't really adopted and he wasn't their son. Instead, he was a very close friend of our family who spent a great deal of time at our house. He was like a second big brother to me. He was in high school when my brother and I were only 4 and 7 years old. He often served as out babysitter and he frequently accompanied my family on trips to the lake. My parents took him under their wing and he truly became like a member of our family. His name was Tommy, and I vividly remember the Christmas when he bought my brother and I sweatshirts that said "Tommy's Boy" and "Tommy's Girl."  In his eyes, we were part of his family, too.

It was at some point during this time that Tommy nicknamed me Beezer Weezer. I have no idea where he came up with that nickname, nor do I have any idea why it "stuck." Either way, almost thirty years later, my family still calls me Beezer, Beeze, or Beezie.

Tommy went to college, got married (my brother and I were in his wedding), and moved to Texas. During this time, our family lost touch with Tommy. Ironically, four years ago I traveled to St. Louis for an orientation meeting for my doctorate degree program. It was during this meeting that I first met several members of our doctoral group. Surprisingly, there was Tommy. Even more surprising was the fact that we were in the same group, completed all our classes together, and were on the same project team who together wrote and defended our dissertation.

In May 2013, Tommy and I stood together in line and walked one behind the other as we received our doctorate degrees. Tommy now goes by Tom and like me, he has the title of "Dr." in front of his name. It's hard to believe that he's the same teenage kid who used to babysit me and gave me my nickname. I'm sure it's equally hard for him to believe that I'm the little blond headed girl he used to call "Tommy's Girl."

You never know who will enter your life, how long they will stay, and when your paths might cross again. Tommy was an important part of our family growing up and Tom was an important part of me earning my doctorate. I'm glad our paths crossed the first time, and I'm equally glad they crossed a second time, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slice of Life: March 15 -- My Day in a Nutshell

Here's a summary of my day:
  • Woke up with a horrible cold, feeling awful.
  • Ate breakfast and took a nap, hoping to feel better.
  • Took cold medicine and another brief nap.
  • Woke up feeling better.
  • Went to Springfield with my family to celebrate my birthday early.
  • Hung out at my brother and sister-in-law's house and watched my nephew play.
  • Went to dinner and ate way too much.
  • Laughed at my nephew and his funny antics.
  • Went back to my brother and sister-in-law's house to eat cake and ice cream.
  • Opened gifts.
  • Started home.
  • Arrived home, exhasusted. 
  • Writing my blog. 
  • Going to bed. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Slice of Life: March 14 -- 90 Years Young

As you get older, your definition of "old" changes.  As a kid, I remember thinking 40 was old.  Now that I'm about to turn 32, 40 definitely doesn't seem old.  My parents are both in their sixties, and I don't think of either of them as old.  I've also learned that being "old" is more of a mindset than anything.  My grandmother epitomizes the value that no matter your age, you can still be young at heart.

My grandma is an amazing woman.  She tells stories of growing up, moving from one place to another, often so her father could provide a meager living for his family.  My grandparents married in 1942 while my grandpa was stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana, waiting to be deployed into World War II.  My grandmother wasn't old enough to get married in the county where my grandpa was stationed, so they went across the county line, where they were married by a justice of the peace and two customers at a local drugstore served as the witnesses to their marriage.

Growing up, I have fond memories of my grandparents.  We spent a lot of time at their house, especially in the summer.  My grandparents lived down the street from 7-11, a local convenience store, and we would often beg to walk to the store to get a Slurpee.  She also lived a block from a park, where my brother and cousins and I spent lots of time swinging, going down the giant slide, and playing homerun derby on the tennis courts.  My grandparents had paneling in their hallway, and my cousins and I would mark our heights in the groove of the paneling.  It was fun to see how much we grew over the years.

When I was very young, my grandmother worked as a secretary at a school in Carthage where my mom taught.  I don't have lots of memories of her in that role, but I do remember all of our family surprising her when she retired from that job in 1989.  My grandpa was a brick mason by trade, but I mostly remember him building things and spending hours tending their huge garden.  My grandma would then spend hours canning vegetables they had grown.  I still can smell the vinegar she used when making pickles from the cucumbers they grew.   My grandparents had been married 55 years when my grandpa passed away in 1997.

My grandma in 1977 when she was a school secretary

After my grandpa died, my grandma spent time volunteering at the local hospital in Carthage.  When I would ask her what she did at the hospital, my grandma would reply, "I push old people around in their wheelchairs."  Mind you, my grandma was in her eighties when she said this and was, in fact, often much older than those she chauffeured at the hospital.  Like I said, "old" is definitely a mindset.

My grandma turned 90 in December.  Our family surprised her by giving her 90 envelopes containing messages from family and friends.  It was wonderful to see my grandma sit in her rocking chair and read the words written by so many people who love and care about her so much.  She has truly impacted countless lives, including mine.

My husband, Grandma, and me at her 90th birthday party

In many respects age is just a number.  As a kid, you probably don't think about it much.  But I will say that time seems to go faster the older you get.  My hope is to always be young at heart.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Slice of Life: March 13 -- Being an Aunt

I have the most adorable nephew in the world.  I know I am biased, but you have to admit he is cute.  Being an aunt is absolutely amazing.  There is nothing like it.  When my nephew says, "Love you," it melts my heart.

Part of the fun of having a nephew is getting to see my brother in an entirely new light now that he is a father.  I used to joke that I had two fathers -- my dad and my very overprotective older brother.  It's incredible to watch my brother interact with his son.  I love to see the joy my nephew brings to my brother's life.

Growing up, my brother and I fought like most siblings do.  Even though he was protective of me and wouldn't let anyone else give me a hard time, he seemed to think it was okay for him to pester me.  I remember playing cops and robbers and him tying me to a tree as part of the game.  That was okay until bugs began crawling on me and he refused to untie me.  As we grew older, we fought less frequently.  I was a freshman when he was a senior in high school, so we rode to school together.  I remember him telling my parents that he would take me to school, but that I would have to find my own ride home.  Looking back, I think he believed he could get to school early enough that none of his friends would see me with him, but after school, he would have no choice but to be seen with his sister.  Needless to say, my parents told him he would have to give me a ride home whether he liked it or not.

As we grew even older, my brother became my best friend.  He was a senior when I was a freshman in college and this time, it was okay to be seen with me.  We even had a class together that year.  We talked all the time, did things with one another, and even worked at the same job.

After he graduated from college, my brother moved to Columbia, Missouri, to attend law school.  I'll never forget the day we dropped him off at his apartment.  I bawled like a baby.  We had never been away from one another for any lengthy period of time, and I was struggling with the thought of not seeing my best friend everyday.  Instead, I had to settle for talking to my brother on the phone and occasional visits on the weekends and at holidays.  Each time he would call, I could count on him saying, "Hey Beezie!"  Beezie (or Beeze) is the nickname I inherited as a child (maybe that will be another blog post).  To this day, it's the same greeting my brother uses when I call or when we see one another.

My brother graduated from law school on the same day I graduated from college with my teaching degree.  I remember walking across the stage, accepting my diploma, and then walking straight out of the gym to meet my parents for a frantic car ride to Columbia in time to see my brother earn his law degree.  We always did like to do things together.

Even though my brother is married and has a son, he is still one of my best friends.  I look forward to talking to him and hearing that familiar, "Hey Beezie" on the other end of the line.  That's part of why I was so excited when my two year old nephew said, "Hi Beezie!" when I talked to him on the phone this week.  Talk about melting my heart!

As exciting as that was, it was even more exciting to find out that my brother and his wife are going to have twins.  I knew they were planning on having more children, but I never expected they would have twins.  This week we found out they are having twin boys.  I can only imagine how much fun my three nephews will have with one another and how amazing it will be to watch my brother with his growing family.  It's also fun to think that my nephew will get to be a big brother.  I'm sure he will be great.  After all, he learned from the best big brother -- his dad.

My brother, Scott, a few days after becoming a father.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Slice of Life: March 12 -- Being Blessed

A few days ago, I wrote about being a blessing to someone else.  I described my trip to dinner and the generous tip my husband and I left for our waiter.  I detailed how this simple act of generosity made my night.  At the end of that post, I challenged you to find ways to be a blessing to others.  I asked you to find a way to show kindness to someone, to bless someone in perhaps an unexpected way.  Sometimes it's funny how life works.  Little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of a blessing this week.

In order to understand why I feel so blessed, you need to have read yesterday's guest post on Miss Collins' blog.

Yesterday afternoon I was running around school feeling frazzled and trying to cross things off my to-do list.  It's been especially busy at school the past week and, I must admit, there have been several times I have felt frustrated and overwhelmed.  It's during these times that I begin to question my effectiveness and the impact I have on students, teachers, and staff members.  When I run around all day jumping from one activity to the next, I often feel like I'm simply putting out fires (figuratively speaking, of course) rather than making a difference.

In one of those frazzled moments I stopped at my desk to quickly check my email.  That's when I noticed an email from a teacher at the junior high with the simple subject line that read "Blog."  Curious, I sat down to read it.  Little did I know that I was just about to receive a tremendous blessing.

I honestly sat at my desk with tears in my eyes as I read the words written by Coach Womack.  Words truly cannot describe how honored I felt that she would choose to write about me.  I was shocked that she remembered those details about me from all those years ago.  I was more surprised to learn that my very first encounter with her had made such an impact on her.  I quickly wrote a reply back to Coach Womack, but it was hard to find the right words to tell her how much her post meant to me.  Thank you just didn't seem to be enough.

The funny thing is, I remember playing softball for Coach Womack.  Odd as it may be, I still have the t-shirt from when I was ten years old and played on her all-star team.  While my memory of those softball games is a little fuzzy, I definitely remember my years playing volleyball with Coach Womack on the sidelines.  The time I spent on the court -- playing with both of Coach Womack's daughters, nonetheless -- provided some of the best memories of my life.  I never knew she was responsible for helping me earn my first coaching job and I certainly never knew that I had made any impact on her life.

So today I feel honored.  I feel blessed.  I honestly feel undeserving of the compliments and attention.  Mostly, I feel thankful.  Coach Womack's words came at the precise moment I needed them.  Just like you never know when someone will enter your life and make an impact, you never know when someone's words will inspire you, motivate you, and encourage you.  I'm quite certain I spent the rest of the day with my chin held a little higher and an extra spring in my step.

Your words are powerful.  They make a difference.  They can build someone up or they can tear someone down.  How will you choose to use them?  Who will you inspire?

So thank you, Coach Womack.  Somehow those words cannot fully convey my gratitude, but please know, you made my day!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Slice of Life: March 11 -- Trying Something New

It's confession time again.

I don't like change.  I never really have.  I tend to like things better when they stay the same.  I'm a creature of habit and function best when I have a routine.

I suppose that's why my interests have changed little over the years.  I like the same television shows I liked ten years ago.  I like the same sports, the same teams, the same games.  Even my food preferences have changed little over the years.  Sure, I like to try new things every once in a while (like sushi, for example), but my old standbys are what I crave most often.

That's why last year, when a friend asked me if I'd been to a musical, I hesitated.  I hesitated in my reply, not because I wasn't sure how to reply, but more because I wasn't sure why she was asking.  Was she just curious?  Was she going to tell me how she couldn't believe that I had never been to a musical?  And most importantly, was she going to ask me to go to a musical with her?

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the thought of going to a musical had never crossed my mind.  It wasn't on my bucket list.  It wasn't something that had ever interested me.  It wasn't even on my radar.  Nonetheless, I answered her question with a hesitant "No."

As for the purpose of her question, I suppose I was right on all accounts.  She was curious, she did tell me she couldn't believe I had never been to a musical, and she did invite me to a musical with her.  At this point, I became even more apprehensive.  I'm more of a sports fan.  Give me a good football game or basketball game and I'm set.  Even a concert would be nice.  I can listen to music and have a great time.  But a musical?  With singing and dancing and acting all rolled into one?  That was a bit of a stretch.

My friend quickly made it her mission to get me to a musical, and somehow, during that time, my idea about attending a musical began to change.  I became excited.  I talked to other friends who had been to musicals who assured me I would love it.  I even began to tell others about my upcoming adventure.  As the day finally arrived, I was almost giddy with excitement and anticipation.

Looking back on that experience, I've begun to wonder what made me change my mind.  What made me want to try something new?  Here's what I've discovered:

1.  It wasn't so much about going to the musical, but it was about doing something with a friend.  My friend loved musicals and had been to several.  Part of the reason my opinion changed was because I wanted to experience why my friend like musicals so much.  It helped me get to know her better and understand a little more about her interests.

2.  I knew this friend knew me well enough that she wouldn't ask me to go to something she knew I wouldn't like.  I also knew that if I told her I wasn't interested, she would have let it go and wouldn't have forced to me to do something I really didn't want to do.

3.  Perhaps this friend knew something about me that I didn't even know about myself.  Perhaps she knew I just needed to experience a musical in order to discover how much I enjoyed it.  Without her prompting, I never would have had that experience.

4.  Trying new things is fun, especially when you try them with your friends and people you care about.  Part of the fun is experiencing that "new thing" not only through your perspective, but through the perspective of someone else.

I assume the big question now is whether or not I enjoyed the musical.  No, I did not enjoy it, I absolutely loved it.  Not only was it entertaining, it was inspiring and breathtaking.  I was in awe of the talent, the special effects, the costumes.  Perhaps it was just this particular musical that inspired me, but it has opened my eyes to the possibility of others and has made me realize that maybe I do like musicals after all.

Yes, trying new things is scary.  It's challenging.  Sometimes it forces you out of your comfort zone.  But sometimes, it also helps you discover things about yourself and you just might learn to like something new!


Monday, March 10, 2014

Slice of Life: March 10 -- Fear Not

Fear.  It is truly a four letter word.

There is fear and then there is FEAR.  Sure, there are things that are kind of scary, like a big spider, but then there are things that are really scary, like a little snake.  No, I didn't get those backwards.  A big spider might frighten me a little, but even the tiniest, worm-like snake sends me running for the hills (well, anywhere in the opposite direction of the snake).

Before my husband and I got married, I told him about my fear of snakes.  I told him how much I hate them, how even a picture of a snake sends a shiver down my spine.  I did my best to help him understand just how terrified I am of these hideous, slithering creatures.  I don't think he understood.

One day we went to Petland to look at puppies.  For some reason, we made our way to the back corner of the store where the fish are located.  I didn't realize, however, that beyond the fish were the slithering, hissing creatures from my nightmares.  We rounded the corner and there they were.  Tiny snakes and medium sized snakes, all in glass aquariums.  It didn't matter that they couldn't get to me.  It didn't matter how small they were.  A snake is a snake is a snake.  A snake behind glass is still a snake.  I took one look at the glassed in hissing creatures and told my husband to get me out of the room.  I think he thought I was joking until he saw the look on my face.  "You really are scared of snakes," he said, once we exited the area and I quit squirming.  "I told you I was scared of snakes," I retorted.

Snakes are probably at the top of my list of tangible things I fear.  I use the word tangible because there are so many other things I'm afraid of that don't really count as "things."  You can't touch them and you can't see them.  I can, however, feel them.  Fears like failure and disappointing others.

I hate to admit to these fears.  Unlike my fear of snakes, my less tangible fears are somehow more apparent in my life on a daily basis.  I don't have to face a snake everyday, but each day there is some other fear I have to face.

It's when I begin to think about these fears that I have to remind myself that I can learn to conquer them and can learn from them.  I have failed on numerous occasions, but I have learned from those mistakes.  I remember taking Calculus in high school and failing my first test.  I was mortified.  My worst fear had come true.  I learned, however, how to bounce back from that and I learned how to help my own students overcome their struggles when I became a math teacher.

I also frequently disappoint people, even when I don't intend to.  Even with the best of intentions, I sometimes hurt people's feelings or let people down.  Once again, when that happens, I have to remind myself to learn from it and do my best to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future.

Most importantly, I've learned that facing my fears has often provided me with a great sense of accomplishment.  When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go to Paris and London with my high school French class.  Part of me really wanted to go.  Several of my friends were going on the trip and my French teacher who was sponsoring the trip was one of my favorite teachers.  Part of me, the bigger part of me, was scared about going on the trip.  I had never been away from home for more than a few days and quite honestly, I let my fears keep me from going on that trip.  After looking back on a missed opportunity, I vowed that I wouldn't miss a similar opportunity in the future.

I was part of the Honor's Program in college.  One of the requirements of the program was to study abroad.  Finally, I had no choice.  In order to graduate with honors, I had to travel outside the country.  The summer before my senior year of college, I went on a trip to Italy with the education department.  Several of my friends went on the trip, too, and it remains one of the best experiences of my life.  I faced my fears, flew on a plane for over nine hours, and spent 17 days in Italy.

So fear not.  Do your best.  Learn from your mistakes.

But just so you know, I still plan to avoid snakes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Slice of Life: March 9 -- Being a Blessing

I must admit that I wasn't thrilled when my husband suggested a particular restaurant when we were on our way to dinner a few nights ago.  It wasn't that the food didn't sound good, but it was more because I'm trying to watch what I eat and this particular restaurant was going to tempt me to eat all the things I'm trying to avoid.  Nonetheless, I gave in and agreed to do my best to find something somewhat healthy on the menu.

When we sat down, I bypassed all the delicious, calorie infused items such as pancakes and french toast and opted for one of the healthier items with a little green leaf next to it.  Our waiter introduced himself, took our order, and quickly returned with our drinks.  Being thirsty, I emptied my glass of tea in only a few minutes, at which time, our waiter returned with another full glass.  Within minutes that glass was halfway empty, at which time our waiter returned yet again with another full glass.  Our food arrived quickly, and our waiter delivered it with a smile, asking if we needed anything, and provided us with extra napkins.

I've been to lots of restaurants and I have had lots of good waiters, but there was something about this particular waiter that caught my attention.  We weren't spending a lot of money on our dinner, so he wasn't working hard for a hefty tip.  He had several other tables that included more than just two people, yet he paid such attention to my husband and me.  He was extremely polite, very personable, and he practically ran from one task to another.

When he dropped off our check, my husband asked me the normal question he poses when paying our bill: "What should we leave for a tip?"  At that point, we both had the idea to bless our waiter with a nice tip instead of our normal fifteen percent.  Granted, it wasn't a huge tip, but it was much more than I'm sure he expected, especially when considering the price of our meal.  My husband wrote down the tip, signed his name to the receipt, I wrote a note at the bottom thanking our waiter for his excellent service, and then we left the table.  I must admit, we walked to the parking lot and stood where we could watch through the window as our waiter read the message and saw our tip.  He stood there for several seconds reading the receipt, and I can only hope that we made his night just a little better.

The truth is, our waiter made my night better.  Not just because he provided excellent service, but mostly because I had the opportunity to bless someone else with a little extra tip and an encouraging note.  I had an obvious smile on my face as I got in my car and drove away from the restaurant.  Boy, it feels good to be a blessing to someone else.

So many people have blessed me in my life.  I have been on the receiving end of a nice comment, a thoughtful note, or more simply, a much needed smile or hug.  The side of my filing cabinet in my office contains notes, cards, and positive comments others have given me during the year.  When I get frustrated or down on myself, I look at those notes and remember the positive things I'm doing and how blessed I am to have people in my life who take the time to tell me thank you or that they appreciate me.

Our school just completed the Great Kindness Challenge a few weeks ago.  My challenge to you at the end of that week was to continue to be intentional about being kind to others.  My hope was that you would seek out opportunities to be a blessing to someone else.  My wish was that you would live your life in a way that others see kindness reflected in all you do.  Well, I guess I needed that reminder myself this week.  In truth, this past week was challenging, and there were lots of times that I became frustrated and overwhelmed.  It's amazing how much better I felt when I stopped thinking about my frustrations and instead took time to show kindness to someone else.

So that's my challenge to you again.  Look for an opportunity to bless someone this week.  Do something out of kindness, perhaps for someone that least expects it.  Who knows?  You might just make their day and your day, too!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Slice of Life: March 8 -- Learning to Relax

Rainy days normally don't make me smile.  Cold, rainy days are even worse.  So why am I smiling today?  It's simple.  I don't feel guilty for being lazy on a cold, rainy day like today.  I especially don't feel guilty being lazy on a cold, rainy day that also happens to include me losing an hour of sleep due to Daylight Savings Time.

I suppose I wasn't necessarily lazy today, but I certainly took time to relax.  I suppose I shouldn't feel guilty for relaxing, but when I have so much to do, I often feel guilty when I take time to be "unproductive."  The truth is, I can always find something to do.  There is always laundry to be done, something to be cleaned, a closet that can be organized, schoolwork that needs attended to.  This perpetual state of always having something that needs to be done can be exhausting.

That's why days like today make me smile.  There's something refreshing about taking a day to relax and unwind.  It's nice to sit on the couch and enjoy a movie or take a nap in the middle of the day.

In some respects, I've had to learn how to relax.  I've been used to having so much to do that sometimes it's hard to stop and take a break.  I've learned, however, that taking a break allows me to come back more refreshed and more productive.

So I plan to enjoy the rest of my cold, rainy Saturday, knowing that tomorrow and the week ahead will provide plenty of time for being productive.  The laundry can be done later, the closet door will hide the clutter, and the dishes in the sink will just have to wait one more day.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Slice of Life: March 7 -- It's the Hard that Makes it Great

Picture this: It's 7:00 a.m. on a summer morning.  It's early.  The grass is fresh with dew.  My muscles are stiff because I just got out of bed.  I load up a bag that must weigh fifteen pounds and make sure I have all the gear I need for the day.

Little wooden spikes? Check.

The pointed little tool?  Check.

The glove that slips on my left hand?  Check.

Clubs I'll later be swinging?  Check.

Believe it or not, this is my favorite way to start a summer day.  I don my polo shirt and shorts, put on my baseball cap, tie my shoes, slip on my glove, put my divot tool in my pocket, set the little white ball on the wooden tee, swing away, and begin hole number one of eighteen.

Ah, yes, the perfect day at the golf course has begun.

While perfect might describe my day at the golf course, it certainly doesn't describe my golf game.  It's true that sometimes golf is simply a good walk spoiled (that is if you walk and don't ride in a cart like I do).  Golf is truly the most frustrating, aggravating, and exasperating game I have ever played.  At the same time, it's the most addictive game as well.  I can have seventeen bad holes and one good hole and like a vacuum, I am sucked back in.  I can hit one good shot and I suddenly believe I am Tiger Woods.  I can play a bad round of golf and swear I'm never playing again only to be back at the course the next day, swinging away and getting drawn back in to the frustrating game that I just can't seem to quit playing.

Why then, do I love golf?  What makes me want to get out of bed at 7:00 in the morning during the summer on a 90 degree day to chase a little white ball with the goal of putting it in a little hole?  What keeps me coming back for more, even when I say I'm done with this crazy game that I both love and hate?

The answer?  It's the challenge.  It's the fact that it's not easy.  It's the fact I haven't mastered it yet (nor will I ever).  It's the fact that despite all the bad shots and terrible scores, I absolutely love the game.  I love that it's hard and that it pushes me to my limits.  Golf makes me think.  Golf makes me analyze.  Golf challenges me in a way no other sport or game ever has.  It's hard.  To quote Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own, "It's supposed to be hard.  It's the hard that makes it great."

The truth is, most everything in my life that's been worth doing has been hard.  My job, which I love, is hard.  Getting my doctorate degree was hard.  Building a house was hard.  Even writing this blog has been hard.  But it's the hard that makes it great.  It's the satisfaction that comes with knowing I've accomplished something that was difficult -- that's what brings pride and, quite frankly, joy to my life.

Just like my golf game, there have been times when I've wanted to quit.  There have been times when I've questioned what I've gotten myself into.  There have even been times when I have questioned my ability to succeed.  I've felt not smart enough, not talented enough, not capable enough.  It's those times that I must remind myself that it's the challenge that comes during the journey that makes the destination so much sweeter.

In golf you sometimes get mulligans -- "do overs" where your shot doesn't count.  While helpful, they don't make me a better golfer.  They don't challenge me to make every shot count, to take each swing seriously.  The same is true with life.  I don't get any mulligans.  There are no "do overs."  There will be challenges and there will be times when you want to give up.  That's when I urge you to remember to embrace the challenge.  Look for opportunities to push yourself to do things you never thought you could do.  It won't be easy, but trust me, the reward is worth the effort.

Tee up the ball, take your best swing, and don't forget to enjoy the walk.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Slice of Life: March 6 -- The Right Pair of Shoes

I can do anything with the right pair of shoes.

If you browse the shelves of my closet, you'll see what I mean.  Some might say I have a problem, that my obsession with shoes is a bit over the top.  I disagree.  Just like a seasoned mechanic can fix just about any problem with the right tool, I tend to believe I can do anything with the right shoes.

I have shoes for every situation.  When I want to dress up, I have my high heels.  They come in many different colors and patterns.  I have brown heels, black heels, red heels, leopard print heels, plaid heels, heels that look like they're made of cork, and even fun multi-colored heels with crazy patterns.  These are my go-to shoes when I want to jazz up an outfit.

When I'm feeling more casual (or when my feet just can't handle the pain and discomfort after a full day in heels), I opt for my flats.  I have cute, dressy flats and flats that are designed just for comfort.

My tennis shoes are also some of my favorites.  I have tennis shoes in different colors and styles.  Some are more suited for running (even though I'm not a runner) or working out, but most are just for fun.

Then I have my summer shoes.  This includes my flip flops, my dressy sandals, and my all time favorite, boat shoes.  I live in my Sperry's in the summer, opting for the comfort and the fun color of these shoes.

Finally, I have what I call my "purposeful shoes."  These are my shoes that have a specific purpose and job.  My golf shoes, for example, or the shoes I wear when I work in the yard, fall into this category.

So why all this talk about shoes?  As I was thinking about what to write about today, my shoes came to mind (perhaps it's because I wore a new pair of heels yesterday).  I thought about all the different shoes I have and the funny quote about being able to do anything with the right shoes.  While that quote made me laugh, the more I thought about it, the more I began to think about how my shoes are kind of like an analogy to the different roles and responsibilities I have and how I have to use different skills in each of those roles.

My high heels won't do me much good on the golf course and I would never wear my yard shoes to work.  Each of the shoes I own have a function, a purpose, and a specific time or place to be worn.  The same is true of the different roles I play in my life.  When I'm at school, I play the role of teacher, principal, coach, evaluator, and counselor.  Even though only one of those is my "official" title, the others are roles I step in and fulfill on a frequent basis when needed.  When I'm coaching someone and trying to help them improve, I use a very different set of skills than I use when I'm evaluating someone and discussing their strengths and weaknesses.  My role as a principal requires me to sometimes assign consequences, but I often switch roles and then counsel students, trying to help them understand how to behave differently in the future.  On the other hand, outside of school, I have many different roles as well.  I'm a wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend.  In each of those roles, I use different skills.  The way I interact and the conversations I have with my two year old nephew are different than those I have with my parents.  Even the way I talk and interact with my 90 year old grandmother is different than the way I talk and interact with my brother.

You play many different roles in your life as well.  Those roles require you to develop a set of skills to help you be successful.  You have to be able to communicate with different people, to know when it's time to laugh and play and when it's time to be more serious.  The way you write when you're texting your friends is different than the way you write an essay for class or even when you're writing on your blog.  Your role as a student is different than your role as a friend, son, daughter, brother, or sister.

One thing I love about my collection of shoes is the fact that I have so many different ones to choose from and so many that are just right for different situations.  My job and my life are much the same.  I love the fact that I have so many different roles I get to play each day and that I am continually faced with different situations that allow me to develop a variety of skills in order to be successful.

My challenge to you is to think about the different roles you have in your life and what you're doing to develop the skills to help you be successful.  What are you doing to be a good student, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend, etc.?  What skills have you already developed that are helping you be successful now and what skills do you need to improve upon?  Figure out those skills, hone them, and then put them into practice.

As for me, I'm going to strive to recognize the different roles I play and continue to develop the skills I need to be successful in all those situations.  And I will continue to believe I can do anything with the right pair of shoes!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slice of Life: March 5 -- The Letter

Those of you who have been in my office have probably noticed the diplomas on my wall, the framed pictures of my family, and maybe even the Mizzou helmet that is perched on my bookshelf.  Each of those items are of great value to me and represent who I am as a person.  They are prominently displayed and not hard to miss.

What you may have failed to notice is what I consider the most valuable, most meaningful item in my office.  No, it's not my Doctorate diploma or the dissertation I wrote in order to earn the title, "Dr. Zornes."  It's not the awards that hang on my wall or sit on my shelf.  While I'm proud of those accomplishments and the tokens that represent them, what I value most sits in a simple black frame and resides on top of my filing cabinet.  It's inconspicuous.  It may appear insignificant.  To most, it wouldn't mean much.  To, me, however, it means everything.

In order to understand the significance of this one possession, you must first understand the significance of the person attached to it -- my dad.  My dad was my hero as a kid.  I remember believing he could do anything, and looking back, I realize he believed I could do anything, too.  I have fond memories of my childhood, of times spent at the lake fishing, family vacations, trips to breakfast on Saturday mornings, and "Celebrating Success," special nights out to celebrate and recognize accomplishments in our family.  My dad and mom both did everything they could to make memories with my brother and me.

Not only was my dad my hero, he was my kindergarten principal.  I remember loving the fact that I went to school with my dad each day.  When I would see him in the hallway, I would run out of line to give him a hug.  Of course, that resulted in every other kindergartener running out of line to hug my dad, too.  I remember being crushed when my dad told me I couldn't get out of line in the hall to give him a hug anymore.  He explained that Mrs. Berry needed us to stay in line in the hallway and that meant I had to stay in line like everyone else.  To this day, I remember knocking on my dad's office door with a note from my teacher that read, "Your daughter needs to give you a hug."  Apparently I managed to find a way to get my hug, although it required an office pass.

My dad went on to become an assistant superintendent, superintendent, and a college professor.  My mom was an elementary school teacher, so I suppose it was only natural for me to follow in my parents' footsteps.  I don't remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a teacher, but I do remember wanting to inspire others the way my parents had inspired me and so many of their students.

I went to college and graduated with a degree in elementary education.  I remember both my parents being proud of me and my accomplishments.  I also remember my desire to make them proud, to live up to the legacy they established in their combined 65 years in education.

I remember the day I got my first teaching job as a sixth grade teacher here at the middle school.  Just like on so many other occasions, my family paused to "Celebrate Success."  I was excited and nervous about my new adventure.  I was also like a sponge, desperate to soak up any advice and wisdom I could from my parents.

That brings me back to the beginning of this post and the prized possession that sits atop my filing cabinet, encased in a simple black frame.  I told you it means everything to me.  Not because it's valuable.  To anyone else it wouldn't amount to much.  To me it is everything because the person who gave it to me means everything to me.

A letter from my dad, written to me when I started teaching, sits in that simple black frame perched on top of my filing cabinet.  You might not notice it.  It might not mean much to you.  To me, it represents a lifetime of love and encouragement that has carried me where I am today.

I still aspire to be like my dad.  Just like him, I've been a teacher and a principal.  Just like him, I've earned the title of "Dr."  And, one day, just like him, I hope to be a superintendent or a professor.

So who do you aspire to be?  Who has influenced your life and helped make you the person you are today and the person you are still becoming?  And, perhaps most importantly, who will you one day inspire?

Who knows?  Someday you might have a simple framed letter sitting on your filing cabinet, too.

My dad, mom, and me at my Doctorate graduation

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Slice of Life: March 4 -- Catching Excellence

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."  (Vince Lombardi)

It's confession time: I'm a perfectionist.  By definition, a perfectionist refuses to accept any standard below perfection.  Essentially, it means anything less than perfect is unacceptable.  The very definition of a perfectionist oozes with impossibility.  None of us can be perfect and none of us can live up to such a high standard.

Just like my competitive nature can sometimes get me in trouble, my perfectionist nature isn't always my best friend.  I scrutinize every detail of an email before hitting send.  Those automated phone calls I send out -- I listen to them several times to make sure they sound just right.  Just yesterday, I rehung a mirror in my closet just because it was slightly less than level (and it's in my closet where no one else will see it).

Why then, do I still strive for perfection despite the fact I know it's impossible?  Why do I agonize over little details?  Why do I expect so much of myself?  The answer is simple: if I aim to be perfect, a goal that I'm destined to fall short of, then at least when I fall short, I can perhaps attain excellence.  It's like throwing darts at a dartboard.  I might never hit the bullseye, but I still aim for it.  I don't aim for the outer circle, I aim for the center -- I aim for perfection.

The truth is, it's not about being a perfectionist.  Believe me, it has its downfalls.  It is, however, about aiming to do your very best.  It's about setting high standards for yourself and doing all you can to reach them.  You might fall short (all of us do), but you might also surprise yourself at what you can do when you aim high and shoot for the bullseye.