Thursday, January 30, 2014

Breaking Down the Walls

Before Winter Break, an email came out from a colleague about a new program being brought to our school. It would be a one-day event, called Breaking Down the Walls, intended to help kids see the walls they put up based on cliques, stereotypes, etc. Faculty volunteers were wanted, so I put my name down, thinking, "Why not?" I figured it might be a nice way to make myself more known on campus, to help grow my program.

I knew, going in, that it would be a fun day, and a day of learning about the kids around me, but I honestly had no idea just how profound the experience would end up being.

The morning started off with a lot of laughter, as silly games and funny sharing exercises were employed. I lost track of how many kids I told, "I'm Ms. Cooper, and I was born in Omaha, Nebraska!" I told a few more about my childhood--my older brother and I watching Snoopy cartoons together, growing up in Rancho Cordova, then Folsom. We walked in two big circles, high-fiving those we passed.

Mid-morning, the kids were all divided into pre-assigned groups of 8-10, with student leaders to direct the activities. Teachers had been told to simply find a group, one where we don't know the kids, and to sit in. Participate, do the activities, but don't lead. Perhaps encourage, but really, just be part of the group. Let the student leaders do it. So for me, it was just a chance to be a human being. We started with silly group games involving holding straws between our fingertips while moving around in the circle (difficult!) and answering some random, deep questions.

After lunch, however, it became more serious. The whole group lined up on one side of the gym for a session of "Cross the Line." Some were easy. "Cross the line if you're left-handed." Some were not. "Cross the line if one of your parents is deceased."

"Cross the line if you don't feel safe at home."

"Cross the line if you've been bullied for how you look."

It was incredible to see teachers and students crossing the line, admitting to fears, anxieties, hardships. Tears were shed. But even more amazing was to see what happened as kids crossed the line together. Two boys clapping each other on the shoulders or softly fist-bumping in solidarity as they realized they both had lost siblings to death. Girls who have probably never spoken to each other offering hugs as tears fell down.

After "Cross the Line," we reconvened with our small groups to talk about a line-crossing that was difficult for us to make. Many of us still had tears. I had tears in my eyes as I told my own story--how hard it was for me to cross that line at, "Cross the line if you're good-looking."

"I think many of us felt it was a bit of a joke," I told them. "But you see, just a few short years ago--when I was well into my thirties--was when I finally felt like I am worthy enough of saying, 'Yes, I am good-looking.'" I told them I worked long and hard to feel that way about myself, making huge lifestyle changes to make myself stronger and healthier...and how I know--I really, truly know--that each and every one of them, every morning, gets up and compares the image in the mirror to society's expectations of what we're "supposed" to look like. Heads were nodding.

"I hope all of you learn much sooner than I did, that you are good-looking because of what you are, inside and out."

Finally, we all came back to the bleachers to share as a whole group. One of the kids from the group I'd participated in stood up to make a simple, heartfelt plea: that today not be a one-day thing, the only day that people are nice to him.

Our facilitator, Phil, asked him what people do to make him feel bad.

"Not so much, anymore. They just ignore me."

This young man has a slight speech impediment. He's shy and perhaps a bit awkward. And yet, he showed tremendous courage in standing up and asking everyone there to not forget about him after Breaking Down the Walls is just a memory of something awesome we did in January.

The last activity of the day was to write short notes on sticker labels, to hand out to people. Of course I gave some to kids in my group, and some to choir kids who were there. But I also gave one to a girl I didn't interact with at all in the day, a young woman who reminded me so much in fashion, hair and an uncanny facial resemblance of Ally Sheedy in "The Breakfast Club." I noticed she had crossed the line when we were asked who had been bullied for their clothing choices--and here I thought she looked adorable in her outfit! My note to her read, "I was surprised that you crossed the line when asked about fashion/bullying. I love your style!" Maybe, hopefully, it will mean something to her.

The last couple of weeks have been hectic for me--a little bit of madness building up. I felt some guilt at leaving my class today to participate in Breaking Down the Walls, but now, I don't. It was an important day, and a crucial conversation. I interacted with kids who may well end up in choir at some point...or may not. But they will know me, remember me. I feel like it was a huge step in becoming part of the school's culture, even more so than dancing with the other teachers at a pep rally, or hanging out at a football game.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Wall

Over the last few years, I've become a runner.

At first, it was being forced into running a mile-and-a-half by G. the Meanie, no walking, no stopping. I truly hated him in that moment. I had never run more than maybe half a mile in my life, I simply loathed the whole process.

I realized I had a wall to break through, one involving shin splints and motivation. I just had to get out there and run, in order for my legs to take to doing it regularly without screaming from the effort. And somehow, somewhere along the line, I just got there. I could run without wanting to cut my legs off.

In the last six months, my running has suffered as I've gotten used to a new schedule with my job. My gym visits have remained consistent, but getting up early on a Tuesday, after I've been out late the night before for choir, is not always my idea of fun. There are always ten thousand things I need to do at school, so the run doesn't happen, and later, I go to the gym and hop on a bike. That's not necessarily a horrible thing, at least I'm getting some good cardio, but it's not idea. I need to run three days a week to stay on top of my game.

The last few weeks, I've been getting that consistency back, slowly but surely. Today, and last week, I've made a point of making myself run, even if I get to work a little later than usual (I'm always there at least an hour before my class starts, sometimes more). And though I'm tired from a late Monday, and though it's hard to push myself out the front door, I find that once I start, that planned mile-and-a-half run becomes three miles--just like that.

No walking, no stopping. Just a steady pace and measured breathing.

Running feels good these days--oh, not like a massage, but just healthy. Sometimes my legs creak and groan a little (I have tight hamstrings today from yesterday's gym routine) and sometimes my ribs cramp up a bit (cold, not focusing on breath enough). But mostly, it just goes.

Three miles this morning. Four on Sunday. It seems like a long way for me, but I'm gradually increasing my distance. My goal is not a marathon or even a half--maybe a 10K, but for now I'm happy to focus on that sub-thirty 5K time. I know I can get it soon.

As I look back on how I've become a runner over the last four years, I see the walls I've busted through, and I'm proud.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

We Are Teachers

I saw this (12 Things You Should Never Say to Teachers) on Facebook this morning, and had to share it with my friends because, well, it resonated. I have had a parent try #8 on me, trying to get me to go lightly on her very rude son's behavior. It didn't work.

And it is true, I get a lot of people who make remarks--without intending to, I'm sure--that almost belittle the profession.

"I could never do that!" (Yes, I know.)

"You must have so much patience!" (Actually no. I get frustrated. I get angry. I just know how to control myself in public. You know, like a grown-up.)

"Well, at least you get a summer vacation!" (Yes, but just because I don't have kids in there doesn't mean I don't spend time in my classroom...oh, and I don't get paid for those months.)

But in the long run, my career is absolutely worth it, especially these days. I've landed at a great school, I fit in there, and I am making good things happen so far. There's room for a lot of growth and improvement, and I have the willingness to go for it.

What makes it worth it? So many things.

It's working with another kid who is going through substantial difficulties with his sense of who he is (and a divorce at home, to boot) and knowing that choir is a safe place for him, that he knows he's appreciated, respected, and liked. It's him giving me a hug at the choir Christmas party and saying, "I signed up for another semester."

It's writing a letter of recommendation for a girl who will be flying the GB nest soon, knowing she's on to amazing adventures and that her time in my choir will have only given her good.

It's the seeing the nerves melt away and the pride and satisfaction take over on my kids' faces when they know they've had a great performance.

It's sitting down at the piano to warm up 24 singers and hearing a happy, healthy singing sound rush over me as they get going.

It's watching a student who has been let down by all of the adults in her life who were supposed to be there for her flounder on stage...and then be that adult who gets in her face as she cries and says, "You overcame your mistake and sang that song so beautifully...and right now I am so very proud of you."

Yesterday, I attended the Folsom Jazz Festival--the 25th! How time flies. It was my parents and a core group of their Band Booster friends who took that festival from a half day with maybe 20 groups to what it is now--a twelve-hour day filled with jazz music from high schools, middle schools and elementary schools from all over California. I heard a middle school group yesterday that rivals most high schools, and it was glorious. The arts are alive in California; no budget cuts can keep us down for long.

In all of the hubbub, I managed to get a quick moment to say hello to Mr. Gaesser, the man in charge of Folsom's music program, and the man who inspired me all through high school. Four years of marching band, one year of jazz choir, two years of being his go-to babysitter for his three adorable children. We're "friends" on Facebook these days, and he knows I've been teaching music all these years, but it's not often that I actually get a chance to see him or talk to him (I need to go observe him teaching).

At first he did a double-take. The last time he saw me I was well over 200 pounds and I know I look a lot different now. Then a big smile split his face, and his arms went wide for a hug. He was bustling around, trying to make sure his jazz kids were all in place for their various performances, but he took a moment to ask how I am. "The job is going well?"

"Very well, I just love it at GB," I told him.

He said it was good to see me, and then he paused.

"Life is good?"

I smiled at him, and nodded. "Life is very good."

"I'm glad." And then he was off, chasing down students and running a jazz festival. I was left with a huge smile on my face. It doesn't matter how long you're out of high school...your music teacher is always special. This one, in particular, was a huge influence.

This is why we teach. Not to create Mozarts (I'd argue that you can't create a Mozart, a Mozart is born and you can only give him or her the tools to create and let them fly). We teach because it builds kids up to have music, to have that safe place. Because nearly 20 years after high school graduation has come and gone, that kid still keeps the lessons the teacher gave them, still has the memories of how great it felt to belong to something so special.

A few minutes ago, a message popped up on Facebook. It was simple, and to the point.

"It was great to see you yesterday. I'm proud of you."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Week in Instagram (Week #62)

It was a busy week (again) but I managed to get a few fun pics, especially today.


Sigh. I don't want to talk about it. : (

Before the big game, I dropped Mom and Dad off to catch
a bus to San Francisco, where they'd depart on a cruise
ship to Hawaii.

Cuties are SO GOOD this time of year.

That's mah boy.

Adorable new contact lenses case.

I made some cards for my Etsy shop using pics I've taken
at various California missions.

Pumpkin Butternut Squash quiche. Yes, it's marvelous.


Keeping track of my water, and drinking tons of it, like a
good girl.

Found this in my library. Don is, of course, the director of
Sac Choral. 

Ducky lip gloss.

"Whatcha doin', Mommy? Can I help? Will you cuddle
me? Why are you busy? What is so important?" 

Getting any work done when Millie decides it is time for
cuddles is...impossible.

Not particularly a fan of junk mail.

I needed a song for my guys. We went through the library
together and found this. Unanimous vote: YES. With
fake mustaches, because of course.

Currently reading. 

This is my, "It's Friday!!" face. 

I've done alright. Plugging along slowly, retaining water.

Taking care of Dad's plant. He told me, "Take care of him!"
before leaving. I said, "Him?" "Yes, him."

I got up really early on a Saturday to attend this. 

My colleague, Lynn, and her jazz band. 

Our school's combo.

I'm glad FHS named the theater after Ms. Solberg. She was
a terrific principal, and huge supporter of the music
program. She died a few years back. 

I was ready to head home, but I'm glad I stayed to see this
group, The Commanders, based out of Travis AFB. They
were awesome.

Getting ready to go for a noon concert. Packed house.

Mr. high school music teacher. I saw him earlier
this morning. He stopped, did a double-take (I've lost 90
pounds, after all) and gave me a big smile and a big hug.
"Life is good?" " is good." 

I'm glad I went to the jazz festival; it's a great event and hearing the Air Force group was a treat. It was good to see Mr. Gaesser, and Lynn thanked me for supporting her kids. Hey, I got some great music out of it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I'm a few weeks into Semester 2 now, and the honeymoon is over.

Oh, it's all good. I still absolutely love working at GB and know I can do some really good things there. But January is always good for showing the little flaws, and this month, I've noticed I'm a little bit less patient with the little behaviors. I'm a little less willing to sit through a two-hour booster meeting where two factions of parents start arguing over field trip transportation. I mediate the best I can, I diplomatically let everyone have their say, and then I let them decide, because the Booster money is for them to allocate, not me (I have a student body account I'm in charge of).

I have a couple of students this semester who seem to think they'll ride out my class for an easy A...well, won't they be surprised when they find that I do, yes I do actually mark down when you're not participating. I have a little grade sheet I use and a little coding system: T for talking, P for having the phone out, NP for not participating, etc. etc. I'll be having a little chat with the biggest offenders. It will either work or it won't.

Compared to my experiences at DV eight years ago (eight years!!), this is a cakewalk. Please do not think I'm complaining--I'm doing what all teachers do, which is sighing and eye-rolling over the "teen stuff" that can crop up in this job, and doing what I can to curb it.

The school is still a great place to work. Last week, my boss told me, "You are a fit here." I fit into the school culture.

But yes, the starry-eyed honeymoon phase is past me, and that's actually a very good thing. It keeps me on my toes, makes me work harder. It makes me grow, even more, as a teacher.

I fit, and I want to stay.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pumpkin Butternut Quiche

I promised my friend Erik I'd share the recipe, you go, Erik!

For starters, I used a quiche recipe I've been using for years:

3/4 cup Bisquick
1 1/2 cup milk
3 eggs

You can modify the mount of milk and Bisquick you use, but this time I used these values, only I used Silk instead of cow's milk.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. I use Pam on the pie plate to prevent sticking.

From there you can add anything to quiche--the possibilities are endless. For this one, I chopped up some butternut squash into thin slices, and added them to the pie plate with some chopped onion. For the batter, I mixed the Bisquick, Silk and eggs, then added a can of pumpkin, a dash of nutmeg, and a little bit of curry powder (this is optional, and obviously to taste).

I used an electric hand mixer to beat everything together, poured it over the squash and onions, then baked it for 45 minutes. Voila! An easy, healthy meal. And delicious.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Say What?

It's a day off, so I have some time to sit here at home. I could be out being adventurous, but I had a good workout this morning, weighed in (down a pound!) and came home to shower. I'm happy to sit here. I have a lot of writing I want to do, and I just haven't had the time or energy to blog a lot lately.

Anyway, I logged into my OkCupid account and saw I had a new message. One in which the guy asks me why I'm not teaching right now (I suppose not everyone pays attention to federal holidays), followed by, and this is quoted:

Ps. I dont like your mosquitos so many in lincoln lol

Right, sorry about that, dude. I'll get on that. Maybe bathe more.

Oh, I get it. He doesn't mean to insult, but I'm still left with this, "What do I even say?!" resounding in my head that leaves me not wanting to respond.

Just like I didn't respond to the guy who had this to say when I told him I identify as a feminist:

Well, in my eye's all humans are equal. Its our individual actions that make us believe were more or less than others. 

Labels are just another way of creating seperation.

Gah. Yeah, women get paid less because we think we are less than men. Try again, dude. This conversation came up because he had bragged to me about running a 5K for breast cancer awareness:

Lol, im trying to break the 20 minute mark. My last 5k was 20:54 oct for breast cancer awareness. Doing my part to save bewbs.

I simply responded, "Or, you know, the women behind the bewbs."

In my profile, I describe "what others first notice about you" in three simple words: "Short and shapely." It's true. I'm 5'2" and I have hips that don't lie, or whatever. Junk in the trunk. I am curvy.

And again, I know that the guy from this next message didn't mean to say that this is a bad thing in general, but wording, people, wording!

You are shapely but it suits you. Your very pretty. Im josh

Yes, it suits me because it's how the universe made me. And can you, you know, find something else to approach me with? Like, "Oh hey, I'm a 49ers fan, too!" or "Hey, what instrument do you play?" Works for other guys.

It's not all bad, this online dating thing. I've had a couple of enjoyable dates recently. They haven't led to much, though one says he wants to see me he disappears for a week without any contact and leaves it entirely to me to arrange something else. I'm quickly losing patience.

There's two nice-seeming guys who want to see me and we've got some tentative plans to meet for drinks or coffee this week, so that's good. Still, I feel like I'm putting a lot of effort into making it happen, with little input from them. While other women get the overly aggressive creeps (and believe me, I'm happy I'm not getting as much of that this time around), I seem to be attracting the guys who want to meet me but have absolutely no clue how to proceed with making it happen.

It doesn't help that there's a That Boy in my life. Oh, That Boy. I like him, admire him, so much, but beyond a lovely friendship, there seems to be nothing there. Oh, we laugh, we flirt...and I know he watches me. Well-meaning friends tell me, "Oh, ask him to coffee already!" but I'm not quite ready to face that he could very well say no, and then I'd have to see him several times a week with both of us feeling uncomfortable. Maybe he feels that way, too. Afraid to try. Maybe he still has a girlfriend (though he spends major holidays on his own so who bloody knows?). It's so hard to say, and my chances to truly talk with him are so limited.

So there you are. My love life in a nutshell. I let myself get distracted last year by a pretty great guy, but there was nothing there, on his side, so back to That Boy I went. I never really left him, truth be told. And I try meeting new guys, going on dates, giving them chances, as well-meaning friends tell me to do, because I get it, I know. That's what you're supposed to do when you're a woman on the dating market who respects herself, etc. etc.

Even if, every time you see That Boy, you think, "Why the hell not?!"

Still, I believe in hope. I've heard of friendships that had to steep, like tea, before they were romances. I can live my life--working, dating, cultivating my friendships and my interests--even while maintaining some hope in that part of me that sees so much good in That Boy.

Stay tuned. I'm feeling reflective and maudlin today. Maybe one of these new guys will shake things up a little.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


So, I'm a couple weeks into having my laptop, and I can't believe how quickly I've taken to it.

I have a Dell Inspiron with a 17" screen (love!) and it's so much faster than my 7-year-old desktop...which goes without saying. I'm very happy with the various features, and I've even gotten used to the flat biggest reason for holding out on a laptop for so long was the whole "flat keyboard' thing. Actually, I type just as fast on it as I did the old one, with the same amount of mistakes and back spaces. ; )

I bought a case on Amazon, but of course it was the wrong size, so I'm sending it back and finding a new one. 'Til then, I won't take the laptop out. I mostly just use it on my desk, but it's nice to be able to take it in the living room and watch the 49ers with Mom, and still keep up with Twitter much faster than is possible on an iPhone.

I laugh at myself because I was convinced I'd need at least a month to complete the switch from desktop to laptop. I figured I'd have to slowly move files over, slowly get used to using the laptop. Nope. I did it all in a weekend. Before I knew it, I wasn't even booting up the desktop for days on end, so last weekend I moved it out of my room, eliminating a TON of cords and mess.

So Meg the Technophobe is moving up in the world. I have an iPhone (it's so smart!), a Kindle Fire, a laptop. Next thing you know, I'll get a car with a fancy radio system. But that's for later, because for now, RoPro and I are doing just fine.

My Week in Instagram (Week #61)

It was a very busy week, and picture-taking just wasn't Priority Numero Uno...but I did take at least one every day!


Took this fascinating shot while foam rolling in the living
room before my run.

Bella and Duchess hangin' out.

Millie being a nuisance.

Mom and I love this commercial. : )
I don't believe in boring socks. 
Unless they're for running.

The fabric behind my computer.

I had a glorious Monday afternoon cuddle with Millie
before going back to school for Back To School Night.

I signed a postcard to my brother and liked how it looked.


Warm up list for the day's lesson.

Every day, I arrive to a clean desk. I make a huge mess.
I clean it up, and leave. Stuff actually gets done.

70 ounces a day. Oy.

On Wednesday, I thought to myself, "Why do I have TI's
if I don't, you know, give them stuff to do?" TI is a Teacher
Intern, or assistant.

Happy Water Drinker. Ha.
It was nearly the end of the day before I realized I hadn't
taken any pics. So here's the method book I teach piano
lessons with.

School Spirit on Friday

I lost my health insurance in May 2010. This month, I got
new, because I can finally afford to buy it on the market.
My card arrived this week.

Bright and early on a Saturday morning, there's Millie,
begging for attention.

I went to Target with Mom and Dad because my life is
just that exciting.

A few shots of downtown Lincoln while we were out.

And that's it. Maybe this week will be a bit more picture-worthy. This last week was fine, just very busy and exhausting!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Oh, don't worry, this isn't some dramatic post. I mean, yeah, I'm overwhelmed at work this week (if anyone hands me another paper I have to fill out, get approved, submit to thirteen different people, or whatever, I will scream), and I really love that we have a three-day weekend coming.

The  job is going very well, I'm just tired this week from a wee bit less sleep than I ought to get and a wee bit longer days than normal. It adds up to make me cranky.

But the "drowning" I refer to in the title of this post has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with my latest adventure. I've signed up for a Weight Loss/Healthy Lifestyle Challenge at work (cash prize!) and one of the daily goals is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water. I currently weigh about 140, so 70 ounces it is.

Do you know how much water that is? It's a lot of water.

A lot.

No, seriously.

It's a lot.

It's enough water to keep me from crying in frustration and grabbing the nearest pack of M&Ms, and it's enough water to keep me in and out of the Ladies' to the point where my coworkers might start thinking I've got some bad habits. No, I just have a tiny bladder and 70 ounces of water to get through today.

So. Much. Water.

I've got about 10 pounds to lose, 12-15 if my body will let me, and eight weeks to do it. Eight weeks of all that water, making it a habit to basically swim every day. I count my tea, too, because I'm not giving up on tea.

I'm not terribly excited to weigh 140 (143, to be exact, on Monday), even though my Goal Weight (130) clothes still fit and I know I'm in excellent physical shape (hello, 30:43 5K last month). So I joined the challenge to kick my butt back into gear--the holidays were a pure sweet-eating frenzy, and I'm ready to get my good habits back in gear so I can feel good. I honestly feel worse when I'm eating like crap.

Yesterday, I mentioned the challenge to my friend Matt, who just grinned at me and said, "You're going to win."

Yup! Come hell or high...water.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Week in Instagram (Week #60)

I didn't do a Week in Instagram post last week, because I had embedded all of the (many) Instagram pics I'd taken into my posts about my San Diego trip.

This week was slower for picture-taking. Back to work, busy as usual, having fun, etc.


Millie approves of my new laptop.

But she doesn't care much for football (or that it takes my
attention away from her!).

"Smile!" "No." "C'mon Mill, you wanted attention." "This
is just embarrassing." Conversations with my cat.

I can definitely get used to live-streaming "How I Met
Your Mother" on the laptop.

Had some fun with an iPhone app and my SoCal pics.

Monday was a teacher day, so I spent some time reconfiguring
my room...and it looks SO different without the choir
risers (on loan to the drama teacher for a month).

My friend Amanda's daughter gave me this when I was in
Bakersfield. It looks GREAT on my office wall.

Back to SCSO! We started two new pieces, the Stabat
Mater and Mendelssohn's "Lobsegang."

A successful first day back! By Friday, I had 24 students
enrolled in choir. Growth!

I'm back to drinking smoothies. They're such an easy way
to keep myself energized through the day. I call this one
"Green Sludge." It's strawberry/spinach.

I put some Valentine's geegaws on my desk. 

A pretty sunset on a busy Wednesday.

From a student. So much deliciousness.

Currently reading. (Good, but I LOVE Bill Bryson's later
similar book even more.)


Friday, I simply forgot to take pics until dessert time
rolled around. It wasn't a particularly hectic day, just gym,
teaching, coffee date, then home. I just forgot.


Out with the old, in with the new!

To make the laptop fit, I took out the shelf the old monitor
used to sit on, then hung some pretty fabric to hide the TV

And that was it. Another good week, and hopefully I'll be less forgetful about taking pics this week!