The Heavens Declare: A Guest Post

I stumbled upon Ashley Hales’ blog a while ago, and I so admire her honesty and the way she reflects on ordinary life. Her blog also creates a beautiful space for other writers to share their work, and I am honored to share a piece there today!

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It happened the way the best love stories do. It was sudden. It was unlikely. It was life-changing. It happened on an ordinary drive home, on an average evening. I fell in love with the sky.

I am not talking about just any sky. My sky hangs over a gravel road, seven miles from the nearest town and sixty miles from the nearest Target. It is almost in Canada, on the prairies of far northwest Minnesota. That is where I grew up. When I describe it, people raise their eyebrows. They wonder why anyone would choose to live in the boondocks, where soybean fields, long winters, and flatness are our strongest assets. We seem far removed from anything of interest, much less beauty. I used to agree with them. That was before I learned to see. That was before I began to love the sky.

Click here to read the entire piece!

 

Goals: Back to School Edition

Goals. noun. The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

In other words: How I’m Going to Stay Sane and Make This School Year Super Fantastically Awesome

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The school nightmares have begun. They started in July, honestly, but now they’re justified. August is disappearing. All the bloggers are beginning to lust over fall layers (stop that nonsense). I am beginning to panic about turning standards and scribbled notes and Pinterest bookmarks into real lesson plans.

As school year prep ramps up, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to teach better this year. My teaching experience barely registers on a resume, but in my 16 weeks of full-time teaching last spring, I learned a lot. I know how to survive this year just a bit better (I think). Here are my goals to make that happen.

Have the best classroom ever. Yeah. Right. Actually, the Pinterest people who have perfect classrooms, where every single thing is color coordinated and bedecked with labels and cutesy font, stress me out. They also must have a side job to fund such decoration, because how. Realistically: have a classroom that is clean, organized, and makes up for a depressing lack of windows. I learn over and over how much my mood is influenced by my physical surroundings, and having a room that looks mostly cohesive and has minimal clutter will make me more sane. Also: avoid the Target dollar section, because their teacher supplies are hypnotizing. All these color-coordinated labels? That are dry erase? For only a dollar? I’ll take 64, please.

Have a life outside of school. I’m hoping for quality time with the people I love (even on weeknights!), tiny adventures on weekends, and one yoga class a week. I think even this introverted teacher can handle that.

Focus on positive affirmation. It was so easy to get sucked into the “This class is too hard to manage, and these few negative students are stealing all of my attention, and my good kids are getting lost in the shuffle” last year. I hate that – kids doing good things deserve affirmation, especially in the weirdo years of middle school. That miraculous Target dollar section had “Student of the Week” awards that will hopefully motivate me to acknowledge all the awesome that happens in my classroom.

Simplify as much as possible. I do not have the personality for a minimalist lifestyle. I do, however, see the value in simplifying non-essential decisions as much as possible. This looks like choosing outfits the night before (from a smaller closet of things that I love, not a bigger closet I simply tolerate), or having a few staple lunch options (either leftovers or salad) and packing them before I go to sleep. Both of these make mornings more streamlined. Awesome. My brain does not make good choices before 7:00 am.

Be kind but relentlessly consistent with behavior management. Mistakes in classroom management I made last year: 3978. Mistakes in classroom management I will probably make this year: 3976. How I’ll lose those two? I will absolutely nail important classroom procedures (like how exactly silent reading time is supposed to look) into kids’ brains early, and I will be unwavering in following through on my classroom consequences plan. I got caught last year saying, “This is the last time…” and then not following through. It made my classroom way too crazy, and it will not happen again. That’s pretty much all I can guarantee at this point.

Stay on top of grading. I love Language Arts. Even grammar. (Especially grammar.) I do not love the grading that goes with Language Arts. It gets worse if I ignore it for a while and things pile up into overwhelming stacks, so I commit that students will get their work back no later than a week after they’ve turned it in.* **

*Even if it’s writing projects. I might need to develop superhuman powers.

**I reserve the right to recant this statement because I may regret everything.

Drink all the tea. Thank you, Jesus, for caffeine and for warm coffee mugs to hold when the classroom chaos begins to rise.

Prioritize what truly matters. In my class: reading things that inspire and challenge, writing to communicate effectively, and creating an environment of respect and growth. In my life: loving people well, and walking more with God each day.

 

How are you going to make this season the best ever?

Home Making

Home Making. verb. The process of creating a space that feels like home. Not to be confused with the stereotypical image of a woman who bakes and does laundry.

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The former view from my bedroom door

I’ve been hanging pictures this week. I am settling into a new apartment, and arranging, and rearranging, and doing creative (code: weird) things like hanging lockets from walls is part of my home-making ritual, the way I mark my territory. I ponder whether there is too much white clustered together, and whether those similar shapes need to be separated, and if I’m doing it right. While browsing Pinterest for inspiration and trying not to be overwhelmed, I see The Nester’s motto: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

This is reassuring. No recent college grad, on a teacher’s salary, with an inclination towards vintage quirkiness, is going to have the perfect apartment. The perfect gallery wall does not exist: buy all pieces to coordinate and it looks factory-ordered (and costs an arm and a leg); use what you have and there’s always one awkward space that messes with the symmetry. The pursuit of a perfectly clean kitchen is futile, because snacks are too important. But none of the clumsy nail holes or crumbs on the floor mean that the spaces where we live aren’t beautiful.

As I sift through the memories I left in my old apartment when I moved out last week, this mantra feels right. That space was far from perfect. But moments in it were beautiful.

My roommate was living hours away when we were searching for a home, so I toured the apartment myself. I was leaving four years of dorm dwelling and had low standards. I knew nothing about apartment hunting, other than to turn on the taps to see if the water would run and that my budget was barely anything. Thus, we lived in a basement with a charming view of a garage. Laverne and Shirley, the 70s TV characters who yelled out their basement windows at passersby, would have been proud. Then we hung pictures and turned on lamps and put down rugs. It started to look more like a home. When we invited people in, it began to feel like it.

Two girls came over almost weekly. We navigated 1 Corinthians and graduate school decisions and job applications. We sometimes missed meetings, sometimes rushed through on the way to other obligations. But sometimes we curled up in our usual spots (them on couch, me on chair) and had treats and the conversation went deep and when they walked out the door, I felt known and loved.

My family camped out at the apartment sometimes. It wasn’t ideal for getting ready for weddings, with one tiny bathroom counter and no place to set a straightener but the toilet. But we moved around each other, made space. We sat on the floor when seating ran out, passing around pints of ice cream, or chips and salsa, or chocolate pretzel bark, and we laughed. My parents stayed the night once, and seeing my mom tucked into my bed and my dad’s air mattress taking over the living room made me smile.

I hosted dinner for friends in our apartment once. I started cooking in a frenzy after school, and the boyfriend ran late with the appetizers, and I scorched the green beans because of bad advice on the Internet. But we used a tablecloth and arranged the dishes. When they were empty, we lingered, laughing, around the table. We went out for dessert and returned, glowing, not bothered by the dirty plates and pots.

When the boyfriend came to visit, we stopped at the apartment. After dropping him off again, I returned to my room, saw the pictures of us together, and cried. The hard conversations ricoched around the living room and lodged in my chest. But the middle times were golden. We ate peach and strawberry tart, after midnight. On the couch, our feet touching, we talked of eternity and of lives worth living. The fish sauce we used while cooking pad thai made us run for windows and fresh air, and laugh.

In transitions, I am always restless to feel settled. I want to hurry the work of laying down roots and carving my name. But this work cannot be rushed. Making a home requires more than a trip to Ikea and a frame hung just so. It takes time, and good luck at thrift stores, and love.

It takes the picture of your family, that time at the state fair when you laughed yourselves into tears at the karaoke stand, in a dollar store frame. It takes the chalkboard with the quote selected for the season. It takes the mirror leaning up against the wall where you checked your hair before leaving for weddings and birthdays and school. It takes the forks and spoons and knives you put in drinking glasses because you couldn’t find a sorting tray to fit in the tiny narrow kitchen drawers and you couldn’t bear to jumble them all together. It takes ignoring the weird smells in the hallway but saying hi to the one man who smokes every morning when you leave. It takes the phone calls from that chair, those people on the couch, that hug while the pot boils on the stove, those celebratory dance moves around the kitchen after phone calls with job offers, those shoes kicked off by the door, those pages read under that blanket.

It is imperfect, and it is beautiful.

July (2016)

July. proper noun. Pretty much the best month ever. It’s made for celebrating.

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July is my favorite month. It’s also the month that disappears so dang quickly. But we all know that against the odds, summer will last forever. Obviously. The end.

While I try to remain in that state of suspended disbelief, here’s what I’ve been into this month. As always, check out the link-up at Leigh Kramer’s site for additional recommendations!

 

Reading

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Still Life – Louise Penny. This is the first of the Inspector Gamache mystery novels, and it will absolutely not be the last one I read. A resident of a charming town in Quebec is murdered, and the investigation influences the entire community. The story was intriguing and character-driven and not gory – everything a mystery should be.

Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson. I read mostly of this during an evening that also included a torrential thunderstorm and a power outage. Jenny Lawson makes me snort-laugh. Even when I’m reading by headlamp. She advocates for those who suffer from mental illness with honesty and an amazing, ridiculous sense of humor.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens. I didn’t want to read this book. I attempted Great Expectations in high school and couldn’t get into it, so I avoided Charles Dickens until my 2016 Reading Challenge made me pick a book that intimidated me. I’M SO GLAD I TRIED THIS. I finished this book on the morning of my birthday, in bed, and I read the last page three times over because it was so beautiful. I could write pages and pages on all the layers of this story. A new favorite.

Meet the Austins – Madeline L’Engle. My new life goal is to join the Austin clan and move in to their grandpa’s seaside stable full of books. This book is nothing more than episodes in the life of the Austin family, and each is delightful. Madeline L’Engle is the only writer in the world who could pull this off.

Essentialism – Greg McKeown. This book teaches “the disciplined pursuit of less,” not in terms of possessions, but in terms of time management. McKeown encourages people to determine what is essential and to use their time for the things that matter most while saying no to merely good options. I have complicated thoughts about this book. His principles seem most helpful for business people or those who have more flexibility in how they structure their time than teachers do. Sometimes this mindset also seemed selfish – there will be occasions when you need to do things that aren’t in the best interest of your own time management because you are not the center of the universe. However, I was inspired to make sure I have strong priorities in place, both in my classroom and in the rest of my life, as a good framework for making decisions. McKeown also emphasized how his work has led him to prioritize things like family, rest, and play, which is a message I can support wholeheartedly.

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton. One of the most beneficial things I’ve done this summer was join a reading group to work through this book. I wouldn’t say that Chesterton is particularly approachable – his writing is meandering and sometimes obscure. But he has some fantastic metaphors, and thanks to discussions with my group, this book has left me with some striking ideas about how poetry and wonder are necessary for faith.

Currently Reading: Redwall – Brian Jacques

 

Watching

Finding Dory – I was so nervous that I would be disappointed by this movie. I wasn’t at all. It kept all of the fun of the original without being too similar. Baby Dory is also the most adorable animated character I have ever seen.

The Secret Life of Pets – Cute. Fluffy. Made me want a puppy. (Also. The actress who plays Mona Lisa in Parks and Rec is the voice of the lead female dog, and it is wacky.)

Hello, My Name is Doris – I went into this movie expecting a light-hearted comedy. After all, it’s about how Doris, a socially awkward older woman, develops a crush on a coworker (played by Schmidt from New Girl!). This wasn’t light-hearted, and while it had some funny lines (and funny-looking outfits), it wasn’t a comedy. The situation could be amusing, but Doris is so earnest in her pursuit of the guy that it’s not. Overall, it was uncomfortable.

Fixer Upper – This is not the summer show I expected to love. But I want Joanna Gaines to be my best friend. I also want to see what she could do with a rental where she’s not allowed to paint or take out walls or put up shiplap.

Sherlock – I am only one episode in. But oh, Benedict Cumberbatch. I did not previously understand people’s obsession with him. It’s beginning to make sense.

 

Listening

Simply Happy podcast for TED radio hour. Some fascinating perspectives on what makes us happy.

The Liturgists podcast Episode 34 – Black and White: Racism in America. This month was a tough one, in our city and around the country. It will take brave, honest conversations like this one for healing to begin.

Some Kind of Love – Charlie Puth.

 

Loving

Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered graham crackers with sea salt. The longest name for the most delicious snack.

The world is not what you think, according to this article.

This thai quinoa salad. I wanted to eat the entire recipe in one sitting.

Aldi. Yay cheap groceries. I had never shopped there before this month. How did I survive college without it? I’m beginning to wonder.

Outdoor yoga classes. They are keeping me sort of fit and mostly sane.

 

Doing

Going to the lake! The agenda rarely varies (eat, read on the dock, swim, eat more, nap, kayak, roast s’mores, look at stars, watch movies, stay up too late), but it hasn’t gotten old yet.

Surviving without power for three days. It could have been worse. I could have gotten groceries the night we lost power, and I could have returned the headlamps I had borrowed for camping in a timely manner. Sometimes procrastination pays off.

Going to the Lion King. My parents treated me to the show as an early birthday present, and it was magical. The music and the staging and the costumes are incredible. It’s not too late to go see it (if you live in the Twin Cities, that is), and YOU SHOULD.

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We only have terrible quality pics because we didn’t have time for pics during daylight hours and because my parents were still learning to effectively use their iPhone cameras. (As an aside, my parents got iPhones. This is a big deal for the people who are practically Amish.)

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My early birthday celebration also involved this. We had fun candles. We did not have cake. My parents were bringing me homemade bread and think they’re funny. (They sort of are.)

Hanging out with the boyfriend. He came back to Minnesota for a wedding, and then we spent some time with his friends and family at their cabin. I will never get sick of sailing with that boy.

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Partying! For my birthday, that is. I spent the day doing exactly what I wanted: drinking Izzy for breakfast, reading in bed, eating Punch Pizza for lunch with my sister, wandering through a stationary store, talking with my favorite people, roping some friends into joining me for a waterskiing show and dinner. Here’s to another year of life!

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The Copper Hen is delightful. These friends are delightful.

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Brita makes this flourless chocolate cake every year for my birthday. Just another reason I love her.

Field tripping. I’ve been volunteering with an organization that takes non-native English speakers on field trips around the Twin Cities. We’ve been to the Minnesota Historical Center, KTIS radio station and Northwestern, and The Minneapolis Arts Institute, and it’s a delight to see familiar landmarks through new, curious eyes.

All the moving. And unpacking. I moved out of my very first apartment and into a new space. I also switched classrooms at school and have lots of boxes to unload. Order is finally beginning to emerge from chaos, but feeling settled is a slow process.

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Adios, #4!

 

Generally enjoying every second of summer that I can.

 

What have you been into this month?

Blessings

Blessings. noun. A prayer asking for God’s favor.

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Normally I share these prayers on Mondays. In light of the headlines this week, I need this prayer now.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

– 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

We are hurting.

The divide in our world, our city, our neighborhood, is great. We see, again and again, in Baton Rouge and Dallas and our own backyard, the effects of fear and pain and our broken, frail humanity.

Our instinct is to rally with our people, to stand with those like ourselves, to breed anger and defensiveness. All of us, on all sides, see our security slipping, and we want to make ourselves great again.

There is a different way. There is a better way.

Remind us that now is the time for love. Real love.

Today, we know a weaker brand of love. It’s pink and fluffy and entirely lacking substance. It is the stuff of rom-coms and Christmas commercials. It is a feeling. It balks when uncomfortable. It shrinks from conflict. It does not withstand courageous conversations, painful silences, or knotty issues. It does little more than make us feel better.

Father, teach us to love radically. Remind us of how you loved. How you treated everyone, from your dear friend Martha to Zaccheus the greedy tax collector to the woman caught in adultery whose life you saved. How you treated us, when you gave up your comfort and dignity and life because we needed you.

Your love pierced to the heart. It showed that you knew us, you heard us, you valued us, and you cared for us. It healed us.

We need your brand of love.

Radical love does not argue. It does not blame. It does not accuse. It listens. It joins brothers and sisters in grief. It serves. It creates wholeness from brokenness.

Even with the best intentions, we will fail to have this kind of love. First Corinthians 13 describes an outrageous love only you have mastered. But imagine if we tried. If we tried to love without boasting, without being self-seeking, without keeping records of wrongs, while protecting, while hoping, while persevering.

There is no other place to start. There is no better place to start.

This week, we watch with devastated eyes the conditions of our world. May we not shrink back in fear, protecting our own with doors and minds and hearts fiercely barred. May your love spur us on, overflowing into a world in desperate need of it.

 

 

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June (2016)

June. proper noun. The month holding the longest day of the year and the start of summer. God bless it.

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I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share all of the awesomeness from this month.

Reading

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh. Another book crossed off my 2016 Reading Challenge list! This book wasn’t entirely what I expected. For one thing, I had always thought Evelyn Waugh was female. He is not. His story follows Charles Ryder as he befriends eccentric Sebastian Flyte and becomes entwined with his entire family and Brideshead, their estate. This is one book that my boyfriend and I read at almost the same time, and it made discussing themes of Catholicism and the dying aristocracy extra interesting. The mini-series has been compared to a more artful Downton Abbey, so I am hoping to find a way to watch it for less than the Amazon price.

Orphan Train – Christina Baker Kline. This quick read pairs the stories of two unlikely women: Molly, a surly foster child, and Vivian, the old woman whose attic Molly must sort through as a community service project. The parts of the story told from Molly’s perspective were fine, but I was fascinated by details of Vivian’s life as an orphan sent from New York to small-town Minnesota. I’d grade it a solid B.

The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater. Every year, the island of Thisby hosts a race in which men ride water horses, fierce predators who come from the sea, and try to stay alive until the finish line. Sean Kendrick, water horse whisperer, has won four years in a row. One year, Puck decides to enter. She is the first girl to ever enter the races, she rides her own horse (who is not a water horse), and she is desperate. It took me a while to be captivated by the story and to piece together essential background information. Then, this book surprised me. For having fantasy elements, it reads more like historical fiction, and the way Stiefvater portrays relationships between characters is striking. I gulped it down in a weekend and found it incredibly satisfying.

Emma – Alexander McCall Smith. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a successful retelling of Jane Austen stories is almost as difficult to find as a single man in possession of a large fortune. This one, like Pemberly, is a rare jewel. All Jane Austen similes aside, this modern retelling of Emma is delightful. It stays true to the essence of the story and adds McCall Smith’s gentle charm. Though I am a snob about retellings, I can recommend this one without sullying my honor.

Currently Reading: Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton; Still Life – Louise Penny.

 

Watching

Love & Friendship – Apparently it was the month for Jane Austen retellings. This brand-new movie follows the plot of Austen’s Lady Susan. As you can tell from the trailer, it is Jane Austen at her sassiest. The plot is not quite as developed as some of Austen’s other works, and it’s no polished big-screen Kiera Knightly rendition. But the wickedly smart lines absolutely make up for it. Go see it.

 

 

Jurassic World – So this is possibly not typical sister sleepover fare. This is especially true if you know my sister or me. But we watched it when Brita spent the night at my apartment (see below) because Chris Pratt. We deeply admire him. After watching the movie, we stalked him on IMDB, as one does. We discovered that he was born in Minnesota, to which Brita exclaimed, “He’s from Minnesota?! We could have married him!” And that is what I learned about dinosaurs.

Okay, maybe I learned more than that. Like: I would like to ride a triceratops, no woman can ever run in heels like that crazy Claire lady, Brita or I would be way better for Chris Pratt than she is, and I make anyone feel like a movie warrior because I actually scream when dinosaurs jump out of the woods.

 

A few episodes of random TV shows, including Fixer Upper (like old-school Trading Spaces and House Hunters had a baby!), North & South, Parenthood, Friends, and Parks and Rec. I am uncommitted to anything as of late.

 

Listening

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake. I have an excellent car dance to this song. It’s epic enough I should have been in this music video.

 

Sit Still Look Pretty – Daya. Preach.

 

This is my favorite recent Adele song. My cool friend Anneliese did a rocking a capella cover of it, but I don’t have a video of it (and she would kill me if I posted it, anyway). This one works, too.

 

 

Loving

This Thai salad recipe. If you want to save yourself a lot of time, just buy an Asian coleslaw mix and skip a lot of chopping. The dressing is fantastic.

It took me a while to get into the groove of summer. This post helped.

I haven’t tried this cookie recipe. I have fallen for Chris Pratt. They’re related, I promise. Just click the link.

When thrift stores turn up gems like a J. Crew gingham shirt and gold Sperry Top-Siders.

This article on the life of the average (tech-obsessed) teenager has me thinking about how to teach today’s students better.

My small group girls, who are there to do things like play board games and take road trips to support one another and order pizza. I am so very grateful for good friends.

 

Doing

On the first weekend of June, one cousin got married and another cousin celebrated her high school graduation. It was a good family weekend, which included such fun as going jet skiing for the first time, antiquing, doing hours of grading on the car ride, learning attempting to do the running man, and getting to ride in the trundle seat of an old car. Congrats to Gretchen and to Zach and Allie!

 

I haven’t been to my childhood Bible camp in years, but my sister and I met up with my mom for a women’s retreat. I still don’t feel mature enough to go to adult events, but hey, the line to go water skiing is way shorter and they have good snacks. The company is great, too. Bonuses: My brother is working at camp, so it was fun to see him, AND my college roomie lives a mile off our route so we caught up with her on the drive.

We. Finished. School. Halleluiah.

I decided to spend a few days at home while waiting for my summer job to pan out. While home, I made serious progress on my college t-shirt quilt, went on walks down gravel roads, and read a lot. I also got a massage. I had so many knots (thanks, teaching) that I was bruised the day after. The time with family was quiet and sweet.

We celebrated Father’s Day weekend at the lake. It was all usual forms of excellence. Except we could not get a photo of the two kids present and their father where all involved looked normal. This one will have to work.

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The park near my apartment featured an outdoor performance of Much Ado About Nothing. It was a delight to watch one of my favorite Shakespeare plays on a perfect summer evening.

My sister and I had big plans to go camping for the first time ever. Everyone whom we have told this goal and who knows us both well has been confused, because apparently nothing about us says “Let’s sleep on the ground, outdoors, with bugs and no electricity!”. We were set out to prove them wrong. Except on the night we were to pack up all of our very essential camping snacks and pitch our first-ever tent, there were severe thunderstorm warnings. So we swam in her apartment’s pool and ordered Chinese and admired Chris Pratt and read magazines and slept on mattresses instead. We excel at sleepovers, at least.

I thought I had great job plans for June! And then things fell apart, just slightly, and I have had more free time than I anticipated this month. It’s turning out to be an okay thing for the sake of my mental and emotional well-being, but it has taken me a while to adjust to not running on stress at all times. I’m finding many creative ways to use this time well, including visiting a cool old library, taking free outdoor workout classes at a park in my area, tutoring occasionally, volunteering for a field trip around Minneapolis with English learners, and boldly going to a Ginny Owens concert by myself. It’s been incredibly good for me. That said, if you need a highly qualified tutor, proofreader, or a babysitter and you live in my area, let me know!

 

What have you been into this month?

Learned

Learned. verb. To have aquired knowledge or skill through instruction or experience.
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Dear Ms. Christenson,

Two weeks ago, you finished your first half a year as a teacher. You are still breathing. Congratulations.

The weeks since you started passed in a haze. You barely remember the last week of school, much less the past few months. (It’s possible that you’ve blocked it out.) But try to imagine yourself back in the public library at the end of February, itching to start. You had just karate kicked around your kitchen when you found out you got the job. You are planning bell ringers and finding clever classroom rules memes. Your anticipation is bubbling over.You currently believe that:

  • You are remarkably prepared. For everything.
  • Your ability to pay attention in your college education courses and create a lesson plan from which kids might maybe learn something means you will automatically be fine
  • All those people who say that the first year is painful aren’t trying quite enough/don’t have good work-life balance/missed crucial chapters in college textbooks/don’t get enough sleep
  • In terms of classroom management, you are a strong, likeable pillar of consistency
  • Your engaging lessons and winning personality and organizational abilities will cause all memory of the teacher whose class you are taking over to be erased from kids’ minds.
  • You will not cry about school.
  • Or take grading home.
  • Or yell at your class.
  • Or have a student who flips desks over on the last day (literally) because his friend is not present.

You will be wrong. About everything. Mostly.

This adventure will not be what you expect. It will be hard. You dread Monday mornings. Wonder if being unemployed is really so bad after all. Cry. Count the days until summer break.

But you will also learn.

You will learn what works for you as a teacher. Playing music when challenging classes enter the room makes everyone – or at least you – feel slightly less vicious. Planning lessons around what you enjoy, like that lesson comparing a Hamilton song with the historical event it describes, will make you enjoy your work more. Posting directions that kids should begin as soon as they enter the room will (theoretically) result in less wasted time. Reading alongside students during silent reading makes them cooperate more. Your instructional style is still developing, but it’s gaining clarity with every class.

You will learn that your job is not to be liked or to entertain. It is to teach. Your students are in your class to learn. Some days the kids might find it boring. Some days the 90 minutes you share with them might drag. Some days they might never want to read another nonfiction article ever again. But when you don’t let them off easily, when you teach them to push through, when you make them work a little harder, they grow.

You will learn (again) the importance of relationships. Your students want to know more about you than why you think grammar is important. They will ask about your boyfriend. They will wonder if you go to church. They will suspect that you are a liberal because you have never praised Donald Trump. They will Internet stalk you and attempt to follow you on Instagram. Once they know you, they may not hate you. A surprising kid will say, as you nearly force him out the door on the last day, that really, you weren’t that bad. One of the bright eighth graders with her head screwed on straight will thank you for being a great teacher.

You will learn that you are not alone. The kids who have gone bonkers in your class are going bonkers for other teachers, too. Friends who are in similar teaching situations are experiencing the same spells of frustration/disillusionment/insanity. People who love you will text you encouragement and let you cry on the phone and tell you that you’re doing fine and give you advice and make you laugh and talk about things other than school with you. You need these people.

You will learn more about who you are and how you work. Having two prep times in one day does not increase your productivity. When your emotions are beginning to rage in the evenings, going for a run or making a new recipe reduces them to a simmer. Writing down bright spots in your day forces you to remember that your life and job are not hopeless.

You will learn that you can do this. Even when teaching is hard and stressful and frustrating, you can still show up and do the work. After a summer of breathing deeply, maybe you can even do it again.

Goals (Summer 2016)

Goals. noun. The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

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I have never been so desperate for summer. It has always been my favorite season, but I am in dire need of rest and release right now. My plans for next Tuesday, when I am finally done with all school responsibilities, are not ambitious. They look like binge-reading and not setting an alarm. But I know that sweet summer will pass oh so quickly, and I am determined to make the most of it, in terms of both rest and adventure. Hence, the return of the goals.

Behold, my summer bucket list:

Visit the Weisman Art Museum.

Attend an outdoor yoga class, because it was one of my favorite discoveries last year.

Relive my childhood and watch Finding Dory in theaters.

I have never been camping (beyond a tent in the backyard) before. My sister and I are going to change that and go camping somewhere beautiful.

I tried (and failed) last year, but I want to make another valiant attempt to slalom.

Go to a concert or movie in a park.

Read a collection of poems. I’m deciding between Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems and Wendell Barry’s This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems, but I’m open to other suggestions!

Eat at Betty Danger’s, because they have a ferris wheel and that’s cool.

Find a summer TV show. Rules: it must be something I haven’t watched before and be worthy of binge-watching. Current options: Parenthood? Friday Night Lights? North & South? Something a brilliant reader will suggest?

I want to keep learning this summer and watch an interesting documentary.

Go kayaking or paddleboarding with the ladies from my small group.

Read a lot. Especially outside. Topping the list is Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (which I joined a book group to discuss), The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and Night Driving by Addie Zierman.

 Make a new summer recipe. Hit me with your best recommendations.

 

Anything I’ve missed? What are your goals for the summer?

May (2016)

May. proper noun. The month when summer is so close, you can almost taste it.

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We’re keeping it short and sweet this month. I’ve been busy, and trying to hold my sanity intact as students get antsy for summer has taken up lots of mental space. The only thing I’ve been consistently good at is making crack broccoli. I’m still posting because routine, thy name is Anna, and because there are still some gems here. If you want further recommendations, hit up Leigh Kramer’s link-up.

Reading

All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven. Enchanting but heartbreaking. School weirdo Finch meets grieving, popular Violet on top of the school bell tower. Violet is contemplating ending her life. Their romance is unexpected and sparkling and tragic. Similar to The Fault in Our Stars, but with mental illness instead of cancer.

Currently reading: Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta; Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh.

 

Watching

I cannot recollect one movie or TV show that I watched in May. This is the truth.

 

Listening

The Sorta Awesome podcast. Megan Tietz and her rotating crew of co-hosts explore all kinds of topics that make life awesome. These podcasts are chatty, but also reflective and informational. I’ve really been enjoying them.

 

Loving

We need less Christianese and more of this.

This delightful summer salad recipe.

Almay Intense I-Color Liquid Eyeliner for blue eyes. I am not necessarily good at eyeliner, but I know that this eyeliner goes on more smoothly than others I’ve tried, and I love how the flecks of gold that make an ordinary brown eyeliner seem prettier. Plus, I can wash this off without eye makeup remover.

All teachers will tell you that this is so true. Especially the end-of-the-year-teacher pic.

 

Doing

Surviving at school. We are ready to be done. I had one kid tell another “You are slowly driving Ms. Christenson insane.” That about sums it up. Except I’m going to try harder to be positive than that. My eighth graders wrote some short stories that are fun to read, and right now they’re in the middle of giving speeches. Sometimes they’re hilarious. My kids actually showed improvement in grammar and vocabulary. And best of all, we only have 5 days left.

Catching up with my boss/mentor from my RA days and getting to see her cutie pie daughter. I love good conversation and entertaining kiddos.

Spending an evening with just my parents. My mom had an appointment in town, and my parents decided to fly out of Minneapolis to surprise my sister while she was on tour with her college band. Before they left, my mom and I got pedicures, we went out for dinner, and my parents helped me grade homework. They should come to town more often.

 

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I discovered later that night that my toenail polish glows in the dark. I find more joy in it than I would like to admit.

Spending a week with the boy in MN. He was an usher in a wedding. I met the bride and groom at their rehearsal (an interesting dynamic) and got sunburned while helping set up at their wedding. We also went swing dancing, discovered that you can effectively use one paddleboard with two people, and spent some low-key quality time together.

Attempting to go dairy-free. I started on a hastily researched whim as an attempt to reduce cystic acne without going on medication, and my highly scientific experiment has told me it hasn’t made the situation worse? It may have improved? I’m still undecided about the whole thing. I do put almond milk in my tea and have an excuse to buy the expensive gelato because it doesn’t have milk in it…but I also eat cheese when necessary (read: too often?).  I may cut out everything dairy for another few weeks and see.

Frantic job applications. I didn’t get the summer school position I was hoping for, and I’ve been scrambling ever since. I am hopeful that I’ve have a solution soon.

Getting a new roommate. I have to admit, I have been incredibly blessed to have found kind rent-sharers on short notice/by miraculous coincidence.

 

What have you been into this month?

Adventure. sort of.

Adventure. noun. “An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” Conditional because it’s not unusual or exciting, most days.

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It’s been quieter here. I’m probably the only one who noticed.

I was going to write a cheery May Goals post this week. I was going to be victorious and cocky because I did every one of my goals for April. I worked out twice a week and checked out the Red Balloon Bookshop and brought my reject clothes to Goodwill and made salad for my siblings and practiced fancy letter formation.

And then I stopped. Because I could think of one goal for May. And going off dairy for 3 weeks as a skin-improving experiment does not an entire blog post make. For this blogger, anyway.

The issue is: life feels hard and ordinary.

I tell those who ask about my job, “Every day is an adventure.” It isn’t a lie. But sometimes it’s an adventure that I don’t particularly want to be on. Sort of like when a camping trip starts off as the cute kind of adventurous, when there are lots of stars and you’re eating s’mores and you should be in an Eddie Bauer ad. But it truly becomes an “adventure” when the bears get into your food and there’s a leak in your tent during a  thunderstorm and there’s that one mosquito that keeps buzzing in your ear and you want to set things on fire.

This current adventure won’t end for too long. There are four weeks remaining of school, and I have hours left before I’ll be scraping the bottom of my energy reserves. I’ve been avoiding writing, trying to form neatly processed thoughts on this season, because the challenges haven’t changed. The kids are still crazy. Maybe more so, with the sunny days when they beg to go outside and get less than the usual little done. I haven’t slain the dragons that slither through my classroom when the desks are empty and hiss that maybe I’m bad at this. Maybe my classroom management sucks and will always be pitiful. Maybe I’m incredibly boring even though I’m trying to keep kids interested. Maybe my seventh graders are reading this because they continue to Internet stalk me, and they’re nodding and saying “Yeah, really, Ms. Christenson, you are terrible. Your class is lame, and we don’t really like you.”

I know, I know, I know. This isn’t true. My boyfriend tells me every time I talk to him. A kid in my hardest hour asked, “Do you complain about us to your boyfriend?” and I tried to skillfully avoid the question because I do. And he’s nice and tells me that I’m trying and that I haven’t stopped caring and that middle schoolers are crazy weirdos and it’s not my fault. My parents say the same. They say it will get better. Some days I believe them.

I saw a college friend at church last week, and I asked him how teaching was going. We both started in the middle of the year with similar situations. “It’s so hard,” he said. And I exhaled and nodded because it is. He said that he’s not getting through things, that he doesn’t like how he responds to the challenges of keeping a classroom under control, that he’s so ready for the year to be done. Me too. This is the hardest dang adventure.

There’s this quote I keep seeing. It says: “Are you living just a little, and calling it a life?”

Right now it makes me sigh. This teaching thing is supposed to be a profession where we make a difference! and inspire! and do something that matters! Instead I spend my days saying life-giving words like “You need to stop talking,” and “Take your seat,” and “Take your headphones out of your ears” and “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP YELLING. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?” (internally).

It feels like living just a little. We are not having interesting conversations. We are not diving deeply into literature. We are barely even getting in good directions and effective modeling because they interrupt me too much. It is the adventure of can we survive this day without the teacher losing her mind.

At the end of a day, my life feels so full. I’ve emptied myself, and I end on the couch, hoping for just 10 more minutes to recharge before I have to begin again. But I wonder if I am living just a little. I don’t know how to make it a life. I don’t know how to fix these challenges. I don’t think I can.

All I can do: show up. Drink tea, every morning. Try not to count the days until summer (try). Be kind even when I want to yell. Keep trying. Keep caring. Keep hoping that someday (maybe) this will turn from fight-for-survival adventure to the kind that’s fun. The kind that builds a life.