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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July 2017: What I’m Into

July. proper noun. Perhaps my favorite month of the year; contains the 4th of July and my birthday and the height of summer within its short 31 days.

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Oh, dearest July. This month has been squashed full of friends and fun and a little work and squeezing every last drop out of summer. I never understand why it has to go by so fast.

Reading

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. Ah, this wonderful book. It’s currently ranking high in my favorites from 2017. The story follows a man who spends his life on house arrest in a posh Moscow hotel. I don’t always like sweeping stories that cover decades, but this is paced just exactly right. Towles’ descriptions, footnotes, and literary allusions are also witty and lush and delightful. (Plus, reading this inspired me to start Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Not just any book could do that.)

Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis. Another absolute favorite from this year. I read this a few years ago and didn’t love it. The characters, admittedly, are hard to like, and some parts are flat-out weird. But this time around, the depth and beauty of Lewis’s myth retold came through. Knowing the myth of Eros and Psyche, in addition to reading more of Lewis’s nonfiction, helped me see his thoughts on love and on humanity’s place before God much more clearly. Going to a book discussion to talk through the tricky questions didn’t hurt, either!

The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis. This summer has been full of C.S. Lewis. I am not complaining. Adam and I joined a book group to talk through The Weight of Glory, and throughout our discussions I was continually struck by the idea that we settle so much for the little, unsatisfying things that we know and forsake the hugeness of knowing God more deeply. Lewis’s wit and accessible metaphors are wonderful as well.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz Gilbert writes from her own experience about the practice of creative living. I didn’t think this was groundbreaking, but it was a timely reminder that valuing the creative process is just as important as the end product (and how that end product is received).

The Whole Brain Child – Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. This book is walks through how kids’ emotions interact with the rest of their brains. I read it as a teacher working to engage with all of students’ minds, and my biggest takeaway is that kids’ feelings need to be addressed before they can do any thinking about problems and solutions. A helpful reminder.

Currently reading – The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott.

 

Watching

Julius Caesar. Adam organized a movie night with a Christian study center around this film by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which sets Shakespeare’s classic in modern-day Africa. While the film is challenging to watch at some points (there’s a whole lot of murder and suicide), the setting definitely emphasized how timeless Shakespeare’s works are. His questions of power and rebellion are just as pertinent today.

The Tree of Life. I’ll be honest – I did not understand all of this film. It’s a dreamy, twisting representation of a man’s processing through his childhood, with extra commentary on the nature of life, family, and shame. The cinematography was lovely, at least, and it did spark fascinating discussion.

Peter Pan. Backyard productions with sisters are lots of fun.

Parks and Rec. This is possibly my favorite TV show, and yet…I have never finished it. Shame on me. I’m working on it.

 

Listening

The TED Radio Hour. This is my favorite running podcast – it dives right in to interesting issues, and the guests change about every 10 minutes so I get something new every mile or so. My favorite stories have been about a man who tried to get rejected every day for 90 days in A Better You, and the amazing exploration of kids’ brains in Unstoppable Learning.

The Liturgists. Favorite episodes from this month’s listening have been on the Bible and on the Enneagram.

 

Loving

This challenge. It’s ridiculously hard. I succeeded…but barely.

 

Sociable Cider Werks. Adam and I tried their tap room, and their flight of cider was excellent. My favorite is no longer on the tap list, but the Freewheeler is a classic for a reason.

Playing piano. I invested in a decent keyboard this month, and it’s been refreshing to plunk away again.

Homemade iced tea. Making iced tea on my stove isn’t even hard, but it makes me feel so economical and thrifty. Trader Joe’s Mango Black tea with just a little simple syrup is extra tasty.

 

Doing

Teaching summer school. I recently finished up my brief stint as a middle school math teacher, and I am so ready to teach books and reading in the fall! For now, though? Lovely, unemployed summer.

Spending time with friends. One of our favorite couples is moving, and we squeezed in some evenings with them before their transition started. Rachel and Joel, we will miss barbecuing and playing board games with you!

Lots of lake time. Adam and I split the Fourth of July weekends with both of our families and got in some good time on the water. Then in mid-July, a huge storm hit my family’s cabin, and my grandparents lost most of the trees on their property. We drove up for an unexpected cleanup weekend, and it was tragic to see how much the landscape changed in such a short time, though the support from family and community was encouraging. Finally, we spent another weekend up north so I could celebrate my birthday at the cabin. Plenty of good food and waterskiing was the best way to spend the day.

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More birthday celebration! The partying continued with a quick catch-up with a college friend and with a fun date with Adam. We stopped by a Carnegie Library on our way to dinner at The Kenwood, and topped off the evening by watching Beauty and the Beast. (See the library connection? He gets me.)

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Half a million miles + cute but not comfy flats = no shoes in nice pictures…

Running a half marathon! Let’s be honest – running in July is not exactly pretty. Adam and I attempted a long run on the Fourth of July, and those were possibly the longest 7 miles of my life. We spent the rest of the month strategizing how to not die of heat stroke while still getting our miles in. It all paid off when, at the end of the month, we both survived our second half marathons! I finished in 2:14:53, 7 seconds under my goal time, and managed to run the entire thing. My blisters have almost healed, and overall I’m feeling great!

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My sister got up ridiculously early to cheer us on. She may not have got a finisher’s medal, but she wins all of the awards.

Celebrating weddings. Friends who live out of state held a wedding reception in MN, and another friend had a bridal shower…on the same day. Both events were sweet – so much love is in the air!

Writing. Though the blog was relatively quiet this month, I’ve been working on some side ideas and have been braver about seeking feedback (thanks, writing group!). It’s been both challenging and inspiring.

 

What have you been into this month? Linking up with Leigh Kramer, as always.

What I’m Into: May 2017

May. proper noun. It brings flowers. Specifically lilacs. Hallelujah.

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Spring has officially sprung! Here’s what I’ve been loving.

Reading

Lila – Marilynne Robinson. I adored Gilead, and this companion book was not a disappointment. Marilynne Robinson is a master. Her characters are ordinary and real and beautiful, and her rich, quiet storytelling is a treat. I can’t wait to read her others.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anna Fowler. I found Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald intriguing, but I didn’t know much about them before reading this book. Their romance is dazzling and more heartbreaking than I realized. This story of their relationship, told from Zelda’s perspective, provides an interesting contrast to the vision of Scott that comes through in his writings.

The Tempest – Shakespeare. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever read Shakespeare’s full volumes, but listening to audiobooks of his works is good mental exercise. I can’t say that this play is my favorite – it’s difficult for a plot to hold much suspense when a sorcerer is controlling the actions of everyone who is shipwrecked on his island – but I loved hearing the line“they did confine him…Into a cloven pine; within which rift imprisoned, he didst painfully remain,” and gasping aloud at the depth in the book A Wrinkle in Time, which references The Tempest multiple times.

Out of My Mind – Sharon Draper. This story follows Melody, a young girl with cerebral palsy. She is brilliant, but is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. Throughout the book, Melody learns to talk and prove herself. Melody’s voice felt authentic, I enjoyed hearing from her perspective, and the story challenged me to make sure that my perceptions of people are fair. However, if you’ve read it, tell me your thoughts on the ending. I’m conflicted.

The False Prince – Jennifer Nielsen. Sage is taken from an orphanage and gets wrapped up in a plot to impersonate a supposedly dead prince. This book started out okay and got better as the story progressed – it had some major plot twists that had one of my students checking in with me daily to see how I was progressing and whether I had gotten to the exciting parts yet. Reader-ly middle school boys seem to love this one.

Currently reading: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas; A Man Called Ove – Frederick Buechner (audiobook); The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis

Watching

The African Queen and Casablanca. Apparently it was the month for introducing Adam to Humphrey Bogart. These classics are two of my favorites, and everyone should watch them.

 The Great British Baking Show. This show is an utter delight. Brits bake in a tent on the countryside. Picture bunting and British accents and shots of lambs in between shots of cake. The competition is also the kindest I’ve ever watched – these people are from all walks of life, from construction to graphic design to homemaking – and they are more supportive of each other than any other competition I’ve watched.

Listening

Blue Babies Pink podcast (and blog). Brett Trapp shares his “Southern coming out story” in episodes on his blog. He also has a podcast where he reads the posts. I’m not too far into the series, but both are fantastic. Brett is real and honest and tells his story – one that needs to be heard.

What Should I Read Next podcast. I like Anne Bogel (or Modern Mrs. Darcy) and her reading guides, and I’ve known about this podcast for ages, but I didn’t check it out until this month. Guests share 3 books they love, one book they hate, and what they’re currently reading, and Anne matches them with 3 books she thinks they might enjoy. I’ve picked up some fun recommendations, but I also just really love hearing people talk about books.

Loving

I swear, this article could have been written about my students. I recently had two of them tell me that if I get married, they need to be invited to my wedding. Another asked me, in the middle of silent reading, what my favorite stores are.

This necklace in white. I think I’ve worn it at least 3 times a week since receiving it. It goes with everything.

Running. Sometimes. Adam convinced me to run a half-marathon at the end of July, and our training has officially begun. I am currently “enjoying” anything around 3 miles, but the long runs (my longest is 5 miles thus far) feel really, really long. Don’t tell me how many miles I have to add by race day. I’m not thinking about it.

Sunshine! The warm temps are finally here, and it’s all I can do to not wear shorts to school every day.

Doing

Attending a Kentucky Derby party. The race, was, well, shorter than I expected. But hey, it’s a great excuse to dress nicely and eat food with friends.

Watching La Boheme. Adam and I attended a performance of this opera at the Ordway. The first few acts are sad, but the last moments of the last act? Epically tragic. RENT is based on this opera, for context.

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Exploring the Twin Cities. In one weekend, we were able to hit up an estate sale on Summit Avenue and wander through an open house of a mansion that’s for sale. My standards for future houses have risen dramatically. We also stopped by the Grand Ole Creamery for pizza and ice cream (and to smell the homemade waffle cones. Delightful.)

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The parasol did not come home with me. Maybe it should have, since I got sunburned later that day.

 

Hosting an after-church tea with friends. I learned how to make scones for the occasion. They’re not that difficult. It’s a dangerous realization.

Celebrating Andrew’s graduation! My youngest brother graduated from high school this month. I still can’t handle the fact that he’s not 13 anymore! We all enjoyed listening to his trumpet solo during the band’s senior song, eating at the s’mores bar (I’m still thinking wistfully about brownies topped with marshmallow and a dark chocolate sea salt caramel) and catching up with family. Unfortunately, my sister was stranded overseas after flight cancellations and the party wasn’t complete without her!

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DSC_0970.jpgStarting off the lake season. We were ambitious with the paddleboards and tried to go around the lake…only to get stranded when the wind picked up and I panicked at the size of the waves. Lessons learned? Accept that falling in is not the end of the world (even when fully clothed), and Minnesota lake people are nice when you show up wet and bedraggled on their porch.

School. Almost. Done. This seems about accurate at this point.

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What have you been into this month?

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Faithful: What Matters in Education (and Life)

faithful. adjective.”Thorough performance of a duty; steady in allegiance; reliable.”

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At the beginning of January, the teachers on my team analyzed the scores from our latest round of standardized testing. I was not entirely pleased. Not because proctoring tests is not exactly my favorite use of my time (ahem), but because there was more red in my results than I wanted to see.

I skedaddled back to my classroom and spent my prep comparing data and brainstorming how to bring nonfiction scores up and having a minor panic that I’m not an okay teacher and my lessons aren’t purposeful and I must have missed something crucial in college even though I didn’t skip class and maybe a real, qualified adult needs to be in my classroom at all times.

Then I forgot to go to a meeting, as one does.

After these solid affirmations of my competency, I turned on On Being for my commute. Krista Tippet interviewed Eugene Peterson, the pastor who translated The Message paraphrase of the Bible. Part of their conversation stuck with me:

“The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness, the smaller and smaller tasks we’re going to take on, because they’re the only ones with which you can be effective. But there has to be a standard that trumps effectiveness. And I have a word that I use for myself that helps me walk this path…that’s the word faithfulness. Faithfulness has to trump effectiveness.”

I cling, very tightly, to the norm of effectiveness.

I realized just how tightly again a few weeks later. My class was reading Arithmetic, a poem about the challenges of math. My quick pre-reading activity was having students discuss their least favorite class. That would get them engaged, I thought. Maybe it did. But as they talked, I heard what felt like a chorus of “ELA, ELA, ELA” across the classroom.

I brushed it off, at first. Later that evening, though, I realized how deeply their responses shook me when I turned teary and resistant to the idea of going to school in the morning. Was this not proof that all of my efforts were for naught? I was working late to grade, trying to plan things that seemed marginally interesting, and sharing snippets of my life so students could build relationships. If no one appreciated any of this, why was I showing up? No one was convinced that the way poets play with language is amazing. No one valued silent reading time. No one liked it. I had failed.

Let’s pause and summarize: I am a teacher who believes that in order to be effective, I must have stellar test scores and all 98 of my students must love every minute of my class. In addition, based on the educational theories I believe, most class time should be spent challenging students to use higher-order thinking to develop real-life reading and writing skills while also making them better citizens.

We have a problem.

I cannot do that effectively. No way.

Recognizing this leaves me leaning heavy on Eugene Peterson’s words: faithfulness has to trump effectiveness.

I still want to know what will create through the roof MCA scores. I want to know how much those scores actually matter. I want to know how to help struggling readers love my class, when every assignment requires intense effort from them. If I knew those answers, and had mind controlling abilities, I might be an awfully effective teacher.

But having all those answers, and all that control, isn’t possible. Being faithful is.

Right now, in the doldrums of February, faithfulness is simple but hard. It looks like continuing to get out of bed on Monday mornings. And Tuesday mornings. And Friday mornings. It means forcing kids to research beyond skimming Wikipedia because I believe that skill actually matters. It means brainstorming reading challenges so more of the munchkins read outside of class, even for ten minutes. It looks like making lessons as engaging as I can, not so my kids will love me but because it’s the best for their learning.

Faithfulness, in my attitude and effort and passion for my kids and my content, will be enough. It trumps effectiveness. For the sake of our students and our careers, it has to.

 

 

 

What I’m Into: December 2016

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

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

Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening

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

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

Watching

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

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

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

Loving

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

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

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

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Autostart. It should be mandatory in Minnesota winters.

Doing

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

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

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Photo from my mom’s Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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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May (2016)

May. proper noun. The month when summer is so close, you can almost taste it.

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We’re keeping it short and sweet this month. I’ve been busy, and trying to hold my sanity intact as students get antsy for summer has taken up lots of mental space. The only thing I’ve been consistently good at is making crack broccoli. I’m still posting because routine, thy name is Anna, and because there are still some gems here. If you want further recommendations, hit up Leigh Kramer’s link-up.

Reading

All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven. Enchanting but heartbreaking. School weirdo Finch meets grieving, popular Violet on top of the school bell tower. Violet is contemplating ending her life. Their romance is unexpected and sparkling and tragic. Similar to The Fault in Our Stars, but with mental illness instead of cancer.

Currently reading: Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta; Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh.

 

Watching

I cannot recollect one movie or TV show that I watched in May. This is the truth.

 

Listening

The Sorta Awesome podcast. Megan Tietz and her rotating crew of co-hosts explore all kinds of topics that make life awesome. These podcasts are chatty, but also reflective and informational. I’ve really been enjoying them.

 

Loving

We need less Christianese and more of this.

This delightful summer salad recipe.

Almay Intense I-Color Liquid Eyeliner for blue eyes. I am not necessarily good at eyeliner, but I know that this eyeliner goes on more smoothly than others I’ve tried, and I love how the flecks of gold that make an ordinary brown eyeliner seem prettier. Plus, I can wash this off without eye makeup remover.

All teachers will tell you that this is so true. Especially the end-of-the-year-teacher pic.

 

Doing

Surviving at school. We are ready to be done. I had one kid tell another “You are slowly driving Ms. Christenson insane.” That about sums it up. Except I’m going to try harder to be positive than that. My eighth graders wrote some short stories that are fun to read, and right now they’re in the middle of giving speeches. Sometimes they’re hilarious. My kids actually showed improvement in grammar and vocabulary. And best of all, we only have 5 days left.

Catching up with my boss/mentor from my RA days and getting to see her cutie pie daughter. I love good conversation and entertaining kiddos.

Spending an evening with just my parents. My mom had an appointment in town, and my parents decided to fly out of Minneapolis to surprise my sister while she was on tour with her college band. Before they left, my mom and I got pedicures, we went out for dinner, and my parents helped me grade homework. They should come to town more often.

 

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I discovered later that night that my toenail polish glows in the dark. I find more joy in it than I would like to admit.

Spending a week with the boy in MN. He was an usher in a wedding. I met the bride and groom at their rehearsal (an interesting dynamic) and got sunburned while helping set up at their wedding. We also went swing dancing, discovered that you can effectively use one paddleboard with two people, and spent some low-key quality time together.

Attempting to go dairy-free. I started on a hastily researched whim as an attempt to reduce cystic acne without going on medication, and my highly scientific experiment has told me it hasn’t made the situation worse? It may have improved? I’m still undecided about the whole thing. I do put almond milk in my tea and have an excuse to buy the expensive gelato because it doesn’t have milk in it…but I also eat cheese when necessary (read: too often?).  I may cut out everything dairy for another few weeks and see.

Frantic job applications. I didn’t get the summer school position I was hoping for, and I’ve been scrambling ever since. I am hopeful that I’ve have a solution soon.

Getting a new roommate. I have to admit, I have been incredibly blessed to have found kind rent-sharers on short notice/by miraculous coincidence.

 

What have you been into this month?

April (2016)

April. proper noun. The month when spring actually arrives!

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Definitely pulled off the street. In the rain. To take pictures of a random person’s yard.

This month has felt quite ordinary. No big news, no big trips, not even any big 3-day weekends. Read on for the details – they might be noteworthy anyway.

Reading

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The Lake House – Kate Morton. This book was classic Kate Morton – a mystery told in multiple perspectives with drama and romance and plot twists. This one centers around a family and their missing baby brother, who hasn’t been found 70 years later. The ending wrapped up a little too coincidentally for me, but if you like her other books, it fits right in.

The School of Essential Ingredients – Erica Bauermeister. This was a delight of a book. Lillian discovers the magic of cooking at a young age, and later in her life she doses out small miracles to her cooking class. Each chapter focuses on the story of one person in the class, and my biggest wish from this book is that it was longer so I could spend more time with each character. It’s full of lush descriptions and is guaranteed to make you hungry.

 Moon Over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool. This book won a Newberry Medal, and I have only good things to say about it. Abilene Tucker’s father sends her to the small town of Manifest, Kansas, when he decides that a life on the railroad during the Depression is no place for a young girl. While searching for traces of her father, Abilene also uncovers secrets and stories from the town’s past. Abilene’s voice rings clear, and the story is engaging and sweet, and I cried at the end. If I ever wrote a novel, I would want it to be like this.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart. This book was my pick for “A book you could read in a day” on my 2016 Reading Challenge list. That category turned out to be prophetic, because I did read it (or all but 14 pages of it) in a day. This story involves a girl from a wealthy family who spends her summers on a private island. Everything is idyllic until there is an accident. She is traumatically injured and loses most of her memory of the summer she turned 15. As the book goes on, she regains her memories of what happened and why her family has changed. You too may get hooked, and then have to go buy a copy because you accidentally forgot yours at school and you can’t wait for an entire weekend.

The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown. Plugging away slowly at this one, because it’s absolutely a case of right book, right time.

Currently reading: Gilead – Marilynn Robinson; The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown.

 

Listening

The Gardiner Sisters. Acoustic, folkly sounding covers. Excellence.

 

Thomas Rhett – Die a Happy Man. This song is the cutest. Best when the windows are down and the sun is out. (Don’t judge by the cheesy music video.)

The Lazy Sisters Podcast. This podcast is two sisters who talk about celebrities and basically nothing – but fun nothing. Kendra, the big sister, is the honest, snarky brain behind The Lazy Genius Collective. It’s the right amount of sass and about all of the depth I can handle on a drive home from work. Also, I once laughed so hard I cried while listening to this and driving down the interstate. In hindsight, this seems dangerous. So beware.

 

Watching

The Jungle Book. Basically a beautifully rendered sequence of a child’s many near-death experiences. I’ve never been so stressed by a children’s movie. Except when I was five and had to hide behind a chair to watch Aladdin enter the Cave of Wonders.

The Prince of Egypt. Apparently it was the month for intense kids movies. I hadn’t watched this movie since I was young, so I gained much greater appreciation for the complicated relationships between Moses and Ramses – and for the soundtrack – this time around.

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. I am in love with Mr. Darcy. Lately I’ve been watching a few episodes while I eat dinner, and it’s the best.

Loving

This post, which reminds me that “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Go to this link and click on the wedding video for London + Nathan. (P.S. Nathan is the kid from iCarly). I had to wipe tears off my keyboard after watching it. Just a warning.

I’m still on Hamilton kick. These kids rock this.

I’m still figuring out how to teach English, and this has been a good reminder of why literature matters.

And all of the teachers said yes and amen to this.

These shoes. I needed new teacher shoes that weren’t boots, and these fit the bill. They have taken a while to fully break in, but they go with everything, have enough support so I can stand all day, and are a little cuter than most other Danskos.

Avocados. Why had I never tried avocado toast before this month? It’s fantastic.

Doing

Playing in a teacher basketball tournament. I am ridiculously rusty, but it was fun to get out on the court for a few games. My school got 3rd place out of 12 teams from across our district, so that’s cool.

Going to the chapel and we’re…watching other people get married. Hometown family friends got married at my alma mater, coincidentally. It was strange but fun to see many home church friends on campus. Also, my family should not be allowed anywhere fancy or formal. Getting a serious picture was such a struggle.

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I found out I didn’t get a big scholarship that I had applied for to spend a year in Norway a while back. As consolation, my little brother offered me the first-ever C.W. Christenson Scholarship, which funded a dinner out with him and my sister. We ate wonderful deep-dish pizza at The Italian Pie Shoppe, and then watched our friend Anneliese and her a capella group perform.

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My college roomie was in town for a weekend. We got to grab lunch, then take DQ Blizzards to the park, where we excelled at people-watching. It’s one of our talents.

TEACHING. PLANNING. GRADING. WOW. Mucho hours invested. I am still figuring out what to do with the small-ish people for 225 minutes a day. Also, I accidentally told one class that I have Instagram. Besides being AMAZED by this (because obviously teachers are supposed to be way too lame to have Instagram), I had multiple kids in my homeroom at the end of the day proceed to stalk me. I have never had so many new followers – or answered so many questions about my personal life ­– in one day. As in, “wait, when your boyfriend proposes, are you going to put it on Instagram?” “Hey, is that going to happen soon? Like have you guys talked about getting married?” “Wait, is this your website?” Until I blocked them all and made my account private. Alas. For them. Students, if you’re looking at this, go read a book.

In the few hours that leaves…doing the usual. Chatting with my new roommate, making dinner, avoiding the dishes, spending as much time outside as I can sneak in while spring in Minnesota cooperates.

 

What have you been up to this month?