Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joseph's Lullaby

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the music. I love music, and especially Christmas music. Sometimes, I will even listen to it out of the season because I enjoy it. One of my favorite songs for the season comes from MercyMe. It's called "Joseph's Lullaby" and is simply an amazing piece that takes a different view at the Christmas story.

Do we really know what Joseph thought? The man who took Mary as his wife because God told him to, even though the baby she was carrying was not his. Joseph who stood quietly by his wife's side as she delivered the Savior, who didn't question why he was chosen. The man who raised Jesus without sin and played a part in what we know of the story today.

In the lullaby, Joseph wonders whether his newborn son knows how important he will be to mankind, if he is aware of the weight he will one day bear. Joseph is asking God to let His son rest for a night, to simply be a baby, Joseph's son, before he has to take on the tasks God has set for him.

It's really awe-inspiring if you really think about it.

Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Or does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child

Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You'll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Little Things

I tell everyone that one day, I am going to write a book. Since the conception of this "book" idea, I've had a hundred different ideas and proposed chapters. I've decided that if it ever gets off the ground, I am going to dedicate at least one chapter to quotes. The little tidbits of conversation that make me laugh and remember an excellent day.

My drama students are putting on a play entitled "A Christmas to Remember". One of the scenes is where Elizabeth has given birth to John (the Baptist) and her husband Zechariah, who was struck dumb by the angel Gabriel has reclaimed his voice. In the scene, Zechariah lifts John to his chest and proclaims, "His name is to be John!" The student playing the role of Zechariah is so sweet, and he wants to do a great job. On this occasion he grabs the prop we are using until we can get a doll and lifts him over his head, shouting "HIS NAME IS JOHN!"

Everyone bursts out laughing, after a moment the student does too.

Me: "Zachariah, I appreciate the enthusiasm, but please don't Rafiki the baby!"
Student: "Sorry, Ms. T!"

The play is coming along wonderfully. I am so excited to see these kids get on stage and present what they have been working on. We'll just work on keeping the Lion King out of this show. :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

With Thanks

On Thanksgiving morning, my community and I attended Mass at the Fort Defiance Church, established by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. It’s a small church to begin with, and being a weekday and a holiday, there were not very many people attending. We could have easily spread out through the church, but we chose to sit in one pew altogether, filling the entire thing. For someone on the outside looking in, they might think we looked funny; why crowd together when you can easily spread out? For us though, cramming together was an act of solidarity. We rarely attend church altogether for myriad reasons: conflict schedules, different times, only four of seven are Catholic, etc. But, Thanksgiving is a special day, a time to give thanks in a contemplative way. At least, in my opinion.

What always strikes me as humorous around Thanksgiving is that everyone becomes consumed with gratefulness, but as the effects of food coma from dinner and a blissful break from work fade, so it seems, does the need to be thankful. Shouldn’t we be grateful all the time? For things both large and small? Approaching four months on the reservation I have been contemplating this very aspect. What am I grateful for? For a week off of school or a mini roadtrip with friends? The answer is both, but I am also grateful for the rain, which falls so infrequently out here, and the Rez dogs who quickly become familiar partners. For my community, even though we sometimes disagree and for my school although it is sometimes stressful.
Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a National holiday during his presidency. I wonder what he would think of what it has become today, with salesmen pitching their products at discounted rates and people stomaching obligatory food to nap and race others for sales at midnight. Everyday should be another day for Thanksgiving for so many things. As a history teacher, I can appreciate the thought behind it. We remember the first Thanksgiving where two very diverse communities came together to celebrate success and life, and the hope of building a future together. We celebrate what America is and what it still has potential to become. And, we should celebrate each other, the good and bad, happy and sad, remembering that we are all part of a larger community to come. 

After Mass, my community and I went to the jail in Window Rock and served them Thanksgiving dinner, all of which had been donated by members of the local and church community. This was the second time I had been to the jail, and the men there love to hear my roommate Allison and I sing. This was the first time all seven of us had been the jail, and was interesting to serve the men and get to talk to them and also to sing with them for a while. Part of me wants to know why there are in jail, but a larger part of me realizes that many of these men are so lonely and longing for company that I feel safe and content walking in and talking, praying, singing with them. 

Next month, we will sing Christmas carols and talk some more, laugh some more. Simply being in community with each other and with the inmates, once more, celebrating the Thanksgiving of each other.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Purposefully Untitled

It's been more than a month since I've posted anything, and there are myriad reasons for my absence online. It could be contributed to many things, or it could just be that there has been a morose feeling settling around me the last few weeks out here. The scenery as always, continues to be beautiful, breathtaking, awe-inspiring. But, it can also be extremely lonely. The great blue sky which fills my heart with joy on one day can look to be a lonely endlessness the next.

I miss the East Coast. I miss seeing the colors change on the trees at Cabrini. I miss my friends there, and complaining about the cafeteria food and late night walks to get Wawa. I am incredibly blessed with the community I have out here, and I know that. I love creating jokes with them and laughing and having our own form of late nights. I love being able to hike in nature's beauty and explore ruins and find shed snake skins, but still the memories of home are nice.

It hurts to be forgotten sometimes too. It hurts when you see someone else getting a huge package of gifts from the people you used to work with and nothing comes in the mail for you. It's petty, and I know that which almost makes it hurt more because I shouldn't care. But I do. Lately I've been feeling like I am not needed; that what I do is not important. Some other friends who have volunteered before me warned me about feeling this way, told me that it happens to almost everyone at some point. When you are told you are a volunteer and your opinion doesn't matter, you can brush it off the first time. Maybe the second. But now it feels like an accusatory stab in my direction. I love my students. I love teaching. But, I hate the politics of education that has pervaded everything out here. I hate how even out here, on the Reservation, people talk about the Native Americans like they are incapable of doing anything for themselves. I have many students, most are Navajo, but with the healthcare systems located in the capital (Window Rock) I also have quite a few students who are white or multi-ethnic.

My students are beautiful and talented and amazing. I have students who can sing like angels and take command of a stage. I have students who are unwilling to give up and will work until they cry in aggravation and laugh when they finally conquer a task. I have students who realized that I was standing out in the parking lot waiting for my ride, alone, and they wouldn't leave until my roommate got there so I wouldn't be completely alone. These are students who come up with the strangest excuses about missing homework, kids who make me laugh on a daily basis and tell me superstitions that their ancestors believed in. They are the students who help me pick up papers in the hall when I get jostled in between classes and who pull down the projector film before I even ask them to.

Why are people so willing to give up on them?

My students ask me if I am coming back next year, and I cannot honestly answer them. I don't know myself yet. I love Mercy Volunteer Corps; it was the right decision for me to come here. But sometimes I get so aggravated with the way things are out here, the way people are resistant to change and I get frustrated. I am here for my kids. For the kids who discovered a love for debate and now beg to have class debates everyday; for the kids who devise clever experiments in psychology and have told me that I make them want to go on to college. For the kids who put on the first talent show the school has ever seen and are already asking to plan for the next one. I am not here for the administration or the pay (clearly not the pay, holla volunteers) or even the scenic backdrop. I am here because these kids are the most amazing group of people I have ever met and they deserve to have so much more than what they have. I am not a savior, I am not single-handedly going to change the way the reservation works. I don't know how much of an impact I will have, or even that I am having. There will be no statues erected in my name, building declaring my moniker or books written about me. I know that, and to be honest, wouldn't want any of that. What I want is to know that I am doing the right thing out here That I didn't pack my bags four months ago seeking an adventure that dead-ends.

We had our fall retreat the other week, and Sr. Jeanne, our sponosor from the Sisters of Mercy came from Omaha to visit us and join the retreat. At some point, I just sat on the bench swing and cried during our time for personal reflection. It was both happy and sad because I had time to just sit and think and let my mind out of its cage for a few minutes. I sometimes wonder am I being genuine out here? Did I come just to find a teaching job? Did I come because I was afraid of what to do after college? Did I come to find adventure? Did I come to serve God? Is this service proving that I do love God?

I think I can answer yes to all those questions at some point or another in four months here, and I am sure that those questions will continue to pop up this year and even after I leave. Sometimes I think the problem is that I spend too much time actually thinking, and not enough time actually listening. I love my students and teaching and I know despite the struggles that it is the best career choice for me. What I don't know is that I am always doing the right thing and that maybe I am doing more damage by coming out here for a year or two, instead of spending a long time here. But, maybe I am meant to only be here a short time, or maybe I am meant to be here long term. Honestly, I don't know yet.

The mind is an extraordinary thing, as is the heart. Not speaking in terms of biology, but emotionally. My heart is already being rendered into pieces. Good pieces, though. There are parts of my heart that have been scattered across the reservation that will remain despite where I go in life. There are things that I will never forget, as are there things that I can never forget.

So yes, I get aggravated with the ways things are and at foiled attempts to change them. But, I have never been one to give up and I march on. The Great Gatsby said, "So we beat on, like boats against the current". Well, there is little water out here, so no boats. But, I beat on, like frybread dough slapped against the table; like a mallet beating a drum at a powwow.

Maybe in time, my questions will find their answers.

Monday, October 8, 2012


One of the rules of MVC is that you cannot have any pets during the year because it can negatively affect the community. When we got to Arizona, we had no plans to have or keep a pet, and our stipends certainly would not cover the costs having an animal would incur.

We did not count on the Rez dogs.

Mikey was a sweet, young dog. Half pit-bull and black lab, he was playful and protective. The volunteers from last year told us that he basically came with the trailer and he owned the porch. He was never violent or hostile or any other negative thing you hear about pit-bulls and Rez dogs. He would trot alongside us as we took the garbage out to the trailer courts next door and walked with us to Mass and to the Navajo Nation Parade until the crowd got too big and he wandered back to school.

Mikey was taken in by the humane society last week and will be put to sleep based on his breed.
I told myself I would not get close to the animals out here, and I came with the impression that they were wild animals that I would want to stay with. But Mikey wasn't  He would sit with his head in my lap as I sat on the front stairs reading a book. He barked at the random cows that wandered in our yard when we forgot to close the gate, insistent that they leave before they left a mess in our yard. He would run up to our car when we pulled in from school and circle excitedly until we put down whatever we were holding to give him a scratch behind his ears.

He never came inside our trailer, and we never spent our money to feed him, although a few wayward recipes made their way to a discarded bowl under our porch. He wasn't ours because we couldn't tag him or help him in anyway, but I miss him.

I miss him a lot and it breaks my heart to know that everything I have tried to do to help him hasn't been enough. It seems strange to eulogize a dog I told myself I didn't want, but Mikey didn't have a chance out here and I felt like all I could do was stand by and watch it happen.

He reminds me a lot of my students. Of course, my Native American students and a Rez dogs are entirely different, but I keep thinking about how people didn't give Mikey a chance. People saw that he was part pit-bull and feared him because of that. They didn't know the sweet Mikey that walked with you so you felt safe, they saw every negative encounter with dangerous dogs rolled into one.

There are a lot of people who don’t give the Navajo students a chance. They see the problems that plague the reservation and assume that because of their genetics they will fall into the same patterns. They don’t always see the creativity blooming from the students, the dreams that they aspire to fulfill; their desires to leave the reservation so they can make a better life for themselves.

I miss Mikey because he was loyal and great company. I am glad that I had the few months I did with him because he made that time better. Losing him has made me think about what all the people who live here stand to lose because of unfortunate societal judgment, and what I can do to make sure some of that is alleviated.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mercy Day

Happy Mercy Day!

I am so excited to be on the Navajo Nation today and everyday! Today is the feast day for the Sisters of Mercy, the Mercy Associates and all of us volunteers, past and present!

May the blessings of the day be upon you!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I do bellwork with my students on a regular basis. It's an activity that allows them to come into the classroom and work on something for a few minutes to get settled down into class mode. It's especially helpful since one of my classes is directly after lunch, and they need to get back into a school mindset. One of the areas I hope to get the students interested in is political cartoons, and the other day I found a really neat cartoon about the death of Ambassador Stevens. It incorporated church and state in an unsual way; usually when the two are intertwined it is done in a mocking way. This cartoon was simple, but beautiful. Because I am working at a Catholic school, I thought it was appropriate to use in the lesson. Had I been at a public institution, I am not sure that I would have used the image, but I am posting it here because it is peaceful to me. It speaks of the legacy of a great man who was taken to soon from a problem he was working actively to fix.

To be honest, I can't say that the death of Ambassador Stevens made me dramatically sad. I did not know him in a way that would make me miss him. What really saddens me is that his death was completely senseless. He was a good man working hard to achieve good in Libya, a country that is in desperate need of help. What saddens and angers me is that his death has come under attack by people in our country, heedless of the feelings of his family and those in government who knew him on a more personal level. So, while I cannot miss a man I can't claim to have known, what I will miss about him is his dedication to the people of Libya, his loyalty to them to help them break free from a stifled society and his clear compassion for the work that he did.

I was so proud of my students for being able to look at this article and discuss it in a mature, respectful manner. I am glad that they are beginning to understand how global politics work and that they are able to see the dangers and problems caused by the attacks in Libya.

Rest in Peace, Ambassador. And truly blessed are the peacemakers, thank you for your service.

My favorite thing...

Hands down, my favorite thing about teaching is when my students get it!

I love watching them think, and as high school upperclassmen, I am incorporating a lot of critical thinking into my classes. I want to know their opinions, see them make their own conclusions, take an active role in their education.

I have heard how many people on the Rez struggle, how education is not always a priority here. I want to see every single one of my students go to college. Or, go on to something fulfilling. I don't want to see them fall into the stereotypical patterns that plague the reservation; ideas that they are not as good as other groups of people, or that heredity and genetics can't be questioned. A student in one of my psychology classes was telling me the other day how prevalent alcohol abuse was on the reservation and that he is likely to fall prey to it.


It doesn't have to be that way. It hurts to think that students so young are already being discouraged by the way things are, and not encouraged by the things that could be. If I accomplish anything this year, it is to make sure that my students know that they all have potential, and that they possess the tools to achieve more, do more, be more. I may sound like a half-crazed motivational speaker on a cancelled MTV show, but at the same time, I know that what I am saying is all a possibility. The Navajo culture is such an amazing thing to be immersed in; I am far from trying to come out here and change their ways, but at the same time, I am teaching my students to be social and personal advocates for themselves.

I teach my students in such a manner that they will become global citizens. The first day of school I explained to them what it meant to be a global citizen; a commitment that extends beyond the grounds of the Rez, past the confines of American citizenship and into an international theatre of understanding. When they ask me why they need to care about global events, I ask them why not? I told my students that first day that when they leave my classroom at the end of the semester, I don't expect them to be experts on the U.S. Government. I can't even claim that I am expert, but I do expect that they leave knowing what it means to be a citizen in multiple arenas and how that impacts their future.

With the recent death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, I was able to engage my classes in a deep discussion about foreign affairs and what times of crisis can mean for the United States and other countries affected. We discussed war and terrorism, and what fear can make people do. We talked about the Ambassador's influence on Libya and what he meant to people both in America and his adopted country. We got completely off track of our lesson plan and the bell rang before we got through the actual content I had planned. But it's okay, because finally, I see it. They're beginning to get it.

Maybe sometimes the best lessons aren't the ones I have planned.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Acoma Pueblo

This post has been a long time coming, and I finally have the time to sit down and write about visiting Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, also known as Sky City. We went for a festival, and the city was open to the public, which was great, otherwise it would be about $20 a person. The Pueblo Indians performed ceremonial dances to call the rain, and the outfits were simply breathtaking. Cameras were banned from the village, and we were asked not to speak to the dancers or to ask them questions.

Later that day, a woman who lives in the village was telling a few people in our group that the dances to bring the rain can be very emotional as they are steeped in such tradition. I completely understand the reasons for not allowing cameras, and I was glad this woman took the time to explain the dances since we were told not to ask questions.

There were a lot of craft booths and people selling food around the village and I bought some roast corn, which is honestly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. On the Rez, it is common to see people just parked alongside the road with a truck bed full, and I mean full, of roast corn, selling it for a dollar or two. It reminds me a little bit of the food trucks I've seen in Philadelphia and New York, and I had to laugh because they certainly aren't selling hot dogs or felafel's. During the Navajo Fair too, there was a lot of street food, and I bought a breakfast burrito from a family stationed across the road from where I was sitting. The cultural differences still continue to amaze me. Where I come from, you couldn't just sit alongside the road and sell food from a cooler. Here, the Navajo Nation police officers were buying the food too!

Back to the festival, I also decided to try something called Kool-Aid pickles, after I saw nine different stands selling them. I figured if so many people had them for sale they must a treat for the local people.

Never. Again.

I am all for trying new things, but I think my taste buds were mad at me for the next week. Maybe it was just the stand I bought them from, but I think I am going to hold off on experimental foods of that caliber.

Acoma has this beautiful chapel dedicated to St. Stephen, which they only open twice a year; for this festival and for Easter. A man who lives in the village pointed out the rainbows painted on the walls, an unusual mural for a church. He explained that there isn't red in the rainbows because red symbolizes war and blood, and rainbows are supposed to be peaceful. I had never thought about that before, but it is certainly something to consider. Again, the cultural differences are really interesting, I would have never considered red to be more than a letter in the ROYGBIV rainbow I learned as a child.

The day drew to a close, and we crammed into our cars for the long drive home. A few miles into the journey though, it started to rain! How awesome is that?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Navajo Nation Fair

This past weekend was the Navajo Nation Fair, and I spent Friday and Saturday with Allison, Dan and Melissa (librarian) walking around, seeing all the sites and riding the Ferris Wheel. If you want to talk about simple living, I only went on one ride, instead of buying a wristband for $20. Believe me, it was hard, I am an absolute fair ride junkie.

School was cancelled on Friday since the fair is such a big deal for the Navajo Nation, and I worked at the booth the school had set up in one of the halls. Some alumni came by and told us stories about going there, and we even had a few people interested in enrolling their students for the next year. I was glad to see that overall, we had a good amount of people interested in us rather than the free pens. I really enjoyed the Energy Expo they had at the fair and I was able to learn a lot about sustainability and water conservation on the reservation. It is a very barren landscape, although where we are located isn't exactly a full blown desert. I think I talked to one of the women working with water conservation for about 15 minutes, and she gave me a really nice canvas bag with their logo because she told me she could tell I was genuinely interested in what they were doing, not just getting the free stuff they had.

Saturday, the four of us walked 3 miles down the road to see the parade go by, including a float from SMIS that had students and teachers. When it passed, we saw one of our friends, Ann, dressed as St. Katherine Drexel, and could not stop laughing. I told her I didn't know many sisters who incorporated a basketball shirt and sneakers into their habit. But, it was great to see the students excited to be in the parade and we made sure we screamed loud and clear when they went past.

There were so many great moments this weekend, seeing students and parents at the fair and in the parade, meeting new people and getting to network a little bit with people who have long standing connections to SMIS. My skin still doesn't like Arizona, I go through sunblock like it is my job, but otherwise, a good weekend with some good fair food, fun people and a new experience to add to my list of reservation adventures.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Labor Day Weekend

I climbed a 10,000 year old erupted volcano. What did you do on your labor day weekend?

I went with Mary Rose, Allison, Jake, Stacy, and a group of other teachers from St. Michael on a hiking trip in New Mexico this past weekend. Dan, one of the English teachers at the high school leads these trips around the area, and I was really enthusiastic about getting to see the area around where we live.

We hiked in El Morro, a National Park in New Mexico, checking out the sites (awesome) and getting to see the historic trails of travellers who came through New Mexico. There were petroglyphs on the wall from ancient indian tribes, as well as carvings from the Spaniards who came through centuries ago, and more recent carvings from Americans who travelled by on their way west. Pictures will be forthcoming since I am still without a camera, but some of the things we saw, you had to be there in person. If anyone starts to question God's creation, I challenge them to climb a mesa and look out over all they can see. Beautiful.

At the top of the mesa was an unearthed Pueblo, the the Zuni people built in the 1200s. By the time the Spaniards came in the 1500s, the pueblos were already deserted. The pueblo we saw contained about 875 rooms, huge, but only part of it is unearthed. I love old ruins, it is like looking into a picture of how people lived. And the fact that centuries later I can look and stand where so much history occured never ceases to amaze me.

El Morro is Spanish for "The Headland" and the Americans called it "Inscription Rock", but when it was made a national park, the Spanish name won. What I found interesting about El Morro is that the trail we hiked was actually hand carved by workers of the Civil Works Administration, an organization started by FDR during the Great Depression.

After we ate lunch at El Morro, we went to something called the Ice Caves, which is where I got to climb the volcano. The volcano, Bandera, exploded about 10,000 years ago, and today there is a wonderful area with petrified wood, and lava fields, and ice caves in a collapsed lava tube. It was absolutely fascinating. I love nature, and how it can be so pure and ruggedly beautiful. Allison and I crawled into a cave formed by lava for a picture and, I laugh because it is funny, but, I ripped my pants.

There are signs that say to be careful because the lava formations can be sharp and jagged. I sat down next to Allison on a rock that was there and caught the seat of my pants on a piece of hardened lava. I heard a slow, creeping ripping sound, and all I could think was oh crap. It was bad. It was really bad. From the back pocket to the hem of the shorts bad. Allison, laughing, pulled a bandana out of her backpack and made me a "tail" so no one could see the rip. So yeah, I climbed a volcano and ripped my pants.

Later still, we drove to El Mapais, Spanish for the badlands and completed a third hike. This one was fairly uneventful, but we got to see some cool rock formations and a bat cave. Luckily, no rattlesnakes, although this site told us to be particularly careful. El Mapais also had remnants of volcanic activity and all in all, it was a beautiful hike through some gorgeous areas.

Sunday, we went to Acoma, a pueblo in New Mexico that had the nickname Sky City, and is one of the oldest continually habituated places in the United States. Stay tuned for that later!

Monday, September 3, 2012


It's been a few days since I posted, but now that school is into full swing, I am tired by the end of the day and finding time to sit down and write for myself is significantly harder than it was a few weeks ago. Our art teacher arrived! I am so excited, but I do miss working with the art students. They were so creative and were willing to work with me and the cans for two weeks. I was able to find some great art videos those last few days I was in the classroom, so it wasn't charcoal drawings all the time.

I've slowly started to add student work to the walls in the computer lab where I teach so that the room is starting to look more like my home than a stark, bare room. My psychology students did outlines of famous psychologists and my government students will be working on some projects soon too. I am excited to see my students actually beginning to particiapte in class; the first few days they were a little wary of me. Sometimes, I wonder if what I am doing is a good thing. The students know that teachers come and go here so often, that there is not a lot of continutity. But, slowly, they seemed to have come to the concluision that I am okay and I see that in the way that they participate. It isn't always easy, but I love all my students and each one brings something different to the table. I have my jokers, my serious ones, the usual assortment of characters one can find in any high school classroom in America.

Drama club should be starting up soon, and I am excited about that because there are a few students who seem genuinely interested in working on some productions. I am glad that there is some enthusiasm becuase I would like to see the school do some pretty cool shows this year. One of the girls asked me if I would lead the choir because they don't have one anymore, after the old director left. I wondered why she was asking me, and then she told me that the same man led both groups. Hmm.. I am not much of a singer, but I might see what interests there are for students to sing and if enough students show interest, I might give it a try. Middle school choir throwback?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Window Rock

NaShia, one of my community members, took this awesome picture in Window Rock. I can't wait to hike up through those rocks! This is Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park and Veteran's Memorial. Isn't the view just gorgeous? I've been there once already, and although this picture is fabulous, it can't compare to seeing that red rock in person.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Spirituality Night

Last night was our first spirituality night, that Allison lead. She had chosen a guided meditation for us that was a visualization of a candle. It was a lot of fun, and really relaxing, which is what I needed after this week! It's been a blue or craziness, but I am having so much fun.

 Last night all the high school teachers got together in the faculty room after school and had Navajo stew and fry bread, which is almost like a staple on the Rez. The stew had carrots, celery, potatoes and mutton in a clear broth and it was pretty good. One of the student's aunties had made the dinner for us, and she was telling some of the newer teachers that her sons had graduated from SMIS, so she has a history there.

There is no school tomorrow, so I have a long weekend to work on lesson plans. I am teaching government, psychology and evolving histories (which I get to create an entire curriculum for) so I will have a busy weekend, but I am looking forward to getting the school year fully underway. I am still teaching art until the real teacher for that arrives, and today I subbed for gym. Well, that was interesting.

Everyday, I grow to love this place more and more. Two weeks down already!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Artisitc Talent!

So...this week I am an art teacher! Our regular art teacher hasn't arrived yet, and as the schedules are still being redone, someone needed to step in and watch over the classes. Now, I am no artist, but I can manage my way around an easel. So, instead of sitting there and staring at each other, or assigning them a study hall (and there is no work in this first week) I am setting up mini assignments to keep the students busy and get them used to the art room.

My level three students are fantastic and they are working on charcoal drawings of the school, spread out through the hallway. My level one students are working on drawing and shading cans. Watching their faces as they work are funny because they are so new at it and they don't really understand the purpose of drawing cans. It's okay, when I was a new art student, I thought cans were stupid too. But I do enjoy the messy fun of it. I like walking behind the students with a piece of charcoal and helping them fix their perspective, round out the ovals and capture the light reflections.

I'm no artist, but at least I can draw a can!

Monday, August 20, 2012


Exactly three months ago, I was graduating from college. I remember sitting there, squished between some of the greatest people I know (hi, Br. Dominic!) excited about the prospect of actually having a degree and terrified that the real world was about to slap me in the face. Even then, I didn't know that in three months I would be sitting in an Arizonan classroom on the Navajo Nation as an actual teacher. It still astounds me.

It's not what I expected, but then again, I am not sure exactly what I expected anymore. I've have been so touched by what I've already seen. There aren't enough books for the students. There are money issues. There are problems on the reservation. But there is also so much love. It envelops everything I see here. It takes precedence over the problems and wraps itself around everyone who is here. We had an open house the other night and I got to meet some parents, people who grabbed my hand with both of theirs and thanked me for coming here. I already have dinner invitations and people recognize me around town. It's been a week, but it feels like I've been in Arizona for so much longer.

I've come to accept that my feet will never be fully clean while I am here because the dust comes in every crack and opening. I will constantly find spiders in my closet, and yes, rattlesnakes live in the field across from me. It's okay with me. I wake up everyday and see these wonderful red rocks that encompass the landscape, and I love the itty bitty cacti that grow in our yard. I've come to realize that Navajo Time is a real concept and that schedules aren't always the priority here. It's okay with me.

Three months ago, I thought I needed to have all these plans. I was afraid to walk across that stage because I thought everyone needed to have life planned out. Today, I am happier than I have been in a long time because I feel as if I have found my place here. It's not always easy, sometimes, it is frustrating. But joining MVC and taking that leap of faith to move over 2,000 miles away from everyone and everything I knew was a good choice.

I read a quote in a book called "Jesus Freaks" the other night that said "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans". It really is true. I had all these plans, all these thoughts that I had to have perfect plans after graduation and I am sure that God was just sitting there chuckling, knowing that the plans He had for me were far better than what I had envisioned for myself. And they are.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I am sitting in the common room at Marydale with some other MVCs as we are packing up for our flights tomorrow. It is strange that I am actually less than 12 hours away from getting on plane that will take me to my new home for the next year. A week of orientation, a slew of connections, many, many new friendships created; it’s been a busy week for me.

I’m feeling a little bit disoriented, which is ironic since I’ve just finished orientation, but I think it is because my mind is so jumbled with what I have learned and experienced so far, and with the impending journey. It’s only 2,500 miles, but it also feels like a lifetime away. I don’t know these people, I don’t know their culture. I don’t what they will think of me, and I also don’t know what I will think of them. I think that scares me sometimes.

We are leaving at 4:45 tomorrow morning, and Jake and Allison, who are working at -------- Indian School with me, are flying out to Albuquerque, where we will meet up with the other community members who are working at --------- Association for Special Education. I am excited to finally get to Arizona, after months of preparation and planning. Every day I grow more confident about going out there, even though I am not entirely sure what I will be doing once I arrive. I think it is awesome that I can use a degree, one that I worked so hard for, to do something meaningful while I have the chance. I know I want to live a life dedicated to service, and part of the reason that I am choosing Mercy Volunteer Corps is because I can travel, serve and essentially, live doing something that I love.

I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or in a few months. But, with an open heart and an open mind, and the ever growing knowledge of Catherine McAuley and her Sisters of Mercy, I am excited to take those next steps forward that will propel me in the direction of the life God has chosen for me to live. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Three Missionaries...

Three missionaries walk into the woods…how many come out?

On Wednesday after evening prayer, a group of volunteers decided that we would walk to town from the retreat center just as a chance to get out and explore a little since we’ve spent a good amount of time in panels and conversations. The group consensus was originally to seek out the local Steak and Shake restaurant in Erlanger, and grab a quick bite to eat and enjoy the summer weather. Somehow, most of our group ended up at the Waffle House (they had Southern Pecan Pie…it was delicious!) and we splintered into two groups according to when we were done eating (again…Southern Pecan Pie….it was delicious!).

I headed back in the second group with Katrina, who is headed to Savannah and Mike, who is headed to Philadelphia. Now, it’s dark, we’re all new to Kentucky, and we know we need to get back to the retreat center by 11 PM unless we want to get locked out. Mike (this guy is funny) tells us about a great shortcut that he found earlier in the day where you can cut across campus and through the woods on this path and it will cut at *least* a mile off of our journey….sure, why not?

Mike tells us that we have to walk down a road completely opposite of the retreat center until we come to an abandoned log cabin, and that this magical path is directly behind said cabin. So, after playing chicken across a dark Kentuckian highway in Erlanger (which, by the way, is the Friendship City) we start our trek down this road in search for the log cabin that is now our destination point.

So, log cabin found. Mike insists that there is a path here…so we slowly venture towards the woods.

Katrina: Are you sure there’s a path?
Mike: Yeah, I was here this afternoon.
Jamie: I don’t see a path
Katrina: What’s that?
Jamie: Umm, that’s definitely water. I am not swimming back to Marydale!
Mike: No, there was a path here this afternoon.
Katrina: Um, I don’t think I want to wander through the woods in the dark with no path.
Jamie: Yeah, maybe we should just turn back.
Katrina: I hear banjo music!
Jamie: So, three missionaries walk into the woods…
Katrina: This is like the beginning of every horror movie ever made!

So, we decided that it would be in the best interests if Mercy Volunteer Corps didn’t have to call people and tell them we went missing in the middle of the Kentucky darkness and we headed back the way we had came. We were about five miles out by the time we trudged our way back to the common room at the retreat center, and the earlier group was spread out over the couches surprised it had took us so long to get back.

Lessons learned:

Bushes in Kentucky have eyes….walk fast.

Don’t take directions from Mike, especially about abandoned log cabins and mythical paths through the woods that may or may not have banjos (according to Katrina)

That pie….that Southern Pecan Pie….was so worth it!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Elaine on a Train

The journey finally begins!

My parents drove me to 30th St. Station in Philadelphia to board the train to Cincinnati yesterday morning, and I’ve spent the past 20 hours passing through the eastern countryside next to a woman named Elaine.
I boarded the train hoping to find a double seat unoccupied, but soon accepted the fact that I would have a seatmate the majority of my journey. Elaine seemed like a good choice; an older lady, not too spread out in the seat and smiling. Soon, we introduced ourselves and started friendly chatter that turned into hours of discussion and dinner in the meal car together. Elaine was telling me about her brother who had recently passed away. She was her way back to Indiana after meeting with family in New Jersey to sprinkle his ashes in the Atlantic Ocean. He had been in the Navy on a submarine and one of his final wishes was to be put at peace at sea. It was amazing to hear her talk about him and the stories he shared with her family about his time in the military, and I was glad that she was able to carry out his last wishes with her remaining family.

When we were talking about my journey, she was really interested that I was going to teach on an Indian Reservation for a year. Elaine said she remembered growing up in a time where it was acceptable for different cultures (ie: races) to mix. The fact that Indian children were not allowed to attend white schools is a sad fact of our American culture, and part of the reason I am excited to go to Arizona and work with the mission and schools down there is because I want to know more about the Navajo culture and because I don’t understand why we could have been so historically atrocious to a group of people that have offered so much to Americana.

After a delay that summed up about four hours, the tired train chugged into Cincinnati at FOUR in the morning. Yes, four in the morning. I have since dubbed my friend Dennis my Knight in Shining Pick Up Truck for diligently keeping his word to pick me up despite such a delay. I planned my trip a few days ahead of what I needed for orientation in order to spend time with friends in Kentucky before I dedicated my year to service. It was good to spend time with friends, but it was also nice because I was an hour away from the retreat center instead of twenty, and there was a significant drop in how anxious I was to arrive at orientation. I can’t thank my friends enough for giving me a chance to relax and get adjusted before I make significant changes in my life. I am so excited to go through orientation and move to Arizona, but I am also terribly anxious about what will be happening in the next few weeks. I pray that everything will go smoothly, and that I will have a good year, and I need to keep an open mind and an open heart about where this journey will take me. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Where is Arizona, Au-Jamee?

Today, Lucas and Brennan are at the house and are spending the night with us. I've been trying to tell them for the last two weeks that I am going away for a year in a way that they would understand (they are 4 and 2). Today, I was at the computer answering some emails when Lucas crawled up into my lap and wanted to know where Arizona was.

I pulled up a map of the United States and showed him where PA was, and then showed him where AZ was. I drew a line with my finger from PA to AZ and asked him if he knew how far the two states were from each other. He shook his head no, and so we googled the address of our house and the place in Arizona where I will be missioned. I told him was over 2,000 miles and his eyes got real big and said that that was a really big number.

I love the innocent curiosity of small children, and I had to laugh at what his little brother, Brennan, asked me:   "Are you going to spend pwesents from Adizonda"?

Probably, Brennan.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Graduation Party

Today was my graduation party; a celebration of a wonderful four years at Cabrini and a sort of going away party for me as I prepare to finalize things with my commitment to MVC. I am being sent to Arizona for eleven months and within the next few weeks, I should be able to meet my community members and learn more about what I will be doing down there.

Despite the sudden and severe rain that interrupted the party, it was a good time with family and friends, and I was grateful for the chance to see some people before I leave. It is starting to hit me that this is a reality. Not only have I graduated college, but I am moving on into the real world. I am excited, but there is a part of me that is anxious about this new beginning. Of course, I want to do well, I want to be useful and helpful and feel like I am a part of a bigger picture. I am excited to see what August will be bringing for me.

My awesome graduation cake with my pre-school and graduation pictures! 

Friday, July 6, 2012


Welcome to my website!

I started this website months ago in an attempt to build up a professional site about myself and my career aspirations. Since then, I was struck by the desire to fulfill a dream of a year of service, and I am excited to say that I am headed to Arizona for the year with the Mercy Volunteer Corps to teach at an Indian School in the Navajo Nation.

I am taking my degrees in history, American studies and education and turning them into an awesome adventure of spirituality as I discover what it is like to live in solidarity with others on an exciting journey into the unknown.