Friday, August 28, 2015

Finished Product Friday

I have a lot to say lately so I will just let the pictures speak for themselves. The first two pictures are of a tshirt quilt I made for my brother as his high school graduation gift. He is now playing football at The University of the South. I am super proud of him and can't wait to watch him throw the pigskin around this season.
And I crocheted 2 more mermaid quilts.

And crocheted 10 flower coasters.
And sewed a superhero quilt.
If you are interested in ordering a quilt or crocheted items, leave a comment below or message me on Facebook. Wait times are about 4 weeks so plan ahead for Christmas. Prices vary.
Happy weekend, my friends.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Life is hard.  And life is sad.  And life doesn't always make sense.  Bad things happen to good people.  And I don't understand.  But I know my God is on his throne.  I don't always know the right words to say to those whose hearts are broken, and that breaks my heart.  But I know that even when I can't see God, he can see me.  And I know that when you can't feel him, he is still holding you.  When I feel as if my tears have no effect, I remember that each one of them is counted.  Today I am thankful for the God I cannot see, and cannot always hear, and don't always understand, because at least I know he is there.  And I know ALL WILL BE MADE RIGHT in its own time.

This song found its way into my head and heart today-about a month after 5 men just down the road lost their lives at the hands of terror,
two days after I taught my students about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina,

and a man was killed in my city over gang "beef", 
one day after a reporter and cameraman were shot and killed on live television by a disgruntled former co-worker right in front of people they loved. 

The first line of each verse are the perfect words written and sung by Derek Webb in this song:  This music video is both truly chilling and truly moving and truly true.
And the words below each line are the ones written in my heart to the music.  This is the song my heart is singing.

People love you the most for the things you hate
          People KNOW you the most for the things you hate
And hate you for loving the things you can't keep straight
          And judge you for who you love, if you're straight or gay
People judge you on a curve
          Teachers are rated on a curve
And tell you you're getting what you deserve
          Based on the kids we teach and serve
 And this too shall be made right

Children cannot learn when children cannot eat
          It's hard to learn in class when you cannot eat
Stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
          Count them as absent but don't care where they sleep
Children dream of wishing wells
          They dream of families that treat them well
Who's waters quench all the fires of hell
          And love that can quench all the fires of hell
And this too shall be made right

 The earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
           The earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
Wars and abuses have nature growing with death
          Words of abuse have them all just waiting for death
You say we're just trying to stay alive
          Our kids are just trying to survive
 It looks so much more like a way to die
           In a world where they fight just to stay alive
 And this too shall be made right

Yes, there's a time for peace, there is a time for war
         There is a time to resist, and a time we should fight no more
 There's a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
          There's a time to forgive and to hate them no more
 A time for babies to lose their lives
          A time for brave souls to lay down their lives
 A time for hunger and genocide
          A time to fight on and a time to die
 And this too shall be made right

 Oh, I don't know the sufferings of people outside my front door
          I see the sufferings of those who walk in my class door
And I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore
          And I harden the hearts of the students I chose to ignore
 I'm trading peace for human life
          I'm trading comfort for human life
 And that's not just murder, it's suicide
          And that's not just failing, it's suicide
 And this too shall be made right

Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart. Or also placed ignorance in the human heart, so that no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where I Work Wednesday

work here...
I work here...

And I work here...

Some work I love more than others. I am not going to lie.

My official job title is high school teacher. I teach reading and writing to kids who are fans of neither. At the moment we are working on reading Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  We are trying to make personal connections to the events and characters in the story. I am trying to help them understand that they can put themselves in the story to better enjoy and further analyze it.

We are working on evoking emotion through our writing as we reflect on the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many of my students knew little to nothing about this tragic natural disaster. The images from the documentary I showed them were all they knew of it. They were not there. Most of them were 4 or 5 when it hit. They didn't watch the live coverage that I saw when I was about their age. The live coverage I played for them was broadcasted 10 years ago in the living room of my home and the homes of millions of other dumbfounded viewers around the world. But I want them to put themselves in the shoes of the people who lived it, see it through their eyes, and tell the story they had never before been told.

My unofficial "side job" is creating things at my kitchen table. The photo you saw of my kitchen table was taken the week we moved into our house, before two kids and the madness that comes with living in a home and not having much time to keep it looking like a magazine. This is what it looks like now.

I have some perfect craftroom-worthy space in my basement. But I would rather work at my kitchen table right in the middle of the action that is life at the Strauss house. That way, when I am working, I can still be spending time with my hubby and our two little boys.

And my favorite job titles are MOM and WIFE. I am not a housewife, though I wish I could say I was. My house isn't spotless, or even close for that matter. I swept the floor two days ago, which is not done often enough. But with a terrier mix and a pit bull the dog, hair accumulates quite quickly. It tends to cling to Shea's books and the pillows on the couch. However, ridding the house of this hair is lower on the priority list than it should be. Shea normally goes to bed with his toys strewn across the living room. 

He has been taught how to clean up after himself but as soon as he wears himself out from playing, we haul him off to bed before he gets slap happy and finds his second wind. Our house may be filled with clutter and dusty shelves and hairy hardwood, but it is also filled with
LOVE and FUN. And I'd take that over picture perfect any day. Hats off to all of you moms that have both...the happy home and perfect house. Maybe I will get there someday. But for now I will just be content in the somewhat messy life I am blessed to live in.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Today is Just Tuesday

Today is just Tuesday
Today I have no plan or significant words To share with whoever is interested
Or bored
Or needing inspiration 
I don't blog or write out of habit
Or necessity
I don't feel the need to post every day
Or every week
Or month for that matter
I am not making profit per view of my site
But if someone would like to teach me
I'm game for that 
I normally only write when I am inspired
Or angry
Or excited
Or hurt 
But today I am none of those things
Today is just Tuesday 
And for some reason I was compelled 
To share this nothingness with whoever
And something tells me 
Someone needs to read it
Maybe it's you
Or maybe it isn't
Today was nothing special
Nothing extraordinary 
Today I just taught
I just was
There were no breakthroughs
I didn't have all of their attention
I didn't have one of those
"That's why I'm a teacher" moments
No one made me lose my temper today
I didn't cry over someone else's pain
I didn't feel like teacher of the year
(Even though I had my day planned out
And an essential question on the board
Which is a miracle in itself)
But I don't feel like I failed them either
I picked up my boys
Hit the good ole Soddy Daisy Wal Mart 
For some blue and gray yarn
For my next afghan order
Got some seizure meds from Walgreens
Watched my son play catch
Read him a book or two
Fed my other son a bottle or two 
And wrote up this blog for you 
Maybe, or not
All this to say
Today was just Tuesday
And that is okay with me
I lived to love another day
Maybe tomorrow will be
More than just Wednesday
Or maybe not
Maybe it will be wordless
Or maybe filled with thoughts
Maybe I will be inspired
But tonight this is all I've got

But, I must say this guy is mighty cute.

...And this guy

Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Teachers, Moms, and my High-School Crazies

I am writing this in response to a  post beautifully written by a mom of six kids. She is overwhelmed by the amount of school supplies and back to school clothes she needs to buy when the year starts. She is stressed at the paperwork that needs to be filled out. But she remembers that the teachers are working just as hard and loving on her kids almost as much as she does.
It's beautiful. Read it.

Dear Loving Moms and My High School Crazies,
I am a mom of two little boys, and a wife of an amazing elementary school teacher, and an intervention reading and writing teacher to about 25 high-schoolers, and a case-manager for 27 IEPs.  I'm a little overwhelmed this time of year.  I read this article when I woke up at 5 am to feed my second boy who is 7 weeks old today. It's Saturday now, but I won't be sleeping in tomorrow, even if my boys let me. In a few hours we are going to watch one of my 5 siblings play in his first scrimmage as a college athlete at The University of the South. The baby just spit up and peed through his diaper at the same time so I gotta pause to take care of that and hope he goes back to sleep...
I'm back. And he did. He is a much better sleeper than his brother is or ever was.

I haven't spent hours at the store picking out cute stuff to make my classroom a little homier because we don't have a "cute classroom" envelope in our strict envelope budget system. My white brick walls are covered with taped pictures of the people I love and articles about the importance of not dropping out of high school. Unfortunately, against my best wishes and repeated pep talks and words of encouragement, some of them will drop out anyways. And even though it was a choice they made on their own, I still feel like I did something wrong. And I pray that what happens in that article won't happen to them. I pray they won't be statistic again. My walls don't have laminated posters of famous people with well-known quotes on them, because of that whole envelope system thing. And contrary to popular belief, none of the state's education budget goes to filling my room with posters, or even books for that matter. My joke of a classroom library contains books I loved when I was my students' age, and love to read again now, that would otherwise be on my shelf at home for my boys. I bought them in college while taking my favorite class ever, children's lit, back when I didn't need an envelope system. My job was running for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and my fast feet paid my bills. I didn't have a husband, 2 little boys, a car payment, bills, and a mortgage. My library shrinks every year and I try to tell myself my students loved the books as much as I did and took them home, even though I know they aren't big fans of reading. I think, "maybe, just maybe, they love reading (or hate it just a little less) after taking my class."  

The colorful quotes on my walls were quotes I found on Pinterest from not so famous people, handwritten in colorful marker and taped to those white bricks. 

I have some colorful baskets. They are filled with free spiral notebooks provided by our guidance office because someone knows our students probably can't afford them or don't care enough to bring them. But even the baskets are hand-me-downs from lots of teachers that came before me. I'm a little jealous of the pictures of my friends' classrooms that are super cutesy and have their students' names beautifully written and taped lovingly to their wooden desks. But most of my friends are elementary school teachers. I am pretty sure my high school students would think I was crazier than they already do if I did that. They wouldn't see it as an expression of my love for them and the excitement I have for them being in class, some of them for the fourth year in a row. This is not because they failed my class, but because I teach reading and writing to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. I love having them again, even the ones that drive me absolutely insane. That is because I get to see them grow as people, and as readers, and as writers. When they graduate, I feel like I played a part in it. They aren't just students I taught for a semester. They are my babies. 

I hate the first day when they walk in my room and some of them say, "Ms. Strauss, why do I have to have your class AGAIN?" And it warms my heart to hear some of them say, "stop it guys. I love Ms. Strauss, and her class isn't that bad." I'll take "not that bad" from a teenager that has been forced to take my class again when they could be in Ms. Cooper's Zumba class :) any day. 

Last Monday, I dropped off my 6-week-old baby at daycare for the first time, along with my rowdy two-year-old. And I didn't even remember to take their first-day-of-daycare picture. (Thankfully their teachers did for me.)

I was too excited to go to my school and teach my other babies. I love being a teacher, even though I forget how much I love being a teacher about 90% of the time. 

I forget because I start to drown In pile of paperwork, or my kids are ignoring me AGAIN, or they won't put their cell phones away even though I have asked them 5 times, or a kid asks to be switched to a different lunch because they "don't have any friends in first lunch" even though I know they do and I spent hours working on their schedules so I wouldn't have to take them out of their favorite class, or my student refuses to do his work because he is too tired, or her boyfriend broke up with her, or his dog died, or their parents got a divorce, or they are hungry because they haven't had anything to eat since lunch YESTERDAY at school, or they were up late taking care of their baby, or their friend OD'd, or or they had to work late last night to help their family pay the bills. 

And some of it I understand, because I was in high school like them not too long ago. I remember having homework in all 5 of my classes on the same night. I stayed up way too late on the phone with my boyfriend, against my parents warnings, and fell asleep in class a time or two.  I ignored my teachers sometimes, too. Sometimes I hid my flip-phone under my desk where I thought they couldn't see it. I, too, tried to  get my schedule switched so I could be in the same lunch with my best friends, because there was a time when I didn't have a lot of friends either.  I've had my heart broken by a boy a few times in my life. Once, my dog died and I had to be in class the next day trying to hold back tears.  And my parents are divorced, too. They aren't alone.

The rest I feel for, but I can't even imagine. I never lived their life. I never walked in their shoes. I never went without a meal. There was always food on my table. I didn't have to raise a child until after I had a career and a husband. It's really hard to do and I don't have to do it alone. I was blessed to never have to see the effects of dangerous addictions on people I love. I didn't have to work to help pay my family's bills. They were busting their butts to make ends meet so I wouldn't have to while I was in school.  I can't relate. I don't know what it feels like. But I do hurt for them. My heart breaks for them. When they aren't around, I cry for them. Life shouldn't be that hard yet, because they are just kids. And most of the time I forget they aren't really my kids. Because I love them that much, even when they are hard to love.

I hope they know that I wake them up because Iove them. I take away their phones because I know they need to become better readers. I make them write a whole page about their feelings because one day it is going to be important to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. 

There are times when I can't communicate my thoughts and feelings about them and for them. I can't tell their teacher not to give them less homework. I can't fix their high school relationships. I can't let them catch up on sleep in my classroom, and I can't take their cell phone and throw it down a flight of stairs. I can't be a best friend matchmaker or change their schedule so they can find one. I can't bring their dog back to life or put their broken families back together. I can't put food on their tables, or feed them more than some candy and some pretzels from my lunch.  I can't pay their bills. I can't help them raise their babies. I can't take their friends'addictions away. So when I am at a loss for words, and don't know how to fix their problems or stop their hurt, I hug them. 

And then we take out a book and read. For about 30 minutes we are in another place together, enjoying the triumphs the protagonist is having, hurting over someone else's fictional problems, laughing at an author's wit, perusing the pages for plot and climax and similes and metaphors and personification. We search the novels for events we have experienced, characters we can relate to, and settings that take us somewhere else. Sometimes those stories are the only escapes they have.

And sometimes, near the end of the semester, a student will walk up to me and say, "I actually loved that book. I have never liked a book before."

That, my friends, is worth the mounds of paperwork, and whitewashed walls, and makeshift posters, and grumpy kids, and attitudes, and drool-stained desks, and self-funded classroom libraries. That is what keeps me going back. That is why I hate that I love to be a teacher. That brings me joy that outweighs the chaos that is the life of a high-school teacher. And when that student walks out of my classroom, I smile and rub my hands together and sigh and say, "my job here is done." ...until the next class walks in.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Flashback Friday...a shoutout to teachers and the students we love

A new year is upon us, my fellow teacher friends.  These words are for you...The teachers taking care of my 2 little ones in daycare aka "Base Camp" teaching them to share and go potty and talk nice to their friends...the ones teaching little people to count and sing their ABCs...the ones teaching life skills to special friends who need a little extra attention...the ones teaching kiddos how to read or study or work out word problems or interpret literature or write research papers...and the ones like me teaching teenagers how to be men and women ready to take on the world.  I know this is long but if you are one of those people, I promise this is worth the read. Often we have to be their moms and their dads and their teachers all at the same time.  On top of that, we have papers to grade and parents to call and data to collect and paperwork to complete and fires to put out.  We not only hand out assignments but we hand out advice and hugs and snacks and clothes, because in many cases we are the only ones doing so.

All that to say, our jobs aren't easy.  Our jobs aren't always fun.  Often we do not see immediate fruits of our labor, the progress from our stress, the growth from our teachings, the effort from our pep talks, or the respect from our love.  I never thought in a million years I would be teaching high school.  I thought I would be teaching young kids how to sit quietly in their seats and tie their shoes and sort things into boxes and communicate their emotions and control their anger.  I never thought I would have to tell a student to hand over their dip or put out their ciggarett or stop cussing in the hallway or stop hanging on their boyfriend or stop judging people based on the color of their skin.  I never thought I would have to spend an hour trying to convince a parent their child was capable of going to college. I never thought I would have to tell a student they were working too many hours after school only to be told they had to help pay the light bill.  I never thought my current students would be ringing me up when grocery shopping on the weekend.  I never thought I would have to tell my students to stop speeding out of the parking lot or stay out of jail.  

I never thought I would have the pleasure of seeing little kids just out of middle school four years later present senior projects about things they were passionate about.  I never thought I would watch minds change and hearts melt and eyes open to the prejudices so deeply rooted inside them.  I never thought I would watch a student convince a depressed friend that life was worth living.  I never thought I would see my students' talents lead them into promising careers just months after I was their teacher.  I never thought I would see my students start families of their own.  But I have.  And what a blessing it has been.
It took four years for me to figure out why I ended up teaching high school.  And I think one of those reasons is so I can encourage those of you who don't teach high school, and remind those who do why we do.  I stumbled upon this letter that I wrote after my fourth year of teaching. And it came just in time.  I did not come into this year extremely motivated or excited.  I had forgotten the purpose behind all that we do.  But this letter written by my former self to my graduating seniors reminded me why the heck I put up with these precious little boogers.

"Hello friend.  You may not know this, but you are part of a very special group to me.  What better time for me to show my appreciation for you than now?  You are ending one chapter of your life to begin another.  You are one of the few students that were in the first class I ever taught in.  I was 21 and fresh out of college and you were my guinea pigs.  I was thrown back into a world I had just left 4 years earlier...high school.  I was beginning my second adventure in high school and you were beginning your first.  I was just as scared of this place as you were.  But we got through it together.  Here we are, four years later, still alive and kicking.  We did it!

At times I have wondered why in the world I got into this profession.  Why would I put up with crazy kids all day?  Why would I bother waking up sleeping students or fussing at them in the hallways during class?  Why would I lecture my class about doing their best and studying hard when it seems they would much rather text on their phones or talk about cars?  

This is why!  You guys are why!  Because no matter what happened along the way, you have persevered and fought to get where you are.  You did this on your own.  You earned this.  I can't take any of the credit.  But I feel so honored to have been a piece of the puzzle in your high school career.  I have enjoyed...most of the time...watching you get here.  Seeing students walk across the stage at graduation to begin the next phase of their lives is so rewarding.  It is such a great reminder of why I am here.  So as you walk across the stage, know your success is driving me to start another year.  I will remember your smiles of pride and confidence on graduation day when I start to think, "what am I doing here?"  You guys are the reason I am a teacher.  You are why I will continue to do what I do.  Seeing you succeed shows me that my effort and time and love are worth it.  

And that is what it  You may not know this, but I love you.  All of you have played a part in my journey as a teacher.  And for that I thank you.  I will remember all of the smiles and the frustrations and the study sessions and the lectures and the laughs.  This is what makes me love my job.  

I can't wait to see you guys one day after graduation.  Don't avoid eye contact.  Smile.  Say hi.  Give me a hug.  Tell me all of the wonderful things you are doing with your life.  Fill me in.  Catch me up.  Come meet my family and introduce me to yours.  Make me proud.  You are the first ones I will share that moment with.  Hopefully many more will follow.  But you will always hold a special place in my heart.  

I don't think I could tell you this while I was your teacher, but I will tell you now.  I have been and will be praying for you.  I pray you become all God intends you to be.  I pray life gives you more smiles than tears.  I pray you create a life better than you dream.  

Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent and praiseworthy---think about such things.  Philippians 4:8" those teachers of you from preschool and up, know you are all part of this journey.  "A person's a person no matter how small."  Know that eventually those little stinkers of yours will go out into the world and do their thing.  And when life brings them success, remember you were a part of the road that got them there.  Your puzzle piece matters.  

And in the words of my beloved Dr. Seuss..."Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It's not"
So keep on caring.  You may be the only one who does.