Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bread

It’s a simple, familiar process, making bread. Flour, milk, butter, eggs, salt, yeast. I take the ingredients out of the cupboard without checking my familiar recipe, scrawled in my personal recipe book years ago. “Fleishman’s Basic White Bread Recipe.” I don’t really need to consult it anymore, but I have it out on the table nevertheless: my version of this recipe has changed and adapted so much over the years--the recipe I use barely resembles the original, but just in case, I keep it out.

It starts with heating the milk. I add the butter to melt with the milk. Next, the sugar. Then I wait for it to cool, knowing from long experience that impatience will kill the yeast. I test it with my finger several times, remembering a tip from another cookbook that suggested, in the absence of a thermometer, that the milk is ready for the yeast when it is “just hotter than the finger can stand it.” An inexact, unscientific measurement, but I use it nonetheless, knowing intuitively now if the mixture is still too hot for the yeast.

I sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk-butter-sugar concoction, and wait again.

My mind slips back, wishing I had the familiar, wide, heavy metal bowl that we used strictly for making bread in my mother’s kitchen. I see Ami standing at the counter, sprinkling the yeast over the warm water in the bottom of that bowl, the blooms of yeasty goodness hitting my nose. The same smell strikes me as I wait for my yeast to bloom, and I go back those twenty-years, standing next to her on the plywood box that doubles as a kitchen stool, watching her begin to make the bread from memory. Ami never needed a recipe.

She mixes the flour and other ingredients until it forms a lumpy ball of sorts in the bowl. She turns it out onto the floured countertop, and starts to knead, pounding and turning and folding and pounding the bread again and again and again. I can feel the rhythm in my elbows as I lean on the counter watching her, amazed at her dexterity, watching the knobbly dough turn from lumpy to smooth in a matter of minutes. Before she is done, she tears off a small piece and gives it too me. I flour my hands up as I have seen her done, and earnestly attack the dough. It’s hard to grab all the pieces together, an awkward mix of too soft and too dry. My hands don’t know the rhythm yet, and I’m too tentative in my kneading. I watch her smooth and confident folding and turning and copy her movements. Slowly, long after Ami’s lump of dough is done, mine begins to take shape, becoming smoother and smoother, my movements a bit firmer and firmer; my eight-year-old's muscles struggling to bring life to the lumpy and misshapen dough.

Next, Ami cleans the same heavy metal bowl (metal is far better than a plastic mixing bowl for rising dough) and carefully pours some oil into the bottom, and tilts it back and forth to cover the bottom. She drops her dough into the bowl and turns it over a few times to coat it with the oil. I add mine and do the same. Our two smooth lumps of dough nestle together, one large, one small, and now we wait, the tea-towel covered dough sitting on top of the stove. I nip a tiny piece off, a tiny taste of the raw dough, which I love, though I know it will result in yeasty burps over the next hour.

Now, I take my yeasty-milky-buttery-sugary concoction and add it to the dry ingredients waiting. Next, eggs, and I stir it together. Slowly, I add flour half a cup at a time until it seems ready to knead—when no more flour will be absorbed with the mere beating of a wooden spoon. I hardly have to think about what to do next—dough spills out raggedly onto the floured surface and my arms begin pounding out the rhythm I learned from Ami twenty years ago, and I turn, and fold, and turn, and fold, slamming and pounding the dough as hard as I dare onto the floured counter.

The tightness in my neck, the flutter of anxiety in my stomach temporarily fades as I lose myself in the kneading. The lurking reality of returning to school on Thursday, the guilt over the papers I didn’t grade this break, the dread of inevitably yet another dud of a discussion and the frustration over things that I can’t control all slip away for a moment or two.

My hands and memory are back in Kayes, with Ami. She will take the dough and form it into whatever Mom has decided we need—perhaps we’re having guests for lunch (a frequent occurrence). They’ll marvel over Ami’s shiny, soft rolls, and beg Mom to send Ami to them, to teach their maids the art of bread-making. Or, maybe Mom wants to make French toast for supper. The loaves will be sliced into decadently thick slices and drenched in the cinnamon-milk-egg concoction before being fried and devoured with thick layers of precious powered sugar transported carefully from Dakar or Bamako, and homemade “maple” syrup. Or, maybe we’ll just have sandwiches for supper, like usual, but the substitute of this soft, "American" bread for the typical crusty French baguettes will be a welcome change. Or, maybe it’s Christmas Eve, and Mom will shape dough into sweet rolls, and we'll savor them slowly Christmas morning, peeling each soft, cinnamony-layer off carefully, the family all together before the wild, tiring flurry that is Christmas in Kayes. 

My dough rises in the oven, where it is warm and draft free. I peek at it a few times over the hour, impatient for it to rise—I’m always impatient, though bread-making can’t be rushed (and I refuse to buy the “quick-rise” yeast). I’ll shape it into loaves, and send one back to school with my brother and sister for a tiny taste of home. My bread is never, ever as good as Ami’s, but I love making it anyway—love tasting the homey loaves that take me back to dusty, hot Kayes mornings, to the wonder of Ami’s dexterous kneading, to the moments that I never knew would end. It helps me to know that there is more to life than this hardship I am in the midst of. It reminds me that I am more than I feel that I am right now—though I doubt myself, my calling, and I wonder “what’s to become of me?” more often not—I know that this spell of melancholy can, and will, be ended. I know that there is hope in these dreary winter days of school, and grading, and more school and grading—the smell of warm, tangy, blooming yeast can do all of that for me, and so I plan on making many more loaves of bread in the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Eve's Tuesday's Musings

Dear Readers,

1) I fear my blog has been somewhat neglected of late. I had to dust cobwebs off of the link before I could open up a new post. It's been impossible to find the words to say; or, rather it's been impossible to find the right way of saying what is on my heart. I've had words aplenty--but none really suitable for this public of a forum.

I haven't written in a while because it's been a tough few months and I haven't really wanted to be grumpy and whiny here without a light, of sorts, to the end of my crankiness (though a blog is the perfect medium for being cranky and whiny, isn't it?): if there isn't some kind of "lesson" to be learned, I shy away from sharing the personal stuff, sometimes. The short story is that I've been going through some pretty hard transition blues--new job, new school, new classes, new students, and family and close friends far away. All things that I suspected I would go through, all things I knew would be challenging--but knowing that something is going to be challenging and experiencing it are quite different. And that's all I'm going to say about that, for now. If you think of it, I'd appreciate your prayers because I don't really have a light, yet, at the end of this tunnel of melancholy, and I'm waiting for it (not very patiently, I'll admit). I'm trusting that God has a plan for me here, in this country, at this school, for this time of my life. It's hard to see the plan in the swirl of loneliness and self-doubt but I do believe there is one, even if getting my heart to accept what my head knows is a different story.

2) Monday marked an important day for me--December 23rd is my anniversary of returning to the States last year. It's been a strange, topsy-turvy twelve months. It was so special to live with my parents for about eight of those months and to reconnect with them. I really appreciated having a comfort-zone while I tried to figure out what I was doing. Though I still don't really know that I've figured out what I'm doing, God has really blessed me in spite of my transition-blues. I know that I am blessed to have a job that pays the bills (and that I will eventually probably actually like), a warm, sturdy house (completely with "guard dog" neighbors), and a good little car. It doesn't feel like "home" yet ("it" meaning all of it--life, here, in America), and I don't know that it ever completely will; however, I want to have faith that it will be "home" on some level, eventually. Probably not in my timing--and possibly not before I move back overseas (it's no secret that this is the long term plan). I do hope that I can at least put some roots down here so that I have something to come back to. I don't know what roots look like when your family lives and works overseas and/or everywhere else but here, and your friends are scattered all around the world as well, but I'd like to have some semblance of roots before I depart again.

Enough moping, Danielle!

3) It is Christmas Eve, and so I am content because, you can't be unhappy on Christmas Eve, right? (Okay, I know that you can (dozens of sitcoms attest to this)--but I am not.) Ben and Susanna are here with me, and we are enjoying family times (which in the Bowers family means sitting around reading) and catching up on our lives from over the past few months. It's nice have noises in the house that aren't the mice (though I haven't seen any evidence of the mice in weeks), and nice to have people to cook for and "mother" a bit.

We are sort of figuring out what our Christmas together looks like. It's a funny thing with just the three of us, in America. Everyone keeps asking me about our "family's Christmas traditions." Our family Christmas tradition usually means going to church for six or seven hours (4+ hours of church, 2-3 hours of a meal and socializing, after), coming home absolutely exhausted, and crashing (with maybe enough energy to put in a Christmas movie). We generally do the more "Christmas-y" things before and after the actual day of Christmas. And the Christmas-y things often include singing Christmas carols in a pirogue on the Senegal River with Communists, so it's not exactly the same in Baltimore. It's also the first Christmas that we've spent together without our parents. We've had Christmases without our parents, but not together. So we are forging our way, I suppose, and that's okay. Our own way may include a Doctor Who Christmas Special marathon--and I hope that's okay, too.

And so, on this Christmas Eve, I hope and pray that you are nestled all warm in your beds, with loved ones surrounding you.

May we remember that the reason for all of this Christmas-craziness is really to celebrate the birth of Christ. Even without the gifts and the lights and the trees and the eggnog, Christ's birth will still be the reason for this season. I pray that in the hustle and bustle (and the stress!) of it all, may we find time to give thanks to our Lord and Savior for His perfect gift of Salvation and Grace!

Merry Christmas!



Sunday, December 8, 2013

You know you're an MK when...

If you're a missionary kid, you've probably seen the list that has made its way around the internet, again and again. I remember getting it in email form back in the olden days of dial-up--I think it was one of the first forwarded emails I ever got, and I remember reading through the list with gleeful delight, with the delicious realization that there were other people out there who had similar experiences. It's not that I didn't know there were other MKs, but it was one of the first time I had a sense of the "network" of other  missionary kids or TCKs--a knowing that I was not alone on my island of otherness.

You know you're an MK when...

  • People ask you if you speak African.
  • National Geographic makes you homesick.
  • The vast majority of your clothes are hand-me-downs.
  • You have a passport but no driver's license.
  • You can cut grass with a machete, but can't start a lawnmower.
  • You don't know where home is.
  • Your highschool memories include the day school was canceled do to tear gas (or, in my case: America's bombing of Afganistan in 2002 setting off a ripple of threats to American expatriates around the world, and so we closed school for a few days, and then after that had big, beefy Senegalese soldiers posted around our campus for the next 6 months for protection.
  • The big beefy Senegalese soldiers posted around your campus gates allowed the school children to handle their big, beefy guns without giving it a second thought.
  • Random old ladies come up to you in a church you thought you've never visited and tell you that they changed your diaper twenty years ago. Also in the same visit you discover a truly mortifying family prayer card from 1993 on said church's missionary bulletin board and vow never to return.
  • You watch a movie set in a foreign country and understand the language the people are saying (and if they are actually saying anything at all--The Jewel of the Nile features the Senegalese National Dance troop--posing as Ethiopian Bush Men--saying Bambara numbers--the trade language of Mali--very, very emphatically as if they were actually saying something sensible...)
  • You understand the complicated explanation I just gave about the inaccuracies of the language spoke in an obscure sequel to an almost equally obscure 80s romantic comedy featuring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.
  • You grew up with very little access to TV and movies and so you randomly know very well the few movies and/or TV shows that your parents lugged over the ocean, but chances are no one in your passport country remembers because who remembers movies from the 80s, anyway?


You get the idea, right?

The past few days, I've had 2 "you know you're an MK moments." Well, I have them all the time, but these two stand out to me.

First of all, a relatively minor incident, but it made me laugh--we just had our first snowfall of the year here in Baltimore (and we have a SNOW DAY TOMORROW!!!!!, but I'm not that excited about it), and I had been reminding myself to buy a scraper-do-hicky for my car, because somehow I'd never gotten around to buying one last winter (that's right folks--I've been back in the US for almost a year now!) because it was a pretty mild winter and I just borrowed my parents' when needed. So, inevitably, my putting off of purchasing the scraper-do-hicky meant that when it did snow, I was caught without one.

Never fear--ever the resourceful missionary kid, I grabbed a spatula from my kitchen and headed out to my car when I needed to get to the grocery store to stock up on necessary staples. And yes, I pushed all the snow off of my car's windows with a spatula. And yes, it worked quite well, thank you very much. And yes, I did get some funny looks at the Aldi's, but whatever--I think I Macgyvered that situation quite nicely. I did then drive to Walmart to buy an appropriate scraper-do-hicky, but if I'm ever without it, I know what to use.

But the funniest MK moment happened to me a few days ago. I've been putting off getting back into the running thing ever since my half marathon. In my defense, I did something to my foot (probably just used it too much) and it hurt after the race, and it hurt when I ran a few days later, so I gave it a break--I didn't need much convincing to take a rest from running. I ran a few times since, but not consistently, and my exercise really broke down during my extremely challenging month of November. So, last week, I was bound and determined that I would get back to the routine (especially because I have another half marathon coming up in March).

My habit has been to park my car in a parking lot for a small park/athletic field on a road that I take to and from school. I park and run a five mile loop.

So, as usual, I parked my car, stretched, and headed out on my run, enjoying the refreshingly brisk late-fall evening. I pushed myself a bit harder, knowing that I usually keep to a regime if I push harder the first time I run, and went up a side road with a steep hill that I normally avoid. I ran the return distance a bit slower, but still in good spirits, sprinting the last two hundred yards of sidewalk to the park with my car.

The problem is that the last time I ran, it was before daylight savings time. I started my run around 4:30, and it was already almost dusk at the start of my run--and night had completely fallen by the end of my run. What I did not realize was that the park's gates are closed at dark. Rookie mistake, I know. Because all parks close at dusk in sensible, suburban America. Actually, all parks close at dusk in dangerous urban America, but that just make sense.

So, I get back to my car to find the gates closed--the gates shut off the car entrance/exit, but everything else is wide open. So, basically, the only thing that can't get in or out is a vehicle. In this instance--mine.

At first, I wasn't too disturbed--I knew there was a 2nd exit, and I just assumed that it would be open. I'm not sure why I assumed this, but I was still young and naive at this point. After stretching, I started the car and headed toward the second exit.

I noticed a 2nd car coming from that 2nd exit, so this added to my assumption that it would be open.

It wasn't.

As I was driving towards it, an older woman was walking her dog along the sidewalk, and she gave me an extremely mournful look as I drove past, and I wondered why.

And then, I saw the gate: closed.

I stopped my car and just looked at it. Really? Really? How could this be happening? What should I do? Who do I call? Do I call the police? It's not like I could just walk home...home was 20 miles away.

I got out of my car and checked the latch on the gate, on the off chance that it would be easy to lift. Nope. Padlocked.

So, then, I decided to jump the curb.

This is the part where you know you're an MK. But, my car was too little and too low, and could not get up and over the curb.

Panic started to set it, and I don't normally panic in these situations.

Though, I've never been locked inside a suburban soccer-park before.

I frantically thought about who I could call, and who lived close enough to walk to. I basically have no numbers in my phone of the other teachers at my school--who all actually live really close to where I was, ironically.

If I told you I didn't cry, I would be lying. I decided to make one more sweep of the park, to see if there was any other exit that I could get through. As I drove around the other side of the park, I saw the other car on the far end, looking as perplexed as I felt.

And then, I saw it: there was a dip in the curb for the sidewalk, which led up to the main road. There were no cars coming on the main road that I could see, so I decided to do it: I drove up on the side walk, up the 10 meters to the road, hoped and prayed that the now oncoming car wasn't a cop (because it would be, knowing my luck), and plopped onto Honeygo Boulevard like it was normal to enter the road at that point. The car behind me caught up, and thankfully wasn't the police, and I went on my merry way--my tears turning to hoots of laughter.

After the bulbous lizard incidents of 2010-11, my roommate Cori and I used to say: "I can't believe that just happened!" over and over and over again after each subsequent lizard episode.

That is what I kept repeating to myself on the way home: "I can't believe that just happened!"

And so, you know you're an MK when you don't realize the local park closes at dusk and your car gets stuck in the park because the gates are locked so you drive up on the sidewalk and hope the other cars aren't the police and you get out of the park by jumping the curb onto the main road.


What's your most memorable "you know you're an MK" moment?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Musings on a Tuesday (10.29.13)

Greetings on this glorious Autumnal Tuesday!

1) Some days I think I should be a comedian (some days I actually think I am a comedian, and then I try out some of my jokes on my students, and then they don't laugh. Ah. Being a teacher is the best reality check there is.)

If I was a comedian, my current routine would start with:

"So, pumpkin spice lattes. What's up with that?"

And then, I would go on to riff on all thing pumpkin. It would be like that list in Forest Gump, except not shrimp, but pumpkin.

It's not that I don't like pumpkin--I totally do--but this is the first fall I have spent completely in the United States in 7 years. My last American Fall was in 2006, and it was truncated (every former student I ever taught is now saying: oooooooh, Vocab Word, Miss Bowers!) by my student teaching semester--I went to Taiwan around mid-October. That was the last partial-fall I experienced--and the pumpkin thing? Well, it wasn't a thing.

In case you haven't been out of the country for Autumn for the last 7 years, allow me to enlighten you: the pumpkin spice EVERYTHING craze is out of control. Out of control.

Guys, even McDonald's has a pumpkin spiced latte. 

Even McDonald's. 

And it's pretty good.


2) Next, if I were comedian, I would say: "So, Halloween. What's up with that?"

Because it's the same thing with Halloween as with the pumpkin-everything: o b s e s s i o n.

Now, I am not one of those Holier-than-thou Christians who thinks that Halloween is of the devil. (Sorry if you are one of those Christians and if I have just offended you, but I'm in a super snarky mood, so feelings are going to get hurt today, and it's better that I take it out on you guys than on my students who are the ones who deserve the full blown Miss Bowers Snark this week because they are annoying. Did I mention the part about teaching being a great reality check?)

But, I do think the Halloween worship is a bit excessive. Everywhere you turn, it's Halloween. Except for my house because I refuse to put ghosts in my yard like all of the neighbors up and down my street. Seriously--it's like a haunted village or something on my street.

I love Autumn. But I don't love Halloween. Not because of the meaning of the holiday: I just don't looovvvveeee it. I don't hate it, either. I even like playing dress-up, as long as I can be a literary character:
Can you guess the literary character?
Sometimes I amaze even myself. I love how evil look in this picture. And, this is an epic Fuki-Ji special of a costume. I'm going to give myself a retrospective imaginary Gold Star. 
In fact, if I was invited to a Halloween party this year, which I wasn't, I was going to be River Song from Doctor Who. Okay, that's not exactly literary, but I have the hair for it, and that's what counts.
What's the point of big curly hair if you can't dress up like River Song for Halloween?
Source
Maybe I'm just bitter because no one invited me to a Halloween party? 



Nope, I still think that the Halloween-Adoration is overboard.

3) Here are some things I do love about Fall: 

  • Curling up under a warm blanket on the couch with an especially-good book.
  • Boots--I am really having a love affair with boots this Fall. I want them ALL!
  • That toasty feeling under your covers in the early morning--and that it's not quite so horrifically cold yet that getting out of bed is utter torture.
  • Cardigans--I know, super dorky.
  • Pumpkin spice coffee creamer (I just had to sneak that one in). Even the Aldi brand is good!
  • Soup! And that I can eat soup without sweating.
  • Golden leaves and driving down golden-reddish-yellowish-coppery tree-lined roads.
  • Wood smoke in the air.
  • Wearing scarves without looking like a Hipster.

4) I'm happy to announce that I've signed up for another Half Marathon. Yes, I'm crazy. But, I'd don't mind--it's exercise, baby. This one will be the Philly Love Half-Marathon, a (new) race in Philadelphia on March 30, 2014. And, I have someone to run it with this time, which is fantastic--one of the other teachers at my school is also a runner, and so we are doing it together. I'm thrilled--thrilled, dahlings--to have someone to run with, and really thrilled to get to run in Philadelphia, which is, of course, an awesome city. Any of my Philly friends want to join us? If I can do it, you can do it!

5) For the past month or so (since the dog moved to Mali), I have been ensued in what can only be called an epic battle against a few mice in my house. I cannot catch them! They don't like chocolate, peanut butter, nutella, fruit snacks or cheese. It is ridiculous. I have bought FIVE different kinds of traps to try and get these mice. They either reject the traps and bait entirely...or somehow get the bait (I've discovered that they love eggs) without getting caught. I just got a "Mouse Zapper" from Amazon (it...electrocutes them...humanely, one hopes), so hopefully I can get them that way.

It is so frustrating, but at the same time, it has become this hilarious, dramatic episode every evening...I walk into the kitchen making as much noise as possible to scare them off the stove where they cheekily run around in broad daylight. I shout angrily when I see them run cheekily into the living room like they own the place. When I come home from school, I open the door with a slight tremble of excitement and anticipation: will I have caught something today? I scheme and mutter to myself, scour the interwebs for advice on catching mice, and plan their demise.

Despite all of this, my mice (see, now I'm calling them "my mice") are as smart as The Brain. And I'm Pinky, I suppose.

No, really. It's like American mice are all hopped up on hormones and they are evolving at a faster rate than we can keep up with them. And, they're coming for us, human world. They will slowly nibble us to death.

For those of you who have ever spent the night in an African hut on a straw mattress...you know that is a distinct possibility, actually...but I'll leave that story for your own tortured nightmares tonight.

On that pleasant note--Until another Tuesday's musing!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Half Marathon Adventure

Hooray! I did it! I ran a Half Marathon!

Six months ago, I "confessed" on this blog that I was having a really hard time getting back into a semblance of an exercise routine since moving back to the United States. So, to motivate myself, I signed up or a half-marathon, believing that the motivation of paying a lot of money to run a race (Yes, you pay to run. Yes. that is crazy) would inspire me to exercise more, and also that having a goal to work toward would help me.

For the most part, this was true; I admit that for the first couple of weeks after signing up for the Half, I trained pretty regularly, and then, after starting my job in April, I definitely slacked off and didn't pick up my running with regularity until about the end of July - not that I didn't run, but it was still pretty sporadic.

Despite my probably-not-the-best training regimen, yesterday I ran the Half Marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival, successfully completing my personal goals, which were: to run the whole way (allowing for mini-pauses at the water/Gatorade stations) and to run it in under 3 hours, oh - and to finish. I accomplished all three of those goals, and though I wasn't the fastest runner in that race, I did beat some people, and had a a lot of fun.

Leading up to race day, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it, simply because when school started I had a hard time fitting exercise into my schedule: I was so wiped out at the end of the day as my body re-acclimated itself to demands of teaching. I kind of overcame this, and was able to get a couple of shorter runs in every week.

The key to half-marathon or marathon training, however, is the weekly long run, which is exactly what it sounds like: once a week, you go for a really long run, slowly increasing your mileage each week. You are not supposed to try to run 10 miles a day as you prepare for a long race. Keep the mileage of your day-to-day runs low - 5 miles or so, and save your strength for one long run a week. My problem with the long runs is that they take so much time. So, my Saturdays were being eaten up by my increasingly longer runs, because it's not just the run itself: your body needs time to recover afterwards. Or, at least my body does. And, recovery does not mean sitting at the table grading homework and working on lesson plans. It means lying on the couch unable to do anything for the rest of the day. I was definitely worried that the longer runs were cutting into time that I needed to spending on school work.

And then, I wrote on my blog that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do the Half. For some reason, that motivated me to do it. Funny how that works? I decided that this was something I had promised to myself long before I had taken this job, and that it's important to have a "life" (not that running 8-10 miles every weekend is having a life) outside of school. I always struggle a lot with feeling guilty if I am not constantly working on school work, and that has been another personal goal of mine this year as a teacher: that it's okay to have some time to yourself; that in fact, you must have some time to yourself not doing school work in order to be a good teacher (but that's for another blog post, perhaps). The other thing that I have had to work to change (and am still working to change) is to see the running as a part of my down time - I would almost resent the hour or more that it would take out of my afternoons after school, because it meant less "down time." But I've been working hard to see running/exercise as a part of that time, not taking away from it. And, of course, being a total nerd, those hour or more runs mean I get to listen to NPR podcasts and audio books, which is something I actually really look forward to, and it helps the miles slip away (except for the last few weeks, because I was training myself not to run with music as the BRF really encouraged the runners to run ear-phones free. I'm really glad that I did, because I think I might have missed out on a lot.

All of this exposition finally bring us up to race day. I was more anxious about how I was going to get to the race rather than the race itself, which is kind of funny, and what I was going to take with me, and how I was going to carry it. I think my brain sort of transferred my worries about the race to the smaller logistics, which was good. I didn't want to drive to the race, because I would have had to get there really, really early since so many of the streets would be closed, and I would have had to hassle with parking and finding somewhere to park - just a huge mess. I also didn't want to ask someone to drop me off, because I needed to get there so early on a Saturday, and I don't feel like I know anyone well enough to do that, yet. So, I decided to take the bus. Now, I've taken the bus in European cities a lot, and I've taken the bus in Senegal a few times, and Car Rapides in Dakar and "Green Machines" in Bamako (just think of Car Rapides and Green Machines as metallic death traps on wheels) but I've not taken the bus in Baltimore in a long time. I was stressing out about it, because I hate being the obvious person who doesn't know what she is doing, and I felt like I would already stick out because of wearing my race shirt and number. So, I did all this research on riding the bus in Baltimore to make sure I wouldn't make a mistake; you may now consider me an expert on the local bus system in Baltimore. The bus that runs right by my house goes directly downtown, which, by the way, I am not going to drive downtown any more, because I'll spend less on the bus than on parking. The only problem was that on the race day the routes would be all discombobulated because of the race, so then I had to figure out how to get to the starting line from where the bus would drop me off. Fortunately, I only had to walk about half a mile, and it was a good warm up. I decided not to take a bag or anything with me, and instead bought a water bottle holder-thingy that had a little pocket for my phone and money - which was great - I haven't been running with a water bottle and now I am not going to go on long runs without it; that was all that I had to carry with me, and I didn't have to hassle with the bag check.

I got up really early on race day so that I could eat well enough in advance. I started with whole grain toast and eggs, and then took a bagel with peanut butter, and a small bag of almonds and craisins with me to snack on while I waited for the race to start. They told us to get there 90 minutes early and I wanted to make sure I had enough fuel to get me through race. I had been eating carb-heavy meals all week (I love that training for a long race means you can basically eat whatever you want) but I still needed to make sure I had a good breakfast.

I was in the 5th wave (i.e. the slowest group) so I had to walk all the way down Light St., almost to Key Highway, to wait for the race to start. The starting line was about a half a mile away, actually. While I waited, the marathon runners started to pass, and I got to see the first runners go by, which was pretty cool.

As I sat on the wall waiting, an man came and sat next to me and started chatting. He gave me some advice about running the Half (he was a walker, but had done it several times). The crazy thing is that it turns out that he is the son of the author E.L. Konisburg, who wrote one of my favorite children's books, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. So random! He then proceeded to creep me out just a little bit by knowing my name, even though I hadn't told him...I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to be creepy - I wear a silver bracelet that has my name on it, and he probably read that, but I was a little taken aback by that. Other than that, it was a nice conversation and took my mind off the race a little.
Map of the Race, for those of you from Baltimore.
Sorry, Kid President - I had no one to take a picture of me in my race shirt, so here is an obligatory selfie. It's the only one, I promise!

Finally, 9:45 (the supposed start of the race) came around, and everyone started to walk, slowly, towards the starting line. We walked, and we walked, and we walked, and we walked. I kept wondering if somehow we had crossed it, and were just all too bunched up to actually run? I was in the slowest "wave" after all. Finally, we crossed Pratt St. and started up Calvert St., and there was the starting line. Crowds lined the sides of the street, and everyone around me started cheering. As a group, we all started running a few feet before the line, which was actually a large, raised, blue hump in the road that would sense our timers (all of our bibs had an electronic thingy in them). We crossed the blue hump, and we were off.
All the people ahead of me, as we waited to get going. There were something like 11,000 runners in the Half, alone.
You can barely see it in this photo (sorry - all pictures were taken with my camera phone, so they are not going to be the greatest [not that I take the greatest pictures normally]) but the starting line is up ahead. This is after walking about half a mile to get there.
This is the "Phoenix Shot Tower," which we ran past. I am not sure where the name comes from.
Running down Baltimore St., through Little Italy.
Because I was running alone and without music, it was interesting to just listen to the conversations of the people around me, and to watch everything that was going on. There were all sorts of different groups running for all sorts of purposes, all kinds of interesting costumes and t-shirts - one guy was running in a Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup outfit (why you would want to run any distance in that, I don't know). Other people were running with home-made Tutus around their waists (women and men). For the first couple of miles people just talked and talked and talked (around Mile 5, the chatter stopped as the hills got harder, and people needed to concentrate and breath). One lady was obviously on the phone with her secretary (really?). When people saw their friends on the sidelines, they got really excited, of course, and that was great to see everyone's personal fans.

It was such a fun race to run because there was such a community spirit. The race runs right through the city, so we were running through residential areas as well as commercial districts. A lot of the neighborhoods we were running through are not the sort of places you would want to be in any other day of the week, but people were lined up on the streets, cheering us on. Kids held their hands out to high five the runners as we ran past, and old ladies stood out on the corner and screamed and cheered like we were their grandchildren running the race. People came out with all sorts of creative and crazy signs:

"Smile if you pooped your pants while training." (No, I didn't smile)
"Half Marathon today, Law and Order Marathon tomorrow."
"Your couch misses you"
"We are strangers, but I AM SO PROUD OF  YOU!"
"You are running faster than the Government!"
"There is a hot guy ahead of you, run harder!"
"There is a creepy guy behind you, run harder!"

It was so cool that strangers came out to cheer - people obviously inconvenienced by the race and all the closed streets - and yet they cheered anyway. You could tell some of the people were waiting for the road to open up to cross the street, but they just got out of their cars and came up to the top of the intersection and cheered. M&T Bank was one of the sponsors of the race, and they passed out little green cowbells to the spectators, and so all along the race, there were people with green cowbells clanging, along with the inevitable "More Cowbell" signs and cheers.

Every mile or so, the race set up water and Gatorade stands. I am so glad that I used them; I tried to get a drink of Gatorade each time, and filled up my water bottle about half way through. I hadn't really trained with drinking a lot on my long runs, and could really tell the difference in my actual race.

It was perfect weather for the race, after three days of torrential rainstorms, it was just cool enough to run, with a few misting rains along the course, but nothing too cold and wet, fortunately. 


We ran around Lake Montibello, a small reservoir in the city. I wish the quality was better: you could see a long line of florescent colored shirts snaking around the lake as we ran. Just after this, we ran up 33rd St. (not pictured) which is all HILL, but it was cool to run through Waverly, which is the part of the city that my family is originally from. We also ran past the site of Memorial Stadium, for any baseball aficionados out there.
The miles kept slipping away. After I passed 10 miles - the longest distance I had ever run - I still felt like I could run another 10 miles. I don't know if it was a "runner's high," because it was still hard work, but I just felt fine, like I could keep going and going. I did feel a little like Sam in The Fellowship of the Ring telling Frodo "If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been," but I kept going, like Sam. At mile 12 I picked up my pace, because I wanted to make it by 12:45 pm (an arbitrary time, just something to push for). 


Mile 12! (The Mile 2 sign is for the Marathon)
Mile 12 melted away, and as we all got closer and closer, the streets got more and more crowded. We ran past the Lexington St. Market into Camden Yards (not the actual ball field, but the gated street area), through the gates (Mile 13). One tenth to go - I sped up, passed a few people, and crossed the finish line triumphantly. Though I wasn't first, I wasn't last. Though I wasn't fast, I had done it. Slow and Steady completes the race.
Almost...there....
Just through Camden Yards....
MILE 13! 1/10TH TO GO!
We were all funneled to an area where they handed us water, Gatorade, our finishers' medals (yeah! we got a medal!), aluminum foil blankets for warmth, and food (protein bars, chips, fruit). I grabbed my goodies and headed out the gate. It was over.
It looks like a Disaster Relief zone
I needed to get to Washington Blvd. to catch the bus home, so slowly trudged in the general direction. After crossing MLK Blvd, I waited at the bus stop for the 36 bus. I chatted with the elderly man waiting on the bench about the race. He told me about the shoes he had just bought. And that he had waited that morning for over 2 hours for the bus that didn't come. After waiting about 15 minutes, I decided to start walking, and figured the bus would come, eventually, and I could get on at some point up the road.

So, I walked and walked, and walked and walked.

The bus never came.

I walked and walked and walked some more.

When I was about a 1/4 mile away from home, of course, the bus came whooshing past me, over an hour after I had initially sat down on the bench. Part of me wishes I had waited, but the other part of me is glad that I just walked home, even if I did have to walk through a (slightly) scary area.


I would recommend the Baltimore Running Festival to anyone looking to run in a slightly-challenging race (there are lots of hills, but they aren't as bad as everyone said). It was really well-organized and an amazing community event - even if you aren't from Baltimore.

All in all, a good time was had by all. It feels amazing to accomplish a really tangible goal like this. I feel motivated to keep running and to keep exercising. I feel healthier, over all, even though I probably didn't lose much weight - I wouldn't know because I don't own a scale, nor plan to any time soon - but all of my clothes seem to fit the same. It feels great to have done this because for so much of my life, I have felt that I wasn't athletic, and that's that. I'm still not athletic, at all, but we can't make the mistake that "not being able to play volleyball" (and feeling downright miserable when we do) means that we can't exercise. I like running because it's something even I can do. And, I like that I can participate in races like this without feeling the anxiety of competition. So, I ran this race for all the non-athletic girls out there: if I can do it, you can totally do it, because no one can miss a ball like Danielle, or trip over her own feet like Danielle.

I hope I can run my next Half with friends (hint, hint!), but even though I was running alone, it was still so much fun (I was thinking about the next one, while running this one!). I'm so proud of myself for accomplishing this - I sort of have an unofficial "30 before 30" list, and this was definitely on it. After running this, I'm even thinking: "Well maybe I could do a marathon...?" But, I want to get a few more Half marathons under my belt. If I'm still in Baltimore next year, I definitely plan on running in the Baltimore Running Festival again - and you should, too!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Musings on a Tuesday (9.24.13)

Hey! I'm writing on a Tuesday.

Except...most of this is being written on Monday night. I cannot win. Even with myself.

Hey! I'm posting on a Tuesday.

1) First of all, how is that Mondays, no matter how high your spirits are, all always going to be Monday? It is a truth universally acknowledged that I will be wearing my nice, dry-clean-only trousers on a Monday and I will spill coffee on them. And when I say "spill coffee" I mean: miss my mouth and dribble coffee down  my sweater, blouse, and yes, my trousers. My dry-clean-only trousers.

Seriously, Monday? What's with that?

2) I guess I'm stubborn. Who knew? (Insert Sarcasm Sign here) When I wrote my post last week (or was it the week before that? Time flies when you're teaching 4 new preps, juggling a 25 mile commute, training for a half-marathon, and trying to figure out a whole new school culture and community - all the while still clinging to 8 hours of sleep a night or else you turn into Moaning Myrtle) I wrote that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to be ready in time for my 'half.'

And then, I thought to myself: I am not going to let those nay-sayers say "nay! And yay! She isn't going to run that race, we knew she couldn't."

I am going to run that flippin' race, and I am going to win!

Or, come in 3,738th. But still, that's practically winning!

I've been running  a lot and I think I'm going to be okay. Not sure if I'll run the distance before the race like I would like to, but my goal is to have run at least 10 miles - twice (not in a row, mind you) - before race day.

I would invite you to come watch, but most of you are not here, and those of you who are here, I'll be, like 3,738th and it won't be that interesting. But, watch WJZ or something, and maybe I'll show up. I'll be the one crawling. And possibly vomiting into the Inner Harbor.

3) When I run (jog slowly), I've been using a gps running app thing called Runtastic, especially when I run a course/distance I haven't run before to make sure I'm running as far as I intend to. I used it on my run this afternoon (Monday), and it saves my run for posterity or something. The app uses your email address to send updates and, unfortunately, ads. But, when I got home this evening, and I checked my email, I had an email from Runtastic that said: "Congratulations! You burned over 1000 calories [I ran 7.70 miles]. 1000 calories is equal to 2 chocolate bars or 1 small pizza. You deserve to treat yourself to some chocolate or some pizza (but not all the time) if you keep this up."

Is it bad that I immediately thought to myself: "Well, I guess I could go for an entire pizza right now." I'm not sure if the encouraging email had the right effect, because mostly I see it as permission to eat whatever I want.

1. I am ridiculously slow. Like, ridiculously slow.
2. I really had to resist posting this on Facebook, even thought it offered to. I don't want to be one of those people.
3. One of my friends mentioned that one of her friends mentioned that once you hit your thirties (or, late twenties, I suppose) everyone's status updates are about running. I've noticed that's true - for some reason, people seem to "discover" running in their late twenties/early thirties. 
4) I just need to give a shout-out to my 10th graders. I think they like me. I think I like them. They laugh at my jokes, which as we all know, is basically the key to my heart. Or maybe they are laughing at me. But, I like them. Which is good, because not only do I teach them twice a day, but I teach them twice in a row. At the end of the day. But, I am really enjoying them, and I thought I should share that.

Shhhhhh--don't tell them I said so. I couldn't possibly have my students knowing that I like them. Then they'll have all the power. What power? You ask? If you have to ask...you have obviously never been a teacher.

5) I am finally trying to make some definite decisions about grad school - after, oh, six or seven years of deliberating. I still don't know know exactly what I want to be when I grow up, but, it's time that I start realizing that nobody does. So, I'm looking at two programs, one local, an MA (not a MFA) in Writing at Johns Hopkins that is designed for people like me - people who can't afford to take off of work to go to grad school, and for people who aren't quite ready for an MFA (the terminal degree for writing). It offers weekend, nights, and summer classes. I also like it because it offers a non-fiction option, and that is what I probably would focus in, if I pursue a writing degree.

The 2nd is one I have been thinking about for a long time. It's the Breadloaf School of English, associated with  Middlebury College (I know - coolest name. Ever.). It's a really awesome program (an MA in English) - it has 3 main campuses (Vermont, New Mexico, and Oxford, UK). It only meets in the summer months, and is basically designed for teachers. This is the one I'm leaning the most towards, as much as I like the writing program. I think that Breadloaf will give me some creative writing opportunities, both in fiction and non-fiction, and if I want to pursue more focused studies in writing, it will give me a good foundation. Of course, just deciding which schools you are going to apply to is just the tip of the iceberg. But, I'm happy to have a sense of direction and of what I actually want to do. For so long I have waffled and waffled, but I think it's time to just commit.

6) On Sunday, the pastor preached a sermon that I didn't think was for me. He talked about not being able to forgive and talked about how we hold grudges. He talked about how we take offense at the littlest of things - and that we shouldn't. I listened, but I really didn't feel like it was a message for me, at this particular moment of my life (not that I haven't ever held grudges). Until the end, when he asked us all to quietly contemplate someone who has offended us recently, someone that we have allowed to bother us for relatively small reasons, and I bowed my head, and felt like I didn't have anyone. And then God whispered: "What about the neighbors?" And then, I bowed my head in shame, and asked Him for forgiveness for all of my...frustrated angst towards them. And I felt a lot better.

I'm not saying they are never going to bug me again, and I'm not saying I won't share humorous anecdotes about them, but I felt convicted, for sure. And then, yesterday afternoon, they shared fresh, garden tomatoes with me. And then, this evening, they gave me some (tasty) leftovers. And we had a nice, friendly, neighborly chat. And I realized that I've been in this fog of feeling like they were sort of like the enemy. But they aren't. They are my neighbors, and I need to love them...as I love myself. And, since I don't always love myself very well, maybe I need to love them more. And pray for them. And ask God to help me be "Jesus" to them.

Until another Tuesday's mustings - au'revoir.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday Musings on a Thursday (Again) 9.12.13

Hello, Blog! I've missed you. I've been pretty busy the last few weeks, so, forgive me for neglecting you. You are not forgotten...just not at the top of my long list of things to do. But, I'm sitting home, alone, listening to the rain pouring down, and I thought: "Hey! I miss my blog." So here I am. Blogging. My brain is foggy, and so, this post will probably be foggy, too.

1) My parents left on Tuesday for Mali, at last. I don't say "at last" because I was glad to see them go, but because they were supposed to leave at the beginning of July...then mid-July...then the beginning of August...then the end of August...and they left Mid-September, which is fine. It hasn't really set in--it will, eventually. For now, I am okay. It's not something that you ever get "used" to, though, and nor should it ever be.

2) The parentals took their dog back to Mali with them, which still shocks and confuses and angers our outspoken and over-opinionated neighbors, but they don't really understand us--and, frankly, we don't really understand them, so there is nothing we can do about that other than pray for each other, I guess.

When I got back from the airport, I said to our neighbors (who always sit on their front porch) as cheerfully as I could muster--because I had just said goodbye to my parents without really knowing when I was going to see them again--"Well, they're off!"

And they said "Well, it's a crying shame about that dog."

Not: "Oh, I hope you will be okay and not miss your parents too much."

Not: "We hope they have a safe trip."

Nope.

"It's a crying shame about that dog."

But that's okay. Because I can't control their behavior, or what they say to me. I can only control my behavior, and what I say back to them. I am slowly, slowly learning this life lesson (why is it taking me so long??????). So I chuckled and said firmly: "Africa is not the savage and wild place you think it is. It's actually a very modern and wonderful place. So, Lola will be fine; in fact, she'll probably be a lot happier there than here." And I turned the key in the door, and went inside because I didn't want to be told how I was wrong, that Africa is wild and savage, and no place for a dog.

I mean, they do have dogs in Africa...right? I seem to remember a few roaming around...

Oh, I shouldn't--I really shouldn't, but I just have to share what they said to me about a week before school started. I was coming home from one of my meetings, and A saw me, and asked me if I had started school yet. I told her that I hadn't, but that I was looking forward to starting.

"Oh, they'll like having a young teacher like you," she told me.

I laughed, and said: "Well, I hope so."

Without missing a beat, she said: "Because they'll be able to pull the wool over your eyes."

Trust me when I tell you: she wasn't being funny.

What's a girl to do when someone says something that--preposterous--to your face? Well, I laughed and said: "I certainly hope not." And I turned the key in the door and went inside. I have a feeling this is going to become a pattern.

3) So now I live alone. In America. In a house. By myself. In Baltimore city (albeit a not very "city" feeling neighborhood). It's weird. These past 8 months have definitely been limbo months of not having a job, not really having to pay too many bills yet. But, reality is here now--rent, car insurance, managing the cell phone account for me and my siblings, figuring out what internet company I'll use (we had a cable and internet bundle, but I don't want cable, nor can I afford it). Oh, also, I have a commute. Not a five minute walk to school, but a real, grown-up commute of 25 miles (in my very own little car), over the highway, through the tunnel, up, up, up above Baltimore to my school. And I listen to NPR on my way to and from school and I am extremely up on everything that is happening in Syria right now and can discuss it intelligently, if called upon. I am still remembering to pack a lunch each morning. I am getting up exactly when I mean to, not 40 minutes later, hitting the snooze alarm incessantly, and I am putting dishes in the dishwasher as I use them, instead of letting them pile up until I absolutely have to run the dishwasher.

Is this what it feels like to be grown-up?

And yet, despite all of this: I will be eating Cheerios for supper. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

(I have this desperate urge that whenever I am being facetious I have to tell my readers, just in case they are actually taking me seriously. So, readers, I am being a little bit facetious. Except, not about the Cheerios. I'm totally eating cereal for supper.)

4) School started about a week and half ago. Things are going as well as to be expected for being new, for trying to remember everything there is to remember, for teaching new content and new subjects. My students in general are very polite and pay attention and are well-behaved. I am starting to see glimpses of personality, but for the moment they are still a bit reserved and distant, which is to be expected. Everyone at the school has been very welcoming and encouraging. I'm enjoying the challenges, actually, and really enjoying being back to teaching--though it has only been a week and half, and I've not really done much grading yet. Have I ever mentioned I hate grading? Like, really hate grading?

Thus far in my history class, I feel like I've lectured  a lot, which does frustrate me a bit, because I don't mind lecturing, but I also don't want to only lecture. I am trying to brainstorm ways to have good and pertinent and fun activities to either replace or supplement lectures. Tomorrow we are doing a completely silly activity to help them remember Emperor Diocletian and Rome's 3rd century crises (yes, that is what we learned this week), and I am hopeful that inspiration will continue to come. History/Social Studies teacher friends: send me your best activities and ideas! I am not a History teacher by training...but I am a History teacher now, and I want to do a darn fine job of it, if I can!

I'm hoping to put up some pictures on Becoming Miss Bowers soon of my classroom, because I like it, and I like the decorations. It's still a work in progress, and it's still becoming "home." Case in point: there are currently no shoes to be found under or around my desk, yet. Once the teacher shoes start staying at school, then we'll know that I'm at "home."

I'm not sure how much I'll actually be able to write about funny student moments...We have a pretty strict policy on sharing about school stuff on the interwebs, which is to protect the kids (also, we aren't supposed to say anything that could potentially paint the school in a negative light, either, not that I believe for a moment that sharing humorous anecdotes is negative, but it could be misconstrued...). So, we'll see. If I do share, it will only be with first initials, or "student 1" or, a made up name, like Little Billy, so hopefully, it will be okay (also, I've been really careful not to share the name of the school, I think). But I'll figure it out--don't worry. Because I think I definitely have some potential Hand-Sanitizer Loving, Machete-Wielding types (by the way: you would be amazed at the number of hits I get on my blog because of writing about Germ-X), and I want to be able to share the fun and crazy things that happen in the world of Miss Bowers.

5) And lastly...I need to be honest about this...I am not sure if I'm going to be able to run my 1/2 marathon. Mostly, it's my own fault, mostly it's because I've been busy and found it really hard to train, partly it's been because I've been having a weird low blood sugar thing that I've been trying to manage but still figuring out, so that a lot of times when I go for a long run I run out of steam really fast. But I feel like I need to bow my head in shame and say: I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it. I'm going to try! I'm going to push as hard as I can between now and the 1/2 (which is 1 month from today), but I feel like I need to confess this before I'm supposed to run it. I'm not giving up...I'm just saying I might not be physically ready in time, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it (especially because the Baltimore course is supposed to a lot of hills). I'm about 1/2 way there with my mileage, and I am just going to have to push really hard the next 4 weeks if I want to make it. I really, really, really want to do it. But it may not be in my reach in the next month. We'll see--pray for me!

Well, my Cheerios are calling. Farewell! Until another Tuesday, or Thursday, or whatever day's musings.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Okay, now I'm homesick.

It's been almost eight months since I've been back in the United States after leaving Dakar. Maybe I have a heart of steel, but I am only just now getting homesick.

It's not that I didn't miss DA and Dakar and Africa, but I was so much in need of a break and a rest that I just soaked up the break and the rest and didn't feel homesick. I did miss my friends, my dorm girls, my students, but I just wasn't pining away for them. I'd look at pictures posted from events I was missing with a sort of cozy nostalgia, but basically feel okay that I wasn't there.

But, now I'm homesick. (I hope you're happy.)

DA starts up on Wednesday, and I am not there. I belong there. I fit there. I'm known there. I'm established there.

And though I am sure where I am going will be a great place to work and teach, and I'm sure I'll fall in love with my kids like I usually do, it's going to take time and hard work. I am still a stranger there. I am an unknown name on a class schedule. A mystery. A puzzle. A challenge.

I'm not only homesick because of my trepidation of starting anew. I'm just homesick, plain and simple. It's tough not to belong, it's tough to know that there's a place where you do belong, but that God--and your own common sense--has called you away from there. I'm not doubting or regretting my decision. I'm glad to feel homesick, now, eight months later, because I was actually worried when I wasn't.

I'm homesick for those happy reunions after summer vacation with my returning students, the shared inside jokes, the memories flowing, the fog of the end of the year covering the lingering tension and weariness that we all shared in the last month. I'm homesick for the pleasant surprise of finding students on campus early, and chatting with them by the lockers outside my classroom as we both feel the anticipation and excitement of the coming year.

I'm homesick for those first few awkward days of school with the students I haven't taught yet. I'm homesick for the cautious glances they share as they wonder: "Is she as scary as we think?" 

I'm homesick for setting up my beloved classroom, for getting out my familiar classroom decorations, for the fun of putting up my bulletin boards and arranging my desks just so. For the simple pleasure of seeing my clean curtains put up after summer vacation, and talking with the custodian, Idrissa, about his wife and new baby as he finishes cleaning my room after the dusty summer.

I'm homesick for seeing my colleagues and dear friends returning for the summer--the sharing of hilarious summer stories, of breakfast and snack time and lunch at staff orientation; of watching the new staff sit one by one in Cori's "office" and be informed by everyone except for Cori that it's Cori's seat. I'm homesick for rolling my eyes at the same-old-same-old information that I have memorized by now, and doodling on my legal pad as we go over, once again, RenWeb procedures. I'm homesick for frantically scribbling lists during professional development of everything I have yet to accomplish.

I'm even homesick for the power going off just when teachers are released to work in their classroom, and the feeling of working in my hot, dark classroom as an August storm brews dark on the horizon, blotting out all light at 4:00 in the afternoon, and sweating dusty rivulets that soak my t-shirt in the humid afternoon, and then the joy of the storm finally breaking and the heavens opening up and releasing their tremendous gift of life-giving rain, and delicious coolness.

I'm homesick for swapping "how was your first day?" stories in the staff lounge with my friends, as we sit, exhausted, on sagging couches, munching on leftover, stale treats from staff orientation, and sharing our observations and little tales of the first day together until we finally gather up the strength to go home, or go back to work.

I'm homesick for that frantic Back to School Night/Meet the Teacher night, and the stress of meeting parents for the first time, the new parents' faces stern as they look over my syllabi and as I tell them a little about my class--but the "old" parents laughing with me and telling me about their older kids I've already taught and their college adventures. I'm homesick for the end of that first short week of school, for curling up on my couch and feeling that delicious exhaustion--of being so tired that you cannot even will yourself to get up to take off your school clothes and you fall asleep until nearly midnight, waking up in a confused a post-first-week-of-school stupor--and then being unable to fall asleep again as your mind races through everything you should have done and everything you have to do.

I'm homesick for that first night as dorm relief, getting to know the new girls in the dorm and learn their stories. I'm homesick for the hugs that the "old" dorm girls give me as they fill me in on the happenings of their summer.

I'm homesick for knowing how things work, for knowing where I fit.

I'm homesick because DA is home, still, and probably always will be in some corner of my heart. I know from experience that you can't go home again--six years ago I learned that lesson after returning to DA. It was something I knew absolutely going into it and while it was challenging, the new me, and the new DA found each other and that little place became even more dear to me as a teacher than as a student.

Don't worry, I'm not in the depths of despair or anything--this is just some belated musings and reflection. I am really excited for my new school, my new students, my new courses. I'm excited for what God has in store for me. But, I also miss and love that place I know so well.

Recently, people keep asking me: "Do you think you'll go back to DA?" Honestly, I can't say. I love it; it's a special place. I don't know if God will call me back there--at this point, today, I don't think I'll go back to DA for a long time. This sounds extremely cheesy but, I want to see the world: I have every intention of teaching overseas again, but I don't know if that means DA, again. I don't want to rule it out, but I do feel that God is calling me to a different kind of school, and that's okay, too.

And so, to all my DA colleagues (aka friends) and students (aka my kids), I wish you a wonderful start to the school year. May God richly bless you in this year with both challenges and gifts that draw you closer to Him. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Students: do your homework, and try not to complain too much. Teachers: remember to put enter grades in at least once a week, and try not to complain too much. And have a marvelous school year--yes, even though I won't be there.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

I am writing to both confess to you about a problem that I have just diagnosed in my life--a sin, as it were, for those who call themselves English Teachers and/or Logofiles.

The sin of using pop culture's abbreviated words.

It all started sometime ago when I encountered a few people who used abbreviated words for real. Words like "Whatev." "Delish." "Totes." "Cra-Cra." "Cra." "In-a-pro-pro." In Christian circles: "Devos" or "Devs."

Intrigued and amused by these strangely vocabularied people, I proceeded to make fun of these people. Occasionally to their very face. I now regret my mockery. I should have paid more attention to the book of Proverbs.

As a part of my making fun of them, I began use these words ironically. My voice would be drenched with sarcasm whenever I uttered these foul little abbreviations. People would laugh at my "wittiness." I would be encouraged, and continue using them, always ironically.

Until, one day recently, I realized something: I wasn't using them ironically anymore.

Nay, dear readers, I was using them for real.

Today, when I looked at the gas prices, I rolled my eyes and said: "Whatevs."

Not ironically.

A few days before that, I described someone as: "Cra-Cra."

Not ironically.

And recently, when tasting frozen-yogurt, I described my sample flavor as: "delish."

Not ironically.

And tonight, in a Facebook message to a friend, I used the word "totes."

Not ironically.

And so my friends, let this be a cautionary tale: be wary of saying any pop-culture expression "ironically." Because one day, it will not be ironic anymore.

It will be an atrocious part of your everyday vocabulary.

As penance for my sin, I will be copying out the first page of the Oxford English Dictionary, and only be allowed a steady reading diet of classic novels for the next eighteen months to flush out this atrocious habit. I am in recovery. I will overcome this abomination against logophiles and English Teachers everywhere.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tuesday Musings on a Thursday

I know that it's Thursday. But I have some random musings. So, it's Tuesday on a Thursday, okay. Stop freaking out.

1) I just bought a bike off of Craig's List yesterday. It's a Huffy mountain bike, in good shape, maybe about 25 years old. I've never had a "grown-up" bike before. Case in point: I keep back pedaling to break...

I just took it out for my first spin to Aldi's to pick up some groceries. Let's just say that jogging on a flat track does not prepare you for the ever-so-slightest incline on a bike. I don't really understand how the gears work yet, either, so my ride home was a challenge as I had to go up hill, with my backpack of groceries weighing me down. But, I felt really cool and urban carrying my bike helmet around the store. Never mind that I'd forgotten my Aldi's Quarter, because I keep that in my car, so I had to juggle all my groceries in my arms along with my helmet. Guess I'll need an Aldi's Quarter for my bike, too. :)
It came with a bike rack--score!
2) I got back from my 2229.9 mile road trip yesterday. My itinerary was Baltimore to St. Louis to Mississauga and back to Baltimore. It was a great trip--I visited my friends Beth and Aaron, and their baby, Eli in St. Louis, and my friend Alicia in Mississauga (which is in Ontario, Canada, by the way). I saw both the St. Louis Arch and Niagara Falls (which I'd already visited). Alicia and I took The Maid of the Mist boad ride up to the falls, which was fun--next time we plan to do the walk behind the falls. In St. Louis we visited the Arch (but didn't go up) and the Anheuser-Busch brewery (aka, the Budweiser brewery...).

I didn't really have too many adventures--which is good, because on a road trip "adventures" usually translates to car trouble. I got in trouble at the border crossing for my pepper spray. Well, they asked, and I admitted I had some, and so I had it confiscated (apparently, it's illegal in Canada) and my car searched. They were very nice about it, because they were Canadian--and I mean that with absolute sincerity...Canadian's are The Nicest. I told the border guard that I carry it with me in my car because I live in Baltimore. She replied: "Well, you would need it there. But you won't need pepper spray in Canada."

I also possibly have been the victim of credit card fraud (not sure of the right word) at the gas station in Canada (charged more than $96 for my $10 of gas!), so that's been exciting, too. Here's hoping Well's Fargo's fraud department is hot on that 7-11's tail.

Here are a few photo high-lights:







3) I would just like to declare my love, here and now, for....Iced Coffee. It's something I really haven't been around a lot--you would think I would have had copious amounts, living in hot, hot Africa, but for some reason I never really loved the iced coffee that I encountered. Lately, though, I've been getting either Dunkin' Donut's ice coffee (sweetened with caramel), or Starbucks's. I like it even better than hot coffee, I think, because it's not as bitter and doesn't leave as bad of coffee breath. Not sure if that is scientifically sound, but I feel that it doesn't give me as bad of breath...I've started making it on my own with my little single cup coffee maker: I just make the coffee double strong (and with about half the water), and let it brew over a large cup full of ice, and then transfer it to one of my cups with a straw. The coffee chills instantly as it hits the ice, which helps to make it less acidic or something. I add half-and-half and Splenda, and it's "delish."

4) I had my first "back to school" dream the other night. For those of you who aren't teachers, it's a very common occurrence for teachers to start having dreams about school the closer that the first day approaches. I always have them, and a number of my teacher friends have them, as well. It's always interesting to see how early they come--I don't know if it reflects anxiety the earlier the dreams start? Because school doesn't start for a month and a half! I think part of it is that I talked a lot about school with the friends that I visited on my road trip, and as a result, school is on my brain! I suppose that's a good thing--I want to be prepared, but I hope I don't have a month and half of anxious dreams in store for me, either.

Well, until another Tuesday's--or Thursday's--musings. Peace out.

Calling all Decorator-Savants!

As I have shared, my parents recently bought a house, and I will be their tenant when they move back to Mali (I am currently residing there rent free, lucky me...).

We haven't really done any of our decorating on the house. The house was in such good shape that we didn't need to do a lot of fixing stuff. For example, the paint was still fine, though a generic cream, and not in need of a fresh coat. Also, as a whole, we are not decorator-savants like many of my friends--not really that we make poor decorating choices, but we just don't really make choices...at all.

I would really like to decorate the house really well, on a budget, inspired by Pinterest-esque ideas. As much as I would like to do this, I lack the follow-through motivation (I'm good at getting motivated...not so good at finishing) and an eye for design. I have just recently discovered the blog Apartment Therapy, which is amazing--but I am not so good at seeing what others have done, and applying it to my own spaces.

So, I am turning to my clever and artsy blog readers (you know who you are) for your creative and original ideas. And trust me, every one is better at this than me, so chime in: all ideas are welcome (just don't be offended if I don't use it in the long run!).

I will use the first pronoun "I" in the rest of this post, but much of these decisions are up to my parents. Not that I am asking you to contribute ideas geared towards my parents. I'll handle them...just bring on your most creative and wonderful ideas!

Today, I just want to tackle the living room (which is the front room of our little townhouse).

Here are some pictures. Please excuse the messiness.
Ah, yes, that is a wall that is a giant mirror. The 1980s are calling and they want their decorator back...
Looking in from the front door, into the kitchen/dining room.
TV cabinet + view of grey brick wall and stair well.


Wider view of room.
Other corner of room.


Current layout (not to scale)

The living room is limited by 3 major things:

1) The "brick" wall. This is a fake grey brick wall, I believe (as in, it's meant to look like exposed brick). It's nice, from a far (close up you can see the "fake-ness" of it). However nice it may seem initially, it does sort of overwhelm the room from my perspective (when I'm not feeling overwhelmed by the mirror).

2) The mirror-wall. Probably intended to make the room feel bigger (it does, I guess, a little bit), personally I just find it a wee bit tacky. Maybe I just don't like seeing myself in the mirror anytime I sit on the couch (although I generally sit on the couch that is against the mirror).

3) Steel-blue/grey couches. Our couches are quite nice--I am not complaining. My parents bought them brand new, and for our family, that's a big deal! But, it isn't quite as neutral a color as a brown or a taupe. So, whatever colors I want (and I want color), they have to go with the couches.

A few other factors to take into consideration:
  • The TV is moving downstairs--more on the basement later.
  • We have a third love seat that doesn't match the other couches that I hope to move downstairs or upstairs, so there will be at the moment only 2 large pieces of furniture to work around. 
  • It's a small space (basically a square)--it's a small house.
  • There is dingy beige-y wall-to-wall carpeting. Hopefully one day (if I get my way, which I probably won't), the living room carpet could be pulled up to expose the hardwood floors underneath.
Here are some of my ideas, so far (I had a ton of hours to brainstorm in the car while on my recent road trip...):

1) The Steel-Blue and grey color pallet: I am leaning towards a bright, near-lime green as my accent color to go with the steel grey (I saw this color combo in my friends house, and really liked it). I think I would like to paint the "stair-wall" this color, and then have curtains of a lighter or darker shade of the same color, keeping the original cream of the "door-wall," or, curtains in a light grey to go with the grey brick.

2) The Mirror Wall Ideas: My most persistent idea has been to put up tasteful, sheer curtains over the mirror so that it's not quite so: "IT'S A ENTIRE WALL THAT IS A MIRROR." The idea would be to still have the lighting aspects of the mirror through the sheer cloth, but not quite so drastic.

Another idea: I really like having books in my living spaces, so I might look for some shelves that I could place along that wall, which would give me books and a place for a few carefully place knickknacks, and, offset the mirror. I wouldn't want to put a shelf on the other wall, because I think it would be too busy with the brick.

I also have considered finding/building (hah!) some kind of window seat/low bench-thing that we could place along that wall--a long, low seat that could be used for storage (like the one the Van't Land's had made for the DA girls dorm). It would be different, I think, for this kind of house, especially since it's not on a window, but it might look cool with the mirror-wall, and fun cushions.

3) Furniture placement: I would like to put the two couches in the corner, one against the brick wall the other against the front wall, and look for a square or round coffee table. I think that would help to open up the room a lot to have one wall free of furniture (probably the stair-wall).

Okay, now it's your turn: what would you do? What are your ideas for low-budget decorating the living room of our little townhouse? The sky is the limit...as long as it doesn't cost more than a couple of hundred dollars, of course...!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Becoming Miss Bowers Returns

Becoming Miss Bowers ("BMB") is back. I'm pretty happy about it--you may or may not care, but I just wanted to let everyone know.

Basically, BMB will be a devoted-to-teaching blog (like it's already supposed to be), and The Loquacious Introvert ("TLI") will be a more personal blog. I shall attempt to maintain both. Don't get mad at me if, at some very likely point, I get too busy with teaching and grading and planning to do anything but that for a long time.

Read all about it over at BMB with this blog post, "The Return of Miss Bowers."