Diversity in the Classroom: the Mennonite Surprise for Liberal Educators

One of the things that has constantly amazed me about teaching at my tiny little Mennonite school is that there is so much diversity. You wouldn’t think so, would you? Not, at least, in a church school serving a conservative denomination that, for better or for worse, has historically stressed conformity.

DIVERSITY IS THE WORD
The word “diversity” is certainly a current catchphrase in today’s world, especially in the liberal public university. You hear about it everywhere from biology (natural diversity), to sociology (social diversity), to literature (various and diverse literary theories). In education courses, we study diversity as it relates to the kinds of students in the classroom. We study different kinds of learners, but we also talk about the various cultural differences that might pop up in the classroom which we might have to deal with. We are instructed to be understanding of that diversity.

MENNONITES: CULTURALLY DIVERSE?
When I moved to Indiana, I felt that in some ways, my days of figuring out diversity were over. After all, I was moving to a tiny town in a rural religious community. How diverse could it be? I figured pretty much everyone would be wearing John Deere t-shirts and camo, and totin’ rifles and warm apple pies. I assumed that I had this community all figured out. I mean, hey, I grew up Mennonite, how “culturally” different could it be?

I assumed I would have my classroom figured out because I reasoned that my students would have a similar background to me. And to a certain extent they do. For many of the students, we have a lot in common. Things like whoopie pies and homemade bread. A capella singing and church food committees. Funerals meals and wedding volleyball. We all know what these things are. But there are ways in which diversity pops up in unexpected ways. For example, our school serves over ten different area churches. Those churches differ in practice and expression of their Christianity. That means the children’s homes differ. Different families have different attitudes toward education. Different families have different practices relating to the use of social media, movies, and Netflix.

A visitor to our school would look out at all my students and see one mass of Mennonite kids. But to the keen eye, the diversity is invigorating. Contrary to what would have been my assumption, not all of my students have white European ancestry. We have students whose racial backgrounds span four different continents. So in history class, I can’t so easily gloss “our ancestors” as being the early Anabaptists in Europe. Also, we have diversity in family background. I think there’s an assumption that Mennonite families are these perfect little units with a Mom and a Dad, six kids, and grandparents next door. But I have found that not all of my students have picture-perfect-package, tied-with-a-bow, families. I see a child desperate for attention, attention she doesn’t get from her large family at home. I see students whose families have been touched with death or separation. I see students fiercely missing their older siblings who are growing up and moving away. I see students with parents from different cultural backgrounds. Backgrounds other than the cookie-cutter Mennonite background of Northern Indiana Amish ancestry. I see students whose families have been touched with pain due to church problems.

And while our private school employs a strict dress code (thankfully), you can even pick out diversity in the students’ personal style through their footwear. Vans or Toms? Converse or Air Jordans? Uggs or wedge booties? There is certainly diversity and difference of opinion.

STEREOTYPES: WHAT’S THE POINT?
So I ask myself, where did this cookie cutter come from? And since it doesn’t fit so many of my students, why don’t we just get rid of it?

Because life is easier if we don’t take diversity into account. It’s much simpler to talk about things “on the whole.” It’s easier to talk about “the majority.” It’s easier to make something “one-size-fits-all.”

But maybe we’re missing something by ignoring diversity. Maybe we’re missing something by not taking other viewpoints into account. Maybe we’re missing something by not using our creative minds to imagine what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

DIVERSITY IN UNIFORMITY
It’s interesting to me that my school is more diverse than I (and maybe other outsiders) originally assumed, but that my school, as a whole, also adds to diversity in literary experiences. Let me explain. While my students’ home lives may be diverse (they have different backgrounds or family dynamics), they still represent, “on the whole” (to borrow that horrid phrase) a generally similar ethnic, or people group, background. The religious background is pretty unifying at our school. So while there is diversity, we do experience a unifying identity. (Students are taught to filter life’s questions through an Anabaptist, Biblical worldview. And many students experience the same in their home churches.)

Yet taking this further, I see this unifying Mennonite identity as adding to diversity in contemporary culture. It is intriguing to see my Mennonite students defy secular teenage stereotypes in the English classroom. I would like to explain how my Mennonite students add diversity where my secular university said there would be no diversity of opinion.

I once took an education course on juvenile literature. The class should have been renamed: Liberal Agenda for Teaching Trashy Young Adult Novels. My professor put together a reading list of “diverse” contemporary literature written for young adults. We read these books in order to get ideas for what to teach at the secondary level. (Later, I found out that nearly all twelve novels were on the banned books list. I should have figured that out. I THOUGHT they were trashy! But coming from my Mennonite background, I wasn’t exactly sure what you “English” people read when you are teenagers.) The point my professor was trying to make by having us read these books and discussing them in class was that there is some literary merit to banned books, and reading edgy novels like this in class can get students excited about literature. It gets them reading, and it gets them thinking. Sometimes contemporary novels can be paired with classics to make that interaction with a classic text more meaningful. (For example, pairing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with The Scarlet Letter to update discussions about  subculture versus dominant culture.)

The point of the class was not always that classics are bad, but sometimes we need to work really hard to make connections for students. However, there was much classics bashing in that class, especially about some of the heavier religious classics. For example, I was told up and down: “Do not teach The Scarlet Letter. Students hate it. They do not relate to it. Are you teaching is simply because it’s on the curriculum? Get creative.” When I got to my school, I noticed The Scarlet Letter on the curriculum, and I thought to myself, “Oh no, here we go.”

Guess what?
My students loved it. One student gushed: “I loved that book! I would have read it on my own, but I got soooo much more out of it because we discussed it in class!” Every day the kids would come to class: “WHAT?! Dimmesdale is THE FATHER?!”
And the themes of legalism, communities’ response to sin (and sinners), the theme of guilt… All of these things my students highly identified with, and they could relate to these themes. We played conscience alley with the different characters. We played “What Would I Do?” games. We talked about the spiritual themes of the book. (We get to do this at our religious school.) So, thank you, Hawthorne. You wrote a classic, and it still speaks to people today, even teenagers.

I bring this up because I was told that teenagers HATE The Scarlet Letter. Ironically, an institution that preaches diversity got it wrong. They left a Christian perspective out. Interestingly, my teenagers’ one point of uniformity is their one point of diversity in the world. They deeply understand the idea of community versus the individual. They understand the idea of sin and guilt. They’ve seen legalism and hypocrisy played out in their own communities, especially in religious contexts. In some ways, the themes of the novel are very real to them. So I say that I love that my classroom is diverse. And even in its uniformity it is diverse, because they relate to literature they’re “not supposed” to relate to.

This year we read The Pilgrim’s Progress. I had a bit of the same reaction. Oh, dear. Here we go again. Another deep religious classic. But again, my students were so into it. It was the first day, and we had an invigorating discussion about justification by faith alone versus the viewpoint of salvation being faith and works. WOULD YOU EVEN GET THAT READING TWILIGHT. What excited me most about the conversation is that the conversation wasn’t entirely between me and the students. The students were talking amongst themselves, exchanging ideas. So I went home that day smiling. Once again. My students are proving the majority wrong. There are teenagers who want to talk about spiritual things. They don’t see Bunyan and Hawthorne as boring dead guys. (Well, I mean, let’s be honest. Of course they do. But they are willing to discuss the themes of their work. And sometimes volatile discussions ensue. I feel like those are the days that I WIN as an English teacher. Or at least literature wins.)

My take-away lesson is: never assume there is a cookie-cutter shape. Always be on the lookout for subtle differences. If there is a majority, find how that majority is different from other majorities. Diversity is a thing.

My teens get The Scarlet Letter. Not a ton of English teachers can say that.

Maybe we’re missing something by ignoring diversity. Maybe we’re missing something by not taking other viewpoints into account. Maybe we’re missing something by not using our creative minds to imagine what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Summer Reading List 2015

School’s out! Which means that it is time to begin acting out my single summer fantasy: reading barefoot on the patio. All. Summer. Long.

It’s been a humdinger of year, and maybe someday when I’m really brave, I will decide to write about it. At this point, I’m REALLY happy to be out of the classroom. Like. Out. Rolling in the grass. I have lots of goal-setting to do this summer for next school year, but right now that can wait.

Here’s my summer reading list, full of books which I will be voraciously devouring between trips to the library, the coffee shop, and the local farmer’s market.

post 7

1. Obligatory Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Would you believe I have never read this book? I am quite possibly the least well-read English major with a bachelors degree. I always feel the need to apologize for my lack of knowledge of classic texts. Anyhow, I am making up for it by inhaling classics whenever I can. (I most recently finished Briggs’s translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and it was an absolute delight. A monument to the theory of history, to Russia, and to everything that makes us human.)
I picked up my Warner Books copy of To Kill a Mockingbird at a garage sale a few years back, and it’s been waiting for me on my shelf. I had half a mind to save it until after I read Lee’s new novel due out in July called Go Set a Watchman. Here’s why. Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman before To Kill a Mockingbird! Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first but publishers declined publishing it and instead encouraged her to create a novel about the main character’s childhood, which ended up being To Kill a Mockingbird. Technically, I had the chance to read these books in the order that Lee herself created them, rather than reading them chronologically. But. I couldn’t last. I guess I’ll leave that experience to some other young scholar and instead read the books in their chronological story order along with the rest of the population.

I’m halfway through savoring To Kill a Mockingbird, and besides being delighted with the vocabulary that reminds me of all things childhood (phrases like “open-faced sandwich” and “Miss Priss”), I am fully absorbed in Lee’s characters, and their familiarness, yet their curiousness, not to mention her slick and humorous descriptions (“Two geological ages later, Jem came home”) and her appropriately placed aphorisms (“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”). I think it is safe to say that everyone should read this book.

post 8

2. Obligatory Classic #2: Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
In case you didn’t know, Lee wrote a book about Scout’s adulthood before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird! I certainly didn’t know, and no one else really did either until Lee’s lawyer found the old manuscript last October and began working with 89-year-old Lee to get it published. Only two million are being printed, so you better snap yours up quickly! Mine is preordered from my local bookstore, and just so you know, July 14th will be theeee literary event of the year!

post 9

3. Theology: Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
Is this theology? I don’t know. It’s definitely inspirational religious scholarship. Wright not so much as presents new topics but instead reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible but we sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important, and how that changes how we live here on earth. Wright writes his book because he has picked up on an oddity of Christians that even Harper Lee notices. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Miss Maudie says, “There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.” Wright notices the same. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening,” and seeking only to “endure” this life, until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.”

I’m currently still in the beginning where Wright presents many facts about the early church and its views on the resurrection, and I’m learning A LOT. Not a light read, but he could have fooled me in the friendly, conversational introduction, which introduces the interesting landscape of British Christianity, which is in fact the viewpoint from which N. T. Wright is writing. Besides being one of the world’s top Bible scholars, he is also a Bishop for the Church of England.

post 10

4. Nonfiction: 1491 by Charles C. Mann
What happened in 1492? Columbus sailed the ocean blue!
But what was America like in 1491? What was life like in these United States before Europeans arrived? Many of our American history books begin with the story of Spanish explorers, and very little space is devoted to the history of indigenous people. This book gives a fuller history of pre-Columbian America along with ground-breaking research that brings into question many of our assumptions about our land before colonization, including assumptions like:
“The New World was relatively unpopulated.”
“Native Americans lived in the wilderness and never touched it.”
“Native Americans were unsophisticated and lived in simple societies compared to Europeans at the time.”
“Cities didn’t exist.”
However, did you know that the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was larger than any European city at the time and also had running water?!

I suggested this book to a high school junior this year for a book report, thinking she might like it, and I got rave reviews! I’m so looking forward to reading this book! Hoping it might inform me before I dive back into American literature next year.

post 11

5. Nonfiction: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
In much the same vein, Bury My Heart is an American history book about how the West was won, but it is written from a Native American perspective, one which happens not to leave out inconvenient truths about the American government. Historically, and contrary to popular belief, not all American Indians were tomahawk-thrusting, war-painted savages. Neither were all European settlers simply gentle pioneers. The fact of the matter is that the American government committed many atrocities against Native Americans. We are all aware, aren’t we, that “history” is essentially a narrative told from the perspective of whoever is in charge, right? I would argue that it’s probably good to hear from alllllll perspectives, not just the ones of those in charge. Basically, you are responsible for what is left out of your history book. You’re going to have to work a little bit to get the correct information, but the books are out there. Read them.

By the time I get through these, I’m guessing it might be the middle of July, and I’ll be heading back to the classroom.

What’s on YOUR summer reading list?

What I Learned the Day I Blogged about Single People

Once I wrote about blog about how sometimes the church mistreats single people. I learned a lot in the wake of the response to that post. Here’s what I learned the day I blogged about single people.

I learned that I must have touched on something really important.
Who knew that blogging about what my single friends have felt and experienced would create such a firestorm? Yet I had single friends cheering, married friends staying silent, moms all upset, pastors’ wives nervous, home school moms in a tizzy, single guys agreeing, and cousins arguing.

Church, take note. Something happened here. What was impressed upon me was that many people, from all different walks of life, feel misunderstood in their communities, to include church communities. And many people, it seems, from all different walks of life, could do with a little thoughtfulness, kindness, and hospitality. Let’s not take this lightly.

single21

I learned that bloggers don’t get to choose which of their posts go viral.
I care about how single people are treated, but I am WAY more passionate about topics other than this. If any of you happen to stick around, you might get to hear about some of those things.

I learned what it’s like to get thrown to the wolves.
Helloooooo, internet! I have never met you before, but apparently it’s totally okay to judge a person you have never met. Since my very first semi-viral introduction to the internet, I have personally been called “rude,” “hostile,” “judgmental,” “whiny,” “catty,” and “ignorant” by people I don’t even know. (And yes, this is different than calling a group of people “rude,” which is what I did in my generalized post about the church.)

On the other hand, I have learned how incredibly supportive readers can be! First, thanks to anyone who bothered in the first place to read my work AT ALL. But also thanks to many of you who have shown your genuine support. It truly means a lot.

I have learned that we still have work to do in the English classroom.
Apparently, in high school English class, we need to keep drilling the difference between satire, sarcasm, and irony, and we need to continue discussing its place in journalism. Satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Satire is sarcasm that is not intended to hurt, but rather is intended to effect change. I’m amazed at how many people took my tone seriously and not with a grain of salt like I intended. I hoped you would laugh along. You took this seriously? In my last post, there was a picture of a MAN DANCING WITH BUBBLEGUM. How could you take that seriously?

Secondly, in high school English classes, we need to keep teaching students how to understand the theme of a written work. MANY PEOPLE apparently got hung up arguing about who’s busier, married people or single people. That is not the point! The point is that a lot of my single friends have been mistreated in church contexts, and I think we need to talk about it.
At my Christian school, I train my high school students to pick out the theme of a work, rather than get hung up on superfluous details that might tick them off. I have always said: “The sign of education is listening and not reacting.”

single22

I have learned that the internet is a tricky thing.
I think I’m writing this tiny little blog for a few close friends and family members, and WHAM-O! My audience changes overnight! Audience is SO important when it comes to writing and speaking, and if I were to write a speech about these issues, I would have taken a much different approach.

Many people who know me weren’t offended in the LEAST by what I wrote. The key here is that they know me. Writing responsibly means that I am responsible for how I come across to people who don’t know me. Looks like I’ve still got some work to do in how I come across on the internet. Was I a little too brutal? Probably. (Know how I know? I asked my mom. She’s always my voice of reason. Thanks, Mom.)

single24

I learned that blogs are a really fun way to practice writing voice.
Fellow writers! Wasn’t this little experiment SO fun?! One commenter pointed out that overall it seemed that many single people took it well, but many married people had a problem with it. This totally has to do with voice! In the post, I set up this us/them dichotomy, where the singles were the “us” and the marrieds were the “them.” Nobody likes to be the “them.” (Yet the marrieds were the “them” for a split-second while they were reading the article, and they were not happy about it.) I’ll just let that sink it for a bit.
Also, would the post have had the same effect if I had changed my main points from “You are rude” to “We are hurt when…”? If it wouldn’t have had the same effect, would it have been more or less useful? So many questions.

To sum up:
1. Maybe I should get a new hero other than Sara Willis Parton. (But she is SO FUNNY.)
2. One thing that is really cool, whether you agree with me or not that single people are mistreated sometimes, is that I’m pretty positive that this whole blog has sparked some pretty important conversations everywhere, and that’s all I wanted.
3. Yet, as one friend pointed out: “It’s not like we can really ‘argue’ here. I mean, who really wants to argue that single people should be mistreated? Who’s really going for that?”

Finally, to people who know me, including friends, family, and fellow church members past and present: I have not experienced every single one of the points from my last post, and some things were written tongue in cheek, so don’t go trying to match these examples with places I’ve lived in the past. I currently attend a very welcoming church, one whose friendliness on a single Sunday prompted me to start attending there full time. However, many of the examples have happened to single people I know, and unfortunately, they are VERY believable, and therefore, I included them.

Satire aside, I stand behind my post.

IMG_20130516_162745_319

Internet, it’s been nice knowing you. Why don’t we all move on to bigger and brighter futures where speaking, listening, and understanding (and maybe even a little forgiveness) are commonplace?

Let’s also be on the lookout for ways we can encourage and include our single brothers and sisters in Christ.

Stop Being Rude to Single People

So it’s like this. Living as a single person in a tightly-knit religious community is a total suck-fest. Our loving, supportive, tightly-knit Mennonite communities are beneficial only if you (1) have close family in the area, or (2) are married. If you lack either of these qualifications, or worse, lack BOTH, watch out for rude, thoughtless comments. My single friends and I frequently lament these comments, and I’m tired of my friends suffering in silence, so I give you this post: “CHURCH! Stop being rude to single people!” If you know a family-less, single person in your community, please read on so that you can learn how to stop being rude to single people!

1. You are rude when you don’t invite us over.
Thursday I ask you, married person, to hang out and you can’t because you have plans. Friday I see pictures all over Instagram of you and two other mutual-friend married couples from church.

single3

Hello! You seriously think we don’t find out when you throw fun married-people parties and don’t invite us? Don’t assume that just because you are married that we don’t want to hang out with you. Do you assume that we wouldn’t want to come because we might feel like a 3rd wheel? Don’t assume for us! We’re pretty good at deciding if we’ll feel awkward or not, and we’ll decline the invitation if necessary.

On the other hand…

2. You are rude when you invite us over.
It goes something like this: “Hello, we’re having over Herbert Boring and Jared Icky. We thought you would like to come too.” We, remembering last time’s invitation where we spent our time trying to entertain Creepy Dog and Weird Uncle, suddenly remember that we are QUITE busy.
Hello, people! We have feelings, too! Just because you are hosts and are obligated to invite all the social misfits doesn’t mean that we single people need to do your hospitality for you! We do not simply exist to fill an extra space at your 14-person capacity solid oak dining room table. Invite someone else who you think we would get along well with!

single11
Why can’t you see that there is something so wrong about this?

And, just so you know, we single people WILL avoid social suicide. If we deflect your invitation, I mean, okay, there’s a tiny margin of a possibility that we actually DID have a previous social engagement (though not extremely likely because we’re totally “never busy,” ha ha), but it could also be a serious indicator that there was something really uncomfortable or especially undesirable about the invitation.

3. You are rude when you assume that we aren’t busy people.
My friends and I have been in so many conversations where we get the feeling that you think that single people have absolutely nothing to do and have all the time in the world. Let’s think about that for a second.

You know that person, called a spouse, who you split housework 50/50 with? Everything from yard work, to changing oil, to fixing shower heads, to frying bacon, to scrubbing toilets, to folding laundry? Okay, imagine NOT HAVING that person to split the housework with (not to mention paying bills), and then add on top of that a full-time job. … … … It would be like your husband living by himself and having to keep up with all the housework, too.

(Some of you will raise your hands, objecting here, and say, “But, children!” You’re right, I know that’s an incredible responsibility, but again, you probably still have a spouse to share that and other household responsibilities with.)

A tiny tangent here is the single teacher. One way to infuriate single teachers is to act like we aren’t busy in summer and to ask if we teachers will be getting “summer jobs.” ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME. This question reveals so much ignorance, all of which is addressed here, but if you’re the type of person who has rules about clicking links on blogs, I will sum things up for you: I’ve spent the last 9 months working 12 hours a days, 6 days a week at school. Do you not even think I need a break. I’m physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. I need to rest, and when I am not resting, I will be spending my time this summer researching how to be a better teacher. Yet, in our work-driven Mennonite communities, I’m seen as lazy for not getting a job at a coffee shop and instead trying to be better at my career. I’m SO AMUSED by Mennonites who have absolutely no concept of rest or even career development.

4. You are rude when you get snobby about our (lack of) cooking.
Can I just say that it is really tricky cooking for one person? Also, we’re still working on building up our own huge mother-lode of pantry ingredients. (It’s not like we get grocery showers or Tupperware parties like young marrieds do when they move out. But that’s another story.) Ingredients are expensive, and sometimes we’re just trying to make ends meet. So we make do.

single9

But, kind of along with #3, some people assume we have all the time in the world to spend making amazing pinterest-inspired meals. Now, some single people have all their ducks in a row and continually inspire us with Instagrammed crock-pot amazingness (I hate you, I’m hungry, let’s be frieeeeends), but some of us are really invested in our jobs and careers, and we don’t have a ton of time to cook, especially with the whole keeping up a household thing.

Anyway, please don’t turn up your nose at us if we don’t pull out our inner Betty Crocker for every single gastro-event.

Recently, one of my hardworking nurse friends boldly deposited a “bought” cake from Kroger at a Mennonite church potluck (gasp), and I think the unsaid comments were as obvious as the spoken ones. She’s strong enough that it doesn’t bother her, but it irritates me that church people had to make such a big deal about her cake. It’s not like she just got off a 12 hour shift of changing the world or anything! Don’t be rude because you are jealous that she has the guts to eat/bring things that aren’t always homemade.

5. You are rude when you assume that we aren’t as spiritual as married people.
Can I get an Amen here! Since when is a married 20 year old kid more spiritual and more qualified than a 30 year old single guy at church? What about marriage makes someone more spiritual? Why is it that married people are elected to lead in devotions on Sunday morning, but very capable single people are overlooked? I’ve never understood this.

Stop overlooking single people and instead ask them to serve on committees at church. Single people have many skills, talents, and abilities. The church NEEDS their perspective in leadership positions. So elect them! Stop asking them to be in charge of Vacation Bible School games. Start asking them instead to teach Sunday School, or even serve as a deacon or elder!

Because Paul the Apostle was single. And so was Jesus. And I’m pretty sure they were spiritual.

6. You are rude when you assume and don’t ask first.
We single people actually have lives and schedules, but many married people, especially ones with children seem to think they are so much busier than we are and that we can drop our own schedules at the drop of a hat.

I have this married friend who every time I tell her that I have a break from school coming up she asks “What will you even DO in your house by yourself in your time off?!” LADY. I will probably do what you do every day, which is enjoy a luxury day at home, that will consist of cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Housework doesn’t stop just because I don’t have kids or a husband.

But my married friend doesn’t seem to understand this and proceeds to invite me over to help her do her housework.

single6

Moms, you are incredible, and sometimes we single people really want to be with you and your kids. But sometimes we don’t. Respect that.

7. You are rude when you don’t include us on holidays.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and someone asks us AT CHURCH if we have plans. A little forethought would go a long way. We out-of-town singles have been agonizing for weeks about how we will deal with being alone on this holiday, away from family, and you just let us worry this whole time before inviting us, last-minute, the DAY OF?! Let’s talk about how to properly invite a single person to a major holiday.

If it’s close to a holiday, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, invite us by asking if we already have plans. Having to admit that we have no plans makes us feel really lame and like we don’t have any friends. Some single people I know feel really insecure about admitting that they don’t have plans. It makes us feel needy and like we have to accept something from you. Nobody likes to feel needy. Or, worse, you weren’t even planning to invite us anyway, but were just asking to be polite, but now just everyone feels awkward. (So, don’t ask the question unless you are ready to include us.)

single2

A much better way to word a holiday invitation is to ask, plenty of time in advance: “Hi, we’re having turkey and stuffing on Thursday, and Fred Funnyjokes and Candy Coolcousin are coming over, and we were really hoping that you could be there, too.” And leave it right there. Do not ask if we have plans. It’s really none of your business, and if we want to tell you our plans, we will. But, maybe we have plans that we plan on canceling in order to come to your house. Seriously, we single people sometimes have these little agreements with extremely supportive older church people that we are always welcome at their homes unless we get a better invitation, like, one where we could meet other single people, hee hee hee, if you know what I mean, and we really wouldn’t explain that to YOU now, would we?

single5

8. You are rude when you stand us up.
We made plans with you. We respected your busy schedule and used forethought to plan a time to hang out with you. Married person, we care about you, and we want to be your friend. So we made plans in advance. We programmed it into our phones, and we put it on our calendars.

And you stood us up. You’ll be hanging out with your spouse, but do you do realize that when we are stood up that we will be left at home alone, right? With some leftover cheeseball and a really lame movie on Netflix.

Be responsible. Stick to your word. Either plan to hang out, or tell us you’re too busy. I’m sick and tired of sticking up for you when you ditch our plans… when you get too tired or you decide that you’re just going to stay home with your husband and “go to bed early.” (Riiiiiight.)

Look, married people, we can make this work. How badly do you want to be friends?

single1

Married people, married people with kids, families in church: do you realize that you’re not the minority here? Family-less single people are the minority. My friends could really do with some lovin’. Like seriously, we can’t even remember the last time someone hugged us or touched us. And it’s really hard.

Church: go hug a single person. And stop being rude.

single7

Impossible

This week I learned that the impossible can happen.

Last fall, in an effort to get my students to study harder for English tests, I announced that if the entire class pulled A’s and B’s on an English test, I would take them skiing. (I was quite sure of the impossibility.) Apparently, eighth graders need this sort of positive motivation because despite a test full of diagramming (not to mention the fact that the test was ON A MONDAY) my students pulled it off. All A’s and B’s.

I spent most of November and December announcing over and over again that “I DON’T KNOW” exactly when we are going skiing. January rolled around, and I managed to find some parent chaperones and a date that worked with everyone’s schedule. Snow wasn’t in the forecast for the week of our ski trip, but the temperatures were low enough for the little ski resort to be making its own snow. (Who skis on man-made snow, you ask? Midwesterners, who are already resigned to skiing on man-made hills.) However, as Thursday loomed closer, the weather looked very unsatisfactory, with rain and sleet in the forecast. I canceled for a later date.

The day before our would-be trip, the eighth grade boys crowded around my desk, begging me to re-schedule the trip for the next day anyway. “It’s only going to rain a little bit! Then it’s going to snow a couple of inches. It will be fine!”

A couple of inches? Uh, that’s not exactly what I read in the weather forecast.

We voted as a class, and the seasoned boarders enthusiastically voted to go anyway, despite the conditions. The novices seemed to have no idea what rain could do to snow, so they voted, “I don’t know.” I was realizing that kids don’t care about perfect ski conditions.

But I had to make a good choice here. Some students would be skiing and boarding for the first time, and this wasn’t an exactly cheap trip that they were paying for. I had to make sure they were skiing on good snow. I checked the weather again. Sixty percent chance of rain. I decided to call the ski resort and see if they could give me some advice about conditions and how they relate to beginner skiers and boarders.

Ski resort lady: “We know people who LOVE skiing in the rain.”

Of course you do. (Who SAYS that?)

Checking the weather one more time, I looked at the 60% chance of rain and decided to risk it. I rescheduled the trip for the next day. I sent home a detailed letter explaining everything they needed to bring.

But after school, I checked the weather report again, and rain looked imminent. Freezing rain was expected through the night. The chance of rain for our field trip day had increased to 90%, with four hours of rain forecasted for the morning, followed by sleet, with only a low chance of snow in the evening.

I felt like canceling again. (I was being very indecisive.) I needed to get it together. I was torn between (1) waiting to have amazing snow and making it a great time for the newbies, and (2) pleasing the impatient kids (and honestly myself who thought it would be really nice for my schedule to go ahead and “get the field trip out of the way.”) So I prayed.

God, I know this means nothing to you. Weather for skiing field trips probably isn’t on your big list of world-problems to fix right now. But it would be really handy if you could hold off the rain. Please change the weather for our field trip.

I decided that if school was delayed in the morning, I would use that as a sign that I should re-cancel the trip. Because of freezing rain, school was delayed two hours. The rain forecast had even caused the ski resort to close for the morning. I decided to check the weather again one more time. Several minutes before, the forecast had 90% chance of rain for four hours in the morning. I checked again.

Zero percent chance of rain.

Oh, I thought to myself, I must have clicked on the wrong city. Here, let’s put in Jones, Michigan, again. It popped up again: ZERO PERCENT CHANCE OF RAIN.

Now. That can’t be. Hmmm. I stared at my screen.

ZERO. Zero chance of rain.

It was one of those moments that’s really incredible, as in, the true definition of the word “incredible”: not believable. I actually couldn’t believe that it had happened. My friends didn’t even really get how big of deal it was. I told them the weather forecast had changed overnight. “Oh, really? That’s nice.”

But it was a very big deal to me.

1463545_10152817869268110_2572420681834639496_n

A majority of my class went on the after-school trip and had a marvelous time. No, the snow wasn’t perfect, but we all got to learn something new. The slopes were pretty quiet, and for a while we had the bunny hill to ourselves. The boarders had a great time in the terrain park. By the end of the evening, poetic little snowflakes were lightly dusting the machine-groomed hills.

Yes, we here in Nappanee are grateful for the day it didn’t rain.

Apparently, the impossible can happen.

Graze: Snacking Reinvented

Upon unpacking new books from my latest Barnes & Noble order (yay, New Year’s reading list!), I found a promotion to try Graze snacks. Graze snack’s tagline is “snacking reinvented.” Graze snacks seeks offer delicious healthy snack options delivered RIGHT TO YOUR MAILBOX. To try Graze snacks, you simply log in to their awesome-designed website, read about all their funky-flavored snack options, rate the offerings as “TRASH, TRY, LIKE, LOVE” and wait for your first free snack box in the mail! Every box is a surprise box in that the kitchen at Graze decides how to pack your box based on your ratings and preferences. You can, however, choose to receive a calorie counter box if you want the healthiest snacking options.

Since my first box was free, I decided to try it. In a week’s time, a thin sleek box arrived at my door. The packaging complemented the delightful little snacks. I say little because the box did only include a total of 460 calories of snacks. (For me, that’s about two snacks’ worth of snacks. But then, I’m a hungry working girl.)

20150122_155357

I received four different snacks, including the herby bread basket, cherries & berries, chili and lime pistachios, and peach and passionfruit parfait.

The bread basket was interesting, but so highly seasoned that I felt like I was eating the bottom of a bag of croutons. I liked the parfait bits (dried fruit and yogurt pieces), but they were kind of messy to eat. However, I absolutely LOVED the pistachios roasted with chili and lime. The anomalous taste was augmented by the extra bite from the chilis. Very nice! The cherries & berries was a combination of dried cherries, lingonberries, cranberries, and jumbo raisins, also very delicious.

20150122_155244
Awesome packaging! The box is printed with pomegranates. I LOVE pomegranates!

I think Graze snacks would be a great option for an adventurous busy person, who wants healthy snack options. Graze snacks can be delivered to your door on a regular basis!

I don’t know about you, but I can certainly handle groceries being delivered to my door!

I would love to share my Graze experience with you all! If you would like to try your own box of Graze snacks, please leave me a comment, and I will send you a code for a free box! (If you’re one of the first four commenters, that is.) :)

Year in Pictures

It’s the end of 2014! Where did the year take you? Here’s my year in pictures: places I’ve gone, songs I’ve sung, and all the lovely people who journeyed with me.

January 1st. Ringing in the New Year with my favorite girls. Columbus, Ohio.

DSC_0458 (2)

Snow-soaked Nappanee. Our frigid winter prompted ten snow days from school!

140105_0001

March: saying goodbye to my first clever little apartment

100_9502

…and moving to a new place…

DSC_0022 (2)

May: finishing my first year of teaching and taking my students on a field trip to Chicago… Getting mistaken for a junior high student by the footman at the group entrance to the Museum of Science and Industry. “Excuse me, where is your teacher?” :D (Hee hee hee.)

100_9549

100_9556 (2)

May: meeting my very first niece, Cassidy.

Baby Cassidy2

Exploring her Nebraska home.

100_9604

June & July: Oasis Chorale tour to Ireland and England

_MG_2616

The Irish coast.

DSC_0621

DSC_0343

Glendalough, Ireland.

DSC_0215

Conway Beach, Wales.

DSC_0417

IMG_0434

Finding this weathered gravestone, seaside in Whitby, England. “She found in Christ that happiness which the world cannot give.”

DSC_0781 (2)

Gadding about the English countryside with these peculiar treasures.

IMG_0572

DSC_0998

Having my first setting of cream tea.

DSC_1001 (2)

Visiting Stourhead Gardens, a dream come true. Wiltshire, England.

DSC_1365

IMG_0718

August: walking through the quiet school yard before crazy days.

20140903_072338

Crazy days like the one where our English lecture was interrupted by the mews of a distraught kitten, stuck in the duct work. So much for John Foxe. Someone gets a new pet!

20140912_083940  20140912_090806

September: 100 mph days ending with hours of school yard grading.

20140906_195127

October: training for and completing my first half marathon.

IMG_20141004_131856

2853_VG3707111C00-4

November: watching the sunrise every morning in my classroom.

IMG_20141121_075128

Thanksgiving with my baby niece…

IMG_20141127_232016

…and being reunited with the sisterhood.

20141129_185311

December: chalkboard victory selfie on the last day of school. Don’t be fooled. That smile hides the desperation, the lack of sleep, and the terrified looooonging for Christmas vacation. My first day of Christmas vacation? I stumbled into the kitchen after waking up at 3:10 p.m. #tiredteacher

20141219_113214

After sleeping for days, enjoying early breakfasts with these two. Christmas breakfast tradition @ La Chatelaine.

20141223_072414

And, finally, enjoying a very quiet Christmas at home with my parents, bottomless cups of coffee, and hours of Tolstoy.

IMG_20141225_101103

At the end of 2014, I find myself a little overwhelmed at all the changes and adventures this year has brought. It’s been a grueling year. I feel like I’m still adjusting to the pace of teaching.

Yet as I peer into the New Year, I have undying hope. There is this treasure in jars of clay. If I am perplexed, I am not in despair. If I am hard pressed on every side, I am not crushed.

May you have hope this holiday season!
Happy Holidays to you and yours!