Summertime = Time for Creativity!

I grew to love painting “for fun” instead of “for homework” during my time in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, all my paintings were too large to bring back on the plane — although I seriously considered the idea (Imagine an already overloaded traveller begging the flight attendant to please let this ginormous framed canvas to be her “carry-on”… yeah, I didn’t think that would go over so well either!). I ended up selling about 8 pieces before moving back.

That was a year ago.

Let’s be honest: The whole process of reverse culture shock (becoming acclimated to one’s native country again) takes a lot longer than anyone wants to admit. I think my process took about 8 months, and in some ways, is still happening even today.

That said, I’m finally beginning to feel like my artistic self again. Here’s several pieces of creative evidence:

I saw this idea online somewhere and knew I had to try it. I bought an already-painted-on canvas at a thrift store and used masking tape to craft letters on top of the painting. I chose my favorite quote from La casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (an amazing Cuban-American author), and fit the whole quote on the canvas. Then I painted over the tape, let it dry, and peeled all the tape off. Wa-laah! I might go back and add more to it, but this is what it looks like for now.

I also saw this idea online somewhere… probably or something. While I’m not Martha Stewart, I was able to figure out this recipe. All I did was mix up a white cake mix, separate it into three mixing bowls, add different color to each bowl, and bake each layer separately. I didn’t have enough circle cake pans, so I turned to pie tins as well. Each layer cooled for about 15 minutes before I iced them all into one cake. Easy peasy.

This is my current work-in-progress. It is acrylic paints and a collage of paper, leaves, bark, film negatives, and beads. It’s not quite finished yet, so stay tuned for a finished version.

 I continued the collage up the side of the canvas. All about the little details.

Here’s a close up of the lower collage:

This tree collage took a lot longer than I thought it would, but little by little, it made its way toward completion. My favorite is the gold paper running through the whole tree — both branches and roots. I was reflecting on a particular verse in Romans that reminds us that we (the tree) are not all that there is to us — that the roots (Jesus) are what really anchor us throughout life. To me, Jesus is the gold that shines throughout the entire tree, causing the leaves to grow.

I’m definitely enjoying my creative summer… can you tell? : )


End-of-the-School-Year Madness

I’m going to zoom you through the last week of school so then maybe you’ll understand why I’ve been on a 2 week retreat from anything school-related (including blogging about school! : )).

On your marks…. Ready… Go!

My 5th graders and I took a trip to Springfield to sight see and to conclude our Abraham Lincoln studies, so the next day, we made scrapbooks (chaos pictured above : )). 

Here they are posed with a young Abe Lincoln at the museum. They thought the wax figures were creepy but yet they were so fascinated that it was hard to leave.

We went inside the new capitol building as well. Here’s a photo I captured of the outside, and a student added his thoughts on the printed photo with his Sharpie marker. (To see closer, click on the image above.)

The 6th graders and I went to Six Flags as a reward for following through with their behavior contracts. Somehow I was signed up as a chaperone for an all-boys group (my 6th grade boys plus 2 more from another class). Here we are after our third time on their favorite water ride. These boys sure talked a lot of smack on the bus ride to the theme park, but once we were in front of the X-Flight (the latest amazing rollercoaster), their inner chickens surfaced and they refused to even get in line to wait while I rode the coaster. Bummer. Maybe next time : ). 

Then the 6th graders graduated from elementary school. I was strict about dress code: boys had to wear ties and girls had to wear skirts or dresses. My class was the finest looking 6th grade class this year. Of course, I may be just a bit biased : ).

(Note: To look at the pictures in a larger view, click on the image.)

During the 6th grade graduation, my 5th graders were industriously helping serve cupcakes to the many 6th grade family and friends that attended the celebration. Here’s the aftermath:

Valeria and Tamara not willing to show off their blue mouths…

Oscar and Marcelo begging for a third cupcake…

Ariana’s natural hospitality shining through…

And as Marcelo phrased it: ”Miss Siscoe, I think I just died by cupcake.” (a.k.a. too many cupcakes)

Then I concluded this field-trip-loving lifestyle by packing up yet another classroom… nothing like teaching at 4 different schools in 5 years (hopefully I’ll stay put in this next school for a while : )).

27 boxes of teaching tricks. Impressive considering last year I was only able to bring back 100 pounds of anything from Costa Rica (in other words, I hardly brought any teaching items back to the U.S. lol… seriously, how did I accumulate so much in just one year??!)

And the classroom ready for the next teacher to move in…

Whew! There you have it. The end-of-the-year madness marathon.


When I hear the word “injustice,” my mind immediately pictures the African nation of Guinea-Bissau where unwanted babies and children are buried alive in ant hills as sacrifices to the gods. While in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Isabel Johanning-Mora, an amazing Costa Rican woman who decided she was going to move to Guinea-Bissau as a missionary over 15 years ago. Today, she runs the orphanage Casa Emanuel and calls Guinea-Bissau home. Teletica, the Costa Rican CNN of sorts, broadcast the story of Casa Emanuel over several days, and Costa Ricans responded by giving more than $22,000 to support the incredible work Dr. Johanning is doing.

”Injustice.” I also think of the Kony 2012 campaign that has gone viral within the last week. Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted thousands of children to join the fight for no apparent cause other than to cause terror in Uganda and surrounding countries. Invisible Children founder Jason Russell has his hands full as he juggles his sudden global fame with his argument that the U.S. must support African nations in arresting Joseph Kony this year.

Even while thinking of Africa’s many injustices, I can’t help but think of injustice that is closer to home for my 6th graders. On Friday, I sat down with them to explain their ISAT (standardized test) prep assignment, and Yessenia tells me, “Miss Siscoe, we didn’t prepare for the ISATs last school year.”

“Oh really?” I ask, not sure where this is going.

“Yeah,” cuts in Tomas. “And our teacher would just text on her cell phone all day.”

“She didn’t listen to us when we had reading conferences. She would just text,” adds Josúe.

Seeing that this struck an emotional chord with these 6th graders, I continued to listen.

“And you know how you talk with us so much about why it’s not okay to be a bully? Well last year the teacher didn’t do anything about the bullies. It was hard to come to school,” Gabriel looks at his classmates for support.

“Yeah,” Yessenia is raising her voice now. “Teacher, you wouldn’t have liked our class last year. That teacher said she didn’t like us.”

By this point, my heart is breaking and I think I’ve heard enough, but they continue.

“Remember that one time,” Tomas asks everyone, “She had her nails done and then she didn’t want to touch our books? She said she didn’t want to mess up her nails.”

Several more memories surfaced before I gained their attention again.

“Alright, boys and girls, I just have to tell you that my number one rule for myself as your teacher is that my cell phone stays in my purse.”

“We know,” interrupts Yessenia.

I raise my “be quiet” sign. “Also, I want you to know that when I am not listening to you during your reading conferences, it is because I am writing down notes about what I should be sure to teach you. I’m sorry that your teacher last year wasn’t the kind of teacher that you deserve.”

Thoughtful silence.

“Okay, are we ready for our assignment now?”

Injustice in today’s schools does not only exist in U.S. public schools. I observed numerous examples of injustice in private Christian schools in Costa Rica as well. I remember during my first year of teaching, I asked my group of fourth graders what types of healthy snacks were acceptable to bring to school. A fourth-grade-style riot broke out as (I figured out later) students were terrified that I was going to have the same strict snack policies that their 3rd grade teacher had enforced (Her healthy snack list included things like hard-boiled eggs and tofu… Pure injustice in a fourth grader’s mind!). In my second year of teaching, I was faced with the fact that I was paid twice as much for my teaching job than the tica teachers I worked with… simply because I came from the United States. As I ate lunch with my compañeras, I wondered how they treated me so kindly when they knew I was favored above them. After two years of teaching at that school, I turned in my resignation letter explaining my reasons for moving on — being favored above other employees was one of my reasons as I chose not to associate myself with such obvious unfairness.

Here’s the thing about injustice: All that matters is what we do about it. Not what we say. Not what we know. Our actions speak louder than our words. Dr. Johanning decided to build an orphanage, school, and a clinic where hundreds of children’s lives have been changed; Jason Russell is globally campaigning that Joseph Kony be captured and tried in court; and I am being daily faithful to the learning of my 5th and 6th graders. No matter where you are, you can choose to make a difference.


I’m sure you can relate — sometimes life just feels… daily. When someone asks me if I’ve done anything fun lately, I don’t know what to say, especially considering my sense of fun for three years was whizzing through trees harnessed to a cable or being spit at for laughs at the school talent show. It’s not that life now is boring at all; it’s just that life is pretty routine these days.

Daily now means teaching about Ancient Rome and acting out a Republic with my students — complete with toga costumes and speeches from our class-nominated senators. Students love being the plebeians because they get to vote which senators will become consuls (like the president : )).

Daily now means leaving school around 3:30 to go to a 4:15 work out class at the Elgin Center before driving to masters class at 5:30. After lots of intellectual educational conversation, I drive home at 9:30 to make my lunch for the next day and fall into bed.

Daily now means going to Bible study on Friday nights — I alternate between a Spanish and an English study. I enjoy the challenge of the Spanish and the friendships with the Latina women while also enjoying ”easy” English conversation the opposite Fridays.

Daily also means cooking for all the roommates every Thursday night. I made this this evening and it was fabulous. Definitely a must-try for you too 🙂

So it’s taken me a while to embrace the ”normalness” of life now. What it boils down to is trusting God that He is working big time no matter if I’m ”home” in the U.S. or living as a foreigner.

I think you know you’re in the right lifestyle when even though life is daily, you have a sense of purpose and a deep-down enjoyment of the daily routine.

(Still anxiously awaiting the arrival of my cheap-o camera… : ))