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