Necessito una Maestra Simpatica

Seven months ago, I desired full immersion in a Spanish speaking society in order to use my knowledge, albeit elementary, of the language so that I could both perfect my use and spread the message of Christ. Well, I did get my desire, but not as I thought I would have it. Isn’t that how God usually works?

Instead, in beginning my masters program in Curriculum and Instruction, I am taking a Special Topics in Bilingual Education and the course – I’m laughing in the circumstance as I write this – is completely in Spanish. Oh, Kristel, you mean the instructions are in Spanish. No, I mean exactly that plus completing all of our assignments, tests, forum discussions, diary, and I’m pretty much guessing that will include speeches too, in Español. I believe the experience is supposed to really let us live what it is like to learn in a language that is not your own.

I was kind of shocked at my reaction when learning of this minuscule detail. My typical response would involve me furtively searching for an “un-enroll me” button on the Blackboard site, e-mailing the professor of this gargantuan mistake, pressing the “return this purchase” for the book I got off, anything to avoid the sheer embarrassment that will befall me when I make my first Spanish speaking/writing/reading/interpreting gaffe. Instead, I actually welcome the challenge. I feel that yes, it will be quite arduous, but so would going to a country and having nothing else to rely on but what has been stored in the recesses of memory. At least this way, God has given me access to translation services and using the skill I know best: escribir.


Neighbors: Follow Through

I’ve had two successes with my neighbor project since my last post, but I’m hesitant to blog about them.  I don’t want to get to that point where I start to believe that my success has been all me, and I don’t want my readers to believe that about me either.  However, I still would like to share my experiences.

About a week ago, my husband and I were outside with all our kids, enjoying the sunshine and semi-cool weather (it was probably 90 degrees, but in Texas that is cool).  There were two little kids, a girl and a boy, that looked like they were my son’s age.  My husband wandered up the street and began talking to their mom.  I don’t know how he does it – no two minute argument with himself about whether he should go up there and introduce himself – no, he just goes.  Anyway, since he self-initiated, I took it as my opportunity to introduce myself to someone else on our street and as an opportunity to have some material to talk about later!  She was originally from the area, had moved away, and then came back because of the school district – the same reason we moved here; it is highly recognized.  Her children were three year old twins; like I had guessed, the same age as my son.  Yes, I had the previous excitement as I had had before – envisions of birthday parties, same game events to attend, maybe a prom date in my son’s future.  We had a great introductory talk and commiserated about the sugar ants that invade our houses when it is so dry outside.  Our kids played awhile, and then we went our separate ways.  It was so easy, but of course, my husband helped.

I’m starting to see a new confidence about myself evolve.  However, as it does, I’m also starting to be pressed about the follow-through part of introducing yourself to your neighbors.  You can’t build relationships from introductions.  You have to go back.  I’m definitely feeling God’s pressing for me to go back, but what do I do?  Ask to borrow some sugar? Take people their mail?  Do I have to meet all of my neighbors on my street before I start my follow-throughs?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated…


My second success wasn’t towards a physical neighbor, but rather a random person I met at a playground, so a ‘biblical neighbor’ I will call her.  It was a fellowship night for our small group at church, and we decided to have lunch after church at a local park.  Of course, my son didn’t want to eat – there’s just something about a chance to swing and play that makes a hunger ache not so apparent for kids.  As I ate, I carefully watched him, because I’m just that neurotic.  He had instantly made a friend, because he just talks to anyone, another reason I have to neurotically watch him.  At one point I turned around, and he had begged a woman to put him in a toddler swing and push him.  I could feel my two minute argument with myself beginning:

“go over there and talk to her.”

“No, butt out, she’ll think I’m weird.”

“You could just thank her for pushing your kid.”

“Yeah, I guess, I probably should, but then what do I say?”

Loudly, I said, “oh man, Emry just made that lady push him.”

God replied in the voice of my friend, “well, there’s your opportunity.”

“Grrr,” I thought.  “I’m really going to have to do this, aren’t I?”  Sheepishly, I got up and headed that way.  I stepped next to her and took over and said, “thank you for pushing him, he’s relentless.”  She nodded back to me, but didn’t say much more.  We stood there for several minutes, pushing our kids in silence.  “Think Kristel; think of something, anything to say.”

“How old is your son?” I said.

“Oh, he not my son, he my grandson,” she said in broken English.  The woman looked my age, so I was quite shocked.

“Oh, wow” I said, “you look like his mom.”

She smiled and nodded again.  Why did I feel like she didn’t know much English?  Either that or she was really shy, like me.  Then she spoke to her grandson…in Spanish.  ‘Okay, Kristel, you’ve been preparing for this – you’ve written before about “quiero practicar mi Español contigo” – this is your opportunity to do it – hacerlo’.  But I was stuck, what do I say?  I’ve already thanked her for pushing my son, and I inquired about her a bit…what more can I say to this woman whom I’m awkwardly staring at as she pushes her grandson in his swing.  If I don’t say something soon, she’s going to think I’m a freak.  My eyes are sweating as my brain runs around in my head, searching the archives for my conversation topics I can talk about in Spanish.

Finally, “conozco Español un poco.  Necessito praticarlo.”

“Si,” she said.

‘Great, I’ve made a fool of myself; I mispronounced everything I was trying to say.’  I tried to recover.  “Como se dice, “grandson” in Español?” I asked her.

“Nieto,” she said.

“Nieto,” I repeated.  She smiled.  So she either thought, ‘yay, this person is trying to speak Spanish, or LOL, this person is trying to speak Spanish’.   “Y, nieto por ella es ‘nieta?’” I continued.

She confirmed this with a nod.  Then she asked me something really fast, and honest to God, I have no idea what it was.  I nodded back, and for all I know I just said I was King Kong and was breeding baby King Kongs to take over the world.  We pushed the kids some more, and sensing that our conversation might be ending, I said, “gracias por hablando conmigo,” not really remembering if that was correct verbiage or not.  Hopefully she knew what I meant.  I gathered my kids and headed back to excitedly tell my small group my conversation.

I admit that I felt like I should have said something about Jesuschristo.  After I reported my conversation, I started to feel a bit defeated, because I hadn’t used the opportunity to share my experience with God; just to practice my Spanish.  I try to remind myself that it was obeying that made the effort successful.  I won’t ever know if our conversation meant anything to her, but rarely do we ever know the repercussions of our actions towards others.  I hope that the fact that I tried was good enough.  I guess it will all depend on if when the next opportunity comes, that I follow-through.


My Love-Hate Relationship with the Streets of Longview, Texas


Since being transplanted from the highways and interstates that crisscrossed Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Longview, Texas nearly nine years ago, I have grown to have a love-hate relationship with the streets and country roads of this smaller metropolitan area.  In my daily commute I’ve noticed streets I fancy and those I loathe – both of which I’ll go out of my way to traverse or avoid.  The following are examples of my favorites and most hated.

If I am in a Starbucks mood, I travel on Hawkins.  I currently live outside the city limits, so Hawkins is my way to get to everything that I find enjoyable.  It not only provides easy access to one Starbucks, but two palaces of caffiene explosions to help me get through my day.  My first favorite hot spot on Hawkins is going East, just after Bill Owens Parkway.  Here there is a little place I call the “Weee” spot.  It is at the entrance of Ben Hogan Drive and as you come over the road there is a little rolling hill that your right tires glide over and for a moment, you feel like you are flying.  When I have my children with me, they say “Weee” with me.  I pray that the City of Longview never destroys my “Weee” spot.


On my way home, I also come back using Hawkins in order to pick up my daughter from day care in Spring Hill.  Going west, just after Bill Owens and between Gilmer Road there is a byway that saves me a couple of red lights.  It’s Heritage Boulevard, a road splitting several developed neighborhoods, so it’s easy on the eyes too.  It is also fun to take, because you don’t have to stop for a sharp curve to the right, but instead, as if you were on a on-ramp, you smoothly speed on by, no right turn signal needed.  You live in Longview, Texas long enough and you too will get excited about pseudo on-ramps.


Now Hawkins does have one drawback, but usually not big enough for me to bypass it completely.  If you are coming north on 4th street, in attempt to turn right on Hawkins to get to a) the other Starbucks on your work’s side of town or b) movies, shopping, and yummy eateries, you have to traverse the seemingly infinite stopping zone on 4th between Loop 281 and Hawkins.

Let’s say you want to turn right on Hawkins.  There isn’t really that much room to zoom past the car in front of you in the left hand passing lane, without invariably having to screech your brakes at the F250 trying to turn left to go into Lowes.  Your best bet to successfully make the right turn is to stay in the right lane.  However, there are eleven right turns before the one you want to make at Hawkins.  Why eleven you ask?  Their names are Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Chick-Fil-A, and Taco Bueno.  There has to be plenty of ins and outs to those major Longview markets.

Fourth Street also leads to some more loved-hated places.  One of the biggest time wasters for a yield sign is towards downtown Longview at the intersection of 4th   Street and 6th Street.  Of the 78,038 population in Longview, I believe 100 of us know that it is a triangle that says “YIELD” and not an octagon that says “STOP”.  There is even a road it gives us to yield in, but 77, 938 people are blind to this fact.  I don’t know how to re-educate all these people that supposedly passed their driver’s tests.  If you have suggestions, please give.

If I continue going on 4th street towards my daughter’s day care, I choose to turn left on Pegues Place towards Judson Road.  About a year ago, this street was a hated way because of widening construction on the curbs.  However, it has once again been endeared to my heart because I find the homes along this street gorgeous.  For the thirty seconds it takes me to drive through this area, I feel transported to Rice Village in Houston, where my sister lived while in college.  Driving Pegues Place reminds me of the grandeur of homes found in Houston, and how much I need to see my sister.

One last hated place remains – at least of what I can think of currently, I’m sure more will inspire me to blog again.  I hate, hate, hate driving south of Cotton Street.  Why the City of Longview spends so much developing the northern area and not trying to improve the southern area, I will never know.  However, if you are going to attend LeTourneau University, going south on Mobberly Avenue and driving by yuck is about the best way to get there.   When you finally reach LETU, there is nothing in the vicinity to entice college bound students except for the Bodacious BBQ across the street.  However, with its ultra conservative reputation, maybe LETU likes it that way.

To end on a happy, warm-feeling, note, I will describe not one, but two loved drive-bys.  These are definitely not places for drive-by shootings, but for drive-by “photo-op”ings.  I love taking a leisurely drive on H.G. Mosley Parkway from Judson Road all the way to Loop 281.  The stretch on this way between Fairmont and Highway 80 used to be so ugly with overgrown trees, weeds, and bushes, but recent development makes the Pine Tree District appealing to live in.  From Highway 80 to Cotton Street, you get to take a nice curve around that almost makes you feel like you are in a convertible, hugging a mountain with a beautiful seaside retreat in the distance, with all the aura of a commercial – even when in actuality you are in a junky Mitsubishi Montero sport with the windows rolled down because your air conditioner goes out in the summer months.  Everyone say it with me, “Ahhhhhh!”

I also love driving on Fairmont.  It starts out kind of junky from Gilmer Road, but I love passing Pine Tree High School.  This bit is nostalgic for me.  No, I didn’t go there and graduate from there, but I definitely still learned a lot about life, teaching, and me.  I completed my student teaching there and was hired upon completion of my post-baccalaureate teaching certification.

My first year I made truckloads of mistakes.  I didn’t receive much guidance from the then principal – had he observed me my first year, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten to teach the other two that I was there.  I had some great guidance from two seasoned teachers that first year however.  I had some great students too.  Some helped me; some helped me learn that I was not cut out for teaching.  I persevered, hoping it would get easier through the years.  It didn’t.  I was the type of person that thought if they really liked me, then they would learn!  Needless to say, that philosophy didn’t pan out and I was canned after my third year.  The students might not have learned how to write properly, but I sure hope they learned something about life.  Maybe it was the simple fact that I cared, or that they learned how to further manipulate to get their way.  While I hope it wasn’t the latter, I hope I mattered in some way to each of them.  They mattered to me.

I find it hard to drive byPine Tree High School.

Fairmont is a favored street, but it is a hard street.  I have to face my failure when I think about driving down that road.  It is bittersweet, a definite love-hate relationship.