Friday, January 30, 2015

Stretching Minds, Creating Hearts

As I plowed through the last six essays to grade and sent out a few friendly e-mails for students to better watch deadlines this semester, I'm amazed at all the changes in the classroom.

I was a frightened novice my first few weeks of class. I talked confidently, and smiled a lot. I say that with an embarrassed tone in my voice, but at least I had the enthusiasm to carry into each lesson while I yawned constantly (oh, pregnancy!!). I survived teaching with a virus that would not leave, my husband's horrible schedule, getting used to Grace's new schedule, and the general uphill battle of a new job.

But I loved it, and I tried harder every week. My students gave me positive feedback, asking questions and participating in class. Other days, I lectured and had to prod them, reminding them that class is interdependent, and the Socratic Method. I have taught thesis statements to 5th-12th graders, and graded hundreds of essays. I've cheered and grumbled over students' work, prayed for them, and - probably - care too much. Grading is easier, and the work - overall - is much better.

This is how I feel in class:

This is (more likely) how I look:

I was especially struck by my younger students when I was grading their Civil War quizzes - there was a question: Write 1-2 paragraphs in response to: “Has your understanding of the War Between the States changed over the past two weeks? If so, how?”

One student wrote:
“In addition to expanding my knowledge of the Civil war, my opinion changed on who's fault the war was. I at first thought it was the South, but now I realize that both the Union and the Confederacy both played a role in The Civil War. It is important to try to see both sides of an argument, and this history class is helping me with that greatly.”
Students wrote phrases like, "Now I realize I should have looked at the whole picture" and "I understand better now!" while they expounded on what they learned, like the different issues, strategies, and people involved. Then, of course, there are always going to be the students who didn't learn anything and their mind didn't change because they have "very strong opinions on the subject"

... okay. Humble pie moment for me, I suppose. ((Every day is a work in progress.))

For a majority of the students, I am so pleased to see real mind growth. I love seeing improvement. This is why I love teaching so much.

There is so much in the visual world that encourages simplified thinking. It's easier to box people or events up - easier to "sell a story" this way. I saw it when I was a journalist - the seduction of clickbait.

Then, there is the doing. The talking, the question-asking, the reading. There is the curiosity, the aha-moments. This week in US History, we spent the whole class on Theodore Roosevelt's presidency.  I had such a great time creating this lecture and discussing the idea of servant leadership with the kids.

A servant leader is someone who does not believe any task or person is beneath him/her. They strive for the greatness of the cause, not the honors it could bestow. 

As I teach this class, I like drawing distinctions to different leadership styles. TR's is definitely one of my favorites, because it requires a taste of dust now and then - being thrown to the back of the line, or off the horse, or not receiving the recognition of distinction perhaps due. It requires pride in self, and humility. It is a difficult leadership style, especially if affirmation is desired. (I know it's one of my love languages!)

The other ingredient of servant leadership is being willing to lead, even if that is not where you were aiming. I always think of Father Benedict (as Pope Benedict XVI now prefer to be called) as the pinnacle of servant leadership - a man who rose through his virtues, not his desire for power. A man who sought to education and enlighten people's hearts to God, and wrote extensively for the glory of God. He tried to retire so many times on his road to the papacy, and we were blessed to have him for even a few short, sweet years.

Even if my students do not remember all their lessons from this class, I hope they remember the valor of virtue and morality, in leadership and in servitude.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Grading Tunes

End of first semester means a lot of grading... and with February approaching (a.k.a. the month of my Mardi Gras/ Lenten bebe), I am trying to do ALL the prep! This is also Will's last week in the intensive care unit {until March, eye roll} so HALLELUJAH! Let's dance!

Here's what I'm listening to:

{for my students and my comments on their papers, esp. re: their thesis statements}

"You Don't Have To Believe Me" - Eric Hutchinson

{so much snow in PA}

"The Sound of Sunshine" - Michael Franti & Spearhead

{always a favorite}

"Roll Away Your Stone" - Mumford & Sons

{a fun poke at politics}

"Big Parade" - The Lumineers


"The Shape I'm In" - The Band

{I introduced Johnny Cash to Grace and she loves him; pats her leg and keeps beat}

"God's Gonna Cut You Down" - Johnny Cash

Ahh! This is fun... too fun - back to grading...

{and one more...}

 "All Over Now" - Eric Hutchinson

Happy Sunday, all!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A-Chooo! Sheenazing Awards 2015: My Campaign

Okay, truth time: I forgot to nominate blogs for the Sheenazing Awards this year.

But... I still got nominated!

Thanks readers! I am currently up for Best Lifestyle Blog and Most Under-Appreciated Blog.

What are the Sheenazing Awards? 

Bonnie at A Knotted Life combined a few of her favorites: Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, social media and the word "amazing"! Bonnie has seen and testified to real (officially is "alleged") and amazing miracles - her son James was born stillborn and through the intercession of Sheen, is alive today (age 4 years old).

Moreover, Sheen's dedication to spreading the Gospel through social media inspired Bonnie to create these awards, and is a fun way to celebrate Catholic bloggers.

The prize I am gunning for: "The winners will earn a firm virtual handshake, the pride in knowing that they've been named the Best of something by a fairly obscure blog"!!!!!

Campaign slogans (so far):

A vote for me is a vote for Grace!

Julie, Julie, she's our man! If she can't do it... Wait?!

Campaign Promises:

If I win, I promise to post Grace pictures at least once a week, discuss books more, and throw confetti in the air.

What next?

I'll keep writing if you go vote for me! If you go vote and don't put a ballot towards me, I'll still keep writing.

If you need me, I'll be biting my fingernails. Cheerio!

Monday, January 19, 2015

In One Month

This weekend, my friend Liesl visited from the D.C. area. It was a good vegging weekend combined with a lot of grading and school prep, and a good friend who enjoys GHB time almost as much as me.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, another day of school, and one month till my due date. Yep, ONE MONTH. I checked in at the hospital and the OB nurse who processed my papers remembered Will as "the skinny resident who brought his own media" ... yes! That's my guy.

I asked for an epidural, skin-to-skin with my Bebe and to preferably not have a room near the nurses' station, since I am a light sleeper and the 36 hours I was in the hospital with Grace was way too much awake time.

Whaaaaaat? Sleeep?! {Days old Grace gets it.}

The one month before Grace was born, I wrote this {previously unpublished} post:
Sometimes, I wonder how I get to each new day. This weekend, I went to bed earlier than usual and I took my Tylenol PM as a pre-caution against being too awake while being overly-tired. 
An hour went by. 
Another hour went by. 
Will fell asleep 5 minutes after we said night prayers, and stayed asleep till around 6:30 a.m. I tried to keep sleeping; at least I was comfortable, wedged between three pillows. But I also knew I couldn’t stay in bed long before my stomach would start rumbling, hurting, demanding food. Or I would have to use the bathroom, again. 
This past week was a breakthrough for me. I talked to Will about my child birth fears. My rational, knowledgeable doctor-husband talked me through worst-case-scenarios (that’s where my mind always goes). I’m a big proponent of modern medicine, but I’ve also never been in the hospital myself. I’ve been there to volunteer, I’ve been there to see my mom after her baby deliveries, I’ve been there to see my mom at work, I’ve been there to visit people, and I’ve been there (well, the medical office building) for check-ups. 
I’m quite healthy. My fertility is healthy too. Will and I had our first meeting with our new Marquette teacher this past week. We’re switching from Creighton to Marquette for post-partum, and I’m excited for this new venture in fertility awareness. I’m lucky. I have no reasons to be nervous. 
My Bambino Baldwin is active to the point that I am convinced he/she is going to join the circus post-delivery. I’m about to start the job of a lifetime; a job I can never quit, a job I’ll find purpose in every day. Even if that purpose is making sure I drink at least one cup of coffee so I can pursue my passions, or whatever laundry needs folding, or just enjoying my baby.
It's very different knowing that Bebe Deux is a girl. It's very different bringing another baby into our family with both parents working, another baby already present to continue care for, and a non-warm climate. It's been a different pregnancy since I'm technically high risk. I did not attend birth class this time around, and my support person is just Will (no doula - even though I really loved having one!).

I have a lot of work to get done for school, and I'm trying to remain semi-optimistic about residency life even though this rotation is the worst, and Will's going to be on a similar one in March, a.k.a. 1-2 weeks after Bebe Deux comes out. (I WILL SURVIVE!)

Survival mode, however, is really where I see my strength come through. I do what has to be done. I ignore what can be ignored. I eat, love and pray to God that I get through till Will gets home, and then I allow myself to collapse. I sat on the bed a few days ago, overwhelmed by my day and Grace's clinging and thought, How will I manage with two?!

Waking up is hard sometimes...

I know I'll manage. I'll manage because I have to: because I'll have two little girls who depend on me, and a husband who needs me. I'll lean back on him (because I need him too), and kiss my little girls for smiles and good days and tears and bad days.

Snuggles make the world go 'round.

I'm not thinking worst-case scenarios this day. I'm not thinking messy, even though life is messy. I'm thinking joy. I'm thinking anticipation of meeting someone who is going to change my life. Change my life the way Will changes my life, the way Grace changes my life, the way Christ changes my life. The radical love of motherhood and calling and purpose and being and doing.

Grace "drinking coffee" and then smacking her lips after...
One month.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stop Wishing on a Star

There comes a point, every week, when I have to finish the powerpoint for my US History class (my younger kids). They love my powerpoints. They tell me so every class, which is good motivation for me. And I struggle to finish them, simple as they are. I bulk against projects like this -- not sure why, but I struggle with creating visuals. I'd rather just lecture; I also understand that an online class without visuals could be less engaging.

This next month, I am attempting to get ahead on my powerpoints to lower the workload for myself when Bebe Deux is born, and all the stars are not aligning.

At yesterday's OB visit, the NP told me to pack my hospital bag because in two weeks I am full-term. TWO WEEKS?! I thought. I THINK YOU MEAN FIVE. (A girl can wish, right?)

So, 35 weeks and counting. I try not to count. I try not to count hours in the day until Will comes home. I try not to count time I feel is wasted because I have to nap. I try not to count how much I have to do in how much time? The work overwhelms me, and instead of doing anything - even folding one load of laundry - I sit on the floor and play with Grace. I never count with Grace.

I've been thinking a lot about what would happen if I began cutting ties with all my responsibilities and all I was left with was my family. Practically, I know I would fill up that space again. But it always sounds good - the freedom time allows is as bewitching as the activities one does to fill in the white space.

Instead, I'm following my husband's repeated advice: pick one thing and do it. Don't do anything else until that one task is done.

What a struggle! I want to do all the things!!!! So, today, I did the following:
1. Cleaned the guest room.
2. Cleaned Grace's room.
3. Fixed dinner.
4. Cleaned off and organized my desk.
5. Cleaned and organized the Master bedroom (slash nursery now! A project-in-progress).
My immediate reaction upon writing this was... that's all I did today? I also taught class, caught up on some administrative work, edited a few articles and took Grace to a 2-and-under playgroup with our MOM's Club. Friday is one day we don't have therapy, and I really relish it. Grace and I always have a special breakfast on Fridays. But even so, I should reject the need to justify every day.

Grace is always on the move.
We need to reject that our work on this good earth isn't good enough. We need to reject the kind of societal acceptance we seek before searching our own depths. No matter where we are in life, we need to dig deep and find our inner strength and drive, and stop wishing life is going to happen for us or to us.

My office is not going to organize itself; my blog is not going to write itself; my powerpoint cannot (or will not??) appear without effort on my part; our home would not run without hundreds of unseen actions. I hate paperwork - so what? Grace's secondary disability insurance form will not fill itself out.

This year, I'm going to try agonizing less, do more. Nap more, regret less. Acknowledge the hard days - no, I'm not having a hard days the way Will's patients have a hard day, but we can't overcome fear and worry by belittling ourselves. We have to face the day, see the star, and catch it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Michael Keaton and a Grateful Heart

Last night at the Golden Globes, Michael Keaton said the reason people go on about thanking so many people is because there are so many people to thank.

The heart of his thankfulness? His family. Watch and listen here - so much goodness, truth and beauty. I really love this little speech, and I am glad he was able to give it!

H/T Deacon Greg Kandra at Patheos

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Good News About Grace

Bit of a nerve-wracking week as I waited to hear back about Grace's blood tests... and then, relief. Grace is in the clear - no disorders, no clotting problems.

It's the double-edged sword, of course -- hooray for no future, looming health problems (God willing), but we still don't know what caused her stroke.

I'm okay with that. Will's okay with that. We're calling it a fluke.

We had a good week of therapy - Grace has therapy five times a week. Tuesday morning, outpatient OT. Tuesday afternoon, in-home (through the state) OT. Wednesday morning, in-home PT. Thursday early morning, in-home SLP. Thursday late morning, in-home PT. I teach U.S. history in the afternoons for an online classical school.

For a person who isn't exactly disciplined, this schedule has created a kind of pattern for Grace and myself. It definitely helps me prioritize my time, which I appreciate. The bigger bummer is that I can never calculate Will into our day; his schedule changes too often. I'll be glad to be out of his MICU rotation (14-16 hours gone/ day x 6 days/week) and back in the ER next month, where he sees us way more (usually gone about 11-13 hours/day x 6 days/week).

A typical day:
  • Morning: breakfast, play time (or therapy), nap (hopefully!)
  • Afternoon: babysitter arrives for lunch; I prep + teach class; babysitter goes home :: therapy on Tuesdays - always nap time in afternoon. 
  • Evening: I prep dinner, we eat, we play; put Grace to bed.
Throw in grocery shopping on Mondays, showers/ baths every other day, and occasional play dates or doctor visits, and there it is! Our schedule!

Her latest feat!

Children with special needs do not have "special" schedules - just more activities (e.g. therapy). What they really benefit from are involved parents. This can be tough with working parents; I'm of the opinion, however, that it is the quality of time, and not just the quantity. Will is not home as much as I am, but he is very hands-on and interactive with Grace. It's rewarding watching the way they both interact with each other, and truly love each other.

When I was pregnant with Grace, I kept telling Will that the most important thing for me is for Grace to know she is loved. To know you are loved is a kind of trust no words can express. When we are in therapy and Grace is tired or doesn't want to do an activity, I'm there to coax her and love her and encourage her.

Every parent must travel this road. Every parent will be faced with challenges and the want to give more, even when exhaustion reigns supreme. With Will gone long hours, I usually side with an easy dinner, not immediately cleaning up (my default), or playing instead of getting ahead on writing or grading.

I have this time with Grace and I like to spend it happy, not stressed. Blessed.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My View (Vol. 27)

What I am reading: Discipline: The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot

"God has arranged things in such a way that his own action is coupled with the actions of men. The Bible is replete with examples of a loving and powerful God choosing sinful and weak men to accomplish His purposes, allowing them the dignity to act in freedom and thus to have a willed part in what He does."

"God does not coerce us to follow Him. He invites us. He wills us that we should will--that is, He wills our freedom to decline or accept. If we want to be disciples, we place ourselves, like the football player or instrumentalist, under someone's direction."

What I am eating: french toast mini muffins. You read that correctly.

Meal planning: My family was in Bethlehem for the past week, so I did NO COOKING and it was awesome. The week before (Christmas), my bestie Vivian came down and did all the cooking - oh, professional chef. NBD. Needless to say, I am a little intimidated to jump back into the meal planning game. Vivian made it look so easy (and tasty). Dad is also an amateur chef, so I am/ was tres spoiled.

But back to reality. Grace and I went to the grocery store this morning and here's the deal:
Breakfast: oatmeal, fruit, COFFEE (not black), milk 
snack 1 options: greek yogurt + chia seeds, kind bar, water 
Lunch: hardboiled egg, swiss, turkey and avocado/ tomato on ciabatta, clementines, bell pepper slices, sparkling water {some variation} 
snack 2 options: fruit twist; almond nut thins + cheese; apple + peanut butter, water 
  • Baked chicken thighs with quinoa + green beans
  • Chicken stir fry (chicken, rice, eggs, peas + carrots, soy sauce)
  • Tilapia with roasted sweet potatoes and bell peppers + fried spaghetti (Will's favorite)
snack 3 options: popcorn, raisins, juice
I was really tough with myself this week and bought no sweets (sans the french toast mini muffins, sue me). I have gained an appropriately low amount of weight during pregnancy, but I don't want it to end my pregnancy jumping higher because I ate all the Frango mint chocolates my family brought me (or the cheesecake I've been dreaming about). I almost bought a package of Julie's organic sorbet bars (my fave), but, for better or worse, I forgot to pick them up until I was in the car, driving away. I'm also trying to eat more vegetables... because they are not very appetizing to me right now, and very nutritious. My family also left a family size pack of bell peppers in my fridge so... chop chop!

What are y'all eating? Anything that might tempt me?

This week in history: Two OB appointments and two therapy sessions - I may have enjoyed the lack of therapy a little too much. It was nice to be off the hamster wheel for a bit!

Will was off work and my whole family (sans one brother + pets) was in town, so last week was the best week ever. Also, Bebe Baldwin is moving and grooving - I love feeling her so active!

Prayers: Will is in the MICU for the next month, and this is already a tough rotation (for both of us). 5 a.m. gone, home by Grace's bed time (maybe). Then, early to bed! I shocked myself by waking up with Will today, sleeping a little bit longer, and then getting up around 6 a.m. Who am I??

We find out Grace's blood panel tests results tomorrow or Tuesday...

For all those genuinely trying to reform in the new year, be it self or habit(s).

Peace abroad, at home, and in our own hearts.

Special intentions! {Like... my phone is missing. No more pictures for y'all without it! Now you know my secret. St. Anthony!!!!}

Next week I am going to: Buckle down on getting ahead for my classes - I am currently working on having half of February and all of March "done" lecture and assignment-wise so all I have to do is lecture and grade when Bebe Baldwin first arrives. Since my parents swooped in and bought me huge bookcases for my office (and more!), I'm going to start unloading all those perpetually traveling boxes finally.

Grace and I are having all-day Mommy-Daughter dates for six days, so we're kicking off today with grocery shopping, all-over cleaning, napping, and lots of playing. She is seriously the best sport - and the fact that I downloaded a painting app to my iPad for her while I clean has nothing to do with that!

I'm also returning to my Wunderlist (available on the computer and as an app!). The Type A in me likey. Does anyone else use it?

Happy January, everyone!

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Thoughts on my High Risk Pregnancy

It's a funny thing, pregnancy. I've been excited both times, but not very vocal about my pregnancies. Part of it may be the all-trimesters nausea I experience. Part of it may be the feeling that pregnancy is part of the circle of life, and it's very natural. Part of it may be the humility of knowing what a miracle pregnancy is, and certainly not taking either of my babies for granted.

Our second pregnancy is considered high risk on the merit that we still have no clue what caused Grace's stroke (or when it happened). She's had all the standard tests, and yesterday, she had even more blood taken for a more extensive panel of tests.

It can be hard for a mama's heart as she holds her crying baby, watching the blood go into multiple tubes with her name and birth date printed on it. But it's necessary. Crying is temporary. These tests are so, so important.

Yesterday morning, I had another visit at the perinatal clinic (also known as the high-risk OB office). It was special because my mom and sister Katie were able to be there - my mom loved seeing Bebe Deux's heart beat, and the different ventricles. She was impressed by the level of ultrasound; I kept thinking about why we were seeing this level of detail. Something could happen.

I think there is a lot of wisdom to the phrase "Don't worry, be happy!" Trite, perhaps, and an over-simplification, but nonetheless: sometimes, the worry does not take away reality, and happiness becomes a choice. I choose to relish the day. I choose to not dwell. I chose to appreciate what I have.

Will's in the MICU for the next month, and today, a patient with no prior symptoms, history, drug use, genetics, etc. experienced her heart stop working. The doctors spent 45 minutes attempting to revive her, and Will fears she'll be braindead for the rest of her life. She has a husband, a ten year old and a fifteen year old. Her parents are still alive too. Nothing in life is guaranteed, not even good health.

I'm okay saying, We don't know why Grace's stroke happened and that's okay. That doesn't mean we'll stop looking and trying to understand - but I'm starting to see more and more the gift God has given me: the chance to trust Him more, the chance to not understand and be at peace, and the chance to love unconditionally. I still struggle with certain comments - when people are happy she's a lefty (well, she had a stroke on her left side, so yes, she is compensating for her right hand); when people say they don't see her as a child with special needs (okay??); when people ask questions no doctor has been able to answer. I'm not angry at the questions; they just confirm my confusion: why my baby?

So when I see the high risk doctors or I go over Grace's pregnancy and first few months, I remind myself that this does not mean anything is going to be wrong or happen to Bebe Deux. This is the job of the doctor - to take precautions. It is my job to remain optimistic while being a realist.

Bebe is looking great, growing well (4.5 lbs!), and keeping active. I'm so-so-so!! happy that we'll introduce our newest member of the family to the world in about two months. I'm trying to practically prepare for the little dumpling while Will's gone 12-14 hours a day... though, if we're honest, Grace and I are in a race for who can make the more messes around the house!

This is a hard topic for me to write about; and an important one. A high risk pregnancy shows a person how far medical knowledge and technology goes - how protective they are towards the mother and baby. How much modern medicine has to offer and help babies born as young as 28 weeks, or babies who need surgery, and how resilient babies are!

This action is hazardous, sure, and a big deal. Go Grace go!!
During a medical history session, I also saw a glimmer of how easily someone could be swayed into terminating a baby at the risk of something- and it breaks my heart, because there is so much the medical teams, the parents and even the world has to offer these babies (and everything these babies bring to the world!!). Because no matter what happens with Bebe Deux, no matter what the perinatologist tells us, nothing changes for us. Bebe Deux is our child, and we'll do everything we can for her.

And maybe Grace's stroke was a fluke - it's rare to have a stroke in utero, and it's rare to have a stroke as a newborn. Maybe this is just another way of experiencing love and grace. For as bad as Grace's diagnosis was, the therapy is working. Moreover, us (her parents) working with her is doing more - she loves us, and trusts us, and lets us push her harder than her therapists can. We can give her more time and attention than her therapists. We love her more.

And we'll love her sister as fiercely.