Classroom: 10 Tricks That Keep Me Sane

Classroom. noun. A place of learning (I hope!) and where I spend a large portion of my life.



Welcome to my classroom!

Confession: I’m a novice teacher, with an entire half a year of experience under my belt. I’m not sure you should take my advice.

But… I’m willing to risk it. I love seeing what other teacher’s classrooms look like, especially if they aren’t Pinterest perfect. My room sure isn’t – attainable (definition: so easy a beginner could come up with it after an hour of Internet searching) is more my style. And my very attainable set-up and organization this year have worked well – I’m happy, at least, and the students haven’t complained. So, without further ado, here are 10 things that are streamlining our lives in ELA 7 and preventing me from going crazy.

whole room.JPG

1. Lamps and extra lighting. Oh, the horrors of overhead florescent lights. I had to turn them on to take photos, but when kids are in the room, we have only one of three light switches flipped. Two lamps and Christmas lights brighten things up and keep the room cozy. I have not once regretted spending $14 on lighting.

2. Numbered desks. Student desks are arranged in pods.  Each desk in each group has a number that’s written on the corner in Sharpie paint pen. I can tell #2s to turn in their pod’s work or #4s to record answers for group discussions. It’s makes everyone feel like they’re getting a fair deal and streamlines classroom procedures. (In theory) the paint pen comes off easily at the end of the year. I am so glad I overheard a teacher in the lounge talking about this strategy last year, because I LOVE it.


3. The supply shelves. Note the basic “I ran out of ideas for bulletin boards, so here’s a poster,” weekly agenda, and instructional posters in this photo as well. Having all supplies that students can use centralized on these shelves simplifies everything. The boxes hold students’ journals, our class set of whiteboards, and copies of logic puzzles that students are allowed to work on when they’ve finished assignments. The drawers hold index cards, extra loose-leaf paper, construction paper, whiteboard markers, and clipboards. They might get labels…by December…maybe.

back wall.JPG

4. Supply buckets. Each group of desks has its own bucket of colored pencils. Goodbye broken pencils strewn across the floor! Highlighters used to be included in the buckets, but did you know you can build a tower of highlighers while listening to an audio recording? And all your friends will catch on? And then the highlighters will earn their own bucket because your teacher isn’t an idiot?


5. Our very very loose Adventure theme. I have some things from my own travels around my desk, but these posters are the decoration “focal point.” Applying that term is a stretch. Please don’t look too closely at the slapdash (but free!) “frame” of black chart paper, attached to the poster with sticky tack, then stuck to the wall with magnets. I do love this theme, and these posters, though, and that’s what counts.

rules.jpg 5. The inherited in/out boxes. Piles all over my desk stress me out, and this tower keeps all those assignments organized and out of sight. The trays at the bottom hold extra materials. Students get to dig through the drawer when they’ve lost something.

Other stuff: The white milk crate on the floor is our lost and found. The magazine holder has book reviews, which students fill out and tape into their journal every time they finish a book. In theory, the black tray on the table is for absent work. This is a nice concept, but I am atrocious at updating it. I have, at least, been keeping a paper copy of attendance. Seeing who was gone for what assignment is now SO MUCH easier. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had to strongly enforce those classroom rules laid out on the poster yet. However, I can sense that the time is coming. Soon.

teacher corner.jpg

6. All the paper organization on ye ol’ desk. I am high maintenance about order.



A very recent update: binders with resources and materials go right behind my desk. Easy access (i.e. not having to get out of my chair) means I actually look at them – and, on good days, file stuff in them.

papers.JPG The giant mail organizer is partly organized by day of the week for each of my preps – see fancy masking tape labels. It has worked wonders. The rest of it holds random stuff that I need on hand but haven’t found a great way to organize yet. I hate filing, so the upright organizer accumulates things that I’ve collected for each class period and materials that need to go into my unit binders. The expanding file folder is golden for transporting grading home – I try not to do it too often, but it happens.


7. A clean desk. (This is not clean.) During the day my desk mostly looks…worse than this.  I am, however, enough of a weirdo that I clean it off every single afternoon before I leave. Things that help: I’m attempting to put my copies of answer keys and such and all handouts for the day into the stand-up organizer so I don’t set them down randomly/have to give kids a marginally content-related discussion question while I go on a mad hunt. It works better the more I do it. That purple binder has class lists in page protectors for easy note-taking. I keep class lists and weekly attendance sheets on a clipboard, which is buried in this photo. Taking out a binder each hour is legitimately too much work.

8. The cup of #2 pencils is for students to use. (See metal cup and purple/white sign in above photo.) They have to leave a phone/iPad or shoe as ransom so they don’t forget to return the pencil. This cup is nearly full a month in, so I’d say it’s working!



9. The cell phone sign. Red = no phones, yellow = headphones allowed, and green = phones allowed for academic reasons. The signs are stuck to the front whiteboard with a magnet. Students take them very seriously and remind me to change them if I forget.



10. Book recommendations.  I put bored students in my homeroom to work making this poster of books I’ve read recently and would recommend. It helps me think of recommendations, and I’ve already heard students discussing the merits of the books on it. I’ll add to it as I read more. This idea was borrowed from other awesome teachers on my team.


Things I gave up on: Keeping track of every book in my classroom library. Alphabetizing the classroom library. Basically, the classroom library. Perfectly backing every learning target sign with coordinating construction paper and laminating them. (Taking advantage of bored students during advisory is worth messy posters.) Keeping those pods at perfect angles.

Things I’ll continue: Keeping a secret chocolate stash. Making kids pick their paper scraps off the floor. Trying new things. Creating a place where students can learn and grow.


What am I missing? What are YOUR best classroom tips?




Goals: Fall 2016 Edition

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


It’s high time for the next round of seasonal goals! My summer goals were helpful in getting me off the couch and trying new things (see the updates below) – hopefully these fall goals will do the same!

Fun fact: I had one of my classes make 4 simple goals they could accomplish in 2 weeks and blog about it on our classroom site. One girl made a goal to go pumpkin picking. On the night of the due date at 8:00, she realized she hadn’t gone yet and dragged her entire family to a pumpkin patch. Hopefully my own goals inspire the same sort of devotion.

Go for a drive to admire the leaves – Fall is just depressing without this element, and there are places within easy driving distance where the leaves are gorgeous.

Run outside at least once/week (until it gets too cold) – My workout routine has fallen to pieces since school started. This will get me back on track AND outside before the snow flurries begin.

Go apple picking…

…then make caramel apples or caramel apple cake – Because yum.

Go to a farmer’s market – Specifically to buy a pumpkin. And maybe fall flowers. Plus veggies. So basically all the things.

Go to a football game – In my hometown, the entire town showed up at the football field on Friday nights. It’s not quite the same when you’re not in high school, but catching one game a season is still fun.

Read outside – I have a patio. I sit inside all day. I have no excuse not to do this.

Finish one embroidered quote – There’s a spot on my wall that’s been bare and waiting since I moved this summer. It’s time.

Watch a documentary – Learning new things sparks interesting conversation and stretches my brain outside of its usual 7th grade English confines.

Get into a (very loose) blogging schedule – Each month, I aim to post one post about teaching, one What I’m Into post, and one random post about whatever else is on my mind. This sounds boring! and easy! until I look at how much unscheduled time I actually have.


Summer goals – The Official Updated List!

Go to Weisman Art Museum – My sister and I stole an hour here. Modern art is often hit or miss with me, but there were a few pieces I found interesting.

Attend an outdoor yoga class – I definitely took advantage of all the free outdoor fitness classes in my area, and by the end of the summer I could see my abilities progress.

Watch Finding Dory in theaters – It was charming!

Go camping – My sister and my plans in June were thwarted by severe thunderstorms, but I made it to Lake Pepin later in August. It’s such a beautiful part of the state! The effort of camping – the packing up your entire life to sleep on the ground without electricity – is slightly overrated, but it was a fun adventure.

Attempt to slalom – I gave it a valiant attempt at the beginning of the summer, but alas. I’ll do some more balance work and put it back on the list next summer.

Go to concert or movie in a park – My sister and I went to Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, on the perfect summer evening. It was absolutely delightful.

Read a collection of poems – I picked up Wendell Berry’s This Day: Collected Sabbath Poems, but I only read a few of them before the summer ended. I’m attempting to read one while I eat breakfast, so this is a work in progress.

Eat at Betty Danger’s – We tried to get reservations here twice, to no avail. I got to check out The Copper Hen and Aster Café instead, which are excellent consolation prizes.

Find a new summer TV show – Fixer Upper won the day!

Watch a documentary – Didn’t even attempt. I did listen to a lot of podcasts?

Read Orthodoxy, The Tale of Two Cities, Cinder, and Night Driving – I joined a reading group to work through Orthodoxy, which challenged me to grow in both personal and intellectual ways. The Tale of Two Cities is now one of my favorite books, and I have been able to connect with multiple students over our shared enjoyment of Cinder. Night Driving is still on the list.

Go kayaking or paddleboarding with the ladies from my small group – prevented by a last-minute hiccup. Next summer!


What are your goals for this season?

What I’m Into: September 2016

September. proper noun. The month in which  Joe Fox would sent us a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if he knew our names and addresses.

summer wheat.jpg

I blinked, and September was over. It was a whirlwind of new beginnings and discoveries. Here’s what I loved during this full, tumultous, beautiful month.



Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins. A most delightful book in which very little actually happens, but what does happen is told in such a charming way that it won a Newberry Award. This book contains the ordinary, overlapping stories of a group of middle school students. The descriptions of the characters’ thoughts made me laugh, because they are spot on with my 7th graders.

The Crossover – Kwame Alexander. It makes me so happy when my students pick up this book. (Maybe that’s just because it makes me happy when they take my book recommendations in general.) It’s the story of an 8th basketball player told in hip-hop style poetry. The language is sizzling, the characters are real and relatable, and the story ends in a completely unexpected way.

The Gilded Years – Karin Tanabe. This is a fictionalized account of how Anita Hemmings, a black woman, passed as white in order to attend Vassar College, a valiant effort. It’s an intriguing premise, and I loved the setting. However, I never quite connected with Anita’s character. She seemed too passive, and when she goes along with a decision that will obviously have terrible consequences, I decided finishing the book wasn’t worth my time. If anyone read and loved it, convince me I should finish the last half.

Dead End in Norvelt – Jack Gantos. Jack gets grounded for the summer, and is only allowed out of his yard to assist an old woman with writing obituaries for the local paper. This book’s tone is similar to A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck – it’s is full of small-town stories that seem ridiculous when retold, but which somehow have an air of possibility when you’re reading them.

Raymie Nightingale – Kate DiCamillo. In order to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire and bring her father back to their family, Raymie takes baton twirling lessons. She meets unlikely friends and learns what it really means to do good deeds. DiCamillo tackles heavy issues, like absent fathers and poverty, with gentleness and grace. A hope-filled way to introduce kids to challenging issues. I want to write like Kate DiCamillo when I grow up.

Kristin Lavransdatter (part I) – Sigrid Undset. The boyfriend sent me this book last spring, but I’m just tackling it now. It’s a coming of age story centering on Kristin, a young girl living in 14th century Norway. Kristin falls in love with a man who is not her betrothed, and the scandal thickens as the story goes on. This was not at all what I expected from a book written in 1920 by a Nobel laureate – there’s much more intrigue and seduction (!) and surprise. The story moves quickly, the writing is matter-of-fact but beautiful, and I enjoyed it enough that I’ll check out the sequel very soon.

Currently reading: The Justice Calling – Bethany Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson; Rook – Sharon Cameron.




The Hollow Crown. The boyfriend and I have been watching through this series, a BBC adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. I appreciate Shakespeare infinitely more when I watch it instead of read it, especially because this version has an amazing cast (I now understand the Tom Hiddleson buzz) and is so well done.




Walk Off the Earth’s cover of Closer. Their covers are wacky but wonderful. Watch for the surprises. Their cover of Hello is also brilliant.

The Smartest Person in the Room podcast, where Laura Tremaine interviews experts on their work. She’s currently posting on Hollywood experts like producers, directors, and security guards (one of my favorite episodes), and it’s a fascinating peek into an entirely different world.

A lot of NPR… I am becoming my mother, and the Weekend Edition of NPR is one of my new favorite things.




Stylebook app. This app is supposed to streamline your closet. Once you take pictures of all your clothes, it has a bazillion features, like a Looks page to put together outfits, a tool for price-per-wear analysis, and a calendar to schedule your outfits. I’ve only used the Looks element to keep track of outfit ideas, but it’s been so helpful for storing inspiration from blogs or Pinterest that I would otherwise forget. Fair warning, taking pics of your clothes is a bit of work on the front end, but if you see it as an opportunity to clean out your closet, it’s worth it.

Having a boyfriend in the same state! After being long distance for a year and a half, being able to scout bookstores, cook dinner, get ice cream, try new churches, read, and take walks together has been utterly delightful.

The bullet journal. This journaling/organizational method turns a basic notebook into your own customized planner. I’ve been using a calendar with blank pages at the end to keep track of meals, outfits, and adulting to-do’s each week. I’ve discovered that making a bunch of decisions at one time, and having all the information in one place, is making my life simpler. I use a modified version to keep myself on track at school as well. This tutorial was helpful for getting started.

The blog project my Advanced class is doing. I get to focus on writing with my Advanced kids this trimester, and we’re doing a blog project to practice writing in a variety of different genres. So far we’ve only done an About Me post and a goal-setting activity, but it’s been an awesome way to get to know students, give them some creative freedom, and teach them about writing for a real audience. They seem to enjoy it as much as I do!

My school. This month has reminded me that I am incredibly blessed to be working at such an amazing school. One example of many: I had car issues one day, and I had at least three teachers check on me, one leave me chocolate, and one offer to follow me home and pick me up the next morning.




Teaching! We kicked off a brand new year, and so far no one has died. Actually, things are going quite well. We’re hitting grammar hard, the kids are just starting to read The Outsiders, and at least one student thinks I’m 30 years old. I’ve had more moments of “wow, I really enjoy this” so far this year than all of last year combined, which seems like a good sign.

Heading to the lake one last time. My sister had a whole crew of friends to our cabin for a weekend at the beginning of September. I was almost incapacitated with tiredness – that first week of school is rough – but it was lovely to squeeze in one more round of waterskiing and sunshine.


Attending a talk on medieval Christianity with a local Christian scholarship organization. This is not typically my area of interest, but when you date a history major, sometimes you attend events that end up surprising you. We’ve joined two reading groups as well, and it’s been good for me to meet new people and read outside my usual fiction zone.

Celebrating 2 years of dating the boy with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream. Those early days of library study dates and almost breaking visitation hours seem so long ago! I’m so grateful for him.

Watching my alma mater’s homecoming game. Well, sort of. My siblings and I stood on the sidelines and talked and occasionally paid attention. I got a free t-shirt, so I officially feel like a graduate now.

Screen shot 2016-10-03 at 9.40.37 PM.png

PC: Brita/the photobooth

Avoiding renter’s tragedy despite a serious ceiling leak. While I was watching the presidential debate (another kind of disaster), my roommate informed me that our ceiling was spouting water. It started with one stream from the bathroom ceiling and ended with seven individual rivers flowing down from an overflowing tub in the apartment above. A variety of buckets, two late-night maintenance calls, one water-filled light fixture, and a soggy patch of carpet later, everything was solved with no significant property damage or tears.

Praying every day that my car will start. As mentioned above, I had a minor car fiasco earlier this month. I was stopped on a busy street waiting for a car in front of me to turn left. When the car turned, I stepped on the gas, saw lights flash, felt the gas pedal lock, shifted into park, and couldn’t shift any more. After I called 911 in a panic, was pushed to the side of the road by a kind police officer, and restarted the car, everything worked and I made it to school safely. My car and I are currently having some trust issues, but I am grateful that everything worked out okay.

After this month, my students now think my life is highly dramatic. Or that I am a barely functioning adult. One of those is true – you decide which one.



I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – head to her site for more recommendations! Or comment below – what have you been into this month?




Remember. verb. “To have in one’s mind an awareness of something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past.”

2016-07-30 21.23.59.jpg

Fall is here. The school routines have found us. I’m awake before the sun now, and I wear mascara every day. We fell easily into these rhythms. It feels like what we’d always done. (It is.)

Already, the easy breezy days of summer seem long gone. They were sweet, full of ordinary surprises. Sometimes I fear that I will forget them. The memories will disappear from my head, poof, like the definition of cosine and the way to fold a fitted sheet. So I write them down, just as I send myself reminder emails of online resources and copies to make. This is my to-do list: do not forget these moments.

I toted books to the park most days. I used to live minutes from the one with the lake. I brought lemonade and a blanket and, in the pages of a mystery, stopped fighting the quiet gift of rest. Teens playing Pokemon walked by, and I peeled back the layers of memory lying over the grass and walking trail: walking with the boy when our relationship was young, running long laps around the lake, eating sugar-laced beignets, following my brothers on rented bikes, paddleboarding at sunset.

2016-06-28 16.23.21.jpg

We slept outside on the dock one weekend. The air was clear and cool, and scattered stars kept us awake. We found constellations, and talked sleepily as sisters do, and listened in the pauses to the chatter of two teenage boys on a dock further down. We curled up under our sleeping bags and drifted off to the lullaby of shooting stars and waves against shore, the one composed just for us. I woke early, to bright sun and a lake shining like glass.

2016-07-31 09.03.42.jpg

We went sailing one afternoon, on the bowl of a lake. I sat near the bow, ducking as the boom swung and tripping over the keel every time we tacked. The boy sat in the stern calm and confident, framed by blue sky and blue lake and blue polo shirt. We’d talked of going sailing, just us, for years. When we finally did, I wanted to freeze time, bottle it, to return to sun and sweetness on lonely winter days.

We drank iced tea and ate tuna tacos at our favorite restaurant, up the shore on Lake Superior. When we were no longer hangry, we tripped down the steep shore, climbed rocks, skipped stones, snapped pictures. The water was clear enough to drink. Stones – heart-shaped, striped, perfectly round – loaded our fists, just as they did 17 years ago when we looked on the same shore together.


I hold these moments as I look at the end-of-summer sunshine out the window. It reminds me there is still time left: time to go outside, to wander, to rest. So I strap on skis during our last lake weekend, even if the water is cold and the air colder. I bring my book to our tiny patio after school. I walk through parks, avoiding the geese headed south, on Sundays. The slow, sweet moments return. I won’t forget them.

What I’m Into: August 2016

August. proper noun. The finale to summer (sniff, sniff).

blackeyed susans.jpg

Read on for all of the things I’ve loved in August – and all of my good excuses for why this post is a week overdue. Better late than never, I suppose?


Book of A Thousand Days – Shannon Hale. When a princess is imprisoned for refusing to marry her father’s choice, her lady’s maid keeps a journal of their captivity and escape. There were many things to enjoy in this tale – Dashti is a plucky narrator, there’s a hint of sweet romance, and the mystical, Arabian-esque setting reminded me of A Horse and His Boy in the best way.

Redwall – Brian Jacques. I know so many people who loved this series. If I really enjoyed fantasy, I might have been one of them. This summer has been teaching me how much I enjoy character-driven novels, and Redwall just isn’t that. It was really hard for me to get into, but I would still absolutely recommend it as a read-aloud for kids who love adventure stories, or as a more approachable book for readers who might love The Lord of the Rings in a few years.

Cinder – Marissa Meyer. Based on the cover, this did not appear to be my kind of book at all. However, all the recommendations I’ve heard were right – it was excellent. Cinder, a talented mechanic, is a cyborg (a human with some robotic limbs and a computer chip that interacts with her brain). As the country where she lives struggles under threats from other nations and a plague, the prince asks her to fix his android (think R2-D2). My only complaint was that this ended on one of those irritating YA cliffhangers so that you have to read the entire rest of the series to know if things actually work out. This is my pet peeve. I probably will read them all anyway.

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson tenderly tells the story of her childhood through poetry. I absolutely want to use this as a mentor text for teaching poetry writing – she highlights small snapshots of memory with beautiful language and detail, and her honesty about issues of race would be poignant for class discussions.

The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows. What a delightful, delightful book. Layla Beck is cut off from her father’s funding and moves to a small town to research its history, where she lives with the Romeyn family. The family was once upstanding in the community, but as Layla and Willa Romeyn, a curious 12- year old, discover, the truth of family and town history is not always as it appears. This summer, I have learned that a historical setting + a clever narrator + some non-gory mystery + a smidge of romance = my kind of book. This has everything.

The Nesting Place – Myquillin Smith. Myquillin, or The Nester as she’s known in blogland, is the queen of realistic yet beautiful ideas about decorating. This book was a kind guide as I moved in to my apartment (and possibly drove my roommate nuts by spontaneously rearranging picture frames).

Alone Together – Sherry Turkle. This book examines the intersection of human relationships and technology. I spent most of my reading efforts in the section about how social media and texting changes relationships. Basically, we are all hoping for relationships on our terms, with no mess (and no real connection). Reading this with my middle schoolers in mind is rather terrifying. Maybe we should all become Amish. Well, Amish people who read blogs.

Falling Free – Shannan Martin. PSA: This book comes out on September 22, and you ought to read it. I’m not just saying that because I’m on the launch team – I’m saying that because it’s a rousing wake-up call for those of us who sit safely in middle-class complacency. Shannan tells how she was saved from the comfy life she’d dreamed of and found herself on the wrong side of the tracks learning to love people who didn’t seem to deserve it. This is not an easy read, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and seeing just how important conversations like these are for a church called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to all.

A Prayer Journal – Flannery O’Connor. In college, my American Lit professor used this as a devotion to start class. I wanted to revisit it for myself, and I was loving Flannery’s honesty and strikingly real descriptions of what it means to have faith…until I had to return it to the library. Whomp. This might be worth buying my own copy.

Currently reading: Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins.



Sherlock – This show is way too intense for me to watch on my own. Even with moral support, I have to knit to keep my blood pressure stable-ish. BUT. This show is so well-crafted and intriguing. Plus, it teaches me how great my friends are. Case in point: my friend Janae offered to watch an episode at the same time I did and warned me via text every time someone was going to die, and my sister doesn’t get mad when I send late-night texts about the probable murderer in my apartment.

Fixer Upper – How I love this show. I may or may not have cried at one reveal.

White Collar – This is the best kind of crime show – no blood or gore, sharp dialogue, and an incredibly attractive main character. Thank goodness for roommates with good Netflix recommendations.

Ghostbusters – I like Melissa McCarthy, but honestly, this remake was not worth the two hours it took to watch it.

The Man Who Knew Infinity – This movie was being filmed at Cambridge around the time the boyfriend was spending a summer there, so I was already predisposed to like it. Beyond that, it is a remarkable movie. It tells the story of Ramanujin, an Indian mathematician studying at Cambridge around WWII whose intuition helped him make fantastic mathematical discoveries. The ending is a bit abrupt (as was the end of Ramanujin’s life), but I left with a new appreciation for how math is an integral part of our world, even though we don’t understand it all.



Clemency – Heaven in the World We Know. I discovered this band through Spotify Discover Weekly playlists. Before this month, I had no idea that Spotify puts together a playlist of new music tailored to my tastes each week. What treasures I’ve been missing! “When I’m With You the Fireworks Go Off” is another favorite.


Jess Glynne – You Can Find Me.


The Chainsmokers – Closer. I don’t understand why I like this song so much, and I feel sort of bad it’s by a band called The Chainsmokers…but it’s been stuck in my head all month.






Grove Collaborative – This company is almost too good to be true. They give you great deals on natural cleaning and beauty products, and if you have good timing, you can get great freebies for signing up! (I scored The Nesting Place AND 2 different Caldrea products – for free – with my first purchase.) The Sea Salt Neroli dish soap makes me almost enjoy doing dishes. Disclaimer: I am not paid to say anything about this company, but if you use this link, I earn extra credit.

This article on evangelicals in this political climate puts words to my feelings about this nutty election cycle.

Natori bras. Maybe this is TMI, but I’m willing to risk it because the world needs to know. Ladies: Go to Nordstrom. You’re probably wearing the wrong bra size (I was), so get a fitting. Then buy this or this, because they are both awesome. They’re even on sale at this second!

All the tears from this video. Sometimes I love middle schoolers.


I have an emotional allergy to small talk, but this post reminds me how it can be significant.

Working air conditioning in my car! I endured most of the summer without AC. Finally, at the end of July, I decided had endured one too many sweaty 90 degree day and got it fixed. It so was worth it.

Lemon San Pellegrino. It’s basically expensive sparkling lemonade, but it’s delightful.

No longer being in a long distance relationship…because the boyfriend moved back! We’ve been dating for two years and he’s lived in Washington, DC for a year and a half of that time. He returned to MN less than two weeks ago, and I’m still over the moon that I haven’t had to do a teary airport drop-off.




Lots of driving! I went home twice in August. The first time, we saw a friend who’s been living in Switzerland and is now getting MARRIED(!!!) and had lots of low-key time. The second time, we had a family stay-cation involving a detour to the Duluth Tall Ships festival, my youngest brother’s senior pictures (he’s so old!), a drive-in movie, and a bonfire with friends.




A day trip to Lake Pepin. It was such fun to explore a charming part of the state with an equally charming boy.


Sister dates to an outdoor production of Seussical the Musical, the Weisman Art Museum, Ikea, and the Mall of America. I lucked out in the good sister department.


Fun friend dates to shop for rugs, celebrate passing certification tests, and reconnect after trips abroad. My friends are so adult!


Wrapping up the semi-employed summer life. There was tutoring, going to yoga classes, babysitting for two cutie-pie kids, and volunteering for English classes. I also went with a group that offers field trips for non-native English speakers to the Stone Arch Bridge, the Guthrie, and two volunteers’ gorgeous house on Lake Minnetonka.

Ending the summer at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.




Getting ready for school! This is the first time I’ve started the first day of school on my own, and the amount of work it takes to ready a classroom, prep for an open house, and plan for just the first week while attending teacher workshops is no joke! We’re jumping in with both feet now, and so far there are only good things to report.




What have you been into in August?




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!


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

happy note desk.jpg

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.


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.

strawberry cartons.jpg

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!




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



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.)


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.


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!


The Copper Hen is delightful. These friends are delightful.


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.


Adios, #4!


Generally enjoying every second of summer that I can.


What have you been into this month?


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



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.