Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Shopping Cart...

It all started in the middle of nowhere…. kind of ironic coming from a girl that grew up in a small town in North Dakota, but to this day doesn’t recognize that as the middle of nowhere. We were pulling over somewhere in South Dakota - nearer to Nebraska than North Dakota - so that I could go to the bathroom. Another irony. I never have to stop for the restroom on road trips. I’m only 35. No kids. Teacher. I have a bladder as good as the largest balloon you’ve seen, and yet, two weeks ago, I thought I was going to burst and quickly became a young girl begging, “Daddy, please, please find a bathroom for me soon!” as if he could just place a gas station up ahead in the middle of nowhere out of sheer will.

Within a few miles, however, there it was. A gas station. In the middle of nowhere.

I saw it right away as we pulled into the parking lot. A shopping cart. We all know the kind. It was full. Dirty. Overflowing. Resting along the window of the little gas station. My mind wondered, “Seriously? Out here? In the middle of nowhere?” as we pulled up and parked right in front of the weary shopping cart.

As soon as I hopped out of the car and headed for the door, I saw him. His head bowed into one hand, under his fur-lined hood. The dark, long down jacket hung over his body. The last couple of bites of a slice of pizza occupied his other hand. His boots, untied, looked like they wanted to cry. I hustled into the bathroom still wondering what the story of the man with the shopping cart might be.

Confession time: I have a slight fear when it comes to homeless people. Don’t get me wrong, I also have a strong desire to love them. My efforts, though, over time, have been everything from meek to courageous, and the consequences have also ranged from simple to scary. This puts me in a personal conundrum - do I help? How do I help? Do I say anything? What do I say? Will I be rejected? Probably the most crucial question, the truth of my fear, sneaks in at the end of the list. While I don’t want it to be about me, I have experienced the rejection, and at times it has been humiliating, or scary, or disappointing. I am human. Those are feelings I don’t welcome with open arms, even though I know how much they have grown me.

Oh, the way this story ends was a beautiful moment for me. To read the rest of this post, head over to Be, mama. be. where I am guest posting for my sweet friend, Cara, today. 

:) j.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Breathing Just Got Easier...

It all started last night when I crawled into bed and had the pure joy of posting this picture: 

My body is FINALLY back in control - or at least it is being provided the opportunity to be in control.
Seriously, we all know it - some of us experience it on Friday nights, some of us more often, some of us less. But, I swear, I don't ever get as excited on a Friday night as I do on that very last day of work for the school year. Instantly, breathe in, breathe out, calm. Everything just becomes easier. 

Now, don't get me wrong - I get really grumpy when people start having the whole "teachers don't work in the summer" discussion. Rather, I feel like summer is the equivalent perk that most of my friends get by being able to work from home whenever they want or need to. It's just that all of my working from home is done in one solid chunk of time. And I'm ok with that. 

One of the joys of my "Work from home" season is my ability to use time to my advantage. I tend to be very productive first thing in the morning, and late at night. There have been a few beautiful blog posts written, lesson plans well-thought out, and books read in preparation for taking to the students at the start and completion of my summer days. Today was a prime example. I didn't need the alarm to be wide awake around 5. Luckily, however, the pace of the day was up to my body, and it was feeling compelled to lie in bed and read until 7. 

But then, once it was up, this body wanted to move. Out to the garage to clean out the car. Back in the house to put away all of the "stuff" that came in from the car (after cleaning out my office at school and re-locating home to work for the summer, there is a lot of extra stuff at home). Once the stuff was put in all of its rightful places, I got to work on the day's school work. I would love it if you would take a look - especially those of you far away -- I think this could be a really cool, shared, global experience. 

You see, the summer book clubs that I have developed and organized the last few years was not funded this year. I was sad, but the response from the community was heart-breaking. I was approached by so many students and parents that were distraught when I told them there would be no book clubs - I am not much the "bearer of bad news" type. It breaks my heart. So, I came up with the best Plan B I could in a short amount of time and with a bajillion other things going on in my world. I would create an online Summer Reading Log that students could follow and interact with. 

Here is a link to the online homepage. 

And, here is a link directly to the blog!

I am hoping that traffic makes these posts worthwhile, but honestly, even if the traffic isn't strong, I am becoming better at my work! I am reading! I am writing! I am speaking about books and important topics and sharing my thoughts for kids! Seriously - I CAN'T LOSE! 

So, yes, today was my first day of "Summer" - and yes, I did go to a movie (The Fault in Our Stars - have you read the book? Seen the movie? I dare you to tell me you made it through the movie without crying. Good luck!) but I also write three blog posts, cleaned out my office, read a book to review, organized a few things for my Twitter account, and did some research about blogging and social media. And it's only 6:37PM - don't ask me what's on the to-do list for the rest of the evening. It's too long for me to include here. :) But, if my school-year days could be this productive and joy-filled -- I would be an AMAZING teacher, an AMAZING colleague, and still a great friend and family member, too! I love summer - I love it so, so much. But, not because I get so much time off. Just because I get to work in my own ways, on my own time. 

How about you? How would you weigh in on Summer??? 
:) j. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Update... Overdo, but Important

This is one of those updates that is more for me than you, or anyone, really. It is more a scrap booking type of update. I wish I could make it pretty, but rather, I need to make it easy to understand and find when I need to look back on the craziness that has been my spring. Today, as I write, I am in "formal" "professional" "cut to the chase" "every detail counts" mode. I don't like this mode, but I know that I function in a much more logical mindset when I am in it, so, here goes....

Friday, March 14, 2014: I finally got a referral to an Orthopedic Specialist for my hip, since physical therapy just didn't get the results we had hoped for. However, my appointment was with a Shoulder specialist. Yep - that was a bit weird, but I will run with it, since it seems it is the way the office runs. The appointment seemed to go fine. I left with a Cortisone shot and plans for an MR Arthrogram, and feeling like maybe there would eventually be a light at the end of this year-long tunnel of hip pain. The shot worked, after the first day of pain, for three days, and then my pain returned.

Friday, April 11, 2014: MR Arthrogram for my hip. An MRI in which I was clear about needing to be sedated, and they didn't sedate me. It was awful. They also told me I would need a driver. But I didn't. That just makes scheduling a more challenging task. Thankful for good friends. The injection for this MRI was painful and weird and lasted just long enough to be annoying, but all went well.

Monday, April 14, 2014: Follow up from Cortisone shot with Shoulder Dr. to let him know the shot did not work more than three days and I was totally bummed. He referred me on to Hip Dr. and told me that I could expect surgery for a labral tear. As scary as it was to think about, it was more exciting because I am so ready for pain relief and to have my active life back. Over the next couple of days, Cindy, Hip Drs. scheduler did an amazing job of getting me in to several appointments and scheduled surgery for May 29th. I remember feeling sad to be missing the last week of school, but, the other option would have been to potentially start next year on crutches and NOBODY that works in a school wants to do that if given a choice.

Friday, April 25, 2014: The day started bright and early with an interview at 7:45 AM for our district Teacher on Special Assignment: Literacy and Language Arts position. I thought it went well. They did not do introductions, which made me a little uncomfortable, but it was still a decent interview. Then, off to work and finally off to the airport to head to Chicago for an extended weekend to meet up with a bestie from college and baby I had yet to meet. So exciting!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014: Interview via Skype for a district position. The district couldn't get their technology to work, but after about 15 extra minutes of sweating through my sweater, we made it all work and the interview went fine.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014: Fly back from Chicago. What a great trip - another blog post about that coming soon - I hope!

Monday, May 5, 2014: Surprise to everyone - our principal, whom I have grown to adore and work so well with, announced he had been reassigned to a different building in the district. It was a LONG day. My student that is living in a shelter, without parents, fell apart in the afternoon. At 9:03 PM, I got a VOICEMAIL message that I did not get either of the jobs that I applied for. I am an "amazing person," but not the best fit for the job. Gag me. I promise to never talk about the type of PERSON someone is when I am telling why they are or are not getting a job. Amen. Period. Done.

Thursday, May 8, 2014: Met with Drew, the Loan Officer that Whitney recommended. He was GREAT! I think I might actually understand a bit about the financial side of buying a house. And, I think I might actually be financially ready to commit to a house.... oh boy! Later that day, which was a whirlwind, I helped transport my friend, Sean, after his Lasik surgery. Then, I, myself, got dropped off at a hotel for the evening to begin the prep for a colonoscopy. Let's be honest, I don't need to go into details on that one.

Friday, May 9, 2014: Colonoscopy #2 went so well that I don't have to go back for FIVE years instead of THREE! Yippee! Happy 40th birthday to me. The doc commended my efforts of Gluten Free living and said that while I still don't test positive for an official diagnosis, it is obvious I have a strong sensitivity, and therefore, need to be careful and mindful about what I am putting in my body by means of wheat and gluten.

Saturday, May 10, 2014: Mom, dad, and Amy showed up in my driveway and we knocked out 9 visits to potential homes. I fell in love twice. Maybe two-and-a-half times. Whitney, my neighbor and realtor is quickly becoming a friend, and I am so thankful for her! After our whirlwind of house hunting we took off for home to be able to spend Mother's Day with Grandma, too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014: A beautiful Mother's Day with my dad's mom, my mom, and my sister-in-law, mommy to my beautiful brood of niece and nephews. :) Church, lunch, and hanging out - oh, and getting Grandpa set up with an email account..... that should produce some future stories, shouldn't it?!? :) I met up with a couple of friends for a ride home, which was a fun way for me to take part in their upcoming nuptials as I stuffed and stamped a whole lot of envelopes to pass the time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014: 7:00 AM, I went over to my realtor's house across the street and we wrote up our first offer on a great little home with a great story I will share at a later time. At 3:30 PM, I met her at the house two doors down from hers, that had gone on the market, officially, that morning. At 4:00 PM, we were writing our second offer for the day. Within 24 hours, we had gone back and forth a little bit and agreed to move forward with an inspection.

Saturday, May 17, 2014: 9:00 AM, inspection at the new house showed that most everything was as it should have been. Very exciting!!

Monday, May 19, 2014: Radon test came up high. Back to the negotiating board.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014: happy birthday, Mom! 9:45 AM, my principal covers for me so I can go to my pre-op appointment with my surgeon. He ordered another x-ray. I filled out another health history form. The nurse gave me some neon orange, really tight, shorts that I felt more appropriate for a jail bird than a patient, but oh well. Well, I thought "oh well" at first - until my surgeon and three of his student buddies walked in. HOT. All three of them. HOT. And there I sat, in work clothes on top, jailbird clothes on the bottom. Shoot. Not that that is the point, but it was a bummer. He repeated my health history and range of motion work. He very quickly explained his concern: it seems as though the pain I am having may be coming from the muscle, not the joint. The surgery that I have scheduled for NEXT WEEK? Yep - it's for a joint fix. Dr. explained that he wanted to run one more set of images and one more injection to verify whether we are working with joint or muscle issues. He asked if I could easily come in the next day - ummm - nope! So, we scheduled for Friday. Got the final word on the house that I have an offer on - the negotiating has gone well and we are all happy with the terms. Moving forward!

Thursday, May 22, 2014: spent the entire day at the District Office interviewing candidates for the principalship in my building. A great first experience, but seriously - intense. It was a lot of weight to carry for my staff. I felt the pressure to make the right decision, even though it is not my decision alone to make! I also felt super inspired by the process - I could have seen myself answering any of those questions, sitting in the hot seat. Maybe I really CAN do that job! hmmm.....

Friday, May 23, 2014: 1:05 appointment at CDI. Mindy picked me up from school at noon. When I got to the parking lot at the imaging clinic, I had to spend about 20 minutes trying to aggravate my hip. That's not too hard - it hurts constantly. I jogged back and forth on the pavement, sat with my legs crossed, completed a few squats and some jumping jacks and pushed myself until the tears were near but not exactly falling. I had a 3D CT scan to look at my hip. In addition, I received an injection - not a Cortisone shot this time, but I couldn't tell you what it actually was.... that's a bit scary, but I am just that trusting, I guess. It was the most painful injection I have ever received. Uff da. 30 minutes after the injection, my task was to aggravate it in the same way I had done prior to the appointment and note any changes. No changes. Within 1 minute of jogging, the pain was exactly the same as it was during the pre-shot aggravating period. I completed the jogging, the squats, the sitting and the jumping jacks to no avail. I called my surgeon and left a "detailed message" explaining that the injection had no impact on my hip pain. Actually - I was wrong - it did have an impact. Over the course of Friday night and Saturday morning, my pain got worse. It got progressively worse to the point where I couldn't walk without holding my breath and grunting. I couldn't sit or lay down comfortably. There was just no relief. Thank God, for real, that my sister was in town visiting for the weekend.

On the way home from CDI, stopped at PHH/CBB to meet with my Loan Officer, Drew, and sign all of the final loan paperwork to BUY MY FIRST HOUSE! Wahoozie!

At about 5:00 that evening, the nurse called. Surgery canceled. I almost cried. I thought we were so close to an answer. I was supposed to be 6 days short of being on the road to recovery. The summary from the doctor after listening to my voice message was that the shot was meant to mimic the body's response to surgery. If we went forward with surgery, we would be fixing the wrong problem and my pain would not be gone, and I would be unable to address the pain for up to a year while my hip healed from a surgery that isn't the primary need right now. Bullet dodged, I suppose.

But now, am I back to Square 1??? Will anyone ever be able to help me figure this out and get well? I am feeling frustrated by my health, excited about my upcoming move, and exhausted by the end of the school year all at once. So, my mantra is "Baby Steps" - I have been packing one thing at a time, completing one lesson at a time, and choosing my movements carefully.

And that's why you haven't heard from me for a month.

:) Hope all of you are well!
~ Jen

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Favorite Thing...

Saturday evening, after a very long day of being on the go with my family, I packed up my adorable six-year-old nephew, Jay, and headed into town from "The Farm" where my brother and his family now live. They have had some plumbing issues and currently have a working shower, but not bath tub. Everyone was in agreement that Jay could use a good soak after a long day working as a farmer, so I took on the delightful task of hauling him to the nearest free bath tub at Granny's house. 

We left the Farm later than we should have - probably close to 8, maybe even 8:30. Jay crawled in the back of the Granny Van and buckled up as I started up the engine. We settled in for the ten-mile drive and I quickly realized that he was so tired that he was going to talk the whole way to Granny's so he wouldn't fall asleep. I loved every single minute of the drive. 

Together we noticed the sunset, and how black the trees look when the sun is going down on the other side of them. He pointed out all of the farm machinery along the way - naming which pieces Daddy and Great Papa have on "Our Farm" and which pieces they do not have. He noticed our little town off in the distance and was curious about a couple of buildings in the "skyline" - "Which one is the Ethanol plant, Auntie Jen?" and "I think that big tall one is the elevator, pretty sure." It was priceless to so freely be watching his little mind at work. 

I decided to prompt, "Tell me what you and Daddy did on The Farm today!" I heard all about putting an auger into the truck, and how Great Grandpa says the H-word a lot, and how Jay worked really hard to clean up and organize the space between the chicken coop and the shop. His efforts were visible on his clothes and his skin all covered in dirt. He even told me, very mathematically, that he "spent ALL day, but ONE HOUR out workin' on the Farm! I just came in for one hour to do Easter eggs." 

I prompted again, "So, what was your favorite thing today?" And this was my most favorite, priceless moment: 

"Farmin' and Easter eggs, Auntie Jen. Them were my favorite." 

Bless his heart -- he is a mini-Joel, who is my brother, and he cherished his time decorating Easter eggs with me as much as I cherished the time with him. Day Made. It made his bath more special to just scrub all of his hard workin' little body parts, and to wash his hair and give him a great big hug at the end of his exhausting day. And the second-best part of the day for me was after he fell asleep (which took about two minutes), sneaking back in, tucking in his covers one last time, and giving my little prince a smooch on the forward as I prayed over his sweet little life, that he will continue to grow into an incredibly wonderful little man. Love Him. 

:) j. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sweet Baby Girl!

This sweet baby girl was born to one of my co-workers and her hubby and their son. She is such a beautiful little girl, and our day together was priceless! She is lucky to have been born into such a beautiful family. She is going to have a wonderful (and giant) big brother - keep in mind, he just recently turned two when you see how tall he is. :) Her parents are some of the best I have seen. They love their kids so incredibly well. I was blessed to spend the day with them, and have loved holding this little bundle a time or two since! Congrats, Kelly and Josh!! Thanks for letting me capture your little beauty just after she came home... 

Can NOT get enough of those perfectly squishable lips! 

Daddy's Hands.

Is it bad that I LOVE baby cry faces?!?! Seriously. LOVE them.

Seriously -- just love them. Everything about them. 
:) j. 

Baby O!!

PHOTO HEAVY! :) It has been SO fun to be photographing this family for the last three years!! They have made a very special space in my heart for them. This past two months, it was fun to watch them prepare, and then welcome, baby boy #2 into the world. They have a wonderful big brother, and the love they have for their boys is priceless. Congrats, Liz and Eli! Your boys are so handsome and I am so honored to continue capturing them as they grow!! 

This was my view as I walked into the hospital room the afternoon that the newest little was born. So priceless! 

The love this Mama has for her boys is contagious! 

Gammy meets her new babe!

Family of FOUR! 

And of course, the perks of photographing siblings, a couple of years apart: 
On the left: Big brother. On the right: New Baby Brother.

Again, on the left: Big brother. On the right: New Baby Brother.
:) j. 

The Beginning of Happily Ever After!!!

Last month, I spent the most wonderful day photographing my dear friend, Cheryl, and her future hubby, Jeremy, whom I have also grown to adore. I cannot way for August 2nd, to celebrate the day away with this amazing couple! Thanks for sharing this journey with me, you two!! love, Love, LOVE you!!!

Now seriously -- aren't they ADORABLE?!?!