Sunday, November 24, 2013

Two more days then three more weeks!

^ The ever changing song sung by the teachers in my department... but who's counting, really? AHH I'M SO EXCITED TO SEE MY FAMILY!!!


We've both gotten really into reading lately. Garrett is reading a series on his kindle called Psion, I'm reading a book my dad bought me called The Death and Life of the Great American School System. We just started reading the series Divergent together. Garrett is really enjoying his series. The book I'm reading sounds really depressing, but it actually makes me feel really vindicated, ha. AND at least she called it the death and LIFE instead of the other way around. That would have been depressing... I'm going to give you a quick synopsis of the book so far. If you're not interested, skip the next paragraph.

The book is by a woman name Diane Ravitch who has had a VERY influential role in school reform at the federal and state level. She grew up in Houston and went through the Houston school system. She worked for the department of education under President George H. W. Bush, President George W. Bush, and has written MANY MANY books on education reform, history of education, etc. She got very caught up in the school choice and school accountability movement that happened with President Bush (#2) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB, you'll hear teachers lovingly refer to this as "NickleBee." If you want to sound cool, and someone brings up No Child Left Behind, you can respond, "O yeah, NickleBee... blah blah blah.") She talks about how supportive she and so many were of accountability (which really means high stakes testing) and choice (allowing students/parents to use vouchers to go to different schools if they would like). It makes sense on the surface, it seems like it should work, but the last 5 years Diane has completely changed her mind. The reason? The evidence shows choice and accountability is NOT working and in the book she explains what she has discovered about WHY it's not working through the mountains of research she has done. The problems she sights are things I have seen in the schools I've worked at. I've only taught for 2 and a half years now, but I have taught at 3 different schools, in three very different school districts, to three very different populations (even the two schools in Utah Valley I taught at were VERY different), in two very different states, under 3 very different principals, and I've taught three different subjects. The threat or fear of a test does NOT make me a better a teacher. It makes me prepare students for a test (go figure...). Good professional development makes me a better teacher (However, you have to give teachers TIME to go to professional development or else they just feel overwhelmed like it is a burden. And please don't pile it all on at the beginning of the year. Man I hate that.). It gets me excited again about teaching, it provides me with valuable skills and resources. Time to implement these ideas and resources also helps :) This is what all the studies show. However, teacher training is expensive. Tests are expensive but you can write ONE test for an ENTIRE state and then have the teachers administer it and VOILA! Automatic school reform and everyone wins. Wait a second... no... that doesn't make sense...

This leads to my next thought. It's a quote from her book, "Opportunity leaves much to individuals." I LOVE this quote. It will not be an easy fix. Supporting teachers is not easy. It is expensive. You have to do it on an individual level. A test, you can make one. You give it to everyone. It is expensive one time, and then you are done.


I'm so excited for Thanksgiving! My parents are coming to visit us, it's going to be so much fun! Also I get a five day weekend which is super awesome. Then when I come back to school I only have three weeks left! After those three weeks then it's time to go back to UTAH and get some serious family time in. I can't wait to see the new little Brinkerhoff babe! Man that little girl Ivy looks like a doll in the pictures on the screen on my phone... (lame - I need real life holding and squeezing and kissing) and then I get to see my three new little nephews again! Baby Ty, Grayson, and Emmett. And of course all those other little cuties - Nora, Emery, Ryker, and Lincoln. The rest of you are pretty cute, too and I can't wait to give you big hugs and kisses. However, I'm not quite sure how I'll survive the cold... the low was 39 today and I just about died... I'm such a pansy! It is nice to finally break out the winter clothes here, though. Of course I haven't gotten out my winter coat yet, just some scarves and sweaters.


We went and saw the Jerusalem IMAX yesterday and it was AWESOME! I loved the beginning when

they entered the city through Damascus gate. It made me feel like I was back there again... I love that city. I love those people. It is seriously such a special place. The experiences I had there, both personal and with the group are so sacred to me. The movie was beautifully done and helped me remember some of those special experiences I had. I think it might be time for me to go back and read my journal. One of the most profound things I learned when I was there was the love God has for me as well as how much faith He has in me and my potential. I glimpsed the power of truly turning our lives over to God and allowing him to mold us into something beyond our wildest dreams. I came to that realization through a combination study of the creation of the world and the condescension of Christ.
"Knowest thou the condescension of God?" If not, study it. Study the universe, the billions of stars, marvel at our beautiful earth, realize how small and insignificant you are, be humbled by the amazing beauty around you AND THEN study atonement and the life of Christ and His mission and realize how priceless you are to Him, how much He loves you, and study WHY. I use to just stop at the "know God loves you" part. If you don't understand the WHY, then it is too easy to forget His love for you. The WHY is the most important. With the WHY you understand the amazing things God has in store for you. We are "less than the dust of the earth" it is true, but God has done some pretty amazing things with dust. But only if the dust lets Him.

Parting thoughts about Thanksgiving... (A short history lesson about the historical incorrectness of this famous painting) 

(Sarcasm) Look at those kindly Pilgrims giving a Thanksgiving feast to the poor desolate Native Americans. It is so kind of them to give of their incredible abundance. 

True story: Pilgrims were supposed to land in Virginia. They got blown of course. They ended up landing at Plymouth rock at the beginning of winter with very little supplies. They came across what they thought was an abandoned village. They thanked God for this incredible blessing of shelter and baskets of food, just theirs for the taking! What had really happened was a while before this village (the home of our beloved Squanto who was kidnapped by Europeans, sold into slavery, and used as a conversation piece by a wealthy English lord for several years) anyways, this village had been attacked by a deadly disease called Smallpox, brought over by European explorers. It completely wiped out the village. As far as we know everyone died and they died very quickly. Everyone that is except Squanto (because he was kidnapped by Europeans, sold into slavery, etc.) When the Pilgrims came over they were seeing the remains of a once thriving city. They used the supplies they found (sometimes you'll hear people refer to them as "grave-robbers") and tried to set up a colony, but were not very successful. For the most part they were city-folk. They didn't know how to farm and plant. They were poor planners and frankly in over their heads. In the meantime Squanto escaped from slavery and somehow got himself on board a ship and arrived home. You can imagine how excited he was to see his friends and family after so many years! It is difficult to imagine his shock and sadness when he came across a completely abandoned village and Europeans (who he probably LOVED by this point in his story) taking over his home town and ransacking the homes of the ones he loved. However, he made a choice at this point in his story. A monumental choice in his story and in the story of our country. We don't know why he chose to react the way he did, but he did. Squanto went up to the Pilgrims and in perfect English, offered his assistance. You can imagine how shocked they were. The Pilgrims had very little luck in working with Native Americans in the area. Massasoit and his people weren't exactly friendly and communication was quite difficult... Squanto taught them how to farm the land, fish, and hunt. He taught them how to build decent houses AND he helped create a bond between them and the Native American tribe nearby. The first Thanksgiving was one of Native Americans giving of THEIR abundance (including their knowledge, kindness, and skills) to these poor, ill-prepared, destitute, but well-meaning Pilgrims. In these humble and less-than-desirebale circumstances, all gave thanks and made a choice to make the most of their individual situations. 

It is also interesting to note that Thanksgiving was first made a national holiday during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln. During the darkest period in our nation's history, President Lincoln made gratitude an act of national importance. 

I honestly think the true stories of Thanksgiving are far more valuable and worth telling than the myths. The legends and myths are fun, but let's remember really why we have this wonderful holiday. It is a little humbling. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Our adventures of late (expository text features style): Emu attacks, murder accusations, and bike rides.

It's been a fun, busy couple of weeks for the MacKays in Houston. In honor of our current unit on expository texts in school, I will be using headings, subheadings, bolded words, pictures, captions, and a glossary at the end of this post.


We have had a busy and fun last few weeks. We spent a night and day in San Antonio, went a couple of fun Halloween parties, and.... drum roll... we bought Garrett a bike!

Emu Attacks

We found a great deal online for a hotel on the River Walk. It was beautiful! We watched the BYU game Friday night and ate breakfast on the River Walk Saturday morning. Then we toured the Alamo only to find that Comic Con and the Founder's Day festival were both going on. It was a little crowded but a lot of fun. It was my second time visiting the Alamo, makes me feel like I'm going back to my Tennessee root :) For those who don't know, the Alamo is the reason why Tennessee is called the Volunteer state.

I know what you're thinking, how did an emu attack them while they were visiting the Alamo? It didn't.

There is a zebra outside your window...
After getting our fill of history we drove a little out of the city to go to a "drive through zoo." It was called the Natural Wildlife Bridge Reserve. I was super pumped about this, I could tell Garrett was a little hesitant, but he came willingly. This was one of the best decisions of our lives, right behind the decision to get married. You drive through this zoo and get to feed the animals! Right our of your hand! (well technically you're not supposed to, but who really listens to that rule?) It was the closest thing you can get to a safari. All was going well and we were almost to the end. We had just passed through the Kenyan Reserve and seen the Zebras when we came to the emus! I had been warned that they were mean and so we were cautious from the beginning, to no avail... Garrett politely gave the emu some nasty animal pellet food only to have the greedy bird stick his head in our car and snatch the entire bag from Garrett's lap! (please see photo sequence below)

Emu attack!

It was hilarious.

Our overall impression of the drive through zoo: Why isn't every zoo in the world like this? Also the animals were really fat. And the long horns were scary.

Murder Accusations

Halloween was pretty fun this year. It definitely has a very different feel being married. There are "stages" of Halloween in your life that mirror stages in your life. But you could write a whole blog post about this and I'm not going to.

We used these same costumes Thursday and Friday night...
We were invited to two parties. The first was a costume party. It was fun! We played a version of mafia called "werewolves." It was fun, slightly confusing, and by the end of it everyone was a little concerned if the rule about "the-little-boy-who-is-allowed-to-peek-and-can-pretend-to-be-a-werewolf" was actually fair... But we were all good sports.

The next day, Friday, we went to our first Murder Mystery Dinner! I was little nervous, not quite sure what to expect. We were supposed to dress up like we were from the 1920s - I feel like we did a pretty good job with our costumes! Murder accusations flew as we ate a delicious dinner (our contribution was deviled eggs - Garrett was a little hesitant because I put relish in them, but they were most delicious). In the end we were disappointed to find that neither of us was the murderer, but it was fun night!

Bike Rides

Garret's new bike and gear!
The Saturday after Halloween decided the time had come to buy Garrett a bike! Fate was on our side - we found an AWESOME deal at REI (we almost didn't even check REI!). Everything we bought was marked down. The sales guy working with us kept being shocked at our awesome ability to find deals. I pride myself on that skill.

We immediately took it out that day and went on a ride. It was spectacular weather! Most excellent. We rushed home from work Tuesday for another short ride (curse you daylight savings for cutting into our bike time!) And we went on another beautiful ride yesterday. Our goal is twice a week, but I'm a little nervous about the sun setting earlier and earlier... We love our bikes and they serve as great decoration in our bedroom... super romantic.


Well we both still have jobs which is a good sign. Both working hard and rarely hardly working. We are staying busy with new responsibilities. There are good days and bad days. I have a class that is really a struggle for me this year. One of those gems of class that makes me not want to come aback to teaching... If I am not 110% on my game, then it is a terrible battle of wills with a handful of... dear, sweet students. I've lost my temper more times than I care to admit, but Friday was a good day so hopefully things are steadily improving.

My Children

A few of my students were asking me if I had any kids:

"Do you have kids?" - Student A
"No." - Me
"Dog?" - Student B
"Any cats?" - Student C
"No." - Me
"Do you have kids?" - Student D
(Pause, pretty sure I already answered this question...) "...No." - Me
"Yes you do!" - Student E
"... No, no I don't." - Me
"We are your kids!" - Student E
(Smile) "Yes, that is true." - Me

Accidentally Quoting Princess Bride

My co-teacher reads a book to the students for about 10 mins a day. She came to a part where it mentioned cyanide.

"Does anyone know what cyanide is? It is a type of poison." - Co-teacher
(Student's hand shoots up) "I think I've heard of it. Is it that stuff, it's odorless, tasteless, dissolves in water..." -Student A
"Dissolves instantly in liquid and is among the more deadly poisons known to man?" - Me
(Student A's eyes light up in recognition) "Yeah! Yeah that stuff!" - Student A
"Yeah it's called iocane powder. It's in the movie Princess Bride and I'm not even sure if it's real." - Me
"... Oh." - Student A

Spelling Woes

After asking me how to spell multiple words, the student came to this word:

"Miss, how do you spell play?" - Student A
(without thinking) "P-L-A-Y." - Me
"Ha miss I'm just messin with ya, I know how to spell play! What do you think I am, stupid?" - Student A confidently turns back to his paper only to write PALY. I busted out laughing. Probably shouldn't have. He realized his mistake pretty quickly though and laughed with me.

At Least She was Honest

While taking a quiz I noticed a girl stealthily slide a paper back into her desk. I barely caught her and quietly went over to her:

"(Student name) tell me honestly, were you cheating?" - Me
Garrett and I on the River Walk in San Antonio
"... Yeah miss." - Student
(I'll admit I was very surprised at her answer, I shouldn't have been, but I was. I miss judged this particular student. She quietly handed me her test without making a scene - also unexpected - and sat quietly while everyone else finished - another shock for this student.)


This is our new song at work:


We may be cutting off too much time, but the way we figure it, two FULL weeks until Thanksgiving break and then two weeks and one week of testing before Christmas (really three weeks, but the last week is no lesson prep and the students are really quiet...)

Garrett and I are thinking of fun traditions to start and looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my parents and Christmas will all of our family! We sure miss our family - I don't think I say that enough, ha.

Oh, yeah - there were also donkeys in the zoo. 

Alamo - Remember it.

Co-teacher - A teacher who comes in for half of one of my classes every day to help me teach and specifically work with special education students in my class.

Dear, sweet students - I was being sarcastic. As of right now they are neither dear, nor sweet.

Drive through Zoo - If you ever get the chance to go through one, do it. Don't hesitate.

Expository Texts - Nonfiction texts, their purpose is to inform.

Murder Mystery Dinner - Everyone invited dresses up and acts like a certain character. Each round they are given information they are supposed to "reveal" and information they are supposed to "conceal." You cannot lie. With the info revealed, you are supposed to make accusations as to who is the murderer.

Testing - The thing that Texas loves to do.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Birthdays, boys, and babies!

It was a pretty good week in the MacKay household! I felt better about stress at school after hearing a group of teachers acknowledge/complain about how this year is a lot more stressful and intense than last year. We are all optimistic that within the next week or two things will calm down... Hopefully we aren't fooling ourselves. Garrett is working on another project at BP and enjoying the added responsibility.


My birthday was last Tuesday. Tuesday was also back to school night. It was a long day at work, but the kids were great, I got to go out for a quick dinner with some teacher friends, and was blessed with some great interactions with parents.

When I finally made it home that night Garrett had my bike all fixed up (YAY!), german chocolate cupcakes (a Welsh staple for birthdays), flowers, and a picture of downtown Franklin. Pretty sure he's got me figured out :) and pretty sure I'm a bit spoiled.

My birthday celebration wasn't over yet because Garrett's parents got us tickets to the Miranda Lambert Dierks Bentley concert! Garrett isn't a huge country fan, so it was quite gracious of him to suggest this present to his parents. It was a lot of fun! Dierks was our favorite and we really liked the venue. We felt quite safe going in there as they checked everyone VERY thoroughly. They even looked inside my boots... ha. I didn't realize how many women were at that concert until Miranda started singing and they all stood up to join in her blowing-men-up-with-gasoline/kerosene/shotguns revenge songs. I've heard that if you break up with Taylor Swift she writes a song about you. Carrie Underwood will destroy your car. Miranda Lambert will kill you. I feel like that is a pretty accurate summary of those three women and their music. (Miranda's microphone was hot pink and her microphone stand was a shotgun...)

BOYS... (of the preteen nature)

I am really enjoying the students in my class. They took a test last week and a lot of them bombed it :( but I think we have made a lot of progress in the last week and hopefully they do better on the end of term test.... Cross your fingers! Those who came to my class not speaking any English have already improved a ton! Except one girl who I have somehow convinced that I am a fluent Spanish speaker and so now she writes her assignments in Spanish. I try to tell her to write in Ingles, but she no comprendes because she smiles so sweetly at me, nods her head, and then continues to write in Espanol...

Friday after school was quite the adventure. A student, David* (*names have been changed to protect the innocent), had been telling me for a few days that he wanted to sing a song for me. I have had this happen to me before. Last year at Centennial a student came and shared his musical talent with me a couple of times... However, David isn't even in a real class with me. I see him for about 10 minutes during an in-between period before lunch. Apparently I have succeeded in winning his heart for that 10 minute period. Despite my attempts to stall him, he came after school on Friday. After pulling up "Just a Dream" by Nelly, he proceeded to sing to me with dance moves. He was pretty good, but it didn't change the fact that it was still awkward. He wanted to close the door and I shouted (probably too hastily), "NO! I mean, no, we can't, I'm sorry, I have to leave it open." After about a minute of singing to me another teacher came into the room to talk to me. And then a student, Nate*, who needed help. (To the everlasting credit of Nate, he did not laugh or interrupt David. He actually raised his arms as David belted out, "If you ever loved somebody put your hands up!" Middle Schoolers aren't always cruel.) We smiled and applauded David as he finished. Should I be worried? Should I request a homeroom transfer for David? Would that be too obvious if the change happened Monday? Ha.


Now, for the best news... BABIES! Reni and Will had their little baby boy last night. He is so cute with dark hair and little Asian eyes and a button nose. He looks like he's wearing a toupee... but still adorable. His name is Emmett Zulon. His middle name is a family name, after our great grandpa. I wish so bad I could be there. I sure miss my family so much here in Houston, but I'm so grateful for technology! What a blessing! Thank goodness for FaceTime, and cell phones, and email, and airplanes!

Also I'm going to stop telling people when I'm sick or even just feeling a little under-the-weather. The first assumption is ALWAYS that I'm pregnant. Even if it's a head cold, ha.

ALSO - I can't wait for the FALL (I know it's technically here... but it doesn't feel like it in Houston). I made my FAVORITE pumpkin chocolate chip cookies tonight. They're in the fridge, getting ready to be super delicious. Tomorrow I'm making crock pot apple cider (I can't wait!) and apple fries. Hopefully it all turns out OK and is powerful enough to bring fall weather and fall colors to Houston... We also bought a fall smelling candle to try and help make it feel more like fall and less like summer.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Now this is an FYI blog...


I have never been good and keeping people up to date on what is going on in my life. My parents usually found out what/how I was doing in school via others, who I was dating through my friends or my sisters, and just what good and bad things were going on in my life by word of mouth. I'm sorry mom.

I thought I got better after I moved to Utah to go to school at BYU. I should give myself some credit... I really do feel like I improved somewhat.

But there always seems to be that occasional person I unintentionally leave out of the loop (lately it happens to be my brother, who I have made a very serious promise to - first knowledge of pregnancy when that occurs - in an effort to fix my delay in notifying him about kind of important events in my life such as getting engaged and moving to Houston... no big deal. Thank goodness he is very forgiving)

That is all to say this blog is not intended as a replacement for calling all my friends and family about what is going on, but just to keep you updated on fun stories and events as they happen. It is also just going to be a place where I can practice writing, which is important for a Language Arts teacher... (don't judge my grammar and thank goodness for spell check). (When I say writing, don't expect essays and poetry and short stories - unless those short stories are true and have to do with crazy 13 year-olds)

Notification 1: I will not do this regularly

Notification 2: I am not much of a blogger and so this will probably never look very cute

Notification 3: Sometimes I can get wordy when I start typing. I like the quote from the movie Lincoln, "I'd give shorter sermons, but once I start I'm too lazy to stop." Feel free to skim or just lie and write "I loved your post!" in the comments to make me feel better :)

Notification 4: When I share stories from school all names will be changed to protect the innocent, and my job. Plus, you should probably just know I'm going to be overly optimistic about my job on here out of fear from news stories where teachers lose their jobs over a FaceBook status where they complained about something with the school/district. Plus, why would I complain anyways, I am teaching at the BEST school, in the BEST district, in the most wonderful and perfect state in the union.... how could I ever complain?

(This actually happened about six weeks ago, I apologize for the late notice. Please see paragraphs 1-3 above for explanation)

And all the people said, "You will love it!" "Houston is great!" "You are going to fall in love with Texas!" "You are going to have huge Texas pride, just you wait!" "We moved down there and never wanted to leave!" "Everyone is so nice down there!" "Even the water tastes like sweet nectar!" 

(No one ever told us that last one, but that's just to bring up the point that the water here is seriously really nasty and we are very grateful for our Brita filter)

I guess I will have to wait to see if all of those statements come true. Right now I'm a little bitter about Texas... its actually (kind of) funny... but before I complain, I should make the following note:

TO TEXAS' CREDIT: The people down here are very nice. I cannot rave enough about the amazing people I work with. They are incredibly helpful and kind. We love the people we go to church with, they are FABULOUS! We have already made friends down here. 

Now that is out of the way, if you ever move to Texas, please bookmark this page for the best reference you will found on what NOT to do. Learn from my mistakes and you will have no bitter feelings in your heart :)

IF YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR NAME: Be sure to spell your new name correctly and DON'T FORGET TO ASK FOR THE ADDITIONAL PAGE! They will automatically give you a paper that says your card is on the way. However, this is actually not enough and will do you very little good. Apparently there is a secret second page they won't give you unless you ask for it (my employer kept telling my about this secret second page... I didn't ask for it, who would think to ask for that?). ALSO, they will rip up your social security card BUT you need it to get a Driver's License... I think the secret second page is supposed to cover you for that. Also, be sure to spell your new name correctly! Did I already say that? (Side note, if your card takes longer than 2 weeks to get to you, you are supposed to call. They will tell you your expected wait time is 24 minutes, really it is about 40. I still haven't received my CORRECT card after 5 weeks and am technically a MacKey right now, not a MacKay... I'm praying I don't have to make a third trip to the Social Security office... but 3 seems to be the trending number in my life right now)

REGISTERING YOUR CAR IN TEXAS: They only take cash or check. (I learned that my first visit) They also don't like Utah car insurance. (I learned that my second visit) The website says to just bring proof of insurance, but there are a handful of states whose car insurance Texas doesn't like. We found that Geico was the cheapest here right now, FYI. Also, you must register your car in Texas if you would like to get a Driver's License... Don't worry, my car is officially registered in Texas after trip #3.

GETTING A TEXAS DRIVER'S LICENSE: You need to register your car in Texas before they will give you a license (I learned that my first visit). You also need something with your Social Security number on it (I learned that my second visit), they ripped up my Social Security card while I was at the Social Security office and I didn't think to ask for the secret page and so I was left high and dry. The website says they are open on Saturdays, but don't get too excited thinking you will be able to not have to rush after work to get this done, they are only open for election IDs (thankfully I noticed the fine print before I made a third trip. We will save that trip #3 for Monday after school, the day before my license expires... hopefully the third time is the charm or I am SOL).

Seriously though, I wish I had someone to prevent all those mistakes, so if ever you move to any new state, especially Texas, check the state websites carefully, read the fine print, and ask people. 


  1. The people (please see above for explanation about the awesomeness that is the people we are surrounded by)
  2. Our jobs (even thought we have different challenges, Garrett is enjoying the projects he is working on and I really love the students I get to spend time with every day)
  3. Our ward (it is such a blessing to be a member of the Mormon church. The temporal perks alone should probably convince everyone they should join, ha. It has made all the difference in helping us to get adjusted to life in this new place)
  4. The food (O.MY.GOODNESS GRACIOUS it is most delicious and I am experiencing new food from all around the world. Houston is famous for its diversity, its food, and (by default) its diverse food. We really love the Phoenicia Cafe - it was great to eat really good shawarma again.)
  5. The rain (I love thunderstorms)
  6. Seeing all the green trees once you get out of the city limits
  7. The museum district in downtown Houston is really beautiful
  8. There are a lot of free things to do if you are willing to drive...
  9. We (meaning really just I...) are looking forward to a warmer winter :)
  10. Last but not least... The fact that technology makes it so easy for us to stay connected to those we love in Utah, Tennessee, and all over the world really...

Our overall impression of Houston... It is very different and just really, really, really, really, BIG. Like I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around it BIG.

OUR GARDEN! (It looks horrible right now)

My classroom!

These books were generously donated to our classroom! I am so excited to start reading these with the students Monday!

We went to a Skeeters game (baseball) and this slightly smelly mascot sang "happy first game to you!" while poking my face repeatedly... It was a overall a wonderful experience.

I just really like this picture, it's from our (short) honeymoon in Park City. Goodbye Utah! We will visit you again soon :)