One Year Down

My first year of teaching is coming to a close. Back in August, as I was anticipating a new job and the frightening possibilities that lay head, I realized one thing: Failing is not an option.

What if I don’t do a good job?

What if I’m a terrible teacher?

What if no one learns and none of the kids like me?

For weeks, these thoughts infiltrated my mind, and I secretly contemplated throwing my hands up and running away. No thanks, I’ll get another waitressing job. Cleaning job. Administrative assistant job. Anything that doesn’t scare me as much as this does. 

But it was one of those things: I had a choice. Too often I find myself reeling with this sense that I don’t have control. I’ve always craved having the final say, controlling the situation; I blame being the oldest, along with my genes…But the truth is, we DO control a lot. We have the ability to press on, even when we fear a terrible outcome. I had the ability to work harder than I thought I could handle.

This year has been far from perfect. There is so much left to learn, and my second year of teaching will probably open my eyes to Just. How. Much. I’m excited to learn how to use each moment of class more effectively, how to explain concepts more clearly, and how to engage students in ways that fire them up to learn new things.

Saturday morning, I will be dressed in regalia, marching down a short aisle to celebrate the graduations of my senior Latin students. I will present two awards and talk about the hard work and skill of my class. They know how young I am, but they don’t know how close to their age I still feel.

I guess all of us have accomplished something pretty big this year.

In my dreams I say…

I swear in my dreams.

Last week, I dreamed I said it in front of my grandmother. I don’t know what was happening, I just know the word flew out of my mouth and she was horrified, stood there looking at me, blinking, probably ready to disown me.

Two nights ago, I dreamed I said it in front of the worst possible audience: my fourth graders. They were all sitting at their desks, their faces bright, a few of them clamoring to see what we’d be learning in Latin. And out it came, “What the…?” and I clapped my hands over my mouth so fast, in real life my cheeks would’ve burned red.

There was no reason for me to make such an exclamation, no prompting from either my grandmother, or the class full of children. My psyche is freaking out.

~     ~     ~

That is a word I consciously choose not to use. I say “consciously” because a little part of me would love to break out with such profanity and look at those around me and laugh. Yes, I swear. And you want to do it, too. 

But I don’t.

Or at least, not that word.

I can’t even imagine what would happen if I did, if I stood in front of all these children who made me Valentines (spelling ‘Magistra’ like ‘Magestra’) and swore like a sailor. I would be fired, probably. No, definitely. And I would live on in their memories as their “Magistra who said…”

~     ~     ~

The name of this new blog is my attempt at the impossible: to admit to myself that I am now an adult. As I wrote about earlier, I may never feel like an adult. But that doesn’t change the fact that 99 children’s parents have entrusted a part of their education to me (albeit a relatively small part). I may not feel like a very grown-up person, but I’m as tall as I’ll ever be.

I wrote an overdue letter to my dear friend in Switzerland the other day. In it, I admitted that I love how much those children look up to me. I love that they can’t wait to see what I’ll say next – that they devour the derivatives of rex like it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever heard. They race to get the dictionary if they have questions, and they jump to be the first actors when we act out the Latin skits in our textbook. They ask me questions that seem far too deep for third, fourth, or really even fifth or sixth graders, and I know that what comes out of my mouth is important. They believe every word I say.

Maybe that’s why I dream about swearing in front of them. I know that what I say matters so much more in those classrooms than it seems to outside of them. I can still picture the adults I admired and respected as a kid, and it’s frightening to realize that I have become one of those people. It’s frightening to realize that there is so much in the world these kids have yet to discover.

Eventually, they are going to realize that all I say isn’t gold. They’ll see my faults (“You forget everything, Magistra!” they say in chorus as I run back in to grab my water bottle almost daily), and my humanity will be all too obvious.

Someday, they’ll realize it, but it won’t be because I said ______.

285092_2161342945874_1015570950_32489021_7554639_n[Five weeks in Austria after graduation taught me: You will never feel so free again. Enjoy this. So I did. I felt young and I knew when I hit American soil, everything would be different.]

[Weekend Thoughts]

How do you know when you’ve read a book that’s changed your life?

You want to give a copy to all of your friends.

Unfortunately, that isn’t financially feasible for me at the moment, but here’s a shameless plug for a book that’s probably out of print (and therefore deliciously difficult to find among wobbly stacks at little used bookstores):

“Decision Making by the Book” by Haddon Robinson.

Ignore, if you can, the horrendous title and the equally ugly book jacket, because let me tell you, IT’S WORTH IT. The whole time I was reading, I thought of moments in my life when I wish I’d already had this sucker in my back pocket.

What if “What’s God’s will in this situation?” isn’t even the right question to ask?

What if “How can I glorify God?’ is a much better one?

I wish I could force my friends to read it, but my powers are only so strong.

~     ~     ~

Went to a museum Saturday with my city-friend. We got lost on the way (Surprise! I stink at directions!), but we didn’t panic, which is a vast improvement and I think shows that we’re maturing. They asked if I were a student, and for a second I thought, Yes, and then I realized, No, and had to pay the entrance fee. No photography was allowed, but we furtively snapped some photos of the cool bathroom. So retro.


photo copy

~     ~     ~

This afternoon, I went to a coffee shop to get work done, found a too-tiny table without a plug nearby, and plunked down, hoping to get at least some of it finished. Sent some emails about the musical (Alice in Wonderland, Jr., by the way!), and was able to just start writing my midterm exam for Latin I when WHAM! my computer died. So sad. But I thought I’d truck on, using good old pen and paper, when a girl’s tiny voice rose above the din and said, “Just so you all know, we will be closing at 3:00.” She paused. “That’s in two minutes.”

Oh well.

Headed home, made some Genmaicha tea, sat down to finish writing the midterm…and started writing this blogpost instead.

So now, according to the bizarre countdown on, I have roughly 3 hours and 31 minutes until “Downton Abbey” starts. Can I finish the test?!?! We shall see.

Top Ten Discoveries of 2012

Okay, I admit, this will be a very subjective list. They are not in order of importance, and I only chose ten because it’s a pretty number.

1. Vanilla-rose tea. After leaving my beloved loose-leaf tea shop to teach Latin, I began drinking tea with even more abandon. I NEVER thought I would enjoy a floral tea, but there’s something addicting about this sweet/rosy black tea. A little milk and sugar, and it’s like I’m drinking dessert. (Rooibos is still my go-to tea for all my non-caffeinated needs.)

2. Joan Didion. 


There are some authors who speak to you, and then there are other authors who keep speaking to you even after you’ve finished their books. Didion is one of the latter. When I think of a memoirist I want to emulate, she is high up on the list. Some quotes that stuck with me:

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.

On Self-Respect

(I keep reminding myself that this one is only half-correct; we realize that perhaps we don’t like ourselves, but this is only helpful if we choose not to remain here, choose to reach for the truth.)

[Writing is] hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture…Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

The Paris Review

3. Teaching. Sometimes, I think surprises are funny. Sometimes, I think there are too many surprises going on in my life. Teaching is one of the biggest ones this year. While I don’t know (yet) what this will mean for me longterm, I do know that I am loving learning the language of children again, sharing my love of learning, sharing a language that will shape how they approach their own language from here on out. Decline puella? You got it. Explain how Latin uses the Dative Case? I can do that, too. I have a lot to learn, but that’s the exciting part.

4. Directing. I don’t know if I can count this as a discovery, per se, because it hasn’t officially started yet. But a week before Christmas, I went in for an interview to teach voice lessons at the YMCA, and left with a job directing the Y’s children’s musical. “Have you ever directed anything?” “No, no I haven’t.” “Are you interested?” “Yes, I guess I am.” I went home without giving an answer yet, afraid that I was – again – biting off more than I could chew. That night, we got Chinese for dinner. I read my fortune (which, let me tell you right now, I do not hold ANY store in), and was a little shocked to read: “If you understand everything you’re doing, you’re not learning anything.” Shoot. So I emailed her Yes, yes I would love to direct the musical and rehearsals start in a few weeks. More on that later, I’m sure.

5. Tom Cruise. 


Okay, true confessions: I have a celebrity crush on Tom Cruise. On The Crazy. I’ve decided to afford myself this one, bizarre luxury. I don’t understand it, and I don’t expect anyone else to. The first movie I ever saw with him was “Far and Away.” I was so caught up in the story that I forgot for the moment that life was beyond the confines of this one world, and when Tom’s character falls, hitting his head and seems to die, I screamed. Literally. I ran up the stairs, angry at my brother and sister for not warning me. “Why didn’t you tell me?!?!” I shouted. Because, it wasn’t just that he died. He and the woman he loved were running for land in Oklahoma, striving for a dream together. That is my favorite image of love, and I know it’s romanticized and American and probably wrong. I can’t help it.


Needless to say, Tom’s character isn’t dead, and the movie has since become one of my favorites. So far, I’ve watched “Top Gun,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Rain Man,” “Valkyrie,” and a handful of others. For some reason, I am able to forget the fact that Tom is a Scientologist, that he’s had some crazy bouts of weirdness, that he’s made some terrible life choices. That’s the point of movies, after all – to suspend your disbelief and get swept up in something.

I feel lighter after this confession. Thank you.

6. Blogging. Yes. Writing this blog has been fun. Digesting the experiences, the blessings and the harder times, through this blog, has been really rewarding. Reading other people’s blogs and learning about their lives and what they think has broadened my own thinking.

7. Parenthood. 


I. love. this. show. Sometimes, I sit there, tears in my eyes, and I wonder, Why do I do this to myself? Why do I watch things that make me so incredibly sad? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, but there’s something about it. The characters are annoying and lovable and funny, and even though they make some terrible choices, they love each other. The writing is strong, the characters are believable, and I love it. (Other shows I’ve been loving: “Mindy Project,” “Ben and Kate,” and “Raising Hope.” Tuesdays are good to me.)

8. Homemade granola. I wrote about this last spring. I have to make another batch; I’m going through withdrawal. There’s nothing more delicious than a little granola with Greek yogurt, homegrown (homemade? home-what?!?!) honey, and dried cranberries. Delicious.

9. Music. Fleet Foxes. Lumineers. Florence and the Machine. Ingrid Michaelson. Bob Dylan. (Some) Adele. Of Monsters and Men. Judy Collins. Joan Baez. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Ray LaMontagne.

10. Living at home can be exactly what you need. I never would have thought this. As graduation approached, I stared at the possibility of moving home, and I was scared. I thought I would hate it. I thought my family would start to hate ME. I thought I would never see my friends. I thought I would turn back into the girl I was before college, and that was not good at all.

But what I’ve discovered is that sometimes God gives you what you need, even if it isn’t what you want. I needed to be home this year. I needed to remember what it feels like to know your family has your back, no matter what. I needed to feel loved and safe, especially as I faced uncertain health issues (all is good, praise the Lord).

Above all, I needed to trust.

I discovered that trusting God looks different in different situations. For some, trusting God looks like moving far from home and going out on your own. For me, trusting God looked like moving home. It looked like allowing my picture of my future to change.

Trusting God is a constant discovery. It’s a pretty big one.

Bring on 2013. I’m ready.

Long Weekend Happiness

My four days off stretch before me – an eternity and the blink of an eye at the same time.

I woke up yesterday to the first snow. It had started the night before, and as we drove up out of the city (book club likes to hop all over the place, this week finding residence in a hilly city neighborhood), I watched the white flakes pelt the windows. I felt young, watching it snow, and later slipping along the sidewalk in my boots.

What I want to do with four days off:

  • READ. Like it’s my job. Finish Circling to the Center, make a dent in Tale of Two Cities, digest a little more Rilke, discover the four or five issues of ‘The Sun’ my writer friend lent me, EVERYTHING.
  • WRITE. I wrote my first short story in a long time this week. It flowed out of me, which was lovely, but now I’m thinking, shoot, now I have to edit it. I’m not so good with that part.
  • SING. Warm-up. Play the piano while I sing some hymns. Pretend I know what I’m doing again. Maybe some German art songs, but I may be too ambitious (again).
  • Finish my brother’s sweater. (Yes, I knit. It’s like the icing on the dork-cake. In my defense, he asked me to make him a sweater, so really I’m just being a kind sister…)
  • WALK. I miss the outdoors. I miss the sunshine, the leaves, the color of the sky. I plan on going for a number of walks in the next few days.

What I DON’T want to do, but need to do:

  • CLEAN MY ROOM. Gross.
  • Find the water heater for my chickens. It’s getting colder (or at least, it’s supposed to be getting colder), and the waterer started to ice over the other day. Not cool.
  • CLEAN MY CAR. Yeah, like that’s really gonna happen.
  • LESSON PLANS. I have a lot of planning for the next week or two of Latin. We’re starting Chapter Six in my high school class, and it’s painful. Remember how in your English classes, your teachers always told you not to write in the passive voice? Well, Latiners LOVED using passive verbs. So basically I think I’ll need to give a mini-English lesson before I even introduce the Latin (i.e., “What’s the difference between ‘Marcus hits Iulia’ and ‘Iulia is hit by Marcus’?”). And welcome to: Prepositions that Take the Accusative Case. And welcome to: The Locative Case.

Now on my way to my favorite little bookstore. Stock up on those books I’ll be reading.


I write during snapped-up moments between classes.

My high school class was awesome – half of the students were away on college tours, so it was just me and eight students, learning the Ablative Case. You can be so much more productive with smaller classes (and yes, they actually asked me questions when they didn’t understand something!). It was beautiful.

My third grade on the other hand…

I certainly could’ve had a better time.

There’s just something about it when kids choose not to participate. Oh, I don’t know. But I’m cute – doesn’t that count for something?

I’m working on patience. That was honestly why I never wanted to become a teacher. Mr. B. (that’s actually what we called him), looked at me one day when I was in high school, and said, “Catherine, you’re gonna be a teacher.”

I said, “No thank you! I am WAY to impatient to teach.”

And I was right.

But that’s the thing: maybe God doesn’t wait til you’re perfect before He makes you do what you’re supposed to do.

Maybe He sends you out and expects you to trust Him. Expects you to work.

Expects the people and things in your life to both sharpen you and smooth you.

Pretty annoying.


This week of teaching has been phenomenal.

I say this a little early (it’s only Thursday, after all), but I can’t help it.

It’s due to a few things:

Being Prepared

  • This goes without saying, but the better you prepare a lesson, the better it’ll be. Even if I go in confident of the material and what I think will happen, if I haven’t prepared for the barrage of repeated questions (“Can I use a highlighter?”, “Can I use a highlighter?”, “Wait, can I use a highlighter?”), things go a little off track. I’m getting better about going with the flow, steering the class back on track. I want so badly to let the kids be who they are, to help them create who they are, so it’s hard for me to tell them to stop talking. Please, would you stop expressing yourself? Please stop trying to connect with me. But I know this is necessary, and I’m working on it.
  • The bottom line is, more often than not, everything takes longer than I expected. So I hope I learn from my week of good preparation and keep this going.


  • I gave a vocal quiz in each of my classes this week. This is good because it forces the kids to study, it shows me where they all are on the spectrum of basic Latin comprehension, and, the best part, it gives time for story-telling at the end…

Telling Stories

  • I think this may be my calling. Or perhaps, my calling within the teaching world. All of my grammar school classes 3-6 grades, clamored onto their respective rugs in their respective classrooms, and watched me with wide eyes as I told them the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops. Did I get it perfectly? No. Did I remember to say everything I wanted to? No. Did they love it? YES.

(I wish it were possible to post a picture of my classes, on their knees, sprawled out on their bellies, chins cradled in little hands. I guess you can imagine what they looked like when one fourth grader sighed blissfully, “This is my favorite story.”)

So maybe my writing and singing play into this life pretty well. Isn’t it nice to listen to a singer read from D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, or a writer recount the Fall of Troy!

Maybe everything is converging.

The End of the Hiatus

So I’ve taken a break.

It was unintentional, but deep down, I know I needed it. A lot has changed since my last post, and I needed some time to think. Even my trusty journal was left untouched for almost a month. Thank goodness it (she/he, I don’t know) is patient.

Part of the reason I took a break from writing is because of the title of this blog: “Broke on my Birthday.” When I chose it, I thought it was humorous, a little stab at myself and all my recent-college-graduate friends who found ourselves, indeed, thrust into life and not entirely prepared.

But something’s changed. For me, at least. I was never actually broke to begin with, and now, through unbelievable blessing and good-timing, I find myself with a job. A JOB. Yes. I am a




Latin teacher by morning, administrator by afternoon

The thing about blessings is, sometimes you don’t know quite what to do with them. When people ask what I do now, I feel this huge grin explode on my face. I’m embarrassed, actually, by my joy. Well, I’m teaching grammar school Latin. Oh, and High School Latin I. Yeah, I know, who would’ve thought?!

But as I told my cousin yesterday, over a cup of coffee at my new teacher-hang-out Barnes and Noble, I go into class every day, and I am excited. All these little faces looking at me, eager to learn. Eager to show me what they already know. All the joys I’ve encountered so far will have to wait for another post, but I can’t tell you how beautiful it is to hear a third-grader read, “Roma in Italia est”, and then tell me with shining eyes, “Rome is in Italy!”

and thank you for supplying my coffee

So that is how I’ve been spending my days: frantically getting together enough material for seven Latin classes. There is too much information, too much new, and I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF IT.

So, welcome back to my blog. I’ve missed you.

Oh, and check it out. I may have taken a break from blogging, but I haven’t been entirely lazy…