Thursday, March 9, 2017

Another Love Letter to the Library.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it before, but I love reading.

And I love the library.

Scratch that.

LOVE the library.

LOVE.

I can't remember what I had for dinner last night, but I do have my library card number memorized.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, then you know I practically lived at the Cabell County Public Library last summer.

In what is perhaps my favorite post I've ever written, I talked about how I don't need self-help books because books are my self-help.

I will be spending the majority of the summer living out of town, and I've done nothing to prepare but see if I'll be able to get a library card in the local area.

Yesterday afternoon I took 10 students from our school's chapter of the National Junior Honor Society (I'm the faculty adviser) to volunteer at the Gallaher Village Public Library, the library closest to our school. This library also happens to be the one where I grew up; the one where Kathy took us all summer long every summer when I was a kid. The librarians at Gallaher Village are attempting to reorganize their nonfiction section, and our task yesterday was to take a list of titles, find them, and pull them off the shelves. It was like a big scavenger hunt! Simple, right?

There we were, tightly squeezed in three aisles looking for our books when, about 10 minutes in, I realized what happens when I take a big group of nerds (self included) to the library.

"Miss Lafferre, look at this!"

"Wow! This book looks cool."

"I think I'm going to check this out." 

And my favorite ...

"Miss Lafferre, how many words do you think are in this library?" 

"I don't think I know the word that means that number, KG. Quadrillions? Quintillions?" 

... and that was only from the kids who WEREN'T sitting on the floor looking through their books.

As I was looking for one of my titles -- a book about Lewis Carroll, I believe -- it just hit me (again): there is nowhere on earth I feel happier or more at home than the library. I just can't explain how I feel when I'm there. I LOVE it.

All those words. All those stories.

All those books that are full of the same 26 letters, arranged, and rearranged, and rearranged again.

It's magic. Words are magic.


Valentines that my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters and I made when we spent Valentine's Day at the place I love most, the library! 

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Lord Will Fight For You.

Wow. It's been an awfully long time. Longer than long actually.

I've missed my space and the friends that pop by here and share their thoughts on my thoughts.

A lot has happened since I last posted on August 31. A lot. In fact, my life has changed in two very significant ways since that day, and I'd like to tell you about one of them now. I have been writing and planning this post in my mind for months and months, and this week three different people have told me they miss my blog posts, so I decided it's finally time to tell this tale. I think, if you read it all, you'll understand why I wasn't able to write these past few months.

Those of you who have read this blog or known me for a while probably remember this post when I announced I was answering God's calling to be a teacher, quickly followed by this post where I announced I was answering God's calling to be a teacher RIGHT NOW.

Over the past 2.5 years, I have consistently taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grade Language Arts, as well as fifth and seventh grade religion and seventh grade social studies at various times. There have been some very low times, but there have been many more wonderful moments, and I have never doubted (okay, MAYBE after my very first day!) that being a middle school teacher is God's plan for my life. I can't imagine ever doing anything else.

Do you remember at the end of The Wizard of Oz movie when Oz is talking to the Scarecrow? Oz says,

Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning -- where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- and with no more brains than you have.... But!  They have one thing you haven't got!  A diploma! 

Well, for the past 2.5 years, think of me as the Scarecrow.

I was doing the same exact thing every single day as teachers all across the nation, but they all have one thing "I haven't got! A diploma!"

I started the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Marshall University at the exact same time I started my first year of teaching. I was taking a full-time graduate load while also being a teacher. There were many times at Marshall that my Catholic school -- and sometimes me personally -- were seen as lesser than because it wasn't public school.

Nevertheless, I continued with my classes, taking full-time loads in fall of 2014, spring of 2015, summer of 2015, and fall of 2015. I did everything that was requested and required of me: wrote lesson plans, presented projects, went to class, earned Clinical II hours in a local high school. All the while, I'm a first- and then second-year teacher, prepping about 35 lessons per week.

Then came the pivotal moment. Spring of 2016, so last year at this time, I was scheduled to complete my full-time student teaching, followed by earning my degree in May. Teaching students who are working full time in a public school are allowed to use their jobs as their student teaching, and West Virginia state law says that private school teachers can only do so if their university offers a one-credit special topics course, covering things that one might see in public school but not private school. (Which is mostly silly, but I digress.)

At first, Marshall told me I could not use my full-time job as my student teaching. This, of course, was devastating to me, because I loved my job, loved my students, and didn't want to leave them. Then, after having a conversation with my principal and superintendent, Marshall told me I could use my job as my student teaching hours, and I would begin that in January with my classmates. I left for Christmas break, thrilled that I could continue working at my job. I also filled out the required paperwork for a student teaching license from the state (yes, you need a student teaching license to teach at your own job), paid the fee, and also got fingerprinted and paid the fee for that too.

HOWEVER.

On January 5, right after I returned to school after Christmas break, and right before Marshall's semester was slated to begin, I received this email. In fact, it came in right before my eighth grade students were returning to class after lunch.

After quite a bit of conversation between Dean Eagle and the WVDE, it appears that what we were originally told about you being able to do student teaching at your current job was incorrect.  After a phone discussion this morning, it was clarified to us by the WVDE that we cannot do that.  According to Policy 5100, 6.4.b.6 candidates who complete their clinical experience in a nonpublic school must also “complete a course which is a component of the institution’s  WVBE-approved  educator  preparation  program  that  provides  information  sufficient  to prepare  the  prospective  teacher  to  demonstrate  competence  to  teach  in  the  public  schools  of  West Virginia.”  Marshall does not have a course of this nature as part of its approved program.  For this reason, if we did allow you to student teach in a private school, you would not meet the requirements for certification.

At this point, you have two options.  We can place you in a public school so that you can finish your program and certification this semester if you want to go that route.  We already have tentative public school placements lined out.  If you prefer to keep your current position and not student teach at this time, I completely understand and will take you off the student teaching list.  Please let me know what you want to do.

Please imagine you are me. Students are getting ready to come in, the graduate school semester is about to start, and all of a sudden you receive a big JUST KIDDING from your university. (You also have to understand that Marshall had been very difficult to work with, to say the least, from the very beginning. This was just one in a VERY long line of things that had been exhausting. I'm a rule follower, and don't believe I am above the rules, but everything I had done had been by the rules I had been given. Also, please understand I am speaking specifically to the Master of Arts in Teaching program, as my Master's in Journalism is from Marshall, and those people were wonderful.)

Seriously?

My principal talked to Marshall about adding the one-credit course as a special topics option for me, but, to make a long story short, they wouldn't.

In my humble opinion, teachers who leave their students mid-school year without a VERY good reason are highly questionable. I would never do that to my students. They don't deserve it. (And I loved them and wasn't ready to leave them. I'm still not ready to leave them, and they've been gone almost a year. :) )

After I taught the eighth grade that day, I went upstairs to my principal's office and just stood in her doorway. She had received the email too. My principal, who has been AMAZING during this process, just told me it was going to be okay, she had an idea.

So I went back down to my classroom, crushed. And then I did the only thing I could do. I prayed. I told God that I started this job in answer to what I believed He was calling me to do. I understood that He had been covering all my mistakes and shortcomings for me. I told Him I would hand all this over to Him, and I trusted He would show me what to do.

And then I hung this on the wall behind my desk, where it still remains today:


Oh, how many days I've looked at that quotation.

My principal, who is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University, a Catholic school in this state, had already reached out to people she knew there to see how they could help. It turned out that Jesuit, while not having a Master's program, did have an Accelerated Certification for Teaching program, which would suit my needs fine, and which would allow me to continue to teach at my school and earn my license.

FANTASTIC.

I bet you think you've reached the end of the story, don't you?

You have not.

It turned out that it was too late for me to begin student teaching at Jesuit last spring, so I would have to wait for the fall. It also turned out that they required a class that Marshall hadn't required, so I had to take (and pay for) yet another course, which I took online last spring.

Still not done.

Because student teaching licenses are only valid for six months, I had to apply for (and pay for) another student teaching license from the state and also pay to get fingerprinted again too. Fine.

So, if you're still awake and not bored to death by this convoluted and incredibly long saga, to recap -- I applied for my student teaching license to work at my job and began a new school year this past fall. I also took the required student teaching and special topics courses at Jesuit to accompany my student teaching experience.

If you think I'm done with this story now, you don't know me in person.

So, there I am, working away at teaching school and also going to school as well. I continued to check the status of my student teaching license online, and it said pending all the time.

Until one fateful day in October. October 21 to be exact.

On October 18, mid-semester, I reached out to the state to inquire about the status of my application and why I had heard NOTHING from them. I received this email in reply on October 21:

I regret to inform you that your application has been denied due to ineligibility. It does not appear that a clinical placement in Our Lady of Fatima Parish School with additional coursework (EDF 374) is authorized for issuance of the Clinical Experience Permit. You may want to communicate with your institution of higher education about opportunities for completing student teaching and qualifying for the clinical experience permit. We have been in communications with Jeremy Vittek in regards to this issue. I apologize for the confusion and appreciate your patience in waiting for a response.

The email came in at 12:12 p.m. If you're keeping score at home, I had paid my tuition to Jesuit, had completed my coursework, and had paid for fingerprinting and another license application. I had done my 90-page teaching portfolio. AND THE SEMESTER WAS ALMOST OVER.

To say I LOST MY EVER-LOVING MIND would be an understatement.

I called the director of my program and was more unprofessional than I've ever been because I was basically crying and at a total loss. Luckily he was nice. He explained what happened. And I just sat in my car, in my pink raincoat, listening to his explanation in shock.

You might recall that I mentioned that I needed a special topics course per state law because I was student teaching at a Catholic school. Jesuit offered that course, I HAD BEEN TAKING IT, and it was a course they had offered for years. Apparently, however, Jesuit had not filed the proper paperwork with the state to, I don't know, re-register the course? Renew it? At any rate, the state said the course was invalid. The plan was, according to the director, they would hopefully get the course approved, and then the state would retroactively approve my student teaching application in time for me to graduate in December.

Once again, please put yourself in my shoes. As Atticus Finch would say, climb into my skin and walk around in it.

I'm not sure how I continued to teach classes after lunch that day, but I'm a teacher and that's what we do. We teach. No matter what is going on in our personal lives.

No matter who is trying to tell us that we aren't really teachers.

I kept going back to that sign on my wall. Over and over. I prayed. I asked others to join me in my prayers.

Then, right before Thanksgiving, (that's right, a month later), I received this from the program director:

I just heard from the WVDE and the course was approved! I will get in touch with the certification officer to see what the next step is. 

And then right before Christmas, this arrived at my house:



After all of this. ALL OF THIS. 2.5 years OF THIS. I had gotten that certification.

The next step was to apply for my teaching license, which I did as soon as my transcripts were official. I applied for my license on January 10. I was notified by the state I was missing Form 7, then told my transcripts from my undergraduate institution, Shepherd, weren't on file, blah, blah. I checked my application online every single day.

One afternoon after school, February 27 to be exact, I logged online yet again, in hopes I would see that my Shepherd transcripts had arrived. Instead I saw this


My friends. There are no words. Absolutely no words. I am a words person, I LOVE WORDS, and I have none. No words, no font size, no anything could convey to you how I felt in that moment.

To say it was the greatest day of my life might be an understatement.

I had done it. God and I had done it.

Providentially, the person I first told, the person standing in my classroom when I saw it, was none other than last year's class clown, the trash can kid, back for a visit. His first reaction? "MISS LAFFERRE THAT IS SO AWESOME!" His second reaction? "Are you crying AGAIN?"

I am a person with many shortcomings. I fail multiple times a day. I make mistakes as a teacher every single day. I am a sinner.

But if I can say anything for myself, it is this: I earned every inch -- every centimeter -- of that teaching license. I fought for it daily for 2.5 years. I encountered roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. I fought for that license on days when my students were killing me. I fought for that license on days when parents weren't nice to me. I endured these trials because God saw it fit for me to, and He knows best.

Upon reflection (teachers love that, right?), I realized why God asked me to go through so much for this teaching license. I believe it is because He wants to make sure that I never, ever take that piece of paper for granted. He wants to be sure that I never take the blessing of being a teacher for granted.

Even as I write this now, I am crying. I will never, ever be able to express what is in my heart about this license.

If you are a teacher, I hope this story reminds you why you are one and makes you proud to have that license.

If you are not a teacher but are a parent, I hope this reminds you that your children's teachers, for the most part, are human beings who love your kids and are doing the best that they can.

If you are neither a teacher nor a parent, then I hope the one thing you get from what I wrote is this:

The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge - August!

It's no secret that all I did this summer was read, so I've read a lot of books this month. However, the book I chose specifically with the 2016 Reading Challenge in mind was

Death Wears a Beauty Mask and Other Stories by Mary Higgins Clark

for the theme

A book you've been meaning to read


I've written about my love of MHC before, but, in a nutshell, my grandmother reads all her books, my mom reads all her books, and I read all her books. I was pretty sure I'd read every book she's ever written, but I found out recently that she had this book of short stories I had never read. What?! Could it be?!

It was true. I found it at the library.

When I realized I had missed this book, I knew I had to read it for "A book you've been meaning to read" since I've pretty much been meaning to read all of MHC's books forever.


I really enjoyed it! The first short story, the titular Death Wears a Beauty Mask, is a traditional MHC murder mystery. However, not all the stories are. This book contains Stowaway, MHC's first published story, about a political prisoner attempting to escape his country, and When the Bough Breaks, a story about a family tragedy, among others.

This post is short but sweet -- I love MHC, and I enjoyed diving in to her short stories.


Now, to choose a theme for September. I'm kind of leaning toward "A book that was banned at some point" because that sounds so fun! We'll see!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Self-Help ... Books

As I mentioned before, all I've done this summer is read. (And take care of a sick rabbit.) I went to the library about once a week, got my stack of books, took them home, read them, rinse, and repeat.

It was wonderful.

I have always loved books. I love getting lost in a story, feeling that bittersweet anticipation as I get close to the final couple of pages, wanting to know how the story resolves itself, but also dreading it being over.

As I read, I folded down the corners of pages of the books that held quotes or passages that really spoke to me. (I am sorry fellow library patrons.) I was good about transferring them to my quote book at the beginning of the summer, but after awhile I just took pictures of the pages on my phone, intending to write them all down later. I recently realized I have well over 50 photos to go through, organize, and transcribe.

Late in the spring, I was reading a blog that mentioned a book (nonfiction) that I thought I might like to read. It wasn't available at the library at the time, so I put it on hold. I was anxious about waiting because I felt like I needed the wisdom that book would provide that minute. However, when I got off the hold list about three weeks later, a couple weeks into summer, I realized I wasn't as excited as I originally had been. The book lasted on my desk through two more trips to the library before I finally took it back, unread.

I couldn't understand it. Why would this book (which I'm sure is really good) have excited me so much one minute and then failed to even inspire me to crack the cover the next?

And then it hit me. I don't really have much of a need for self-help books, because I have self-help ... books.

Novels are my self-help.

Even novels that I end up not liking that much (of which there were only five, I think, this summer, and, no I won't post which are the ones), I end up turning down the corners of at least once. The words I find in novels, the inspiration and hope and wonder I find there, are what helps me. I find myself reading some sentences over and over. Maybe I'll go back to this particular nonfiction book at some point in the future, but I didn't need it this summer like I thought I did.

As an English teacher, words are my business. And I'm so glad of that because I find so much beauty in words. Have you ever thought about how books -- at least those written in English -- are the same 26 letters rearranged over and over again? How can just 26 letters impact our lives so much?



I decided I wanted to share the beauty I found this summer by compiling in a blog post some of the things I found and was inspired by. I hope you find something beautiful here as well. (And, yes, some of these are books I didn't actually like.)

__________

I told myself to carry this moment as a talisman of a time in my life when I was both truly content and lucky enough to realize it. 

- The Royal We by Jessica Cocks and Heather Morgan


When I'm choosing something new, though, something just for myself, my favorite kind of character is a woman in a faraway place. India. Or Bangkok. Sometimes she leaves her husband. Sometimes she never had a husband because she knew, wisely, that married life would not be for her. I like when she has multiple lovers. I like when she wears hats to block her fair skin from the sun. I like when she travels and has adventures. I like descriptions of hotels and suitcases with stickers on them. I like descriptions of food and clothes and jewelry. A little romance but not too much. The story is period.  No cell phones. No social networking. No Internet at all. Ideally, it's set in the 1920s or 1940s. Maybe there's a war going on, but it's just a backdrop. No bloodshed. Some sex but nothing too graphic. No children. Children often ruin a story for me. ... I don't mind them in real life. I just don't want to read about them. Endings can be happy or sad, I don't care anymore as long as it's earned. She can settle down, maybe open a little business, or she can drown herself in the ocean. Finally, a nice-looking jacket is important. I don't care how good the insides are. I don't want to spend any length of time with an ugly object. I'm shallow, I guess. 

As she steps off the ferry, her phone rings. She doesn't recognize the number -- none of her friends use their phones as phones anymore. Still, she is glad for the diversion and she doesn't want to become the kind of person who thinks that good news can only come from calls one was already expecting and callers one already knows. 

Maybe she didn't have a plan of where she was going. Maybe she just took the first train and then the first bus and then the first boat and this is where she ended up. 

Someday, you do not know when, you will be driving down a road. And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there. You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone. 

- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (thanks for the recommendation, Cindy)


You have to grow about eight hundred grapes to get just one bottle of wine. If that isn't an argument to finish the bottle, I don't know what is. 

- Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave


She was firmly in Austenland now, she reminded herself, where hoping was allowed. Did Austen herself feel this way? Was she hopeful? Jane wondered if the unmarried writer had lived inside Austenland with close to Jane's own sensibility -- amused, horrified, but in very real danger of being swept away. 

- Austenland by Shannon Hale


Once numbness shuts down a damaged heart, a miracle is required to restart it. Things would prove rough for our heroine. Her only hope was Jane Austen. 

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale


"I can't wait--," my mother begins, then stops to think. "You know what, if you're my only child who remains single until old age, I will proudly stand with you all the days of your life. If that's what you want." 

- Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (thanks for the recommendation, Story)


"I mean, I'm always being told that I'm-- that I have-- that Jane Austen has given me--"
"A horribly warped view of the world?" Adam suggested. 
"A wonderfully warped view of the world," Kay corrected him.
"How?"
"Oh, you know-- the usual stuff about happy endings and expecting to fall in love with the perfect hero."

- Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly


... both of them in a quiet state of chaos ... 

   "I am not an expert on love, Georgiana, but you are mistaken. If you held Mr. Wickham in regard, you would have felt foolish at your loss, but the romance would have been gone within six months. If you felt affection for him, you would again be foolish, but a year would resolve your loss. If I am correct, you felt one of these emotions rather than love. Am I not correct?"
   "Elizabeth, I can see one of these definitions fitting my situation, but then what is love?"
   "Real love, Georgiana, changes your life; your own needs no longer exist. If rejected, you never forget the person; as Fitzwilliam did, you might try to run away -- you try to find solace someplace else, but it cannot be. You might even choose another with whom to spend your life, but there is no love for it died and was replaced with regard or affection. I could not think of loving anyone but your brother; can you say the same thing about Mr. Wickham?"
   "I cannot, Elizabeth. I feel nothing for the man. I only feel my own shame at being taken in by him."
   "Then may we move on? You are not the person you were then ..."

- Darcy's Passions by Regina Jeffers


I still knew Charlotte, Emily, and Anne like no one should ever know anyone. I knew their shoe sizes and their height; I knew their stupid little secrets; I knew what they fought about and what they laughed about; I knew about the mole on Emily's right foot. Love always comes with scars, and this was mine: the knowledge that the friends I knew best were those I had never actually met. 

There was a painful silence, in which it occurred to me that I might never have a normal life. 

As I watched the two of them together, I imagined what it would be like if I were with him instead -- perhaps at a cocktail party in a black-and-white movie, telling women with long cigarette holders what a fine bridge player he was.

We entered a vast, bottomless silence. I scrambled for better conversation topics. This all would have been far less stressful in the movie version of our lives. The long silences would have been edited out. 

My lips twitched but no sound emerged. Somewhere in my mind, Samantha Whipple [character who is speaking's name] was being terribly witty. It was a shame no one could hear her. 

The purpose of literature is to teach you how to think, not how to be practical.

In the dark, I learned, silence has a way of killing you. 

"Are there any leading men in your life?"
"Several, but they're all fictional."


"Isn't there some truth in all fiction?"
"There's some fiction in all truth too."


Reading teaches you courage. The author is trying to convince you something fake is real. It's a ridiculous request, and it questions the sanity of the reader. The extent to which you believe the author depends on how willing you are to jump in headfirst. 

I find my therapy in math, just as you seem to have found yours in literature -- two disciplines that help make sense of the world. [Reminds me of Sarah and me.]

We seemed to be in Act V of a Shakespearian play that could either end in marriage or premature death.

- The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell (arguably the best book I read this summer, if the sheer amount of quotes didn't already show that to you)


I wanted to believe in happy endings again. I want to believe that I could trust a man. I wanted to believe there was a hero out there for me, worthy of the title of Darcy or Knightley, Wentworth or Tilney. 

Lots and lots of books. A refuge. A solace. Each one offering the possibility of a new beginning. 

Heartbreak is more common than happiness. No one wants to say that, but it's true. We're taught to believe not only that everyone deserves a happy ending, btu also that if we try hard enough, we will get one. That's simply not the case. Happy endings, lifelong loves, are the products of both effort and luck. We can control them, to some extent, and though our feelings always seem to have a life of their own, we can at least be open to love. But luck, the other component, well, there's nothing we can do about that one. Call it God's plan or predestination or divine intervention, but we're all at its mercy. And sometimes God doesn't seem very merciful. Jane taught me that. 

- Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo


I would self-medicate with fat, carbohydrates, and Jane Austen, my number one drug of choice, my constant companion through every breakup, every disappointment, every crisis. Men might come and go, but Jane Austen was always there. In sickness and health, for richer, for poorer, till death do us part.

Too much thinking never solved anything.

... I understand, as I have long understood through my own insatiable appetite for readings and rereadings of Jane Austen's six novels, why children want the same stories read to them a thousand times. There is comfort in the familiarity of it all, the knowledge that all will turn out well, that Elizabeth and Darcy will end up together in Pemberley, that Anne Elliot will pierce Captain Wentworth's soul, and that Mr. Elton will be stuck with his caro sposa for the rest of his life.

Just be where you are. That's the only way to get where you're supposed to go. 

- Confession of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler


Partial truth is falsehood's fiercest bodyguard. 

As the reader has perhaps noticed, great care has been taken with the punctuation used in this account. For me, as regards to literature, punctuation is what separates true greatness from the merely good -- and certainly from the false. 

- Love and Friendship by Whit Stillman


... hoping that all the magic in the world was somewhat connected. 

As humans we often let our egos rule our decisions. We let fear stop us from reaching our true potential. We forget about love. But the heart? It never forgets. No matter what happens, no matter how hard things get, it always remembers. 

- The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke


Watching her, I thought about secrets. One can grow accustomed to carrying unseeable scars, as if the tattoo one wears is inked in flesh tone over flesh tone; but nevertheless one is still covered in secret, painted with secret, stained by it. 

I hope that the epitaph of the human race when the world ends will be: Here perished a species which lived to tell stories. (Editorial comment: I feel like this might be the motto of my life.)

- Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye


I never thought Marianne's devotion to Willoughby was prudent, and it wasn't, but I bet it was fun. 

For months I convinced myself that Josh's paltry version of love was all I could expect -- I wasn't worth something better. But I know there's more. I want the real thing. I can have that, can't I? Because I know it exists -- in books and in real life. 

My childhood wasn't easy. I buried myself in books. I guess I'm a recovering book addict.

- Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay


You could really feel physically wounded if someone hurt your feelings badly enough. 

- Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (thanks for the recommendation, Phoebe)


When she was done, she regarded her dim reflection in the mirror, raising one pale hand to touch the silvery-looking glass with her fingertips. "Only one of us is real," she said quietly to that other Jane who sat gazing at her from the glass, "the other is but an illusion. The question is, which am I?"

I of all women would gladly trade a single moment of love for a lifetime of wondering what such a moment might have been.

- The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O'Rourke


I loved the anonymity of all it. Of a sidewalk full of strangers and endless possibilities. 

Only a sane person would realize how close he or she was to the edge. Not like my dad, who didn't know when he was teetering too close to that chasm, didn't seem to notice the change in velocity as he went tumbling into the abyss. But I knew. I knew how close we all were to that edge. And if I knew, then I was fine. Those were the basic rules of holding one's shit together, according to Tyler.

- All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda


Remember you're on our side now. You know: the grown-ups. 

It turned out that the only difference between children and adults was that children were prepared to put twice the energy into the project of not being sad. 

But before we sing slow for you, let's all take a moment to think of our true loves. It could be you're lucky enough to be sitting next to them right now. Or maybe they're far away, posted overseas. Maybe the two of you haven't even met yet, and you're holding the idea of each other. 

- Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleve




Sunday, August 7, 2016

Snicks.

On this day six years ago, I adopted the world's greatest rabbit, Snickers, when he was six months old. You can read the whole story here, but suffice it to say, he's been a gift from God for six years. I've loved every minute of our life together.

A life, I'm sad to say, I was afraid was about to come to an end very recently.

Many people know bits and pieces of this story, some more than others, and I have never meant to leave anyone out. The truth is, I don't usually make things like this -- sad things -- public, but I decided to with Snickers this time because we needed people's prayers.

Here is the story, from the beginning, in its entirety. A story that's not over yet, but a story that I'm hopeful will end better than we originally thought.

It all started at the beginning of July. I don't mean to be gross, but how I realized something was wrong with him initially was that the size and shape of his poo was wrong. This is really the best way you can tell something is wrong in rabbits. I had been out of town the first few days of July, and my brother Alex who was watching Snicks commented to me that he didn't think he was drinking enough and seemed out of sorts.



When I got back to town, I started doing the things the vet had told me to do in the past when his poo is weird. Namely, I cut back on the pellet food he receives and upped the greens. I also gave him a little pineapple juice, which some people use to help break up hair that gets caught in rabbits' intestines. (Rabbit trivia: they do not have the throw up reflex that cats do, so they cannot cough up hairballs. Their hairballs are broken up by the hay they eat and are prevented by frequent brushing, which Snickers hates.) It didn't seem to work. I also noticed that his nose was wet, which it shouldn't be, so I thought it was time to visit the vet. He usually goes every summer for a check up, so it was time anyways.

We have the BEST VET PRACTICE here in Huntington, and they have been seeing him and caring for him since he was six months old. They know him well, and they LOVE him. They treat us so well and have been there for us through some abscesses he had as well as the fleas he had last summer. (Incidentally, I think back to the fleas -- which I thought was the end of the world at the time -- and I laugh now because I'd take fleas any day over what we're dealing with now. At least with fleas there's a treatment and done, but I digress.)

The vet confirmed his nose wetness, but she also noticed that he was drooling a lot, which is unusual. The vet indicated that this was a sign that something may be wrong with his teeth. She tried to look in his mouth, but if there's one thing Snicks hates more than being brushed, it's having his mouth touched. I can't explain it.) Dr. Ellis then told me that she needed to refer me to a practice in Charleston who could provide more specialized care. At this time, I realized that this was no joke and something serious was going on. This was on Thursday, July 14.

On Monday, July 18, I took him to Charleston. Snicks has never been in the car that long before, nor is he used to being caged, so we were now dealing with stress on top of the sickness. He also does not like to leave home because he is a curmudgeon. (This is also probably a good time to mention that 6.5 years (which he will be on the 14th) is considered old in rabbits.) I was nervous to take him to a new doctor's office, too, because his Huntington people love him so much and they are so good, and I didn't want to take him somewhere where they didn't care about him like that.

I was worried needlessly, because I found Dr. Tackett to be very caring and wonderful. She examined him that day, and informed me that he was incredibly dehydrated and she was worried he was in GI Stasis. In case you don't know (and why would you?), GI Stasis is known as the "silent killer" in rabbits. It's life-threatening. Dr. Tackett tried to look in his mouth, and, although she was able to get a decent glimpse, he tried to fight her, too. She told me that she did not see anything that looked wrong in there, but that all rabbits' mouths are different, and she'd have to put him under anesthesia to get a better look. However, she said that anesthesia is very hard on rabbits, particularly old rabbits in bad health, and her immediate concern was the stasis and the dehydration. She also said that his drooling could be due to the fact that he wasn't feeling well and not a tooth thing. That day she gave him fluids under his skin ("subcutaneous," which I had never heard of before and is somewhat fascinating) and told me to take him to get fluids from his vet here for the next two days. I was also given something called Critical Care to feed him as well as pain medication to give him. She told me she'd call me later in the week to check on him.

Over the next two days, I took him back to Dr. Ellis for fluids. After a couple days of fluids and pain medicine, I noticed his poo was looking better, and Dr. Ellis noted she didn't see any drool.

YES! I thought things were done and great, and I told Dr. Tackett so when she called me later that week.

But ... (you knew that was coming)

But once the fluids wore off and the pain meds were gone, his poo got bad again, and I realized that was because he was completely refusing water. He would eat his greens fine, he would eat his hay, he was moving and going to the bathroom, but he would not drink water. I got lucky because, although he would not accept Critical Care in a syringe from me, he would eat it out of a bowl, which was a method suggested to be my his vet tech here in Huntington.

He just would not drink water.

I tried new bowls, I tried bottle feeding him, I tried bottled water, and water of different temperatures. No dice.

I called Dr. Tackett again and took him back to her. This was Friday the 29th. She weighed him and said he had not gained any weight, he was still dehydrated, and she was worried about him. This time, along with giving him  more fluids, she also took a blood sample and told me she'd call me with the results. She actually called me the next day with the results -- a Saturday afternoon, so nice -- which showed nothing. NOTHING. His blood was fine, except for an elevated kidney level of some sort, which she said was most likely being caused by the dehydration, not the other way around.

Now I should mention that neither Dr. Ellis, nor Dr. Tackett, nor the internet had ever heard of this particular problem before. There have been plenty of complains of rabbits who wouldn't eat or drink, or even rabbits who would drink but not eat, but no one had ever heard of a rabbit who would eat but not drink. It confounded everyone.

Dr. Tackett said that, at this point, the only thing left for her to do was put him under the dreaded anesthesia and check his teeth and tongue more intently. She said perhaps something was wrong with his tongue, which would explain why he wouldn't want to lap up water. If not, she was going to have to send me to a rabbit specialist. Who knew there was even such a thing? We scheduled his procedure for Wednesday the 3rd. This is incredibly scary because the vet had made it clear to me that anesthesia is so hard on them, and I was really, really afraid he wouldn't wake up. I told Dr. Tackett that it was just him and me, just the two of us, and I really needed him to be okay.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I took him to his vet practice here in town for fluids to prepare him for his procedures. It was so nice to see all the welcome faces of the people at Animal Care Clinic, who hugged me and told me to make sure to call them when I knew anything.

This past Wednesday, I left Huntington at 6:30 a.m. to drop Snicks off in Charleston by 7:30. Before we left, I took his little prayer bunny and put it in his cage with him. Luckily for me, Snicks is a HUGE fan of Pride and Prejudice and requested to listen to the audio book on the way to Charleston. :) But really, I make that sound a lot more lighthearted than the trip really was. When we arrived at the doctor, I opened up the car door, looked at him in the cage and said, "Remember you promised me you'd wake up. So you wake up."

I walked him in to the vet, which held a blue million people in the waiting room. Snickers is a bit of a novelty, which means people like to touch him, and I had this uncomfortable encounter with a fellow waiting room patron, which I don't want to recount here because I'm sure she meant well, but who made me feel worse. I finally got to check him in, and I was told I could call around 1 p.m. for an update on him. Then the receptionist came around and took him from me. I watched as she took him out of my sight, and then I went out to my car and cried. It was barely 8 a.m., I was exhausted, and I was about to travel back home without my beloved Baby Snickers.

I got home around 9, and planned to clean the house, including washing all of Snicks's many towels, before heading to school and working in my classroom. (The truth is, he has been peeing EVERYWHERE, probably as a result of his diminished kidney function. We're at the point where Snickers now has four bath towels, and I have one. Not one backup towel, ONE towel.) As I was vacuuming, I kept checking to be sure I wouldn't hit him with the vacuum, and then I'd remember he wasn't here. So sad.

I went to school where SO MANY PEOPLE were invested in how he was doing and cared so much to ask about him. It was so great to be at school that day, surrounded by my friends and colleagues who care, as opposed to being home alone, waiting. I also want to add that his Huntington vet's office wanted me to call them with updates, and I got several Facebook messages from the people there, too. They are so great!

I did call around 1 p.m. (okay, it was 1:01 p.m.), but the doctor's office told me that hadn't even gotten to take him back yet because they were so busy. However, he was next up, and the receptionist told me that Dr. Tackett said she'd call when he got out of surgery.

Finally, I got the call and heard what I'd been waiting to hear, which was -- he was awake. He woke up. Sadly, Dr. Tackett said that she didn't see anything in his mouth that really made her think it would cause him to not drink water. She said she noticed some irritation on one side of his tongue, but that it wasn't enough to make her definitively say that that was the cause. She filed his teeth down, gave him more fluids, and took a urine sample and told me she'd call me Friday with the results. We were back to a waiting game, but I felt like the day had been a success because he woke up.

I watched him closely, but he still wouldn't drink water. He was eating greens, eating hay, and using the bathroom (in fact, he was peeing still everywhere), but still no water. I decided to mix a little apple juice (organic, natch, only the best for my 4 lbs. old man, don't mind me, I'll be here eating Little Debbies myself) in his water. Dr. Tackett had suggested that people do this, but she usually doesn't like to recommend it because of the sugar he doesn't need. But she said I could try it, so I did.

He wouldn't drink it. It killed me.

The vet called me Friday afternoon for an update, so I told her the situation. She said his urinalysis didn't show anything wrong. She also told me that she called a specialist, who had no idea what could be wrong since she'd never seen this before. (In case you're keeping count, that's three very good, very baffled doctors and one abnormal rabbit.) She suggested that I put Snicks on a broad antibiotic in case he had some sort of kidney infection that wasn't showing up in his urine. Dr. Tackett said it had to be compounded, but, luckily, there is a pharmacy here in Huntington that could make it, so I didn't have to drive back to Charleston. I was told to give him this medicine for a month. I was also told that it might make his stools loose, which would be bad since he's already dehydrated, and, let's be honest, also bad because who wants to clean that up? She said if I notice that to call her and she'll prescribe something different. She also told me she was sorry that she couldn't figure out what was wrong and she really wanted to help him. She told me she knows how close we are. That made me feel good.

I got off the phone with her and sat down to continue reading my book, when I heard this trickling sound. Thinking it was Snicks peeing on the floor again, I got up to get the paper towels. I looked over ... AND I SAW HIM DRINKING THE JUICE MIXTURE.

I could not believe my eyes. I didn't move a muscle, not wanting to startle him. He took a second drink.

I called the vet's office back and told the receptionist that HE WAS DRINKING A BIT! She, however, did not seem as excited as I did, but she did tell me she'd go back and tell Dr. Tackett. I felt like Dr. Tackett would get it.

video


So, for the past 48 hours I've been making sure his bowl is full of the juice/water mixture, trying to make it a lot more water than juice. I'm using bottled water and not tap, just in case his senses are able to detect something different in our tap water that my taste buds can't sense. He's been drinking a bit, maybe not as much as I'd like to see, but it's something. I've been trying to play it cool around him, though, you know? :)

I picked up his prescription yesterday. I gave her my name, she checked the computer, and she was like, "Oh, is this for the bunny?" Indeed. I got a prescription that actually said "Lafferre, Snickers" on it. I mean really. I have to refrigerate it and everything! I also have to give it to him every 12 hours, so I'm trying to work that schedule out with going back to school this week. This prescription, I understand, is basically made to kill anything and everything that is bad inside his person. In fact, I looked it up online and read that this same drug is sometimes given to human victims of anthrax and certain types of plague. Yep.)


The truth is, he is usually a very good boy about using his litterbox, but there were times where he would fall asleep or otherwise have an accident. Or he'd hop out of his litterbox and his big feet would knock poo on the floor. It was irritating, I won't lie. But now, now when it happens, I just say, "It's okay Snicks, I got this." And I get the paper towels and the Resolve, and I clean it up. Because that stuff means that he's still here with me.

So that's where we are. Not back to 100%, still worried about the fact he's not drinking enough and maybe never will. I honestly don't know what will happen next. But, for now, he's alive, and he's safe. And for that, I am grateful.

Has this been exhausting? Yes. Expensive? Yes. In fact, I told myself that I wasn't going to add it up, because what good would that do and what purpose would it serve? The thing is, I assumed responsibility for Snickers's care years ago, and I've always seen him as a gift from God, and we're supposed to nurture and care for the gifts God has given us. It's not Snickers's fault he's not well, and he's only ever been a gentle and loyal friend. He's the oddest rabbit that God ever created (medical professionals back me up), but I do believe he's also God's favorite.

Happy adoption day, Baby Snickers. I love you. And a lot of other people do, too.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Summer We Read Austen

It all started with the novel The Summer We Read Gatsby*. 

But, by the time it was over, it would be more accurately called The Summer We Read Austen.

And read.

And read.

And read.

Don't misunderstand me, I read lots of other books this summer that weren't Austen or Austen-related. (In fact, in the next week or two I plan to devote an entire post to quotes and passages I enjoyed in all sorts of novels I read this summer; however, it'll take a while because I took pictures of all the pages with words I loved throughout the summer and am just now realizing just how many there are. It'll take a little while to organize it all!) But, for the majority of the summer, I was surrounded by Darcy and Elizabeth and Knightley and Emma and Wentworth and Anne.

And I loved every minute of it.

Truly, one of my biggest sources of entertainment this summer was to curl up with a glass of wine and my laptop in the evenings, and put a bunch of books I wanted on hold on my library account. (Getting crazy, I know!) One morning, as I was going to pick up my newest stack of 10, it occurred to me that every single one of those books was Austen-related. Imagine my surprise when my next stack of 10 also happened to be strictly Jane. And I wasn't the only one who noticed.

Librarian: "Oh I remember you from last week. I admire your commitment to Jane Austen."

Thanks. :)

I don't know what it is about her, guys. I know I've tried to explain it before, and I can't really, so I'm not going to try again. I think in a lot of ways I see her books in the same way I see old movies: they're like comfortable old friends who, when you visit, you know you'll learn something, hear something to give you hope, and you'll part happily.

This past Saturday afternoon, I was reading Dear Mr. Knighley (great book) when my phone rang. It was Snicks's Charleston doctor, who was calling to tell me his blood test results. His full story is for another day, but, basically, the doctor told me they could find nothing in his blood that would cause his current health problems and that her next step of action would be to put him under anesthesia, file his teeth down, explore his mouth, and take a urine sample. She had really not been wanting to put him under because anesthesia is really hard on rabbits, and Snicks's case is especially complicated because he is old, little, and in poor health. Our conversation made me sad and a little nervous, so did what I do best, and I turned back to my books. And I looked at the stack I had left, and I realized I had no more Austen books in the stack, and I just couldn't take Snickers to the doctor for surgery on Wednesday without Jane Austen. So I went online to my library account and put a few more on hold and went and picked them up Monday. I don't know. I just felt better.

Do you have things like this in your life? Comfort things? I hope you do. I bet you do.

And, as much as I am pumped to go back to school because I miss my students so much, it will be hard to abandon my whole-day reading habit I got into this summer. So I got a little something to take with me:


I like having it on my desk. I do very much like ridiculous things! And it goes with the Mame theme and the year theme, too, I think.

I don't know friends. I feel like there's a lot more I wanted to say here, but worrying about Snickers is taking up most of my brain energy right now. I'll trust you'll understand what I'm saying anyways.

And, lest you start to be afraid this is turning into a Jane Austen devotional blog (not that there's anything wrong with that!), it isn't. Expect upcoming posts on what I learned about myself through novels; God's favorite rabbit, Baby Snickers; and a new thought on living like Auntie Mame.

Thanks for sticking with me, friends.

*Incidentally, I got this book from the library shelf because I thought it looked good. Imagine my surprise when, moving my books to a new bookshelf I assembled this summer, I saw the exact same book on my shelf. Yep. I checked a book out of the library I already had at home. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge - July!

As it is the last day of July (can. you. believe. it.), I wanted to share the book I chose for July for the 2016 Reading Challenge.

I read a blue million books in the month of July, indeed all summer long, and I plan a post or two in the next week or so about all the books I read, quotes I enjoyed, and what I learned.

But, officially, my pick for July's reading challenge theme was "A book published before you were born." I chose Persuasion by Jane Austen.


I read this book in a different manner than I have all the other months' books, in that I listened to it as an audio book. I am not an auditory learner; thus, I realized that it's easy for me to listen to an audiobook only if I've read the book before. I had read Persuasion before, obviously, and I enjoyed the experience of listening to it read to me.



Now is a great time for me to tell you about a really cool app called Overdrive. It allows you to "check out" audiobooks from your local library, download them to your phone, and listen to them. I used this app to get Persuasion and Emma. I'm currently waiting on my turn for Pride and Prejudice now.

Listening to Persuasion gave me good motivation to walk in the park as well as drive distances in my car that I might not have otherwise enjoyed. I listened to Persuasion as I drove to Charleston to the airport on my way to visit my friend Colleen, I listened in little bits as I drove around town, I listened on my drive from the Charleston airport to Morgantown to visit my family, and I listened as I walked around the park.


If you are a frequent walker in Ritter Park and also happen to be reading this blog post, then everything probably makes sense in your life now. By that I mean, I react to what I read, and I just can't help it. I LOVE Persuasion, I've read it and watched it so many times, that I found myself talking back to the novel in the car as well as reacting to various scenes with my face as I walked in the park. I am absolutely sure I looked like a crazy person, especially on the day I happened to be in the park as Anne Elliot opened her letter from Captain Wentworth:

"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.

I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

You guys. Seriously. How are you NOT going to react to that. I know what my face must have looked like in the park that day, multiple times, actually, as I swiped the status bar left a couple times to hear it again and again.

I mean, this letter has its own page on Facebook.

I can only say, if you have not read Persuasion, please do so. And when you're done, read Captain Wentworth's Diary because it's also wonderful. If you have read Persuasion, read it again. And again. And again.

"I have loved none but you."

 *swoon*