November 2017: What I’m Into

November. proper noun. Meg March calls it “the most disagreeable month in the whole year.” At least we have Thanksgiving.

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I don’t have much to say on November, mostly because I’m not sure where it went. It was cold and dark, that I remember. I read a million 7th grade essays, more or less. And now, here we are, on the front end of the holiday season, rapidly approaching the end of the year. I’m not sure where 2017 went, either. How did all those days go by? And what on earth did I do with them?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Those questions can wait another month. For now, here’s November’s recap.

 

Reading

A lot. Especially, oddly, nonfiction.

The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis. A church in town put on a production of this, so I read the actual book in preparation. It is perplexing in the best way possible. It’s fun to read more of Lewis and see his views on heaven being the truest sense of reality woven throughout. This is one to come back to again.

Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman. This little collection of essays about the joys of books and reading is a delight. Anne Fadiman is whip-smart and observant and may have the world’s best vocabulary. The essay on reading aloud may be my favorite.

The Dog Says How – Kevin Kling. I enjoy Kevin Kling a lot – his interview with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast is one of my favorites – and you can practically hear his voice narrating all of these essays. He’s quirky and funny and reflective, and I love all of his Minnesota references and the honest way he talks about disability.

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy – Peitra Rivoli. I’ve been doing boatloads of reading about ethical fashion (see this post if you missed it), and this book was fascinating. It’s a bit dense – my boyfriend will actually have to read it for an upcoming grad school class – but the stories are well-told. Highly recommended if you want to know the nitty-gritty of where your clothes come from.

Bomb – Steve Sheinkin. This is the story of the race to create the first atomic bomb and all of the espionage behind the scenes. It’s technically a YA book, but I learned a ton, the stories are intriguing, and it did a good job of discussing the moral conundrum the scientists faced. I may have dreamed that everyone I knew was going to die in a war the night I finished it (can you say highly sensitive person?), but it’s definitely worth the read.

Need– Joelle Charbonneau. Students in a small Wisconsin town begin to join a new social media site, where users type what they need onto the message board. They are then given a task to complete, and when they do so their “need” is fulfilled. The tasks start small (invite 6 people to this site), but soon escalate. This book is suspenseful and felt frighteningly possible. I didn’t love the ending, but other than that? Couldn’t put it down.

Auggie and Me – R.J. Palacio. A student brought me her own copy of this and told me I had to read it immediately if I liked Wonder. So I did. It’s a sweet addition. It also made me more excited to see the movie (and I am a terrible English teacher, because I haven’t yet!).

Caraval – Stephanie Garber. I have mixed feelings about this book. There was so much potential. Scarlett dreams of being invited to a magical game called Caraval. Once she arrives, she finds that her sister has been kidnapped, and she must save her to win the  game. The mood feels much like The Night Circus, or at it least strives to. But unfortunately things just didn’t click for me. Scarlett and the rest of the characters don’t really develop for most of the book, and then do in the space of one scene. There are so many plot twists that I had to Google whether there is a sequel, or if there was just something I misunderstood. The setting is too ambiguous to be truly captivating – I could never entirely visualize what was happening. The plot is intriguing, and I was definitely sucked in, but the ending left me unsatisfied and emotionally muddled. That said, I know people who LOVE this book, so it might be worth a shot for you.

Daughter of a Pirate King – Tricia Levenseller. This book tells the story of, you guessed it, the daughter of a pirate king who is on a secret mission for her father. She lets herself be kidnapped, and can’t reveal her true nature (and also can’t fall for her handsome, strangely kind kidnapper). It was fine. It might fly with the perfect audience – perhaps a girl who likes fairy tales and pirate stories, but is old enough to handle sexual tension? I don’t know any of those. Read the Bloody Jack series instead.

Currently reading: A Rule Against Murder – Louise Penny. Watch for the Light readings for Advent.

 

Listening

At this second? Music for Advent. I’m following the traditional church calendar more intentionally this year, so I’m trying to save the Hark the Herald Angels Sing sort of tunes for closer to Christmas Day. To fill the gaps, I’m creating my own Advent playlist, with plenty of inspiration from this and this. A favorite: May You Find a Light by Josh Garrels.

Otherwise this month has been all about this jazz-filled playlist.

 

Watching

Flipped. I grew up absolutely loving this book, and I was terrified to watch the movie when it came out years ago. What if they wrecked it? But they didn’t. It was everything it should be.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I hadn’t watched any of these movies since going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Now I am dying to go back.

The Great British Baking Show, season 2. I can’t quit that show. Brita and I want to adopt Mary’s word “scrummy.”

 

Loving

I don’t love this article, exactly, but it is food for thought for all the teachers wondering why kids seem like crazy people.

This lasagna soup recipe. The hosts on the Sorta Awesome podcast talk about it all the time, and really, it is delicious.

The Thankful Tree in my classroom. I like my kids best when I remember that they are actual human beings with real lives and hearts. Seeing what they’re grateful for helps.

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The Christmas treats have arrived at Trader Joe’s! Give me all the chocolate-covered candy cane Jo-Jos.

Ikea. This is actually a love-hate relationship. How can a place so inexpensive add up to so much at the cash register? But I now have an actual curtain situation in my bedroom, plus these fabulous gold stars hanging over my bed.

 

Doing

Taking a bus to visit Adam. Overnight Greyhound rides are an adventure. The police only had to escort people off the bus once. (No, I’m not kidding. No, I was not in danger.) Otherwise, the trip was delightful. We went to Die Valkyerie, the opera famous for the Ride of the Valkyeries and my first foray into the world of really long operas. I still need some practice at fully appreciating them, but watching women riding horses “flying” over the stage while singing certainly was epic. The next day, we made it to the Museum of Science and Industry, and the U-boat exhibit was just as impressive as I remember. Dear friends happened to be Chicago the same weekend, and squeezing in breakfast with them on my final morning in town was the best surprise.

Celebrating Thanksgiving. My family members are delightful weirdos, who also make some good Thanksgiving food. As a bonus, my dad was able to surprise my sister at the airport when she flew in from California, and she stayed with me for a few extra days. Sneaking in a day with Adam and his family (and cutting down a real Christmas tree!) was lovely, too.

Finishing up the first trimester of school. I survived essay grading season. Barely. I also started up a weekly Creative Writing Club for girls. I have no idea what I’m doing, but it sure is fun.

 

As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. What have you been into this month?

 

 

 

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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.

 

June 2017: What I’m Into

June. proper noun. The first burst of sweet summertime.

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June and its long, sweet days have slipped away. To where, I don’t know.  Why they had to leave so fast, I’m not sure.

This month has been jammed full of events and errands and emotions. Blogging fell off my radar, for a time, and that’s okay. Ideas are percolating on these slow summer afternoons. I’m learning to wait for them, to listen, and to know when to do the work of drawing them out. We’ll see what they hold.

In the meantime, here’s some of what’s been happening in June.

Reading

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Not mentioned – this very long tome, which has been abandoned for now.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrick Backman. I adored this book. The story of Ove, a widowed curmudgeon, is unexpectedly hilarious and tender and raw. However, do not listen to the last five minutes of the audiobook while running errands. You will be crying too hard to go into Trader Joe’s. Or so a friend tells me.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas. This YA novel tells the story of Starr, an African American girl who is in the car when her childhood friend is shot and killed by a police officer. The book is timely and brings perspective to a situation that’s so often exploded by the media until the people closely linked to the event appear to be public figures giving interviews, rather than real people. It was engrossing. However, I do think that the book tried to do too much. It felt like the author wanted Starr to face every possible hurdle an African American teenager might encounter, which made some of the issues too thinly addressed. I would have preferred deeper insight into just a few issues, but I think it’s still worth reading.

The Cruelest Month – Louise Penny. This is the third mystery in the Inspector Gamache series, a delightful mystery series set in a little Quebec town. The murder in this book was creepier than in the first two, but I enjoyed how the author continued to deepen the bigger mystery that spans across the entire series. I’m excited to dive into the next one.

As You Like It – William Shakespeare. I much prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his other works, and this one was great fun. There are a number of famous lines (“All the world’s a stage,” for example), and Rosalind is a fantastic character.

Currently reading: A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis.

 

Watching

Wonder Woman. I’m not a big superhero movie person, but I did enjoy this one. It portrayed of a strong woman who is motivated by love and avoided slamming the audience with a feminist agenda. Gal Gadot is a wonder. Bonus: the Amazon general is played by Robin Wright, who is both Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride and Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Who knew?

The Great British Baking Show. I’m nearing the end of season 1. In a particularly tense episode, two bakers help another finish when she’s in a panic, and a shot of two women holding hands in support during the final reveal made me cry. I love this show.

Much Ado About Nothing. This is one of my absolute favorite plays, and Emma Thompson is young and hotblooded in this version.

 

Listening

This podcast explains one expert teacher’s views on how to deal with rude, disrespectful students. It merits a re-listen right before school starts.
Loving

Jockey wicking slipshorts. Perhaps this is too personal. But it’s a great discovery, so I’ll share anyway. Unlike my old volleyball spandex that I usually wear under dresses, these slipshorts don’t ride up and help prevent obnoxious leg sweat. Find ’em at Target.

This post is old, but I laughed out loud multiple times while reading it.

A makeup tutorial from a real person who forgets to wash their makeup brushes? Yes please.

Volstead’s Eporium. Thanks to a teacher friend, we discovered a little-known bar that, like a speakeasy, is completely unmarked, doesn’t have a website, and is hidden in a back alley. Once you’ve been let in and gone down a sketchy stairway, suddenly you enter the 1920s. Everything is decadent, and entire rooms are hidden behind moving bookshelves.

 

Doing

Celebrating Adam’s birthday! We got panekoeken, explored the Minnesota Zoo, and capped it off the day with a fancy dinner at The Lexington. I’m so glad he was born.

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Attending women’s retreat. My brother spends his summers at a Bible camp, and my mom, sister, and some women from my hometown church spent a refreshing weekend there. The weather cooperated enough for us to spend some time on the water and for three of us young, brave souls to attempt to sleep outside in hammocks.

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Watching An American in Paris at the Ordway. The show felt like spring and magic. We also got appetizers at Meritage, a fancy French restaurant. Not despising beef tartare made me feel very French indeed.

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Celebrating a rainy Father’s Day at the lake. It was a quiet, slow weekend, but we at least fit in an inaugural boat ride!

Attending the first of many summer weddings and wedding receptions. The wedding was held outdoors next to a creek, and it was entirely lovely. Congrats to Jack and Kaela!

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Running. Adam and I are still committed to running a half marathon. Despite one 5-mile run that left me convinced my knees would never be the same, things are progressing well. My knees have recovered, and I’m rediscovering that a runner’s high is actually a thing.

The school cycle continues! I finished up school midway through June, praise the Lord. I had one week of freedom (read: one week of catching up on everything I don’t do during the school year, like babysitting and sweeping the kitchen floor) before summer school began. Now I’m teaching summer school for 5 weeks…just not in the capacity I expected. Based on student class sizes, I’ve been moved from teaching ESL to assisting a 7th and 8th grade math class. Yep. Anyone who knew my attitude towards math in 10th grade is laughing right now. I’m getting good classroom management – and fractions – practice.

 

What are you into right now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Send-Off: What I Wish My Students Knew

Send-Off. noun. Parting words; good wishes for a person starting on another journey.

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They warned me.

They said that Gilead was quiet, uneventful. Just an old man reflecting on his life, leaving letters for his son. Don’t expect much plot. Don’t even expect chapters. They were right.

It was beautiful.

In Gilead, the novel by Marilynne Robinson, John Ames is dying. He leaves behind a young wife and son, and he wants his child to know stories that the boy is not yet ready to hear. He wants to pass on the fear of his grandfather’s one-eyed gaze, the emptiness of the weeks-long walk with his father across the prairie, the simple and deep love for the light bathing the church pews in the morning, the feeling of a baby’s brow beneath his hand. His words breathe forgiveness, and loving friendship, and contentment with long-anticipated family, and gentle lament for an unknown future.

I’ve found myself returning to this book, in ways literal and figurative. The companion book Lila is now in my hands, its pages rounding out the story of John Ames’s wife. His letters, also, roll around in my head. The idea of thoughts shared for later, for when your absence is felt, intrigues me.

I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. But our school year is slipping away, quickly. I will soon say goodbye to the students who have filled my classroom. Like all endings, it is bittersweet.

This is the first class that’s been mine. They know to get their journals on Wednesdays, to find library passes in the checked box, to grab a book reviews on the front table. I’ve tested my nonverbal signals and exit directions and wait time on them. They laugh at mentions of Cookie Monster and chicken. They groan every day when, after interrupting me, they must return quietly to their seats before I dismiss them for lunch. One kid knows me well enough to ask me to solve a math problem so he can laugh at the confusion on my face, my eyebrows scrunched in concentration. Another says that she’s adopted the hand gestures I unconsciously make.

We might not notice each others’ absences right away. It’s likely that they won’t think much on me after June 10. They will move on to eighth grade, then to high school, then to colleges and jobs and children of their own. They will have many more teachers, and the memory of that one tall one from 7th grade will fall away.

My memories of them will fade too. In 20 years, I will have forgotten some of their names. I might not remember the tiny gymnastics leotard one student showed us from 2nd grade, that one family endured a house fire while their student was in my class, that one brought donuts to celebrate her birthday, that one gave a speech on getting lost in life and cried, and that another girl that ran across the room to hug her.

I hope they still read, after they’ve left my room. Some have learned to love books this year. One boy wrote a note telling me so. One girl didn’t consider herself a reader a few months ago, and she’s now reading 2,000 pages a week. It’s easier to decide that you’ll enjoy the 20 minutes we spend reading each day, I guess. Maybe having a teacher shoving book recommendations at you helps, too. For those who don’t love it (because they are legion, and they are loud), maybe, just once this summer, or next year, or on break from college, they’ll shut the screen and crack a book. It will do them good.

I hope they think, too. Much of school get it done, and not think. It’s true in my classroom too often. May their curiosity not be ruined and their minds not be dulled by it. When they can vote, as some of them are so excited to do, I pray that they do their research, that they consider carefully. If given the chance, they ought to vote for my student who read the Constitution one day during independent reading. I sure would. When seeking advice, may they turn to trusted authors and advisors. They will check the credibility of their sources, we can only pray.

I hope they know that they’ll make it through these awkward years. They’re sprouting into teenagers before my eyes. One boy began the year as a kid, who apologized for talking too much and thought school was “kinda fun.” He’s now a teen, with an attitude around his friends. I know his kindness and curiosity will reappear, even in public, someday. The others will learn how to apply eyeliner correctly and to wear pants other than leggings and to turn off Clash of Clans and to not care if others think they’re “cringey.” I have faith.

I hope they know they are valued. In their writing and speeches and their book choices, I see the people they are becoming. They are empathetic. They are funny. They are optimistic (occasionally). They want to be computer engineers and athletic trainers and nurses and authors and fathers and mothers. When they are absent, we notice. Their lives are precious. Even when they feel forgotten, they are not.

These are the things lost in the pre-adolescent brain fog, in my tiredness on Tuesday mornings, in the general insanity of May. I can barely make them stop talking after lunch, much less communicate that I care about more than how many pages they read last week and how many missing assignments they have.

We still have time before we part ways. (Too much, it feels some days.) I pray that in these last lingering days of the school year, in the hours of time we still share, they see a glimpse of truth. Even when they’ve forgotten The Outsiders and my presence and the hush of our room during silent reading, may they remember what I tried, and often failed to teach: Their ideas are important. Their minds are worth cultivating. They matter.

 

What I’m Into: April 2017

April. proper noun. Its showers are supposed to bring flowers. We’ll see.

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It’s cliche, I know, but where has April gone? I blinked, and now I’m mystified as I write May on the calendar. It’s been a mixed month – spring is slow in coming, and there have been some anxiety-inducing decisions stretching through this month. But Christ has risen. Though it’s easy to make that cliche, the magnitude of it has been hitting me in this Easter season. We are saved. We have hope. Our lives are worth celebrating.

Here’s what I’ve been loving this month.

Reading

The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis. There’s a reason that this is a classic. C.S. Lewis expounds on the four types of love (affection, friendship, erotic love, and charity) and why they are all important. The charity chapter was most mind-blowing to me. A favorite quote: “All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times – and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit – they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.” There are so many of these in this slim book – I need to read it again, soon.

The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown. I adore this book. That’s in no small part because I listened to the audiobook, and Edward Hermann (the grandpa in Gilmore Girls) has the perfect voice to narrate this blend of history and rowing strategy and narrative. I am now half in love with all of the hardworking, dedicated boys of the 1936 crew team, and joining a rowing team has never had more appeal.

The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon. Recommendations for this book are all over the place, and I was a little scared to read it because I didn’t know if it would live up to the hype. It did. It chronicles one day in the life of Natasha and Daniel, two very different immigrant teens who meet on the streets of New York. Their story was unlikely and beautiful and heartbreaking and reminded me of how much our actions matter and influence those around us.

Very Married – Katherine Willis Pershey. This book is a sort of marriage memoir, with reflections on the beauty and struggles of lifelong commitment. Each chapter covers one aspect of marriage and offers stories, musings, and advice. I would love a bit more depth and length – sometimes it felt like Pershey just touched on a topic before moving on – but it was helpful to hear very real stories about married life.

Mosquitoland – David Arnold. In this book, a young girl runs away from her dad and stepmother in “Mosquitoland,” and boards a bus in search of the mother she left behind. It didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I did adore the characters, especially the friends Mim made along her journey. The empathetic, real portrayal of mental illness is also powerful.

Winter – Marissa Meyer. I finally finished the last book in the Lunar Chronicles. I’m glad to be done reading the series and know how it ended… but it seemed like Meyer was glad to be done writing the series, too. Overall assessment of the series? Great and fun and clever. Overall assessment of this installment? Meh.

Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan. Willow, a super smart and socially awkward preteen, learns one day that her parents have been killed in a car crash. This book follows the unlikely generosity that helps her survive. The story is tender and sweet.

 

Watching

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Though this movie was a good deal creepier than my highly sensitive self expected, I loved the magical twist on 1920s New York and the subtle references to the world of Harry Potter. I’m curious what they’ll do with the sequel!

 

Listening

Spotify Daily Mix. I just found this Spotify feature, with individualized playlists that combine songs you’ve liked with other music of a similar genre. Yay for not making decisions.

The original version of this song got stuck in my head after every Zumba class (which is problematic when you only know 7 of the words…). But I have to admit, I love the Justin Bieber in this remix…

 

Loving

This video makes me laugh.

Olive green pants. I struggle dressing for spring in Minnesota, when boots feel too wintery but it’s still 38º on morning bus duty. These have given me a springier option than my constant black pants. Pseudo-neutrals for the win.

Salsa dancing. Adam and I finally tried out our moves at a dance this month. We are, well, not Latin. But it was fun!

Black Coffee & Waffle Bar. Leslie Knope would approve of this place. They understand the necessity of adequate whipped cream.

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Doing

Participating in a panel of new teachers at my alma mater. We spoke to student teachers about the hiring process. It was fun to hear the perspectives of a few teaching friends, and it also reminded me just how much I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been teaching.

Dress shopping. I am lucky enough to get to be a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding this fall. We picked out our dresses this month, and I am now even more excited for their wedding!

Taking a family trip to Chicago. My sister had her final grad school interview over Easter weekend, so my family drove to the windy city to spend the weekend with her. We packed our little vacation full, walking over 20,000 steps each day. Highlights include the Tilt window at the John Hancock observatory, the beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium, the mummy exhibit at the Field Museum, and the limo ride we took when we were too tired to walk back to our hotel. (Yes, you read that right. We rode in a limo. We were not at all chill about it.) We also fully recommend the CityPass, a booklet of tickets for the most popular museums and experiences in the city. It made everything, especially the long lines at the Willis Tower observatory, faster. We finished off the weekend by celebrating Easter at Moody Church, which had a full orchestra and choir for the occasion.

 

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Note the four blond adults staring enraptured at an animal spouting water…that’s us.

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We also got matching tattoos. They were temporary.

Attending a concert at Orchestra Hall with friends. One of our favorite double date couples invited us out on the town for a birthday celebration, and we loved eating dinner and listening to enchanting music with them. Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye, or Mother Goose, collection is dreamy.

Finally, as always, teaching. We finished off our final session of parent-teacher conferences and are on the last leg of our year. I have no idea how we will fit in everything left to cover. None. We are currently finishing up a public speaking unit. I’ve learned even more about my students by listening to them share about items that represent them – it’s a good time of year for a reminder that they are complex human beings. My Advanced kids are also practicing mock debates. So far, the most memorable thing they’ve learned has come from a debate we watched to study technique. One of the debators said that television can be a positive influence because Cookie Monster teaches us that “cookies are a sometimes snack, not an always snack.” I have since heard this line once a day. I am clearly an influential teacher.

 

What have you been into this month?

 

 

What I’m Into: March 2017

March. proper noun. The month in which it’s sorta spring and sorta not.

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March is always a weird month of transition in Minnesota. We’re dying for spring, but the temps rise from bitter to mild to warm oh-so-slowly. We’re getting there.

Below is what I’ve been loving in this current in-between season.

Reading

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner. This book tells the story of two young married couples, the friendship that forms between them, and how it shifts as they age. The narrator, at one point in the story, says, “How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?” I’m not sure how Stegner does, but his writing is gorgeous and provocative. I loved this one.

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson. This is another quiet, striking book. I had been warned when starting Gilead that there are no chapters and it is simply a collection of letters written by an old minister to his son. That’s it. Since I was armed with those expectations, this book seemed meditative and beautiful, and Robinson weaves subtle suspense as she reveals events one small moment at a time. I finished it and added Home and Lila, its companion books, to my to-read list.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline. This book begins in a dystopian world where everything is falling to pieces, so everyone spends most of their time in a virtual reality called OASIS. The inventor of OASIS dies and leaves his fortune to the first person who can work through a series of clues to find an Easter egg hidden in the vast virtual world. Wade, known as Parzival online, is one of the people who joins in that quest. It’s not my typical style, but the concept was intriguing (and frighteningly possible), and the storytelling was well done. All the praise I’ve been hearing of it is justified.

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher. Do not start this book unless you have no other plans for the night so you can read the entire thing. I started this during 6th hour at school (when I’m not conferencing with students during silent reading time, I “model good reading habits” by reading alongside them. That is not an excuse for wasting time at work. They genuinely read better when I’m reading at the same time)… and had finished it by 7:00 that same night. Anyway. A high school boy receives a mysterious set of cassette tapes. As he starts to listen, he realizes that they are the recordings of a girl who committed suicide, detailing the “thirteen reasons why” she allowed herself to make that decision. He is one of them. The story, told in both Hannah and Clay’s voices, is heartbreaking and suspenseful and completely worth reading. There’s a movie of this story coming out soon that I will not watch because it would make me weep copiously.

Currently reading: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley. The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis. The Boys in the Boat (audiobook) – Daniel James Brown; narrated by Edward Hermann.

 

Watching

Beauty and the Beast. Twice. I’ve been anticipating this movie for literal years – it’s my favorite Disney princess story, and I adore Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Overall, it was a delight. The new music was perfection, and the world they created was enchanting. That said, I also have to admit that Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle didn’t seem quite as timeless as I had hoped. It felt more like I was watching Emma Watson, not her character, avoid Gaston and discover the Beast’s library. Recommended anyway.

 

Listening

Ed Sheeran’s new album Divide. His songwriting is so stellar. I especially love this.

 

I’ve also been listening to this, plus the rest of the new Beauty and the Beast soundtrack:

 

Loving – Spring break edition

The highlight of my March? Adam and I flew to Florida for my spring break, and I loved pretty much everything about it.

1st love: the beach.

On our first day in FL, we headed to the Tampa/Clearwater area, rented kayaks on Honeymoon Island, and paddled/waded across the bay to Caladesi Island. Even though it was the height of spring break, Caladesi was quiet and perfect. We packed a picnic, took our time lazing on the beach, and explored the mangroves by kayak. We did go to Clearwater Beach after the sun set to check out Frenchy’s South Beach Café for dinner, and to be very thankful that we chose a less rollicking place to spend the day.

 

2nd love: THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER.

IMG_7046.jpgIt deserves all caps. I love Disney, I do, but I think the Wizarding World may truly the most magical place on earth. Adam said that he has never seen me so excited in all of our relationship as when I was sprinting from the gate of Universal Studios to Diagon Alley. And I maintain that my fangirling was entirely justified. They have butterbeer (my definitive ranking of butterbeer varieties: 1st place – hot. 2nd place – cold. 3rd place – ice cream. 4th place – frozen.).

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They also have Hogwarts. And a fire-breathing dragon. And a freaking train station. And Honeyduke’s. The details are all perfection, and I want to go back next week.

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3rd love: manatees.

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We capped off our trip by an early morning trip to Crystal River to snorkel with manatees. Manatees are massive – 10 feet long and over 1000 pounds. I didn’t fully appreciate these facts until a manatee surfaced right in front of my face. We only saw two, but I would absolutely do this again.

So many thanks to my aunt and uncle for hosting us and making our trip extra awesome!

 

Doing

Road tripping to Madison, WI. My sister is interviewing for grad school, and her first interview was at UW-Madison. I joined her on a quick one-day road trip, which meant I had lots of time to explore the city while she did professional things. Even in the dead of late winter, the Olbrecht Botanical Garden and Conservatory was beautiful, and definitely worth another trip. (Imagine if the picture at the top of the post and the one below were green!) We also explored A Room of One’s Own, an independent bookstore with an excellent selection.

 

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Celebrating Brita! My sister turned 22 this month, and we had a weekend long celebration in her honor. On Friday, we went with my brother to our alma mater’s performance of Mary Poppins, which was an utter delight. My favorite moment was Bert tap dancing on the ceiling during the Chim Chim Cheree number. On Saturday, we ate donuts and did a girls’ viewing of Beauty and the Beast, went shopping, and ate Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cake (one of the best desserts on the planet). Sunday brought waffles and thrifting. Yay, Brita. Thank you for letting us eat sugar in your honor.

Attending Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Orchestra Hall. It was part of their Symphony in 60 series, where the piece is introduced with a quick lecture, then performed. Rite of Spring is, put bluntly, jarring and weird. But it also changed the face of music and has some fascinating moments. This format worked perfectly to help us get the most out of the performance.

And finally, school is still in session. Spring break kicked off the third trimester, and we’re onto the final (admittedly long) stretch before summer! We’re working through myths and legends (in the midst of MCA preparation) with both of my classes, and I have a new appreciation for just how wrong the Disney version of Hercules is.

 

What have you been into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up to see other views of March, too!

 

 

What I’m Into: February 2017

February. proper noun. This year, a month of seasonal weariness and unseasonably warm temperatures.

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The beginning of February is always depressing. Winter seems endless and dark and freezing. Yet, the end of this month always sneaks up on me. Here we are, in Lent, almost to the last third of the school year, with longer, warmer days approaching. I can’t complain.

As always, I discovered some wonderful things this month and shared time with some wonderful people. Read on for recommendations, or head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up to discover more.

Reading

This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald. I will admit: I very nearly abandoned this book. Like most of F. Scott’s work, I am glad that I finished it, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy the process. This book tells the story how Amory, a young man born into wealth, moves from Minneapolis to an elite high school to Princeton to the real world. He finds and loses love and life’s meaning. A deep emptiness prevails in F. Scott’s writing, but his descriptions do make me stop, reach for a pencil, and underline, hoping I’ll someday write so aptly.

The Gospels in Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts – edited by David Curzon. This collection of poems centers around biblical passages. I’m reading this as my morning devotional, and exploring more artistic interpretations of events like Jesus turning the water into wine at Cana is challenging but awakening. I’m also discovering that I’m a total nerd who very much likes poetry, and this helps read it more consistently.

March: Book 3 – Andrew Aydin and John Lewis. This is a graphic novel details John Lewis’s perspective on the march on Selma and the surrounding events. Though this is the 3rd book in the series by these collaborators, they don’t have to be read in order. This book challenged me in multiple ways: I don’t often read history or graphic novels, and this was an interesting combination of the two. I also wasn’t actively aware of how violent and life-threatening the work of the civil rights movement was. I highly recommend this, to students and adults.

Flora and Ulysses – Kate DiCamillo. I believe I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I want to be Kate DiCamillo when I grow up. Her books have an innocent magic that I love as much now as I did when I was the age of her intended audience. Flora and Ulysses is a story of superheroes and unlikely friendships and poetry and love. It made me smile and tear up and text pictures of lines to Adam.

Cress – Marissa Meyer. This is the 3rd book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and I continue to love how Meyer twists traditional fairy tale characters and situations to fit a dystopian setting. I rarely read series, especially dystopian series, so that I plan to read the 4th book soon is high praise.

The Book Whisperer – Donalyn Miller. I read this in preparation to hear Donalyn speak. She believes strongly in the value of independent reading and student choice for creating lifelong readers who are engaged and in love with books. Ideas like this make me so excited.

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (audiobook). A man with little hiking experience decides to walk the entire Appalachian trail, with some gear and a great fear of bears and an unlikely trail companion who has even less hiking know-how. Bryson sprinkles facts about nature and the trail into his tales of long hikes and the thrill of restaurant days, so this was both entertaining and educational, and I know way more about death by hypothermia than I did before.

 

Watching

The Crown. We are almost done with the series, and I sort of don’t want it to end.

 

Listening

Ellie Holcomb – Find You Here. I play this song most mornings as I prep my classroom for the day.

Hearts & Colors – Rich Man.

Ed Sheeran. And all the covers, including this. Watch it until the end. Please.

Bonus: Is anyone else as delighted by this as I am?

 

Loving

Schmidt’s deodorant. I’m not super crunchy in my beauty product choices, but I can appreciate that this deodorant doesn’t have weirdo chemicals that may or may not have adverse side effects. The bergamot and lime also smells amazing and the thing actually works – and this is coming from someone who sweats enough that Secret is ineffective.

Trello. This website and app is hard to explain – it’s sort of like digital post-its that you can categorize and move around. Based on Kendra’s recommendation on The Lazy Genius blog, I’m using it primarily to organize my book lists, and it’s miraculous. The color coding and detail organizing possibilities make me swoon.

Zumba! Brita, my sister, and I have continued to shake our hips once a week. I don’t think our coordination has improved, but at least we’ve sweated and had fun.

Evening prayer. Adam and I joined an evening prayer group at the church we’re currently attending. As someone who was raised in a non-liturgical church, I continue to be surprised by the beauty of liturgy. Finding a community that prays together is also a delight.

 

Doing

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School. Right about now, I am celebrating my one year teaching anniversary. It feels rather anticlimactic. The kids have spring fever, and I feel like I’m barely hanging on to control. My brain feels like the desk above. I still don’t know how much talking is too much talking, how strictly to crack down on off-task behavior, and how high my expectations should be for how much we can get done in a day. But, on the bright side, these students continue to make me smile. We’ve nearly survived the trimester with argumentative essays and poetry – I think we’re going to make it. Having a day off for President’s Day helped, as did attending a workshop with Donalyn Miller.

Attending a Wild game – for the first time ever. We were in the nosebleeds but had a connection that got us into the club room between periods. It was definitely the way to go.

Hosting a Galentine’s Day brunch. Some friends came over to celebrate Galentine’s Day, and I like to believe Leslie Knope would be proud. Props to everyone who brought yummy food and to Ellen Degeneres for inventing Heads Up – she knew what she was doing.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Adam. He surprised me with Sunday brunch at the Nicollet Island Inn. On Valentine’s Day itself, we made dinner together and went to a dance lesson. I am very lucky to have him.

Attending a performance at Orchestra Hall with friends. Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony was the headlining piece, and it merits repeated listening.

Driving to Fargo and back in one day for a wedding. At least there was good company en route and at our destination. We did get stuck in a snowstorm on the way back – curse you, I-94 – but the audiobook of Macbeth got us through.

What have you been into this February?

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.

 

 

 

Grateful

Grateful. adjective. “Warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.”

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I’ve felt fairly off-kilter this November.

Maybe it’s daylight savings time and darkness by 4:45. Maybe it’s the election (no comment). Maybe I need to start taking Vitamin D again. Maybe it’s this challenging point in the school trimester, where we’re trying to squeeze too much into too few days.

Being me, a person who believes there is a controllable solution for everything!, I figured I could solve this. I could fix my mild discontent, the underlying crankiness that makes me snappy with the boyfriend because why can’t he read my mind yet?, the frustration that builds up when middle schoolers act like, well, middle schoolers, the suppressed road rage that makes me sigh heavily in traffic.

My life can’t be that bad, right? I thought while washing dishes one night and pondering the state of my spirit. I am employed and loved and fed and relatively fulfilled. I must not be seeing all of the good things in my life. Like now. I should be really in the moment while I’m here washing dishes, noticing how good the dish soap smells and how accomplished I feel when the kitchen is clean. Hey. I should write down the little things that make me thankful. Even at school. Even though I don’t have time to go to the bathroom, much less write down more things. But I’ll do it! It will even make a timely November blog post. Look at me, solving everything.

So I set off on my Ann Voskamp-style crusade. (Nothing against Ann Voskamp. Obviously, I liked One Thousand Gifts since I’m using this strategy.) It was a random Thursday, and I decided that gratitude could be fostered on any ol’ day. So I wrote down how thankful I was that students actually make positive comments sometimes and that my 6th hour students are so curious (even though it makes them talk incessantly), and that I’m discovering more teaching strategies that work.

And then Friday came. The thankful list, topped with a smiley face, was sitting nearly on top of my keyboard.

I didn’t think about it all day. I definitely muttered complaints to myself when things didn’t go exactly as planned. (This happens approximately every 5 minutes.)

A blog post I read recently quoted Annie Dillard, who says, “The world is fairly studded and strewn with unwrapped gifts and free surprises…cast broadside from a generous hand.”

Remembering to unwrap those gifts, so generously given, is hard.

Our nice Christian blog posts make it seem like it should be so simple. Just look around you! See the good in the world! Be joyful! Get over your first world problems and think about how #blessed you are!

When I don’t find these blessings at first glance, it feels like I’m a lesser Christian woman. At the very least, I should not be allowed to write about faith. How dare I not find beauty in every sliver of the world and rejoice about it always.

But this practice of hope, of finding gifts in the world, of gratitude, is not so sugar-coated. It’s right at home in a world that’s busted and a heart that’s rough around the edges.

It is easy to bemoan all of the ways our worlds fall to bits. This year alone has shown us so much that is dark and tumultuous and fearful and ugly in the world. At school, all of the distractions and redirections and miscommunications are much more obvious than the times my kids listen and positively contribute. In my own cranky soul, I see far too much selfishness and greed and ego and anger and pettiness.

There are absolutely times to see those things and mourn them. Far too often, we slap a spiritual Band-Aid over gaping wounds and make ourselves move on. Even in this season of thanksgiving, I don’t want to shut my eyes to that bad stuff and pretend it’s not there. God encourages us to lament all that is imperfect.

But right now, I know I need to face the ick, in the world and my own heart, and believe that God is still there among the wreckage. He is still surprising us with beauty and giving us grace. Seeing his gifts is one way we move forward, closer to his light and his hope. Even when we’re scared for the future of our nation. Even when we’re lacking in Vitamin D. Even when we’re cranky too much of the time. Even when the world is broken.

The harder the practice of gratitude is, the more we need it.

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I lovingly forced my students to foster hope and gratitude this November with our Thankful Tree. Every Tuesday, we wrote a few things we were thankful for on leaves and taped them to a construction paper tree in the back of the classroom. Here are some of my favorites:

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This is what happens when you tell students they can’t talk about politics anymore. I don’t entirely share the sentiment, but it does make me laugh.

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SSR = sustained silent reading. Me too.

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I work in a public school. I love this extra.

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These kids are honest and funny and they make me smile. That’s something I’m thankful for.

There’s more: Autostart in my new car. Leftovers. Good books. Yoga videos. Comfortable shoes. Laughter. Family members who are my friends and friends who feel like family. Long weekends. The small thrill of having a full tank of gas. Pajamas. Audiobooks. Cold glasses of water. The satisfaction of crossing items off to-do lists. Clean sheets. Lip balm.

Today, it might be a struggle to add to the list. But I’m choosing to see past my tiredness, past the insanity that is a classroom before a long weekend, past the many approaching hours in the car, past the dozens of essays I still have to grade, past the newspaper headlines, and be grateful.

Will you join me?