Ready for a slice-of-life post?

  • we’re neck-deep in packing lists for the five-day outdoor education trip my girls are going on at the end of April, along with all the other 6th graders at my school; one list for what we already have (sweatshirts, yoga pants), one for what we will try to borrow (an outdoor sleeping bag, flashlights), one for what we will probably have to buy (rainboots that fit), etc etc
  • I made some predictions about how I’d like to be spending my summer, so here’s my progress: I’ve had several phone interviews with the Center for Talented Youth summer programs and am very hopeful that a job in their program will pan out, and I’ve officially been accepted to the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute! I can’t even express how much I am looking forward to immersing myself in the Library’s resources this July.
  • one of my daughters is playing lacrosse for the first time, and I’m so proud of her for jumping in and persevering; in Baltimore, many kids are handling lacrosse sticks as soon they can walk, so I was a little concerned that she would feel “behind,” especially since she’s only playing a team sport because I said she had to pick one! Luckily, our middle school athletics program is really encouraging of students who want to try a new sport, and she is gaining confidence and skills with each practice. My other daughter is gearing up for her ballet recital in June, and I’m happy to see them both building healthy habits that will serve them well in the future.
  • I feel comfortable declaring that the choices my colleague and I made this year about what to teach and why have really paid off; both Beowulf and Persepolis were new texts for us this year, and they’ve both been valuable additions to our curriculum. I also made some switches in my senior elective on Latin American literature, and those changes have worked out well too (though I’m still figuring out their final project). Like most English teachers, I put significant thought into deciding what books I want to teach in my classes, and it’s very rewarding when those choices turn out to be successful.
  • My sister and I are still training to run the Warrior Dash, which is only about a month away now, and we’ve both hit our fundraising goals as warriors for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (though I’d certainly accept more donations!). I feel more physically fit than I have in years, and in a burst of confidence, I also signed up for a 5K at my school, which is only about ten days away. Once I’ve got a few more 5Ks under my belt, I’d like to try a 10 K race next year. In addition to having a workout partner, setting goals has been a big part of actually being able to maintain an exercise habit for me.
  • current musical obsession: St. Vincent, both her newest self-titled album and her previous album, Strange Mercy

Bookish Bucket List

Inspired by a post at one of my new favorite bookish blogs, the dirigible plum, and part of The Broke and the Bookish blog hop, here’s my bookish bucket list!

Visit more famous bookstores and libraries

My favorite bookstore in the world is Shakespeare and Company in Paris, which I finally got to see in person a few years ago and is just as magical as I suspected. My favorite library in the world is the Library of Congress, which we visited a few years ago on one of the rare days when the reading room is open to the public, and which I’m hoping to revisit sometime in the near future. Future wishlist destinations include The Strand Bookstore in New York City and the Firestone Library at Princeton University, which has some rare J.D. Salinger papers and manuscripts I’d love to see.

Visit Walt Whitman’s birthplace and house

Whitman is my favorite poet, no contest, so I’d like to make some pilgrimages to places where he lived and loved. The birthplace site on Long Island seems like a good start, but I’d also like to see the only home he ever owned and any artifacts that seem significant.

Visit Edith Wharton’s legendary home, The Mount

Another of my favorite American authors, Wharton is most often associated with New York City but owned and lovingly decorated The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. The gardens look amazing, and I’d like to stroll the halls and marvel at her library, as well as the bedroom where she most often wrote, dropping the pages on the floor for her maid to collect later.

Read Bleak House

One of my favorite contemporary novelists is Nick Hornby, and he has said repeatedly that Dickens is his favoriate author and Bleak House his favorite of Dickens’ work. I’ve read Oliver Twist, Great Expectations , and A Christmas Carol, so Bleak House is next on my list.

Go to a Michael Chabon reading and get books signed

Chabon has written some of my favorite books, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content), the book I rave about to everyone willing to listen and the book I think every single person I know should read (including you!). One of the joys of loving an author who’s still alive and working should be getting to hear them read, and I’m determined to do it.

Own some bookish clothes

I own a Gatsby tote bag I love dearly and a Holden-themed red hunting hat necklace, but somehow I don’t own any t-shirts, hoodies, dresses or other book-adorned clothes. Our Lower School librarian owns this beauty of a book-dress, but I’ll probably start with this long-sleeved Little Women pullover or this pretty Pride & Prejudice peacock.

Read War and Peace

There are many, many books in the world I haven’t read, but somehow War and Peace calls to me, challenges me, the way I suppose Mt. Everest does to mountain-climbers. I bought this book three years ago and have given up twice, but someday, I’m sure I’ll conquer it.


Thanks to the comments, I’ve discovered two more goals I must add to my list: make a book purse and steward a little free library!

Fitter Happier

Hungrier. Tireder. Thirstier. Fitter. Happier. More productive.

So I’ve been consistently working out for a few months now, mixing a few days of strength training with a few days of walking/jogging each week, and I’m definitely feeling the difference. I can easily do reps of exercises now that stymied me before, and I’ve progressed from only walking laps on the track to alternating walking and jogging (soon I’ll be jogging the whole time). Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, I’ve come to look forward to the times in my day I’ve reserved for exercise–and when I say reserved, I mean that I’ve put them on my calendar each week and tried to treat them as sacredly as I would any other meeting or commitment. Recognizing and honoring my own needs feels pretty good. I enjoy getting out of my head and focusing just on my body and what it can do, and throwing a ball against the wall twenty times can feel quite therapeutic when you’ve had a rough day! I also just feel more aware of my body–all those natural needs have increased, so instead of struggling to remember to drink more water, I find myself constantly grabbing for my water bottle. Instead of forgetting to eat breakfast, I’m eating the same muffins I usually bake for my girls to eat. When 5:30 rolls around, I’m starving for dinner.

Training for the Warrior Dash has definitely been the driving motivation, but I’ve also been influenced by our own First Lady, who’s been a fitness inspiration to all of us who want Michelle Obama’s arms or just want to celebrate Michelle Obama’s arms. Whether she’s surprising a jump-rope team, enlisting Beyonce to surprise dancing kids or slam-dunking on the Miami Heat, I love the approach she’s taken to encouraging us all to be healthier. I know that leading a healthier lifestyle has made me a better role model for my kids; last night, Lucy had me doing ballet stretches in the kitchen, and Sophie’s signed up for lacrosse (which she’s never played) and is looking forward to being able to talk about exercise the way Lucy and I do now. To be honest, Sophie is partly signing up because I told her she had to play a sport this year, drawing a hard line I copied from interviews I’d seen with Michelle Obama where she talked about forcing her kids to play sports. Apart from the actual fitness, I know that modeling self-care (a struggle for me) is another important example to give them.

The Dash is in early May, but my sister and I are already talking about our next fitness goals; someday I want to do a color run for sure. Maybe someday I’ll sign up for a softball team or be like my cousin Angie, who’s set herself a goal to climb all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. Wherever my fitness journey takes me next, I feel stronger and more confident that I’ll able to lead the way.

Warrior Dash 2014

Mud. Barbed Wire. Fire. More mud. Trenches and rope walls and running through the woods and up hills with dozens of strangers. Did I mention the mud?

In January, my sister and I began training to run the Warrior Dash, a 3.16 mile mountainous obstacle course of a race, including twelve different challenges with names like Alcatraz, Storming Normandy, Pitfall, Plunge, and Warrior Roast. For completing it, runners receive a t-shirt, a medal, a free beer, and a Viking-style furry horned helmet.

Now, none of this really sounds like something I would do. I’m not athletic. I don’t run. I don’t enjoy getting dirty. I don’t drink beer, and I don’t wear hats. I’m not what you envision when you say, “Warrior”–but that’s exactly why I’m choosing to do it. Not because I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line, caked in mud, but because I want to be stronger, and tougher, and in better physical and emotional shape. I want to look at my arms and legs and see toned muscles, and I want to be able to run up a few flights of stairs without getting out of breath. I want my clothes to fit better, and I want to feel more energy. I want to feel the rush of pride I’ve felt before when I conquered a difficult task or dared to set out on an adventure.

To my surprise, I’m actually enjoying the training. I love the feeling I get when I add a little more weight or a few more reps to one of the exercises we’re doing, and I love holding a ten-pound medicine ball over my head and flinging it down at the floor as hard as I can. My sister and I work together and are using our school fitness center for our strength training, and I love meeting her in the gym and trying to pump each other up. We send each other emails to set up times, and somewhere in there, we always write “WARRIOR”–it’s become a rallying cry, as much as we giggle when we say it. I can tell already that my daughters think it’s a cool, though surprising, thing for me to do, and I like telling them about my workouts and cardio time. I talk to them a lot about the importance of fitness, and I force them to try different athletic activities, so I’m pleased that I’m finally modeling what I’ve been preaching.

Having the deadline of May 10th helps me stay motivated too, as one of the difficult parts of fitness for me has always been maintaining the routine. If it takes a fuzzy helmet and miles of mud to do it, I know I’ll be the better woman for it.

Predictions: July 30th

There are 344 days remaining in the year. Describe what you’d like to be doing on day 211. (Hint: that’s July 30th.)

By the end of this July, I’m hoping to have taken advantage of a few amazing professional development opportunities I’m applying for, all for the first time. While several are technically summer jobs, I think they’ll help me grow immensely as a teacher, so I’m counting them twice, as it were.

  1. I’ve applied to teach in one of the Center for Talented Youth summer programs, run by Johns Hopkins. I went to a creative writing summer camp through CTY the summer after 6th grade, and it really altered my perspective; I came home and told my mother, “There are other kids like me!” after getting to spend a week immersed in classes on poetry, fiction and playwriting with my awkward adolescent peers.
  2. Also through CTY, I’ve applied to teach at one of the amazing Civic Education Project summer workshops for 7-12th grade students. In graduate school, I got to do some service-learning work with my classes, and it really enriched their understanding of the multicultural issues we had been discussing.
  3. Finally, and what would really be a dream come true: Summer Teacher Institute at the Library of Congress, learning how to use primary sources more effectively in the classroom. I think this could really benefit how I teach my Persepolis unit, but also, getting to spend five days immersed in the Library’s resources would just be fantastic.

I don’t know if I’ll be accepted at any of these programs, but after taking a few summers off from intense PD, it’s energizing to be thinking about ways to sharpen and enhance my skills, as well as challenge myself in new professional areas. Of course, I’m also planning to soak up plenty of poolside sunshine, see friends and family, maybe take a trip or two, and do all the other teaching work and reading I usually tackle during the summer. But by July 30th, I’m hoping to feel like I’ve leveled up as a teacher, no matter how it happens.

Year of the Clean Person

Do you have laundry sitting in your living room, either waiting to be put away or waiting to be washed? Are there dirty dishes in your kitchen every day? Do you have invisible corners in your house? Do you need to clear a space on your table every time you sit down to eat? You might be a Messy Person then; come sit by me, I’ll move these books and things so there’s space on the couch.

Most important question: does it bother you to be a Messy Person? For years, decades even, it didn’t bother me at all; just ask my mother, or my old roommates. But the clutter and messiness in my surroundings has been increasingly bothering me for years, and so I’m trying to change my habits for the better. To make a resolution stick, it helps to have these four strategies: a concrete plan, something you value on the line, bundled temptations, and social support. I’m going to follow the 2014 Cleaning Calendar from Jolie of Ask a Clean Person fame, and I’ve followed Jolie on Twitter to help keep myself on track. She’s stirring up the social support for her project there, but I’m going to add regular check-ins with Unf*ck Your Habitat, and following them on Twitter too, to help with that aspect. Maybe I’ll try some cleaning checklists. I’ll be keeping my posting about my efforts mainly to Twitter, since that seems like the best venue for it, but if it seems successful, I’ll update you here too. I think the calendar will help me not feel too overwhelmed; I don’t need to worry about cleaning out my car yet, because that’s on the schedule for June! I’m also looking forward to replacing “cleaning marathons” with UYH’s “20/10″ concept, which seems more conducive to keeping on top of things.

One big strategy I’m going to try also is to recognize that I’m the person in my house most bothered by the clutter, and that therefore, I need only focus on my own efforts to get it under control. Badgering my family about it doesn’t make my house cleaner; it just makes me feel angrier and more resentful, and I don’t need that energy in my life. So for 2014, I’m going to take whatever steps I can to make my environment more pleasing to me, and recognize that’s all I can control.

Review: Odd Girl Out

Do you teach adolescent girls? Do, or will, you parent adolescent girls? Do you have any adolescent girls in your life that you care for or about? Then you need to read Odd Girl Out, Revised and Updated: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.

Author Rachel Simmons has done an amazing job here in outlining just why the adolescent years can be so difficult for girls, particularly from grades 5-9 or so, the ways in which girls are socialized to be particular kinds of aggressive with each other, how parents and teachers unknowingly feed into the cycle, and concrete ways we can try to support our girls as they navigate these treacherous social and cultural waters. She talked to several hundred girls, in various locations and settings, and includes frank discussions of cyberbullying, as well as how race and class interact in these dynamics. She also weaves in her own memories of middle school and beyond, carefully including not just the times she felt bullied or excluded, but her own roles in these toxic scenarios, emphasizing throughout that every girl has the potential to be the “mean girl” as well as the “odd girl out,” and that we need to acknowledge just how complicated our daughters are. Simmons builds on classic texts like Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, but in my opinion, Simmons’ work is fresher, clearer, and more immediately useful to parents and teachers.

I expect Odd Girl Out to take its place with books like The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children as books on parenting that I’ll consult and rely on for the next few years to guide me as I try to parent as thoughtfully as I can. As a teacher, I’ll be recommending it to everyone I work with, and thinking about how to best inform my teaching with Simmons’ work.

2013 in Review

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2013, I’m thrilled to see you go, but on your way out, let’s spend some time reflecting and reminiscing, shall we?


As I often do, I committed myself to blogging frequently in January to kickstart the year. I also committed myself to the Pulitzer Prize Remix poetry project, and wrote a cluster of education related posts on grades and motivations, lengthening the school year, and the impending arrival of middle school for our girls. I thought about why I love Christmas trees and tried to understand Sophie’s idea of a tragedy. I read some good books, reflected on digital social teaching, and my old and new goals.


I wrote about cooking with Pioneer Woman, finding “by heart” recipes, how anyone can cook, and other meal-planning successes. I realized that since 2007 when I began this blog, I’d written 600 posts! I read a great book about teaching and reflected with my students about inside and outside selves. A duck purse made me feel nostalgic, as did thinking about past jobs, and I remembered why I love Valentine’s Day.


March came in like a lamb, with some light posts about kitchen workhorses, being evaluated, and teaching metaphors and similes, in addition to a recap of our wonderful spring break trip. Then our school community suffered a loss, and I went silent for a little while.


More foodblogging in April, with more recipes that worked, Easter Pioneer Woman recipes, recipes and life lessons, and thoughts on not having a dishwasher. As busy as I was, I was also already thinking about summer.


A rare photo-based peek into my classroom! As always, I reflected on the occasion of my girls’ birthday. I did more reflecting as my poetry project ended, as did a challenging new course, one I’m about to teach for the second time and have already started revamping, as I ponder in this post. Clearly, the end of the school year had me in a reflective mood, as I also thought carefully about meal planning and how it shaped my school year. Finally, I began looking ahead to a fewnew units for next school year. Some personal/family issues made these very light blogging months, but I’m pleased to see I still managed some substantive posts.


These month’s posts continued the 2013 foodblogging trend here at A Patchwork Life; I wrote about summer baking and recipe hits and misses. After a tough school year, burnout was on my mind, but as it often has before, reading helped save me; I even had good luck with the library. A Facebook status turned into an open letter to my teenage self.


After some time away from blogging, I leapt back in with a back-to-school I’m-so-busy post. Though I missed posting for my birthday, turning 35 inspired a before I’m 40 list of all the adventures and experiences I want to have in the next five years. I started one of the new units I’d been developing since the spring, came up with a new essay topic for the unit, and had enough success overall that I published a piece about it, my second for ReadWriteThink. My work for them continues to make me proud, and I want to continue developing this area of my writing. I also baked a few cakes, thought about birthday parties, and became a new fan of an interesting celebrity blogger. I wrapped up September with a solid explanation of how blogging makes me a better teacher, which continues to motivate my writing and reaffirm my commitment to blogging about my work.


This month, I committed to NaBloPoMo, so I have a wealth of posts to choose from for this round-up. Once I realized how much my blogging had slowed during certain points in 2013, I thought again about blogging incognito. I baked a lot of pumpkin treats, avoided Black Friday, and read some amazing writing. I taught about vocabulary and Teen Spirit and pondered parent-teacher conferences. I watched my daughter dance, was grateful for health insurance, and tried to get some sleep.


I might have failed at daily posting, but the energy that posting more created carried over into December. Once again, I did some foodblogging; I posted about our Christmas brunch menu, baking holiday cookies, and what I brought for Thanksgiving dessert. I also read some great books and thought about books that stuck. Inspired by all this reading, I got a head start on my resolutions, determined to have more books and fewer screens in 2014. I thought even more about vocabulary and wrote my first sponsored post, about teaching writing revision. I thought about Christmas presents, saw some great movies and a beautiful garden. Finally, I made some personal goals for 2014.

Looking over the year, I’m pleased to see the experiences I had, both small and large, and the conscious steps I took to participate in pursuits that enrich my life, like cooking, reading and blogging. This was especially rewarding when I could reflect on personal or professional topics that are important to me.  As it has before, reflecting over my year in this way has made me feel more ready to face the new year with optimism and confidence; I hope you’re feeling the same way too, as 2013 draws to a close.

Personal Goals, 2014

I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before, but I like thinking about “personal goals” more than “New Year’s resolutions”; I guess I’m like Ben Franklin that way! Here’s my list for this new year:

      • Cross off more items on my Before I’m 40 list, in the year I’ll turn 36; I’m eying the Patterson Park pagoda for the springtime and might be able to see the Liberty Bell when I chaperone a field trip in late January
      • Read and review thirty new-to-me books this year, using either this blog or GoodReads to post the reviews; I joined GoodReads in September 2013 and am curious about what role it might play for me. I’m hoping this doesn’t contradict my more books, fewer screens resolution but instead encourages me to be more deliberate in my screen time.
      • Finish three personal essays by June, because a journal I respect has asked for some submissions, and because I need to spend less time encouraging others to transcend their creative obstacles and more time surmounting my own.
      • Continue to work on my foodie goals, especially in adding more vegetables to our family diet and using the freezer to help me get ahead in my meal planning.
      • Continue to work on my fitness goals, which is to say, to raise my level of physical activity to “regular” instead of “sporadic”; this in line with my overall focus on taking small steps to improve my health, which I went into more detail about in my fewer screens post
      • Post 150 blog posts in 2014, because it continues to be valuable to me. In 2013, I posted 109 times, so I know I can easily do better than that!

As usual, I’ve got a mixture of concrete and broad, items and guidelines, and each one connects to some kind of important ideal in my life. Looking forward to feeling motivated, and hopefully, accomplished by the end of 2014!

Before I’m 40: Rawlings Conservatory

Baltimore Conservatory Poinsettia Show, 2009

Baltimore Conservatory Poinsettia Show, 2009 (Photo credit: SusanReimer)

Before I turn 40, I want to get to know my city better, and so there are several landmarks and Baltimore experiences I still want to have.

This weekend, I visited the Rawlings Conservatory, established in 1888 and the second-oldest continuously operating conservatory in the country. They were having a wonderful Victorian-themed holiday poinsettia display, so my friend and I took two of our kids and finally got to see what’s inside that beautiful little glassed-in building near the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

The poinsettias were truly dazzling, but it was also a treat to our the conservatory itself. There are three exhibition greenhouses, featuring Mediterranean, desert and tropical vegetation, in addition to an orchid room and the original Palm House. We had a wonderful tour guide, who told us stories about the enormous dead cactus that had to be removed with a forklift and all the many varieties of cacti, orchids, herbs and more the Conservatory manages to house and cultivate. It was a lovely way to spend a few rainy afternoon hours, and I’m looking forward to going back in the spring and summer months so we can see the outdoor gardens too.

In a city like Baltimore, with high property taxes and crime rates, it’s easy to sometimes feel a little glum about the complexities of urban life. However, seeing this jewel of historic preservation helped me remember why we choose to live here, and why it’s important to support the values you want to see in the world.