Monday, January 31, 2011

This time, we aren't leaving...

We're going back!

Yes, Ryan will be completing his two-year pediatric residency at The Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado.

We are totally stunned, for a number of reasons--I will explain tomorrow.  For now, a few pictures to get everyone excited:

Real mountains
One enthusiastic Grampy (pictured here wearing my apron)
One adorable Grammy (pictured here wearing Laura's sweats, t-shirt, and tennis shoes)
One good-looking father (pictured here wearing a man sarong)

One amazing restaurant
Yes, there is one near Denver!  And yes, that really does rank as high as my family (JK fam!)

...and a few really good friends who recently moved to Denver after completing dental school last year!  Hooray!  Can't wait to see you guys!

Don't forget:

Party tonight!
8:00 p.m.
Nielson Crib (yes, it on Rounds Ave, we call it a crib)
Anyone is invited!
Dessert will be served.

**THEME: Colorado (I have to admit that I have no idea yet what that entails, but I better figure it out in the next six hours.)  
**SUGGESTED DRESS: Orange and Blue (Broncos colors)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wait on the Lord

I have never liked waiting--nor have I been good at it--yet I find myself waiting a lot these days.

I am waiting to plan the next few months of our lives (do we have enough money for me to visit my sister during my February break? will I be able to finish the entirety of my school year before we move?) until I find out if and where Ryan matches for residency.

Thank heaven that wait will be over tomorrow.

I am waiting to rock a baby to sleep in my arms and sing lullabies and wipe tears and calm tantrums until we get pregnant or get chosen for an adoption.

Please, heaven, let that wait be over tomorrow.

I don't think anyone can escape this life without having to, at some point, wait for something that they really really want.  A job, a cure, a loved one's change of heart...a spouse.

Several of my best friends are not married.  They'd like to be.  A few of them appear to be on their way (very serious boyfriends); others have suffered recent disappointments.  They are beautiful, kind, intelligent, and talented.  They are spiritual, selfless, funny, and capable.

And yet they wait.  They wait and hope and work for something that is almost entirely out of their control.

I think about them and pray for them.  For, while I can make a "Hoping to Adopt" button and post it all over the Internet, while I can write lengthy blog posts about my broken heart and receive an outpouring of validation from friends and family--they really cannot.  You don't see too many "Hoping to Marry" blog buttons.

A phrase that has fascinated me in my recent scripture study is "waiting on the Lord."  One thing that I love about online scriptures is that I can type in a search term and easily read all of the references that relate to my query.

When I enter "wait on the Lord," I get 47 results, and I have thought about many of those verses at different moments in the last few months.

Lately, I have been thinking about this one:

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."  Isaiah 40:31

I try to remember those words as I wait for email contacts from birth mothers.  Once the initial contacts come, I try to remember those words as I wait for each reply (and it's possible I check my email every ten minutes).  Once an email relationship has been established, I try to remember those words as I wait for them to decide if they want us to be the parents of their baby--and as I wait and pray that they won't change their minds.

It's the hardest thing I've ever done, and sometimes I wonder if I can continue doing it.  I need the Lord to "renew [my] strength."  I need Him to help me "mount up with wings as eagles," so I can see a view of my life from a higher, more eternal perspective and feel the exhilaration of His love.  I need Him to help me run this endurance race "and not be weary...and not faint."

We are all waiting for something.  We've been promised that we can bear it.  Sometimes I'm not so sure...but then I remember these scriptures, and I remember...

We can do it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ready to celebrate...

This tooth is ready to party.

In May, Ryan started his applications for a residency in pediatric dentistry.

Nine months, ten interviews, and $2500 later (the application and interview process is a total rip off), he will find out on Monday if and where he "matched" for residency.

To celebrate this momentous day, I've decided that I want to throw a Match Day Party.  The theme of this gathering will not be determined until the day of the party because it is going to center around the location of Ryan's residency.  If he matches in Hawaii, we will be drinking pina coladas and wearing leis; if he matches in Utah, we will be eating Mormon funeral potatoes and listening to the Tabernacle Choir; if he does not match anywhere...well, he will need cheering we will have bowls of Hugs and Kisses, and we will each give him one.  Yes, the party, and our lives, will go on, even if he doesn't match. 

I will be scrambling to get food, decorations, music, and activities planned on the day of the party, and it sounds very exhilarating/stressful to me.  I'm always up for a good challenge!

The other night, I sat down and tried to brainstorm possible party foods and decorations for each of the places that he interviewed.  As you will see, some of my ideas are better than others.  (By the way, this is not his rank order, which I'm not allowed to reveal online.)

Honolulu, Hawaii--Hawaiian pizza, pina colada drinks, leis and ugly luau shirts, hula, limbo, tiki torches

Salt Lake City, Utah--green jello, "funeral potatoes", Cafe Rio pork, Mormon Tabernacle Choir music

Kansas City, Missouri--(Uh...I've got nothing...please help me out here.)

Anchorage, Alaska--snow cones, Eskimo Pie ice cream bars, salmon, turn our apartment thermostat down to 30 degrees and make everyone bundle up (just kidding), dog sledding (kidding again)Iron Will the movie (loved that when I was a kid)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--something with steel? (okay, that's just pathetic), Super Bowl cake

Denver, Colorado--John Denver music, Coors beer (it was founded in Colorado...maybe I could put root beer in Coors cups?),  something with skiing?...the Rocky Mountains?...the "Mile High" state?  (even as a native of Colorado, I don't have many ideas here)

Buffalo, New York--pizza and wings, Loganberry drink, Bills/Sabres decor, something with Niagara Falls?

Rochester, New York--same as Buffalo?  (Does anyone know what's distinctive about Rochester?)

Cincinnati, Ohio--chili (apparently it's really popular there) (I could really use some help here...Amber Jensen, I'm talking to you!)

Memphis, Tennessee--Southern BBQ, Elvis music and decor

**Please please please, I beg of you, share some of your party ideas by leaving a comment.  I welcome all ideas, even nonsensical ones!

Everyone is invited.  Seriously, anyone can come.  If you are reading this blog post, and you want to come, please do.

The details:

Match Day Party

Monday, January 31

Nielson Apartment (leave a comment or email if you need the address)

8:00 p.m.
(I know this is bedtime for little kids, so I understand if you can't make it, or if only one parent can make it.)

Some type of post-dinner snack or refreshment will be served

RSVP in a blog comment, so I know if anyone is coming and can plan the grub

Check back on Monday afternoon to find out if he matched, so you can plan your party outfit accordingly!  

Friday, January 21, 2011

I love my dad, I love my students, and I love all of you.

I love my dad because he does incredibly thoughtful things, like sending me flowers at school during an especially difficult week:

I love my students because they taught me how to take a photo of said flowers on my phone and then text it to my email (did you know that such a thing is possible???!!!) in order to post it on this blog.

I love all of you because I am completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we have had over the past week.  Thank you for your remarkably thoughtful blog comments and emails.  Thank you for posting about our desire to adopt on your blogs and your Facebook accounts.  Our adoption profile had 800 views yesterday--800!  Truly, I am speechless and so very touched.  From the bottom of my heart--I really can't say this enough--thank you.

I am a lucky, lucky, lucky girl. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More guessed it!...adoption

I promise this blog isn't going to be solely devoted to adoption forever.  But for the time being, it's basically all that's on my mind.  I am doing okay--I am just feeling determined and quite anxious for something to work out.

First of all, I feel like I've managed to scare all of you away from ever attempting to adopt.  I just need to tell you that our case worker assures us that our track record is very unusual.  Most couples do not have this many disappointments and so close together.  (Not sure how we got so lucky!)  So don't be scared off if adoption is something you are considering.  I still think it is wonderful, and I am not giving up yet.

They say the best way to get chosen for adoption is to simply get the word out to as many people as possible.  The more people who see the profile, the greater chance you have of being chosen.  I have been hesitant to beg for help (I don't know, it just feels so pathetic), but desperate times call for desperate measures.  So here goes.

Can you do the following:

-Put our adoption button on your blog/website?  (Thanks to so many of you who already have!)  If you look at my sidebar, you will see instructions that detail how to do this.

-Post a brief note about our desire to adopt on your blog/website?  If you're willing, it would be great if you could include the link to our adoption profile and the link to our blog.  (Again, thanks to those of you who have already done this.)

-Post a link to our adoption profile/blog on Facebook?  Will you ask others to do the same?  I myself don't have Facebook, but I know that those who do often have hundreds of "friends"...a very good way for a lot of people in a lot of different places to see our profile.  And if they share with their friends...well, we'll basically be famous overnight!! :) 

-If you know anyone who is actually famous (unlike us) or who has a high-traffic website or blog, ask them to post our button?  (A friend of mine recently asked her friend, who writes the popular Mormon satire blog Seriously So Blessed, to post their adoption button.  She said they had something like 400 hits in an hour!)  

-Email your friends about our desire to adopt?

-Mention us anytime you hear about a situation that might lead to an adoption?

-Pray for us?

-Any other ideas?

I must tell you that this is really hard for me.  I hate that I have to ask my friends to do this.  I know that the adoption buttons are corny, and I wish that I wasn't asking you to post ours.  It feels...I don't know...embarassing?...wrong? have to advertise yourself to get a baby.

I keep saying to myself, "Rachel, there are so many babies out there who need good homes.  Stop whining, and go find one!"  In addition to LDS Family Services, we've looked into foster care adoption, and special needs adoption, but how do we know which direction to go?  How do we find the baby that is right for our family?  I keep praying for guidance, but I'm just not sure what to do.

Some of you know that I am a huge letter writer, and I am also a huge journaler.  So, throughout this entire adoption process, I have been writing letters to the baby as my way of "journaling" the experience.  Today, I looked back in time and read the very first letter.  It rejuvenated me a little bit to read my own hopeful words, written before the disappointments.  It reminded me that there's still a lot of hope, especially with our wonderful friends and family supporting us and helping to spread the word.

I want to share the letter.  I hope that's okay.

July 31, 2010

Dear Baby,

I feel like I conceived you yesterday.  Now, before you get grossed out, let me clarify: I conceived you in that our adoption profile went “live” online.  Birth mothers all over America can now see our information, and technically, our journey toward YOU has begun.  I wonder where your mother is…I wonder how far along she is in her pregnancy…I wonder when and how she will find us.

I am praying that she does. 

When I temporarily got pregnant back in January, my initial reaction was, of course, shock—then joy—then fear.  I have gone through that same cycle of emotions these past two days.  When I saw our adoption profile online, I screamed, “We’re up!  Ryan, we’re up!”  And then I was giddy with excitement and dancing around the house for the rest of the day. 

But today, things feel a little different.  The reality is setting in—and with the reality comes a bit of fear.  Any day now, I could become a mother.  Usually, adoptive parents get much more notice than that; but technically, I could get a phone call tomorrow and a baby a few days later.  Am I ready for that?  I mean, honestly, am I ready to care for and love and teach another human being?  And a human being that I know nothing about—who could come from parents that are totally different in temperament, personality, and upbringing than Ryan and me?  It’s all a little mind-boggling.

This afternoon, I sent an email to all of our friends and family, explaining our situation and asking for their help to spread the word about our desire to adopt.  It felt good to get the email written and sent; but afterward, I felt so very vulnerable.  Did I really just send an email which exposes some of my greatest trials and greatest desires to over 100 people?  The more I thought about it, the more sick it made me.  Honestly, your dad and I went to see a movie tonight, and I couldn’t concentrate because I was replaying each word of the email in my mind and questioning whether I ever should have shared something so personal.  I was squirming in my seat until Ryan reached over and took my hand.  He always knows how to calm me down.  He has been so good to me the past couple of days…he is always good to me, but he has been especially attentive and loving as I’ve worked on the adoption and prepared for my solo trip to El Salvador.  (I leave in just a couple of days.)  I hope that many years from now, when you are a teenager, you will look at our marriage and know that it is filled with love.  I hope your dad and I will still treasure each other as much then as we do now.  He is truly the best thing that ever happened to me.

We are going to be a family.  Dad, you, and I.  And over the years, we will add more babies to our clan—you will be a big brother or sister.  We will go through hard times, and we will fight now and then, and sometimes you might even wish that we weren’t your parents (though I hope it never comes to that); but I want you to always remember how much we love you and how much we worked to bring you into our lives.  I have no doubt that you will bring us immeasurable joy as we watch you grow and learn and figure out the world.

It’s been a great weekend.  You are on the way.  I couldn’t be happier.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Joy Cometh in the Morning

My students cannot, no matter how hard they try, resist putting a “happy ending” on their essays.  They always want to give novels a positive spin—even novels that clearly illustrate a pessimistic view of life and humanity.

For instance, one of my students recently wrote an essay about Of Mice and Men.  His thesis was “Through Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck proves that mankind’s idealized dreams are often crushed by their harsh realities.” In his essay, he detailed how (spoiler alert…skip to the next paragraph if you’ve never read this novel) George had a grand dream of owning a farm with his best friend Lennie; however, he couldn’t earn the money to buy the farm because Lennie’s mental disability caused them to lose job after job and kept them running all over the country.  Ultimately, he had to shoot Lennie to save him from a vicious and angry mob, and his dream died with Lennie.

At the end of this gloomy essay—in fact as the final, conclusive line—he wrote, “But just because your dreams get crushed, you shouldn’t give up trying; keep trying and someday your dreams will come true.”

Sorry, kid, but I don’t think that was the message of Steinbeck’s book, nor does that fit with the rest of your essay.  But I admire your optimism. 

I guess I’m like my students.  I can’t leave a post like yesterday’s without a happier ending.  I have to write a follow-up.

One of my favorite scriptures is Psalms 30:5:  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

I often think about that verse when I am going through something difficult.  Sometimes the “night” may last more than a night—sometimes it can last for weeks or months or years—but eventually, joy does return.

I didn’t go to school yesterday.  I couldn’t.  I slept in until 11:30 a.m., woke up with one of those crying headaches, wrote in my journal, thought, prayed, did a little online shopping (retail therapy), went out to dinner with Ryan, and made chocolate chip cookies with one of my best friends.

It turned out to be a pretty good day.

I will admit that being back at school today wasn't very fun; sometimes teenagers are whiny, lazy, and insensitive. But I survived the day.  We all have times in life when we just have to power through.

One of the two things that I bought online yesterday was a cute necklace with Ryan’s and my initials.  I am going to wear it to remind myself that, no matter how tough life gets, I have Ryan.  They say the stress of infertility can destroy a marriage.  Ry and I have been doing pretty well, in fact I’d say we’re closer than ever.  But Wednesday night, after we got the news of yet another failed adoption, I am ashamed to say that I took my anger out on Ryan.  I yelled at him, and he yelled at me back (believe it or not, Ryan can yell); but then we hugged and snuggled in bed, and he played with my hair, which always makes me feel better.

I can’t let anything come between me and my Ry.

I want to thank everyone for supporting and praying for us.  After reading yesterday's post, a few people emailed me and said, “I hope I’ve never said anything that made you feel alone!” Don’t worry…even if you did, I don’t remember it.  It’s not like I keep a running tally of who said the wrong thing when they were obviously just trying to comfort me.  I know that people mean very well when they offer words of solace.  It’s just that, if “it will happen when it’s supposed to” or “it’s all in the Lord’s hands,” then why do my next door neighbors who constantly scream the f-word at each other have a baby and we don’t?  Was it God’s will for the baby to grow up in that environment?  These are the complexities of life that puzzle me.

I don't know what to do next.  I don't know if we should continue with adoption and risk continued heartbreak, or if we should take a break for a little while, or if we should try invitro fertilization...if I knew what was "right," I would do it.  I pray every night to know what to do, but unfortunately, God doesn't send me lightning bolts.  Sometimes I wish He did.  

I guess instead He sent me this scripture, which I love: 

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (D&C 122:7).

This verse reminds me of this beautiful song; I listened to it today and cried a little.

Whether or not God intends for us to have these difficult experiences, I don't know; but I do know that He can use them for our good (Romans 8:28).

I am confident that Ryan and I will eventually get a baby.  I know that this long period of “night” will end, and we will experience “joy as exceeding as was [our] pain.”  In the mean time, it is really hard—but we are “hold[ing] on [our] way” and praying that God will be with us. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011


It all started with an ectopic pregnancy last January.

After a few months of fertility treatments, I was thrilled to get the news that I was pregnant.  I was visiting my sister in St. Louis when I got the phone call with my blood test results.  Of course, we let ourselves get too excited too soon.  We went out and bought a maternity shirt and journal.  We giggled and planned and talked about baby names.

But then I got another phone call.

“Hi, Rachel.  This is Dr. S’s office again.  We are looking at your blood work, and there’s something a little alarming going on with the numbers.  We’d like you to come to the office right away when you get back in town.  And in the mean time, if you feel any sharp pains, go straight to the emergency room.”


When I got back to New York, I spent the next week going to the doctor every day.  Each day, they would take blood and give me an internal ultrasound to try to determine whether or not the pregnancy was in my fallopian tube.  Each day, the prognosis changed.  One day it was, “Actually everything looks good, but come back tomorrow, just in case,” so I would go home and rejoice.  But then the following day, it would be, “Uh oh…things aren’t looking too good; if this pregnancy ruptures your tube, you could die of internal bleeding,”  so I would go home and cry.  This went on for days—I blocked out exactly how many—back and forth, up and down, hope and tears—until I found myself sobbing on an examination table in the doctor’s office, my dreams of an October baby dissolving with two shots of methotrexate.


It happened again in September—not exactly the same way but with many of the same emotions.

I got the first email at school through our adoption website.  When I read the words, my heart jumped, and I ran next door to tell my favorite colleague.  “Dear Rachel and Ryan, My niece passed away over a year ago and she had a little baby girl.  It is time for her to find her new parents and I have looked at your profile 20 times.  I would really like to speak with you and get to know you better. Please contact when you can…”

We exchanged emails for weeks—meaningful, memorable, Spirit-filled emails.  She sent photos, told us stories about the baby, said she’d been searching for the right couple for almost a year before she found our profile.  I fell in love with the beautiful blondie, smiling with her hot pink cupcakes on her second birthday.  We told our families and our closest friends, and everyone couldn’t wait; it was just a matter of time before this little girl was going to be part of our family forever.

But then her great-aunt stopped communicating with us.

The emails, which had come consistently almost every day, just stopped coming.  As the days ticked by, I grew more and more anxious.  I checked my email every five minutes; I wondered if I should be worried; I checked my email again; I knew something was wrong.  I cried; I questioned God; I wondered why I had felt so good about this—had felt such a burning confirmation—when it was only going to lead me to heartbreak.  I told God that I have always tried to be obedient, I have always done my best, and couldn’t He just help this to work out?

He couldn’t.  Or He didn’t.  Or He allowed someone to make a different choice.


It happened again in December.

Ryan read her email to me as I drove home from school.  She was 36 weeks pregnant—36!—and she was sure that she had chosen us to adopt her daughter.  Excited but now careful, we only told a few friends and family.  We talked to her the next day on the phone, and two days later, we drove seven hours to meet her.  She was wonderful.  We went to the Olive Garden and chatted over fettuccine alfredo.  Her parents had hot cocoa and apple torte waiting for us when we got back to their house, and we all sat around talking about adoption and God’s plan for us.

But then we talked to an adoption lawyer.

We knew her situation was complex due to a birth father in jail, but it turned out to be so much scarier and more complicated than any of us had bargained for.  We talked through every option.  We prayed and worried and questioned.  I lay awake, staring at the ceiling and thinking.  I didn’t cry—I was too tired for that.  In the end, the New York state laws made it impossible to move forward, so she chose an adoptive couple in another state, and I folded up the little orange peacoat that my sister gave me as an early Christmas present and put it in the closet.


It happened again last night.

We got her first email just before Christmas.  We didn’t let ourselves get too invested—we didn’t even tell our families.  But as the weeks passed, I started to allow myself to get hopeful: she told me about her mom, who had also passed away when she was young; we talked on the phone and laughed and discussed life as if we were old friends; she said this felt as if it was “meant to be.”  Between her emails and phone calls, I worried.  When she didn’t write for a week, I thought she had surely changed her mind.  But when we talked again, she said that she was certain.  She said that she wanted us to be the first to hold the baby when he/she came into the world; she asked us what names we had picked out; we hung up the phone thanking her profusely for trusting us to love her little baby, who was due in only three weeks.

But the next day—the very next day—we got a call from our social worker.

I was sitting in the back office of a friend’s apartment when I heard the news: She had picked someone else.  In the less than 24 hours since we had talked to her, a couple whom she had communicated with previously contacted her and said that they wanted the baby.  And she decided on them. 

I put my head on the desk and wept.  I asked myself why she hadn’t told us that there was another couple.  I asked myself if I will ever be able to feel excited about a pregnancy or an adoption possibility again.  I asked myself why it is so difficult to decipher God's will for my life.

I pulled myself together in the bathroom—splashed water on my face, waited for the red swelling to subside.   I came out and chatted with our friends like nothing was wrong.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to relive the entire story and answer all the questions.  I didn’t want to hear them say what everyone says: “It will all work out,” or “Just have faith—it’s all in the Lord’s hands,” or “It will happen when it’s supposed to.”  As true as those words may be, they aren’t helpful.  Those words trivialize the pain that I am feeling now, in this moment.  Those words make me feel so alone.

Eventually, I couldn’t hold back the tears.  With my head on Ryan’s shoulder, I told them everything.  They skipped the well-meaning platitudes and said just what I needed to hear:

We're sorry.

This must be so difficult for you.

This isn’t fair.

We love you.

We're praying for you.

Ryan and I went home and lay on our bed in a stupor.  We didn’t cry anymore. 

When a heart gets broken, does it feel numb and empty?  Because that’s the only way I can think to describe how I feel today.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nelda, this post is for you! (It's long, and it's long overdue.)

Dear Nelda,

I got your letter this week and couldn't wait to tear it open.  The drawings on the envelope were especially fun, and there is nothing that I love more than receiving unexpected mail--especially from someone as delightful as you!

I will write you back soon (I promise!) but something that you said jumped out at me, and I decided that it needed to be remedied right away.  You said, "You haven't blogged as much about your students this year as you have in past years...probably because there are other pressing things to write about.  I hope you have some good ones."

Yes, Nelda--I have some good students.  In fact, I think this year might be my favorite bunch of kids yet.   Now that I think about it, this year might be my favorite overall teaching experience yet.  So it's high time I blogged about it, don't you think?

Here you go:

#1 Reason Why I Really Love My Job This Year...

     I am "job-sharing."  One of my good friends at work had a baby last spring, and she didn't want to go back to teaching full-time, but she also didn't want to quit altogether.  She knew that last school year was way way too busy for me with school, fertility stuff, church responsibilities, my work for the Hogar, she suggested that we ask our administrators if we could share a position for one year.  They agreed!  So Danielle teaches two classes (from 7:15-10:00), and I teach three classes (from 10:15-1:50).  It is heavenly.  I'm not very good at math, but I think these equations explain why I love job-sharing so much:

Fewer classes=fewer students=fewer papers to grade=happier Rachel=better teacher

Later start time=a little more sleep=a little more time to get stuff done in the morning=lower stress levels=happier Rachel

Honestly, I love it.  I still stay late at school every day (long after the other teachers have vacated the building), but I don't mind because I'm better rested and I'm happier and I'm not stretched so thin and I feel like I can actually be a good teacher and give the feedback and attention that my students deserve.  

For example, I actually had time last night to call the parents of all of my students who are currently failing.  I love reaching out to the kids who are used to slipping through the cracks--but it was impossible to do that when I had 200 students (I really did when I taught in was crazy).

#2 Reason Why I Really Love My Job This Year...

     I am teaching a new grade level.  Well, it's actually not totally new to me (I taught it several years ago), but I had been teaching basically the same schedule for four years, and though I had developed a great curriculum, it was boooorrrringg to teach the same thing every year--sometimes as often as four times a day!  (I had four sections of English 11 the past two years.)  One of the administration's conditions of our job-share was that Danielle and I had to share her schedule, not mine, because she needed to stay with the Honors classes.  At first, I wasn't too happy about this.  I thought, I decided to job-share because I wanted to lighten my, I won't be able to use any of my old lesson plans, and I'll be just as busy and stressed.  But I was wrong.  I think my brain thrives on a challenge, and though it has been work to create new plans for a new grade-level, it has been fun, invigorating, refreshing work.

Right now we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which just happens to be my favorite book in the entire world.

The last chapter gives me goosebumps and makes a tear come to my eye every time I read it.  Scout standing on Boo Radley's porch...oh it's just too much.

One of my favorite passages from all of literature is on the last page of the novel.  Scout is fighting sleep as her father, Atticus, tucks her into bed.  She is trying to explain the end of her bedtime story, to prove that she was really listening: 

"'Yeah, and they all thought it was Stoner's Boy messin' up their clubhouse and throwin' ink all over it and...and they chased him n' never could catch him 'cause they didn't know what he looked like, and Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things...Atticus, he was real nice.'

His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.

'Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.'"

As usual, Atticus manages to weave a memorable life lesson into an everyday interaction with his daughter.  (Love that man.)  I have reflected again and again on what Atticus says, "Most people are [real nice]...once you finally see them," and I couldn't agree more.

Which leads me back to those parent phone calls I made last night.

Now, in the past, you may have heard me rant about the ridiculous parents that I have to deal with in this profession...and it's true, some of them are ridiculous.  (Like the father who tried to tell me that it was a "coincidence" that his daughter's four-page essay was word-for-word identical to Spark Notes.)

Buuuutt, I think what Atticus says is true of students' parents too, and most of them are "real nice" once you give them a call. 

Last night, I talked to one mom who adopted her son just a few years ago.  She had been his social worker since he was six, and she had seen him bounced from family to family due to his extreme behavior problems, and she finally said, "Enough is enough--you're coming to live with me!"  Now that he is in a stable environment with a mom and dad who care about him, he is recovering emotionally and socially...he still has a long way to go academically, but we are working with him, and he'll get there.  I got off the phone feeling so inspired by this mother.

And then I spoke to the father of another young man in my class.  English is his second language--his family moved here from a different country just a couple of years ago.  The father must be the jolliest man on the planet.  When I told him that I was his son's English teacher, he said in an exuberant voice and a thick accent, "Oh yes!  I remember your speech!"  At first I was quite confused, but then I realized that he must be referring to my presentation of the course at Back-to-School Night.  Ha!  He made me smile.  When I told him his son's grade, he said, "Oh that very bad.  Very bad.  He come see you tomorrow."  Which he did!  I love when parents get their kids moving in the right direction.

Good students, good schedule, good books, good's been a good year, Nelda.  A very good year.  Thank you for the letter and for the Kinder Bueno and for being my friend.

Rachel  (AKA "Mrs. Nielson")

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


"I was nominated for a class award," Ryan just suddenly announced.

"Really?" I responded, looking up from my computer.  Pride began to swell in my chest.  Of course, I was assuming that he was nominated for something like "The Hottest" or "Looks Best in a Dress" or "Prince Charming."

But I should've known.

"I'm nominated for The Quietest," he said, a hint of amusement in his voice, "along with two Asian students who don't speak English.  In fact, I've never heard either of them say a single word."

Laughing, we went to the online ballot page.

Get this: Sixty-five percent of the class has already voted--

and Ryan is winning.

P.S.  I was always attracted to the quiet ones.  They are the most intriguing.  No wonder he was the Secret Crush of Highland High School.  I bet if UB Dental School had that category, Ryan would win.  I would vote for him.