Adulting: 8 Tips for Graduates

Adulting. verb. “To behave like an adult; to do things that adults regularly have to do.”

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Photo by Megan Sugden Photography.

Dear Andrew (and other graduates),

Welcome to the real world. I’m still not sure how you got here.

When I graduated from high school, you were a pipsqueak with chubby cheeks and shaggy hair and a propensity to laugh until you cried.

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You still laugh until you cry, and until recently, you had even longer, shaggier hair. But you also look like a sort-of adult, and you run faster than I can, and you stay up later than any of us. You’ll wear a mortarboard on Saturday, and the women in our family will cry, and you’ll be so glad to be done.

Then the fun begins.

Henceforth you must be an adult, or at least pretend to be one. Adults have to do hard things. For example, they must get out of bed even if no one forces them to do so. They must ensure that they eat, because no one else will buy bread when it runs out. They must do the laundry, at some point, maybe. Target will tell you which hangers to buy, and your advisors will tell you what classes to take. But only your oldest sister can tell you this – the random list of advice that you will probably never read (but definitely should. Oldest sisters always know best.)

  1. Learn how to cook at least one thing well. You will sometimes be asked to bring food to events. Or, perhaps, you might someday want to wow someone with some nice home cookin’. (Guys – girls are really, really impressed by men who can cook.) Have at least one recipe that you know won’t embarrass you. (If you really are hopeless, Ghiradelli brownie mix works miracles.)

 

  1. Track your spending. You really need to. I didn’t do this until after college, and I wish I would have started sooner. Seeing cold, hard numbers and realizing exactly where you throw your hard-earned cash is sobering.

 

  1. Find a hobby that is not Netflix. Binge-watching is easy and entertaining. It is not fulfilling. You will be a happier (and more interesting) human being if you step away from the screen for a while and actively participate in something. Sing. Lift weights. Paint. Yarn-bomb trees in parks. Start a paintball league. Bring back planking. Take walks after dinner. Just do something.

 

  1. Meet deadlines. You don’t run the world (yet). That means that you need to respect other people – and their time. Showing up on time and meeting deadlines makes you seem mature, which is especially valuable if you aren’t so certain that’s true. It also saves you money. Let’s be honest – no one likes late fees.

 

  1. Do not begin a new relationship in your first semester of college. In your first few months in a new place, you need time to adjust. You need time to establish a solid friend group. You need time to let yourself change and adapt to your new surroundings. Don’t spend all of your time pursuing one person and neglecting the rest of your life. You need healthy balance and other healthy relationships to be ready to date someone, and trust me, it will take all of your energy to develop those in your first semester. Make yourself at home, then work on snagging that dreamboat.

 

  1. Remember your need for community and find it. We are not meant to meander through life alone. We need community. We need people to watch movies with on Friday nights, to laugh at dumb YouTube videos with, to sit in coffee shops with. Get out of your room, to events and churches and clubs and classes, and talk to people. Take the initiative and ask someone to grab dinner, or to attend a hall event with you, or to toss a Frisbee with you. You are not bothering them or wasting their time by asking them to spend time with you. People want to make friends, generally, and you are an interesting person who is worthy of being someone’s friend.

 

  1. Do not compare yourself to the Internet. Your life must amount to more than your Instagram feed or your number of Twitter followers. Otherwise, the most enjoyment you will get from a walk around the lake or a nice latte or a brunch with friends will be the likes you get on photos afterwards. That’s a piddly amount of enjoyment compared to the quiet thrill of being present in the moment and enjoying your life as it is, not as you want people to see it. And when you get snarky and jealous over the person who’s Instagram famous, remember: do not compare someone else’s public life to your private life. They don’t post the snapshots from the nights when they are convinced they’ll be single forever, or that time they failed a test, or that argument they just had with their girlfriend, or those times when they were so homesick they could cry. We are all human. We all have terrible days, and we all have good days. Filtered pictures do not change that.

 

  1. Know that everyone has one really terrible college semester. Mine was fall semester, freshman year. I didn’t feel like anyone truly knew me, or like I would ever find my place on that big college campus, or like I was any good at anything. I literally counted the days until I could go home at each college break, and I sobbed every time I had to return. But I kept showing up (I was paying tuition, after all), and tried to form deeper relationships, and gave myself grace. And like all terrible life seasons, it got better. If you’re going through one of the nasty seasons, you will not stay there forever. Things are not hopeless. Hang in there.

 

Many blessings to you, Andrew, and to all of those headed off on new adventures. May the transitions be smooth, the chances to do laundry for free be frequent, the backpacks light, and the memories stupendous.

Send-Off: What I Wish My Students Knew

Send-Off. noun. Parting words; good wishes for a person starting on another journey.

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They warned me.

They said that Gilead was quiet, uneventful. Just an old man reflecting on his life, leaving letters for his son. Don’t expect much plot. Don’t even expect chapters. They were right.

It was beautiful.

In Gilead, the novel by Marilynne Robinson, John Ames is dying. He leaves behind a young wife and son, and he wants his child to know stories that the boy is not yet ready to hear. He wants to pass on the fear of his grandfather’s one-eyed gaze, the emptiness of the weeks-long walk with his father across the prairie, the simple and deep love for the light bathing the church pews in the morning, the feeling of a baby’s brow beneath his hand. His words breathe forgiveness, and loving friendship, and contentment with long-anticipated family, and gentle lament for an unknown future.

I’ve found myself returning to this book, in ways literal and figurative. The companion book Lila is now in my hands, its pages rounding out the story of John Ames’s wife. His letters, also, roll around in my head. The idea of thoughts shared for later, for when your absence is felt, intrigues me.

I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. But our school year is slipping away, quickly. I will soon say goodbye to the students who have filled my classroom. Like all endings, it is bittersweet.

This is the first class that’s been mine. They know to get their journals on Wednesdays, to find library passes in the checked box, to grab a book reviews on the front table. I’ve tested my nonverbal signals and exit directions and wait time on them. They laugh at mentions of Cookie Monster and chicken. They groan every day when, after interrupting me, they must return quietly to their seats before I dismiss them for lunch. One kid knows me well enough to ask me to solve a math problem so he can laugh at the confusion on my face, my eyebrows scrunched in concentration. Another says that she’s adopted the hand gestures I unconsciously make.

We might not notice each others’ absences right away. It’s likely that they won’t think much on me after June 10. They will move on to eighth grade, then to high school, then to colleges and jobs and children of their own. They will have many more teachers, and the memory of that one tall one from 7th grade will fall away.

My memories of them will fade too. In 20 years, I will have forgotten some of their names. I might not remember the tiny gymnastics leotard one student showed us from 2nd grade, that one family endured a house fire while their student was in my class, that one brought donuts to celebrate her birthday, that one gave a speech on getting lost in life and cried, and that another girl that ran across the room to hug her.

I hope they still read, after they’ve left my room. Some have learned to love books this year. One boy wrote a note telling me so. One girl didn’t consider herself a reader a few months ago, and she’s now reading 2,000 pages a week. It’s easier to decide that you’ll enjoy the 20 minutes we spend reading each day, I guess. Maybe having a teacher shoving book recommendations at you helps, too. For those who don’t love it (because they are legion, and they are loud), maybe, just once this summer, or next year, or on break from college, they’ll shut the screen and crack a book. It will do them good.

I hope they think, too. Much of school get it done, and not think. It’s true in my classroom too often. May their curiosity not be ruined and their minds not be dulled by it. When they can vote, as some of them are so excited to do, I pray that they do their research, that they consider carefully. If given the chance, they ought to vote for my student who read the Constitution one day during independent reading. I sure would. When seeking advice, may they turn to trusted authors and advisors. They will check the credibility of their sources, we can only pray.

I hope they know that they’ll make it through these awkward years. They’re sprouting into teenagers before my eyes. One boy began the year as a kid, who apologized for talking too much and thought school was “kinda fun.” He’s now a teen, with an attitude around his friends. I know his kindness and curiosity will reappear, even in public, someday. The others will learn how to apply eyeliner correctly and to wear pants other than leggings and to turn off Clash of Clans and to not care if others think they’re “cringey.” I have faith.

I hope they know they are valued. In their writing and speeches and their book choices, I see the people they are becoming. They are empathetic. They are funny. They are optimistic (occasionally). They want to be computer engineers and athletic trainers and nurses and authors and fathers and mothers. When they are absent, we notice. Their lives are precious. Even when they feel forgotten, they are not.

These are the things lost in the pre-adolescent brain fog, in my tiredness on Tuesday mornings, in the general insanity of May. I can barely make them stop talking after lunch, much less communicate that I care about more than how many pages they read last week and how many missing assignments they have.

We still have time before we part ways. (Too much, it feels some days.) I pray that in these last lingering days of the school year, in the hours of time we still share, they see a glimpse of truth. Even when they’ve forgotten The Outsiders and my presence and the hush of our room during silent reading, may they remember what I tried, and often failed to teach: Their ideas are important. Their minds are worth cultivating. They matter.

 

What I’m Into: April 2017

April. proper noun. Its showers are supposed to bring flowers. We’ll see.

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It’s cliche, I know, but where has April gone? I blinked, and now I’m mystified as I write May on the calendar. It’s been a mixed month – spring is slow in coming, and there have been some anxiety-inducing decisions stretching through this month. But Christ has risen. Though it’s easy to make that cliche, the magnitude of it has been hitting me in this Easter season. We are saved. We have hope. Our lives are worth celebrating.

Here’s what I’ve been loving this month.

Reading

The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis. There’s a reason that this is a classic. C.S. Lewis expounds on the four types of love (affection, friendship, erotic love, and charity) and why they are all important. The charity chapter was most mind-blowing to me. A favorite quote: “All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times – and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit – they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.” There are so many of these in this slim book – I need to read it again, soon.

The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown. I adore this book. That’s in no small part because I listened to the audiobook, and Edward Hermann (the grandpa in Gilmore Girls) has the perfect voice to narrate this blend of history and rowing strategy and narrative. I am now half in love with all of the hardworking, dedicated boys of the 1936 crew team, and joining a rowing team has never had more appeal.

The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon. Recommendations for this book are all over the place, and I was a little scared to read it because I didn’t know if it would live up to the hype. It did. It chronicles one day in the life of Natasha and Daniel, two very different immigrant teens who meet on the streets of New York. Their story was unlikely and beautiful and heartbreaking and reminded me of how much our actions matter and influence those around us.

Very Married – Katherine Willis Pershey. This book is a sort of marriage memoir, with reflections on the beauty and struggles of lifelong commitment. Each chapter covers one aspect of marriage and offers stories, musings, and advice. I would love a bit more depth and length – sometimes it felt like Pershey just touched on a topic before moving on – but it was helpful to hear very real stories about married life.

Mosquitoland – David Arnold. In this book, a young girl runs away from her dad and stepmother in “Mosquitoland,” and boards a bus in search of the mother she left behind. It didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I did adore the characters, especially the friends Mim made along her journey. The empathetic, real portrayal of mental illness is also powerful.

Winter – Marissa Meyer. I finally finished the last book in the Lunar Chronicles. I’m glad to be done reading the series and know how it ended… but it seemed like Meyer was glad to be done writing the series, too. Overall assessment of the series? Great and fun and clever. Overall assessment of this installment? Meh.

Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan. Willow, a super smart and socially awkward preteen, learns one day that her parents have been killed in a car crash. This book follows the unlikely generosity that helps her survive. The story is tender and sweet.

 

Watching

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Though this movie was a good deal creepier than my highly sensitive self expected, I loved the magical twist on 1920s New York and the subtle references to the world of Harry Potter. I’m curious what they’ll do with the sequel!

 

Listening

Spotify Daily Mix. I just found this Spotify feature, with individualized playlists that combine songs you’ve liked with other music of a similar genre. Yay for not making decisions.

The original version of this song got stuck in my head after every Zumba class (which is problematic when you only know 7 of the words…). But I have to admit, I love the Justin Bieber in this remix…

 

Loving

This video makes me laugh.

Olive green pants. I struggle dressing for spring in Minnesota, when boots feel too wintery but it’s still 38º on morning bus duty. These have given me a springier option than my constant black pants. Pseudo-neutrals for the win.

Salsa dancing. Adam and I finally tried out our moves at a dance this month. We are, well, not Latin. But it was fun!

Black Coffee & Waffle Bar. Leslie Knope would approve of this place. They understand the necessity of adequate whipped cream.

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Doing

Participating in a panel of new teachers at my alma mater. We spoke to student teachers about the hiring process. It was fun to hear the perspectives of a few teaching friends, and it also reminded me just how much I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been teaching.

Dress shopping. I am lucky enough to get to be a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding this fall. We picked out our dresses this month, and I am now even more excited for their wedding!

Taking a family trip to Chicago. My sister had her final grad school interview over Easter weekend, so my family drove to the windy city to spend the weekend with her. We packed our little vacation full, walking over 20,000 steps each day. Highlights include the Tilt window at the John Hancock observatory, the beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium, the mummy exhibit at the Field Museum, and the limo ride we took when we were too tired to walk back to our hotel. (Yes, you read that right. We rode in a limo. We were not at all chill about it.) We also fully recommend the CityPass, a booklet of tickets for the most popular museums and experiences in the city. It made everything, especially the long lines at the Willis Tower observatory, faster. We finished off the weekend by celebrating Easter at Moody Church, which had a full orchestra and choir for the occasion.

 

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Note the four blond adults staring enraptured at an animal spouting water…that’s us.

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We also got matching tattoos. They were temporary.

Attending a concert at Orchestra Hall with friends. One of our favorite double date couples invited us out on the town for a birthday celebration, and we loved eating dinner and listening to enchanting music with them. Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye, or Mother Goose, collection is dreamy.

Finally, as always, teaching. We finished off our final session of parent-teacher conferences and are on the last leg of our year. I have no idea how we will fit in everything left to cover. None. We are currently finishing up a public speaking unit. I’ve learned even more about my students by listening to them share about items that represent them – it’s a good time of year for a reminder that they are complex human beings. My Advanced kids are also practicing mock debates. So far, the most memorable thing they’ve learned has come from a debate we watched to study technique. One of the debators said that television can be a positive influence because Cookie Monster teaches us that “cookies are a sometimes snack, not an always snack.” I have since heard this line once a day. I am clearly an influential teacher.

 

What have you been into this month?

 

 

Slow: Thoughts on Social Media

Slow. adjective. “Requiring or taking a long time for growing, changing, or occurring; gradual.”

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I was the last person in the world to get Facebook. Almost.

It was June, 2011, at the cabin. We borrowed the lake neighbor’s wifi because we did not have Internet at home yet. (We were the last people in the world to get wifi. Almost.)

I filled out my profile, deliberated over a picture, and added my future college roommates. Getting to know them was the whole reason that I joined Facebook in the first place. I sent friend requests. Then I got friend requests. My attention-seeking heart thrilled. People cared that I existed! They wanted to know what I had to say! They wanted to see pictures of my exciting life! I checked back often, wanting the accepted requests, the likes, the comments roll in. It was addicting.

It stayed addicting.

//

Lenten disciplines were new to me this year. Giving up anything meaningful seemed too hard. Chocolate? Please God, no. I saw the glory of God in dark chocolate regularly. Shopping for clothes? I just gave that up a month ago. Plus, my ancient skinny jeans were about to lose a battle with the dryer and need replacing. Social media? I blogged (kind of)….and I needed Instagram for inspiration…and I’m going on a trip and I want the world to know…and…and…

The niggling feeling that maybe it would be good to go without social media didn’t go away. My headstrong, irrational opposition to the whole idea was my first clue. After all, I’d survived 18 years without status updates. So I moved Instagram from its prominent place on my phone and deleted Messenger and mustered up my self-control.

I thought it would be easy.

I was not correct.

At first, especially, I felt the ache of boredom. After work, when I’d checked my email and read the few blog posts sitting in my feed, I had to choose between staring at the ceiling or doing productive things. It made me antsy.

I noticed it especially on slow Saturday mornings. I couldn’t reach for Instagram to wake up my sleepy brain. So I stared at the light slanting through my blinds. Or checked my email, again. (What 23-year-old obsessively checks non-urgent non-work email?) Or wondered how many days it was until Easter. And then I finally picked up a book, or wrote, or did the dishes, or moved on with my life.

There was no moment of picturesque clarity during those 40 days. No rush of satisfaction. No pell-mell deleting of accounts.

But books I’d been meaning to read got picked up, and read. Questions got asked, and their answers became clearer. For the first time in years, I started reading the Bible before bed again. My room was cleaner than usual.

Maybe it’s all coincidence. Maybe not.

//

“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness,” Rebecca Solnit says. If I have had any small revelations during my forty days in the wilderness, it is this.

I have been convinced of my need for less. Less fast and furious consumption. Less surface-level engagement in the lives of others. Less comparison to others’ relationships and lifestyles and photogenic chops. Less of what I won’t remember in a week. Less of what won’t really matter, now or in 5 years.

And this emptying and slowing makes space for thought and thoughtfulness. I actually read an article and discuss it with the man who devours deep conversation. The question that wrinkles my faith gets a fraction smoother. Books move to the finished stack, and I pass on their names to students. These things take work and energy and thought. They are worth it.

//

Lent has passed, Jesus has risen, and I have broken the fast.

On Saturday morning, I let myself scroll aimlessly through Facebook. I was content, at first. When I finished, just 10 minutes later, I was restless. My Friday night had been peaceful, and my life seemed fine. But everyone else was getting married and going interesting places and having more fun.

Hello, procrastination. Howdy, comparison.

We were back to square 1, where I started before Lent, and where I started on that June day when I first opened my account.

As I realized this, I stopped browsing. I closed the computer, and picked up a book.

 

What I’m Into: March 2017

March. proper noun. The month in which it’s sorta spring and sorta not.

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March is always a weird month of transition in Minnesota. We’re dying for spring, but the temps rise from bitter to mild to warm oh-so-slowly. We’re getting there.

Below is what I’ve been loving in this current in-between season.

Reading

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner. This book tells the story of two young married couples, the friendship that forms between them, and how it shifts as they age. The narrator, at one point in the story, says, “How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?” I’m not sure how Stegner does, but his writing is gorgeous and provocative. I loved this one.

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson. This is another quiet, striking book. I had been warned when starting Gilead that there are no chapters and it is simply a collection of letters written by an old minister to his son. That’s it. Since I was armed with those expectations, this book seemed meditative and beautiful, and Robinson weaves subtle suspense as she reveals events one small moment at a time. I finished it and added Home and Lila, its companion books, to my to-read list.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline. This book begins in a dystopian world where everything is falling to pieces, so everyone spends most of their time in a virtual reality called OASIS. The inventor of OASIS dies and leaves his fortune to the first person who can work through a series of clues to find an Easter egg hidden in the vast virtual world. Wade, known as Parzival online, is one of the people who joins in that quest. It’s not my typical style, but the concept was intriguing (and frighteningly possible), and the storytelling was well done. All the praise I’ve been hearing of it is justified.

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher. Do not start this book unless you have no other plans for the night so you can read the entire thing. I started this during 6th hour at school (when I’m not conferencing with students during silent reading time, I “model good reading habits” by reading alongside them. That is not an excuse for wasting time at work. They genuinely read better when I’m reading at the same time)… and had finished it by 7:00 that same night. Anyway. A high school boy receives a mysterious set of cassette tapes. As he starts to listen, he realizes that they are the recordings of a girl who committed suicide, detailing the “thirteen reasons why” she allowed herself to make that decision. He is one of them. The story, told in both Hannah and Clay’s voices, is heartbreaking and suspenseful and completely worth reading. There’s a movie of this story coming out soon that I will not watch because it would make me weep copiously.

Currently reading: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley. The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis. The Boys in the Boat (audiobook) – Daniel James Brown; narrated by Edward Hermann.

 

Watching

Beauty and the Beast. Twice. I’ve been anticipating this movie for literal years – it’s my favorite Disney princess story, and I adore Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Overall, it was a delight. The new music was perfection, and the world they created was enchanting. That said, I also have to admit that Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle didn’t seem quite as timeless as I had hoped. It felt more like I was watching Emma Watson, not her character, avoid Gaston and discover the Beast’s library. Recommended anyway.

 

Listening

Ed Sheeran’s new album Divide. His songwriting is so stellar. I especially love this.

 

I’ve also been listening to this, plus the rest of the new Beauty and the Beast soundtrack:

 

Loving – Spring break edition

The highlight of my March? Adam and I flew to Florida for my spring break, and I loved pretty much everything about it.

1st love: the beach.

On our first day in FL, we headed to the Tampa/Clearwater area, rented kayaks on Honeymoon Island, and paddled/waded across the bay to Caladesi Island. Even though it was the height of spring break, Caladesi was quiet and perfect. We packed a picnic, took our time lazing on the beach, and explored the mangroves by kayak. We did go to Clearwater Beach after the sun set to check out Frenchy’s South Beach Café for dinner, and to be very thankful that we chose a less rollicking place to spend the day.

 

2nd love: THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER.

IMG_7046.jpgIt deserves all caps. I love Disney, I do, but I think the Wizarding World may truly the most magical place on earth. Adam said that he has never seen me so excited in all of our relationship as when I was sprinting from the gate of Universal Studios to Diagon Alley. And I maintain that my fangirling was entirely justified. They have butterbeer (my definitive ranking of butterbeer varieties: 1st place – hot. 2nd place – cold. 3rd place – ice cream. 4th place – frozen.).

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They also have Hogwarts. And a fire-breathing dragon. And a freaking train station. And Honeyduke’s. The details are all perfection, and I want to go back next week.

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3rd love: manatees.

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We capped off our trip by an early morning trip to Crystal River to snorkel with manatees. Manatees are massive – 10 feet long and over 1000 pounds. I didn’t fully appreciate these facts until a manatee surfaced right in front of my face. We only saw two, but I would absolutely do this again.

So many thanks to my aunt and uncle for hosting us and making our trip extra awesome!

 

Doing

Road tripping to Madison, WI. My sister is interviewing for grad school, and her first interview was at UW-Madison. I joined her on a quick one-day road trip, which meant I had lots of time to explore the city while she did professional things. Even in the dead of late winter, the Olbrecht Botanical Garden and Conservatory was beautiful, and definitely worth another trip. (Imagine if the picture at the top of the post and the one below were green!) We also explored A Room of One’s Own, an independent bookstore with an excellent selection.

 

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Celebrating Brita! My sister turned 22 this month, and we had a weekend long celebration in her honor. On Friday, we went with my brother to our alma mater’s performance of Mary Poppins, which was an utter delight. My favorite moment was Bert tap dancing on the ceiling during the Chim Chim Cheree number. On Saturday, we ate donuts and did a girls’ viewing of Beauty and the Beast, went shopping, and ate Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cake (one of the best desserts on the planet). Sunday brought waffles and thrifting. Yay, Brita. Thank you for letting us eat sugar in your honor.

Attending Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Orchestra Hall. It was part of their Symphony in 60 series, where the piece is introduced with a quick lecture, then performed. Rite of Spring is, put bluntly, jarring and weird. But it also changed the face of music and has some fascinating moments. This format worked perfectly to help us get the most out of the performance.

And finally, school is still in session. Spring break kicked off the third trimester, and we’re onto the final (admittedly long) stretch before summer! We’re working through myths and legends (in the midst of MCA preparation) with both of my classes, and I have a new appreciation for just how wrong the Disney version of Hercules is.

 

What have you been into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up to see other views of March, too!

 

 

Ashes: On the Weight of Sin

ashes. noun. “The remains of something destroyed.”

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We arrive at church on Wednesday at 7. We are shockingly on time. Our rustling echoes in the stark sanctuary, where crosses are covered.

Ash Wednesday is new to me. So is this form of church, with its thees and thous and ringing bells and kneeling at times I can’t yet anticipate. I feel shifty under the weight of its liturgy, shiftier still when we get in line for the imposition of the ashes. The priest intones, over and over, “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return.” His thumb is smudged black.

I walk back to my seat, forehead smeared, uncomfortable. It’s not often I contemplate my own mortality. It’s not often that I ponder how my sin has separated me from my God.

Adam flips through the missal to the confession, and I realize how, now that I’m saved, sin seems a minor inconvenience. Yep, we mess up. We apologize, to God or neighbors or ourselves. We face the consequences. But mostly, we’re doing just fine. Sin is a hangnail, ignorable. It is no great welt across the soul.

We confess, and I hesitantly pray that God would show me the gravity of my sin. It is a halfhearted prayer, like the ones I often whisper that God would show me his presence and want to then take back. The hardest days are often the ones where I see his presence most. I don’t know what this request will bring me.

I forget this prayer. But two days later, I see it answered.

I am waiting outside Adam’s apartment after school. He calls. Our plans have suddenly changed. He needs sympathy, kindness, love. Instead, I am irritated at minor inconveniences. I rarely deal gracefully with changed plans. Often, I can brush off this tendency as a character quirk. This evening, it manifests itself as selfishness. I am nasty.

I see my error, almost as soon as I hang up the phone, and with increasing clarity as the evening goes on. Apologies are made. So are wounds. I want to ask Adam to not hold this against me, to not think of this moment as he considers the future of our relationship. But he should. If he is going to truly love me, he needs to know it all: my capacity for pride, my selfish heart, the control-seeking that makes me desperate. These are the sides that make me wince and rattle off justifications for myself. These are things I want to hide.

And these are things that God already sees.

God is very aware of the idol I mold of control. He knows my irrational angst when interruptions snatch my precious free time. He hears the cocktail of excuses I mix to say that I’m not that bad and given the circumstances and if that miscommunication hadn’t happened and…and…and..

I want these excuses to stand. I want to believe that I am okay, that I’m mostly self-sufficient after the initial salvation stuff, that I have my act together. All evidence stands toward the contrary. My inconveniences do not include being crucified. Jesus bore that with less grumbling than I bear heavy traffic.

The fact remains that I am sinful.

And so, Lent.

I am learning the tandem gravity and joy of this season. Repentance is due. No excuses. We drove ourselves from the Garden and drove Jesus to his death. So we must confess that we have sinned, in thought word, and deed. We fast, believing that it shows us with sharper clarity our need for God. We pray. We beg for reconciliation, from God and from man, after our blunders. We whisper, “Lord, have mercy.”

We wait for Easter, and victory.

 

 We have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

In your mercy

forgive what we have been,

help us to amend what we are,

and direct what we shall be;

that we may do justly,

love mercy,

and walk humbly with you, our God.

Amen.*

 

 

 

*from the Liturgy of the Church of England

 

 

 

What I’m Into: February 2017

February. proper noun. This year, a month of seasonal weariness and unseasonably warm temperatures.

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The beginning of February is always depressing. Winter seems endless and dark and freezing. Yet, the end of this month always sneaks up on me. Here we are, in Lent, almost to the last third of the school year, with longer, warmer days approaching. I can’t complain.

As always, I discovered some wonderful things this month and shared time with some wonderful people. Read on for recommendations, or head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up to discover more.

Reading

This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald. I will admit: I very nearly abandoned this book. Like most of F. Scott’s work, I am glad that I finished it, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy the process. This book tells the story how Amory, a young man born into wealth, moves from Minneapolis to an elite high school to Princeton to the real world. He finds and loses love and life’s meaning. A deep emptiness prevails in F. Scott’s writing, but his descriptions do make me stop, reach for a pencil, and underline, hoping I’ll someday write so aptly.

The Gospels in Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts – edited by David Curzon. This collection of poems centers around biblical passages. I’m reading this as my morning devotional, and exploring more artistic interpretations of events like Jesus turning the water into wine at Cana is challenging but awakening. I’m also discovering that I’m a total nerd who very much likes poetry, and this helps read it more consistently.

March: Book 3 – Andrew Aydin and John Lewis. This is a graphic novel details John Lewis’s perspective on the march on Selma and the surrounding events. Though this is the 3rd book in the series by these collaborators, they don’t have to be read in order. This book challenged me in multiple ways: I don’t often read history or graphic novels, and this was an interesting combination of the two. I also wasn’t actively aware of how violent and life-threatening the work of the civil rights movement was. I highly recommend this, to students and adults.

Flora and Ulysses – Kate DiCamillo. I believe I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I want to be Kate DiCamillo when I grow up. Her books have an innocent magic that I love as much now as I did when I was the age of her intended audience. Flora and Ulysses is a story of superheroes and unlikely friendships and poetry and love. It made me smile and tear up and text pictures of lines to Adam.

Cress – Marissa Meyer. This is the 3rd book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and I continue to love how Meyer twists traditional fairy tale characters and situations to fit a dystopian setting. I rarely read series, especially dystopian series, so that I plan to read the 4th book soon is high praise.

The Book Whisperer – Donalyn Miller. I read this in preparation to hear Donalyn speak. She believes strongly in the value of independent reading and student choice for creating lifelong readers who are engaged and in love with books. Ideas like this make me so excited.

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (audiobook). A man with little hiking experience decides to walk the entire Appalachian trail, with some gear and a great fear of bears and an unlikely trail companion who has even less hiking know-how. Bryson sprinkles facts about nature and the trail into his tales of long hikes and the thrill of restaurant days, so this was both entertaining and educational, and I know way more about death by hypothermia than I did before.

 

Watching

The Crown. We are almost done with the series, and I sort of don’t want it to end.

 

Listening

Ellie Holcomb – Find You Here. I play this song most mornings as I prep my classroom for the day.

Hearts & Colors – Rich Man.

Ed Sheeran. And all the covers, including this. Watch it until the end. Please.

Bonus: Is anyone else as delighted by this as I am?

 

Loving

Schmidt’s deodorant. I’m not super crunchy in my beauty product choices, but I can appreciate that this deodorant doesn’t have weirdo chemicals that may or may not have adverse side effects. The bergamot and lime also smells amazing and the thing actually works – and this is coming from someone who sweats enough that Secret is ineffective.

Trello. This website and app is hard to explain – it’s sort of like digital post-its that you can categorize and move around. Based on Kendra’s recommendation on The Lazy Genius blog, I’m using it primarily to organize my book lists, and it’s miraculous. The color coding and detail organizing possibilities make me swoon.

Zumba! Brita, my sister, and I have continued to shake our hips once a week. I don’t think our coordination has improved, but at least we’ve sweated and had fun.

Evening prayer. Adam and I joined an evening prayer group at the church we’re currently attending. As someone who was raised in a non-liturgical church, I continue to be surprised by the beauty of liturgy. Finding a community that prays together is also a delight.

 

Doing

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School. Right about now, I am celebrating my one year teaching anniversary. It feels rather anticlimactic. The kids have spring fever, and I feel like I’m barely hanging on to control. My brain feels like the desk above. I still don’t know how much talking is too much talking, how strictly to crack down on off-task behavior, and how high my expectations should be for how much we can get done in a day. But, on the bright side, these students continue to make me smile. We’ve nearly survived the trimester with argumentative essays and poetry – I think we’re going to make it. Having a day off for President’s Day helped, as did attending a workshop with Donalyn Miller.

Attending a Wild game – for the first time ever. We were in the nosebleeds but had a connection that got us into the club room between periods. It was definitely the way to go.

Hosting a Galentine’s Day brunch. Some friends came over to celebrate Galentine’s Day, and I like to believe Leslie Knope would be proud. Props to everyone who brought yummy food and to Ellen Degeneres for inventing Heads Up – she knew what she was doing.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Adam. He surprised me with Sunday brunch at the Nicollet Island Inn. On Valentine’s Day itself, we made dinner together and went to a dance lesson. I am very lucky to have him.

Attending a performance at Orchestra Hall with friends. Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony was the headlining piece, and it merits repeated listening.

Driving to Fargo and back in one day for a wedding. At least there was good company en route and at our destination. We did get stuck in a snowstorm on the way back – curse you, I-94 – but the audiobook of Macbeth got us through.

What have you been into this February?

Faithful: What Matters in Education (and Life)

faithful. adjective.”Thorough performance of a duty; steady in allegiance; reliable.”

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At the beginning of January, the teachers on my team analyzed the scores from our latest round of standardized testing. I was not entirely pleased. Not because proctoring tests is not exactly my favorite use of my time (ahem), but because there was more red in my results than I wanted to see.

I skedaddled back to my classroom and spent my prep comparing data and brainstorming how to bring nonfiction scores up and having a minor panic that I’m not an okay teacher and my lessons aren’t purposeful and I must have missed something crucial in college even though I didn’t skip class and maybe a real, qualified adult needs to be in my classroom at all times.

Then I forgot to go to a meeting, as one does.

After these solid affirmations of my competency, I turned on On Being for my commute. Krista Tippet interviewed Eugene Peterson, the pastor who translated The Message paraphrase of the Bible. Part of their conversation stuck with me:

“The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness, the smaller and smaller tasks we’re going to take on, because they’re the only ones with which you can be effective. But there has to be a standard that trumps effectiveness. And I have a word that I use for myself that helps me walk this path…that’s the word faithfulness. Faithfulness has to trump effectiveness.”

I cling, very tightly, to the norm of effectiveness.

I realized just how tightly again a few weeks later. My class was reading Arithmetic, a poem about the challenges of math. My quick pre-reading activity was having students discuss their least favorite class. That would get them engaged, I thought. Maybe it did. But as they talked, I heard what felt like a chorus of “ELA, ELA, ELA” across the classroom.

I brushed it off, at first. Later that evening, though, I realized how deeply their responses shook me when I turned teary and resistant to the idea of going to school in the morning. Was this not proof that all of my efforts were for naught? I was working late to grade, trying to plan things that seemed marginally interesting, and sharing snippets of my life so students could build relationships. If no one appreciated any of this, why was I showing up? No one was convinced that the way poets play with language is amazing. No one valued silent reading time. No one liked it. I had failed.

Let’s pause and summarize: I am a teacher who believes that in order to be effective, I must have stellar test scores and all 98 of my students must love every minute of my class. In addition, based on the educational theories I believe, most class time should be spent challenging students to use higher-order thinking to develop real-life reading and writing skills while also making them better citizens.

We have a problem.

I cannot do that effectively. No way.

Recognizing this leaves me leaning heavy on Eugene Peterson’s words: faithfulness has to trump effectiveness.

I still want to know what will create through the roof MCA scores. I want to know how much those scores actually matter. I want to know how to help struggling readers love my class, when every assignment requires intense effort from them. If I knew those answers, and had mind controlling abilities, I might be an awfully effective teacher.

But having all those answers, and all that control, isn’t possible. Being faithful is.

Right now, in the doldrums of February, faithfulness is simple but hard. It looks like continuing to get out of bed on Monday mornings. And Tuesday mornings. And Friday mornings. It means forcing kids to research beyond skimming Wikipedia because I believe that skill actually matters. It means brainstorming reading challenges so more of the munchkins read outside of class, even for ten minutes. It looks like making lessons as engaging as I can, not so my kids will love me but because it’s the best for their learning.

Faithfulness, in my attitude and effort and passion for my kids and my content, will be enough. It trumps effectiveness. For the sake of our students and our careers, it has to.

 

 

 

What I’m Into: January 2017

January. proper noun. The first month of each year, igniting joy and panic and Vitamin D deficiency.

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Despite all the fresh-start vibes most people love, January has never been my favorite month. It’s cold. It’s still dark. It’s lacking in holiday cheer. But there have been many bright spots to this month, too. Read on for some favorites.

Reading

Reading in the Wild – Donalyn Miller. Donalyn talks about strategies teachers can use to create lifelong readers. Her insights were helpful and gave me motivation to read more myself.

All American Boys – Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. This story is told in two perspectives. Rashad is an African American boy who is accused of shoplifting and is beaten by a police officer. Quinn is a white boy who witnesses the beating – and who knows the policeman. The authors navigate a touchy topic with unflinching empathy. I highly recommend this.

Flygirl – Sherri L. Smith. This book tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a fictional WASP during WWII. Ida is African American, but she passes as white to join the WASP. Though it was fun to read about the adventures and challenges of being a woman in a field typically dominated by men, I thought that some of the issues could have been handled in a deeper and more complex way.

Falling Over Sideways – Jordan Sonnenblick. Wow, am I grateful not to be in eighth grade any more. Claire is 14 years old when her dad has a stroke. She navigates the way that changes her family, as well as all the other middle school drama, in a voice that is authentic and especially funny to someone who’s not in that life stage anymore.

The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare. Adam, my boyfriend, would have been a better English major than I was. Case in point: he routinely listens to Shakespeare on his commute. Though I was skeptical that I would be able to follow this story, he passed the audiobook on to me, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I catch while sitting in traffic. Portia is one of my favorite Shakespearean women so far.

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Benet. Imagine if the Queen of England became a voracious reader. This novella tackles that premise with whit and charm. The British accents make it a delightful audiobook.

Currently reading: The Call of Stories – Robert Coles. Cress – Marissa Meyer. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Listening

Audrey Assad – Inheritance. Audrey is the center of my winter playlist, and her newest release is gorgeous and centering.

Spotify Premium. If you see a promo urging you to try 3 months of Premium for 99 cents, do it. Except you might become addicted to music without ads.

Watching

La La Land. This film is everything that I want movies to be: it’s a musical with romance and surprises throughout and thought-provoking ideas and likeable characters including a charming female lead who wears adorable dresses. The ending took me aback and gave me a lot of feelings and made me think about this story long after the credits ended. So basically, go see it.

Rogue One. I decided to live it up and go to this movie on the night Christmas break ended. I questioned my decision a little bit when we got out of the theater at 11:00 pm and a lot when I had weird dreams all night. That notwithstanding, I thought the movie was solid, especially because it broke the typical Star Wars plot model enough to keep things interesting, and it had intriguing themes of self-sacrifice.

The Crown. This show is so beautiful. Everyone must watch it.

Loving

I don’t know if loving is the correct term for this article about the way we approach poetry on standardized tests, but it is thought-provoking.

Batiste Dry Shampoo. Judge if you want, but I don’t wash my hair every day. If I did, it would look and feel like straw. (Staticky straw, in the winter.) With this miracle potion, I can leave my hair down on day 2 and not be grossed out.

Are you burned out of politics? (Still?) (Already?) This reassurance has more grace and beauty than I can muster.

Zumba! My sister and I have started going to classes once a week. We are not gifted in hip-shaking, so we burn extra calories laughing at ourselves.

Doing

Jumping back into the school routine after Christmas break. These days have included mental health trainings, conferences, attempts to make kids interested in poetry, and the daily grind of grading and planning and talking in front of people.

Celebrating my grandpa’s 80th birthday with a weekend trip up north. Grandpa was an excellent partygoer – he tried sushi and saki at the hibachi grill and let us hang out in his hotel room until late, keeping him awake far past his bedtime. We’re so grateful for him and his active presence in our lives!

Time with friends. Some friends gifted Adam and I a double date at salsa dancing lessons for Christmas, which was so much fun! We’ve also played Pandemic with them a few times this month and finally beat the game…at the beginner level…

Attending a performance of Diana’s Garden, an opera from the time of Mozart, at The Ordway. This show tells the story of Amore, the god of love, trying to set the “natural order” of the world to rights by overthrowing Diana, the goddess of chastity. It was entirely a delight. I especially loved the 1950s staging.

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Surviving winter. Some days more successfully than others.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – head to her site to explore more! And please tell me – what have you been into this month?

Save

Open: A Vision for 2017

Open. adjective. Allowing a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked up.

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My 2016 Top 9. Learned: fall, my sister, and the boyfriend are photogenic.

Last year, 2016, was a mixed bag.

(2017 will be, too.)

With this new year has come the realization that, despite the Instagram photos cheering the fresh start, new years are petrifying. This is especially true post-college. What will happen this year? runs through my mind, with all its subquestions: Move? Stay? Read? Write? Succeed? Fail? Grieve? Celebrate? Engaged? Married? None of the above?

I began last year in a similar state. I had just graduated and had one month of student teaching remaining on my calendar. The rest of the year, my future, was entirely and annoyingly blank.

The year filled out, as they always do. I got a job. The situation was serendipitous. And even so, the stretch from February to June was hard. Painfully so. I was in a school I knew, with teachers I trusted, in a grade level I liked. It should have been ideal and wonderful and fulfilling. But mostly, it was not. Mostly, it was hard.

Then came summer. I didn’t get a job. I was mad. And bored. My abundance of free time pushed me into tutoring, into taking field trips around the city with beautiful people of all different nationalities, into joining book groups, into workout classes, into making good from the unexpected. It was exactly what I needed. God knew. I didn’t.

And now, this school year.

There was some magic in this new beginning. My kids are weird and chatty and sweet. They read silently when they are supposed to. They ask bazillions of questions. They make me like teaching, most days. Even when it leaves me tired and frowny, when kids don’t always listen, when grading piles up, when I get stressed by the never-ending cycle of prep. That hope, that the pros might outweigh the cons, is a gift.

There was hope, too, when the boyfriend moved back to Minnesota. I am still giddy over this. It feels like a gift, even now, past the infatuation stage. We disagree, and disappoint, and resolve, and keep working, and his presence remains a delight. And I can see now, too, that being long distance for a season was not a tragedy. It shaped us and strengthened us, (when it wasn’t making me angsty).

Ordinary lessons string all these seasons together. I learned to budget. (This may be the most miraculous thing of all.) A Tale of Two Cities, and the songs of The Chainsmokers and Clemency, and the awesomeness of Hamilton moved up on my Favorites lists. I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of monthly review posts and bought official teacher shoes. The Twin Cities overflowed with opportunities, and I took some of them.

I sit and weed through these mixed blessings, hoping for clarity. My journal fills with scrawled words. What did I learn? How did I grow? What do I carry forward, into the great and wild unknown? What does my same old soul need in a fresher, newer season?

One idea rises: openness.

This year, I have grown good (very good) at creating rhythms, establishing systems, charting courses, and setting goals. I have completed tasks (check, check, check) and capitalized on what I know and what I do well.

It is comforting and sometimes confining.

I stick to what I believe. After all, it is best and true and right and easy. Venturing out of my control, in schedule and ideas and habits and everything, feels risky. So does listening. So does soul-searching. It might shake my solid world and theology; their cores might be hollow.

This sort of living gives me the illusion of control, but it’s a lie. When I sense its power waning, I become defensive, fearful, closed. In sum, not the adjectives I envisioned. Self-preservation is rarely pretty. So, in this new year: I want my spirit to be open.

Open handed, in generosity and sacrifice of self.

Open minded, to new ideas that might (gasp) be better than mine.

Open hearted, to where the Lord might lead as he walks beside me, in both ordinary and extraordinary.

I don’t know all that 2017 holds. (I won’t, until it’s happened.) I do know that the year will fill up, with some good and some bad and much in between. It always does. In these days to come, I want to open my heart, trusting the One who surprises and delights and knows much better than I.

Here’s to 2017, whatever this bright and unknown and unpredictable and open year may bring.