October 2017: What I’m Into

October. proper noun. The month in which we all quote L.M. Montgomery about being glad we live in this world.

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October in MN = boots and parkas at farmer’s markets

 

We are smack in the middle of Ordinary Time, somewhere between Pentecost and Advent. Boy, am I feeling it.

As I pondered what’s been new and novel in October, it hasn’t felt like much. This has been a typical Minnesota fall. The weather was lovely and temperate, until it wasn’t. We swung from Birkenstocks to boots over the course of mere days. The cold snap, the early darkness, the leaves shaken from trees make me retreat, hoping for soup and a book and solitude. It all feels ordinary, indeed.

The Psalms have been meeting me in these days. I read them in the morning, before hustling out the door, before facing my day of the usual complaints and small joys. The Psalmist had those, too. He felt the days of praise, the days of panic, the days of wondering where on earth God has gone. In the space of a few verses, he swings from terror to reassurance to revenge. Sounds like a typical day teaching seventh grade to me.

In the anger and fear and still-resounding rejoicing, God finds me. He accepts my anger and answers my cries for help. He walks with me as I face my enemies, even if those enemies are mostly inside my own head. He gives me spacious places to rest and catch my breath. He covers me with his wings. He delights in me, and I in him.

I am learning to abide in him, in the beginnings and middles of things. When life is especially ordinary. When the first steps have been taken, but there are many, many more until the end is in sight.

Here’s what’s bringing more life and more love to this ordinary time.

 

Reading

Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance. This book is hard to read in places, but it is so incredibly important. J.D. Vance grew up in the unstable, impoverished world of hillbilly culture. He weaves his own story of surviving an unstable childhood and eventually finding both a home and a sense of purpose with explanations of hillbilly culture. This is a story of resilience. As a teacher, it reminded me just how little of my students’ lives I see, and just how important it is for them to have stable, kind, consistent adults in their lives.

At Home in the World– Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh, her husband, and their 3 kids sold their home and spend a year traveling the globe. This book is part travel diary, part memoir, all wanderlust inspiration. I greatly enjoyed her thoughts on finding home and on the value of seeing the world. I’ll also be honest – the first part of the book seemed to be much more vivid and poignant than the end, but overall, it was entirely worth the read.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion – Elizabeth Cline. This book explains our current fashion industry, from our obsession with cheap clothes to the beginning of the overseas migration of clothing manufacturing companies to the ways that the environment and the labor industries in those countries are being taken advantage of to ways we can cut our own consumption. It is a bit repetitive in places, but I learned an amazing amount. (More thoughts on this topic coming soon!)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson. This was my Halloween read for the year, and it set the mood perfectly. Though I knew the basic preface of the story, I didn’t know exactly how it unfolded. It was surprisingly suspenseful in spots, and the moral reflections are what makes it a classic.

Ghost – Jason Reynolds. This quick read follows Castle as he accidentally joins a track team and learns to take responsibility for his life and choices. I enjoyed both the story and Reynold’s writing – his voicing is authentic and interesting. This is also part of a series following different kids on the same track team, so I look forward to reading the next installment.

Solo – Kwame Alexander. This book, by the author of The Crossover, follows the story of Blaze, the son of a rock star. Blaze is dissatisfied with the privilege and craziness of rock n’ roll life, and misses his deceased mother terribly. His self-discovery and exploration of the meaning of family takes him across the globe. While the premise was interesting, I didn’t love this one. The story seemed too unlikely, and Blaze never seemed to actually learn anything. For music lovers who adore all the rock references, it might be worth it anyway.

Currently reading: Caraval – Stephanie Garber. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy – Pietra Rivoli.

 

Watching

The True Cost. A documentary on Netflix about the real story behind the fashion industry. It’s fascinating and powerful. If you wear clothes, you should watch it.

 

Listening

Random playlists on Spotify, including Hymns for Hipsters and Acoustic Favorites.

 

Loving

Chai lattes. I am perfecting my own chai concentrate recipe, which has been a delicious project. The Teavana Perfectea Maker strains out all the loose spices and makes everything better (because chunky tea? Not good).

The MN Landscape Arboretum. I had no idea how big – and beautiful – the arboretum is. It’s part gardens, part park, part trails, part landscaped gorgeousness. The day we went, it was swarming with kids and picture-taking families and happiness, and it’s no wonder. I will 100% be going back.

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Leggings. These specifically. It’s finally cold enough that I’m not wearing shorts on the weekends, so now these are on heavy rotation. Add this and you have my favorite weekend outfit.

Fully functional computers. The month began with the battery completely dying on my 6 year old laptop. Apparently my computer is too elderly for the Apple store to fix, so my brother performed computer surgery. Happily, everything works now!

Paying off my car! I feel like a real adult now. (And then, in an ironic and unhappy twist, I got rear-ended two days later. The damage is minimal, but the timing is terrible. And I get the unpleasant adult task of figuring out insurance. Whoopee.)

 

Doing

Driving to Chicago for a weekend. It was a delight to see Adam, get Insomnia Cookies delivered, meander through a used book sale, and wander around the Chicago Art Institute.

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Wedding festivities! Two college friends got married over MEA break. Their wedding was beautiful and classy and Christ-filled (just like them!), and it was such an honor to be a bridesmaid. Having an excuse to dance with Adam was fun, too. Congrats again, David and Nicole!

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Having a girls’ weekend. My college roommate and friend found a weekend to come to the Cities and stay with me. We hit up all our old haunts and watched girly movies and laughed at the way we looked in face masks. It was great to see them!

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Attending Singin’ in the Rain with my brothers. My family watched Singin’ in the Rain half a billion times in my childhood, so expectations were high. As one of the boys said, “The girl who played Kathy Seldon was good, but she just isn’t Debbie Reynolds.” That said, seeing a stage enactment (complete with rain!) was delightful.

Celebrating Halloween. Some kind church folks hosted a Halloween dinner party. The trick-or-treaters were limited because of the below-freezing temps, but there was plenty of good company and good food (and good candy!).

School. Things are chugging right along. We’ve had our first conferences, we’re finishing The Outsiders (our first big unit of the year), and I’m currently in the thick of teaching – and grading – essays. Some days are hard – I had to scrawl a smiley face on a Post-It and stick it to my computer to remind myself to not be the cranky teacher after one particularly long week. But I can still laugh when kids spell atmosphere “admiss fear,” and overall, the good days outweigh the bad. I’m grateful for that.

What have you been into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s site for all kinds of additional recommendations.

 

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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?

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?

Goals: Fall 2016 Edition

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

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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.

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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.

 

Reading

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.

 

 

Watching

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.

 

 

Listening

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.

 

 

Loving

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.

 

 

Doing

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.

skiing

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.

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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?

 

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November (2015)

November. proper noun. The month in which fall ends and snow comes to Minnesota and we eat all the turkey and stuffing.

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Here’s what I squeezed into the month of November, which flew by me this year. As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer.

Reading

Truest – Jackie Lea Sommers. Oh my heavens, this book. Jackie Sommers works at my university, and though I don’t know her, this book makes me want to be her best friend. The Hart family moves to small-town Minnesota, and Silas and his mysterious sister Laurel shake up the summer for Westlin Beck, the local pastor’s oldest daughter. Silas Hart is the perfect literary boyfriend, who wears sassy t-shirts and memorizes poetry while he runs (holy hotness). I’ve also never read YA fiction that has such theological insight alongside a realistic portrayal of a complicated, rebellious teenager. Prepare yourself to read the entire thing in one night.

Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey. My life (and writing) has been a bit out of sorts this fall, as I work through what adult-ish life looks like. This book is the perfect companion for this time in my life as I wrestle with changing ideas and expectations about faith and God and life. It deserves more than a little blurb here, and I hope to write more about it as my thoughts percolate.

The Running Dream – Wendelin Van Draanen. Van Draanen is one of my favorite YA authors. (She penned the cute he said/she said story Flipped and the sassy Sammy Keyes mysteries that my sister and I still read when home on holiday breaks.) This book is about a girl who loves to run, but loses her leg in a bus accident. It’s a good pick when you need a reminder that your own struggles aren’t that insurmountable and that people (even young ones) are capable of amazing things.

The Anatomy of Wings – Karen Foxlee. This book, the story of a young girl and her sister’s death, is tender and sad. Jenny tries to solve the mystery of how her sister fell apart and why her own singing voice has disappeared. If you like coming-of-age stories and complicated family dynamics and sweet, innocent narrators, you’ll be touched by this book.

The Jazz Palace – Mary Morris. An interesting story about a boy growing up in the Jazz age in Chicago. It’s mostly tragic throughout the entire story until suddenly everything resolves very quickly and very sweetly. Okay if you love jazz and historical fiction and underdog stories.

Currently Reading: Lost & Found – Brooke Davis; Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith – Anne Lamott

 

Listening

Crowder – Lift Your Head, Weary Sinner. It’s been out for a while, but I still sing (loudly) whenever it comes on the radio.

 

Watching

Pitch Perfect 2. Because sometimes you need a silly movie with a pointless plot and fun music and incredibly awkward romance. (See: Benji attempting to flirt, and every interaction with Fat Amy and Bumper.)

I tried watching Jane the Virgin, which is not nearly as awkward as the title or premise (about a girl who gets accidentally inseminated at a doctor’s appointment) would have you believe. But there were so many ridiculous plot twists that I couldn’t stick with it, even though I liked Jane’s character a lot.

Elf. We waited until after Thanksgiving. It’s okay.

 

Loving

I love Addie Zierman’s posts on faith. She’s never cliche and always honest. This post on cynicism resonates, especially this quote: “It is the most surprising, beautiful thing when God uses a part of us that feels dangerous and threatening to bring Life.”

Knitting. ‘Tis the season. Send more yarn.

Exploring 1 Corinthians with the girls in my small group.

Wearing gray and burgundy. Those colors are my fall uniform.

Outfits Nov15

 

Doing

Ending my elementary ESL student teaching placement. Here’s how a 3rd grader sees me after 10 weeks.

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I’ve now started a new placement with 7th grade Language Arts kids. In the 7 days that I’ve been there, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Kids don’t grow out of being fascinated by tall people. Seventh graders just want quantifiable information, as my cooperating teacher has been asked multiple times how tall I am (though the kids are too scared to ask me directly).
  • Middle school boy hair is hilarious. Some look like they hire Justin Bieber’s personal stylist circa 2010, some look like their moms dictate their haircuts, and some look like they got their hair wet, put on a stocking cap, and went to sleep.
  • YA LIT IS THE BEST, Y’ALL. So is working with a teacher who has all of the best book recommendations.
  • The biggest way to impress/scare middle schoolers is to know all of their names by the end of week 1.

Flying to Washington, DC for a long weekend. I got one extra day off in between student teaching placements and celebrating by going to see the boyfriend. We squeezed lots of long talks, sightseeing, quality time, and great food into our few days together. I’m thankful for him.

At the National Arboretum. An awesome date spot, for the record.

At the National Arboretum. An awesome date spot, for the record.

Driving home for Thanksgiving. Highlights: mashed potatoes. Amazing Danish cream dessert that is like classy vanilla pudding on steroids. Hanging out with all of my siblings, who have their own particular brand of weirdo hilarity. Celebrating my youngest brother turning 17 (what). Wearing pajamas for an entire day. Cleaning and decorating with the fam to prepare for a holiday open house. (If you live in the area, go on the Tour of Homes to tell my mom that her Christmas decorating looks stellar and to admire what a sparkling job I did on the bathroom sinks.)

 

Anticipating

  • CHRISTMAS. Music. Decorations. Lights. Baking. Wrapping gifts. The whole shebang.
  • Taking on a more active role in planning and teaching at my student teaching placement
  • Officially graduating from college. (Though it will be anticlimactic. I graduate on Friday and go back to student teaching on Monday, and for four more weeks in January. The perks of being a double education major.)
  • Winter driving. JUST KIDDING.

 

What are you into this month?

Thankful

Thankful. adjective. Expressing gratitude or appreciation. A series appearing on Thursdays in November.

Victoria Bjorkman via Flickr

Victoria Bjorkman via Flickr

This week, I have been afraid.

I was in DC when Paris was attacked. We were walking from the Revolutionary War memorial in the twilight, making plans, when the boyfriend stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. We stood still while he scrolled through breaking news. As we grocery shopped and ate dinner, more unfolded. Now the world is afraid. We’re fighting evil and fighting fear, and sometimes the two get confused. Opinions rage about whether we let in the poor and oppressed, and whether the risk is too great. My heart breaks. They want us to be afraid. And we are.

I was saying goodbye to DC and the boy. We stood by the river, the planes cruising over the Potomac, and I cried. For a moment, a weekend, everything was okay. His hand was in mine. When I boarded the plane, to return to real, separate life, I didn’t know what would happen. I still don’t. We’re stepping into new phases, seeing if our lives will draw together or apart. It scares me.

I was driving to school, to the fresh new placement. The first day had been overwhelming. The school held more people than my entire hometown, big kids who yelled in the halls and no longer looked at teachers with awe and appreciation. Our classroom didn’t have windows. I forgot where the water fountains were. I knew one person in all 1300, barely. At 7:13 a.m., as my windshield wipers flicked, I felt terribly alone.

All of these things were bearing down on my heart this week. And then a friend shared a verse that I can’t get out of my head. The psalmist is talking to God, laying out his grief over the world. But then he backpedals. “I’m still in your presence,” he says,” but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me.*”

You’ve taken my hand.

This week, I am thankful that God takes my hand, and your hand, and the world’s hand.

Things are frightening, the future is uncertain, and life in our broken world seems so hard. We can’t ignore the pain. We shouldn’t try to, bandaging it with Christian clichés and trite words. Instead, we need to do the work of sitting in our hurt and watching for our Father’s presence and his comforting hand.

We need to trust that we have a God who is here, walking with us, giving us what we need. We need to find comfort and love and peace and stability in his grasp. We need to seek the beauty and truth of his presence. We need to open our ears and eyes and hearts for his gentle leading. We need to say, even with voices that tremble, “I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me.”

I am thankful that these things are still possible. I am thankful we have not been abandoned. May the world, and you, and I sincerely believe that this week.

 

*Psalm 73:23-24, MSG

Thankful

Thankful. Expressing gratitude or appreciation. A series appearing on Thursdays in November.

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

I write this on the chalkboard above my bookshelf, the script curling. It is easy to write, easy to recite verse turned Michael W. Smith lyrics.

It is sometimes harder to believe.

Even after attending a Bible college (especially after attending a Bible college), there is so much theology that is tangled up in my mind. I don’t know whether God has predestined the socks that I put on this morning or if the refugee crisis was caused by human free will and evil still fighting for power. I don’t know if the verses talking about wives submitting to their husbands were completely culturally bound, or if they should be taken word for literal word. I don’t know if babies should be baptized as infants.

Some days, I even catch myself wobbling on this foundational belief, that God is good.

In my head, the head that has read the Bible multiple times and spent my whole life trucking to church on Sundays, I know he is. When I look at my life and experiences, which shout of God’s provision, I know he is. He provides: friendships and jobs and survival and connections and family and apartments and health and little snapshots of daily grace.

But when things get sticky, I question again.

Where will I be living a year from now? Will this relationship survive? Will I find a job? Will I ever have opportunities to travel? Will I be lonely? Will I ever be a functional adult? Will my life amount to anything? Will God prove that he is trustworthy and good, again and again and again?

But my questions don’t change the truth. Thank God.

He proved his goodness when he created the world. When he was crucified. When he rescued my scared, proud little soul.

Even when I can’t see his goodness, it still exists. Even when I can’t see his plan and triple-check for myself that it is good, it still is. Even though I don’t know the theological particulars, truth and grace and beauty and redemption still win. Even though “What if?” feels like a terrifying question, I can still ask it without fear. Because God is good.

I am thankful for this today. I give thanks because of this today.

ESL

ESL. acronym for English as a Second Language. My classroom of residence for the past 10 weeks; also home to the cutest kids on the planet.

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My term as an elementary ESL student teacher comes to an end this week. I’ve been camping out in the ESL room for 10 weeks now, working with kiddos in grades K-5. These are the stories that shine as I ponder this experience.

//

I think the gene for teaching the very small ones skips a generation. My mom is a rocking kindergarten teacher, and I spent Thursday evenings throughout high school watching her work with little guys at ECFE. And then my turn came. I sat at the tiny table with the tiny kinders, the ones who hold hands when they walk out of the classroom and tell me sometimes, “Miss C, you look beautiful today.” And I realized that I had no idea what I’m doing. How is teaching the alphabet, numbers 1 through 6, the question “What do you do with your family?” so hard? I planned lessons I thought were fine and showed up to have my squirrely group distracted and my timing off and my teacher reminding me to pick one focus and to keep them moving and teach behavior over content and do the whole thing differently. So I sighed a lot and kept trying and asked for feedback and wondered why on earth the simplest concepts in school were so dang complicated to teach.

And one day, lightbulb. We were working on numbers, and I was stressed. Math has caused me more angst than any other school subject, and the trend was continuing. But I tried. I found a worthwhile new game on the miraculous Internet. I thought through my plans. We moved through the activities “boom boom boom boom,” as my teacher says in her rapid-fire Chinese accent, and I saw that they had just enough knowledge to be successful but still struggle productively, and they were engaged in making independent choices the entire time, and they didn’t go bananas when I handed out materials. I overheard my cooperating teacher tell another teacher that I looked like a veteran, and I wanted to cry.

She did not say that every day after that. Some lessons, we spend more time practicing not kicking the table and keeping eyes on the book and not talking when it is not our turn than learning vocabulary. Some lessons, I still got reminders from my teacher to pick just one focus, and I wanted to say, “I’m trying! I promise! I am actually thinking about this! Why is that not clear?” But there were shining little moments, where I asked the right questions and had good pacing during drawing time and used helpful visuals, and I saw a glimmer that I was doing some tiny thing right. I saw my mistakes, stopped agonizing over them, and did better the next time. Try and fix and try and fix and try and fix. That is all I could do. That is all I needed to do.

//

The 2nd graders caught the giggles a few weeks from the end. The entire time I was videotaping lessons for assessments, they were golden. They were engaged and curious and only occasionally distracted. Classroom management? Why would I struggle with classroom management? said the prideful one before the fall. Because then the honeymoon ended. And they caught the giggles. A sentence about a character named Eric and his parrot triggered laughter. A little dude’s deep, throaty impression of The Voice of the Mountain caused explosions. One girl’s slouching so low she nearly fell of her chair provoked giggles. And I’m all for laughter, but not when it does not stop. In my last week, we had serious talks in my teacher voice about what it looks like to be active listeners. The skills were practiced and modeled, the reminders were given, the countdown to quiet was attempted, the consequence of taking a break in the hall (horror of horrors) was in place. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was making some headway. And then I told the kids it was my last day of teaching them, one of my dear distracted dudes said, “Aw, now we can’t be weird anymore!” And I realized that they knew. My newbie status had been found out. I wanted to laugh and cry and possibly send the kid back to Vietnam. (I kid, I kid.)

I realized that maybe I’d screwed up. Maybe I’d been a little too chill. Maybe I’d let the consequences go unenforced for too long. Maybe my teacher would take over and wonder what in the heck I’d been doing for eight weeks. And it would be okay. The world would not end. The kids had still learned something. I could smile. I could fix it next time.

//

I started stepping away from classes this week, to observe how a rockstar 1st grade teacher manages her classroom and what upper-grade Language Arts teachers do for context as I step into 7th grade English. On bus duty, telling kids to “Walk down the stairs, no, you come back and try that again, that is not how we walk to the bus,” my cutie-pie kids waved at me. They missed me. They asked why I wasn’t in class and if I would come back and teach them tomorrow. My 3rd graders, the ones who always ask “Can I tell you just one thing?” which is never just one thing, check every day now when I’m leaving. One of them made sad faces at me when I watched my cooperating teacher teach their class and hugged me when I walked by in the hallway.

I look back, at the moment on the video recording of one lesson when all of the students leaned in close over a simple experiment, curiosity piqued. At the time when the brand-new kid used the words “my brother” for the first time in conversation. At the look on the 4th grader’s face when he found out we were writing letters to the principal, and that she would actually read them. At the quiet embarrassment of the kiddo translating his own strengths and challenges into Spanish for his mom at conferences. At the questions of the 1st grader, who requested, after some stubborn prying into my personal life, “Can’t you bring your boyfriend here, so I can meet him?” And I tuck those snapshots away. In the middle of this placement, I got restless, so ready to move beyond ABC and 123 and truck-car-train. In my hustle, I forgot that this time has held sweetness.

Sure, it’s been complicated too. I have been challenged and passionate and bored and confident in the same morning. I am sad to leave the cute little faces and the setting that’s become familiar, class by class, but I am ready to move on. I want to make a big dramatic stink over this, but this messy ball of feelings, the way things move on before you’re ready and after you’ve been ready for forever, is life. And life involves beginnings and endings, changes and transitions, hellos and goodbyes. All I can do is name the good and the hard, and let them quietly change my heart.

So adios, kiddos. May you always be adorable, and may your vocabularies always be increasing. Thanks for teaching me more than I taught you.

Thankful

Thankful. adjective. Expressing gratitude or appreciation. A series now appearing on Thursdays in November.

“November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” says Meg in the novel Little Women. And unlike her sister Jo, I don’t revel in its contrariness. The glorious leaves are gone, it’s beginning to be dark all the dang time, and Christmas is still far, far away. I’m about to lose my mojo (not that I had tons of it in the first place), so I need a plan. Here it is.

Introducing… Thankful Thursdays.

I am nothing if not alliterative. And brilliantly original. (Thankfulness? In November? Mind. Blown.)

There’s this theory, which I bought from multitudes of other, smarter, authors, that little good things shape our lives as much as big good things. These are small mercies from God, part of the grace portioned out for us daily. They deserve to be named, celebrated, recognized as holy.

When life gets dull and dark, it’s easy for me to forget the discipline of naming and thanking and rejoicing. So here’s the deal. On Thursdays until Thanksgiving, I’m going to celebrate the small things that make this dreary month a little brighter.

This week’s all-stars:

  • Yoga videos on YouTube. What happens when tall people live in an elementary world? Tight shoulders from hunching over tiny tables, and tight hips (not the sexy kind) from sitting on tiny chairs. I’m trying Yoga with Adriene to help stretch out the knots.
  • Dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s. I don’t go to Trader Joe’s often, but when I do, I always buy these. They make me swoon.
  • Unseasonably warm days. I wore a dress without tights in November in Minnesota. TWICE. The anniversaries of these days shall be marked on the calendars and celebrated for all eternity.
  • Tazo Awake English Breakfast tea. The perfect (or maybe just passable) recipe: Toss a splash of milk, a dash of sugar, and a tea bag in a travel mug before running out the door. Drive to school. Add hot water from the teacher’s lounge upon arrival. Let steep. Forget that tea is steeping, and remove the tea bag after just a little too long. Drink. Makes one serving that should keep you awake through the morning.
  • Small children who tell me “Miss C, you look beautiful today.” Though let’s be honest, when multiple kiddos tell me that they like my outfit in one day, I can never tell if I should be nervous. It’s understandable when I’m wearing a jack-o-lantern shirt for Halloween. But otherwise, what makes a winning outfit for kindergarteners and 2nd graders? This is a mystery.
  • Dry shampoo. It enables me to shower every other day and still appear presentable (I think). My hair is happier, and more importantly, I get 15 extra minutes of sleep. Booyah.
  • Fun evening plans, even on weeknights. It’s easy for me to slip into the school-home-sleep, school-home-sleep pattern, which can be a bit isolating. This week, my soul has been filled by a fun Skype date with the boyfriend and an evening of baking with a sweet friend. What gifts they are to me.

 

What are you thankful for this week?