September 2017: What I’m Into

September. proper noun. The start of fall and school and ordinary life.

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What to say, about September.

It is a month of transition, always. This year especially. On the very first day of the month, Adam and I drove the six hours to Chicago and he picked up the keys to his new apartment. Days later, my sister moved to California. In the midst of this, my second year of teaching launched.

I had tried to push away my simmering worries about this month for the entire summer. And then September arrived. There were, of course, moments of heartache. But there have also been moments of unexpected sweetness, of surprises I know I don’t deserve.

Transitions are hard. I want to anticipate all the pain, plan a perfect system that will minimize it. And I can’t. It isn’t possible to plan a routine that will eliminate emotional surges, no way to stop change or bottle happiness to apply on melancholy days. The seasons turn, mornings cooling and sun dimming. Relationships and faith and stages of life shift, too. Those shifts, while jarring, sometimes unearth blessings. I learn how to be brave, in small and ordinary ways that make life feel tender and full. I wade on, and watch for the pockets of beauty half-buried in the muddle, because that is what makes life, no matter its circumstances, good.

In all that this month has brought, here is what I’ve been reading and loving and doing.

 

Reading

  • All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. Gorgeous. Haunting. Compelling. There are so many adjectives to describe this book, and none of them do it full justice. The story follows two main characters, a blind girl living in France and a radio-obsessed boy in Germany, and a smattering of others who intersect with their lives. The fascinating narrative structure and the sparkling descriptions made this book vivid and memorable – but it is also incredibly weighty. The death and hard choices and horror of war stand out. So, in the end, do the love and beauty and hope that are possible in humankind.
  • Wonder – RJ Palacio. What a dear, lovely story. Auggie, a fifth grader with a severe facial deformity, is starting middle school. While he tells the bulk of the narrative, his sister, his friends, and other characters are also given a chance to speak, which makes the story even more special and shows even more poignantly the importance of kindness. I loved it. My middle schoolers love it. Everyone should love it.
  • Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team – Steve Sheinkin. Let’s be honest – this history of early football is not my typical book. But I’m working on expanding the recommendations I can give to boys, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It blends stories of the formation of Native American schools and of early football with vivid characters (who just happen to be real people). It was engaging and made me unexpectedly invested who won football games played 100 years ago.
  • The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game Called Life – Kwame Alexander. If you have sports obsessed kids who need some inspiration, this would be a great book to pass along. It’s a quick read of quotes, a few stories of athletic diligence from famous athletes and the author himself, and some cool sports photography. I wish there was a little more to it, but for fans of The Crossover, it’s a good one.

 

Listening

  • Shane and Shane – Psalms. This album’s musical take on Psalms is real and beautiful and feels like a deep, sweet breath.
  • My morning playlist. I made Spotify playlist specifically so I can avoid the radio while I drive to work. It’s heavy on the Audrey Assad and Ellie Holcomb and All Sons and Daughters, and it’s exactly what my mornings need.
  • For the Love podcast with Jen Hatmaker: Getting Vulnerable with Dr. Brene Brown. I think I could listen to Brene Brown talk about paint drying and still be riveted. I listened to this while hurtling down the interstate and trying to scratch out notes without going in the ditch. Brene is even more funny and real than in her TED talks.

 

 

Loving

  • Taking piano lessons. After buying a keyboard this summer, I decided that I need some accountability to actually play the thing. I began taking one piano lesson a month, and the extra coaching and accountability is helpful for bringing my long-dormant skills back to life.
  • The new bullet journal! I ordered a Leuchtturm1917, an Internet favorite for its dotted grid, build-in index, and pre-numbered pages. I love it. Absolutely love it. It feels both fancy and functional. You should bite the bullet (ha. ha.) if you’re considering.
  • All things apple. After visiting an apple orchard, baking apple cake, which tastes like fall and cinnamon and magic, is required. Purchasing orchard honey and eating it on toast (or, you know, with a spoon) is optional, but highly recommended.

 

Doing

  • Dropping Adam off in Chicago. My boyfriend started a master’s program at the University of Chicago this month, and thus we return to the bittersweet task of growing a long-distance relationship. Though much of Labor Day weekend was spent in the minutiae of moving, we still had time for me to bawl my eyes out watching Up and wander his new neighborhood and eat some great food with his family. I miss that boy dearly, but I am so glad that he’s exactly where he needs to be.
  • Driving home. I hadn’t been home all summer, but I fit in one trip to see Brita before she moved to California. We watched movies and stayed up too late and went to the grocery store and had the most ordinary and wonderful time.
  • Going camping, for the second time in my life. Some friends from church planned a fall camping trip to a state park in southeast Minnesota. I am such a novice camper that I couldn’t even find a flashlight before I left, but hiking and making s’mores and talking around the campfire with thoughtful people convinced me that camping might just be all right. This view from my tent in the morning didn’t hurt, either.IMG_3168
  • Celebrating a bride-to-be. One of my dear friends is getting married at the end of October, so September held a bridal shower and bachelorette party to celebrate the upcoming event. I’m so excited to share in the wedding so soon!IMG_3186
  • Attending my church’s women’s retreat. We escaped to a rural retreat center near Stillwater. Making new friendships and deepening others was sweet, and I’m grateful to attend a church with so many kind, intentional women.
  • All. the. school. We’ve kicked off another year! Honestly, the weight of establishing routines and building relationships and teaching content snuck up on me this year. This season has felt so full, especially as I realize all of the ways I need to improve. But I am enjoying getting to know my students more and more and seeing the small ways that my teaching is improving. There’s still so much to learn and do (isn’t there always?), but I am excited for what this year holds.

 

What have you been into this month?

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What I’m Into: August 2016

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

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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?

Reading

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.

 

Watching

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.

 

 Listening

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.

 

 

 

 

Loving

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.

 

Doing

 

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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

Goals: Back to School Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

August (2015)

August. proper noun. The dog days, the last hurrah, the fond farewell to summer.

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I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer, as always, to share what I loved this month. Head to the link-up if you’re looking for other good recommendations or are generally nosy about how Internet people spend their time.

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Reading

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson. Watch the movie, then pretend you’re spending a few hours with Amy Adams while you read about the incredulous, down-and-out Miss Pettigrew and her day with Miss LaFosse, the stunning socialite juggling three men. One of my favorite lines: “Miss LaFosse was sitting quietly with the radiant, shining look on her face of the woman who has just been thoroughly and satisfactorily kissed.”

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion. This book was all over people’s lists of best summer beach reads, with good reason. The story of the geneticist who creates a questionnaire to screen potential wife candidates was cute and quirky. Though I’m curious if I should be worried that I can empathize with a man who claims that, in regards to being on time, “poor synchronization is a huge waste of time,” and refers to minute-wasting chatter as “the inevitable small talk”?

Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist. Shauna’s writing feels down-to-earth and comforting in this book, exactly like the kind of food she serves. Food is an interesting lens through which to write a memoir, and not quite all of the chapters worked for me. If I liked vinegar more and knew more about cooking, maybe I would have been head-over-heels for this book. As it was, I simply enjoyed it.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen. This wins the award for Funniest Book I’ve Read this Summer. Also Best Book to Read Aloud To Anyone Who Will Listen. Some reasons why: She describes a road trip in which one of her brothers had to eat a raisin that had been up her other brother’s nose. Her mom sewed patterned fabric strips on to the bottoms of her pant legs to make them last through growth spurts. Her father would carefully supervise their TV time and, whenever actors hinted towards a kiss, would mutter “Smut,” while switching the channel. These episodes are hysterical in Rhoda’s voice, which is sassy without being cynical, and which pokes fun at her childhood without being mean.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. True confessions: I tried reading The Great Gatsby once in high school. I didn’t like it. This time, after watching the movie, talking about it with my boyfriend, and not expecting to relate to any of the characters, I could read for the rich writing and enjoy it much more. Fitzgerald made a classic out of this by the sheer force and luxuriousness of his descriptions. Maybe second time’s the charm on this one.

Listening

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Car rides alone call for well-loved audiobooks.

The Madeleine Peyroux Pandora station. It’s moody and swingy and just right for quiet evenings.

Locked Away – R.City ft. Adam Levine. Catchy.

Watching

Father of the Bride. The perfect movie to watch with one of your dearest friends on the night before her wedding weekend.

I’m back on the Gilmore Girls train. Though I’m not sure I can take the Dean/Jess drama.

Loving

Because Kid President is da bomb.

This is classic for the start of school.

If you don’t follow Love, Teach, you should. This list shows exactly why. Though I would add these socks to the list, too.

I, and all other English teachers, need this shirt.

If you’re in a relationship or ever want to be in one, this is such good advice. Hold me to this, people.

The smartphone life. I have joined the 21st century AND I have a baby Instagram account. (Find me here at @agirldefined!) I must admit, my old clunker of a phone and I had a good run. We shared four years together, and I might even miss the dinosaur a little.

Polka dot pants. The Pixie pant from Old Navy is working for me. Find ‘em on sale for extra happiness.

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Doing

Bachelorette party. We celebrated the bride the weekend before her wedding with a trip to Stillwater, the cutest riverside town. We kept it classy. Except that I bought my dress at a thrift store. Though this is the story with all of my fancy clothes lately.

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The bride and me. I like this girl.

Wedding celebration! I got to be a bridesmaid when one of my dearest friends married her honey. They were radiant with happiness, and it was fun to get glammed up and celebrate their love. Best wishes, Rachel and Joel!

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From freshman orientation group to wedding days…

Finishing my summer job with the kiddos. I had a sweet summer with them, which culminated in a trip to Wild Mountain, an amusement park with an alpine slide, waterslides, a lazy river, and Go-Karts in 90º heat. I went all in. I even scratched up my back going down the Black Hole, the scariest waterslide of them all. The kids might have been impressed.

Heading home, for a long-awaited break. I got my first-ever massage and a brand-new pair of happy shoulders. I also got my hair chopped off, crafted with my mom, worked out with my brothers, and avoided setting my alarm. And my dad was patient enough to take pictures with me. (Pssst. Check the About page for more.)

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All of my family was in the same room for the first time this summer when we dropped my brother off at college. There are now 3 of us enrolled at the same school. Significant tuition discounts should be given, I think.

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The gang’s all here

Hey ya, hey ya, my boyfriend’s back. And we’ve done all the things in the few days he’s been here. Dressed-up dinner, swing dancing, double date with friends, the Minnesota State Fair, hiking at Taylor’s Falls, and plenty of real life and conversation in between. He’s swell.

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Student teaching. And so it begins. The teachers are in workshops now, so I’m helping with admin work and trying not to get in the way. When the kids come in a few days (and I can actually start making progress on the edTPA), the real fun begins…

What were you into this month?