Gone Til November

Star Trails over Lake Moomaw

Image by ShowPaul via Flickr

So it’s November, right? Who knew?

Clearly, I took an unexpected blogging break. These breaks are always hard for me to come back from: what to say first?

I could tell you how many box of cookies are still on my living room floor, how much fun we had at North Run Farm Sunday, how much fun we had trick-or-treating.

I could tell you about the posts I’ve started and abandoned since the last time I posted. One was about Halloween, trying to capture the craziness and festivity in our school’s hallways on a day like that. I didn’t finish it in time to be timely and kind of ran out of steam after that. The other was about how large a gap there seems to be sometimes between my own childhood and the one I’ve shaping for my girls, and that one just really was too unwieldy/thinky/personal to make a good post for me right now.

I could tell you how many emails are in my inbox right now (but I don’t want to scare you).

I could tell you how much I’m looking forward to our Thanksgiving trip to Bath County, Virginia, including dinner and a concert at Garth Newel. We went last year with my in-laws, and it was just idyllic.

I could tell you how tired I am every morning and every afternoon, without giving it some kind of perky qualifier like I might usually.

I could tell you that I’ll be better next time.

Full Speed Ahead


Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies

Thin Mints: most popular for a reason


Here’s what’s happening in my life right now:

  • getting ready for the Halloween party we’re having for seven of the girls’ friends on Sunday afternoon: we’ve got all the game/craft supplies and the goody bags are filled, but still need to decorate the inside of the house and make the pumpkin cake bars and vampire red velvet cupcakes
  • First quarter ends today, and grades are due Tuesday morning at 8 AM, which means I’ve got comments to write for all my students, 18 Lear projects to grade, 18 Lear blogs to grade, 40 pieces of grammar homework and around 28 analytical paragraphs to grade
  • Girl Scout cookies are coming in, which means I’ll be collecting money, helping sort a little over 1500 boxes of cookies Friday evening, picking up the cookies we sold, and passing them out over the next week or so
  • getting prepared for the big Girl Scout winter encampment happening in early November, which is a bit of an organizational nightmare but will be a lot of fun…..once we get there.
  • working with seniors as they revise and draft college essays for upcoming deadlines; definitely one of my favorite parts of my job, but adds to the general feeling of urgency everywhere I turn

However, I’m also happy not to have strep throat again like last year (knock on wood) and not feeling quite as overwhelmed as I did at this point last year. The girls’ costumes are all set and ready to go (Lucy changed her mind and will be Dorothy instead), cookies will be done well before Halloween begins, and while I’m definitely busy, I’m nowhere near as dragged down and slowly sinking as I was last year. Considering the September I had, I’m pretty proud of that feeling!

Teaching Kindness

Sadly, bullying is one of the hottest issues in the cultural sphere right now, whether it’s cyberbullying, bullying of gay and lesbian teens, or the increasing amount of mean girls in early elementary school. Reading about hundreds of children who are feeling isolated, remembering our own moments of teasing or being teased, watching children we love struggle to find their place in the world: it’s heartbreaking, and of course we want answers, solutions, attention.

But I hope we also turn the conversation to prevention and alternatives; how can we raise more children who won’t tease or bully or torment? How can we raise kinder children? How do we move beyond teaching toddlers to say “please” and “thank you,” and that our hands are not for hitting? Like many parenting issues, it only gets more complicated as our children grow older and move into worlds where we cannot protect them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words have such power to hurt.

I like to think I model kindness for my own children, and for those I teach, by using manners, apologizing when I think I’ve been hurtful or wrong, valuing the acts of kindness I see them performing and calling out acts I think are unkind. At a recent Brownie meeting, one little girl said, “I’m saving the spot next to me on the rug for cool kids only,” and I instantly leapt in with, “At our Brownie meetings, we’re all cool kids.” But how many instances do I not see, and how many opportunities for kindness do I miss? How do we teach kindness and self-reliance and self-protection at once, so we don’t propagate a garden full of giving trees (my least favorite children’s book)?

My friend Martha wrote a lovely blog post recently about teaching kindness, prompted by some experiences her own Lucy is going through these days. Children can be so cruel, and this is a fact of human development we will not, and perhaps should not, be able to disrupt. But when the cruelty is echoed in the adults, or not identified, or allowed to continue, we become part of the problem. I’ve blogged before about finding our values and centering our lives around them, and the different ways we try to communicate those values to our children. It’s an ongoing quest for me, trying to keep those values in mind and transmit them concretely and consistently with my kids. But I have almost no control over the adults and families my kids will interact with, and what their values might be, and whether theirs will align with ours.

So this weekend, we went shopping for the Halloween party we are having next weekend for a small group of my girls’ friends. In the party favors aisle, we found a bag of 75 pumpkin-shaped erasers and 100 spider rings, and we bought them. This year, my girls will be giving out one of each to every kid in their class, from their best friends to the kid who teases everyone and seems to have no friends. While I don’t expect them to make friends with every kid, or try to hang onto friends who aren’t acting like friends, I do want them to be kind and compassionate, and I do expect us all to take small steps toward empathy, wherever the road takes us.

Making It Better, Small Stone by Small Stone

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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One of the many reasons I love my job is that for the past few years, I have been lucky enough to work with some pretty amazing kids as the faculty sponsor for our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. The club members have handed out pledges, stickers and ribbons, given out bags of Skittles with Ally Week messages, planned a support event for our school’s production of  The Laramie Project and put on an assembly about our school’s gay and lesbian community.

This year, as we gear up for Ally Week, we are also in the middle of the heartbreaking stories of Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Meredith Rezak, Billy Lucas and so many others. But we are also seeing inspiring videos from Ellen DeGeneres and a new YouTube Channel from Dan Savage, the It Gets Better project, which he began by making a video with his own partner, Terry, telling their stories of bullying but also the happiness and acceptance they have found. There have been many other videos posted on the channel already, from celebrities and adults and people from all over. Teens have responded with their own Make It Better project, to inspire each other to take steps today in their own communities.

Ally Week begins a week from today, and my wonderful club president has put together quite a week-long slate of activities for our school, culminating in a bake sale to raise funds for The Trevor Project. I’m thrilled to support their efforts, to see how supportive our school community has been of their planning, and to contribute whatever I can, even if it’s just photocopying and pinning loops of ribbons to safety pins.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes on activism, from Alice Walker:

It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of the world.

For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small imperfect stones to the pile.

Here’s to contributing our small stones to the pile, no matter what they are.

Long September


Ruby slippers

A Halloween hint!


I’ve had a Counting Crows song in my head for days now, which you might know by the title of this post. It’s been indeed a long September–all the usual craziness, plus my daughter’s foot injury, the broken-down car, and then finishing with a kidney infection for me, followed by an allergic reaction to the antibiotic which has included fever, chills, fatigue and best of all, head-to-toe HIVES. I don’t know why, but I can’t help but spell them in all-caps; they have become that consuming to me after four days and counting.

So yes, a long September. But still, there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last. Even despite all these incidents and accidents, I’m feeling much stronger and more confident in my job than I did at this point last year. My second year as an advisor is not nearly the whirlwind that is was last year, and my head is still definitely above water. I’m behind on grading, but then, what English teacher isn’t? My senior elective is going well as we wrap up a successful study of Lear, and I’m really looking forward to seeing their final projects next week. My own kids are great, my family has been wonderful, my husband and I are having our second date night of the school year this Saturday, and all in all, I think we are doing just fine.

So I’m ready for October, for falling leaves, pumpkins and chrysanthemums, for talk of Halloween costumes and parties. I’m ready to start hunting down striped tights, ruby slippers and green face paint (can you guess my daughters’ costumes?), and we’ve already got some decorations up around the house. I’m ready for chilly nights and down comforters, comforting stews and more baking, like these sweet potato oatmeal muffins I’ve been eying. My suede boots, soft sweaters and corduroys are calling my name.

But most of all, I’m glad to say goodbye to September, and hello to a new season, and a fresh start.

Survey Says: Self-Care?

Chicago 08: Rogers Park - Home Health

After a recent bout with a health issue this week that I should have picked up on much earlier than I did, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care.  Why is it so hard to take good care of ourselves?  Or alternately, why is it so hard for me, when it seems not to be so hard for other people?

I signed up this week for a website called Health Month, as part of my newly renewed determination to get myself into better shape (full disclosure: once I signed up, I realized the site creator was married to a friend of my husband’s, but I have the free membership and have received no preferential treatment or compensation). I have some habits that are good for me– I have never smoked and don’t drink anything alcoholic–but also have some habits that are terrible–I don’t drink enough water or get nearly enough exercise. I’ve had luck giving up unhealthy favorites–I’m two years off caffeinated drinks and have gone about a month without eating potato chips–but still don’t eat enough vegetables. I’m hoping that starting small, with support and motivation through Health Month, that I can start establishing some of the healthier habits that have eluded me for years. If I have success with these, I’m hoping to move onto larger ones. I’m tired of not being in better shape, and I’m tired of feeling guilty and upset about it.

Incidentally, this is one reason I get so frustrated by all the “obesity epidemic rhetoric,” because I have always been at a healthy weight, sometimes even underweight, but my actual health status has fluctuated wildly. I was probably at my unhealthiest and thinnest at the same time, and decoupling weight and health has been part of getting myself to think more seriously about my health, regardless of my dress size.

Do you take good care of yourself? If so, tell me your secret! If not, why do you think that is? Do you neglect yourself unconsciously, or deliberately? What would it take for you to take better care of yourself? What does taking care of yourself mean to you?

Life in Snapshots

Cover of

Things I bought this weekend:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, because I’ve wanted it since February and have resisted all this time, and because I’ve gotten into a lovely bedtime reading habit but am currently out of books I want to read.
  • The ingredients for BBQ Meatballs, which are currently in the crockpot for dinner tonight.

I also wrote approximately 45 interims for my ninth graders, emailed a bunch of my students, looked over my lesson plans for the week, grocery shopped, made cornbread from scratch, decompressed from last week’s retreat, and realized that even in these hectic times, I’m pretty in love with my life these days.

The Little Things

That’s a screen capture from my Gmail account, now that I’ve implemented the priority inbox feature. It’s amazing how I get a little charge every time I see that message–I wonder if my work email inbox would be easier to manage if it gave me little cheerleading messages like that?

Tuesday at my house, something very exciting happened–we got a new kitchen faucet. Not a new kitchen, or a new dishwasher (we don’t have one), or even a new fridge (though I’d like one)–just a new faucet. But going all weekend without one after it broke, and seeing how shiny and new and easy to use it is, has brightened up my afternoon considerably. My husband and I both posted on Facebook with glee, and in his post, he said, “It’s the little things….”

It’s been a bumpy September around here, with a car quitting, work changes, the new school year, the broken kitchen faucet and then Sophie slipping yesterday at school and spraining her foot, requiring x-rays and a day of rest today, followed by a diagnosis of a soft-tissue injury and a prescribed walking boot for two weeks. Right now as you read this, I’m on retreat with a group of 70 14-year-old girls, and then I’ll be writing interims for my three ninth-grade classes, and then September will finally be over. But I have a new faucet, and I’ve had some luck lately with new recipes, and my kids are amazing, and sometimes that husband of mine will send me emails or text messages just to tell me how much he loves me.

How do we survive? Well, it’s the little things that get me through–how about you?

My School Uniform

Comparison of the "cowboy" heel and ...

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A friend at work sent me a link today on five wardrobe essentials for the female academic in humanities, knowing that #2 (cardigans) are high on my list. I’d been tossing around the idea of a post on my own school uniform for awhile after reading some great advice on work wardrobes, so here instead are my own work wardrobe essentials:

  1. CARDIGANS!  I am the queen of cardigans, and I think you should be too.  I’d recommend them in your neutrals (I own black, brown, grey, navy), but I’d also recommend them in some colors and prints, preferably in the same palette of colors you wear a lot of already (for me: green, blue, purple, pink).  Brown skirt + printed top + brown cardigan= pulled-together look, just as white top + black pants + printed cardigan= pulled-together look.  Plus of course, you get to solve the pesky air-conditioning issue and can stretch out how long you can wear your cute short-sleeved tops.  Cardigans are the quintessential “cozy” in my mind.
  2. DRESSES!  When I was younger, I saw dresses as only for fancy occasions, and I was much more of a t-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl.  Now I see dresses as the perfect wardrobe solution for busy mornings.  Woke up late?  Throw on a dress.  Too tired to match separate pieces?  Throw on a dress.  Feeling shlumpy?  Throw on a dress.  Don’t want something uncomfortable pulling across your waist?  Choose a dress!  Worried about seeming too casual?  Dress!  Done and done.  Put on a cardigan over it in the cooler weather and wear it even more.
  3. TIGHTS!  If you’re going to wear dresses all year, you need tights, but also, tights can add a certain flair and cohesion to your outfit.  I like to match my tights to my cardigans if I’m wearing a solid colored one, but sometimes tights can add an interesting pattern (I like herringbone) or element of color.
  4. NECKLACES!  I don’t wear earrings, other than two silver cartilage piercings in my left ear, and I don’t do bracelets or rings other than my wedding bands.  But I do definitely do necklaces, which can be an easy way to add something sparkly, pick up a color in a print, or be a neutral that ties your outfit together again.  I like to match my necklace to the palette of my tights/cardigans/shoes, and I buy most of mine at Target.
  5. PENCIL SKIRTS!  These are my absolute favorites– fitted, flattering, appropriate, easy to find, easy to wear.  For the curvy and/or pear-shaped among us, a good pencil skirt is your friend.  I have them in cotton and corduroy, prints and solids, and am always delighted to find more.
  6. BOOTS!  If you’ve been with me for awhile, you know about my love affair with boots.  Right now I have two leather pairs (brown and black, both riding-style) and two suede pairs (low heels, gray and wine), as well as my trusty cowboy boots that I wear with jeans on the weekends.  Would I like more?  Of course, though I have not yet been persuaded by the ankle-boot phenomenon.

I don’t consider myself particularly stylish or bold, and there are a lot of trends and pieces that are simply beyond me-I don’t wear belts, or many scarves, or certain colors (yellow), and most of my pieces would safely be called “basic.”  It’s taken me a lot of research and shopping (and money!), but now I can safely say I know what I like, and keeping these colors, pieces and rules in mind makes adding to my work closet much simpler than it was when I first began.

Tell me about your work wardrobe!

Seasons of the Wizards

Coat of arms of Hogwarts, the fictional school...

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Last year was the Year Of Harry Potter at our house, but this will be the Year of the Rings.

Getting to introduce my girls to Harry and Hagrid and all the rest is definitely one of the great experiences of parenthood thus far, as the entire series will always rank high in my heart. We began reading the books with the girls over the summer and finished up the seventh one after a long car ride Thanksgiving weekend, interspersing the movies as we saw fit. My husband and I were already converts, and it was a true joy to watch our girls fall under the Hogwarts spell, sobbing at deaths (especially Sirius) and arguing over their favorite characters. Both girls were Hermione for Halloween, including Crookshanks, and it was a lovely experience for the whole family.

We spent some time rediscovering the Ramona Quimby books this summer, along with seeing the movie, but those were books the girls could read now on their own. So I dug out a hardback copy of The Hobbit I’d been saving, and that was our summer bedtime book this year. We finished with a viewing of the old animated version, which my girls did not fully appreciate, and then watched The Fellowship of the Rings, which they liked much better. Finally, last night we began reading Fellowship of the Rings, which opens with Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday party. The girls hung on every word, and clamored for more when it was time for lights out. This will actually be my first trip through the entire series–I haven’t even seen all the movies–but as we parents know, sometimes we get to share a passion with our children, and other times, we have to enter theirs.

Of course, Harry Potter would not have been possible without Tolkien’s original mapping of lands far and faery–the Horcruxes alone owe a great debt to the ring that would rule them all. While I have more affection for the Potter books, I’m really looking forward to riding forward from Hobbiton again, with my girls along for the adventure.