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I love the clean slate feel of the new year. And so, I am a resolution-maker. Every year, I tell myself – this will be the year I get it all together. I will exercise more. I will run a 10K. I will make more friends, get my apartment completely organized, closely follow a budget. This year I will make more money and buy a house. I will be a nicer person and never say mean things about anyone behind their back. This will be the year I finally achieve my lifelong goal of writing a book. I will also connect more deeply with my faith and read through the entire Bible.

This has been my self-talk every new year for awhile now. And I finally have to laugh at myself and realize that it’s not realistic to accomplish all of this in any given year, especially while raising two small children. Maybe I need to lower my expectations a little bit.

2015 was a good year for me. I wrapped up a travel editing project in February with a big client. I finally learned how to do my taxes and was self-sufficient enough to prepare a freezer full of meals during my pregnancy. My son was born in March and when my daughter turned 3 in April we celebrated with a party at the trampoline gym. I wrote a couple of travel articles about Lexington, Kentucky, and I got a new part-time job as publicity coordinator for my daughter’s children’s choir. Spencer took a month off from work in the summer and helped me at home with the kids. We visited the beach several times; Marie went to ballet camp and swimming lessons. In September, Spencer transitioned to a new job that he really enjoys.

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Fun at the beach with my daughter. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

2015 was a hard year for me. When my son was one-week old, I developed a postpartum uterine infection and was readmitted to the hospital through the ER for 24 hours. It took me about a month to physically recover from childbirth and my complications, and I struggled with postpartum mood disorder for the second time (though not as severely). After my son was born, I had to sign up for WIC to help make ends meet. My husband struggled at work and ended up quitting his job without having another job lined up, and without me having a job.

So my year was amazing and it was also difficult. I did not run a 10K, write a book, or buy a house. Maybe in 2016 I’ll accomplish at least one of those things; time will tell. I know there are many joys ahead as well as many challenges, and I’m looking forward to the journey. As for my resolution this year?

It seems to work best if I have one, achievable resolution. Recently I heard about a dad who had resolved to take his 4-year-old son camping once a month throughout the year. While cold-weather camping isn’t my thing, I like the idea of creating a special tradition with my child. So, I’m resolving to do a community service project once a month with my daughter. I discovered a local nonprofit called Little Hands Can that does service projects with parents and kids, and I’ve already signed up for a project in January. I’m excited to start a tradition of service with Marie.

What’s your resolution for 2016?

 

Today I feel completely drained. It’s due to the months/years of sleep-deprivation, plus the ongoing 3-year-old tantrums and arguments. My daughter throws tantrums pretty much every morning for various reasons, but usually to do with food or clothing.

This morning she was mad that I mixed her fruit-on-top yogurt, which I always do — because otherwise she won’t eat the yogurt and will only eat the fruit. Yesterday morning she threw a fit because she didn’t want the lemon yogurt mixed with maple syrup that she asked for. So she asked her dad for a peach yogurt, which he gave her, and then she decided she didn’t want to eat that either and continued having a tantrum. Ultimately I ended up spoon-feeding her the peach yogurt because that’s what she insisted on (because baby brother is spoon-fed). On Monday morning she threw a giant, foaming-at-the-mouth tantrum because her shirt got a little bit wet when she brushed her teeth and Spencer told her she couldn’t change it because it was already time to leave for school. And ultimately I did let her pick a new shirt after she took off the (very slightly) wet one. You must choose your battles wisely.

As you can imagine, the constant tantrums are exhausting for me to deal with. It makes me fantasize a bit about having a full-time job so that I can put her in full-time daycare and have a bit more of a break. Thank goodness for the 9 hours a week of preschool. But even when my daughter is at school, I am still taking care of my baby, and trying to fit in my meal planning and grocery shopping, cleaning, and part-time publicity job.

So, today I feel emotionally and physically exhausted and it’s not a big surprise. Until my baby starts sleeping through the night, (which will probably not happen until he is weaned, or until I start sleeping in the living room and wearing earplugs) I am a round-the-clock caregiver. There is little time for self-care.

But there has to be. Self-care is essential for everyone, and I think it is especially important for moms of tiny kids. My prenatal yoga teacher used to read a quote that was something like, “You cannot pour your life into others unless you first fill your own cup.” Tiny kids need a lot of love, and we want to give it to them, but we can’t if we don’t also take care of ourselves.

Sometimes self-care can mean saying yes to things. For me, saying yes to having my daughter in preschool has helped me a lot, as I mentioned. I also try to make time for exercise – I do yoga videos at home, and I found a fun Saturday morning zumba class. I also say yes to taking my kids on lots of fun outings because it’s not just for them. It is super important for me to get out, be around other people, and have fun.

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Parenting is no Day at the Beach. But sometimes a day at the beach is just what I need. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Self-care can also mean setting appropriate boundaries and saying no to things that drain your energy. I’ve learned to set better boundaries over the years. For one, I only have limited energy and most of it is taken up by my tinies.

For me, self-care also means letting go of perfectionism and lowering my expectations of myself a little bit. I am not a perfect mom. I don’t have a perfectly clean house or make gourmet meals every night. Are those the ingredients that would create a perfect mom anyway?

How about this more honest assessment. I am not a perfect mom. I don’t know how to deal with every tantrum. I don’t know how to find the perfect balance of positive discipline and love. I often forget to make my daughter clean up her messes. I am usually late to things. Sometimes I yell at my daughter, and sometimes I have to apologize for getting mad at her when she’s just being a normal 3-year-old.

I can’t ever be the perfect mom because the perfect mom does not exist. That is okay. I am doing the best I can, and making time to take care of myself makes me a better mom than I would be otherwise.

Thanks for reading. What do you do to take care of yourself?

 

 

Last night I was working to finish up our family Christmas card in time to take advantage of Shutterfly’s Black Friday sale. (And I did end up saving more than $60 off the regular price…yay!).

I started doing photo Christmas cards every year after Marie was born, and before that for a few years I just sent out a Christmas letter. Everyone loves to hate the Christmas letter, but of course as a writer and avid reader, I think it’s a lovely tradition.

Anyway, I was thinking how for a lot of my relatives, my annual Christmas card is my only communication with them. And if someone only knew me by my Christmas card, with its adorable family photos and paragraph on the back about the highlights of our year, that person would probably think I had a really blessed life.

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My family at the zoo – baby’s first visit!

And then I thought, if that person knew what our annual income was, they might think – eh, not so blessed.

Or if that person knew about some of the really tough struggles I’ve had with depression and anxiety – off and on throughout my life – again, not so blessed.

Then I thought, well the truth is actually this: I do have a really blessed life.

And hello there dear reader, I think you have a really blessed life too.

Did you know that about 26% of the world’s adult population is illiterate? And women make up two-thirds of all illiterates?

Did you know that 20% of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day? And nearly half of the world’s population survives on less than $2 a day. Did you know that 1 billion people in the world today do not have access to safe drinking water?

Or this fact: women make up slightly more than half of the world’s population, but they account for 60% of the world’s hungry?

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. If you’re reading this post, you are literate. You have Internet access. You probably get enough to eat, have a safe place to sleep at night, and have access to clean drinking water.

Most of us in the Western world have our basic needs met and more, and yet we are never satisfied with our material wealth. We consider money and material objects to be the greatest possible blessings.

But then why do we who have so much, struggle so much with depression and anxiety?

What if money is not the greatest blessing?

What if the greatest blessing we can have is something that can’t be measured or hoarded?

What if the greatest blessing of all is love, actually?

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My daughter, one of the great loves of my life, sits in the Appreciation Chair and Portland Children’s Museum.

What are some of  the greatest blessings in your life?

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Resources:

United Nations Hunger Statistics

World Literacy Foundation

A few ways to help:

MercyCorps

Doctors without Borders

Fistula Foundation

Do you have a favorite nonprofit? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As an adult, I’ve been more of a fan of Thanksgiving than Christmas, since there are not quite as many expectations. Just share a meal together, and give thanks. I like the idea of a holiday that’s centered around gratitude.

This Thanksgiving eve, my heart is filled with gratitude. I’m so blessed to be a mom of two healthy and (mostly) happy little people. Yes, being a mom of a 3-year-old and a baby is exhausting and often overwhelming. But there couldn’t possibly be a more rewarding job than mom.

I’m so thankful that I get to stay at home with my kids and supplement our family income as a writer/editor/publicity person. As a work-from-home mom, I get to be there for it all. I was there when baby Paul started crawling in his fifth month, and I will be there when he takes his first steps. I was there to hear Marie’s first word – “Mama,” and there to see her little toddler legs run across our living room as she yelled, “Runnnn baby!”

I’ve been thinking lately how it takes a large investment of time to build close relationships. I haven’t been able to invest much time in friendships since becoming a mom. I would like to focus on that more – having friends is nice. But, I have been investing very deeply in building relationships with my children and my husband. My whole self is pretty much invested in these people.

Marie & Paul, if you read this post someday, I just want to say that I love you both with my whole heart. I’m so glad I’ve been able to spend this time at home with you while you are small. There is no place else I’d rather be.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Yesterday was my birthday – I turned 32. I was woken up by my 7-month-old around 6 am; I nursed him and then he went back to sleep. Around 6:45 my 3-year-old daughter came in the room, and said, “Mommy! It’s your birthday! Daddy said I could sing the Happy Birthday song to you today!” Then she burst into song.

My birthday is on Veteran’s Day, so there was no preschool. I decided to find a new place to take the kids, so we visited Old School. When I was getting Baby Paul out of the car, I discovered he had a poopy diaper. So I changed him on the front seat, trying to do it quickly because it was a very cold and rainy morning. In the process, he peed all over his onesie and coat. I found him a new outfit, but not a new coat, so he was stuck wearing the pee coat. Marie then told me she needed to go potty, even though she had just went before we left the house. She has a fascination with trying the potty in new places. After using the potty in the 5th Street Market, we crossed to the 5th & Pearl building and took the 5 foot elevator ride to the first floor, and ventured down the hall to Old School.

Maybe it was just the mini elevator ride (remember Being John Malkovich?), but I felt like I’d arrived in a magical place when I stepped into Old School. It’s just a space where kids can play and work on crafts, but something about the ambiance is very special. We arrived a few minutes before 11, an hour past my original goal, but just in time for story time. We listened to stories, made a birdfeeder, and then Marie just played dress-up for about an hour before I decided it was time to leave.

When we left, Marie told me she needed to use the potty again. We went into a new restroom (so fun!) and she laid down on the floor of the stall to look at the mom and child in the next door stall. Meanwhile, I was holding baby Paul in the Ergo carrier. “Get up Marie! You’re being rude!” I told her.

“But I’m tired,” she said. I had to pick her up off the floor and set her on the potty, while holding the baby. Then of course I had to pick her up again when it was time to wash hands. All this to say – it’s a major ordeal to go anywhere with a 3-year-old and a baby.

Additionally, I was recovering from a bladder infection that I’d been trying to fend off naturally without antibiotics. So my mom got off work early to come help me out with the kids. When she got to our apartment, I tried to get some chores done, but I got dizzy and had to lie down. She took Marie to her house so I could rest, and I was able to nap with the baby for awhile.

By the time Spencer got home from work, I decided that he should take me to the after-hours clinic. I was imagining my UTI spreading to my kidneys and of course, leading to my imminent death. So instead of a date night, we got to visit the doctor. And the good news was that we found out my UTI was gone. At that point I think I was just feeling sick from fighting off the virus that Marie turned out to have later that evening! She woke up around 11 pm with a nasty cough and a fever.

Ah. So it was a hectic day. Additionally we found out my husband’s grandma had a heart attack that morning, induced by a panic attack. And I was thinking of my friend who is battling Stage 3 breast cancer — at age 30 — and had a bilateral mastectomy scheduled the next day (today).

But I still came out of the day feeling loved and appreciated. Spencer gave me a really thoughtful gift, as he tends to do. He got me books by two of my favorite writers, T.S. Eliot and Gregory Maguire. I’d even forgotten that I love Gregory Maguire, and I didn’t know he has a new book out, about Alice in Wonderland. So by remembering that I love a writer that I didn’t even remember I love (does that make sense?) Spencer pretty much proved that he is a good best friend/husband. And I had the opportunity to hear from quite a few people throughout the day via phone and Facebook. My college friends Jay and Holly called me for a surprise FaceTime chat while Spencer and I were watching our current Netflix favorite, Jane the Virgin. And my two best friends from high school texted me to wish me a happy birthday.

So it was fun to think about all the people who are an important part of my life now, or who have been important in the past. I’m thankful to have had a lot of special people in my life during the past 32 years. I’m thankful that my husband has been my best friend for the past 12 years, and that he’s been there for me in many ways – like taking me to the ER in the middle of the night when my son was 1-week-old and I had endometritis, planning a surprise ice skating birthday party for my 23rd birthday, bringing me takeout from Pine State Biscuits after I had a miscarriage, and celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary with a trip to Kauai. I’m thankful that we are able to live near my parents who offer me constant support – my mom is in our kitchen washing my dishes right now. And I’m thankful to be sharing my life now with two precious little ones – my daughter, the feisty future Broadway performer, and my sweet happy baby boy.

It really is a wonderful life.

I tried to take this selfie a few weeks ago, but my daughter hijacked it.

I tried to take this selfie a few weeks ago, but my daughter hijacked it.

Earlier this week, in a rare moment when I was not being woken up by my daughter or my son, I had a dream about my grandfather. It’s been almost 4 years since he died, of an aggressive lung cancer. It was against his wishes to have a memorial service, and I was away at the beach celebrating my last child-free birthday when a few of my family members scattered his ashes into Amazon Creek.

My mom and I visiting Papa Jack near the end of his life.

My mom and I visiting Papa Jack near the end of his life.

My grandparents were never churchgoers when I knew them. Living most of their lives in the Bible Belt, they felt they didn’t fit in with church people. They were raised in church, and took their own children to church for a time. I’m not sure what my grandfather believed, but I certainly never heard him profess to be a Christian. In the months leading up to his death, I heard that some of my cousins in Kansas wanted, but were unable to, fly out to Oregon to lead him to Jesus. My mother said in his last days she spent hours holding his hand, reciting the 23rd Psalm and saying the name Jesus over and over.

Anyway, I have very orthodox Christian beliefs. I believe in heaven and hell, but who goes where is a private matter between each person and God. God is inviting us all to heaven – we just have to say yes. I think there are plenty of people who claim to be Christians who haven’t really said yes to Jesus, and I think there are also people who don’t go to church or don’t talk much about religion who are on good terms with God. And who knows what might happen on someone’s deathbed.

In my dream about my grandfather, he was still alive. I was surprised. “I thought you died!” I said.

He explained that he was still alive, but he was just living in another place where I couldn’t visit him right now. “I’m with Jesus,” he told me joyfully.

I’ve been talking a lot lately with my 3-year-old about spiritual things. She just keeps bringing up all these questions about God and what happens when people die. “Is God real?” she asks me. “Someone at the park told me He’s not real.”

“Well I believe God is real,” I say. “Some people have different beliefs though. It’s all a little bit of a mystery.”

So we’ve been talking about mysteries. Questions that haven’t quite been answered by science. Bigfoot is a local mystery we’ve talked about. Most people don’t believe in Bigfoot, but a few people are really convinced. Dreams are a bit of a mystery too. Sometimes I’ve had precognitive dreams – I had a friend who was biking across America and I dreamed she was hurt. I found out later she’d broken her arm. I had some friends in Portland and I dreamed they were moving away – I knew it couldn’t be true because the husband was in the middle of a master’s program. Then we had them over for dinner and found out that in fact, he was dropping his program and they were about to move to Alabama. There was no reason I should have known about either of those events.

So my dream about Papa Jack? Was it just my unconscious mind telling me what I wanted to hear? Or could it be something more?

Well, it’s all a little bit of a mystery isn’t it?

My grandfather with his first four children. That's my mom on his right.

My grandfather with his first four children. That’s my mom on his right.

Papa Jack and Mama Anne with Aunt Cathy, Uncle Joe and my mom (the baby).

Papa Jack and Mama Anne with Aunt Cathy, Uncle Joe and my mom (the baby).

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Happy Halloween and Happy birthday to my grandmother 🙂

A few weeks ago my parents treated us to a family beach weekend. My husband works a lot and we don’t have extra money, so it’s rare to get away for a weekend. It was a gorgeous, sunny September weekend in Newport, Oregon. We walked along the edge of our continent, dined on corned beef and Scotch eggs at Nana’s Irish Pub, watched sea otters play at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and slept deeply and peacefully against the white noise of ocean waves out our window.

On Sunday morning, I felt the urge to visit the wax museum. I used to love visiting the wax museum as a kid, hadn’t been there in about 16 years, and wanted to check it out as an adult. I thought it might be a tiny bit scary but surely my brave 3-year-old could handle it.

We arrived and then as soon as my mom purchased tickets and it was time to go through the turnstile into the museum, MJ started to freak out. She noticed it was dark inside. I wanted to go in, so I told her that she could just wait outside with Grandma and we would see her in about half an hour when we got done. My husband and I (plus baby in Ergo carrier) entered the museum and I was quickly entranced by the American Idol exhibit which featured…karaoke! Much to Spencer’s chagrin, I began singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” on stage, and then moments later MJ and my mom arrived. Both my mom and daughter were thrilled to sing on stage with me.

What made MJ change her mind and be willing to enter the wax museum?

Light.

The woman at the front desk gave MJ a tiny flashlight to wear on her finger. “Will this help you go through?” she asked. “Yes,” my little daughter nodded and bravely ventured in holding Grandma’s hand.

Light makes things not so scary.

Our world is in a crisis. The refugee crisis, the climate crisis, the gun violence crisis. There are a lot of scary and dark things going on in the world. Politicians don’t seem to be helping much. Religious people don’t seem to be helping much either. It would be easy to get very discouraged by the darkness. But….

The light has already come into this world. Jesus is our light. He helps us to see in dark places. And he is always with us .

“In him was life, and that life was the light of man. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5

I don’t have to be afraid, because God is with me always. I can be thankful for that.

At Oregon Coast Aquarium with MJ, facing one of my big fears. Photo credit: Alice Evans

At Oregon Coast Aquarium with MJ, facing one of my big fears. Photo credit: Alice Evans

I didn’t babysit much as a teenager, but once I babysat two sisters for an entire weekend. They were super easy and sweet elementary age kids, but still I thought a whole weekend seemed a bit relentless. You know what’s really relentless? Being a stay-at-home parent.

Today was hard. It was raining and I was without transportation, so I was stuck in my 2-bedroom apartment all day with my newborn baby and my sassy, firecracker 3-year-old who refuses to potty train or take naps. I questioned my sanity frequently throughout the day. Thank goodness for streaming Netflix. I was able to stay fairly patient with my sassy girl, and only told her she was being annoying once or twice.

If we lived in France where they have free government-subsidized daycare, I would probably not be a stay-at-home mom. I would wear professional clothes and work in an office and spend my day talking to adults. But we don’t live in France, and in spite of my master’s degree, I’ve never been able to get a job that pays a living wage. So, here I am – doing the most meaningful and important and underappreciated and relentless job there is.

Yes, it’s a blessing to be a mother of two, and to get to stay at home with them – but it’s also really really hard. I’m reminding myself that the first few years with my daughter were very difficult, and then I felt really happy after she started going to preschool last fall. It gave me just enough space in my life to feel like I could do the things I needed to do to take care of myself. I know that in 2 years and 3 months, she’ll be in full day kindergarten and my baby will most likely start preschool. I imagine that somewhere during that time she’ll agree to use the potty. Life should start to be easier again then. That’s a long time, but in some ways, it’s a short time.

It’s the longest shortest time.

 

Dear Blogiverse,

Since becoming a mom three years ago, I’ve entered a whole new world of expectations for women. In my pre-mom days, my personal goals mostly had to do with my career – if I felt bad about myself it was usually because I wasn’t meeting those goals. But I’ve found that for moms there seem to be a lot of cultural guidelines that determine what makes a good mom – and a whole new list of things to feel insecure about. People seem to think that a good mom:

– Keeps a moderately clean house

– Cooks healthy and tasty meals for the family

– Is thin and beautiful without being too sexy

– Puts the needs of her family before her own needs

– Has a well-kept garden

– Excels at crafting in the form of sewing, knitting, jewelry making, etc.

What’s the deal with the crafting part?  I don’t mind working on a craft that someone else has set up, but I don’t have any Martha Stewartish expectations. I made snowman cupcakes one day around Christmas and they looked nothing like the picture in the book. But who cares? They tasted good.

I’ve noticed that women can have a weird sense of competition around their crafting abilities. Is this true or is it my imagination? Shouldn’t it just be something you do for fun?

Maybe I just don’t really understand women, because my husband has been my best friend for the past 11 years or so. Do I need to become more crafty in order to fit in with the other moms?

Sincerely,

Uncrafty Mom

 

 

 

 

The wife of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, didn't have many career options.

The wife of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, didn’t have many career options. Photo credit: Alice Evans

 

It seems that people in my generation, commonly known as Millennials, have some confusion over this issue of finding their “calling.” And really, can you blame us? We’ve grown up in an era of unprecedented opportunities. We’ve all been told since we were little that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up — if we just believed in ourselves and worked hard enough. Here, have some fairy dust to go along with that thought.

So, do you want to be a politician, a scientist, an artist, a lawyer, or a surgeon? An astronaut, a marine biologist, or a kindergarten teacher? The problem with too many choices is that it’s overwhelming. Our limited brains can’t handle an unlimited number of options. It can be hard enough to choose whether to make spaghetti or tacos for dinner.

It’s also unrealistic to say that we have unlimited career options. Professional athlete is out reach for most of us, I think. Yet many people are lucky enough to have a variety of options. My dad had a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and later decided to get his master’s in Computer Science and became a computer programmer. My friend Holly had a degree in Romance Languages and 6 years later is in the midst of physical therapy school. Her husband was a landscape architect and is now a middle school teacher. So we do have options, and we can even change career paths if we choose.

I’ve done a lot of praying, reading and general soul-searching about my calling over the years. I want to live a meaningful life — I believe there are specific reasons I’m alive and I don’t want to miss out on those reasons.  Here’s what I’ve come to believe about the topic of finding your calling.

Your calling is about more than paid work. Some important aspects of your life-calling involve your relationship to others. If you’re married, being a loving and supportive spouse is a significant part of your calling. Likewise, if you’re a parent, you’re called to be a great one. And we’re all called to be loving and supportive friends to different people at different times.

You have more than one right choice. If life were a test, it would be an essay test, and not a multiple choice one. I believe if you genuinely desire to do something meaningful with your life — then you will. It’s not really as complicated as we make it out to be.

Work is still work. Even if you are lucky enough to make a living pursuing your calling, it’s still work. There will still be moments when you won’t want to do it. You will still have to interact with difficult people, and complete boring tasks.

Examine your talents, passions, and opportunities. We all have specific talents and passions and I believe God wants us to use them to help others. My husband is a talented landscape designer, and he knew he wanted to pursue landscape architecture since he was a little boy. He hasn’t been able to work in the design field for the last 6 years because of the recession, but it’s my belief that he will get back to it — when the opportunity becomes available.

My soul-searching has led me to discover that  — as unfeminist as this sounds — being a great mother and wife is a huge part of my calling. Perhaps the most important part. But I also know that it’s not my entire calling, because I have a passion to do more. I know that writing is part of my calling because I just can’t stop writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5-years-old. I’ve loved all my freelance writing and editing jobs even when I had to write about horribly boring topics.

Will writing turn out to be the bulk of my paid work, or more of a creative outlet? Or will I go back to being a classroom teacher? There are lots of things about teaching that I love, and some things that are challenging. We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities arise…

Have you found your calling? What is it?