What I’m Into: April & May 2018

April & May 2018. The bitter end of winter and the end of the school year and most of our sanity.

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This post is brought to you by a critical condition called End of the Year Teacher Brain. This is a condition in which my brain cells have been killed off, one by one, by every interruption and request for make-up work and time I have had to say, “You should be quietly reading at this point” in my quiet, I-have-eternal-reserves-of-patience voice instead of the guttural roar of “WHY IS THIS HARD. JUST STOP TALKING. YOU SHOULD KNOW HOW TO READ SILENTLY AT THIS POINT IN THE YEAR,” that is resounding in my head. Every day that I make it through without a. napping through my entire prep period or b. completely losing my mind is worth celebrating.

The Internet knows what I mean.

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At least it’s just a few days until I can do this:

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Here’s the long list of other things that are making this season a little bit better.

P.S. There is an excessive amount of stuff in this wrap-up – especially books – because I skipped last month. We can blame End of the Year Teacher Brain for that, too.

 

Reading

Dreamland Burning – Jennifer Latham. This book is really, really excellent. On her first day of summer break, Rowan wakes up to see that a construction crew has uncovered a decades-old skeleton on her property. The story unravels from there, jumping back and forth between 1921 and the present day. There is much to love here – multiple perspectives, a bit of mystery, and more information on the Tulsa race riots (a historic event I knew nothing about).

Rules of Civility – Amor Towles. Adam picked up this book, so I reread it at the same time. I love Amor Towles’ sharp observations and subtle wit, and I stand by my original assessment that this is similar in tone to The Great Gatsby (atmospheric, glitzy, melancholy), with more likeable characters. Now if only he could write another book soon…

Orbiting Jupiter – Gary Schmidt. I am discovering that I am very picky about endings. A student had told me that this one made her cry, so I waited to finish it until I was alone in my apartment. It was a good thing I waited. This ending is devastating, but incredibly well done. Go read this little book. Right now.

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein. I don’t want to say too much about this book. I can tell you that it’s told from the perspective of a female spy who has been captured in occupied France and who is writing out confessions to the Gestapo, and that it’s chock full of surprises. This ending, too, worked for me: aside from one coincidence that was just too perfect, it was tragic and excellent. It is YA, but this is one of those books that transcends the label and is worthy of being read by older folks.

(Admittedly, I couldn’t get into the prequel, The Pearl Thief. Perhaps it was a book hangover from this?)

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Pachett. This is a collection of essays by Ann Pachett, the novelist and co-owner of Parnassus books. It is only partially about marriage, and contains many other stories of her life and writing career. I enjoyed it. Worthwhile, but not life-changing.

The Wednesday Wars – Gary Schmidt. I remember loving this as a teenager, but I didn’t remember anything about it. In the midst of the Vietnam War, a boy deals with the typical coming-of-age struggles – while he also has to learn Shakespeare with his teacher. I guarantee that teachers will find this funnier than kids.

The Road Back to You – Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. I will admit, I only read the chapters of this that applied to me. (I am a One, undecided if I have a Nine wing or not.) Since I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts about this topic, the book wasn’t revolutionary, but I think it would be a great basic introduction to the Enneagram for the uninitiated. (I’m going to dive into The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz next and potentially check out Suzanne Stabile’s new book The Path Between Us, too).

What I Saw and How I Lied – Judy Blundell. This is a sparsely told story that takes place just after World War II. Evie’s stepfather has returned from the war, and inexplicably whisks her and her mother away to Florida, where buried secrets come to light. This was a quick read that I wished was deeper in parts, but I was fascinated by how it was impossible to tell if the narrator was unreliable or just naïve.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Khoul. Another book of essays! This one was fine. I think I was expecting her to be another Jenny Lawson or Tina Fey, and who wouldn’t seem only fine in comparison to those? My favorite parts were her descriptions of her Indian family, and her emails with her father at the end of every chapter.

It Won’t Be Easy – Tom Rademacher. This teaching memoir is by a recent Minnesota Teacher of the Year. It was fine. Maybe a little preachy. On the whole, a decent reminder that we should be in teaching for the kids.

Abandoned: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is a pick that so many people have loved, and what I read of it certainly was addictive. But I didn’t like Evelyn’s character enough to stick with it. Plus, I was terrified she was going to hurt sweet Harry, and I didn’t want to stick around for that emotional train wreck.

 

Listening

Darling – NEEDTOBREATHE. It’s a good thing I was physically with Adam the first time I heard this song, or I probably would have busted out crying. The Spotify radio for this song is excellent, too.

 

Be Kind to Yourself – Andrew Peterson. Kendra Aadachi of The Lazy Genius Collective has a playlist for Enneagram Ones. The first time I heard this song, I did bust out crying.

Watching

The Post. I thought this movie was well done. After all, it has both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It was extra interesting coupled with Slow Burn, a podcast I’ve been listening to about the Watergate scandal. I’m hoping to pick up Katharine Graham’s biography soon!

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction – David Letterman’s interview with Malala Youshafzi. This was such an unlikely pairing, but I found Malala to be a fascinating person. This would actually be a great interview to show students.

 

Loving

Warm. Weather. We had a snow day in mid-April, and it’s hard to believe that was just over a month ago. In the span of what felt like a week, we went from snow on the ground to 70 degrees, and I can’t say I’m mad about that. (Though I’m not sure how I feel about hitting 100 degrees on Memorial Day…)Now I just have to resist wearing shorts every day.

Kiehl’s Ultra Face Cream SPF 25. I searched long and hard for a moisturizer with SPF that doesn’t smell like sunscreen, dry my face out, or irritate my crazy sensitive skin. I tried just about everything, and I hated just about everything. This one worked.

 

Doing

Vising Adam. Over the past two months, I drove to Chicago three times, which equals driving for half a million miles. At least the guy is worth it. 🙂 Here are the highlights:

Weekend #1 – I was recovering from a bout of the stomach flu and decided to make the drive anyway. We didn’t do much other than attend a performance at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where the run up 6 flights of stairs and then the perilous descent from the top of the gallery to our seats nearly took me out.

Weekend # 2 – We went to the Party in the Sky, UChicago’s grad event at the Willis Tower. We also squeezed in a tour of Rockefeller Chapel’s carillon tour (incredibly cool and worth climbing eternal flights of stairs) and a walk down to Promontory Point.

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Weekend #3 – For Memorial Day weekend, we wandered through the Science of Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry and escaped the heat of Adam’s unconditioned apartment at the beach (you know it’s hot when you actually go into Lake Michigan in May). Adam also let me drag him downtown just for Shake Shack, Millennium Park, and the Buckingham Fountain. Before I left, we also tried bubble tea. Bobas are weird.

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Attending a Rend Collective concert with the family. I like Rend Collective’s Irish quirkiness. And my family’s general quirkiness.

Watching The Lorax. Though this was a production at the Children’s Theater, it was incredibly well done and thought provoking. I got to tag along with a few kids, and seeing their reactions was also a delight.

Running a half marathon relay! Andrew and I weren’t feeling up to a full half marathon, so we split the difference and ran the relay. Training for a race was a great way to kick my butt in gear after a winter of sitting on the couch, but I was grateful Andrew let me take the shorter 5 mile leg!

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Watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at the Guthrie. This show was excellent. I remember watching and enjoying the movie version of this, but I didn’t know what to expect from a play. It was simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching.

Teaching. Almost summer. Out of words.

Whew. What have you been into this spring?

 

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February 2018 – What I’m Into

February. proper noun. The month of love. And also the month where I consider moving somewhere not this cold.

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This month was the Tale of Two Februaries.

There was the Vacation February. For one blessed long weekend at the beginning of the month, I flew to San Francisco to see my mom and sister. Brita gets to live somewhere with palm trees, you guys. This is great because, you know, good for her, but also because it gives me an excuse to leave Minnesota in February. I got to get the tiniest bit sunburned. I got to not wear a parka. I got to hike in a forest where there were actual leaves, and they were green.

The next blessed long weekend of Vacation February, Adam came to Minnesota for President’s Weekend. Thank you, presidents, for being born and giving us the day off. We ate good food. We danced. We got to sit next to each other. It was a delight.

And then there was Ordinary February. Ordinary February is even worse than Ordinary January because in February, it’s still freaking cold. And my tolerance of it is even lower. In Ordinary February, the hormone monsters also take over the 7th grade. The kids get weird and squirrely, and while they’re sometimes hilarious, they also make me very tired.

The moral of the story?

Take every February off. Entirely.

(I wish.)

And also, fine. Remind myself that there is good in the ordinary, for the 10,927 time. (That is not hyperbole.) Even when I have to get up before 6:00 am and even when it’s snowing again and even when I can’t handle one more interruption during class. There is still beauty and goodness here.

Here is some of that good from this month.

 

Reading

Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry. I first discovered Wendell Berry when I read Jayber Crow a few summers ago. I liked it enough to buy a collection of his Sabbath poems. And even those did not prepare me for how much I would love and adore Hannah Coulter.  I have never underlined so much and texted so many pictures of paragraphs to Adam, especially in a fiction book. This is simply the story of one woman’s life. Her words and story are ordinary. But her insights are striking and beautiful. This moved up high on the list of my favorites, and I might tell every woman I know to read it.

Refugee – Alan Gratz. This book tells the stories of 3 different refugees – Josef is a Jew escaping the Nazis on the St. Louis, Isabel is a Cuban leaving the Castro regime on a homemade raft, and Mahmoud is a Syrian fleeing from war. This book is gripping and heartbreaking, while still being entirely appropriate for a young adult audience. I kept feeling like the author should just give these characters a break already – how could so many terrible things happen to a handful of people? But that’s also real life. Highly recommended.

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon. This book ramps up the awkward-teenage-love thing – by introducting an arranged marriage. Dimple Shah heads to InsomniaCon, a coding camp, with plans to develop her app. Instead, she discovers that her parents planned for her to meet her future husband. I loved this book. Until the last quarter. Rishi is the cutest awkward boy-in-love, and I thought the tug of war between how Rishi and Dimple handled their Indian heritage was handled well. However. In the last quarter, there was a steamy scene that, while not especially explicit, just seemed unnecessary. I also didn’t entirely buy the ending. I wanted to be able to recommend this one to my students without reservations. But alas. If you’re older than 12, it’s entirely enjoyable.

Garlic and Sapphires – Ruth Reichl. Food memoirs are just scrumptious. (Or scrummy, as Mary from The Great British Baking Show would say.) This book tells about Ruth Reichl’s experiences as the food critic at the New York Times. It involves more wigs than you might expect. Besides making me hungry for things I’ve never even tasted (squid ink? Truffles?), this story has surprising reflections on how we create identities for ourselves and how society treats different women differently.

A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. This isn’t exactly my type of book. But when a student hands her very own copy of a book to me and tells me that I simply must read it, I can’t not. And this book was very dear. A dog is reborn into multiple settings to discover what is it, exactly, that dogs are here for. If you don’t cry at least once while reading this (a dog dies…multiple times…), you don’t have a heart. I managed to not weep while reading in front of students – but that’s because I got lucky and read the ending at home.

 

Watching

Folks, I finally started watching The Office. I’m just 10 years or so behind the times. My excuse is that I once had to watch 4 hours of the later seasons of this show with no context and it wrecked everything – until now. I’m glad I got over it. Michael still makes me so uncomfortable, but I am holding out for Jim and Pam. I’m just a few episodes into Season 3 (!!!!) and it looks like there’s no hope for them.

 

Listening

Havana, especially this cover by Pentatonix.

Fields of Gold by Drew and Ellie Holcomb. They are both so talented.

Random love songs, you know, for Valentine’s Day. And for any day when I have to grade things during my prep. Think L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours by Stevie Wonder.

 

Loving

Letterfolk Instagram. They share the best quotes. Case in point:

 

Cross country skiing. Well, this is a love-hate relationship. Skiing during a winter weather advisory is fantastic – until the falling snow actually freezes to your eyelashes. Heading out into untapped wilderness (okay, fine, onto fresh powder where track hasn’t been laid yet) with a friend who doesn’t mock your ineptitude is also great. But falling down icy hills (still. Again.) makes me question that I can be the next Jessie Diggins. Probably with good reason.

Speaking of Jessie Diggins – the Olympics. I get overly invested in people I’ve never heard of before the Olympic games begin, and I almost cried when I read the headlines that a fellow Minnesota girl had finally gotten gold in cross country skiing. And then this ice dance? Holy mackerel.

 

Doing

Watching the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Superbowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.  Well, I wasn’t in U.S. Bank Stadium. I was a few miles up 35W eating chili with church folks. I did not venture downtown once that entire week, and I am only mildly regret it.

As mentioned above, traveling to San Francisco! My mom and I flew out to visit my sister and had the best of times. Highlights:

  • Golden Gate Park, especially the observatory of the city in the art museum and the albino crocodile in the science museum
  • Dinner at the Cliff House, which had the best views (and the most delicious seafood)
  • Playing arcade games at the Musee Mechanique. Julie Andrews and “little Annie Hathaway,” as the guy on rollerskates who runs the place called her, filmed the arcade scene in the Princess Diaries there. That place is the weirdest and best.

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  • The chilly hike through Muir Woods (especially Cathedral Grove) and to Muir Beach

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  • Having traveling companions who agree that eating Boudin bread with Nutella in the car counts as an acceptable dinner and whom you still like at the end of a trip

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Observing Lent. For our Valentine’s Day Skype date, Adam and I both had ashes smeared across our foreheads. It was a strange collision. The kinds of reflections stirred up by Ash Wednesday and Lent don’t come naturally to me – it’s not often I contemplate my own mortality and the ways my heart’s idols need removing. I still don’t know what to do with what I’m noticing. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the noticing and the turning my noticings over to God is sort of the point.

As also mentioned above, Adam visited! I hadn’t seen him in 5 weeks, which turned me into a sappy weirdo when I finally did get to see him. There’s no one with whom I would rather eat a belated Valentine’s Day dinner at the University Club or go swimming at a community center while we pretend it’s summer or be adopted by random strangers at Loring Pasta Bar who want to teach us how to dance the bachata.

 

What were you into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up for more recommendations to see you through these final weeks of winter.

January 2017: What I’m Into

January. proper noun. The first month of the year; also known as the month in which we get 12 inches of snow in one day and don’t even get a snow day out of the deal. (I’m not bitter. Not at all.)

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December is such a trickster.

The holiday season feels so cheery and cozy. I actually believe that I can do the whole winter thing. It’s not so bad! I’m a hearty Minnesotan of the “bold north”! I will hygge my way through these cold dark days! My beliefs that summer is the only worthwhile season might change!

Under the twinkling glow of Christmas lights, even the end of 2017 looked satisfactory. I was making real food. I was investing in church and my people. I was doing more reading and writing, less Netflixing and Facebooking. I had figured out how to do insurance, for heaven’s sake. My life was all right.

And then January hit.

And some days this month, quitting my job and being homeless in Hawaii seemed like a legitimate option.

My complaints? Mostly, it’s still winter. I wince every time I walk outside, my shoulders scrunching up near by earlobes. On good days, I see a scant 20 minutes of sunlight on my drive home. I have to wear socks every day.

And there’s the extra annual anxiety about how little control I have over my life that crops up every January. What will 2018 (or the rest of my life, or heck, next week) look like? Who knows! There’s no guarantee of anything! All my plans will come to naught! My life is on the brink of purposelessness!

So let’s just say that I am currently a bucket of sunshine, and that I am glad January is behind us.

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How accurately this sums everything up

I would continue my weeping and gnashing of teeth, but my tears might freeze to my face in this below-zero windchill. So let us move on to more cheerful matters, like those things that have warmed this chilly month for me.

Reading

Home – Marilynne Robinson. With this book, Marilynne Robinson solidified herself as one of my very favorite authors. This tells the story of the Boughton family. Glory comes home to care for her aging father, and his wayward son Jack finds his way back to Gilead at the same time. Though it feels like the entirety of this book takes place with Glory cooking at the counter and Jack sitting at the kitchen table, it was tender and heartbreaking and so, so lovely. I might even like it more than Gilead.

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. This is a book unlike any I’ve ever read. A philologist (what a fun word) is kidnapped and taken to another planet. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this had I not read C.S. Lewis’s other works – so much of his philosophy of the world comes out in this that it adds an entirely new layer to the story. I look forward to the other books in the series.

Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way – Ruth Reichl. This won’t be my last Reichl book. This slim little book of essays is all about Reichl’s complicated relationship with her mother and the world of women in the mid-19th century. It was well-told, and it made me grateful for all the opportunities I have.

Heartless – Marissa Meyer. This book tells the story of Cath, a girl who lives in Wonderland (of “Alice in Wonderland” fame), who is being courted by the king, but who dreams of being a baker. I typically love Meyer’s spins on fairy tales, but this one didn’t work for me. Wonderland wasn’t nearly vivid enough, and Cath’s character didn’t do much except pine after a person she couldn’t have – until a sudden and unexpected sprint of character development in the last 20 pages. Plot-wise, nothing much happened in the first 2/3 of the book, and then everything happened in a way that felt jarring and undeveloped. However, online reviews are divisive here, so maybe this one would work for someone else.

Flying Lessons: and Other Stories – edited by Ellen Oh. This is a collection of short stories compiled by the editor of the We Need Diverse Books movement. Some of the stories were charming – Kwame Alexander is brilliant here, too – but not all of them were winners for me.

Currently Reading: Refugee – Alan Gratz. Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry. Book of Hours: Love Poems to God – Rilke.

 

Watching

There are multiple movies in theaters at this second that I want to see. I haven’t watched any of them. Yet.

 

Listening

Clear – NEEDTOBREATHE. Since I went to a NEEDTOBREATHE concert in December, my devotion to them has been renewed. I am especially obsessed with this song.

May You Find a Light – Josh Garrels. Though this is technically from his Christmas album, I think it’s entirely fitting for Epiphany, and I am listening to it shamelessly.

All I Ask of You – Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson. Josh Groban has an entire album of Broadway hits, I discovered this month. This song is gorgeous.

 

Loving – Alternatively titled “What’s Saving My Life in the Suckiness of MN Winter”

  • The Examen. I don’t do this reflection every night, but when I do, it helps me remember that not everything is terrible.
  • Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I’m still in the middle of this book, but it might be one of my favorites, ever. I’m reading it in small snatches because I don’t ever want it to end. It’s studded with brilliant lines that condense the deepest of emotions into a single sentence. Poor Adam gets these texts more than once every single time I open that book.
  • My microwavable rice heat pack. My grandma made mine, but I think you can buy them at Amazon or Target or wherever you buy random necessities like this. I’m using it almost daily to help my tight shoulders and make me not perpetually cold. I once put it on under a jacket before a long car ride, and it was magic.
  • Lemon ginger tea. Add a slice of lemon, and it kicks up the yum factor about 12 notches.
  • Spotify Premium. I cannot talk about how worth it this is. Also, how had I never tried Spotify’s radio feature before this month? It’s handy.
  • Argan Oil. I have the Acure brand from Target, but I know they sell it at Trader Joe’s and other fancier beauty places. My skin is insanely dry right now, and this eliminates the flakes and makes it almost dewy. It might even reduce the redness in my cheeks, too.
  • Keeping a blanket in my car. I use it on nearly every car ride. I may look like a nursing home patient with a lap robe. I care not.
  • Church community. I don’t understand how adult people find friends without church. The people at mine have been particularly lifesaving this winter.

 

Doing

Thrifting with my sister for a day before she flew back to Palo Alto. It felt like old times in college. I get to visit her in a week, and I am so excited.

Visiting Adam in Chicago. Despite a minor debacle where my phone died when I was alone, with all my stuff, in downtown Chicago, at midnight, trying to figure out how to get to Adam’s apartment…everything was great. We went to the American Writer’s Museum (see the typewriter and quote below – I highly recommend it), and went ice skating at Maggie Daley park, and read some good books, and ate donuts every day.

Attempting to cross country ski. I’m borrowing a pair of classic skis this winter, and I have never before been disappointed by days over 32°. I’ve only made it out on the trails one and a half times. The first time convinced me that I am not made for attempting to traverse hills on cross country skis when it’s icy. The half a time was me remembering my ineptitude and turning around after 5 minutes and one fall. C’mon, Minnesota. Give me a good snow (and a snow day too, perhaps?) and then good skiing weather.

Inviting people over. I am trying to get better about hosting things, and I’ve actually done this in January. It’s a good reminder that I don’t need to be Joanna Gaines with a degree from Le Cordeon Bleu to welcome people in.

A quick trip to Alexandria. One of my grandpas celebrated his birthday there, so my brothers and I drove up to meet the family for a few hours. We stumbled into a used bookstore before lunch and found some treasures – including a Marilynne Robinson I haven’t read yet!

Going back to school. This is the hardest part of the year for me. The kids get cabin fever, and it feels like there’s a whole lot of year left. On the bright side, we’re doing poetry. At least it’s a bright side for me – I am delighted by my own poetry assignments and would happily complete them. The students are slightly less enthused. Thankfully, they have been very into the Socratic Seminar discussions we’ve done, and it’s fun to hear their contributions to conversations.

 

What have you been into this month?

Linking up with both Modern Mrs. Darcy and Leigh Kramer.

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?

 

 

 

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?

Save

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!