Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Pioneer Woman of Springdale, Arkansas

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house, 
not a creature was stirring... 

Except my Grandmother.

Prepping potatoes, baking cakes, 
wrapping presents, and refusing a break. 
When what to my wondering eye should appear,
but an 87-year-old woman with unyielding cheer. 

She still retrieves local pies before every Thanksgiving. She insists on cooking an enormous meal for every Christmas dinner. And for every birthday, you get her famous chocolate sheet cake: from scratch. She is, in a sense, your basic southern housewife. She cooks, she cleans, and she keeps up with everyone in town. Quite the little socialite of her time, she still embarks on monthly lunches with her girlfriends to catch up on the gossip and celebrations that each woman's family has shared since the last time they visited. She's right in the middle of everyone's lives, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

I was raised at my grandparents' house when I was a little girl. Not that my parents weren't present or loving because they were, but they both worked full time. My mom prepared instant mashed potatoes for dinner every night because she didn't have time for the real deal. After all, boxed dinners were a staple because they freed the modern woman from the kitchen. My family also hired a service to clean the house and mow the lawn because no one had the time, nor the energy, to do so. My grandmother was in her late 70's before she ever considered such a ridiculous suggestion, and she still follows the poor maid around to make sure she's cleaning to her standards. Oh, and she certainly doesn't believe in boxed dinners. She was probably 65 before she even knew what take-out was.

But as funny as her stubborn soul is, if I'm being completely honest: she's the sole reason I know how to do much of anything. I was three when I learned the correct way to dust a wooden coffee table. I stood on a chair over a pot of boiling water at age five, learning how to fix oatmeal. Real oatmeal; none of that microwave stuff. I was frying bacon in a scorching skillet at my grandmother's before my mother even let me touch an electrical socket. My granddad might have taught me how to add and spell, but my grandmother taught me how to function. She taught me how to live. She taught me how to be a woman.

And let's be clear: she was anything but a simple, submissive southern lady.

My grandmother was the original pioneer woman. While she didn't grow up on the streets, she certainly wasn't wealthy. She received no college education, and worked for minimal salary to support herself before marrying a 22-year-old WWII veteran. After becoming a family woman, she fixed their dinners from scratch and cleaned their house by herself, also working full time at the local bank. She created a suitable and comfortable life for her family as only a young woman, and raised two headstrong daughters in a polite, educated manner so they wouldn't have to endure the same hardships she had come to know. She saved every penny, relished in little, and splurged on nothing for herself. When my mother graduated pharmacy school, Grandmother took a deep breath and said, "Thank goodness. Now I can finally go buy a new pair of underwear."

Growing up, my mom had little to no suspicion that her family wasn't rich, and most of that vision was due to my grandmother's ultimate positivity and determination. "We drove everywhere!" my mom recalled her childhood travels, "We hit the road at the crack of dawn every summer." She visited more places and explored more things than most kids her age. The Day Sisters always had enough food on the table, quality education, and rarely sacrificed anything at the mall. The two fashion-forward young women were always dressed to the nines in name-brand skirts and slingback shoes, just like their mother. Every Easter Sunday, her daughters were dressed in slips, dresses, gloves, hats, shiny shoes, and lace socks for every sunrise service. She led her little ducklings to the sunrise service only to lead them home and have them strip down for breakfast (because no young lady in training can eat in her finest linens) before redressing to return to the regular church service. "My God, we visited every amusement park in the world," my mom told me once, "and Mother always wore a dress and pantyhose." If that doesn't sum it up, I don't know what else could. That's probably why I have more taste than by budget cares to afford. I suppose the admiration for Tiffany jewels and Chanel fragrance runs in the family.

Nothing about her seemed to change once I was born, either. She rocked me to sleep in her lap as a baby, read with me as a toddler, and bought me enough clothes and toys to send me well into high school. She inspired my imagination to run rampant by engaging in more symbolic play with me than my parents did at home, and nourished quite a food critic as I sampled everything that came out of her metal stovetop pot. I was never bored at Grandmother's house.

I was never hungry either. Upon entering her house, you will be offered a coke six times (she has everything, we just call it all "coke" down south), a total of three or more cookies, and the option to turn on various lights and fans around the house to fit your comfort level. If I had a dollar for every hot dog, strip of bacon, chicken nugget, or bowl of mac and cheese I ate as a child, I could own a penthouse in New York City. Thank goodness my metabolism was high. I bet she worried every day I was going to be fat.

But as I look back on my childhood at my grandmother's house, it isn't the books, nor the toys, or even the food that define the memory. It's her heart. It's what makes her a woman.

The current generation has intensely reshaped our definition of beauty. Victoria's Secret models are the angels of our time rather than daughters of Christ. Starving, waxed, air-brushed models are seen as the most beautiful women, while models who look like real women are labeled "plus sized" models. In our society, beauty is slim. Beauty is athletic. Beauty is makeup and clothes and hairstyles. Beauty is pain, we tell our daughters, It pays to be beautiful. Beauty is only skin deep. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

No. Beauty is not pain, nor a price to be paid. It is much deeper than our skin (or our makeup), and is certainly not determined by someone else.

beauty: beau•ty 
(n) the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind and pleases the intellect or moral sense

That's a far cry from what we believe beauty is today. My grandmother knows makeup, hair, and clothes, but I always found her more beautiful when she was her basic self. When she was happily hosting, entertaining, and socializing. When she was cooking fried green tomatoes and sitting on her back porch to feel the breeze. My grandmother is undoubtedly outwardly beautiful, but more than that, she is an effortlessly captivating soul. She is not striving to be thin or rich or famous. She is not striving to be anything. She is naturally delightful and aesthetically selfless, which translates to her alluring charm.

My grandmother is unquestionably the most benevolent woman I have ever met. She will put you before herself whether she's known you for fifty years or five seconds. In her house, you always have a place to sleep, a table to eat at, and a conversation to establish new camaraderie. She can tell stories like no other: from when she was first married to the time she was robbed at gunpoint at the bank. Her wit is undeniable, her heart is unparalleled, and her soul is anything but tired. She has been a spark of altruistic love and joy throughout my life, reminding me what it really is to be a woman: a pure heart, a spirited soul, with a fiery passion. She is strong when others are weak. She remains determined when others have given up. And she is kind when others are not so generous. My grandmother didn't just teach me how to work, cook, and clean; she taught me how to love. She taught me how to laugh. She taught me how to live. Without her, I could not be half of who I am today. It is because of her example that I have even the slightest idea of the woman I could be. I aspire to be more and more like her with every day that passes, because in my eyes, she has always been the real Princess. She's always been the true Queen. She has fought for those she loved and the things she believed in while exuding an unyielding elegance of sophistication and grace.

She might be 87, but she is not old. Her heart and soul are actually quite young. I can only hope I will grow to have the same wrinkles from laughter, scars from determination, and adventure-filled memories to look back on for the rest of my life. I cannot express how thankful I am for my grandmother, and all the poise and persistence she has instilled within me. She is more than a grandmother. She is more than a mother, a teacher, or even a friend. She is an effortlessly beautiful pioneer woman, and she is an exquisite gift from God.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

So What's the Big Deal About Winterguard Anyway?

It's hard to imagine how one sport, particularly a sport no one seems to know anything about, could change a person's life. But it can. And don't try to tell me it's not a sport. 

Winterguard is known as the Sport of the Arts, and we know you probably haven't heard of it. Even Blake Lively, whose face was photoshopped onto a performer of the Pride of Cinncinati, called it a "dance troupe." Guard is not a dance troupe. It is a sport where thousands of scholastic and collegiate performers audition every year to spend an absorbent amount of money to acquire bruises, blood blisters, and one-shot performances. It is a season of endlessly long rehearsals, frustrated sectionals, early morning uniform checks, and cramped bus rides.

So we know what you're probably thinking. Why do people do it? 

We do it to be a part of something bigger. If we wanted a regular workout we'd hit the treadmill. If we wanted a regular sport we'd play basketball. If we wanted a regular performance, we would learn to play an instrument, act, or dance. Guard is something completely different. It is a team that devotes itself solely to the final product as a whole. Performers practice to better themselves individually so that they do not hold the group behind. Staff members dish out every bit of instruction they know with the hope of creating a production better than any judge or crowd has seen before. But guard is not just about rehearsing and performing. It's about memories. It's about inside jokes, nicknames, and traveling to new places. It's about decorating charter bus windows, big/little gift exchanges, team member performance bracelets, and so much more. It's about friendship. It's about tradition. It's about loyalty. It's about being a part of something that changes the lives of everyone in it.

We do it because it improves our resume. We are tough, determined, fiercely motivated powerballs who refuse to quit. The word "can't" is not in our vocabulary; if you tell us we can't, we turn around and say "watch me." We don't waste any time because we're used to not having any. We plan down to last detail because it's all we've ever known. We are not afraid to ask for help. We take instruction and criticism with ultimate grace. We are always working to be stronger. We set aside our personal drama for the benefit of the team. We know how important our job is, whether it's in the workforce or on the guard floor. If we give up, we don't just let ourselves down, we let others down, and we are simply unwilling to let that happen. Wouldn't you want a guard girl working for you?

We do it to know what it feels like to shine. Everyone knows what it's like to miserably fail, and hopefully everyone knows what it's like to feel happy. Hopefully everyone knows what it's like to be proud. But a strong performance with the people who helped you pour out your blood, sweat, and tears (literally!) can make you feel invincible. We all know what means to be confident, but a guard girl knows what it's like to shine. We have a drive within us that is unparalleled.

We do it because it makes us better people. On my first day of guard camp in high school, we were told by our technician, "Not everyone is capable of doing guard. It is a special activity designed for special people like you," and he couldn't be more right. Guard is a genuinely impressive, unique, and special activity designed for creative minds and talented athletes. There is a common saying describing guard that couldn't be more accurate: For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who don't, no explanation is possible. When you join, guard requires that you give up your individuality for the sake of the team, but when you leave, you emerge knowing more about yourself than you ever did before. It forces us to be organized and work harder than we did previously. It forces us to be mature. It forces us to be selfless. And we become better people because of it.

Missouri State University is home to three independent winterguard programs: 901 Performance Ensemble, National Avenue, and The Pride of Missouri State. "[Guard is important because it] is an opportunity for students to explore and develop skills in a performing art that requires physical strength and mental focus," John Sullivan, head director of the Missouri State winterguard programs says, "Through the activity, you learn life lessons like commitment, dedication, respect, camaraderie, and appreciation while learning technique of rifle, flag, sabre, and dance. Guard can be a means for performers to 'step out of their comfort zone' as they are suddenly meeting new people and trying new things. I have seen shy people suddenly blossom into outgoing individuals, and I have seen performers become more confident as a direct result of their achievements they experienced in guard."

I, personally, was one of those wallflower performers before my time here at Missouri State. The 2015 winterguard season really changed things for me, boosting my confidence as I and 20 other performers "stood in the rain" and gained the confidence to walk out of "foolish games."

Members of these groups compete in numerous competitions throughout the season. Their work and sacrifice is often overlooked by their university and their peers, but they refuse to quit. "Collegiate performers have to make sacrifices to be in guard, especially as they reach the latter years of their degree program," Sullivan says, "As classes advance in their degree program, the demands become more urgent and difficult. I am always thankful for those who make guard work with their academics."

Obviously, academics are the reason these performers are at Missouri State University in the first place. Every member on a Missouri State winterguard is a college student in pursuit of a degree and a career. We aren't just here to spin, though that might be what we often say. But academics aren't the only sacrifices we make to continue in the sport we love.

Like any performing art, winterguard is not cheap. Some performers work up to three jobs to fund the sport they love. Others skip collegiate events and spring break vacations to ensure they have enough money to spin their next season. But unfortunately, this is not always enough.

We are regular college kids in need of financial assistance. Our fees go toward flags, poles, tape, equipment, floor paint, costumes, makeup, hairpieces, etc. Guard is a very expensive activity, and every year we have talented individuals take seasons off because they do not have the money to compete. We don't want to deny any of our members a chance to compete, perform, and make memories with the rest of their team, but sometimes we don't have a choice. That's why we need your help.

We aren't asking for a miracle donation of thousands of dollars. We understand your budget is tight. Believe me, so is ours. All we ask is that you take a moment to consider donating what you can to give us what we want more than anything this season: security in knowing we will be able to afford our favorite activity. We are extremely thankful for any assistance you can give, whether it's $5 or $500, or simple moral support as an audience member. We would love to see you at our next competition.

Find us at various shows on the MCCGA and WGI circuits. Email taxistotsandpolkadots@gmail.com for more information. 

To help out members of the Pride of Missouri State Winterguard, National Avenue Winterguard, and 901 performance ensemble for their 2017 season, please donate on the Missouri State Crowdfunding Webpage. The staff and performers greatly appreciate any of your help and/or support you can provide. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Teacher's Motivation

For my graduating class, it's nearing the end of our undergraduate education. We're more than halfway done, almost through the first five semesters, and it's nearing the point where people are getting bored with their major. Some are failing out. And we ask these people, "So what do you plan on doing now?" to which we receive the disturbing response, "Oh I don't know. Probably just teach."

As an Early Childhood Education major, I don't meet many guys. If I'm being completely honest, I often only meet one type of girl: an overly-hairsprayed, heavily makeup-ed, yoga-panted sorority girl who "just loves kids!" Not that there's anything wrong with sorority girls; I know plenty whom I love and adore. But when asked why we want to be a teacher, "I was failing organic chemistry," and "I love kids!" is not good enough. Personally, I love to dance, but that certainly doesn't qualify me to be a professional choreographer. I love clothes and fashion, but I am not called to be a fashion designer. Instead, I sit back and appreciate the work done by choreographers by learning their dances, and enjoy the work of fashion designers by wearing their clothes. The same is true with teaching. Just because you have a passion for children, or even for education, does not mean you must (or even should) be a teacher.

I am greatly troubled by the comments most of these ladies dish out.

"I can't wait to have every summer off for the rest of my life!"

"Oh, this job will give me great benefits. I wouldn't have these benefits in other professions!"

"I love teaching because I get to hang out with kids all day!" 

As the daughter of a teacher, I have a newsflash for these women. Our summers will be filled with lesson planning, classroom organization, faculty meetings, professional development opportunities, and preparation for the upcoming school-year. We will get the same benefits as every other state employee, and would receive better benefits if we obtained a career on the federal level. And we do not, in fact, get to "hang out" with kids all day. We have a very important job to educate them. It is our job to ensure that they learn what is expected of them in a timely and effective manner. Their progress is on our shoulders, so God forbid you decide to teach because you got a degree in something else and your career never quite took off. "Oh well, if it doesn't work out I can always teach," is not (and never should be) an acceptable reason to become a teacher. Educators arguably have the most important job in the world. We train the future doctors, engineers, and business owners. Our career is no back-up plan.

When asked the ever-present question "Why do you want to be a teacher?" I am prepared with an answer. To make a difference and to leave my mark on the world are too cliché, too common, and far too vague. The truth about me is that I struggled quite a lot in school. But let's be clear on one thing: in early elementary, I loved it. I looked forward to going to school every day; talking with teachers, doing projects with friends, and of course, playing outside for recess. I was a great student, and helped out the teacher when and where I could. I was the name left for substitutes; the name that was never written on the board for misconduct. Once, I even tutored my classmates while my teacher led a reading lesson because my scantron was graded wrong on the Benchmark test. I didn't need remedial math, and ended up teaching it to my own peers!

I wish I could say that spark of learning would last forever, but, like all children, I grew up. Very few students maintain their eagerness and enthusiasm to learn as they move into higher grades. There are fewer activities, too many lectures, harder content, and far too many ridiculous rules. I even had a teacher that wouldn't let us turn in a research paper we'd worked a month on if we hadn't stapled it by the time we walked through the door!

By the time I reached sixth grade, I had my first true struggle in school: timed multiplication tests. We had a sheet full of multiplication tables with only a minute to fill it out. My teacher had a rule she considered to be motivational. "We will do these every Friday. But... Once you pass it, you don't have to take it anymore!"

Easy enough, right? Wrong. From the moment the timer clicked on, I was in panic. My face would grow hot and I would begin to sweat. My lungs did not function normally, and I had to remind myself to breathe. My hands would shake and I would always be at least two rows from the bottom by the time the alarm went off. "Time!" my teacher would call, and I would sit back in my chair defeated. It wasn't that I didn't know my multiplication tables. I'd known them for years and tutored my own classmates on them! But I could not, for the life of me, write them all down on a timed test.

As promised, we did those tests every Friday, and once people passed, they didn't have to take them anymore. About two months into the semester, everyone had passed...except, of course, me and about three other people. The four of us took those tests for several weeks with everyone watching. We never passed, and eventually, my teacher made us stop doing them. I guess she just gave up.

Little did I know, the physical and emotional swing I had when a timer was set is recognized in the psychological world as test anxiety, and it would not end with multiplication tables. Any time I was presented with a test that we were only given a certain amount of time on, my flushed face and hyperventilation would strike again. This follows me even today.

Suddenly, it was time for high school, and "a talented mind like mine should be in the AP program!" Or so they said. I even knew a school counselor who told his students that they could take regular classes if they wanted to "flip burgers for the rest of their life," but "anybody who wanted to be somebody would enroll in the AP program." I was never really one to believe that, but I had a different motivation. My strong suit was English, and I wanted to take an AP English class. However, the AP English class was linked with an AP History class, which I wanted nothing to do with. I'd never been fond of history because it had never been presented as anything overly enjoyable, so I really didn't want to torture myself with that. But everyone said, "You're smart! You'll be fine!" So I took that blocked class of AP English and AP U.S. History, and to this day, I consider it one of the worst decisions of my life.

As expected, the AP English portion was fine. I wrote good essays and participated in class discussions over books, poems, and short stories. But when presented with the history information, I seemed to be a lost cause.

My teacher was pretty much a witch (for a censored title), claiming that she would be willing to help anyone with questions, but she never seemed to have all that much help to give. She would grade our notes and get angry if they weren't the way she wanted. My mind clearly worked differently than hers from the very beginning and my notes were never the way she wanted them to be, so she gave me an F on all my pages. So naturally, I began attempting the notes like she wanted them. No surprise, I got an A on the notes and failed the quizzes because I couldn't follow my notes. She would put you on the spot to answer questions, and if you gave an answer that stimulated discussion but wasn't the answer she wanted, you wouldn't get credit for the discussion. She would go around the room and quiz us orally in front of the rest of the class, which gave everyone anxiety, not just me.

The biggest problem I had, however, was (as established previously...) testing. I told her at the beginning of the year that timed tests scared me, and if she would just allow me to stay after the bell for a few minutes, that I would be fine. I told her I would probably always finish before the bell if I didn't feel I was under any pressure, but she would not have it.

"The AP test at the end of the year is timed Bethany," she told me, "I do what I do for a reason."

Then I asked the unthinkable. "Well, do I have to take that test?"

She stared at me with a cold expression for a long time before taking a breath, and laughed, "Well it would be stupid not to. The school pays for it and it will give you college credit for the class."

So I busted my butt. I studied hours each day for every test and always scored about two points under her passing mark. I was in there for weeks taking makeup tests until I passed one. I never passed any of them.

So one day at lunch, out of complete desperation and stupidity, I approached her for help. She had the audacity to ask me, "Are you really studying?" and I wanted to punch her in the face, but I swallowed my pride and said, "Yes." I continued to tell her all the ways I'd studied: re-reading each chapter, reviewing my notes, taking practice tests, writing songs, creating alliterations, and even acting out scenarios with stuffed animals in my room to remember the order of events in wars and scandals. By the time I got all this out, she was clearly stunned with my creativity and work ethic, but certainly would not show any sign of being impressed with a girl who could not even pass her class. Instead, she said, "Oh. Well. You're still young and your brain isn't fully developed at age sixteen. Maybe you just aren't to a point where you can answer this level of a question."

I was stunned. Now I had test anxiety and an underdeveloped brain? I just snatched my test back and said, "Yeah, maybe that's it," and walked out.

Looking back, I remember paying a fee for that AP test at the end of the year, so the school did not, in fact, pay for it. And you only got credit for the class if you passed the test, which, to no surprise, I did not. It was all for nothing. To this day, my teacher still smiles and speaks to one member of my class (a National Merit scholar who scored a 5 on the AP test) and doesn't give me a second glance. As if I ever got a first one.

I often wondered why she decided to become a teacher. I couldn't possibly think of a worse career for her to choose. Then, I discovered an article about her in the school newspaper. When asked, "Before you decided to become a teacher, what did you want to be?" she answered, "A child psychologist." It was that day I learned that things could always be worse. At least when she wounded me I was a teenager with a decently strong sense of self confidence. I hesitate to consider what she might have done to a poor child.

I vowed to never take another AP history class again. I finished the next year with an A+ in both AP English and regular World History. My world history teacher is one of my favorite teachers to this day, and I have no regrets at all about that class. Senior year, however, I found myself in both AP Literature and AP Government. I'm still not sure how I was convinced, but the AP Gov teacher was supposed to be very good, so I never argued.

The teacher was a fat, old, retired lawyer. He signed every letter the "Old Bald Fat Guy." I loved that class. It was engaging and I actually participated in discussions even though I was often clueless. Even when I said something completely wrong, he would take the time to ask questions that steered me the right direction until I got it right. He was shocked when I failed the first test. I, at this point, was not.

I had given up on myself. I was prepared to cry through my studying and fail all my tests, as I had done in AP U.S. History. But he was genuinely concerned. He called me in for a meeting one day during lunch and said, "Bethany... I was very shocked to see this."

He handed me my first graded test with a big fat F on the top. I just looked up at him. Why? I thought to myself, I'm stupid. Don't you know that? 

"You're a very hard worker and a good student," he said instead. I was shocked. "What can I do to help you?"

I started crying on the spot. To know that an AP teacher (that wasn't my English teacher) believed in me and had faith in me was more than I could handle. I hadn't expected it at all. The rough old lawyer brought me some tissues and waited. I never had to tell my story. He knew there was one there. People like me don't just wake up one day and decide they're stupid. Something had to have convinced me otherwise.

I got to stay after the bell on test days if I wasn't finished, but I always was. The pressure of the time limit was lifted, so I was able to organize my thoughts in a timely manner without panic. Still, government was not a high subject for me, so he tutored me once a week during lunch. He even gave me a blank notecard to use on tests to cover up parts of the question (to identify what it was really asking) and to cover the answers until I'd formed my own in my head.

I didn't get any A+'s or anything; he's a teacher, not Jesus. But I did pass every test. Even the AP test at the end of the year, and didn't have to take Government in college. It, in contrast to my decision to take AP U.S. History, was one of the smartest decisions I've ever made. I use his test taking strategies even now, and credit him with my success. That Old Bald Fat Guy turned out to be one of my biggest heroes.

So what was the difference between these two teachers? Their motivation. Their attitude towards their job was different. The first teacher thought she ruled the world. The second teacher recognized that he was teaching the generation who would one day rule the world, and thought they should be educated accordingly. The first teacher had incredibly selfish motivation (I later learned that the school gets paid more for every passing score on the AP exam, which was the reason she pushed her students so hard to obtain one), but the second teacher was genuinely concerned for his students. As far as he was concerned, they deserved the credit.

Both educators are my motivation to become a teacher. I strive to be a teacher just like the Old Bald Fat Guy, and strive to show students that teachers do not have to be like my AP U.S. History teacher.

Kids have to go to school. They are forced to attend. But teachers are responsible for their attitude towards learning. Teachers have control over whether they love or hate coming to class. I sincerely hope no one else has ever had a teacher suggest their brain was underdeveloped, but everyone has had at least one experience to prove that the teacher is what makes the difference between a wonderful and miserable school year.

It is naïve of us to state that education is 100% about the kids. Teachers also work to make a living and support their own families, not to mention the laws and limitations that prevent them from meeting individual students' needs. But a teacher's motivation should not be themselves. Our salary is not big enough, our benefits are not good enough, and we work more for free than any other occupation with our lesson plans, grading papers, testing, and professional development. We are paid as teachers, not as mothers, advisors, therapists, or referees, when the truth is: we do it all.

We've heard it before: We are not in this for the income, we're in it for the outcome.

Because the kids deserve it. They are worthy of a good, intriguing education. They should be excited to learn. They deserve to have a chance at enjoyable learning and we owe it to them.

If your heart is not in education, you should choose something else. I promise, no one will be offended. Students, teachers, parents, and administrators are all counting on you to be the absolute best you can be for your students, and you can't afford to let them down. You don't get the choice to fail. It's not an option. After all, this never really should've been about you anyway.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When You Realize You've Grown Up To Be Your Favorite Disney Princess

In honor of the Aladdin Diamond Edition being released on Blu-Ray today, I went all out. I wore my Aladdin sweatshirt, I've posted the Aladdin cast reunion photos and articles all day on social media, and I've tracked the package on the hour (because of course I got free release date shipping... Thank you Amazon Student!). It's clear to everyone: my obsession with this movie is a little scary. But how could it not be?

My parents met in high school, went their separate ways in college, and then married. Other people, I might add. After two failed marriages, they were reunited in their hometown. They burned gas traveling to see each other and met for a date in Tulsa twenty-two years ago. This date entailed lunch, and a brief discussion about what would happen "if" they got married. By the time the discussion was over, they weren't quite ready to part, so they asked, "What movies are on at the theater?" and answered, "Well despite that it's a Disney movie... I hear that Aladdin is pretty good!"

They laughed the whole time. My mom's headstrong beliefs and fiery attitude made her adore Jasmine, a princess who was completely willing to shoot down those who tried to dictate her life, and my dad's love of comedy made the Genie undeniable. (Dad always said he missed his calling to be a comedian but I'm glad he's a music teacher. That way we still had food on the table every night!) So Aladdin was a hit for my parents before I was even a thought. Ha! "What if they got married?" 

In my mother's words, "It really has been a whole new world ever since." When I was born, Aladdin was the in vault already, but they borrowed a copy from my aunt and that was the beginning of the end. I watched it all the time. I loved it! I went trick-or-treating as Jasmine for several Halloweens. Every game that was played with my friends in the backyard: I was Jasmine. No one else got to be her, and everyone knew it. But tragedy struck one night while I was watching my beloved Disney classic: the VHS tape broke! It had been over-watched, over-rewinded, and over-used. How do you explain a technology failure to a little girl with a preconceived crush on Aladdin? Well... You don't. You pull out your street rat skills and improvise, so that's what my parents did.

I went a few weeks without my favorite tale, but I had Aladdin books, costumes, etc. to preoccupy my time. In those weeks, my parents watched ABC Family like a hawk, and had our new fancy VCR player (the one that could record things off the TV!) ready to go. The night the movie premiered on ABC, not only did my family sit down and watch it together again, but we recorded it on every TV in the house. The moment it came out of the vault again, we bought up more copies. We were not reliving that deprived stage again, the one where little Bethany would ask every day, "Can we watch Aladdin?" to which the reply was always inevitably, "No... Remember Bethany? It broke."

Oh yeah... 

As a result of this little scare, I am now twenty and own three Aladdin VHS tapes (excluding the broken one), the Special Edition when it came out on DVD, and now the Blu-Ray Diamond Edition the moment it was released. Again, a special shoutout to Amazon Student for offering free release-date shipping! Clearly, they know how to make their Disney girls happy.

So you're probably thinking, "Okay, it was something her parents did before she was born, and it was a staple of her childhood. What's the big deal?" Well the truth is, it was always so much more than that. I loved Aladdin because he was the type of man I wanted for myself: smart, clever, passionate, a little goofy, and come on, he's pretty attractive. The Genie was a favorite because he reminded me of my own childhood, when my dad would impersonate everyone including characters from movies, famous musicians, and even other friends and coworkers in our lives. (If you haven't heard his Elvis impression, I really do recommend it. He's got a pretty mean Eddie Murphy, too.)

But Jasmine? That smart, strong, independent, strikingly beautiful princess was exactly who I wanted to be, though I didn't know I wanted to be her when I was three. I just knew she was pretty cool, far more fun and outgoing than other Disney princesses.

When I first saw the musical on Broadway, I understood. In my beloved city of New York, I realized that I not only liked Princess Jasmine, I related to her. I was her. She was a sheltered princess who had lived in one place all her life, and dreamed of a life of adventure. Like me. She was tired of routine. Like me. She desired deep friendships, complex relationships, and new experiences to give her life meaning. Like me. (Catching a trend?) Being a princess wasn't good enough for her. She wanted every day to fulfill a new purpose. She wanted to learn the way others lived and decide the life she wanted for herself, rather than live a life that someone else told her to live. And isn't that what every twenty-year-old young woman ultimately wants?

She was smart. She was beautiful, too, but she already knew that. She wanted to be recognized for more than her looks and treasures, and when she met Aladdin, he saw her for everything she wanted to be seen for. He did not know she was a princess and was instead captivated by her quick adaptability despite her naivety. He shared his dreams with her because she was interested in listening, not because she could make them come true (even though she could).

Jasmine was a firecracker. Raised by my mother, I learned quickly not to rely on a man. They were nice to have around, but you never knew what might happen. You did not need them to survive, and boy, Jasmine didn't either. She despised men who thought they were too cool and had no problem calling them out on it. Even Aladdin, when she openly called him a "stuffed shirt, swaggering peacock." That's an awesome scene. But we can't forget my favorite line of all:

"How dare you! All of you! Standing around deciding my future? I am not a prize to be won!" 

Don't pretend like you didn't read that in her voice.

Women often feel like that. I often feel like that. My future is mine to write, but everyone else loves to tell you what you should and shouldn't do. The truth is, they don't know. No one knows what you should do better than you. No one has your personal intuition. So many adults follow the wishes of their parents, significant others, or friends, whether it be because they do not know what they want for themselves or they are too weak to fight for it. But Jasmine doesn't follow anyone's rules. She writes her own.

So all this makes me sound like a total Disney dreamer, doesn't it? Probably. And I have no shame. But if there's one argument for Disney's Aladdin you should actually pay attention to, let it be this one:

Jasmine is awfully independent for being raised in a society where she is expected to mind the rules and obey the laws. She is not like your typical princess in a typical fairytale; she does not wait in her tower for her prince to come save her. She wanted to sneak out of the palace and experience the outside world, so she just did it. She didn't whine about it or sulk any longer; she took action. She achieved her dreams on her own, and happened to meet Aladdin along the way. But Aladdin's dreams of becoming rich and living a life of luxury could not be achieved without her.

So I'd like to dedicate this little number to those who believe that Disney only teaches young girls that women should be passive, submissive women who wait on a prince to come save them. Jasmine didn't need Aladdin to make her dreams possible. He needed her to make his dreams possible. And that's what every girl wants more than anything: to be the motivation, the fire, the spark, and the passion in their man's life. Perhaps that's what I like most about Jasmine. She didn't need, she was needed. 

I admire movies like Beauty and the Beast for attempting to show that beauty is found within. But Jasmine not only shows that beauty is found within when she falls in love with her diamond in the rough, Aladdin, but she shows little girls that intelligence and fiery passion is what makes a woman astoundingly beautiful. It's good to be smart. It's good to be independent. It's a good thing to know what you want in life, and to work hard until you get it. It's good to protect your heart, but it's also good to let your guard down enough to love. And in that respect, Jasmine does everything right.

Regarding her dreams, I relate to her. Regarding her personality, I am her. And regarding her happy ending, I strive to become her. No, I'm not so naive to think that a girl can find one man instantly and live happily ever after, never experiencing another trial or obstacle for as long as they live. But I hope that the dreams I have for myself will come true, and I pray that I have the determination and work ethic to achieve them. I don't just love the movie Aladdin because I'm a Disney freak, I love it because every Disney girl wakes up one day to realize they've grown up to be their favorite Disney princess. For me, I guess that day was today. And to celebrate? Here's what the rest of my night looks like!

I'm sure no one's really surprised.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Generation Gap: Those Who Won't Work and Those Who Won't Quit

Do you recognize this man?

You probably do if you live in Fayetteville, Arkansas and often shop at the Wal-Mart on Joyce Street. This overly friendly, kid-loving, jokester is my Granddad, and he's turning 87 in two months. Born in 1929, Mr. Hubert "John" Day had the furthest thing from an easy life. A terrible home life and low job security pushed him to lie about his age and join the army. He fought in two wars, and yet, recalls it as being "the time of his life" because, and I quote, "I didn't have to worry about meals or clothes or what to do next. You were given an order, you did it, and everything else was provided for you."

He's worked ever since, and never very long at the same place. If he was laid off, he got a second job. If the business was closing, he was looking for his next job before he was even out of one. He didn't always have a "career" like you hear about today (though he did get a degree and work as an accountant for a period of time), but he was always either at his job or looking for one.

You don't hear of many people like this today.

Well, friends, after 10 years of pushing him to retire, my mother and I finally broke him last January. He retired from Wal-Mart and found all sorts of new projects. But now that it's October, all the yard work he could possibly do is done, all the books he wanted to read are read, and all his projects are completed. He liked the idea of taking history and political classes just for fun (now that they are free since he's over 65), but he didn't like the idea of going down to campus to take them (and he can't take them online because he doesn't believe in the internet). He walked every day at the mall and met friends for lunch and coffee, but that's not enough for him anymore. He got bored. So what does he do? Marches down to Wal-Mart and asks his old supervisor if she would hire him back. Her answer? After a chuckle and a shake of her head, "Why certainly, Mr. Hubert!"

So he's back at work. He didn't even last a year.

Now I don't know about you, but once I've retired, I'm done. I already have things I want to do. I want to learn to draw. I want to read my heart out. I want to craft and decorate my house and take classes in writing, in fashion, in everything I've always wanted to try but was afraid to pursue with the fear that I wouldn't be talented enough to support myself. I want to travel. I want to see every play that comes to my local theatre. I want to keep up with Broadway more than I do now, because I would have the time to do so. I've already got my retirement planned, and I'm not even out of college with my degree to work!

But that's the difference among his generation and mine: while we might have the same work ethic, our priorities are totally different.

He belongs to the "Traditional Generation", the "Veteran Generation" for lack of a better title. These members were born between 1925-1945, and pride themselves on being loyal to their organization, responding to direct leadership, and respecting authority. In my granddad's words, "You are given an order, and you do it." They always showed up early for their shift, dressed in formal attire for work (my granddad wears collared shirts and slacks to greet at Wal-Mart), they worked mostly in an office or factory setting, and are motivated by their self-pride. They don't just work to make money or to make a difference, they work hard so their employers will speak highly of them. They choose to represent their company the absolute best they can with everything they do. And with regards to technology, they don't even see the point. Not only do they prefer personal contact, but they email only if they have to, still do their research in an actual library with actual books, and hardly use the phone at all. This hard working, conservative, anti-risk generation is quite possibly the most stubborn and dedicated of all, as we see in my 87 year old Granddad who tried retirement and decided it didn't suit him.

I, on the other hand, belong to "Generation Y," often known as the "Millennial" generation due to our range of births: 1981-2000. I was born in 1995, not far from the turn of the century. We grew up in an age of diversity, with tech-savvy, enthusiastic teachers, raised by optimistic parents who often told us, "You can do anything you set your mind to." Young workers my age pride themselves on confidence, sociability, diversity, spirit, multi-tasking, and passion. We possess a level of "street smarts" in education and technology that the traditional generation never imagined the world would need. We like flexibility in our work: in tasks, in hours, and in pay. We are always looking for weird, extra jobs to make money that we can complete on our own time like blogging, selling old clothes, sewing, etc. The other day our apartment complex ran a special: if you renewed your lease for the next year on a certain day, they gave you a $300 check! Needless to say, we are living here again next year.

I love taking online classes because I can complete them on my own time. I don't have to actually show up at a classroom at a designated time. I love babysitting and writing and sewing for extra money because I can accept the jobs when I need the money and decline them when I don't have the time. And people in our generation don't see that as being unreliable. I've never once had a mother not call me to babysit again because I turned down a night due to previously made plans. They also agree that grades, studying, athletic practices, and previously made commitments are just as important as work, a line of thinking that would've never been accepted in the traditional generation.

We also wear whatever we want. My mom is a member of the Baby Boomer generation, and she wore slacks and nice shirts to high school. If anyone did that when I was in high school, they would've been the laughing stock of their class. In my high school, you were lucky if you even saw someone in a cute shirt and jeans. Most of the time, people wore sweatpants and hoodies.

Some of us might work in an office, or in my case, a classroom. But many people work from home through technology, or start their own businesses to ensure flexible schedules. Since we belong to a generation where often both parents work, the need to possess flexible jobs to be with children is a necessity. In the traditional generation, you either worked steadily or you didn't work at all, and while they were driven by self-pride, my generation is driven by change. We aren't just working to work or working to make money. We are working to make a difference, to be the best, to support ourselves in the life that we dream for ourselves. The days of women marrying rich to attain a certain standard are over. We now work to attain it ourselves, because what's the use in waiting on some man anyway? We require personal relationships with our co-workers and require constant feedback from our bosses to make sure we are being the best we can be. We create documents, use databases for research, email, text 24/7, and are always on the lookout for the next technological resource to use in our profession. I can't tell you how much of a better teacher I've become by stealing ideas from Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest, and business and medical professions are no different.

My generation has several jobs at the same time in hopes to build parallel careers. I am seeking to teach, blog, design lesson plans, and sew. I currently work at a daycare, at a high school coaching color guard, and babysitting. While the traditional generation looked for ways to enhance the effectiveness of one company, their company, the millennial generation is looking for a way to expand everything: their company, their life, their career, their salary, and their social network. We are always looking for the next challenge and seeking to conquer it. We want to be the hero of our field, the one you call for help, the one you always take your questions to. But most of all, we want the world in our hands, and we want it now. 

There are problems with both generations. For one, my Granddad is too stubborn to quit. But other than that, he placed such a high priority on work all his life, that he couldn't find enough hobbies to sustain his life when he finally quit. That's certainly no concern in my generation. The problem with my generation is that we have too many hobbies to truly flourish in our careers.

When asking each generation what their expectation of career development is, you're likely to get very different responses. Traditionalists are content: "I'm just happy to have a job." Baby Boomers (1946-1964) like reward: "I'd like my dedication to my company to be recognized." Generation X (1965-1980) gets impatient when things aren't moving quickly: "When am I going to get my raise? I've been working so hard!" but the millennial generation is entitled: "What on Earth do you mean you aren't promoting me? I'm so clearly the best one here!"

This is seen every day in young classrooms. Kids these days have "ADD" and "ADHD," disorders that were not only laughed at, but not even around in previous generations. These short attention spans are due to modern fiery passion, technology centered lessons, and the belief that we have to have information now. They require personal, customized approaches to learning because if they get bored, they'll find something else to do.

There is definite charm to our new generation of workers. We applaud their ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. We call them in when we want the next big idea because we know they've probably already thought of it. We live in a day and age where everyone is an innovator every time they have a new idea, and because of this, everyone thinks they are the best. So our respect for authority has gone out the window. Our patience is never good because it's rarely tested. We have plenty of hard-nosed, headstrong, confident and effective individuals. We need more respect. We need more patience. We need more people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. We don't like to work with people who didn't have to climb their way to the top because they act like they're the best thing to happen to the world since Jesus himself came to save it. So while it's good to teach kids that "they can do anything," we also need to teach them that it might require a little work.

"Nothing worthwhile is ever easy." -Nicholas Sparks

And whether you like his books or not, this quote applies to everything.

I hated traditional Disney princesses growing up because they didn't do a single thing for themselves. I admired princesses like Jasmine, Ariel, and Belle. They did stand up for themselves and they did get what they dreamed of on their own. Jasmine snuck out without the help of a prince. Ariel was stupid to give up her voice, but she got to land on her own. Belle's heart and sacrifice was what gave her the adventure she'd been dreaming of, not the beast. But no one can deny that these princesses didn't have to work very hard. 

Today, little girls are being raised on princesses like Rapunzel, a teenager who escaped on an adventure and used her knowledge of experience to break free of her captivity. Girls are dressing up like Tiana for Halloween, a young Louisiana woman who dreamed of owning her own restaurant and took the time to climb her way to the top. If these princesses were real, I'd love to work for them. They know what it's like to rough it, which heightens our respect for them. We're all tired of entitled people.

I know there are elements of myself that I would want my children to have, but I also know there are elements of my Wal-Mart greeting Granddad that I would want them to have, too. So with our next generation, let's teach them to be a little less like us and a little more like their grandparents. Because there's a little of every generation inside all of us, and we've neglected our traditional work-ethic long enough.

Why Giving Your Students Control Of Their Learning Can Actually Work

I often hesitate to call teaching a "profession," because in actuality it is so much more than that. It is making a difference, it's molding the future. It's not just merely a "profession," but is instead creating all other professions. And that's a lot of responsibility. But we've heard all those clichés before, so we work harder.

The reality of teaching is that we are tired, we are stressed, and we work harder than we ever thought we would. We spend extra hours planning for the next day's lessons off the clock. We put all our energy into class each day and worry about our students all night. We cry for the students we are unable to help outside of school, and praise God that not all of them need the extra protection. We think about them all the time: about what we can do better to get them motivated, focused, and driven to success. Sometimes we have a plan. Sometimes we just don't know what else to do. And those days are the hardest. The days you feel completely defeated, and you genuinely wonder what ever qualified you to be a teacher anyway.

Those days are the hardest because you genuinely feel like giving up, and you are in one of the only professions that would hurt everyone else around you more than yourself if you decided to quit. Because when you're a teacher, your students need you.

I'd reached that point recently coaching a high school color guard. I even blogged about it a few nights ago; about that moment when you've hit your breaking point, when you wonder what more you can even do because you're completely out of ideas. I'd had some girls so unmotivated they hadn't passed memory tests and were unable to perform at competitions. I had some girls who were ineligible due to grades, and bound the law to not perform until their grades had risen above a certain point. I had some girls who refused to practice, who refused to count, who refused to set their bossy attitude and smart-aleck replies aside to take instruction and develop as a performer. And if you know anything about color guard, these things are crucial.

Because it's a team sport.

Every time one person is not practicing and performing to their fullest potential, the team as a whole suffers tremendously. And in addition to these girls who refused to do the required criteria, there were also girls who always did what they were told. They always counted, they always practiced, they always kept their grades and always passed their memory tests. They never mouthed off, they always followed directions, and they were always doing what they were instructed to do. I sympathize for these girls because when I was in guard, I was that girl. I was the one that was always overly-motivated and held back by the unmotivated. I was always screaming counts and taking instruction and practicing when I didn't have something down. And I hated watching videos of our performances knowing that other members were not doing the same.

Now, as an instructor, I didn't know what else to do. We'd done push ups. We'd run laps. I had promised rewards of food in exchange for good performances (I know that always worked for me). We'd had gentle pep talks and frustrating pow-wows. Whether they responded to kind encouragement or harsh instruction, I was determined to get them motivated somehow, but nothing seemed to work.

So today, I took a chance.

I cleared it with the school board and put all my girls in the show for competition day. Everyone who was eligible, ineligible, counting, not counting, sassy, or kind, whether they had been practicing or not, warmed up together today. And don't think this is a miraculous story where they whipped it all together instantly. If I'm being truthful, the beginning of warm up was awful. I legitimately thought I'd lost my mind. To make that decision, I must've totally gone mad! It was as if no one had touched their flag all season! People were seemingly just doing whatever they wanted, not using technique, not counting, and not even remembering what came next.

So I took a breath, said another prayer, and pulled them all together for a pow-wow. Everyone was bright eyed like they'd just won the whole competition. Didn't they know how awful it was when they didn't focus or pay attention to one another? Apparently not. So I asked, "Alright girls, what do you need?"

I don't think they thought I was serious. They all just stared at me. So I continued: "Do you need more information? Do you need me to clarify some counts? Do you need me to change a part of the work you are unable to do? What do you need?" They still didn't answer, so I said, "Don't you want to be good?"

That question got a resounding "YES!"

And when I asked again, "Okay. Well there's only so much I can do. I can give counts and run rehearsals, but the moment you step onto the field, it's out of my control. It's up to you. So before we go out there, what do you need from me?"

They erupted into questions. We clarified counts, adjusted work, ran segments till their arms were sore, and suddenly, it began coming together. And that's when it hit me: they always wanted to be good. Like every other kid learning their ABC's or Calculus II, they wanted to impress. They'd invested too much time to give up, and they weren't ready to. But they had reached their breaking point, too. My frustration had made them feel so defeated, they had given up on themselves.

Just to clarify, I had never once verbally expressed my frustration with them, and if I do say so myself, I'm a fairly decent actress. It was not obvious at rehearsals that I was losing hope, but students are perceptive to these things, just as children are with parents. They don't realize they're feeding off your emotions, but they are.

This warm-up was different, and not just because I had all my girls together, ready to perform, and motivated to do well. It was different because I had given them a chance they deserved, a chance that I had denied them of previously, to prove themselves to me and to themselves. Not only were they showing me they were capable of fulfilling the potential I saw at summer camp, they were showing themselves that they could, in fact, do everything they told themselves they couldn't.

We didn't win the competition. We didn't win best color guard. But that's okay, because in 20 years, those girls won't remember what place they scored at their competitions. But I can guarantee they'll remember the day they took the field in competition and had their best run of the season as a full color guard. There were girls who hadn't marched all season because they didn't have any idea what was going on. There were girls who had missed every sectional and rehearsal and couldn't figure out why they were failing band. There were girls who had been denied performing due to grades and attendance in other classes. There were a lot of outside factors that had contributed to the frustration I'd had with the season so far, as there always are for teachers every year: a season of mountain peaks and a season of the deepest valleys.

We were in a pretty deep valley. But today, I prayed a little harder, and gave my girls a chance. A chance they had deserved all along. Because they'd given up on themselves before we'd really even started, and needed to know that I believed in them enough to keep trying anyway. Once they proved themselves out there today, I realized it wasn't that they didn't care. It wasn't that they were lazy. It wasn't even that they didn't have the information they needed to take the field.

They didn't have the confidence.

Teachers are paid to teach students. That's our "profession." But we all know we're here for the outcome rather than the income. We want to see our students excel. We don't sleep at night knowing our students have so much potential and we aren't helping them reach it, but we can't help them reach it if we don't give them a chance. Sometimes it takes quiet encouragement. Sometimes it takes extreme discipline. But when you've tried all you know to try, try giving them a chance. Put the reins in their hands, because there's only so much you can do. Sometimes you have to take a step back and let them prove to themselves that they are smart enough, and talented enough, and strong enough to accomplish what they thought they never could. Because once they prove it to themselves, they don't want to stop working.

My girls are more motivated now than they ever have been before. I can't wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us. I was really starting to think we had peaked, because as far as what I was in control of, we had peaked. But as far as what they were in control of? We are far from peaking. My girls have so much hidden potential that was unlocked tonight. And whether you believe it or not (because for a good while, I know I sure didn't), your students have that potential, too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Prayers Asked and Answered

Dear my favorite Daddy, 
It's me again down here.
This time I don’t bring anything
That I want or that I fear.
I’m simply being curious,
A nosy child beyond my right;
But sometimes I kind of wonder,
What you think about at night.
And I wonder what it’s like up there,
In Heaven by your throne,
But mostly wonder why you made us,
When you began to feel alone.
And when you chose to make us,
Where did you choose to start?
How did you secure us,
So we wouldn’t fall apart?
And why did you choose the look you chose?
Who were you trying to please?
Though us humans look symmetrical,
Logic tends to disagree.
We were all given two eyes,
To see beauty from within.
We were each given two ears,
To hear and truly listen.
We are all given two lips
To speak good words of wisdom.
And we’re all given two hands
To help out your other children.
We’re all given two arms,
two legs, two hips, and two feet.
But we’re only given one heart,
That never fails to beat.
And maybe it’s not important,
But Daddy I really want to know.
Why give us two of everything,
And not complete the ratio?
Was this all part of your original plan,
Or was the other half somehow missed?
If it’s not meant to have a partner,
Then Daddy, why does it exist?

Oh my precious child,
you have so much more to learn.
You’re so naïve and ignorant,
But I appreciate your concern.
It’s never wrong to question,
Why things happen like they do,
But don’t you ever question,
The intricate plan I have for you.
Heaven’s a surprise for you,
But I can’t wait for you to see.
I can’t wait for that one day,
When you will be up here with me.
But you wonder why I made you?
Heaven’s boring by myself.
It’s not right to be alone,
Trapped or enclosed within a cell.
And of course my blessed child,
I have thought this process through.
I thought you understood,
That I’ll be looking out for you.
Everything I have created
Has a partner or a pair.
It’s not made out of selfishness
But out of love to always share.
I know you’re still a child,
So everything is still unknown.
But I promise you my child,
Nothing will ever be alone.
As you grow a little older
I promise things will change.
Your thoughts will all mature
And everything will seem less strange.
But as for now I will explain myself,
In the clearest way I can.
The heart is something special,
Unlike a leg or arm or hand.
Each one is made delicate with care,
And is specifically assigned,
Because it’s partner has been given out
To someone else for you to find.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'm Coming Home

There aren't too many things in life stranger than a 19-year-old young woman strutting through the O'Hare airport in an Aladdin tank top with a stuffed bear strapped to her back and her nose stuck in a Jane Austin novel.

What makes it even stranger is that she is on her way to Philadelphia to spend the night with her cousins, and head into Manhattan tomorrow to see Aladdin on Broadway. How many 19-year-olds can say that their childhood dreams became a reality for their birthday?!

My first plane landed in Chicago at 7:05 p.m., and a potty break, 2 tram rides, a Starbucks drink, and 3 gate changes later, I'm sitting at gate B14 awaiting my second plane. Which departs at 9:29. So I have awhile...

Looking out my window as the plane took off, I couldn't help but think of all the differences in scenery. There was nothing but greenery; trees, fields, and the occasional road, but mostly hay bails. And flying into Chicago, it was absolutely majestic descending into skyscrapers that swallowed the plane.

I can't help but wonder what kind of view God has of the world. Is it the view we have from planes? Does He squint through clouds or does He see every block and street, square and lake, trail and tributary clearly? Or does He have a view like Google Earth? Where He can see and has knowledge of absolutely every single detail, but can zoom in on whatever he wants?

It's probably some God trick. He probably has a way of viewing the world in a way that He never thought to tell me, and probably doesn't think I need to know. But I believe that God gave us the ability to build planes so that we could not only feed our hunger for adventure, but also so that we may have a taste of what He sees; a chance to view everything he made in this world in its absolute entirety from a view we cannot get with our feet safely on the ground. This, to me, is the beauty of travel.

I love being on planes. There's nothing else to do but talk to a complete stranger to get to know another world, read a book to escape into another world, or to think so that we may marvel at the view of our own world when we do not otherwise take the time to do so. Flying is the only time I consider our world to be more extraordinary than that of a novel. Looking out the window of airplane is a privilege; it's where I do my best thinking because it's when I'm best at marveling. I'm terrible at noticing God's beauty unless I am happy, and I'm far happier when I'm on an adventure or in a big city than I am when I am at home bustling through my everyday life.

Even though I'm flying into Philadelphia instead of LaGuardia, the atmosphere is close to the same. And there is nothing more beautiful, no...astoundingly breathtaking, than flying into the city at night. I'm so glad that I did not have an early morning flight. Even though the wait would have been less excruciating, I would not be able to enjoy the city at the time I love it best. At night.

The sun is setting. It is almost dark here in Chicago at 8:33 p.m. My plane is being checked for maintenance and I will be boarding soon. I cannot wait to ascend into the night sky, and begin thinking again, before I slip away into the world of Emma, or slip further out of either world into a state of slumber.

My cousins, Les and John, will be waiting at the Philadelphia airport. As for now, my laptop will have to be powered down since I'm boarding soon. I'll write again once I'm home again, not in my hometown but where my heart belongs; in the city.