Friday, July 31, 2015

It's Never Too Late

July 31, 2015

About 18 years ago, I reached a point in my academic career where I was ready to be not just a teacher, but a student again.  I learned about a Master's Program in English Literature that was geared toward teachers.  It was a two-year summer intensive program at UC Irvine, and something about the timing just seemed right.

SEEMED right, yes.  And mostly, it was.  I loved being in the classroom again.  My sister lived near Irvine, so I traveled down south to stay with her Monday-Thursday, and I came home again Thursday night through Sunday.  I didn't have to pay any additional for housing, and I had study time in the evenings while I was there, so that part was great.  The difficult thing was I was a mom to two young children (4 and 18 mo.), so every week during those summers I was without them part of every week. Their dad, who is also a teacher, took full-time daddy duty on my school days, and when I was home I was on full-time.  It was exhausting, and I was guilt-ridden often (especially when I was told by a close family member how selfish I was for abandoning my children--to their dad!--and that they would suffer life-long rejection issues because of it).  But, I also wanted to show myself and some day my children that I was capable of this kind of success through perseverance and hard work.  I wanted to be a good role model for them.

At some point after I'd enrolled in the program, but before classes started, I discovered that I was pregnant with my third child.  I was elated, but didn't really process the additional logistical hurdles this would create.  The first summer went as planned, but during the following school year, she was born, which meant she traveled down with me to Irvine during my 4 day school week during the second summer.  I enlisted one my sister's good friends, who was a stay at home mom, to watch her while I was in classes, and I would drive over in between my classes to nurse her.  In the evenings, of course, she was at my sister's with me. I studied with her in my lap or by my side, and then on Thursday evenings we'd make the four hour drive back home together.  It was even more of a juggling act, but we managed.  I completed all of my coursework and even managed to get my premise and quite a bit of my rough thesis worked out before the session was over, and then I packed up and headed back home to my husband and oldest children for good.

I had a year to process and finish my thesis.  I didn't do it.  There are lots of excuses why I didn't do it--at home, with three children five and under, and a husband, and a full time teaching job, and all of my household responsibilities, well, it just seemed I couldn't justify locking myself away to work on a paper when all of these other needs were just on the other side of the door.  Four hours away when I was taking classes, I could compartmentalize.  At home? I found it nearly impossible.  And I didn't WANT to be away from my babies.  I found it easy to drop my thesis to the bottom of my priority list, which, by the way, was a very long list.  I'm sure lots of folks will say I shouldn't have taken on the task to begin with; just as many will say if I had already sacrificed all of my time with my family anyway, it was a waste not to stick to it and finish it out.  Both of those things are probably true.  But so is it true that pursuing my education was a worthwhile and vital thing.  These things contradict each other and are simultaneously true.

The bottom line is, I didn't finish then.  And it has haunted me every since.  I don't see it as a waste of time, because I grew from the classes I took.  I don't even see it as a waste of money, since I do earn more because of the additional classes I took.  I do, however, see it as a failure on my part--a shortcoming I haven't rectified. I've always been embarrassed that I set out to get my Master's Degree, and I didn't cross the finish line.  Once the finish line got so far away from me, I didn't even know how to jump back into the race.

Now, 18 years later, a new opportunity has made itself available. Fresno State has a Master's in Education with an Emphasis in Reading (with a Reading Specialist Credential) that they are building a new cohort for with teachers in our district and a neighboring one.  Reading is a passion of mine; the teaching of critical reading to high school students is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.  I had no idea there was such a program, let alone one offered right here in my own backyard.  To have become aware of it now that my children are (mostly) grown and independent feels like a second chance for redemption.  I've been saying for years that I would eventually go back and finish my Master's Degree, but honestly I think I didn't really believe it.   It's been so buried on my life's 'To Do' list that I didn't know if I would ever really get to it.  And yet, here it is.  I have applied, and have been accepted.  It's never too late--and I can't wait to get started.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Looking Back Doesn't Mean Never Having Left

July 24, 2015

This is a milestone year for me--I've got my 30th high school reunion coming up shortly.  In addition, the high school where I teach is getting ready to host its 20th reunion for the first graduating class of our school--a class of students I taught when I was in my second year of teaching.  I'm very much looking forward to both of these reunions and the chance it will give me to reconnect with people I have not seen in a very, very long time.

There are several people who graduated with me who I remain close with and see on a regular basis still.  Similarly, there are students from that first graduating class of my current school with whom I have kept in close contact over the years.  Then there are folks I see only online, mostly through the world of Facebook.  These are people with whom I might not have been especially close, or for whom geography plays a role in the fact that I haven't seen them in real life much, but they are people I like to interact with and celebrate life's successes with.  There are also many people I haven't connected with at all over the years for whatever reason, but I'd be thrilled to see them at a reunion and see where their life's path has taken them.

Some people feel that high school reunions are all but obsolete in the days in which it's as easy as a click on an internet search to know whatever-happened-to-him/her, and I can understand that mindset to an extent, but nothing is the same as the good old fashioned face-to-face conversation a reunion provides.  The thing that is really amazing to me though, is the number of people who think that going to a high school reunion means you are stuck in the past--a stereotypical jock or cheerleader artificially trying to recreate and relive the glory days.  There are people who deem themselves as somehow 'above' the desire to meet up with old acquaintances because they feel if there was any reason to associate with them now, they'd never have lost touch to begin with. There are actually lots of films that deal with this very theme.  I find that a little weird, though, honestly.  Sure, there are people you might meet up with at a reunion that you didn't like before and you still wouldn't necessarily hang out with on a regular basis. But what's the harm in finding yourself in a room with a couple of those folks and wishing them well and then moving on your merry way?  I focus more on the fact that we have all traveled divergent paths and have grown and changed through all of our varied experiences.  I mean, I'm not the same person I was 30 years ago--I don't know anybody who is.  We've all (or at least most of us) grown up. Why on earth would I deprive myself of the opportunity to get to know people who could have become pretty great folks for fear of running into one or two who didn't?  Do we do that in regular, every day life, too?  I can't meet anybody else new, because one of them might not be nice?  Not me, man. I, for one, am looking forward to meeting some old acquaintances anew, and who knows--maybe finding some new friends.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

What I've Learned As A Parent

June 7, 2015

As my second child is readying to graduate from high school, I wanted to take a little time to reflect on some of the things I've learned over the years. As parents, we all have those days where we feel we have failed. We all have those moments where we say, "What am I doing wrong?"  But you know, as hard as it is to remember in those low and discouraging moments, most of us, if we are keeping our kids' hearts and minds at the forefront of our parenting choices, we're really doing okay.  Sometimes we have to just step back and look at the bigger picture. Part of our kids' job is to question authority-not to make our lives miserable, but to figure out who they are, what they believe, and who they are going to become.  They are learning to process how they are experiencing the world, instead of how their parents are processing it for them.  In the meantime, here's some advice on how to help support our children in those all-important formative years:

--Celebrate the awesome, unique individuality of your kids.  Encourage them. Sing their praises.  Lift them up as human beings. Teach them to look for the positivity in life.  Teach them to BE the positivity when the bright side is hard to find. Show them that feeling good about one's self NEVER has to be at the expense of someone else's esteem.

--Teach your kids what's important to you, but more importantly, teach them WHY those things are important to you.  "Because I said so" or "Because I'm the parent" doesn't teach values--it teaches expected blind obedience. You might not mind that when they're young, but if they don't understand the 'why', you might not like it when YOU aren't the one they are blindly following later in life.  We want our kids to learn to think for themselves and know why they believe what they believe.

--Make traditions with your kids.  Those will be some of the things your kids have fondest memories of, even if they grumble about them every now and again in the present.  Holiday traditions, of course, but also every day ones.  Family Dinner Night, or ice cream after awards ceremonies, or wishing a kid happy birthday on the exact moment of their birth every year.  Traditions and rituals-stuff you do as a family because THAT'S JUST WHAT YOUR FAMILY DOES.

--Take photos.  Lots of them.  The big stuff--braces off, dance recitals, robotics competitions.  The little stuff too. Quiet moments, goofy moments, with friends, with family, by themselves. They're all moments frozen in time that we can all look back on and share and reminisce and remember when.

--Don't forget to make sure you're in front of the camera often as well.  I don't care if you don't like how you look.  We're often really hard on ourselves at certain stages of our lives. We think, "I'll be in pictures with the kids when I've lost weight, or when I don't look so tired all the time", or whatever. Your kids don't think about that. For all its appearance, a photograph is not a 2-D object.  It's a tangible memory that evokes emotion, personality, and a piece of the story of one's life. You deserve to be part of your children's visual history. They deserve to have you in their photographic history.

--Try not to embarrass your kids on purpose.  You'll embarrass them plenty without even trying.

--Be the person your children need you to be.  That means taking care of yourself as much as it means taking care of them.  That means not only taking care of your physical self, but taking care of your emotional and intellectual health as well.  It's not selfish to take care of yourself; it's vital.

--Be the parent your children need you to be.  Who is that? The parent who loves their children for who they are.  It's astonishing to me to know parents are willing to disown their children for coming out to them. Love your children for who they are, not who you project them to be.

--Be the parent your children need even if they make choices you disagree with. Children dealing with teen pregnancies, alcohol or drug addiction, or even political or spiritual choices that differ from our own are still our children, deserving of love and guidance.  They may not always choose our guidance, but let that be their choice, not ours. Always give them the option.  It's our job and our life's work if we choose to have children to begin with.

--Apologize when you make a mistake.  Just like our kids, we all make mistakes.  Sometimes, in the heat of an argument, we just lose it, or we give bad advice.  Parents aren't perfect; we're not expected to be.  It's important to acknowledge that with your kids. We expect the same from them, do we not?

--Laugh with your kids often.  Sing and dance with them.  Read with them.  Travel with them.  Above all, TALK with them.  Not AT them--WITH them.  Ask open-ended questions and listen to listen, instead of listening to respond.

--Be mindful of 'no'. There are a lot of nos that are necessary in a child's life, but be sure you don't begin to say no out of habit, rather than actual reason. Find reasons for 'yes' when you can.

--Get to know their friends.  Become the extra mom or dad to those kids.  You know that old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Be part of the village that helps to raise your children's friends.  Enlist other parents to be part of your village.  No one should be parenting alone.

--Don't be their friend. Your role is not the same as a friend. However, that DOESN'T mean don't be a person your kids want to hang out with. Just because you're the one who has to set the boundaries doesn't mean you and your kids can't have a great time together.

--Teach gratitude through example.  Teach them to express it freely and often.  No one succeeds alone.  We should always celebrate our accomplishments but be humble enough to recognize those who have helped us reach our goals.

--Tell your kids every day that you love them.  Yeah, they know it.  Tell them anyway--and mean it.

Yes, I have been a teacher to my children, but they have also been great teachers for me.  I hope we can continue sharing lessons for many, many years to come.

Words of Wisdom for My Seniors

June 7, 2015

I've never been a big fan of telling kids about how things are going to be in the 'real world'. Everyone's experience IS their real world, including students in high school.  Of course, as my students are getting ready to graduate and embark on a new 'real world', I have a few words of wisdom to share:

--There is a lot of positivity in the world. There is also a lot of negativity.  Be one who sends out positivity. The world already has enough negativity-you don't need to add to it. Tip the scales in the right direction.

--You will see what you look for in the world.  Look for good, and you'll find it.

--At the same time, don't bury your head in the sand.  There IS negative in the world. Learn to recognize it and change it if you can or walk away if you can't.

--We all have our gifts, and everyone has something to contribute. If you haven't found your gifts yet, keep looking.  Let those gifts lead you to your passion in life.

--Surround yourself with the people who will become your tribe.  Your tribe is the people who are your family for life--the ones who are there to celebrate your successes and who pick you up and dust you off when you hit the lows in your life.  Family means family of the heart--your chosen family.  No one is a solitary success. We are all supported by our tribe. Know who they are for you, and acknowledge their role in in your life--often and wholeheartedly.

--I don't care if you think you are the smartest person in the room.  Heck, I don't even care if you ARE the smartest person in the room. EVERYONE has more to learn, and you'll be amazed by the people you can learn something from if you don't let your ego get in the way of hearing others. Once you think you've learned all you can learn, you've really stopped learning to live.

--Make good choices.  Think about consequences. Everyone has freedom of choice, but you aren't free from the consequences of your actions. Consider carefully the trajectory of your behaviors.  Naturally, however, sometimes we DON'T make good choices--we all make mistakes.  Own your mistakes. Apologize for your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Then move on. When others make mistakes, allow the same for them.

--Thinking about consequences doesn't mean play it safe. It may sound counterintuitive, but take chances. Step outside your comfort zone. Try new things. Travel. Learn new skills. Meet new people. Those are experiences that can broaden your horizons and open new doors. They can help you become more of the YOU you will become.

--Be nice to people--even mean people.  The way you respond to others says way more about you than the way others treat you.  Don't give someone else the power to control your attitude.  That being said, don't enable someone to treat you poorly. If you haven't been able to show them how to treat you with respect through your attitude, walk away holding your head high. You are only responsible for your own behaviors, not anyone else's. Does everyone deserve 'nice' all the time? Perhaps not. But YOU deserve to expect that of yourself.

--To be respectful and to respect someone are not the same thing. There's a very important difference. You are in charge of being respectful to others; they are in charge of being worthy of respect. You do not have to respect everyone, but you should always be respectful. Respectful behavior need not be 'earned', as it is a commentary on you, not them.

--Be generous.  Be generous of time, of money, of spirit.  There are people who have less than you.  We should help others when we can because we SHOULD.  Our mission in life is to lift up others when possible because it makes us ALL better for it.

--Give others the benefit of a doubt.  We cannot know everyone's backstory. If someone's backstory has led them to negativity and ill will, how can it possibly benefit anyone to counter it with more of the same?

--Laugh. Love. Be silly. Find people who will do those things with you. Look for people who love you for who you are, and encourage you to be your best self.

--Above all, be open to all the possibilities your new 'real world' will bring.  I wish you all the love, experience, and opportunity you can find out in that world.

--Mama Lutjens

Monday, January 19, 2015

Winter Shots

January 19, 2015

I took my new camera out to take some shots of local scenery just to play around with the settings and the editing software.  I can't wait to take the classes Doug got me for Christmas to really learn to dig into all the camera capabilities.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Awards Season Kick-Off

January 11, 2015

It's that time of year again--Awards Season!  This is the time of year Doug and I love, being pop culture junkies that we are.  Tonight the Golden Globes were on, hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (who did a fabulous job, as they have done in previous years).  You know what my biggest take-away on the night was?  There were an awful lot of movies up for awards this year that we definitely haven't seen, which means we've got some movies to watch before our upcoming Oscar Party!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hume Lake

January 10, 2015

Danielle went up to church camp this weekend with her youth group, which includes two of her besties, Megan and Maddie.  They got to hear a speaker, study the Bible, hike, build a bobsled, and of course, play broom hockey (the highlight for Danielle).  I can't wait to hear all about it when she comes home!

Here are some pictures that one of the youth pastors posted:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Yellow is Not My Color

January 9, 2015

Finally finishing up another week of before and after school duty.  Something about that highlighter-yellow safety vest makes the task even less appealing.  Honestly, I don't mind standing out in the yard so much, because I like seeing the kids who stop by and say hello--it's just that it makes the whole day hectic.  You've got to run to class before the bell rings with no time to compose yourself before class, and then you've got to rush the kids out the door at the end of the day to get back out to the yard--no answering last minute questions or chit-chatting with the kids as they head out the door.  But the yellow vest?  Yeah, that makes it even worse.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Almost Winter Formal Time...

January 8, 2015

We took Nicholas to pick out his tux for the upcoming Winter Formal.  I think he and his girlfriend are going to look fabulous in green!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


January 7, 2015

You know how some people are sheepish to try new things because they feel they'll stand out for not knowing the protocol?  For being unfamiliar with how things work?  Well, that's one of the main reasons I've never tried yoga--that and the fact that my sis and partner-in-crime lives too far away to make it practical for her to come join me for a yoga class.  (We don't mind being novices together--we have a lot of fun adventures that way.)  However, recently some of the gals from my book club decided it would be fun for us to take yoga together.  Some of them are yoga regulars, or at least were at some time in their lives, and some of us have never done it before.  But the 'we're all in it together' aspect really appeals to me, so I was all in.

I went to my first class tonight with the handful of women who were able to make it work, schedule-wise.  It was the 'Chill' yoga class, which was a lot of stretching and breathing--just what this formerly flexible body needed.  I understand that some of the other classes are a bit harder, so I'm glad I started with this one, but I don't think I'm averse to trying out those other ones either.  I have a pass for ten sessions/classes, and I'm already thinking I'll probably add more classes when I've used all of mine.  These friends of mine were just the impetus I needed to try out something new!