Category Archives: Education

Guest Post: Arthritis Awareness Month and a Personal Journey

IMG_1678[1]Today’s post is written by Elizabeth Bender, this blogger’s daughter.  Beth was a contributing author in “Wherever,” published last month.  She currently attends Baylor University and hopes to be a Child Life Specialist when she graduates.  Many thanks to Elizabeth for sharing her story and insights!

May is Arthritis Awareness Month. I want to share my personal story with how arthritis has impacted my life and how I live with it as a part of who I am, but not letting it control who I am.

I never thought that I being 20 years old would have to deal with arthritis. Arthritis is an old person issue, right? Wrong! In fact, over 100 different forms of arthritis exist impacting individuals of all ages. Each form of arthritis affects individuals in different ways. I personally struggle with reactive arthritis.

Reactive arthritis occurs because of infections that attack the joints. A range of infections can bring about reactive arthritis. My reactive arthritis comes from strep. So my actual diagnosis is post-streptococcal reactive arthropathy. In October 2015, I was diagnosed with strep and was put on an antibiotic. Unfortunately, I then had recurring strep infections throughout the fall.

I continued to struggle with a sore throat, body aches, and extreme fatigue (I fell asleep on the bathroom floor one day during a class). I was then told I had some bad virus that was taking months to go away. The sore throat went away, but my body aches did not! Specifically the joints of my wrists, fingers, ankles, and knees were in great pain. There were days where I wasn’t sure if I could get out of bed, but I did! Finally in February, I was referred to rheumatology by my primary doc.

After a few appointments with him and a bunch more blood work, I finally had a diagnosis and an action plan. My strep antibodies were elevated, but no strep bacteria. The strep antibodies attack my joints which is what causes the arthritis. My action plan included monthly penicillin shots for 6 months to five years to lower the antibodies and continuing pain meds with evaluations every once and awhile.

I have now received three penicillin shots and have noticed some improvement. However, those days of not being sure if I could get out of bed are not gone. I still have those days. I am pretty much constantly in pain. It just ranges in severity. Constantly being in pain has the side effect of extreme fatigue; however, I am learning how much sleep I need to make the next day go better. I have tried to not take pain meds, and it doesn’t always work. Some days, I am unable to get my shoes on because of the swelling of my feet (this really bothers me when I want to wear a certain pair of shoes with my outfit!).

When I go to bad at night, I never know how I will feel when I wake up the next day, but I live each day to the fullest that I am possibly able. I have chosen to not let my pain take over my life. I finished two semesters of college when many people told me that they would have just dropped out and wondered why I did not.

I choose to do daily activities and go out with friends and put a smile on because I am happy and I want to do the things that make me happy. Some days I have to alter what I do, but I do what I want to do within the constraints of what my body allows.

Over the past seven months, I have had to redefine what normal is to me. There are days where I wish things would just go back to normal, to the way they were back in October before I first got sick. I am learning, however, that that definition of normal is gone.

This state of being is my new normal and I am learning to accept what this means. I am constantly learning and re-evaluating in my life to understand my own feelings and attitude towards my struggles.

At times, I realize I need to adjust my attitude and once again focus towards the positives and good things in my life.

I find that often it is not the fact that I have reactive arthritis that I struggle with the most, but it is rather how other people interact with me that I struggle with. Many people know that I have been sick, but few people understand that I continue to be sick and that I may struggle with this for a long time. My least favorite comment I frequently receive is, “You are looking good,” or some variation of that phrase. It can be hard to hear this when I am constantly in pain. I do not like talking about myself and the pain I am, but sometimes I wish that people just knew so that I do not have to “endure”  these types of comments.

Living with asthma, chronic kidney stones, and reactive arthritis has taught me something I think is particularly important. Everyone deals with different problems whether emotionally, mentally, or physically. Many people believe that they should not discuss their problems because other people deal with issues that are “worse” in comparison.

While I think it is important to have a healthy perspective on one’s own problems, I fear too often we do not welcome discussion of problems because we constantly play a comparison game. I hope that everyone can find a place where they are comfortable to discuss what they are going through no matter the “size” of the problem and receive support to help them through it.

I want to reiterate that over 100 forms of arthritis exist, yet few methods of treatment or prevention exist for them. May is Arthritis Awareness Month. I hope you seriously consider what you can practically do to raise awareness for arthritis and medical research for this condition that affects people of all ages.

Perhaps you do not feel passionately about arthritis.  I encourage you to find something you are passionate about and create awareness for that issue so that working together we can make the world a better place.


Filed under Education, faith, health, Relationships, Uncategorized

SuperBowl, Commercials, #tweetstorms, and Freedom

Oh, my.

Sometimes, I know I should look the other way, not say anything, and go on with my life.  However, other times I feel like I just have to say something.  This is probably one  of those times that several readers will fall on either side of the fence and think that I should have done one or the other.  My guess is that we will all have opinions.

And that is the truth, isn’t it? We all have opinions.

To be clear: the SuperBowl is one of my favorite holidays.  I prefer it over Valentine’s Day and Halloween because at Super Bowl parties I get to eat good stuff (like chocolate fondue) and I don’t have to dress up like a clown.  I love how it can pull different groups of people together in a competitive spirit.  And I like watching people watch the game. I learn so much.

Of course, the commercials rarely disappoint.

I love what Doritos has done for the past several years with the “Crash the SuperBowl” contest.  All of the Doritos’ commercials shown during Super Bowl spots were originally part of a contest for amateurs to earn their way into a professional commercial spot. Viewers vote on their favorites, and the prizes are amazing.

Last year’s winner was super funny.  Click here to watch it again.

When I saw one of this year’s ads – the one where the dad ate Doritos during an ultrasound – I laughed out loud.  Seriously.  Super cute.  Did you read that? I said, “Super cute.”

All day yesterday, though, I read tweet after tweet and more tweets responding to those first tweets about how the commercial was controversial.

Excuse me? Is this the same commercial I saw?  I am completely baffled by all sides of the controversy.  This was an advertisement, people – a well-developed, entertaining advertisement.  The fact that the wife/mom was annoyed at the crunching sound of Doritos during an ultrasound was hysterical – and almost any woman I know would love for the baby to have that kind of motivation to prompt a quick delivery.

Tomorrow is my son’s 19th birthday (I can’t believe he is that old!).  I found out that I was pregnant with him well into my pregnancy and had to have an ultrasound to determine when he was due.  A year before, I had an ultrasound to check on his sweet older sister.

When I have an ultrasound of an organ, the tech is looking at that organ, right?

When I have an ultrasound of what is growing inside of my uterus, the tech is looking at a baby…albeit one that is not ready to live outside of me at 20 weeks gestation.  This does not have to be a loaded term, and I am so confused as to why it became a #tweetstorm.

I drove for several hours yesterday and watched this play out on Twitter at my various stops along the way.  The only thing that makes any sense to me at all is that agreeing that “the thing on the ultrasound screen” is a baby gives name to “the thing” that some want to be able end its growth – abortion.

Here is the thing: we get upset when we are pushed into a corner.  Right now, all sides of all debates in the political, social, religious, intellectual, etc., arenas are pushing each other into corners because no one is listening to each other.  So – we get upset, we get used to being upset, and then we just start conversations already upset.

And we are not listening…

You say “cells” – I say “baby” – “cells” – “baby” – “cells” – “baby”!

“We’ve got spirit, yes, we do – we’ve got spirit, how about you?”

…we are at a pep rally, and we don’t even like the sport!

Seriously, none of us want to be wrong.  None of us want to drop the ball or be the quarterback who gets sacked.  And we certainly don’t want to lose the game and then have to sit through a press conference just to have the world pick that apart later.  Come on – give the guy a break…he lost a Super Bowl game, and you want him to do a press conference?

I digressed…sorry – that is another post.  The truth is that often our rhetoric comes from a position of being cornered.

None of us wants to be faced with the decision of a pregnancy that puts us in an impossible situation.

None of us wants to be the parents of the girl who has an abortion because she thought we would be angry – or the parents of the boy whose girlfriend has an abortion because he thought we would be angry.

We don’t want these things, yet we play the game as if it were our game to play.  We go out on the field, we line up on the line of scrimmage, and we hope that the other team fumbles so that we can grab the ball, make the play, and dance the victory dance.

All the while, there are real people living real life, making real decisions, and struggling through it all.

We vote for the politician who claims to support our stance on the issue, and then we realize that the Supreme Court holds the cards anyway.  We protest, picket, and plead – each “team” chanting their cheers, slogans, and angles.

Rarely do we listen to each other.  Rarely do we listen to the people who have made decisions in the past about issues or who are faced with them today.

I live in America where opinions are allowed, tolerated, and encouraged. I get to stand on my side of the field, and you get to stand on your side of the field – regardless of whether that side is the same side as mine or not.  Tolerance means that I let you think your way even when I strongly disagree.

Sometimes, our freedom gets away from us, and we get a little carried away. If only there were a flag on the freedom field for taunting…

It is time to start listening.

Several years ago, I taught a high school speech class.  When it came time for students to present persuasion speeches, abortion came up very often.  As I listened to the speeches, I was stunned at the anger with which high school students could already have toward someone who disagreed with them.  I asked them all to take some deep breaths and to reconsider their rhetoric.  Consider what it might be like to have an abortion.  Consider what it might be like to believe that abortion is murder.

For high school students, the answers seemed easy until they had to consider the other side – not the argument but rather the shoes which the person on the other side of the argument wore.  I’m not saying that abortion is a grey issue – what I’m saying is that we become less angry about difficult issues when we start to listen to people who disagree with us.

When we listen to those who disagree with us, we win the game.  We can have firm convictions, attempt to influence legislation, and help to alleviate the suffering of those around us while listening to those who disagree with us.  We might even be able to work together.

Consider what seems to be an odd pairing of pro-life Catholics with Atheists for Life.  They have some fundamental differences; however, they both want to end abortion.  Rather than focusing on that which divides them, they work together on what they hold in common.  My guess is that this required some listening to each other.

As I wrote this post, I watched the “controversial” commercial again a couple of times.  I still do not see it – neither of the possible “its” that the #tweetstorms suggested.

What I did see was that ultrasounds have gotten a whole lot better than they were 19 years ago when I looked at my son for the first time and found out that he would arrive only six months later.

It kind of makes me want to have another baby just to see that cuteness on the screen in this new way.

Hold on.  Strike that.

I’ll wait – some day, maybe I will get to see a grandchild’s ultrasound in color.

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Filed under Education, Relationships, Thoughts

mental health, youth group, north dakota, and me

it’s 4:38pm, and i should be in the shower.  in less than three hours, i will stand before a group of 7-12th grade students at our church and talk about mental health, faith, and how the two meet. in my last minute preparations, i ran across a statistic that took my breath away.

not in a good way

according to HOPE for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the leading cause of death for ages 15-24 in north dakota.


here i sit…with that information…breathe, stacy, breathe…

do i tell the kids that?

i think i have to tell them.

the kids who sit in front of me tonight are in that age group. they need to know that they do not have to kill themselves. they need to know that they can take each other seriously. they need to know that it isn’t a game or something that they should do because someone else did it. they need to know that they are important today and will be important tomorrow.

they need to know that there is help.

it seems odd that north dakota would have this issue, right? or maybe not.  people who live in north dakota are strong, hard-working, and private. when we stand behind a mask that we put on to keep that image, we often hurt ourselves. and others.

fear of being found out keeps us from saying anything to anyone. pull yourself up and keep on going. if anyone knew what went on inside my head, what would they think?

and there isn’t exactly a plethora of help here.  the thing is, though, that there is probably more help than people realize.

there are big churches here. there is good medical care here. it’s here – walk through the doors, open your mouths, and say the words that will get you some help.

that sounds hard.

and it is.

it isn’t easy for me hit “publish” on posts that reveal to the world that i struggle with energy shifts that cause mood shifts that keep me from wanting to say “help.” but i do it.

i do not do it so that you can look at me and feel sorry for me. i do it so that you can look inside yourself and say, “i can do it too. i can ask for help.”

i do it so that you can look at the person next to you in church and be ready when they say, “can you pray for me? i’m struggling with some feelings, and they scare me.”

i do it so that we stop whispering and wondering and wasting our lives caring about the wrong things.

mental illness is an illness. we only get better when we do all of the things that an illness requires. sometimes illness requires help, intervention, and care.

and that is what i’m going to the kids tonight.

God cares enough about you for you to get help to take care of you. the scary things inside of your head will be less scary when you ask for help, get help, and look to God for truth.  the point is to understand how to manage your emotions and energies so that you can live.

it doesn’t matter where we live, this is an issue. when we stop making it such a big deal to struggle and instead make it a big deal to manage, care, and assist, we will change the tide.

suicide should not be the leading cause of any age group anywhere.

reach out, hold a hand, and speak truth into each others’ lives.



Psalm 46:1 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

ps: if you know someone who took his or her life, it’s not your fault.  don’t beat yourself up about it. God doesn’t want you to hold onto that guilt.


on a lighter note, the giveaway for “Meditations” the coloring book ends on 2/4 at 11:59pm – be sure to get in on it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

that was tough switch…not quite feeling the lighter note either…


Filed under Education, faith, Relationships

Video Blog and a Giveaway!

Coloring books are not just for kids anymore! Psychologists are suggesting that coloring can be as relaxing as other forms of meditation.  For Christmas this year, coloring books were a theme at our house.  The girl and I each received an awesome coloring book calendar from my huz.

Watch my video (I can’t believe I made a video!) below to hear about my recent experience with a coloring book.

As promised in the video, here are some more details about the giveaway and the coloring book:

Suggestions for coloring:

  • You could use crayons…
  • Most popular with my Facebook friends: colored pencils (variation is watercolor pencils with an actual brush that blends the color – super awesome looking)
  • My favorite: brush pen markers
    • Sargent are the least expensive
    • Koi Sakura are amazing (thank you, @cherrysparrow, for getting me hooked)
    • Stampin’ Up, Tombow, and Prismacolor come in dual tips but are super, super spendy

I love this trend, and I would love for it to stick around.

Happy February 1!

ps: Share the love today and spread this post – the more people who know about the giveaway, the better!



Filed under Education, faith, Relationships

Excited About Gratitude

thank you cardsSeveral months ago, I observed on several occasions the ingratitude that was shown to people who serve others.  This happened primarily in restaurants, but I started to notice it on airplanes, in libraries, and – honestly – just about everywhere.  I have done my fair share of complaining in my lifetime, and I likely will continue. There are times when things need to be righted, and I have no issue calling a company, going to customer service, or sending a tweet about the issue.  I do not know if turning 40 in May has made me consider life differently or see things from a different perspective, but somehow I just realized that we live in a society – so abundantly full of … well, abundance.  At the time, we are less and less thankful for that abundance.

I love Vistaprint. It is a great company like many other great printing companies, but for some reason it has become my favorite.  Oh – I know why! They have righted so many wrongs.  Twice now they have sent an additional shipment of somethings to my house just because the tracking said it was delivered while I never saw the package.  I love them.

As I observed our lack gratitude, I also realized that the only way to fix it seemed to need to start with me. I need to say thank you more often.  And I need to say it in a way that leaves a longer impact than the two words leaving my mouth.  I combined my love of Vistaprint with t his need and made business card size thank you notes.  They are small enough to store away in my wallet for use whenever I need them, and they fit nicely in the credit card slot in those thingees (that I can’t find the name of in my brain right now) that a restaurant server leaves at the table for payment.  Restaurants seem to be the times when people are the least appreciated, but there are plenty of other times.

The cards that I ordered are blank on the back so that I can write notes if I feel like it. I often just leave the thank you note blank so that the person can re-use it if they choose to do so. I have left two cards on some occasions – writing on one and encouraging the person to use the blank one.

A few months ago, as my family prepared to move from Minneapolis, MN, to Bismarck, ND, I was packing my house and preparing to speak at a conference. I also had hoped to watch The Princess Bride with some of my favorite little people before I moved.  Because of my crazy schedule, they had already watched it for the first time without me, but I was determined to watch it with them.  One of my preparations for speaking at the conference included filling up baggies for the participants – things to remind them of the content in case my presentation did not go well.  I had my little people over, we watched the movie together, and we filled the little baggies together.

One of the items in the baggie was some of my thank you cards.

The eldest of the little people and I struck up a conversation about the thank you cards. Yes – the movie was going, but we had both seen it several times…in fact, she could already quote it. Love that!  She thought it was a great idea to say thank you.  Her parents have raised her well because she knows to say thank you not only when it is deserved but also just because it is a good idea.

A few weeks ago, I ran out of the notes.  It was a horrible realization that I had let them run out.  I waited a few days until Vistaprint held the right sale (there is a sale code every day – I just needed the right one), and I bought a new round of them.  The deal was so good that I bought a thousand of them. I think that will last me for a while!  They arrived today, and I was so thankful.

I’m excited that my joy for saying “thank you” has started again in November – the month of Thanksgiving which has also become the month when Facebook is filled with people saying their “grateful fors.”  As I scroll through the fed, I am grateful to have people in my life that know that they are grateful and share it.

We are as settled in our new home as we can be at this point, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful for a job that allows me to work from my dining room table, at the Baylor dining hall while I visit my kids, or in the airport in between the two. I am thankful that each day is filled with challenges, encouragements, and affirmations that the move we made was the right one.

And I am thankful that I get to pack up my thank you notes this weekend and drive many hours to see many people whom I love.

As you look at the day, the weekend, and the month ahead, I encourage you to find ways that you can share your gratitude with others.

**Very soon, I hope to be able to share news of an upcoming project I have with the college English classes I teach at the University of Mary.  To give them purpose for their writing, they have written tributes – long thank you notes – to someone who encouraged them in their lives.  This is an exciting project, and I cannot wait to share more news.  STAY TUNED!


Filed under Education, Relationships, Thoughts

In All of It, God is Good

Six weeks ago, our church threw us a going away party. It was an unbelievable experience.  Although my huz has been a youth pastor and a Christian education director prior to this position, Faith Baptist Church was his first full-time senior pastor position. This church took us in, made us family, raised us as a pastor and wife, helped us to raise our children, and loved us.  The worship pastor and a buddy sang a “roasting song” (click here to watch it) for us. We laughed. We cried. Along with the other kind words that were shared that night, this song allowed us to remember the great times and sent us off to our new adventure well.

In the leaving and the sending, God is good.

Almost a month ago, I flew to Texas with my son to catch up with my daughter who had driven there the week before. In a whirlwind trip, we moved them into their dorm rooms, shopped at Target, and bought groceries.  As I drove away, my eyes leaked a lot even though I knew that this new adventure is a great move for them. We already have plans to see them for friends’ wedding in November and again at Thanksgiving.  Even though they are far away, plans to see them seem to make the time go faster.

In the leaving and the going, God is good.

I started a new job before I left for Texas. This new online high school with its twenty students has bolstered my spirits. Something new in the something new has helped me a lot. They started school the Tuesday before Labor Day.  On the same day, I welcomed two classes of freshmen in college who struggle with writing into my classes at the University of Mary.  Most of these students are hard workers who just need a little guidance in their writing.  In their journals, they share their lives with me.

In the arriving, God is good.

usOn the first day of school, I was tired and wanted to go to bed early.  I had so much to do, and my house was still in chaos (ps: it still is! Moving is really rough!).  The phone rang mid-afternoon, and my huz invited me to join him on the Campus Ministry riverboat cruise on the Missouri River.  I was thrilled to join these college students who love Jesus and want to get to know each other as well as the leadership of this department. There was food, fellowship, and fun.  I skipped the “Get to Know You” Bingo game so that I could make the rounds, fill in squares, and really get to know the kids.  Because several of them had ridden in my car on the way to the cruise, I knew several of their names before getting on the boat with them. Once on the boat, I felt welcomed by them. It is fun to be a part of the huz’s work in this way; it reminds me of being a pastor’s wife. I guess some things never change.

In the new ministries we have, God is good.

The huz has been asked to preach a few Sundays this fall in various churches.  I already miss hearing my man in the pulpit each week even though we have only been in Bismarck for two Sunday services.  I am thankful that God appears to want to continue to use the huz in this way to help churches in our area.

In the new ways we are called to minister, God is good.

One of the new routines in our lives is to attend the Sunday evening Catholic service on campus. A couple hundred students attend the service each week, and it is a good way to stay connected to them.  I see a couple of my own students each week as well. At first, I thought this would be something that I would “just do” as it has not been part of my faith walk to attend Catholic services each week.  However, I am drawn to the contemplative nature of these services.  In the many moments of silence during the service, I feel found.

In the new practices we have discovered, God is good.

My eyes leak – a lot – these days. There is so much new, so much change, and so much we have not found yet. I have decided to attend a women’s retreat this weekend at Crystal Springs Baptist Camp. This is the place where the huz and I met so many years ago. I have not been back since the summer of 2003.  I admitted to the huz last night that I am feeling a bit of anticipation stress about attending. I know a lot of the people who are going, but the 2014 version of Stacy is different than the 2003 version…or even the 1992 version! A lot has happened. I am a different person…well, so are they!  Right?

In the petty concerns of my day, God is good.

My Facebook feed tells me of concerns of others: families facing losses, families in crisis, families who want to adopt children from corrupt countries with corrupt systems, individuals who struggle with mental illness, individuals who need jobs…all of these concerns can overwhelm me even from a distance – what must the concerns be like for those going through them?

In the big concerns of our days, God is good.

Psalm 100:5 – For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.



Filed under Education, faith

Small Town Kindness

I’m sitting in my breakfast-nook-turned-office of our new home in our new town.  I decided I should take a break from the tasks of my new jobs (yes, jobs – plural) and share with the blog reading world about a little surprise moment that occurred earlier this week.

One of my new jobs is as the dean of students for Crosslake Community High School, a new online high school in Minnesota. The school hired me to problem solve, work with their students to ensure attendance and work completion, and to handle items such as admissions, graduation plans, and guidance counseling. I love the school board’s approach to this new venture as they are very cautious about how to proceed.  With no advertising at all, the program is full.  A learning lab is open five days a week with a licensed teacher supervising and assisting students with their planning and course completion. I am working from my sweet office in my house.

On Tuesday, I decided a quick trip to meet with staff and visit my students would make my life happy. Thankfully, the Minnesota Twins played a winning game that evening as I drove across North Dakota and Minnesota.  On Wednesday, I enjoyed my first “in person” full school day with the staff and students.  Crosslake Community Charter School has a seat-based kindergarten through eighth grade program from which the need for a high school option came.  Little people mix with my high school students in a way that reminded me of PACT Charter School.  The staff and students were so warm and welcoming to me…and they are hardly know me!

I have had some amazing experiences in K-12 education in Minnesota.

After a great day with the staff and students at CCCS, I headed out.  Because of our move, I needed to make a stop at the DMV in Pine River. It’s a long story as to why I was there, but I needed to take care of something…and doing it in person in Minnesota would speed up the process.

I had a hard time finding the right building. The DMV is housed in a building that seems to have multi-purposes. I think they sell watches, antiques, and jewelry there as well. Once I located the right building, I thought the transaction would be quick.  Nope. First there was a problem with the person in front of me…and then there was a problem with me.  The DMV person tried several times to make my credit card work, but it just wouldn’t go through.

Do you have cash or a check?”

No. I never have cash.  Well, not real cash. I often have change that totals a dollar or slightly more or slightly less.  But I rarely have real cash.  And I have a check even less often.  I was about to give up and just drive home without accomplishing my task knowing that I could take care of it through the mail.  But I really wanted to get it done! I was there…and I have a way to pay – just not in a way that was working.  Grr…

What I haven’t told is that there was an older couple in line behind.  They had patiently waited along with me through the issue of the customer in front of me, and they continued to patiently wait through my issue.  We had made small talk, and it turned out they lived near my school.

Could we help you out? I have a check…”

The retired woman got up from the waiting chair and took out her checkbook.  The DMV person shared the amount with her.  And before I could blink, the transaction was over, we had exchanged information, and I had promised to mail a check to pay them back.

As I drove away, I thought back to my hours of similar waiting experiences at the DMVs around the Twin Cities. They have systems that protect your privacy so that no one knows when you are frustrated, overwhelmed, or upset.  Had a similar situation occurred in the Twin Cities, there would have been no opportunity for a kind person to know that I had an issue.  It isn’t that people are nicer in small towns (though, that argument may be made by some).  It is rather, due to the numbers of people, that systems have been made in larger cities to separate us from each other.

In order to return “small town kindness” in larger settings, we have to open our eyes and ears so that we can lend our hand to another. Some may call that nosy – that is not what I am advocating.  Rather, I am urging us to look up from our feet (or our phones) and into the eyes of others around us to see the needs, some small…some great, and to offer our assistance when we can.

It is Friday.

Many of us have some time off in the next couple of days.

In the midst of what we have planned, do we have some margin available to give time to others?  I would love for readers to come back and share ways that they have helped or have been helped over the weekend.

ps: I really love my students – and I think some of them like me!

Some students attended the learning lab on Wednesday. We ate lunch together and had an "end of day" photo together.  It was great!

Some students attended the learning lab on Wednesday when I was at Crosslake Community High School. We ate lunch together and had an “end of day” photo together. It was great!




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Filed under Education, Relationships, Thoughts, Travel

Graduation Day: Nobody Warned Me

Today is my children’s graduation day. Yes – both of my wee babes will wear caps and gowns and will graduate tonight. The how and why of how two kids born a year apart now graduate on the same day can be subject of another post or a private conversation for those who want to know. The bottom line is that they…both…graduate…tonight…

At the beginning of the year, they took a photo a day to document "my senior year" with them. Beth got sick mid-year, and the project sort of ended abruptly when she stopped going to school on  regular basis.

At the beginning of the year, they took a photo a day to document “my senior year” with them. Beth got sick mid-year, and the project sort of ended abruptly when she stopped going to school on regular basis.

My heart is full for them. Tonight, they will speak as the welcome speakers – together – at the ceremony. This summer, they will engage in jobs and internships that will prepare them in ways yet to be known. In the fall, they will both attend Baylor University – far from home, far from me, but full of opportunity. Their paths are in front of them, guided by God as they ask Him to guide. And I could not be happier about who they are today.

But my heart is breaking for me.

Some parents do not seem to have the same problems that I am having, but there are many of us who are. This is our first go around with this crazy graduation thing, and we are lost. We like our kids, and we have raised them to be people with whom we would like to spend more time than with some adults we know. We are thrilled for them – and even at times can’t wait for them to be out of the house because of the inevitable power struggles that happen at this time – but we really just want to swaddle them up in those receiving blankets from the hospital and place them back in the bassinets next to our beds.

And I am upset that nobody warned me of this whole crazy thing when I was in health class learning where babies come from.

I wrote that exact sentiment earlier this year to a friend as I shared with her that the boy now has a girlfriend and that I was getting to know his girlfriend’s mom. While I like the boy’s girlfriend and think that being friends with her mom is brilliant (in fact, I asked  her to be my chaperone buddy tonight at the all night party after graduation, and she said, “yes!”), I had no idea that it would happen some day. And I think that, more than the biology of how to make the babies happen, someone should warn you that some day you will find yourself in this state of jumbled feelings that makes it harder to think clearly about important things…like what to have for supper and what kind of ice cream is your favorite.

I don’t know! Can’t you see that my kids are graduating tonight? Please…don’t ask me any hard questions!

In the end, I doubt that anyone’s warnings would have mattered, and what good would they have done really?

Preparing oneself for a future grief rarely works. In fact, grief by its very nature is not predictable. We cannot prepare ourselves entirely for hard times in the future because experience seems to be different for each of us. How you handle your kids graduating may be very different from the I handle my kids graduating, and that is just fine.

So, fellow parents, let us go into this graduation season with some reminders to help us get through it.

  1. We are all in this together. I mean this! We may not have relied on each other up to this point, but we should rely on each other now. Sharing our grief lightens the load…and sharing with others who experience the same process may help us out.
  2. It is alright to cry. If you cry at the ceremony, do not hide it…whether they are tears of joy or tears of grief, they need to be shed (ask the biology kids about how tear shedding is important for your health!).
  3. We must not compare our worlds to each others’ worlds. Our houses do not have to be perfect. Your graduation party food does not have to be better than your neighbor’s food. My hair does not have to be perfect. Comparing ourselves to others robs us of our present joy.
  4. We must live in the moment. I need to get someone else to take pictures at graduation so that I can just live in the moment of the ceremony. Rather than recording the great times, I want to live in them.
  5. We have done our best; now it is their turn to live their own lives. At our house, we have a saying, “God loves you, and Stacy has a PLAN for your life.” While this stems from the fact that I like to help others discover their passions and jobs that go with those passions, it might be true that I like to meddle in my kids’ lives. I need to step back, be available when they want help, and let them lead.

This is a standing stone in our lives as parents. As many of us are going through picture albums in preparation for parties or to create books, we are seeing other standing stones in our lives. This one may be bigger than some in the past, but it is certainly not the last. We are not giving up our parent hat, but that hat is changing. We have had to be flexible as our kids have grown, and that need will continue as they grow into young adults and beyond.

Parenting is never over, but this particular chapter in our lives as parents of these particular children is over. As we grieve that ending, let us remember (and remind each other as many who have gone down this path have reminded me this year), that our parenting will change and that there are beautiful times ahead in the coming years.

Happy Graduation to the Class of 2014…and their parents!


Filed under Education, Parenting, Relationships, Thoughts

A Library Find: “The Disappearing Spoon”

spoonThose who follow this blog (thank you for sticking it out, by the way) know that I travel often for my job and love to listen to books on CD to keep me company.  An 11 disc book is just about the right length for many of my trips, and The Disappearing Spoon has not disappointed me.

I rarely go to the library with a specific book in mind. In fact, I have found that I rarely enjoy those that I seek out specifically.  Instead, my library seeking goes something like this…


Go to the library.

Return books that I have finished or have chosen not to read.

Go to the row of books on CD.

Look through the usual fiction authors that I love such as Mary Higgins Clark to see if anything new has appeared.

Side note: I took a road trip from North Dakota to Rhode Island during the summer after my sophomore year in college.  A friend lent me several Mary Higgins Clark books on tape (no CD player in my car “back” then).  They are the perfect companion except very late at night as one crosses the state of Pennsylvania. As the dew-infested fog takes over the early morning (and one has had little sleep), they are pretty scary.

Back to the bookshelves.

If no fiction books pop out, I then go to the non-fiction to see if there is something “fun” that I could learn. 

Side note: Malcolm Gladwell is always a great find, but I have now read almost all of his books.  I think that I still need to read Blink.  Ok (as the huz likes to point out) – I have not read the books.  I have listened to them.

Non-fiction is a huge genre, and one cannot tell what one will find in this part of the shelves.  Last week, as I chose books for my trek north earlier this week (yes – in the slowest moving Minnesota snow storm of the season), The Disappearing Spoon stood out as a possibility.

I have decided that the trick to sucking in readers for these books is to have a great title along with a descriptive back cover. 

True here.

The Disappearing Spoon is a book for smart people (or people who want to be smart – that’s me)…at the very least, one needs to have an understanding of the fact that the periodic table exists.  It delves into the history and the science behind the creation of the periodic table, but more than that – it covers some of the mysteries and scandals that came out of its development.

While I have not had a chemistry class since college, the book was accessible enough to me (I brushed some cobwebs from parts of my brain that had stored information form “Chemistry for Non-Chemistry Majors”).  This means that most people could probably glean something from the book.

Side note: I took the above-mentioned chemistry class in the last semester of my senior year in college.  It was the same year that I missed several days due to having our first child. I would not have made it through that class without the help of my friend Heidi who tutored me for hours.

Another side note: the entire point of generals in college is to help us discover what we might want to do when we grow up (as well as to develop well-rounded citizens).  Allowing me to take the chemistry class at the end of my college career was a huge disservice to me.  What if I was actually a budding chemist who might have won a Nobel Prize some day?  All of that is lost now…hopes dashed against the wall of poor scheduling.

It is unreal how many rabbit trails I have taken in this post!

I have not finished the book (I have disc remaining), but I have heard the information which drew me to the book: why lithium works to stabilize bipolar illness.  I listened intently to the first 8 discs just sure that – at any moment – the author would delve into the chemistry behind the psychological illness whose tendencies live (and sometimes rage) inside of me.

The opening of disc 9 dove right into what I wanted to hear, and I feel that – like no other time – I finally understand bipolar tendencies.  The author stated that sunlight stimulates proteins to attach to DNA in our brains.  This attachment creates our awake state.  Darkness at the end of the day causes the proteins to fall off, and we need to sleep.   

The proteins hang on to the DNA in the brains of people with bipolar illness; thus, the continued awake state – or mania.  Eventually the body and mind have had enough, and the depressive side comes in.

Lithium breaks the bonds between the proteins and the DNA.  During the day, sunlight helps to keep the bonds together, but – once darkness comes – the lithium wins out. This resets the circadian rhythm and essentially balances out the person’s awake and sleep cycle.

So cool!

That is what I am reading…what about you?  What are you reading?  What is the coolest thing you have learned lately?

PS: If you want to know why the book is named The Disappearing

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Filed under Education, health, Thoughts, Travel

Online Learning: A Dual Perspective

As an online educator, I have seen the power of online learning from the perspective of a teacher.  I have seen online education be a vehicle for bright students to move quickly in through concepts that they have mastered so that they can go more deeply into concepts that interest them.  I have seen online education be a vehicle to allow students who are involved in rigorous competitive activities such as gymnastics, snowboarding, or horse jockeying stay in school while competing nationally and globally. I have seen online education allow students with challenges meet their goals of obtaining their high school diploma.

Online learning is powerful.

I was reminded again last night about the power of online learning for my own children.  As they sat in the live session with their teacher from New Zealand, my heart was so happy.  My children have used online learning off and on for the past six years as needs have come up with scheduling or class offerings (mostly math).  Our son spent a year and half as a full-time online student before he returned to a seat-based school due to the extra-curricular options available to him and his desire to have daily in person interactions with other kids his age.

Online learning can be full-time or part-time.

Often when people hear of online schools, they only imagine the full-time students who work from home in their pajamas.  (An aside: not all full-time students work from home in their pajamas, but it is a nice benefit – as my son.)  However, many students enrolled in a seat-based school take online classes as part of their educational experience. 

Reasons for this include the following:
    • Scheduling issues
    • Limited course offerings at the seat based school for a variety of reasons (funding!)
    • A desire to expand on the high school experience through electives
    • A desire to pursue outside activities

    By the way – all students in Minnesota are eligible for part-time online classes.  The school where they attend can reduce their course load by the number of courses they take online. They law states that students can take up to 50% of their courses online, and their enrolling school can sign a waiver to allow them to take more.  Click here for more information on this in Minnesota.

    The challenge for full-time online students is in person interaction.

    As part of my job as dean of students at an online school, I go to court when students (who stayed in their pajamas but never logged in and did any work) have had attendance issues.  (An aside: In Minnesota, students who attend the publically funded online schools remain subject to attendance and truancy laws.)  I obviously cannot share the details of the hearing because of privacy laws.  However – after the hearing – I had a conversation with the county attorney who asked about how online schools overcome the challenge of person-to-person interactions.

    It is a challenge!  However, in the same way that homeschoolers have stated that they can overcome the challenge, students in online learning can.  It takes dedication on the part of parents to help coordinate these efforts, and many online schools encourage it through field trips and giving course credit for service learning (volunteering).  While our son spent his time as a full-time online student, he volunteered with his elementary teacher and helped younger students with reading.  It was a great experience for him!

    Online learning needs to be embraced.

    Although challenges exist, these challenges can be overcome through planning by parents and online programs.  Students will continue to seek online learning as a way to challenge them and support them through their K-12 experience.  It opens doors that the traditional model of school cannot, but traditional models are learning and becoming more flexible.  As online schools become more accountable by state departments for student attendance and testing, they will continue to gain more credibility.  The workload is not lighter, and it is not an easy way to do school.  In fact, most attendance policies require that students do more than simply log on – they need to make progress.  This adds a layer of rigor which is needed to maintain credibility.

    What have readers heard or experienced in terms of online learning?  Have others had children take online classes? If so, what is your impression of the programs?

    ps: Tomorrow will be Day 1 for a weekly webinar series for parents of online learners at my school. I am so excited.  If you want to ever watch one of these, let me know.


    Other posts about online learning from this author:

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    Filed under Education, Parenting