Saturday, December 31, 2011

Young and Empowered

For those who are keeping up with my blog you will know that this past week I chaperoned at the Michigan Gathering (a four day worship, service, small group, church youth event) with six youth and one other adult who is in college. I'd like to use this post to share about my personal experience being "the adult" in charge and use other posts to talk about happened at the event.

Upon arriving in Lansing we were greeted at the hotel door with a group of youth already cheering and welcoming us to the event. Immediately I was pretty overwhelmed because there were excited youth EVERYWHERE giving hi fives and hugs..... singing etc. My priority was to get my youth organized in the middle of the enthusiasm and figure out where in the world I was supposed to go to register our group. Going up the escalator I was quickly able to figure this out, but ran into a whole new wave of anxieties. There was a special room for registration for only ONE adult per group to sign in. "Well guess that's me" I thought to myself and entered realizing I was the youngest person in the room by at least 5 years. Super. Not only do I not exactly know what I'm doing it's pretty obvious that I'm young and not familiar with how this all works and feeling insecure about it. Being directed in the right direction I was asked to turn in all our forms.

Now... paperwork is not exactly my strength, BUT I did know I had all the forms... they just weren't organized. So, as I'm frantically trying to organize the BA-JILLION forms they make you and every youth sign, the line behind me is building up with people who have all their forms organized and the poor guy at the desk is like.. I don't know where any of this goes. Luckily, I was able to figure it out and move on to the next station. WHEW.

It was at about this point where I was like "OK Amanda if you are going to make it through this experience you need to get over your insecurity about never doing this before and being one of the youngest adult leaders here." Sure there were other people my age chaperoning, but they were under the guidance of someone older. A slight moment of bitterness swept across me as I thought "how could my church throw me into this without the support of someone guiding me through this, don't they realizes how other churches do this!?! I mean yes I have Ryan here to help me, but it's his first time chaperoning too." Catching myself having these silly negative thoughts that were not helping my situation, I redirected my focus. My church sent me with Ryan (a senior in college) because they knew we could handle it, even though we are young, and if anything terribly bad does happen they are only two hours away.

My hand with the yellow adult identification wrist band plus the cat one of my youth drew on my hand.

Then, it dawned on me, this is a unique opportunity for me to do something most people my age would not even consider doing more or less have the opportunity to do if they wanted to. Realizing this, my otherwise perceived stress of being young and inexperienced dissolved and suddenly I become empowered. Yes, I am young and yes I do not know exactly what's going to happen (I didn't even have an itinerary at this point), but this is an opportunity of a life time so I better make the most of it. And that is exactly what I did.

Shortly after registration, I was able to talk to some of the youth pastors I met at Michi-lu-ca earlier in the year. Even though they are all super busy involved in planning and organizing the whole event (and doing a lot of the behind the scene stuff) they helped me catch my bearings simply by having their presence there.

I would have never dreamed a year ago that I would be doing what I am doing now or finding it so empowering. Now that I know I can do this, it makes me wonder what else I am capable of doing. It's exciting. It's fun. It's empowering. 

Even though I'm a chaperone I can still join in on the glitter fun!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 2 of Gathering

We made it to Lansing for the Michigan Gathering!! I just wanted to do a quick post showing you the view outside the other adult chaperone's window. Yep that's a peek of the state capitol.

Otherwise, looking out my window you can see the Lansing center, which connects to our hotel via skyway!! It's pretty awesome!!

There are 600+ youth here who have such amazing energy it's awesome! The speaker is GREAT and really interactive so the kids respond well to him! Tomorrow we are treating the speaker to dinner so the kids will get some one on one time with him. We are all super excited for that!

Ok well it is time for me to go!!! (ps I'm on hall patrol tonight.. Should be fun)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Back in Port Huron Today.. Lansing Tomorrow.

I made it successfully back to Michigan with a quick layover in Minneapolis! Running off of 3 hours of sleep plus whatever I could get on the plane makes for a very tired and mostly crabby Amanda. But I made it, even with the woman next to me trying to use my shoulder as a pillow. Yeah.. that was an uncomfortable moment that woke me up, but with a shake of my shoulder and readjusting myself in my seat she stopped. (seriously though!?! when is it ever ok for someone to volunteer your shoulder for their personal pillow especially if they don't even know you!! and no she was not sleeping when it happened either.) Personal boundaries people!   

Tomorrow is a big day for the high school youth because it is the start of the Michigan ELCA Gathering in Lansing for youth!! The event is a four day adventure at a hotel full of worship, service projects, small group discussions, and of course lots of fun and pranks. Since, I'm the main chaperone for the church I'm slightly nervous to see how it all turns out. I have another chaperone coming along in addition with the six youth.  They are good kids so I'm not worried, but it's a lot of responsibility if something were to go wrong. There's always that one group at events like this that does something destructive like set the fire alarm off at 3am, break the elevator, or destroy a room. I just hope it's not my group (or anyone's really). But, several of the youth ministers in the area have been very helpful and supportive checking in with me and sharing their methods so I don't anticipate any large problems.

When I was a youth I was usually the one egging on the others to do something careless or stupid, while I happened to be an 'innocent' observer when say said friend spits off the balcony of the hotel and is nearly sent home. YEP true story.  Now I'm at the opposite end having to be responsible and enforcing rules knowing full well what youth are capable of. They try so hard to catch me off guard sometimes, but what they are learning is it takes a lot to phase me. The definition of a teenager is too push boundaries, and it is the chaperone's job to be consistent defining where the boundaries are. It is a very difficult thing to know and do and does not have a large window for hesitation!! This week I have one goal: to remain consistent with the youth. We will see how it goes.     

All in all though, it is going to a blast! I'm very excited for their 'dance' they have the last night. Every age has a different decade they get to dress up as and the chaperones get the 20s!! This means I'm pulling out my 20's outfit from junior year Sigma formal. We had a 1920's interactive murder mystery dinner (complete with Al Capone), where my dress won best costume! Oh yeah I'm pretty pumped to pull it out again! 

In any case, I will be VERY busy the next few days so I do not plan on posting unless I have pictures to share, but otherwise I'm looking forward to sharing the results of the Gathering when I get back!!!   

Monday, December 19, 2011

The PLUS Program at Moses Lake High School

The PLUS program at Moses Lake High School is designed to focus on 24 incoming ninth graders who failed all of their core classes in eighth grade. The goal of the program is to take the students where they are and get them  up to speed academically so they can graduate high school. The students remain together throughout the whole school day in the same classroom on an eight period schedule where teachers mostly rotate to them. This is the first year Moses Lake is trying the program and they are learning along the way what is working and what is not.

I started off the day shadowing the educational assistant who is with the students all day. Originally I was concerned my presence would be disruptive to the class; however, she informed me that for the most part they won't even recognize I'm observing them. To my surprise, this was the case. The students have a difficult time recognizing authority and it took them roughly two classes to realize who I was and why I was there. Even though these students are several grade levels behind and they do not have any learning disabilities, interacting with them is a lot like interacting with my first and second grade students.

For instance, you would think when we travel together in the hall during normal class sessions they would be able to walk quietly. FALSE. Instead you have to say, "ok we need to line up to go out into the hall. Now, before we leave I need to explain how we are going to do this, we are going through the courtyard, past the cafeteria, and out to the portables without stopping. When we get to the cafeteria there are vending machines there. DO NOT stop at them, in fact don't even look at them those are for lunch time. We are going to do this quietly because there are other classes going on. This means that you will not punch walls or each other etc." In fact, when I observed we had to practice walking in the hall until they could do it correctly.

For the most part, many of the students are developmentally behind, meaning that they do not understand physical personal boundaries, authority, and usual high school behavior. For example, the EA received a Santa gram and had it on her desk and one of the students walked right up, took the Santa gram and said "wow what's this!?! This is really cool!!" Again, this is behavior younger people usually display.

Despite all of this and the fact they are behind several grade levels, they are very capable of being good students. They do know how to do basic mathematics; however, you have to hold their hand through the process. This means that while they were supposed to be working on their math you have to go around and say "show me how to do this problem" and then they do it with little struggle and then you say "see I know you can do it. Now finish the rest of this page by the next time I come around." They really need the one on one attention. 

There was a moment when I was observing where it dawned on me.. if these students were to enter the adult world right now (since many drop out) what role of society do they fill? It takes them a while to do basic mathematics so basic jobs like being a cashier is probably out of the question/there are other people more qualified. When I realized I couldn't think of a specific fit in society for people with low academic skills it hit me. They become 'invisible' to society. They may end up on the streets or in jail or somewhere else where we do not 'see' them. It was a mind blowing realization for me and left me with a lot of questions about education and not very many answers.

Back Home in Moses Lake, Washington

I grew up in the desert of eastern Washington where most of my family still lives and where I am currently visiting for Christmas. Usually when people hear I am from Washington State they shower me with praise for the beautiful forests and mountains, and while yes these things are beautiful, people fail to realize that the majority of Washington state is really a giant desert. In fact, I decided to take a picture of our back yard (we live about 8 miles out of the city) to show you how dry it is since we still do not have any snow.... yet. 

My family's back yard. The closest neighbor is a half a mile away.

It is really a unique area in my opinion. The only reason life can exist here in the Columbia Basin is because up north about an hour is the Grand Coulee Dam, a project started by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. It is the largest electric producing facility in the United States and for the most part, Washington State makes a lot of money selling the electricity to California. It is also the reason why there are a lot of aluminum making plants in the area too. Electricity is cheap here! The dam serves two purposes, to produce hydroelectic power and to irrigate the desert I grew up in making it place for life, farming, and chemical manufacturing.

Another fun fact about my childhood home area is that it is the LEADING POTATO COUNTY IN THE NATION!! (at least that's what the huge sign says when you enter the county.. really you cannot miss it.) Everyone thinks that Idaho is the big potato place and too some extent it is; however, their potatoes do not compare with quality and size of Grant county potatoes. There is a LOT of money found in the potato industry around here, but the stupid thing is you cannot buy Grant county potatoes in Grant county unless you know someone, who knows someone, who can set you up with the right farmer (or go to the farmer's market). The majority of our potatoes are sold to McDonald's to make french fries instead.

In any case, the past few days I've been catching up with my small town school district politics and gossip in general. There is ALWAYS something ridiculous going on, which I think is partly why I find Moses Lake so amusing. Tomorrow I am observing the PLUS program for low achieving 9th graders at the high school. My mom, who is a math teacher, is involved with the program and was able to make the appropriate connections for me to observe/help with the program for a day. I'm really looking forward to it!! I will let you know how it turns out.    

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday Night Youth Fun!

On Wednesday nights I also mentor/lead the post confirmation youth in activities at Our Saviour Lutheran in addition to my work with the literacy program. On average there are usually about 7 high schoolers who attend regularly, but this past week all the youth were there at once making for 14 students total! Finding a ride to youth group is always difficult for the mostly freshman/sophomore age youth, but I am always happy to see them when they can make it. Because we had more people than usual we actually had to trade our smallish youth room (and my office) with the nursery crew, which is just SO wonderful because it gives us much more room to spread out! 

The Trolley for Caroling!
This week in addition to our usual games (we played charades this week) and "highs and lows" routine, I led the youth in a mediation activity where we sat in silence for 7 whole minutes (not something easy for youth to do) focusing on a candle. We reflected on Psalm 46 and specifically the phrase "be still and know that I am God" since everyone is busy in the holiday hustle.  There was a wide range of responses from the activity ranging from comments like "not to be rude but this activity didn't do anything for me..." (typical teenage response) to "I liked having time set out to be quiet" to "It gave me time to stop and think about the about things I haven't had time for in awhile." Although I do think the activity may have been a little more advanced for some of the younger members who were just recently confirmed (as the responses indicated), they all did very well with the activity.

In other youth news, two Wednesdays ago the youth and church went caroling to all the retirement and hospice homes in the are on a trolley. The moment that hit home for the youth was when they saw the seniors crying joyful tears because of our visit. The youth don't always realize that many of the seniors do not have frequent visitors. 

The next big youth gig for me will be on the 27th when I take 5 youth to the Michigan Gathering in Lansing for a 4 day youth event including worship, small group activities, and service. It is going to be quite the event!    

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best Read for Life Day EVER!!!

Their presents including a book and toy. 
Yesterday was our big holiday party for Read for Life that I have been looking forward to ALL month! We've been preparing for this for quite a while from picking out books to give to the children, organizing the McDonald's toys that go with the present, to wrapping the presents, planning a craft, and having a special "compound word" magic demonstration in addition to their usual reading work. I spent all afternoon Tuesday wrapping all the books for the 40 children, which led up to my excitement to give them to the students. This may be one of the only presents some of the kids in the program get this year so it's a really big deal.

One of the highlights of the day was definitely the magic demonstration put on by one of the volunteers. It involved having 2 cards with different parts of a compound word on them so like "snow" and "man." We had the students read them separately and then "the very special assistant" put the words in the magic pouch. Then saying "I love to read" three times, the very special assistant, pulled out one card with the words combined on them. The kids LOVED it. Not only were they reading longer words and feeling quite proud about that, but there was also magic involved in the activity which meant it was an immediate success!

The main highlight for me was giving out the presents at the end of the day with the help of the volunteers. I have never seen so many children give such genuine and thankful responses before! I had several students come up to me afterward and give me a big hug thanking me (and everyone involved) for their presents. You should have seen how proud the students were showing their presents to their parents too!!! One little girl as she was exiting out of the classroom called out to her grandma "BEST READ FOR LIFE DAY EVER!!!!!!!!" and showed off her new book and Barbie McDonald's toy. It was very cute. Many of the parent's were also very grateful for the presents too. Some the parents wanted their child to save the present for Christmas, although I'm pretty sure the majority of them opened it up when they got it. In any case, everyone left smiling.  I definitely had some heartwarming tears forming in my eyes as I watched all their joy and excitement. I'm very thankful to be part of their lives.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vintage McDonald's Toys

Toys from the movie boxes.
Remember the McDonald's toys of the early and late nineties?!?! I do!! And today I got to sort through 6 large garbage bags full of unopened McDonald's toys (previously sorted by collection in separate plastic bags and labeled by year). One of the church members donated their collection to the reading program so that we could use them for phonics bingo prizes and our holiday party (which is tomorrow). Sorting through the bags was like stepping back into childhood and I nearly forgot that I was supposed to be working as I found myself playing with the inspector gadget toys saying GO GO GADGET HELICOPTER. I could easily entertain myself for hours. The idea of putting on a McDonald's toy play production for my housemates crossed my mind... but I decided against it.. for the time being.

Annoying little movie boxes that hold a toy inside.
McDonald's Barbie Toys.
One of the bags was FULL of mini VCR cases (WOW.. vcr cases these toys must be old!). Since they were also unopened and their movie box packaging was obnoxiously large and inconvenient, I decided to rip open the cases and take out the toys. As I was doing this I couldn't help but feel a little giddy as I would guess what character would be inside, but then I couldn't help but feel that somewhere some poor collector must be dying on the inside. SHHHH we won't tell them. Besides I never really understood why people collect things and never open them. What a large waste of space!

Then there were the McDonald's barbie toys!! (This was the most exciting part of my findings). I saw the toy barbies I remembered getting as a young child.. and how I fought my cousin over one specific barbie 13+ years ago. It was interesting to see how the barbies evolved too. For instance, there is the multicultural barbie set, the fitness/athletic barbie set, and the career barbie set etc. I think all in all the kids are really going to like getting a toy in addition to the books we purchased for them! It is going to be a blast! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gifts for our Volunteers!!

This past week I prepared gifts for our literacy volunteer tutors!! We had a thank you breakfast for all the volunteers to celebrate our successes and join in community outside of our tutoring environment. Usually the after school program feels like such a whirlwind because there's so much going on that sometimes I forget to take a step back and see all 37 volunteer tutors in action.There's a lot of people on our team that make this possible! Although I take time to talk to them all individually and know them all by name I rarely see them in one large group.   

I made these bags full of goodies for the volunteers! I thought I was pretty clever putting "you have earned your stripes" on the candy canes. It's a simple, but creative way to thank volunteers. I was also quite impressed to see the large number of bags I had to make up for the volunteers! I'm quite proud of our 37 member crew (and still recruiting) considering when I arrived here in August we had maybe 10 volunteer tutors. It is our goal to have our 40 students tutored one on one because it makes such a HUGE difference. 

In addition to enjoying each others company, we also discussed the hunger issue with our students. Several tutors brought up how hungry the students are or how when they do give extra snacks to their students their parents will take the snack away from the student and give it to their younger siblings etc. Hunger is a real issue for many of the families in the area, but as someone pointed out there is no reason anyone in Port Huron should be going hungry. We have so many different services available for food as far as food stamps, the soup kitchen, and pantries. SO, I'm going to work up a flier for interested parents with different information about the programs in the area. However, I'm slightly concerned with how efficient that might be because you cannot assume everyone is literate.   

Thursday, December 8, 2011

8 Mile Road

Tonight was our final Snack and Yak session (on conflict resolution) with the Detroit volunteers and our fearless LVC leaders . We met at the LVC volunteers' apartment in Detroit to kick off our shindig, which included raising self awareness about how we individually handle anger and how we handle conflict in our lives.  This resulted in the catchy and humorous tag line created by one of our fearless leaders: there is not more room on the conflict avoidance train!

After our get together, my housemates and I decided to drive down 8 Mile Road on the way back to Port Huron since it is literally only a 5 minute drive from their apartment. I jumped right on board with this idea, because I've heard so much about the 8 mile area, I wanted to see it at least once during my stay in Michigan.

The first very noticeable thing about 8 Mile and the area is that there are barely any street lights that are on/working. I'm not sure if this is because they are broken or paying  for electricity did not fit into the budget this year, but the streets are mostly dark. Do not be discouraged though, it is not completely dark, it is really quite difficult to miss the flashing bright lights that say LIQUOR, LOTTERY, and WIC that hang from multiple disheveled buildings (of course the three words are usually found together). There were SO many liquor signs.... even one attached to the Subway sign so that it read :LIQUOR in red letters right before the traditional Subway logo. So much alcohol.

Also, something I was not expecting, was the insane amount of fast food that also contributed light to the street with their bright signs. SO MUCH FAST FOOD.. EVERYWHERE. But lets also not forget about the numerous empty lots left in the area and the number of people walking out late in the dark. Throw in a few adult stores with their flashing lights and you have the general idea of what 8 mile looks like from the road.

Expecting some sort of reaction from myself, it didn't really phase me. 8 Mile Road looks a lot like the Detroit Volunteers' neighborhood and has a lot of similarities to the one I currently live in (minus the empty lots..  we don't have a lot of them in Port Huron). You don't have to walk far to get to a "Party Store" (aka liquor store) in my neighborhood, but if you want to buy groceries or go to Target you better hop on a bus or catch a ride from someone because it's a 15 minute drive up north to the "nice" part of Port Huron.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just One Christmas Present

Lauren, one of my housemates, works at the soup kitchen in our neighborhood and brought home a very heartbreaking story from her day. When she went back to work after her lunch break, a woman walked into the soup kitchen office in panicked tears asking for the director of the soup kitchen, Alice (Lauren's supervisor), who also happened to be in the office. Lauren said it took nearly five minutes for the woman to calm down before she could speak and in that time Lauren noticed that she had never seen this women before at the kitchen (meaning she is not a usual client). However, the woman clearly knew Alice (who has worked at the soup kitchen for 19 years).

When she finally spoke between tears she said, "Alice, I don't know what to do. All I want is just one Christmas present for my daughter this year." 

I just want that phrase to sink in a little bit for my readers. "All I want is just one Christmas present for my daughter this year"...........

How often have you ever been in a situation where you have said that or heard it first hand? Or how many Christmas presents have you bought or plan on buying this year? For me it was one of those moments where reality hits you really hard in the face screaming "yes there are people this year who cannot buy presents for their children." Not only that, I am working with children who very well might not be getting Christmas presents this year because their family can't afford them. I know it happens, but it has never been more real to me than it is now. It makes me think in a lot of ways about my own Christmas shopping and the idea behind presents in the first place.  

With a little more dialogue Lauren and Alice then discover that the lady is on her way to an agency to hopefully get help to pay the rest of her rent . She also missed signing up her teenage daughter for a donated gift that many different organizations host and it was too late now to sign her up. (Not to mention most organizations/people prefer buying presents for younger children and not teenagers.) Alice had a donor in mind she thought she could ask, but if that doesn't end up working Lauren told Alice she'd help. 
    I still don't really know what to make of all of this. My family has always had multiple Christmas presents under our tree. It is all just very difficult.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tips for Donating Children's Books to a Literacy Program

During the holiday season many groups have approached me asking how can they support the literacy program, Read for Life. Usually my answer is monetary donations are preferred, but we are always in need of more story books to use for our story time or as gifts to our 1st and 2nd grade children and their families during the holidays. Almost always people prefer donating books because let's be real, who doesn't like shopping for a good children's book. Keeping that in mind, I have discovered that there are certain children's books that are so much more helpful for my students than others. Here are some general guidelines for donating early elementary children's books:

1. Donate new or nearly new books. Nobody likes to receive a used book with a bunch of scribbles or torn pages.

2. Look for books that early readers can read. For people who have no idea what that means, look for books that have the "I can read" label on them, anything published by Scholastic, Dr. Seuss books, or other classics like Frog and Toad.

3. Look for books with people of color as the main characters. Have you ever tried looking for a children's book that doesn't have all white characters? It is much more difficult than you would hope and if you are not looking for them you will probably not see them. It is a small thing that makes a big difference for my students who identify as people of color, especially when they point to a character and say "look, she looks like me." Books like Corduroy or The Story of Ruby Bridges are a good place to start.

4. Look for books with strong positive female characters. Princess stories are great, but princess-slaying-dragon stories are better. The Paper Bag Princess is a good example and one of my favorite books growing up.

5. Consider buying books that introduce science. The Magic School Bus books are a great way to introduce science to young students in a fun way. Although the books may be a little more advanced for early readers, it is never too early to talk about science with children.

Picking out children's books is an art form in itself. If all else fails I find picture books with beautiful illustrations are always a good choice whether its Miss Spider's Tea Party, Rainbow Fish, The Man Who Walked Between Towers, or others. They do tend to be a little more expensive, but they are beautiful, artistic books.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hungry Students

It's that time of year when students start to get sick or begin moving to new locations. We have been missing roughly 5 of the 24 students in first grade this week. It is hard to know if they have moved or are sick since this is season is known for losing a lot of students due to location change. Last year one of the kindergarten classes at the school had 100%  turn over rate because families kept moving. It is a highly mobile area where families are moving all the time for various reasons like employment, housing payments, or domestic issues. It is one of the more challenging things the after school program I work at faces. How do you help students succeed and fill in the gaps they've missed in the classroom when they are always moving? It is a challenge indeed.
Backpacks ready to be packed with food for the weekend

At the school where we have the literacy program, over 80% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.  These students are HUNGRY!! We always have a healthy snack for the students provided by the soup kitchen across the street; however, a tangerine with goldfish does not make a meal. The students keep asking me for more food to take home to their families, but I don't have more food to give them, yet. (I'm working on it... the food bank in Flint, Michigan may have some resources for us). I know there is the soup kitchen next door, but a lot of the families don't want to take their kids there because many of the clients are older scruffy men and people with mental disabilities. It's not exactly the ideal environment for children.

The school does send backpacks home with food to students in need over the weekend as it may be the only food they will receive over the weekend. I'm very thankful that the school has a program to help out with food distribution. Children shouldn't go hungry. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Return to Gustavus

"Unexpected and mysterious is the gentle word of grace.
Ever-loving and sustaining is the peace of God’s embrace."

When I was a Gustavus student I worked in the Fine Arts Department, which meant I got to listen and watch a LOT of wonderful music. My favorite event to work has always been Christmas in Christ Chapel, which is a large Christmas service complete with the full orchestra and three choirs. Since I've graduated I have noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of live music I have been exposed to so going back to Gustavus for this event was a dream come true!

The Chapel
Contrary to my previous years as a fine arts usher where I would sit in the back of the chapel and zone out to the noise of student life (aka. physics homework and upcoming finals) and instead tune into the music, this year I got to sit in the front row right next the orchestra! It was weird for me to think of what I was doing the same Saturday exactly one year ago. I remember it well; I was in Olin Hall all by myself doing physics homework and having one of those "OMG I'm a senior and am not going to be here next year" moments. This year I was not in the back of the chapel on the verge of tears because of the music and life in general, nor was I in Olin Hall, instead I was a very proud alum with a significant less amount of stress in my life.The concert was beautiful as always and as to be expected filled with joyful tears by the end of O Come, All Ye Faithful. Christmas in Christ Chapel is one of my favorite Gustavus traditions, it is just not Christmas without it.

"If we falter in our courage and we doubt what we have known,
God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own."

The Chapel from the Outside
 Although the main purpose of my trip back to Minnesota was to see the concert, I did make a point to check in with all my favorite students at Gustavus, which made my day there go by so quickly! Of course, I had to stop by Olin to see and encourage the physics seniors!! I think of them all the time because having been where they are (without even taking quantum physics) I know what it's like going through what they are going through. Being a student is tough and it becomes easy to end up hating physics/school in the middle of it all. So I like giving them extra support because sometimes that's all you really need.

However, I will say I was shocked to find the state of the senior office. Every class has their own ways of making their 'mark' on the shared physics office space and I have to say this years graduating class has ALWAYS been a little more eccentric in that area. (like having a HUGE whiteboard that covers the one window in their office). I forgot to take a picture of their creative clock this year, but mostly I was shocked at the amount of disorganized crap they have piled all over the shelves. I gave them a hard time about it, but I gave them props for their new creative decorations they have hanging from the ceiling. 

"We are called to ponder myst’ry and await the coming Christ,
To embody God’s compassion for each fragile human life."

The New Academic Building

I also spent some time catching up with my sorority sisters. My sorority little sister who is a junior this year (and also a CII student), showed me the new academic building, which is AMAZING by the way, and she also showed me some of the other new things around Gustavus. I'm very thankful I got to check in with several of my sorority sisters and hear the ins and outs with what's going on at campus and their lives. Plus I like to make sure they are doing ok and give them that extra support. I know I would not be where I am today without the support of the Sigma Alumnae who checked in on me after they graduated and who to this day I still look up to. I ate dinner with the chapter in the caf and was even able to meet a few of the new members and have a fellow sigma alumnae who lives in the area meet up with us. The chapter is doing really well with now 52 members (the largest group I think in our Gustavus history). It is such a joy to watch their leadership grow especially when you see members willingly step into new leadership roles as their confidence grows.    

"God is with us in our longing to bring healing to the earth,
While we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth."

Since I have been away from Gustavus I have become increasingly thankful for my college education. Currently I am living in Port Huron, Michigan in a neighborhood nicknamed "Little Detroit" for reasons you can imagine. The first month was quite the culture shock for me as I have never lived in a city more or less a neighborhood with the social-economic dynamics that my current neighborhood has. Being here has taught me a lot about how incredibly privileged I have been to be able to 1. attend college 2. attend a liberal arts college 3. to have the ability to leave whenever I want, for instance, to go visit my college. It has been a very humbling experience, but is making me eternally grateful for everything Gustavus had done for me.   

Looking down the Hill from Old Main. One of my favorite places on campus.

*Quotes italicized are from the hymn Unexpected and Mysterious which I learned to love from my Christmas in Christ Chapel experiences over the years.

A Day and a Night in the Twin Cities

Arriving in the Twin Cities Friday afternoon marked the start of a very busy weekend involving very little sleep. The first unexpected highlight of the weekend began when I discovered one of my fellow Physics Gustavus Alums, was working at the airport when I happened to arrive!! Since, he was busy working I decided to swing by the gate he was at to watch him direct in a plane and of course to wave at him from the terminal. I didn't get to talk to to him at all during my stay, but waving across the terminal was totally worth it!! I didn't come all the way from Michigan to not at least try to see/wave at as many people I could. It was definitely a great way to start off my trip!!

The lights at Rice Park in Saint Paul, MN.
From there I met up with my good friend Elise and we set off on our busy schedule!! She wanted to show me all the places she has been working since Gustavus, which included sneaking into Fort Snelling (and her giving an impromptu tour) and visiting the Ramsey House all before dinner. I particularly liked the Ramsey house, especially since all the furniture in the house was owned by the family, which is SO AWESOME since that is really rare for museum houses. (I would know.. since my Mom has made every point of stopping at every single house museum that has ever existed in our family vacations, not to mention dragging all four of her kids to EVERY single Hearst Castle tour in California).

Holidazzle Parade in Minneapolis!

After the Ramsey house, we quickly ate dinner before setting out to see all the pretty lights in Rice Park and then headed back over to Minneapolis for the infamous Holidazzle Parade that I have heard so much about at my time at Gustavus.

From there we spent the rest of the night with Gustavus Alumni catching up with CII people, physics friends, and Gustuavus Alumni in general.It was really good for me to see my friends again and to hear what is going on in their lives whether it was grad school, work, living with the parents (or not), and what life is like living in the Twin Cities, especially since I have never lived in the cities. For the most part I'd have to say that people really do not change a whole lot and in a strange way I found that comforting. It was so great to see them and I hope it is not too long before I will see them again.

Fort Snelling