Becoming a TOLI Educator

If you follow me on social media (Instagram & Twitter: @ksluiter), you know I spent ten days in New York City as part of the TOLI Summer Seminar. TOLI stands for The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies & Human Rights. I experienced a TON in those ten days, so I thought, rather than write a novel about it, I would split it up into a series of posts to avoid the TL;DR effect.

The entire reason I was there was to learn and grow as a Holocaust and human rights educator. Roughly 20 educators (teachers, librarians, professors) from the United States and Europe gathered every day on the 5th floor of Pace University in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan to learn and read and write with each other.

The seminar was set up much the same as The National Writing Project (I participated twice in the Third Coast Writing Project through Western Michigan University with credits going toward my MA ten+ years ago): we sat in the round, we wrote in response to things, we shared, we worked on individual writing pieces to be shared on the last day.

All of this was done through the lens of teaching the Holocaust and other human rights violations both abroad and right here in the USA.

On the second full day (Thursday, July 7), we walked to the Museum of Jewish Heritage where we zoomed with Dr. Robert Williams, the Deputy Director for International Affairs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). He did a presentation on antisemitism that included many current issues with propaganda and disinformation and how it spreads, particularly on the internet. We learned a lot of history about how it came to the United States as well.

We were given quite a bit of time in the exhibits as well. The newest exhibition called The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do was an extensive look at Jewish life and culture as well as a presentation of Holocaust history.

The exhibit includes over 750 original objects and survivor testimonies from the Museum’s collection, many of which were donated by survivors and their families who settled in NYC and the surrounding area.

I was particularly interested in how the presentations were organized since I teach my students about Jewish life in Lodz, Poland before and during the war. One thing I want to do more of (and this came up later in the seminar too) is to focus on acts of resistance and the amazing resilience of people after tragedy.

Lunch was in the museum’s Kosher restaurant, LOX at Café Bergen. I had the Mediterranean Salad (Kumato tomatoes, israeli cucumbers and shaved pickled onions oliver, capers, israeli salad, olive oil, lemon and oregano dust) and a bit of chocolate strudel. It was all DELICIOUS!

I will explain why there is a small multi-colored bunny in many of the photos in another post

We wrapped up our day at the Museum of Jewish Heritage with a visit to the Garden of Stones (by Andy Goldsworthy). Each tree was planted into a hollowed out stone. They started out very small, but now this is what they look like. We wandered in this calm pocket of the city reflecting on everything we experienced during the day.

The next day, Friday (July 8) we started the day zooming with a Holocaust survivor, Dr. Irene Hasenberg Butter (author of From Holocaust to Hope: Shores Beyond Shorts, A Bergen-Belsen Survivor’s True Story) and hearing her testimony. We also viewed a video called “The Longest Hatred” that gave the history behind the antisemitism in the Christian church.

Friday evening, we rode in vans through Manhattan up to White Plains, NY where we were invited to join Dr. Jennifer Lemberg (one of our TOLI seminar leaders) and the Congregation Kol Ami for their Shabbat service. Before the service, we met Rabbi Shira Milgrom in their chapel in the woods where she answered all our questions about the artifacts like the Torah scrolls and the eternal light.

Rabbi Shira was so patient with some of us (ahem…me) who had little knowledge of Judaism and Jewish worship practices.

The Shabbat service was in the main sanctuary. Shabbat begins Friday at sundown, which is why the service is held Friday evening. I was able to do a lot of cool things in my ten days with TOLI, but I think the Shabbat service is what will stick with me the longest. There was definitely a familiarity as I watched multigenerational worship: small toddlers breaking loose from their parents, elderly congregants smiling knowingly, the feeling of family and togetherness. Of course there was much that was different too–there are no crosses or Jesus imagery in a synagogue. I wrote a lot about all this in my journal, but I’m not sure I will publicly process that.

Part of Shabbat includes lighting candles and reciting a blessing, which the congregation was able to do at the start of the service.

There is a lot of singing and praising God during the Shabbat service. There was a fantastic cantor and a great band.

After the service, Rabbi Shira showed us the ark where multiple Torahs are held and let us enter to see all the beautiful designed covers for them. Above the ark is where the eternal light is kept, and when we stand on the rock under it, we serve as the connection between heaven and earth.

One of the scrolls was in a cover that was made to honor those affected by the Holocaust. The cover was made from a prisoner’s uniform and the scroll was one rescued from Europe after WWII.

Finally, before returning to the lower East side of Manhattan, we celebrated Shabbat together by breaking Challah and having dinner. Our hosts (Jennifer and Sondra Perl) recited the blessing over the wine and then we passed around the Challah before beginning our meal together.

Between our first Shabbat together and our last, we dove into many other things, but one more that focused on Jewish heritage and culture happened on Wednesday, July 13th. That evening we were uber-ed and taxi-ed up town to the TOLI headquarters: The Olga Lengyel Memorial Library on Manhattan’s upper east side.

We were warmly welcomed to the richly decorated, lovely former home of the TOLI namesake. We were immediately drawn to the comfortable furniture and the walls covered in books and art.

After the most bougie box meal I have ever had in my life that we got to eat in Central Park, we had a private Klezmer concert back in the library.

Rabbi Greg Wall, the clarinetist of the group, explained the components of what makes Klezmer music “Jewish” as well as what part of Jewish culture each song is a part of. He and the other musicians are wonderful storytellers and incredibly knowledgeable–they kept us laughing and got us singing and even dancing! I could have listened for hours!

There is so much more to the ten days that went into the work we did, but to me learning about Jewish heritage and culture–both historic and contemporary–were the highlights of the trip for me. As a teacher, I will be grounding my human rights focused curriculum in looking at the Shoah and why the phrase “Never Forget” continues to be applied to so many atrocities, so experiencing as much as I can that will help me lead from a place of knowledge, empathy, and love is so important.

I have more to write about and reflect on, but this is really what it was all grounded in. This work we did started from looking at “what hate can do” and moved us into the theme, “teaching in troubled times.”

I am so proud to stand with the educators in this photo. I feel like I have really found the work I want to do and the people I want to do it with. I really hope to do this team and what they have taught me justice as I begin to look ahead at planning for my 2022-23 eighth grade students.

If you would like to contribute, I have two wish lists on Amazon: a class supply list as I prepare to get what my students will need for all that I have in store for them; and a classroom library wish list that I have added many new books to as I have been learning and working with others.

You Are From

This poem was the product of a 10-day intense summer seminar with The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI). More posts on that experience are forthcoming.

To my children: Eddie, Charlie, and Alice,

You are from the Dutch. 
From west of Groningen, northwest of Drenthe and Overijssel.
(names that are familiar, 
but places that are foreign.)
You are from coastal towns, dune grasses
and peat meadows
with windmills that turn with time.

You are from immigrants and farmworkers
Gerrit and Akke
jailed for holding unauthorized church services
now living on the stolen land of the Odawa.
You’re from the Dutch Reformed Church and John Calvin
from van Raalte and Van De Luyster
from freedom to oppress and
freedom to work a new land.

You are from New Groningen and Zeeland Chix,
pigs in the blanket made by the Ladies’ Aid Society
From farming and steel work
And a veteran of the second World War,
that solidified a distrust of the Other.

You are also from change.
from questioning tradition
to making a new culture.
from learning and connecting–
creating growth and understanding
with people once distrusted.

Your roots are not in revolution,
but the branch from which you bloom
feeds you with resistance
and disruption.
Questions sprout around you
Synthesizing in you
a new way to
persevere.

In our family is dedication
and determination,
people with dreams and goals
but few words
to admit the struggles and 
conflicts of the journey.

You are from transformation.

The Teenager

Dear Eddie,

Oh my goodness, you’re a teenager! It feels cliché to ask where the time went or how did we get here so quickly. I know very well where the time went, but dang. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that dad and I were talking about “the teen years” and then brushing it off with, “but that is a long way off yet.”

And yet, here we are.

I scrolled through my Timehop memories on my phone yesterday morning thinking about how the night before you declared, “tomorrow is my last day of being 12!” When you were turning 6 I asked if you if 6 was too old to cuddle your mom and you told me you would never be too old to cuddle your mom. This proved to be false. You do not, in fact, like hugs or cuddles of any kind from anyone. You will hug your grandparents because you can’t say no to your grandparents, but that is it.

It’s hard not to think back to our beginning–dad was the first to hold you and then everyone else who was waiting for me to come out of recovery: Grandma and Grandpa, Granny, your aunts and uncles. I was too exhausted to know that I should have advocated for holding you first (after dad). I was too tired to know that we shouldn’t have had visitors that quickly.

I often wonder if our start would have been different if dad and I had set up some boundaries. Would you have been so colicky if you and I had had the quiet time to bond after your birth? Would my postpartum depression have been so severe if the birth wasn’t so traumatic?

Last night at bedtime, I told you your birth story. Every year I tell it, and every year you look forward to it. In fact you asked me to tell it to you last night rather than tonight on your birthday because you have friends spending the night. When I finished the story this year, I told you my questions about what if it had been different?

You said, “Mom. I was first. How were you and Dad supposed to know what to do? You did your best. We are all fine now. Well, maybe not all of us…” (as you looked at your brother, who responded, “HEY!”).

If you would have let me, I would have hugged your face right off.

I thought I would be sad that you are growing up. I thought I would spend this week all bummed out that my first baby is a teenager.

I do spend a lot of time looking at you, marveling at you, wondering when you got so dang tall. Dad and I chuckled looking at our new family photos as we agreed you would look back on them and wince–not because you look bad–not at all! You are quite a handsome fella! But because you are middle schoolishly awkward. You clearly haven’t figured out how to embrace your tallness or what to do with your hands or how to smile authentically on demand.

But you are so very you. You are still goofy just like as a little dude, but now you are just quieter about. Not that you are quiet, because DEAR LORD we can hear you playing videogames with Joe like you’re in the same room as us. Dad and I often look at each other and shake our heads. I guess your goofiness is more in your facial expressions and random quips. It’s not arm-flailing acrobatics anymore.

You are turning into an actual person with thoughts and ideas and dreams that are outside of me and inside of you. You don’t tell us every detail of what happens on the playground anymore (partly because you don’t have a playground anymore, but also because you are developing your own private world of friends and building trust with them). You don’t ask me deep philosophical, ethical, or theological questions in the car or at bedtime anymore. You shrug when I ask you questions more than you give verbal answers.

But your actions speak louder than the words you don’t say–and even in direct opposition to the words you do say.

While you get frustrated with your brother, and even say mean, thoughtless things to him at times, you will still check on him and ask about him when you know things are rough. You still get proud of him when he reaches a goal or milestone in his own personal growth areas.

Even though your sister annoys you 98% of the time, you are quick to step up when we need you to be there for her because your dad and I have to focus energy on your brother. You check on her while she sleeps, you make her lunch, and whenever you babysit her while your dad and I are out in the evening, you make her popcorn and watch one of her “kid” shows/movies. I know we can trust you to be there for her.

Your dad and I know being the oldest can sort of suck. You are the first, so that means you are sort of the guinea pig. Dad and I have no idea what we are doing as parents, and naturally all three of you are totally different when it comes to parenting you. I know it feels like the younger two get a ton more attention. I promise you that you also took up this much of our time and energy when you were that age. You just don’t remember because you were busy being annoyed that we were dealing with a 7 year old and a baby.

Dad and I are so proud of you, Eddie. From what we can tell, you are growing up to be the kind, helpful, patient person we hoped you would become.

Hopefully the teen years will be kind to you in return. Remember–Dad and I are always on your side.

I love you to the moon and back,

(Hey) Mom

Two Handfuls

“Charlie! You are ten! Now you are TWO handfuls!”

“Mom,” he says with a smirk, “I have ALWAYS been two handfuls.”

My dearest Charlie Bird,

You have, indeed, always been two handfuls.

Over the past year you have started a new school in a new program and made lots of new friends. Other kids might be shy or afraid, but you jumped right in. The adults on your new team at school say that you are so personable–you warm right up to people–and everyone likes you so much. You are quite the charming fella, despite your challenges.

You care deeply about things that matter to you including fairness (which you sometimes confuse with things being equal), justice, and animals. While you get along great with others, you definitely get upset if you perceive that something is unfair or unjust and it can be difficult for you to hear what others have to say in those situations. But you are working on that. You are working so hard.

You have the biggest imagination of anyone I know. You can see sticks on the ground and suddenly you have a vision of some spectacular weapon design or fort or game–something no one else would see. You dream up games and make believe to play with your sister and your friends. You have a need to always be busy and/or entertained. Sitting and waiting with nothing to occupy you is your idea of a personal hell.

You love the outdoors! You went away to camp for the first time this past summer. It was so hard for me to put my little guy in a van and wave as you went all the way to New York for a week, but you did so well! You were a stinky, tired, happy mess when you came back to us. Since no one else in our family is super outdoorsy, your go-to person is Grandpa. You have helped him up north at his cabin, you’ve helped chop so many logs, you have made fires (and of course, fire food), and gone fishing–both in the summer and in the winter! Last year you and Grandpa made bird boxes that you put on the edge of our property.

You are a gamer. You love traditional “board” type games and you are deeply invested in Minecraft. Anything that works that smart brain of yours–gives you something to puzzle on. Almost every morning at school you start with a game with one of your teachers and often you choose to end the day that way as well. Some of your favorites are Rummikub, Ticket to Ride Jr., Guess Who, and Sorry!

You are a great big brother to Alice–if not sometimes a little too protective and bossy. But you care deeply about her safety. You are good at being a little brother to Eddie as well. You like to play Minecraft with him, but you also bother him greatly, which is sort of the job of a little bro! Sometimes it goes too far though since you two are so very different. You love each other, but there are many times you don’t like each other much. It’s hard for you to remember that Eddie is older and that comes with different privileges and possibilities than you have at age 10. This is where you tend to confuse “fair” and “equal”. And of course, Eddie is at the age where rather than being helpful and gentle with these things, he often huffs and puffs and rolls his eyes at you–making things worse rather than better. But in the end, you are brothers. And no one makes you laugh quite like Eddie can.

You love things to make sense. This is probably why math and science are your favorite subjects in school. You also love PE, music, and art. This year you became a reader! You have always said you hate reading–that being read to is great, but reading to yourself is so boring. And then you found the right books and had a super supportive teacher (all your teachers have been supportive, but your current teacher “gets” you, as you have told us). You found the I Survived series and a few others and you just like to read!

You are growing into such a kind, loving boy. You face enormous challenges with feeling and managing your big emotions, but you work so hard to overcome those challenges. Dad and I feel so much pride when we read your school work or watch you work hard at learning something new.

Best of all, this year you finally got the dog you have been wishing for! Well, we got a dog, but you love Ruby so much that you are totally willing to lay down by her and let her bite your hair and lick your ears all while you just giggle. She is your little buddy and you are her cuddly boy! And true to your word, you will cuddle up to her when you are feeling big feelings and she will love you without needing you to say a word.

Oh my dear boy, you are so very loved. This year of being 10 holds many more adventures and new things for you! Little League season is starting, you have another week of camp this summer, and soccer in the fall–and those are just the fun things we already know about! Who knows what else is in store!

Dad and I love you so much, Charlie Bird.

Love,

Mom Mom

Happy Seven!

Dear Alice,

I hate that what they say about your last child has proven to be true–all the things parents do for their first starts to dwindle as they have more children. I did all the things for Eddie as a little kid, some of the things for Charlie, and almost none for you. You have no baby book, no record of firsts (unless I posted them here by chance), and late birthday letters on a blog that may or may not be around much longer.

You are the one who will care the most. You are the one who asks the most questions about what you were like as a baby. You ask about your birth story and your first words and your first steps. You ask all the questions all the time.

And now you are seven! Seven is such a transition age to me. You are finishing up the Little Kid stage. You aren’t quite a middle grade kid, but you’re not a primary grade kid anymore.

This year you found the world of American Girl Dolls and have not looked back! For your 6th birthday we got you one of the Target knock-offs named Millie. We wanted to see if you really did want to do the whole doll thing before we dropped serious money on one. You loved having her ride behind you on your bike, have matching sunglasses, and dress her in the clothes that your great aunt made.

You also still love unicorns and rainbows and soft stuffy animals. They are everywhere coming out of every storage thing in your room. It’s insane and you know it, but care not. If it’s cute, you want it in your life.

You are growing up to be such a great person, my Alice Bean. Your teachers consistently tell us that you are a helper and a friend to everyone. You are always willing to be the friend someone needs. You are compassionate and sweet.

You want to play with everyone and get a little annoyed when Charlie chooses videogames or a neighborhood friend over you. Ok, you get downright whiny. But for all your whining, you are also endlessly patient with Charlie and his need to be in charge. The two of you are either the best of friends or the fiercest of enemies. There is almost no middle ground.

Charlie helps you to find your brave. He can talk you in to trying new things–like riding a camel–or get you to do the math homework you think is hard. He stands up for you on the bus (even when his methods are a bit suspect), and wants to help you learn to ride your bike on two wheels this summer.

Eddie is your helper. He reaches the cups from the shelf or gets you more milk because the gallon jug is too heavy. He babysits you (when Charlie isn’t around) and makes “the best grilled cheese ever!” He rolls his eyes at you a lot because he sees you as his “annoying little sister,” but much of what he finds annoying is what he was exactly like at your age too. It is an endless source of amusement for me to watch him grump at the way you sing talk everything when he too, went through that phase.

You have a glorious imagination and sense of style with the confidence to skip through this world. I am so happy that what other people wear or do doesn’t have as much of an influence on you as what YOU find cute and comfy. You are my fancy little scrub and it’s so fun to watch you develop your own opinions and preferences that are typically so different than my own at that age–and even now!

By the way, you are full of all the attitude. All of it. You can be the sweetest little girl that anyone has ever met, but with me (or your dad or even Ms. Carolyn), you can turn into an evil little devil. The word “no” turns you into a raving lunatic at times. And your “mad face” makes Grandma and Grandpa laugh because allegedly it reminds them of, well, me when I was seven.

Besides your “mad face,” you have many more legendary looks. You have more emotion in your facial expressions than anyone I know. It is hilarious, but it also means you can never truly hide how you feel. Speaking from experience, this means you will be vulnerable even when you don’t want to be throughout your life. Embrace it as much as you can, because if you are like me, it will contribute to your being a terrible liar (which you are already, by the way. Writing “Alice” on the wall and then demanding that you have NO idea who did that? Such a bad lie).

Having you as much daughter has been the most marvelous surprise of my life. I did not think having a little girl was going to be near the awesome that people told me it would be. Having you as my constant little buddy–and even tiny broke best friend who makes everything about herself–has been a joy that makes me smile every single day (it also has a tendency to make me question certain life choices everyday, but hey! It’s balanced!)

First grade has been the year you ask lots of questions about what other people think and do. You have asked me about families that don’t have both a mom and a dad. You’ve asked me if you have a unibrow and if you’ll have to wax it like I do (my answer was, do what you want! Also thick eyebrows are always something people envy because you can always shape them and whatnot, but you can’t grow more), and if you will get “pokey legs” like I do (not if you don’t shave, friend!). You have started asking about periods and babies. Just like the boys, I give you age-appropriate honest and truthful answers. We don’t make up stories about storks or call our body parts by weird names around here.

We talk about what healthy eating is like and what keeps our bodies healthy. I have never focused my weight loss journey on doing it for how I look–it’s always been through the lens of keeping cancer out of my body and staying as healthy as I can be, and you are here for it. You are so interested in what sorts of treats and snacks I chose and how much I have. You ask questions about “is cheese or an apple a healthier snack?” But we never talk about depriving ourselves from things we love–we just treat them as treats, not meals! Meals nourish, treats, well, they treat!

You have been the hardest to convince that not everyone or everything fits in a binary. The boys have always been super accepting that the world does not have to be divided into “boys things and girls things” that not everything is “good” or “bad”. They readily accept the both/and as well as the this, that, or beyond, or between ideas of where people and their identities and beliefs can fit. You have always given this wide open view of humanity the side-eye. But the thing is, you are always asking questions and thinking about it and then talking it over. And you are so SO willing to give every human the chance to be your friend.

You are a gift, Alice. You light up this world that is often so dark and scary. Your giggle is contagious and your joy is infectious. You are smart and silly and kind and loving.

AND this is the year you got over your complete fear of dogs and fell in love with Ruby. You may not love ALL dogs (I hear that, sister), but you love our Ruby and you are getting to be so good with her. I’m proud of you.

I’m proud that you are my Alice. My goofy side-kick in this life. I hope seven is your best year yet!

I love you to always and forever,

Momma

Ruby The Ruckus

My dad bought me this cow chew toy that looks like me.

We are two weeks into being dog owners and I am tired. This weekend, after being woken up by barking at 7am, I thought for the first time, “I wonder if we can give her back. I feel done with this.”

It’s a good thing she’s cute and that I know the puppy phase won’t last forever.

(It has taken me 15 minutes to write those three sentences because she keeps going where she is not supposed to be.)

I get the “how’s life with a puppy?” often. It’s exhausting! It’s a little like having a toddler around. Somewhere around a million times a day I say, “Ruby, no!” or “Ruby, down!” or “Ruby, Come!” to get her to stop nosing her way where she shouldn’t be or chewing on things she shouldn’t chew on. She is a very curious pup, which is good! BUT it’s a lot of work.

I can say that we are starting to learn each other now that it’s been two weeks.

She insists on being a lap dog

She is definitely a lap dog which doesn’t bode well for when she weighs 50 pounds. She will jump around barking at everyone until someone sits on the floor to play. Instead of playing, she will curl up on that person’s lap and fall asleep.

If it fits, it sits (even if it doesn’t really fits)

She will sleep from 11pm until about 5 or 6am before crawling out of her bed and going potty and poopers on her little pad. She doesn’t like being stuck in her crate with her yuckies, so she will start to whine until Cortney (or Eddie) gets her out, takes her outside to pee some more, and then stays up with her.

She is most rammy in the morning and late afternoon. Both after long sleeps. Ruby thinks she is a big dog and she is very bossy about it. She will bark at us and play tug with us and shake her squeeky stuffy toys around like she is trying to murder them. She has already demolished a Lamb Chop stuffy her breeder sent with her, and the cow that Cortney bought her this weekend is already eye-less.

She loves her little nylabones. She has a couple rope-like chew toys for tugging, but her favorite thing to play tug with is Charlie’s bathrobe and the strings on my hoodies. She is slowly learning “drop it” as a command, but she is reluctant.

Charlie loves everything about Ruby.

Charlie has been the dog walker, though she doesn’t love going up hills, and since no one is excited about all the sweaters I bought her, they claim she gets cold too fast. I bought those sweaters for an actual purpose other than how adorable she is in them, but the other humans in this house are slow to catch on.

She pees outside more than she pees inside, and has even barked at the top of our stairs a couple times to let us know she needed to pee!

This is not allowed…and yet. Spoiled dog.

Eddie is in charge of taking her out at home. Every hour that she is awake I will yell down to him to tell him to take her out. He actually likes it. Cortney takes Ruby to work in the mornings, but brings her home to her crate for the afternoons. That means when Eddie gets home from school, he takes her out and then plays with her and cuddles with her until the rest of us get home. He really likes it more than he thought he would.

Alice is not a dog person, but she wants to be.

Alice struggles the most with Ruby. Alice has never really liked dogs–she is sort of afraid of them. But she really wants to be a Ruby person. She loved Ruby since before we got her and would look at the breeder’s pictures and videos of her and just swoon. She loves how cute Ruby is and loves to watch her play, but she gets scared to walk around when Ruby is awake and feeling rowdy. She jumps onto the couch and covers her ears when Ruby barks.

But she WANTS to learn to be a Ruby person and not be afraid. Whenever Ruby is super calm, we encourage Alice to sit by her and pet her. Today she even asked to have Ruby on her lap! Babysteps.

This week Ruby had her first vet visit (other than the ones she had with the breeder for shots and such). The office swooned over her nose roll and Ruby showed out as the cutest English Bull puppy in the land. She is a healthy 12 pounds (she was 6 pounds a month ago).

It’s definitely an adjustment having this wiggly, bossy addition to our family, but I guess we still love her.

She’s lucky she’s cute.

I Guess This is a Dog Blog now

I am not a dog person.

I have said many, many, MANY times: I DO NOT WANT TO BE A DOG OWNER.

The only dogs I ever had as a kid were 1) a mutt named Pepper who was crazy weird who my parents got before I was even a twinkle in my mom’s eye. The dog was old and they hired a hitman to take her out while we were on vacation when I was little. She barked and was crazy. and 2) my dad had a beagle dog named Belle, but she lived 100% outside in a dog house/pen situation. He breeder her once and we kept one of the puppies and named him Bo. Bo and Belle both lived outside. I had nothing to do with those dogs.

Cortney has had dogs around him all his life growing up. He has loved dogs as long as I’ve known him. When we were newlyweds, we considered never having kids. Cortney thought it would be great to have dogs. I gave this extreme side-eye because I do not love dogs.

In fact, I was 100% afraid of dogs when I was a kids. Belle and Bo were outside dogs who my dad and brothers mostly cared for. I did as little with those stink-bombs as possible. My aunt had a Doberman who stayed at my grandma’s house a lot (I think maybe my aunt was also living there at the time, but honestly, I was a little kid who didn’t keep track of these things). My cousin, who loved to tell me tall tales because I always believed her, told me that Doberman’s were killing machines. They actually were born with the instinct to kill people.

So, you know, I was traumatized.

The adults in my life didn’t understand why I would cry and freak out if I was left alone with Dexter (the Doberman). But I was terrified. It didn’t help that he ripped up my grandma’s carpet and left drool all over her shag carpeting and couches. I figured if I looked at him wrong, he would bite my face off.

Eventually, my cousin and her family would get a dog. Jake was a golden retriever who loved people. I was still afraid because he had teeth and claws and I figured if I did something wrong he would kill me.

This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Jake was probably the nicest dog in the universe, but I was sure dogs were killers and I was wary of him.

I was just not a dog person.

And then I married a dog person.

I put it off as long as I could. And honestly, I probably could have put this dog thing off indefinitely if it wasn’t for Charlie.

The kids ALL wanted a pet. Eddie and Alice really were gunning for a cat–which you all know I totally could get on board with. Cortney was the one who was like, “No. No more cats in this house. Maybe in our next house.”

They all wanted a pet really badly. Eddie wrote many elementary school persuasive papers on the topic. But it wasn’t until Charlie wrote his 3rd grade persuasive essay that my icy attitude toward ever getting a dog started to thaw.

He was so SO proud of his paper, and to be 100% honest–it was maybe one of the only assignments he actually completely start to finish in 3rd grade. He even got his special education teacher to type and print it for him when he finished writing it.

He gave all the typical reasons: I will take care of it; it will teach me responsibility, etc. But then he wrote a paragraph about how he read that dogs help “kids like me stay calm” and I melted. He knew he needed a dog to listen to him and be there for him and love him no matter what. He read about how kids “like him” benefit from having a pet.

And that is when I said, “yes” to the dog.

We were thinking summer of 2022, but then friends of ours put us in touch with an English and French Bulldog breeder who was expecting a litter of English bulldogs early in December. Cortney’s dream dog was an English bulldog ever since he saw the bulldog on Looney Tunes when he was a kid. I gave the thumb’s up to reserve one of the little females from the litter.

Fast-forward to last weekend (January 29), and we are now the owners of a 9-week (as of Sunday, Feb 6) old English bulldog we have named Ruby SoHo.

We have been house shopping because our family has outgrown our 3-bedroom bi-level and we haven’t found anything yet. So you know, let’s add another living thing to this already crowded house! We are all learning how to teach her to play without biting, go potty and poopy outside (potty is going well; poopy not so much), and sleep in a crate when we are not home.

I initially said I would do what was minimally required of me, but of course…I have also fallen in love with this little goober.

I can’t stop shopping for her, and I keep reading up on English bulldogs and how to care for them and keep them healthy and happy. And despite my dislike of almost every dog on the planet, I let her lick me and cuddle up to me, and I have picked up her poop and cleaned up her pee and still maintained a love for her.

WHO AM I?

Anyway, owning a puppy is ridiculous and this is not something we should have taken on in the middle of wanting to find a new house and with all the stress of life…but here we are!

Ruby SoHo Sluiter

Maybe I will write more now that I have something to blog about…the antics of owning a dog!

A Healthier Me

In January of 2019 I was finished with chemo and radiation to hopefully zap any remaining microscopic jerks of cancer that could be lurking in my body after my lumpectomy in May of 2018. In order to hopefully stay cancer-free, my oncologist put me on tamoxifen, an estrogen receptor modulator that blocks estrogen and progesterone from feeding anymore cancer. I have to be on it for 5-10 years.

One of the side effects of tamoxifen is that it throws you into menopause if you are not already there. At age 40, I was not already there. It also causes weight gain.

I was not exactly slender when I went on tamoxifen. I was already overweight and had high cholesterol. That spring, when I was turning 41 and had my yearly physical with my primary physician, I asked about losing weight. Her response was, “I really don’t want you worrying about or focusing on that for a couple years. We need your body to adjust to the tamoxifen before we consider lifestyle changes. Tamoxifen is already a lifestyle change. Your body needs time to get used to it and to rest and heal from a year of trauma due to cancer and treatment.”

So we shelved it.

I am not a super active person (I hate sweating. HATE it. Nor do I have any kind of eye-hand coordination) and I LOVE food. That means the past two years were a whirlwind of adding an anti-depressant (since the tamoxifen made my previous one not nearly as effective) and weight gain.

By my 43rd birthday this past spring I was over it. I asked again, “Can we talk about this weight situation now? I have never ever weighed this much.”

We talked about it. She gave me some advice that I scoffed at a bit. That weekend, I found out that one of my best friends was doing the very thing my doctor suggested. “Do it with me!” she suggested.

Fine.

That was March. Now as we close out the year 9 months later, I am down almost 60 pounds.

It wasn’t easy, but what I chose with my doctor’s help and my family’s support is actually sustainable. It was a complete change in our food lifestyle, but as a family we are now healthier too!

The best part is that I actually feel great. I enjoy being in photos again. I like getting dressed because I feel cute again.

Committing to my health was the single best thing I did in 2021. And I vow to stay committed to it in 2022!

COVID Comes to Sluiter Nation

Masked up at the Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio (July 2021)

We follow the rules.

From March of 2020 until school started in September 2020, we did not interact with anyone–our extended family included–without masks and/or six feet of distance. We had ONE family in our quarantine bubble.

Once school started, we masked, washed hands, sanitized constantly. The only person from our house still going anywhere other than school/work was Cortney. We still get our groceries delivered (this isn’t even because of COVID, if I am honest. I just hate grocery shopping).

I signed up to be vaccinated in January of this year the minute the email came through saying I could. I was fully vaccinated by the beginning of February. Cortney was fully vaccinated about a month after that. Eddie happily bared his arm as soon as he turned 12 this summer.

Even going into this school year vaccinated and masked, I STILL wash and sanitize my hands between every class, before and after I eat, and before I leave the building.

And yet, I tested positive for COVID last month.

It started on a Thursday morning. We had slept with the windows open Wednesday night. I woke up on Thursday with sinuses that were under pressure. I knew having the windows open was a bad idea given the field of ragweed we had growing back there, but I did it anyway.

At some point on Thursday I realized I couldn’t smell much. My face was full and I was wearing a mask all day, so I just made a mental note, but mostly pushed it out of my mind.

I complained about it on Friday when my salad at lunch was rather bland. Then I complained some more at dinner. And after the kids went to bed. I was getting very annoying, apparently, because after assuring me for the 100th time that my sinuses were clogged and that I should just forget about it, Cortney finally said, “Then get a damn test tomorrow if you are so worried about it. Ugg!”

Fine. I made an appointment to get a test at Walgreens after Charlie’s last soccer game.

Saturday morning my face was less painfully full, but still full. I felt like maybe I didn’t need the COVID test after all, but I made the appointment, so I did it. That night we had pizza and I could clearly taste the salty olives on our half.

Sunday I had a HUGE sneezing attack, my face was suddenly not clogged, and I could taste and smell everything.

Oh. Well. No COVID, probably.

Went to school on Monday.

Monday night around 7pm I got an email from Walgreens. I assumed it was to tell me I was negative. You can imagine my shock when it said POSITIVE FOR COVID in bold letters.

Well, shit.

What do I do? I called my principal and gave him the craptacular news. He had our HR person call me and we worked out my quarantine would have to be the rest of the week. I could come back on Monday.

Cortney, in the meantime, set up COVID tests for himself and all three kids on Tuesday. I emailed the offices/teachers of all our kids to let them know they would be out on Tuesday for testing due to a close contact.

I also messaged my primary care doctor to find out what, if anything, we should do.

No one else had any symptoms, and I didn’t have any anymore either.

Tuesday morning, I got a message from my doctor saying that if no one else has symptoms, they don’t have to test or quarantine, but that I need to quarantine for 10 days since my symptoms started (which is what I was already doing per our HR requirements in my district).

Cortney went to Walgreens and got them all tested, but when he got back, I read the message from my doctor to him.

Everyone went back to work and school on Wednesday.

Until the elementary schools sent Charlie and Alice home. Because the close contact was in the home and they were not vaccinated or masked around me, they had to quarantine.

Eddie was fine because he was vaccinated. Same with Cortney.

According to our county, Alice and Charlie had to quarantine the rest of the week and all of the following week.

By the way, they still have zero symptoms.

My house, on the other hand, suffered immensely having those two home and us not being able to have much contact.

Thursday the rest of the family’s results came in: Eddie and Cortney both tested negative. Charlie was positive. Alice was inconclusive (she scrunched her nose during the test).

No one had any symptoms.

We treated both the Littles as positive cases and kept them away from everyone.

The second week of COVIDmania meant I could go back to work, but the Littles could not and we couldn’t exactly get a babysitter for them. This mean Cortney and I had to get creative with taking more time off.

We decided I would take Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings off to stay home. Cortney would move all work meetings to those three mornings, and come home in the afternoon so I could go to work. He also took all day Tuesday/Thursday off.

Working from home felt grossly like being virtual since I had to still do lessons and create instructional videos and do eight hours worth of parent/teacher conferences all from home. I felt glued to my computer all over again and it sucked.

I was very happy to walk into work at 11:15am on that Monday morning!

Just as the week began, we got the bad news that Cortney’s uncle, who had been battling the lung damage from COVID pneumonia, passed away. It was a pretty big blow to the family. Rather than taking a half day off on Friday, I took the whole day so that I could attend the funeral with Cortney in the afternoon.

The entire COVIDmania made me so crabby, but I was reminded that because of all the precautions–other than being inconvenienced–our immediate family was fine. Sure we had some positive tests, but no one got sick. At all!

We are pretty sure that I did not bring COVID into the house, I was just the first to test for it and happened to test positive. It’s more likely that it came in with Alice since they had some outbreaks at her school. She probably passed it to me and Charlie. My doctor thinks I tested positive because I was in the early group for my original vaccines.

But now Cortney and I have both had the booster, and the Littles each have dose one in their arms too!

Our house stayed healthy even with positive results because of the precautions we took and because of the vaccine.

My hope going into the holidays is that more people will get vaccinated. That is the only way we will get to be back to some semblance of normal.

The Back to School Post I Forgot About

We went back to school like…two months ago. I took pictures and had every intention of making a nice little post here for posterity.

Then my life laughed and laughed and laughed at me.

So anyway, Back to School!

There are four of us that went back to school–in four different buildings, naturally.

Alice is in 1st grade this year at Quincy. She is in the shark room and loves every minute of it. She is happy to go to school, happy to do homework, just happy happy about all things learning. She loves learning to read and going to her music special the most, although Spanish is a close second.

Charlie is in 4th grade at Lincoln. He is in their iCares program (Emotionally Impaired program). He is doing so well this school year! We have been so proud of him as he continues to learn and use strategies for managing his anxiety. He has been doing his school work regularly and earning lots of new privileges. In fact, he will get to go into the regular ed classroom routinely now since he has been so responsible and showing so much growth! We have been celebrating him a ton this fall!

Alice rides the bus in the morning from daycare and then home to our neighborhood after school. Charlie walks to school with the Walking Group in his school’s neighborhood. This has been so great for his mental health. Movement centers him, and walking each day with a group of kids and adults he can trust has been a game changer! He also rides the bus in the afternoon with Alice. They like walking from the bus stop to home so much, that this past week when I got home early and decided to wait at the bus stop for them, they said, “no thank you” to the ride!

Eddie is in 7th grade this year. The middle of middle school. He gets to use a locker this year, and I laughed so hard when I saw they assigned my 5’7″ tween a bottom locker. He thought I was ridiculous for laughing. Middle school! Ed loves school because he loves to see his friends. He also does better being able to interact with his teachers. His favorite classes this year are Band (he plays the trombone) and ELA (that’s my boy!), but he says he really likes all his classes. In 6th grade, he struggled in math class, but he is absolutely killing it this year! We are darn proud of this kid for how responsible and respectful he is too. The kids’ district has a mask mandate for K-6 graders, but Eddie wears his all the time even though he’s vaccinated because he wants to protect his younger siblings.

And of course, I also went back to school–as a teacher and as a doctoral student.

This year is my 19th year teaching in the Wyoming Public School district. Because of a major staff shake up over the summer, I am still teaching 8th grade English, but I have the honors classes now. So I have three sections of honors and two sections of team-taught 8th grade ELA (with my teaching partner who I have been with since I started at the Junior High in 2014). This has been my hardest school year yet for a number of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post. But I have been blessed with great students, supportive colleagues and administration, and awesome parents/guardians of my students.

This semester I am also taking my very last class toward my PhD–Introduction to Research in Education. I hate it, but it’s necessary and will probably help me with all the researchy technical stuff I’ll need to do for my dissertation work.

Starting in January, I will have two semesters where I do “reading hours” that help me prepare to take my Qualifying Exams next November (2022). I will have to sit for three exams: English Education General Exam, English Education Specialized Exam (still working on my specialization area, but it will probably be something with teaching Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature), and Children’s Literature (my specialized question for this exam will focus on Holocaust Literature for Children/Young Adults). I have like a million books to read before next November to prepare. Ok, maybe not a million, but it is over a hundred.

We are all doing well as far as academics, but the effects of this pandemic are really starting to show in other ways–especially in the negative impacts on my teaching job.

The little kids and I are also in the middle of a quarantine, but that is another post all together!