Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Small Town Snow Days

My actual Parent Alert screen!
There are two words that every student, teacher and parent looks forward to in January more than any other: SNOW and DAY...  unless those words are repeated over and over and over again, until no one even remembers what it feels like to have a daily rhythm in their life and they have completely run out of Netflix options.  This is the current conundrum of our household.  3 snow days, 1 holiday, and 1 late start, all within the last week, and at this point, no one actually remembers the route we take to school every morning, or even what classes they are taking.

The first snow day is always exciting.  The kids flush ice cubes down the toilet and stick a spoon in the freezer the night before, anticipating an extra day of sleeping in.  This year, on the first snow day, we made popcorn for breakfast and stayed in our PJs watching inspirational movies all day.  By snow day number two, we had run out of inspirational movies and had moved on to "Central Intelligence," with the Rock and Kevin Hart, which was mostly inappropriate, but I pretty much just cringed and ignored it because we were out of options...and by yesterday, I had pretty much given up on life...I have no idea what the kids were watching, but Carson spent the day with an iPad and headphones...so I'm just hoping it wasn't anything that will turn him into a serial killer.

Today's ice day pretty much pushed me over the edge.  There's something to be said about having structure to the day, and right now I have so little structure, that I keep forgetting to even feed my kids.  At this point they're going to have to settle for whatever they can grab on their own - which, looking in the refrigerator, includes half a bag of frozen tater tots and a jar of pickles.

In case you thought I was kidding.  And don't be fooled by the ice cream carton...it's empty, but we're all too lazy to throw it away!

In an effort to get out of this snow day funk, I'm trying to make a list of things to do today based on recent suggestions I've been given by others.  Here's what I have so far...

1. Go sledding.  Except, there is no snow.  And honestly, we don't really go outside unless it's above 60 degrees.

2. Bake something.  Except, I only own one measuring cup and I'm not actually sure where it is.  I do have some flour in the freezer, but I only have brown sugar (not white), so unless I can bake something with those options, we're out of luck.
I actually found the measuring cup!  Right next to the rest of the unused kitchen appliances!

3. Work-out.  Except, the couch already has an indentation from where I've been sitting for the past week, and it's really hard to get out of it.  I could probably do some sit-ups from this position - but even that seems like a little too much effort.

That pretty much leaves me with catching up on America's Next Top Model, staring at the ceiling, or going to the store to buy food to feed my family.  But since ANTM is only an hour long, and since I really don't have the energy to leave the house, I suppose that the most viable option is really to lay in my couch indentation and stare at the ceiling until this snow day is over.  I will make an effort to melt all of the ice in the freezer so that no one can accidentally flush a cube down the toilet, and I've hidden all the spoons...and just in case, I'm also crossing my fingers so that I don't get any more early-morning notifications...until next week of course, when I'll probably need another snow day.  But by then, my fridge will be restocked, and new movies will be out, so I'll be much more prepared to sleep in, make popcorn for breakfast and enjoy a day in my PJs.

Until then, a very happy small-town, snow day to everyone...here's hoping we all make it through!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Well...I wrote a novel.

Yesterday, I sat down and I finished the final page of my very first novel.  Granted, it's taken me 7 years to complete it, and if you do the math, it's really not that impressive - that's only 31 words per day. Seriously, at that rate I could have written Les Miserables 3 times over!  It figures though, it took me 11 years to finish my Bachelor's Degree, and another 10 to finish my Master's, at this point, 7 years is pretty much a record.

And speaking of Les Miserables, I have to be honest and say that my little novel is really not the literary gem that you might expect from an AP Literature teacher, in fact, it's much less Victor Hugo, and much more Hallmark Channel.  It's one of those books that no one ever admits to reading - like a Harlequin Romance or a Nicholas Sparks book, but that everyone secretly enjoys.  And that's the thing.  I. love. it.  Honestly, I just really love this story.  It's lighthearted, people fall in love, and everyone lives happily ever after - and right now, it's at the top of my "favorite books I've ever read," list - but I'm probably a little biased.

Writing isn't easy (obviously - it's taken me 7 years to do it!) And believe me, I'm no expert.  But here are a few things that I learned were especially difficult along the way.

1. Language: as in bad language...as in curse words. My personal vocabulary is pretty PG.  We actually have a swear jar at our house, and Carson is very rigid about pointing out when someone needs to contribute.  There are $5.00 words, which should really never be used, but sometimes slip out when Michigan loses to Ohio State in overtime, there are $1.00 words, which should really also not be used, but sometimes slip out when you slide along a slippery road and almost get hit by a semi (actually, if you want to go ahead and use a $5.00 word during that experience, you have full permission), and there are $.50 words that no one actually knows if they are swear words or not, for example:

Kaitlyn: I'm so pissed!
Carson: That's a dollar!
Kaitlyn: Pissed is not a swear word!
Carson: Mom?
Me: I don't know - put $.50 in the jar
Kaitlyn: Ugggghhhhhhh!

The problem with language in a novel is that I am not a character, and even though I rarely use $1.00 words, other people do - including some of my characters.  But to be honest, I just can't picture most of the characters getting themselves into situations in which they would say, "Oh gosh, golly, jee!"  So there are some $1.00 words in there...and maybe a $5.00 word...

2. Love Scenes: Ok, so there isn't really a full out love scene in the book, because to be honest, I just couldn't do it.  I felt that I could definitely leave the heaving breasts for someone else to write about.  But there is kissing.  And writing about kissing is a weird thing.  Like, do you describe whether or not it's open mouth or closed mouth? Do you talk about the awkward head tilt or the weird sounds that are made. Regardless, it is a love story, and I couldn't very well have the happy couple seal the deal with a fist bump. So I closed my eyes and barrelled through...similar to my first actual kiss I would say.

3.  Relevance: When you take 7 years to write a book, you realize just how much things change.  I was going back through one of my first chapters and realized that the character, "flipped open her phone." Flipped open her phone? Who is this person? A grandmother? No, actually she is just someone stuck in 2009.  My character was also at one point wearing a velour track suit...enough said.

Now for the real question...and the answer is no, I'm not looking to publish it (it's not nearly as well-written as a Harlequin Romance!) my goal was really just to finish.  And I'm so glad I did. Because while I may have only written at the incredibly ridiculous rate of only 31 words-a-day, in the words of my husband who is over-the-top supportive of this endeavor, that's 30 words-a-day more than most people in the world - and after 7 years, I've finally even written the two little words that matter the most:

Much love from your very own Small-Town Writer!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Small Town Resolutions

Last night I had the privilege of ringing in 2017 by watching the ball drop...well not THE ball, but A ball.  The ball that our charming small-town community hangs from a crane and drops down a wire as the crowd counts down to the new year.  To be honest, the ball is not quite the Swarovski chandelier that the New York crowd is used to, and instead my hubby looked at it and said, "hmmm...kind of looks like they made it with barbed wire and Christmas lights.

In all fairness, this is only the second year that our little town has held the midnight ball drop, and last year, my daughter exclaimed, "Maybe we shouldn't stand so close, it doesn't really look stable up there." So, our little town has made progress, and the ball drop has gotten more stable and made for a fun little event. In fact, despite the awkward jerking of the ball as it descended the wire, the crowd was fun and enthusiastic, and even us 40-somethings got excited about the celebration and joined the younger, hipper party-goers in our own attempt at selfie memories.  My friend Amy's selfie attempt is here:

Basically, by the time we figured out how to change the direction of the phone camera - all while wearing gloves - the ball had already dropped and our picture ended up including the tops of our puffball hats and the black sky above us.  All in all, a great memory!

As with each January 1st, this new year brings with it the anticipation of exciting new things as well as the stress of trying to decide which of the exciting new things I'm actually supposed to get excited about.  I'm currently in a slight panic about all of the very motivated and organized women out there who have written down their goals, created resolution support groups on Facebook and posted very encouraging statuses such as:
Today is the first blank page in a 365 page book, write a great story!

For real, I'm just trying to get through this week without locking my keys in the car, I'm not sure I can handle 365 pages of goal-achievement!  That being said, in an attempt to make 2017 the best year yet, I did create a few manageable resolutions that I'm hoping won't make me cry by the end of the week.

1.  Exercise.  I feel like this is doable as long as I keep my expectations low - so like a few times a month...give or take. I used to work out all of the time.  And then I just got tired...and busy...and I know that working out is not about having time but about making time, but right now I just can't make time...because that would mean giving up things like watching Netflix or sleeping in.  I started today on this goal, and hubby and and I took a great 2 mile walk around the neighborhood - I even wore running shoes, and to be honest, my legs are already sore, so basically I ran a 5K.

2. Do nice things.  This past year I watched my students do really nice things for others - they raised almost $20,000 just in the month of December, all to give away to others - I love that! And I love that they all began to understand life is really not about serving themselves but serving others.  My goal is to hold on to that same others-centered living and do random acts of kindness that will change others' lives.  I'm so excited about this goal that today I had my groceries put in paper bags instead of plastic - it's the little things!

3. Wear red lipstick. I really love red lipstick, but somewhere along the way I became too worried about what other people think, so I stopped wearing it.  This is common for me - I often worry about what others think.  In fact, I few years ago I was writing and blogging quite a bit, and then someone said to me, "Don't you think it's awfully narcissistic to think people want to read about your life?" So I stopped.  Because I certainly don't want to be narcissistic (see goal #2) but really, writing about my life is kind of like wearing red lipstick - it's not for everyone, but I really love it!  

My real goal this year is to be brave - in fact, BRAVE is my word for 2017.  I've even written it down in my journal, so that I will remember to take risks, to try new things, and stop worrying about everyone else's opinion.  

I really love my Lilly Pulitzer day planner/journal!

So in 2017 I'm going to wear more red lipstick...and write more, because really, it's 2017, and it's time to do new things, or maybe it's just time to do old things that I love, and when I do, I'm going to do them looking like a diva and writing all about it for all of my friends!

Here's wishing you a very happy and small town 2017!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

She Did NOT Just Say That Out Loud!

So this is usually the time when I look back on the week and think of something witty to write about in order to entertain my family and friends.  And actually, I have so much fodder this week...I mean, I spent Wednesday morning talking to Freshmen and Sophomores about sex and relationships...and guess who is in the Freshman class this year? Yup! Kaitlyn.  It was AWESOME to see her completely mortified when I said the word "sex" out loud to a group of her peers...her friend Dorie turned especially pink, and she was like, "Mrs. VanHekken did NOT just say that out loud."  Even better was when I read the lyrics to "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke out loud.  You know it is every kid's dream to hear their mother read to their friends, "I know you want it.  I know you want it.  Must wanna get nasty. Go ahead get at me."  Oh, it was a beautiful thing.

Anyway, more than the excitement generated by my underclassmen relationship seminar, I wanted to take a more serious turn today and share with you a little bit about my friends Marc and Gretchen Driesenga.  Marc and I have taught English together for the past 2 years at WMC, and without a doubt I can say that he is one of the best teachers I have ever met (he did of course learn everything he knows from me....probably).  Anyway, Marc and Gretchen heard and heeded God's call on their lives and moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Africa, to teach and minister at Haven of Peace Academy.  In July they packed up all of their belongings (except for the 552 crates of movies that they left in our basement),

Their crates...Our basement :)
got on a plane, and began a new chapter of life 1/2 way around the world....oh, and I forgot to mention that they have a 5, 2, and 8 month old! Marc and Gretchen are an incredible couple, and I just wanted to share their journey with all of you.  Chris and I support them financially knowing that every little bit is a part of growing God's kingdom, but I also know that they are still raising financial support as well.  Above all, they covet our prayers.  Even though you might not know them, I would encourage you to just lift them up in prayer...even if it's one of those "please bless that one couple that Jenn knows who moved to that one place somewhere in Africa."  I'd also encourage you to subscribe to their blog.  It's so interesting to hear about their life on the other side of the world...I know you will find so too. Click here to read their entire blog...and here is a little snippet from their latest:

I can honestly say that the first few days of school were not the same without Marc.  I didn't have anyone to make fun of students with, and I didn't get to throw down the gauntlet for who would win this year's Project Grace challenge (I would never brag...but last year my class beat his by $6.00!!! I personally think he moved just so he wouldn't have to face defeat again.)  But I know God has his hand on their lives, and anyway, we still have social media, so we'll just have to make fun of students via Twitter. And Facebook. And Instagram...and well really, I guess it's not really all that different after all!

Lots of Small Town Love from a Missing-and-praying-for-her-friends Small Town Girl

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Being a Handraiser

So here's the truth, I'm a self-proclaimed hand-raiser.  Now, you either know exactly what I'm talking about, or you are completely lost in translation.  Let me explain, a hand-raiser is one of those people in church who gets so caught up in the music that their hands fly up in the air in worship; I'll just let you know right now that I am also a hip-swayer, a knee-bouncer, and a eye-closer during times of worship, but most of all I'm a hand-raiser - hey I figure if Taio Cruz can convince us to "throw our hands up in the air sometimes singing Ay-o, gotta let go..." then so can Jesus!

Anyway, not everyone understands the whole hand-raising thing, and that's the great thing about so many different churches, there are sprinkle-with-water baptizers and dunk-until-they-need-a-life-jacket baptizers, there are organ-and-hymnal worshipers and drum-and-guitar-and-occasionally-a-weird-African-instrument worshipers.  We're all different...as noted by my Dominican mother who recently commented on a cousin's wedding...

Mom: "We (meaning her giant Dominican family consisting of 132 first cousins) didn't even know if there was going to be dancing (gasp!) because your cousin and his wife go to one of "those" churches.

Me: "One of those churches?"

Mom: "You know, they're kind of different, and we (meaning her giant Dominican family consisting of 132 first cousins) don't know anything but Catholic.

Please let me pause here.  No seriously.  I just need to pause, because what I didn't say but wanted to (and I would write this in capital letters, but it's too long and I would look like I'm yelling...which I'm not) is...

Do you not remember that you raised us in West Michigan, and we grew up going to that will-remain-nameless-but-fairly-charasmatic-church in which Molly Magee* would dance wildly down the center aisle, speak in tongues at the top of her lungs, be slain in the spirit and fall down backwards after which time the elders would come wrap her in white sheets and carry her out into the lobby??? Hmmm....

Anyway, it turns out my cousin's wedding wasn't all that extreme after all and everyone was relieved when they in fact did have dancing...of course they did, it was a Dominican wedding!!

Anyway, I may not be a speaking in tongues, slain-in-the-spirit kind of worshiper, but I'm definitely a hand-raiser, and with that I thought I'd share this little video with some fun, hand-raising humor (go ahead, it's only 2 minutes long) and don't worry, I'm not poking fun at anyone, I'm poking fun at myself (and you other hand-raisers out there)...it's like being Dominican, if you're Dominican you can make fun of Dominicans...but if you are Guatemalen?  Oh no, don't you dare start making fun!!


And P.S...I'm definitely a "schoolroom" :)

Lots of filled-with-the-spirit, Sunday morning, Small town love,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Apparently those aren't highlights

 Growing Old

This whole "getting older" thing is frankly a bit out of control.  I'm going to be honest here...people usually think I'm younger than what I actually am...especially my students who often can't believe I'm the same age as their parents (except for that one kid...who said he thought I was 45...but it's ok, I failed him.)  Anyway, I can honestly say that I've been let down lately by the number of times that I have NOT gotten carded.  Seriously, you're supposed to card anyone who looks under 40...and darn it, I look younger than 40! I think. At the very least, Shirley at the grocery store should be asking me for my ID because if I was going to buy alcohol underage I would have the perfect cover - what underage drinker brings two kids to the grocery store with her with her who call her mom every 10 seconds (which is what happens in the grocery line...usually accompanied by "can I have some gum/tictacs/candy/this movie/this magazine)" and if I were only 19 and the cashier asked for my ID, I would give her a haggard look and say, I'm sorry, I left it at home, but obviously I need this 6-pack of Zima because my kids are driving me crazy," and she would nod sympathetically and completely understand...this is why I should be carded...I could be a 19 year old completely pulling the wool over Shirley's eyes in the checkout line...CARD ME!

Possibly Shirley is not willing to card me because of the streaks of gray that have started decorating my hairline.  The first time I saw them I thought they were highlights from the sun - silvery little streaks that I got without even investing in Sun-In...and then I realized that they weren't highlights...they were GRAY HAIRS!  Or maybe Shirley has noticed my old-lady bunions - seriously, it's like I turned 36 and my feet decided to launch a rebellion against cute shoes.  I used to toddle around on heels all day long, but all of a sudden my feet have grown these rebellious little knobs that are like, "fit me into an Aerosole or die!!!" I'm remembering the 70 year old wedding planner that worked with Chris and I when we got married; she had a wanky second toe that curled freakishly over her big toe, I was incredibly grateful not to have been endowed with her foot issues - alas, I spoke to soon.  I had no idea that feet get mad at you for wearing heels your whole life and decide to fight back.  I'm sorry...I don't do ugly shoes...I AM DOMINICAN.

It wouldn't be so bad if it were these two little superficial things, but it's kind of a wake up call when your doctor begins using the phrase, "At your age."  Let me give you an example from earlier this summer:

"At your age, we want to be more aware of the risks for breast cancer, therefore we are ordering a mammogram."  A mammogram?? I remember my mom's 1st mammogram - those are for old people, not cool, young people like me!!

And, "Your blood tests show that you are Vitamin D deficient and at a risk for osteoporosis." I'm sorry, what? Osteoporosis is what causes little old ladies to have a hunchback - I'm not at risk for that, my back wouldn't dare hunch on me!!

Or, also told to me by a doctor this summer, "I know that you have coached gymnastics your whole life, but at your age, you need to be more careful of the strain you put on your joints." I'm sorry...what?? At my age?  I thought I was just hitting my prime...that's what the magazine's say, but apparently not, apparently I'm hitting the "at your age" age, which came a lot faster than I thought it would.

Anyway, there is still a bit of silver lining (aside from those in my hair).  Yesterday Kaitlyn was updating me about an episode of Toddlers and Tiara's (of course), and our conversation went like this:

Kaitlyn: "Yeah, there was this crazy mom, not, you know, a cute mom like you."
Me: "I'm sorry...did you just call me a cute mom??"
Kaitlyn: "Yeah, and then they were interviewing her..."
Me: "Wait, like a cute mom, like I look cute?"
Kaitlyn: "Mom! I'm trying to tell you a story!"
Me: "Chris, did you hear that? Kaitlyn called me a cute mom!"
Kaitlyn: "Oh my gosh, stop."

Kaitlyn and I being "cute"

So anyway, I may be looking slightly older than 21, and I may have gray hairs and old person feet, and I may have to take it easy in my old age because of my hunchback, but really, all that matters is that my teenage daughter thinks I'm a cute mom, and that's good enough for me...well until next month...which is my birthday...and I'm hoping for botox as a gift...you know, just to be a cute mom a little bit longer.

Lot's of gray and wrinkled small-town love.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Small Town Weekend

Seriously, one of the best weekends ever in which there was a whole lotta nothin' goin' on...but the best kind of nothin' - you know...no guests, no cookouts, no beach parties, no family birthday parties...boring? maybe...but relaxing? H-E-Double Hockey Sticks yeah!

 So here's the lowdown...

1. I finished The Paris Wife, which I loved and I hated at the same time.  It made me want to read more Hemingway...sort of, but not really.  Right...that's how I feel too, not sure what to think.

2. Watched Little Buddy golf a round at his grandparents...well, not really a round, more like 6 & 1/2 holes...he got bored after that...so glad we invested in those clubs for him.

3. Set up an appointment for Leo to get declawed...this was our last roll of toilet paper which created a mad scramble to Walgreens for an emergency weekend supply before this week's weekly shopping.

4. Got crafty...if you consider using chalk crafty...but I did make a double line on the "M" and the "U" of menu which makes it a bit fancy.  My kids were in awe...seriously, Little Buddy asked, "are you going to do this every week??" Followed by a suspicious, "What happens on Saturday and Sunday?" No worries bud, Jimmie Johns is on speed dial.

5. Returned books to the library where I failed to park within the lines, but in my defense, this bumper guard clearly shows that it's the library's fault and not mine...seriously, how many people have to nail this corner before they widen the spaces in the parking garage...incidentally, I also found out that no, you cannot return books from another local library to the current library where you originally checked out the book...apparently my library card record shows I have been doing all summer...and apparently they charge for it...but my balance is currently at $9.54, and you don't have to pay until it's over $10.00, so...I'll just wait.

6. And finally, I watched Baby Girl do wall splits in order to practice her scorpion for cheer.  This just happens to be a picture in which she slightly lost her balance and fell (not hard of course...I mean, not too hard) face first into the stairwell.  I of course went to help her after I cursed the fact that I had only taken a pic and not a video...better luck next time (for her of course, not me).

Anyway, that was my weekend, and it was wonderful! Hope yours was too!

Southern Sunflowers and Coffee Beans
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