goodbye 2012.

Well, folks, it's the end of 2012. Looking back on this year, I think it was probably one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, years of my life. I graduated in January from school and felt really lame for being a waitress with a college degree. Aaron left for three months in March and it was a time in my life that I would not care to repeat. We spent a summer praying and crying and begging God to find us new jobs outside of Illinois. We celebrated our first year of marriage in Galena, IL. And then in August, we packed up and moved to Arizona and it has been an incredible adventure living here. I am a teacher, which brings it's own set of challenges and rewards. Aaron is a social worker to severe mentally ill adults. We are both using our degrees, which brings an incredible sense of accomplishment in ourselves and provision from the Lord.

And tomorrow is a new year! Wow, I can't even describe how excited I am for this year! In March, I will be camping in the Grand Canyon. In June, I will be flying out to Illinois to visit with my sister and mom and meet my newest niece/nephew! And I know that there will be many more adventures for me and Aaron in the coming year.

I hope and pray that your 2013 will be blessed, happy, peaceful, exciting...and lovely.


check your calendars!

Do you have a calendar? Like, one that you hang on your wall and look at every morning, or write different appointments and birthdays on it? Thinking about our world and how we use our iPhones and computers to tell us when and where we are going and using Facebook to remind us of friend's and family member's birthdays somehow depresses me. And yet, thinking about a calendar with puppies or kittens on it equally depresses me.

Call me crazy, but I have become obsessed with wall calendars. My mother-in-law gave me one last year, and as each month passed, I fell more and more in love with it. Now that the year is almost ending, I find myself scouring the internet for a new one. (And yes, Aaron has been mercilessly making fun of me for my new hobby).

Anyways, calendars are wonderful because they are pretty, they are only a commitment of one year at a time, and I find it so special that you can keep it and take it out in a few years and look back on your daily life. So, I just want to share my favorite calendars that I have found lately....I hope you get one, or it inspires you to find one that reflects your own personal style!

My personal favorite! Snow & Graham Calendar

Art Grid Calendar (I seriously love this one, too!! How cute are those whales?!)

And then this one. Seriously out of my price range, but I can't help drool over it. 

And in case none of those fit your personal aesthetic (I feel like a real blogger, using that word!), check out this one, this toaster desk calendar, this pug calendar, this one, and finally, this beautiful little gem. 

I really hope you invest in a calendar for 2013. Maybe you won't use it to keep dates and birthdays in order, but I promise that every time you look at it, you will feel a little squirm of happiness at the piece of art hanging on your wall. And it's so practical! 

That's all :)


Merry Christmas!

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given.

-Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas, dear friends and family. We rejoice that today our Lord, the Savior of the World, was born! Hope your day is merry, bright, and cozy.

The Westerfields


My 2nd Grade Cheating Ring

*Names have been changed/omitted to protect the innocent guilty*

Some days, it feels like you spend all afternoon following the rabbit down the rabbit hole and it turns out the rabbit hole is a huge mess. This exact thing happened to me today.

It all started when one of my kids comes up to me and says, "Mrs. Westerfield, Isaac keeps asking Erin for her password to get on ST Math and Erin keeps saying no, but Isaac keeps asking."

You see, every day I have math centers--I split my kids up into three groups and while one group is with me, one group is doing an independent activity, and another group is on a math computer program called ST Math--and every day my kids type in their 16-pictures-long password to get onto the math program. This math program happens to be pretty important to our school: it provides data to the teacher and the school in order to prove to the state that we are improving as a school. Also, each student is on a different activity, depending on their level and how quickly they get through the levels. So, for example, they all start out on subtraction. But some kids are really good at subtraction, so they forge ahead. Some kids are on subtraction for awhile, because they need more practice. The computer program is constantly reading how well the students are doing and responding to their answers. 

So, when this sweet kiddo comes up to me to tattle about Isaac trying to get on Erin's username, at first I'm not too alarmed. Sometimes, Isaac is a twerp that way (a very lovable twerp). I'm talking to him, trying to figure out the whole story, when another girl, Emily, chimes in, "Mrs. Westerfield, Lanie (another little girl in my class), also gets on my ST Math all the time."

Chrystal: "She gets on mine too!"

Jessica: "Lanie gets on mine too!"

Lanie: "But Jessica gets on Gary's and John's all the time."

John: "I only gave her my password once."

Gary: "Jessica asks if she can get on mine and I always say yes. But I haven't gotten on anyone's!" (He said that last fact like it was something to be very proud of.)

And the next thing you know, it was like a train wreck. Every one was telling on everyone, and everyone was admitting to somehow being a part of this whole cheating ring happening in my classroom. I couldn't believe it. Only three kids out of my entire classroom had nothing to do with it. It literally took me an hour to sort through all the stories and accusations and confessions. 

Here's what I learned: Apparently, there are many ways to accomplish getting on another student's username. The first way, of course, is to simply ask for the password. The other way, is to watch what your neighbor is putting as their password and follow suit. And finally, the last way is to not completely log off of ST Math and when the groups switch, the next persons gets on the computer and just keeps going. 

Keep in mind, these kids are 2nd graders. 7 years old. When I was in 2nd grade, I wasn't nearly so crafty. When I asked them for the love of God, why?! were they doing this, they almost always replied that when they didn't want to do the level they were on, they could find someone who did. Ain't that the darndest thing.

So, we had a really long talk and I decided that they lost their computer privileges in January and informed them that they lost my trust (which some found incredibly devastating). As I think about it more and more, I am finding the humor in it. They honestly had no clue that they were messing up huge amounts of data, they were just doing what their cheeky little brains thought was a brilliant idea. Finally, the last 15 minutes of the day, I received 13 heartfelt apologies without any prompting from me! And I told them that I completely forgave them and that there are no hard feelings--but they had better believe that this naive first-year teacher isn't going to let a cheating fiasco happen twice! 


a secret.

I have something to share. It makes me ashamed, but I have to talk about it to get any closure.

All across America, there are coffee and tea stains sitting in various church sanctuaries where Aaron and I have sat. It began at the first church that we ever started attending together: College Church of the Nazarene (North Campus). We were still dating and Aaron would bring his coffee or we would get a cup at the church and hustle inside before the service started. At some point during the church service--usually in a transition time from standing up to sitting down--bam, coffee cup spilled. More than once this happened.

Next, we started attending River Valley Christian Fellowship. It very specifically says that no drinks are allowed in the sanctuary. Aaron constantly assured me that it would be alright. Well, sure enough, after a few weeks of attending I once again knocked over a coffee cup. I couldn't stand the shame, so we moved over to the other side of the sanctuary so we wouldn't be recognized. And yet, I still didn't learn my lesson. Aaron brings in a cup of coffee, I somehow manage to knock it over. EVERY SINGLE TIME, it felt.

Now, after doing this maybe three times at River Valley, I finally introduced the policy that prohibited us from bringing in beverages to church. I really put my foot down. It was just getting to be too much. We were running out of sides to sit in the sanctuary! People would soon know us as The Spillers. For the rest of our time at River Valley, we had a spill-free experience. I felt really good about the new-found freedom of not bringing any drinks to church. No drinks = no chance of making more stains in our beloved sanctuary. It was really a fool proof (or should I say...spill proof?) plan.

Well, that all brings me to today. We had yet to bring any beverages to our new church, which was working out really well for us. No spills, no severe looks from our neighbors, all was fine and dandy. Until, Aaron decides that he wants to bring a to-go cup of hot tea. I forgot all about my policy and said, "Make me one too!" Everything is going really well until we get up to pray for someone in our church. We head back to our seats and I can see Aaron's cup in the distance. I truly was so focused, chanting in my head, "Don't knock it, don't knock it, don't knock it, Janel." But it's like my feet had a mind of their own! Boop!  I saw the cup tip over slow-motion-Matrix style. At first I thought that nothing was going to spill out because this certain lid was the type that screws on. There's no way any tea would fall out! Oh, how wrong I was! There may as well have not even been a lid! While Aaron is whispering "Quick! Hide it!" I think I may have loudly exclaimed, "I seriously just did that!!"

Yep, as if actually spilling tea everywhere wasn't bad enough, I made it known to the world that I had, once again, been the instigator of a stain that will live forever in the multi-colored, textured carpet of a church.

I guess I mostly feel bad because I really think people look down on you if you spill a drink in their church. They paid for that carpet! How dare I soil it with coffee, tea, or any other caffeinated beverage! And I completely agree. If I sat next to less responsible people who spilled their beverage during church, I would probably look down on them too!

As a disclaimer, Aaron wants me to inform you that he has never been the one to knock over a drink. Completely true. It has always been me. He also wants me to inform you that I have never given him my beverage after spilling his. There. That not only makes me a terrible church member, but a less-than-perfect wife. ;)

Phew, I feel slightly better. I hope that if there are any church members from those churches reading this, that they will forgive me. And I promise I will never bring a drink into church again. I have truly learned my lesson this time!


Being Suzy Homemaker

I love meal planning. When Aaron and I got engaged, one of the things I looked forward to the most was being able to plan all these glorious meals that I saw on Pinterest. They would be nutritious and beautiful and organic and I would blog about them and show pretty pictures and everybody would ask me for my recipes.

And then reality set in. The reality of working full time and having a gazelle-intense budget and just being tired. And so all my Pinterest-y fantasies got thrown out the window.

I have no doubt that there are some women who are superheroes. They probably work longer than me and harder than me and maybe they get paid less or they have children to feed and they still manage to cook things like beef stew or pork roast or something phenomenal. Plus dessert. But, I am not that woman. Maybe one day, but not today. Or tomorrow. Or probably this year. This is the year where I get my bearings being a real-life teacher and cook the same things each week. This also happens to be the year where I lasso Aaron into the kitchen and force him to cook twice a week (in spite of the anxiety on his face, I think he secretly enjoys it...he really is so wonderful).

And so, out of desperation, tiredness, hatred of my mini-kitchen, and because I can, darn it, I have created the most simple meal plan in the universe. It goes something like this:

Sandwich Sunday

Salad Monday

Taco Tuesday

Pizza Soup & Sandwich Casserole Whatever-Aaron-Wants Wednesday (this is the day that clearly caused the most anxiety ;)

Pizza Thursday

Breakfast Friday

Fried Rice Saturday

Ta da! You can steal it if you want to. Originally, I wanted Fried Rice Friday, but Friday is Aaron's day to cook and he wants to make breakfast. So fried rice got moved to Saturday.

I know, it's pretty pathetic. I promise if you ever come over for dinner, I'll make something really special. I'm just waiting for the day when Aaron tells me enough is enough and demands something that takes more than twenty minutes to make (and to be honest, I really wouldn't blame him).

Working ladies across the world: what do you do to keep meal times simple, nutritional, and inexpensive, yet super delish? I need your secrets!



Peace begins with a smile.... -Mother Teresa

Some days are just so good. The coffee is so perfect. Your morning drive is graced by the sun hitting the golden mountains. My kids were so sweet today. We were all on the same, peaceful wavelength.

One thing I struggle with as a teacher (and maybe out in the real world too...)is making my voice and demeanor peaceful. I am naturally rambunctious. Loud. Sometimes it's great, like when I need to shout across the playground. Or when I am trying to get my kids excited about something super un-exciting. Or when singing a song and dancing. But most days, I work hard to soften my voice. To speak peacefully. While my heart may be at peace, I want to show it with my voice and actions.

I can't tell you how much I love those kids. I call them my kids and I really wish some of them were my own. I worry about them a lot. Like when one of my little girls got MRSA. And when another one was absent for three days because of domestic violence in her home. Stories like those happen all across America, all across the world. I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to leave the teaching field. Children with terrible homes and hungry bellies will keep coming to school every year and someone has to love them and teach them to be peace-makers in a tragedy-ridden world. And I will always want to be that person.

My goal for my classroom--for my life--is to create a peaceful, lovely abode.



Rattlesnakes, spiders, and bees, oh my....

Let's talk about the animals in my room.

No, I'm not talking about the class pet (I don't have one...just a plant). I'm talking about the living creatures that occasionally find their way into my classroom.

Now, let me tell you a little about my room. First of all, I work in a very beautiful school. Lovely white walls and wooden beams make it look almost Hispanic-Catholic-Mission-ish. But, if you were to go out the back door, across the rocky playground, and past the cement toilets, you would come to my classroom: a double wide trailer disguised behind wooden panels and a covered verandah. That's right, a double wide trailer. I'm not sure how I got the short end of the stick when it came to classrooms, but it happened.  I honestly had no idea that my classroom was half the size of everyone else's until a few months after I began working. And I just want to say that I thank the Lord everyday for bringing me to this job, seriously.

However, being in Siberia does have its perks: my class is rarely bothered by administration, wandering students, and the like. We have a super easy fire drill route. And I'm the closest to the buses, so we get in line first almost every day.

But the part that I can't stand is the part where every other day I am killing something. No, not a child, but a creature. I could be positive about the situation and believe that they like my room because I have created such a lovely environment. But that would be a lie.

My very first day at Ft. Thomas, the principal told me that the day before, a baby rattlesnake had been found INSIDE my room. Every time I think about that situation, I thank God I was not there.

Then, there are the spiders. Oh, yes, the spiders. And not just tiny little guys that occasionally get slightly bigger than tiny. I'm not even talking about daddy-long-legs. I'm talking about big, fat, mamma spiders with bodies the size of quarters! Luckily, my kids are fearless. When they see one, they say things like, "Oh, by the way, there is spider over there, Mrs. Westerfield." Meanwhile, my heart is starting to palpitate and my hands get sweaty and my knees are shaky. My reaction is always the same: I take off my shoe and squash it, all while continuing to teach. Ha.

And finally: bees. I have had three bees wander into my classroom so far this year. They are so sneaky. I work very hard to shut my door as quickly as possible to keep those bees out, but somehow they find their way in. Bees by far create the most havoc because they are so tricky to kill, I feel like I'm sparring. But each time I have taken off my shoe and popped the little sucker.

So, moral of the story is this: when a teacher, wear shoes that are easily removed.


Tis the Season...

Hi friends,

I have just had the best weekend! It's hard not to have an awesome weekend when both you and your best friend have FOUR DAYS off of work!

First, Thanksgiving. I felt really proud of myself for making a killer turkey, stuffing (from a box, ha), creamed carrots, baked sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie! We played our very most favorite game, Ticket to Ride, and longed for our family. We miss all of you.

Thursday night, we headed out to Walmart where EVERYONE and their mother came out to pre-Black Friday shop. We seriously had no idea that so many people lived in this tiny town. And we discovered the more vicious side of Safford. We saw some ladies play an intense game of tug-o-war using a Paula Dean Cookware set. I was so amazed that grown-ups acted that way, and didn't know whether to laugh or cry over our crazy society. It really puts things in perspective.
I had my eyes set on a Ninja! 
On Friday, we skipped shopping and instead drove to Phoenix for a little day trip! We headed to the Vintage Market, bought a sweet little painting for our home, meandered downtown, and then drove to Tempe to walk around the Tempe Marketplace.
A sweet park bench in downtown Phoenix
And today was one of my most very favorite days of the year! The Westerfield Christmas Extravaganza! It's the day where Aaron and I set up our Christmas tree, watch Christmas movies, and make ornaments! It really kicks off the Christmas season and we get intensely crafty. This year, we painted porcelain ornaments. I have no pictures to share yet, but hopefully tomorrow.

Well, I hope that your weekend has been filled with thankfulness, pumpkin pie, family, friends, and sweet memories.

Janel. xx.


Death and Suffering.

I'm learning more and more about the little superstitions my kids have. For example, while reading a story about owls, I was told that they carry the spirits of the dead, or it forewarns a death in the family. Not all of them believe that, of course. But I think they like sharing their culture with me anyways.

So, today, I was talking about the difference between a king and a president. I said "When a king dies.--" and was quickly interrupted by several voices! "Mrs. Westerfield! Don't say that! Say 'he suffers!'" I thought the term "suffering" was pretty unique, and they were all adamant that I say suffering rather than "the d-word." When I asked why I shouldn't, they said I would have bad dreams tonight about dying.

I just love it when they tell me these things!


Happy Half-Birthday! 22 before 23....

I have always wanted to do one of these. And I actually created one on my 22nd birthday...but I lost it. Which is actually a good thing. Because I remember not really liking the list, and not really feeling committed to it. Now that I am six months older and wiser, I am revamping my list. I realize more and more in life that goals and intentionality are so important. So, six months late, here is my list....

1. Take more pictures. 

2. Invest in new friendships.

3. Blog more consistently.

4. Have a daily devotion. 
5. Collect a few art pieces for my home.

6. Give my husband a nice gift, just because. 

7. Be a better housekeeper (I have already admitted to my hatred of washing dishes...)

8. Spend more time on activities that I enjoy (sewing, cooking, etc.), less time being a couch tater.

9. Find a simple exercise routine. Commit to it.

10. Read one book per month. And write about it. 

11. Host a party.

12. Send a book to a friend.

13. Hike the Grand Canyon.

14. Organize my kitchen.

15. Finish reading Les Miserables.

16. Create a tradition for our family-of-two

17. Figure out what to do with my hair.

18. Get a manicure

19. Get a pedicure

20. Run a 5k

21. Plan two weeks ahead in school

22. Visit Phoenix with my man

Well, I am spending my half-birthday at a literacy conference (woot woot!) Hope you have a lovely day! 


Teaching the Apache Indians


So, I think not very many people know that I happen to teach at a school where over 95% of the students are Apache Indians (to give you an idea: as I look over the cafeteria in the morning, I can literally count 14 white children). They live about 15 minutes away on the San Carlos Reservation.

I really had know clue what teaching the Apache Indians would be like, and it has been a learning process every step of the way. I heard from different friends and family that it would be awful. I would be dealing with behavior issues most of the day. That living so close to a reservation would automatically put me in a high crime area. I began searching online for peer-reviewed articles about teaching Native Americans. I was a little concerned. But I figured that if I could handle my first day of subbing in Kankakee, then I could handle these kids.

But the reality of me teaching these kids is that most of the time, I forget that they are from a completely different world and culture than I am. They truly act like every other seven and eight year old I know: they sing Taylor Swift, they have "I heart Justin Bieber" on their notebooks, and they watch Adventuretime. But every once in a while, I am reminded of their reality and the unique struggles they face.

I will always remember my first week of teaching and meeting a grandparent of one of my kids. In her unique accent she asked, "Have you ever been to Arizona before?" and I said, "Well, I visited the Grand Canyon when I was a kid." She chuckled and replied, "So this is your first time with the Native, then."

Yes, this is my first time being anywhere near the Native. But I am falling in love with it more and more. So, as I learn about my students and their culture, I will be sharing it with you. I think their culture deserves a space here on my blog, since so often they are forgotten amidst preconceived notions and judgements across America. I hope you grow to love them as much as I do. xo Janel.


Life Dilemmas

Tonight for dinner I was really jazzed (ha) about making homemade tomato soup. (I guess it's not technically homemade....I basically put a couple cans of whole stewed tomatoes, garlic, onion, and olive oil in a pot, heated it up, chucked it in the blender for a few rounds, and heated it up some more).

Anyways, I was super excited because I was positive that this recipe would turn around Aaron's opinion of tomato soup. He happens to not like it, which is just crazy to me. So, I make it and serve it and wait for Aaron's reaction. He still wasn't a fan... Which led us to talking about why he doesn't like tomato soup. And here is what he said,

"I just think it tastes so much like spaghetti sauce. I mean, what's the difference, really?"

And it was like once the thought of me sipping on spaghetti sauce got into my head, I just couldn't shake it. All I could think of was "I'm eating a soupier version of spaghetti sauce. I could literally make spaghetti, toss it in my soup, and not know the difference."

And now, I have all sorts of questions running through my mind: Should I have made my tomato soup less tomato-y? Should I have blended it some more and made it more watery?  Does anybody else feel this way? Do you make tomato soup? How do you make it less saucy and more soupy?


Reasons we love AZ

I remember telling a coworker in Illinois that I was applying for a job in Arizona and I was really, really hoping I would get it. And I will never forget what she said, "Well, if you don't get the job, at least you can say that you missed out on living in a desert." Ha.

Well, for those of you who have yet to experience life in the desert, here are some things to be jealous of:
  • This week, if finally cooled down....to 85 degrees 
  • Living here has brought the words "purple mountains majesty" to a beautiful reality
  • CACTI EVERYWHERE! Seriously, the various cacti are so beautiful and so different than the reg'lar, ho-hum tree (the above picture is of my fave: the prickly pear! Reminds me of The Jungle Book...)
  • Warm days/chilly, cozy nights
  • No clouds mean the most beautiful starry nights. We can literally look up and see the Milky Way
But don't get too jelly! I will say that apart from the first day we moved here, it has not rained once. I know, I know, that's what makes it a desert....xx Janel




So much has happened in the last months, I don't even know how to re-cap it all...

The past few months have been full of hellos and goodbyes. I said goodbye to college in May when I (finally) graduated. I also said goodbye to Aaron for three months while he was training in San Antonio. 

I said hello to summer and desperate job hunting. Aaron and I literally spent ALL summer long praying and seeking for a job. It was pretty grueling. We were so sure that we were going to move to North Carolina--we even drove out there for an interview. But no matter how much we knocked, the more those doors kept closing. And closing. And closing. It would not be exaggerating to admit that I must have applied to a hundred teaching jobs. Ugh, the rejection. 

Then...an opening. And not at all where we expected...Arizona! I got a job teaching 2nd grade in a wee town in southeast Arizona. August was full of so many hellos and goodbyes. I said goodbye to my best friend, my sister and sweet nephew, a wonderful Bible study group, and a really wonderful church. 

And so, hello....to a new town, a new job, 17 crazy/beautiful kiddos, a new church, and new friends. I cherish this time with Aaron so much. We get the opportunity to explore, to rely on one another in ways we hadn't before, to pave a path that is unique to us, to discover our independence as a couple.

Anyways, I hope the world where you are sitting is comfy, cheery, and peaceful. xo Janel.


Team Blue Bookshelf

Do you talk about the books you are reading? Or movies? Or TV shows? Not in a "Oh I read blah blah and it was about blah blah," but really discuss and analyze the book with another person? I first became inspired to really discuss the culture that is going into my head by my high school French teacher. One day she commented that after watching a movie, she and her husband talk about it and discuss it. It made an impression on me, I suppose. It's easy to take in what culture and society is feeding you and never question it.

I am currently reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. I have never been a fan of reading biographies, but this book has really got me hooked. I am so inspired by Bonhoeffer's faith, courage, and intellectualism concerning theology.
Photo credit
Photo credit

Aaron just finished up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This book really sparked a lot of discussion on autism, the causes, how we would deal with an autistic child, etc. Since being in the education field, I have seen many children with Autism in the classroom, so it was interesting to share my own experiences as Aaron read the book.

So, if you are looking for some good reads, we suggest those above. And don't forget to talk about it with another person...sharing is learning! (Said by a true educator...  ;)