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?

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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.

 

 

What I’m Into: December 2016

December. proper noun. The month of all the celebrations and all the events and all the cheer and all the fun.

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It’s time for the last What I’m Into of…last year! I love looking back over these posts at the end of a year, reviewing all that I’ve read and watched and loved. Here’s one more month’s worth of recommendations and (many, many) events.

Reading

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens. I had never read this full book before, so I was excited to teach this book to my Advanced students (and read a play version to my other classes). There are some beautiful, quotable lines in this familiar story, I loved catching small symbolic moments, and I have gained a new appreciation for the whole tale. It’s one of my favorite novels I’ve taught (in my very limited experience so far).

We are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen. This book follows two perspectives: Stuart, a super smart and awkward boy whose mother has recently died, and Ashley, a girl whose parents just divorced because her dad is gay. Their parents move in together, and the two have to learn to navigate blending a family while they’re also walking through middle school. This book took a more adult twist than I was expecting, but it brought up interesting questions about true friendship, what it means to be mature, and homophobia.

The Memory of Things – Gae Polisner. This book tells the story of a teenage boy in the moments after 9/11 and a girl with amnesia who he finds on the street. The window into New Yorkers’ personal experiences with the crisis was fascinating. I have complicated feelings about the relationship that develops between the two characters – the premise seems too easy, almost like cheating the system. Trauma unites two people who know almost nothing about each other! But I devoured it anyway, and I would still recommend this one.

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Did you know that you can download audiobooks from the library? And they will appear right on your phone? And you can maximize the number of books you read in a month? Though it took me a while to learn to follow a detailed storyline like this, I loved listening to Sherlock and Watson on my commute and while washing dishes.

Watch for the Light. This collection of essays on Advent was beautiful. There is a different essay for every day of Advent and Christmas, and I didn’t read them all…so I’m already excited for next Christmas so I can pick it up again.

Kristin Lavransdatter – Sigrid Undset. I finished Book 2 of 3 in this series? extra-long book? this month, and I’m still not done with this tome. I continue to be surprised by the drama, beauty, and deeper significance of the story, so it makes pressing on worth it.

Currently reading: Reading in the Wild – Donalyn Miller, Flygirl – Sherri L. Smith, Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (audiobook).

Listening

All the Christmas music. My new favorite discovery: A Very Neighborly Christmas by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

I’m just beginning to check out Becoming Wise, the latest podcast from Krista Tippet. They’re sound bites of inspiration, and the short interview with Brene Brown reminded me, in the best way possible, how much my conception of myself is messed up.

Watching

Passengers. I was pretty unsure about the premise of this movie. A ship is destined for another planet, and all of the passengers are put into suspended animation for 90 years. Two of them wake up early. It’s a fascinating (and nightmarish) idea, and I’ve been thinking about the choices the characters made since I watched it. Pros: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are a sort of dream team, and the movie was gorgeously made. Cons: much moral and situational suspense (for me, anyway), and though I liked the ending, I don’t know if it was realistic.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, for the first time ever. (I know. What kind of Christian college student am I?) There was a lot of walking and a lot of fighting. Big surprise. But it did exceed my expectations.

White Christmas. It happens every year and is always so delightful.

Loving

Eddie Bauer Oversized Down Throws. My siblings and I got these for Christmas, and they are the best. They’re lightweight and almost too warm (except there’s no such thing in MN). I’ve been snuggling with it since the 24th.

Lindy hop lessons. The boyfriend and I had a coupon for a free private dance lesson, and we’ve taken a few group lessons as well. It’s been great fun.

Being home for the holidays, and having the boyfriend there too. Even when it results in photographic gems like these.

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Autostart. It should be mandatory in Minnesota winters.

Doing

Co-hosting a Christmas party with the boyfriend. We rang in the season with friends and good food – the best way!

Christmas at Northwestern. My sister performed in her last band event ever (!!!), and it was fun to attend, see my family, and ring in the season at the same time.

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Photo from my mom’s Instagram

Handel’s Messiah. I’d never been to Orchestra Hall or listened to the full program before. I can’t say that operatic singing is entirely my thing, but the choral selections were gorgeous, and the lyrics of the entire thing merit more reflection.

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Seeing White Christmas. The boyfriend’s family had a mini reunion at White Christmas at the Ordway. The production was a delight, and it started snowing (in the performance hall! And in real life!) during the show.

Seeing college friends. We all met up at the Mall of America for Christmas shopping, and it felt just like the old days.

Brita’s graduation. My little sister graduated from college! She’s applying to grad school and becoming a real adult and it’s very strange.

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Isn’t she cute? And grown-up? And hire-able?

Martin Luther exhibit at MIA. The MIA is currently hosting a collection of artifacts from all over Germany about Martin Luther’s life and time. There are some beautiful and fascinating artifacts in the collection – go see it before it leaves Minneapolis!

Surviving the Christmas crazy at school. Mostly. Highlights: chaperoning a trip to the Guthrie to watch A Christmas Carol with students. Some of them got to meet the boyfriend, who volunteered to come with, and their reactions were hilarious. Having four of my boys team up to buy me a book and chocolate for Christmas. Lows: After making it through days of sugar-hyped kids, my immune system decided it had had enough and I caught influenza three days before break. Thankfully I only had to spend one day on the couch before heading back.

Christmas Eve Eve with the boyfriend’s family – his family moved their celebration up an evening to accommodate bad weather, so we filled up on appetizers and seafood. They are very generous with their time with their son, and I am very grateful!

Christmas with my family and the following relaxing holiday – I love Christmas break so much. Other than having a Christmas blizzard, nothing remarkable happened, but the break was full of lovely, ordinary good times. We spent time with grandparents, watched movies, played lots of Settlers of Catan, lounged on the couch for many hours, stayed in pajamas until late in the afternoon, and watched my brother’s basketball game. I avoided thinking about school, read less than I had planned, and ate a lot of cookies.

New Year’s Eve concert. We rang in the New Year with a concert of Broadway hits and Rachmaninoff, then danced to swing music to ring in 2017. It was a celebratory start to the new year!

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Whew. It was a full month – and a full year! Here’s to good books, fun with loved ones, learning, growing, and a bright start to 2017.

As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Check out other What I’m Into posts here!

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Wait

Wait. verb. To continue in expectation; to be in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.

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For the past two weeks, I have been holly and jolly with the best of them. But today my holiday cheer is shaken.

I checked Facebook after work and stumbled upon grim updates from Aleppo. The news from CNN clarified the situation and the horror. Syria and its situation won’t leave my head.

I don’t understand.

I get to sit here, admiring my twinkling lights, chaperoning field trips to plays, and sending group texts between my siblings about Christmas gifts. On the other side of the world, people are running for their lives, ducking bombs, and sending tweets they believe may be their last.

I do a yoga video and feel the tension in my hips, simmer soup, hang laundry, and silently rage at God. Why is this happening? If he is God and he is love, what in the heck is he doing? Why is he allowing children to die, civilians to be used as human shields, and entire cities to be decimated?

This is one of those murky mysteries of faith I haven’t yet learned to navigate without stumbling. How does evil exist if God is all-powerful and good? Why does he allow atrocities to happen? Why do the intercessions of his faithful seem to fall on deaf ears?

I don’t have answers to those questions. Theology class notes and cliché Christian platitudes shrivel in the face of real humans flinching when bombs drop too close. I know we need to trust God. I know he redeems all things. I know he’s saved us from a fate worse than death. I know. But these questions, these Syrians’ faces, still throb in my heart. Those answers don’t seem like enough.

The contrast of Christmas cheer and utter tragedy seems sharpened tonight. Such quandaries feel wrong in this season. Or at least in the way our Western culture perceives it, with Santa and sleigh rides. Jingle bells aren’t mournful, no matter how you shake them.

But the more I ponder, the more I believe that Advent is exactly the season for asking why evil is in the world and what precisely God is doing about it. Advent is about waiting. In Advent, we wait for God to make himself known, for him to join us in the mess that is humanity.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel has been on repeat this evening as I muck around in questions. It’s long been one of my favorite Christmas carols, but it feels especially appropriate tonight. Israel is captive, waiting for release. They plead that God would ransom them from captivity. They beg that Emmanuel would free them from the depths of hell. They beg that their Lord would put death’s dark shadow to flight.

And, most miraculous of all, they try to rejoice while they wait. They believe that their Lord will be faithful. He will not abandon them. He will not ignore their groans of suffering. He will come.

I can only echo these sentiments tonight. Lord, bring release. Intercede. Free us. Come.

A weary world awaits you.

 

 

Goals: Christmas Edition

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

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It’s time for another round of seasonal goals! This practice feels especially important to me during Advent. The season blitzes by every year, and if I don’t prioritize the things I want to do, they easily get forgotten. (Besides, my obnoxious goal-oriented personality doesn’t turn off, even during the holidays.)

Here’s how I’m hoping to celebrate this month:

  1. Finish Christmas shopping by the first week in December. (Because I think/stress way too much about this until I just get it done.)
  2. Attend a holiday concert.
  3. Host (or co-host) a Christmas party.
  4. Drive around to admire holiday decorations.
  5. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life.
  6. Bake Christmas cookies.
  7. Read an Advent devotional.
  8. Write at least one holiday card to someone I value.
  9. Pay for the coffee or food of the person in line behind me.
  10. Bring cookies to my neighbors.
  11. Give a gift to someone in need.
  12. Reflect on 2016 and set priorities for the new year.

My calendar is already full for December, but we’ll see what happens!

Curious about my goals for this fall and whether I succeeded? Here’s the update as the season ends.

  1. Go for a drive to admire the leaves – I took the scenic route down a street with beautiful trees. Close enough for my purposes.
  2. Run outside at least once/week (until it gets too cold) – Meh. I did a few times! But I was not consistent.
  3. Go apple picking…twice!
  4. then make caramel apples or apple cake. I made apple cake AND apple pan dowdy.
  5. Go to a farmer’s market – Did you know there’s a farmer’s market next to the Guthrie? I went there. It was cold.
  6. Go to a football game – I didn’t pay any attention at UNW’s homecoming game…but I was there.
  7. Read outside – I specifically went outside one day so I could meet this goal. Done.
  8. Finish one embroidered quote – Didn’t even start.
  9. Watch a documentary – Hamilton’s America is spectacular.
  10. Get into a (very loose) blogging schedule – Yes! The schedule may fall apart in December, but I lasted through the fall.

8/10 – not too shabby!

What are your goals for this holiday season?

 

Linking up with Nicole at Writes Like a Girl!

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What I’m Into: November 2016

November. proper noun. In which we give thanks, despite the dark and chill of approaching winter.

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It’s time to share what I loved in November! Read on for all the recommendations, and click over to Leigh Kramer’s site if you are nosy about how other people spend their time!

Reading

Fish in a Tree – Linda Mullaly Hunt. A sweet story about a girl with learning differences who discovers how to succeed with the help of a wonderful teacher. A little too happily-ever-after for me, but it might give some kids hope for the future.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon. I “read” this via audiobook on my commute. It follows the story of a boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He discovers that a dog has been killed in his neighborhood and sets out to solve the mystery of who killed him – but he ends up unraveling an entirely different, more personal mystery instead. Getting an inside view into how Christopher thinks was fascinating, and the characters are heartbreakingly broken and real. (Warning: plenty of adult language.)

After Ever After – Jordan Sonnenblick. I started reading this book, about a survivor of childhood cancer, aloud to a class while student teaching and never finished it. Then a student accidentally spoiled the ending for me…so I listened to this audiobook to get the whole story. Jordan Sonnenblick is one of my favorite YA authors – he handles serious topics with humor and insight.

Scarlet – Marissa Meyer. Lately I’ve been avoiding series because they feel like too much work and cliffhanger endings are annoying. I’m making an exception for the Lunar Chronicles since I enjoyed Cinder (the first book in the series) so much. This one, which continued Cinder’s story and added in a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, was also excellent. Don’t let the premise of the series – dystopian fairy tale retellings? – scare you off. It’s not my typical fare and I still adore these.

Currently reading: The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle (audiobook); We are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen; Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.

Watching

Hamilton’s America – As if I didn’t want to see Hamilton in person already. After seeing this documentary, I’m desperate. So good.

The Crown – This new Netflix original about Queen Elizabeth II is gorgeous. It’s like Downton Abbey without the breakneck soap opera drama. I’m three episodes in and have no complaints, only love.

10 Things I Hate about You – I now understand why my sister adores Heath Ledger. Thank you, Brita.

Ladyhawke – My dad has mentioned loving this movie, but none of his children had ever watched it. It tells the story of a couple who is cursed and can never be together – the woman appears as a hawk by day, and the man she loves turns into a wolf at night. It has the same sort of campy feel as The Princess Bride but less of the satire. Be warned: the 80s soundtrack is amusing to millennial ears.

Gilmore Girls. Sort of. I HAVE NOT WATCHED THE NEW EPISODES. NO SPOILERS. I’m still in the beginning of Season 5 and am slowwwly catching up. I might get to the new ones by December. Of 2017.

Listening

Niall Horan – This Town. I don’t hate 1D. Not at all. No shame.

The Popcast podcast is quickly growing on me. I also subscribed to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and catching up on the news is becoming a favorite part of my weekend routine.

Christmas music…I barely caved before Thanksgiving. Just enough to know that you should check out Another Neighborly Christmas by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors and A Pentatonix Christmas.

Loving

This is the single funny thing to come out of the Internet after the election. Cracks me up every time.

Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick. I (like to think that I) am pretty frugal, but I am willing to splurge on makeup that won’t make me break out. I use Bobbi’s tinted moisturizer on most of my face, but I’ve never committed strongly to a concealer. It was recommended that I use their foundation stick as a concealer to cover up occasional cystic acne (and the resulting red spots that hang around forever), and it’s worked amazingly. It’s irritatingly expensive, but I’m praying it will last a long time.

Beef bourguignon from The Recipe Critic. It’s not Julia Child’s recipe…but you can make it in a slow cooker! And it’s frighteningly delicious.

These photos are unexpectedly beautiful.

Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Jo-Jos. Or Candy Cane Jo-Jo ice cream. You can’t lose here.

Apple pancakes from The Original Pancake House. It surprises me every time just how good – and how gigantic – these Dutch-style pancakes are. Bring your family to steal bites from your plate.

Doing

Attending my sister’s last band concert! My sister plays French horn in her university band and graduates in December, so it was a treat to attend her final concert. We snuck in after she prayed to open the concert…but at least we made it for the musical rendition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Seeing an opera for the first time ever. The boyfriend watched The Valkyrie, part 2 of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle opera, when he lived in DC. The Rheingold (part 1 of the series) came to town and he couldn’t resist attending. I expected it to be something that was edifying and cultured but maybe not enjoyable. I was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The music and staging were gorgeous.

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Bad quality photo. Good quality human.

Attending a dinner hosted by Intellectual Takeout. Teachers don’t attend a lot of fancy dinner fundraisers, but when your boyfriend’s office sponsors a table, you go and discover that you, too, can act professional and use the correct fork.

I hosted my siblings for brunch one Sunday, and the boyfriend and I had friends over for dinner later that same day. It’s a good thing I am learning to enjoy cooking and that all of the company was excellent.

Thanksgiving break! My siblings and I made it home in time to make pumpkin bread with my mom’s cutie kindergarteners before my parents’ break started. We proceeded to eat and eat and eat, play many (too many?) rounds of Dutch Blitz, and watch old favorite movies like Nacho Libre and You’ve Got Mail. The boyfriend and I fit in time at my house and his cabin, and it continues to be confirmed that he’s delightful company on road trips.

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School. This month was the month of trying to cram in too much (Write essays! And again! Review connotation! Read poetry! Practice vocabulary in context! Find your missing work!), grading all the writing assignments, and trying very hard to see all the good in my classroom. It’s absolutely there. But I’m also not complaining that we have a teacher work day so I can catch up.

One thing that made me laugh this month: I had a student who was convinced that peacocks were male turkeys. After I tried to prove him wrong, he drew me this.

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My days are rarely boring, that at least is certain.

What have you been into this month? Just as important – what are you looking forward to during the Christmas season? Here’s to garlands and cookies and Christmas playlists!

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Grateful

Grateful. adjective. “Warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.”

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I’ve felt fairly off-kilter this November.

Maybe it’s daylight savings time and darkness by 4:45. Maybe it’s the election (no comment). Maybe I need to start taking Vitamin D again. Maybe it’s this challenging point in the school trimester, where we’re trying to squeeze too much into too few days.

Being me, a person who believes there is a controllable solution for everything!, I figured I could solve this. I could fix my mild discontent, the underlying crankiness that makes me snappy with the boyfriend because why can’t he read my mind yet?, the frustration that builds up when middle schoolers act like, well, middle schoolers, the suppressed road rage that makes me sigh heavily in traffic.

My life can’t be that bad, right? I thought while washing dishes one night and pondering the state of my spirit. I am employed and loved and fed and relatively fulfilled. I must not be seeing all of the good things in my life. Like now. I should be really in the moment while I’m here washing dishes, noticing how good the dish soap smells and how accomplished I feel when the kitchen is clean. Hey. I should write down the little things that make me thankful. Even at school. Even though I don’t have time to go to the bathroom, much less write down more things. But I’ll do it! It will even make a timely November blog post. Look at me, solving everything.

So I set off on my Ann Voskamp-style crusade. (Nothing against Ann Voskamp. Obviously, I liked One Thousand Gifts since I’m using this strategy.) It was a random Thursday, and I decided that gratitude could be fostered on any ol’ day. So I wrote down how thankful I was that students actually make positive comments sometimes and that my 6th hour students are so curious (even though it makes them talk incessantly), and that I’m discovering more teaching strategies that work.

And then Friday came. The thankful list, topped with a smiley face, was sitting nearly on top of my keyboard.

I didn’t think about it all day. I definitely muttered complaints to myself when things didn’t go exactly as planned. (This happens approximately every 5 minutes.)

A blog post I read recently quoted Annie Dillard, who says, “The world is fairly studded and strewn with unwrapped gifts and free surprises…cast broadside from a generous hand.”

Remembering to unwrap those gifts, so generously given, is hard.

Our nice Christian blog posts make it seem like it should be so simple. Just look around you! See the good in the world! Be joyful! Get over your first world problems and think about how #blessed you are!

When I don’t find these blessings at first glance, it feels like I’m a lesser Christian woman. At the very least, I should not be allowed to write about faith. How dare I not find beauty in every sliver of the world and rejoice about it always.

But this practice of hope, of finding gifts in the world, of gratitude, is not so sugar-coated. It’s right at home in a world that’s busted and a heart that’s rough around the edges.

It is easy to bemoan all of the ways our worlds fall to bits. This year alone has shown us so much that is dark and tumultuous and fearful and ugly in the world. At school, all of the distractions and redirections and miscommunications are much more obvious than the times my kids listen and positively contribute. In my own cranky soul, I see far too much selfishness and greed and ego and anger and pettiness.

There are absolutely times to see those things and mourn them. Far too often, we slap a spiritual Band-Aid over gaping wounds and make ourselves move on. Even in this season of thanksgiving, I don’t want to shut my eyes to that bad stuff and pretend it’s not there. God encourages us to lament all that is imperfect.

But right now, I know I need to face the ick, in the world and my own heart, and believe that God is still there among the wreckage. He is still surprising us with beauty and giving us grace. Seeing his gifts is one way we move forward, closer to his light and his hope. Even when we’re scared for the future of our nation. Even when we’re lacking in Vitamin D. Even when we’re cranky too much of the time. Even when the world is broken.

The harder the practice of gratitude is, the more we need it.

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I lovingly forced my students to foster hope and gratitude this November with our Thankful Tree. Every Tuesday, we wrote a few things we were thankful for on leaves and taped them to a construction paper tree in the back of the classroom. Here are some of my favorites:

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This is what happens when you tell students they can’t talk about politics anymore. I don’t entirely share the sentiment, but it does make me laugh.

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SSR = sustained silent reading. Me too.

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I work in a public school. I love this extra.

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These kids are honest and funny and they make me smile. That’s something I’m thankful for.

There’s more: Autostart in my new car. Leftovers. Good books. Yoga videos. Comfortable shoes. Laughter. Family members who are my friends and friends who feel like family. Long weekends. The small thrill of having a full tank of gas. Pajamas. Audiobooks. Cold glasses of water. The satisfaction of crossing items off to-do lists. Clean sheets. Lip balm.

Today, it might be a struggle to add to the list. But I’m choosing to see past my tiredness, past the insanity that is a classroom before a long weekend, past the many approaching hours in the car, past the dozens of essays I still have to grade, past the newspaper headlines, and be grateful.

Will you join me?

Adult-ish

Adult-ish. adjective. Describing a person who is becoming more mature and working towards becoming a Real, Certified Adult. When Real, Certified Adult cars are handed out is unsure: legal drinking age? Marriage? Parenthood? I’m confused. You’ll see.

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The current mystery of my universe: I am becoming an adult.

First it was the apartment. Then the sensible shoes. Then the real job, with paychecks and responsibility.

Now it’s the car.

A few weeks ago, I took the final road trip in the Nimbus 2000. I snapped a picture at the gas station before driving onto the interstate. It was awkward.

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Six hours later, we cruised into the dealership together. A test drive was waiting for me.

When I left the keys in that old green Alero, my new car smoothly accelerated onto the highway, my brother tested the Sirius XM trial, my grandpa listened from the back seat, and I felt a twinge of sadness.

There was some misplaced affection for that vehicle.

Three summers ago, I had been desperate for a car to drive to my Ed placements. This one had appeared, in need of repairs but within my very small budget. The name was fortuitous. I was rereading Harry Potter, the car was made in the year 2000, it was my first set of wheels like Harry’s first broomstick – we officially dubbed it the Nimbus 2000 on its maiden flight. The car even came with its own set of curses – a malfunctioning security sensor that randomly delayed its starting, jerky acceleration, strange groans that started coming towards the end.

But I could get myself to Target. I had my own bag of sunflower seeds in the console. Wheels were freedom.

I started driving the long road trips home rather than bumming rides that got me close enough. Harry Potter audiobook casettes and Scotty McCreery played through scratchy speakers. When my sister joined me, she would sleep across Minnesota, then we’d tell stories and pass Angie’s kettle corn across the console. When our brother was there, he put up with our chatter and we filled up the trunk.

The car didn’t start once in the winter, the last night before the boyfriend moved out of the dorms and to Washington, D.C. After I’d called my dad in a panic, she started. We drove around the neighborhood, hunting for Christmas lights, then stopped at a park. We sat on the swings, holding hands, hoping she would start again. She did. Mostly.

After the boyfriend moved, I picked him up at the airport every few months. We’d hoist his suitcase into the trunk and hug in the parking ramp. He always wore his sports coat to keep it from wrinkling, and I stashed the airport receipts with pens and lip gloss in the dash.

Things are different now.

Sometimes the long drives home have company. Sometimes my breaks from teaching don’t align with college vacations, and I spend six hours alone with podcasts. The boyfriend lives closer now. His apartment is a 28-minute trek across the city. The drive still feels too long.

The car is different now.

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It’s called the Firebolt. It’s pretty. It has a CD player. It requires consistent payments, and hopefully not consistent repairs. It starts reliably.

I don’t know what adulthood is, exactly. But it’s beginning to feel like the pursuit of reliability. Reliable income, reliable relationship, reliable car.

If that’s the case, I’m going to fail.

(We all are.)

I used to joke about the required prayers to start the car in the morning, the encouraging dashboard pat when we moved forward at green lights. I thought those would be unnecessary with an upgrade. I thought they’d be unnecessary when I got my life together.

But cars and lives that haven’t fallen apart are miracles. They sure aren’t my doing. (I’m still not convinced I could change a tire.) I can’t guarantee my shiny new car won’t rust or break down. I can’t guarantee my safety or that of those I love. I can’t guarantee my students will learn. I can’t guarantee anything. Except that I will lose control at some point.

Those prayers are still necessary.

And somehow they work. Things break down. We may wreck things. Very long detours and even longer waits in traffic may delay us. But we still arrive where we were meant to be. Maybe stressed, maybe bruised, maybe late, maybe grateful, maybe dead tired. But we get there.

That’s the mystery I won’t ever solve, no matter how adult-ish I become.

 

 

 

What I’m Into: October 2016

October. The month where everyone quotes the delightful Anne Shirley about being thankful to live in a world where such a month exists.

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I’m still reminding myself to not write the date as 2015, and here we are in October. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been loving in this full, beautiful month.

 

 

Reading

Raymie Nightingale – Kate DiCamillo. I want to write like Kate DiCamillo when I grow up. She takes an ordinary girl, an unlikely trio of friends, and baton twirling lessons, and wrings the most poignant of themes from them. Simple and sweet.

 

Rook – Sharon Cameron. This is a many-layered book. The world has been essentially destroyed by technology, so machines are outlawed. Those with enough money to build machines are being systematically arrested and killed under the Razor. The Red Rook, otherwise known as Sophia Bellamy, rescues prisoners from the prison with the help of her brother and friend. Their operation is threatened by suspicions from the deplorable minister of security and by Sophia’s unwanted engagement to a man whose fortune could save her father from a debtor’s prison – but whose mysterious demeanor makes it hard to tell if she can trust him. The plot twists kept me guessing enough that I couldn’t read this before bed, and the setting was an interesting take on typical dystopian worlds – the book read much more like historical fiction than fantasy. One caveat – the book ended just a little too serendipitously for me given what seemed realistic. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and gulped down half of it in one sitting.

A Fatal Grace – Louise Penny. This is the second book in the Inspector Gamache series. Penny’s mysteries are entrancing and explore horrors like murder in a way that doesn’t make you lose hope in humanity. This book also reminded me that I should not read mysteries before I go to bed – not only do I worry that a murderer is lurking outside my window, I also cannot. stop. reading.

 

Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love – The boyfriend and I joined a reading group to talk through this examination of Pope John Paul II’s teachings on love and marriage. We’re not Catholic, but this book has been full of helpful reminders about the depth that relationships should have. It’s not all warm fuzzies and cute Instagram pictures, and that has been such a valuable reminder.

 

 

 

Watching

Henry V in The Hollow Crown series. Out of these movie versions of Shakespeare’s histories, Henry V was my favorite. #henryVforpresident #tomhiddlestonwouldbefinetoo

Zootopia – I’m late to the party on this one (not surprising), but I enjoyed it so much. It’s a story ripe with truth for our culture, with enough simplicity for kids to understand and enough depth for adults to be challenged (and entertained!). For extra insight, I loved listening to The Smartest Person in the Room podcast interviewing Andrew Johnston, one of the writers of this movie.

 

 

Listening

All Sons and Daughters – Poets & Saints album. The whole album is gorgeous, but “Path of Sorrow” is one of my favorites.

 

Us the Duo – (Stop) Just Love. Plus their entire new album.

 

Pentatonix – Misbehavin’. It’s too catchy. I can’t stop listening.

 

 

Loving

All the tears from this video thanking teachers. Though I almost cried when a sweet kiddo gave me dark chocolate with a note about how much she enjoys my class, so my cry-o-meter may be a little off.

Apple cake. I made a family friend’s old recipe for a party, and even my first experimental attempt was delicious.

LOFT cardigans. This one in Lavish Eggplant Heather is my new favorite. It’s more of a plum color than it appears on the website, but it’s cozy and gorgeous and frequently 40% off.

Apple picking. I hit up apple orchards twice this month, once with my sister and the boyfriend, and once on a spontaneous double date with one of our favorite couples. Lessons learned: Always go to u-pick orchards. Corn mazes are hard – way harder than you think. I have good friends. Apples (covered in caramel, in donuts, straight off the tree) trump pumpkins every time.

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Doing

Trip north #1. A friend got married in Switzerland last month and had a reception in our hometown. It was a fast road trip to celebrate with them, but we’re glad we did. Congrats, Courtney and Ben! We wish you a lifetime of happiness.

The boyfriend and I saw Sense and Sensibility at the Guthrie, and it was a delight. We’re similarly delighted with the Under 30 Club. The program allows you to get rush price tickets on the day of the show by calling the box office instead of waiting in the rush line. There are no downsides. Unless you’re over 30, I suppose.

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Attending a lecture on Luther and Art. The MIA currently has an exhibit on Martin Luther and Art, and if you were looking for a way to celebrate Reformation Day (Anyone? Anyone?), you should have gone. It’s around for a while, so you have time if you were busy trick-or-treating on the 31st.

Two housewarming parties – in one night. This introvert does not know how to handle it when both her sister and boyfriend decide to host parties on the same night. Good thing that both of the hosts are delightful.

Trip north #2. The Nimbus 2000 has flown its last. We took our last road trip together over MEA break. Even though that car had been causing me issues (and anxiety), it was bittersweet to leave her behind.

So what am I driving now? Meet the Firebolt.

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I promise, she’s gorgeous when she hasn’t been down gravel roads.

So far, she’s started every time I need her to AND she has a CD player. Thank you to my grandpa for finding this baby for me and offering moral support when I bought her. Andrew, you get a shout-out for coming with us and running all of the errands I asked you to without complaining.

Our friends invited us over for dinner one evening. We got to try freshly hunted duck, and they introduced us to the game Idiom Addict. This English teacher is obsessed.

Concert-going! My college roomie, sister, and I went to a Pentatonix concert featuring Us the Duo.Let’s talk about a dream team. Go back up to the Listening section of this post if you need proof. Or imagine the following song sung as an encore, in the Xcel center, without any amplification or stage lights. I almost cried. That is not an exaggeration.

We were very excited about the entire thing.

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Celebrating Halloween. I’m not huge on Halloween, but when there are $3 Chipotle burritos with friends on the line, costumes are absolutely worth it. We are pretty proud of our last-minute renditions of Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby. Especially because, when we went to W.A. Frost afterward for dessert, someone told us, unprompted, “You look like you came straight out of Gatsby.” Goals = achieved.

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And then there’s school. I’ve been all over the board in how I feel about my job, from LOVING it (Socratic Seminars work! Sometimes lightbulbs go on!) to dead tired (like the morning after long nights of conferences) to frustrated (why do they talk so much?!). Overall, there have been more good moments than bad. The kids are asking to finish The Outsiders, our current class novel, because they want to know what happens. There is minimal complaining thus far. I’ve rediscovered how much I enjoy teaching writing. So we’re hanging in there!

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Pajama day and students who give you candy don’t hurt morale, either

What have you been loving in October?