Monday, April 25, 2016

Get a Life

My favorite teacherpreneur/teacher supporter/teacher blogger/adulting coach is Angela Watson. Teacherfriends, have you heard of her? You need to get to know this lady. She runs a Facebook page of which I am an avid member called The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek and publishes weekly bite-sized podcasts through her station Truth For Teachers. Two weeks of her podcast were covering 8 ways to avoid teacher burnout. It's that time of year when we teachers need that extra inspiration to not get overwhelmed with life and crawl into a hole. One of the items on that list made me chuckle, but it was this: GET A LIFE. I love it so much.

It is so easy to get sucked into teaching and make that into your de facto lifestyle. I have those weeks. All of we teachers do. Those weeks where there are no things on the schedule after school, you stay until 6, get home, make dinner, mindlessly consume some sort of media (hello Netflix) as you search Pinterest and teacherspayteachers for MORE teaching ideas and then go to bed. Rinse and repeat. Can we all agree that those weeks suck? I have a hard time finding my life very interesting if those weeks become my routine. People who only think about work are BORING and I don't like to be one of them. 

Although I sometimes fail at it, one of my real goals this year in moving to work at a school geographically closer to my home was to establish more of a rooted lifestyle, connected to real people. Essentially: I wanted to GET A LIFE and have more of a network and life outside of school. The truth of the matter is that I don't live close enough to see my college friends every day. I hate that, but that's okay! We keep up and see each other when we can. We are still so close and I wouldn't change it for the world. I also, though, need the day-to-day people in my life that can come over to my place for dinner, drop something off quickly, or say "hey, do you want to join something with me?" It's been really hard for me to make that happen, but moving to work at Timothy has been so amazing in making that sort of progress. 

Looking back, in fact, God's made this happen slowly but surely all over the place. I played in a local women's volleyball league on Thursdays (it became my absolute favorite night of the week), started working out after school one night a week with two people from school, joined a small group (not exactly local, but still. closer than the city!), and started going to a Bible study with my mentor from church and another coworker. It's felt really good to have those groups grow in my life. Another BIG one for me this year has been Book Club. Ohmygoodness how freaking great is Book Club?! 

Reese, Michal, Kim, and I meet every few months to hang out with the pretense of discussing books. But the cool thing is, while they are fun to just be around in general, they actually enjoy discussing books! It's incredible. We've read three books so far and are on our fourth. I love to read anyway, but it's been really good to read books outside my own choices. (Reese is the ultimate book-picker though so I trust her taste.) Here are a few we've read. Feel free to read 'em too.

#1 Bone Gap by Laura Ruby.  Okay. So I might have gotten a little overeager with this book. You would know that if you are my friend on Goodreads, because I recommended it to every single person I know in one fell swoop. This recommendation was for two reasons. First, I just died of it-too-good-to-be-true-ness when I read it. Second, I was just learning how stuff works on Goodreads and accidentally clicked a button that recommended it to everyone I know. But for real, go read it. It is so stinking original and beautiful and heartbreaking and victorious and for-the-underdog in all the best ways. It made me afraid and brave all at once (and isn't that what being brave is, anyway?). It's a ridiculous combination of Young Adult angst, magic realism, mythology, unreliable narrators, and coming of age goodness that makes it too good to be true except that it isn't. It's true.

#2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Now this one was wildly popular, but we all had somehow missed it in 2014, so we attacked it. I will say this: it is just absolutely beautiful. There were lots of times where I paused and was like: "Woah. That's just a pretty sentence." I love that there is an author out there who knows a bunch of stuff about World War II, radio waves, seashells, and diamonds. It makes me glad that we haven't specialized so hopelessly that people still like to learn about lots of different subjects. It surely isn't plot driven on the whole, but the sentences really are so pretty that it's okay. (It definitely helps if you're a person who appreciates pretty sentences, though.) And just be warned that this book will break your heart. Ahhh and can we just talk about the can of peaches! I have never felt like I tasted something just from reading it like I have with those peaches. And sweet goodness don't even get me started on Frederick.

#3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  The premise of the book feels oh-so been-there-done-that cliche, but the book itself is anything but. Here's the premise: a crazy flu epidemic kills off 99% of the world's population. The ones left behind lose all infrastructure and are jolted back to the Dark Ages as they band together and try to manage/survive life in this new world. Also, you get an inside view of a deceased actor whose tabloid fodder of a life turned out to be a bit more significant than we all initially thought. The thing is, there are so many great moments here. There's a lot of Shakespeare references that make you feel smart without requiring you to know a TON of Shakespeare in advance. The part that made me die right on the spot was one character's comic strip based off of the landscapes of Bill Watterson's Spaceman Spiff in his iconic Calvin and Hobbes. I didn't know anybody thought about Calvin and Hobbes as often as I did, so I just about fell off my chair when I found it in a mainstream book. There were definitely times where I wanted the book to be pushed in a different direction, or to be paced with a faster plot, but then again, I appreciate that there can be a book in the world about post apocalyptic teenagers that doesn't revolve around a will-they-or-won't-they love triangle. Basically, if you're a band geek, Shakespeare fan, or comic strip nerd, this is wonderful. 

Aren't they great? Go check them out. We decided to make a nonfiction pick this time and are currently working on Evicted by Matthew Desmond, a book that follows families struggling against poverty in Milwaukee. I'm naturally drawn to nonfiction like this, so I'm patiently waiting for my copy to arrive so I can swiftly devour it. 

Happy reading, friends. Isn't it fun to get a life? 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What a Guy

Happy birthday to this guy.

The guy who is the best dinner date. 
The guy who faithfully pays our bills, saves for retirement, organizes loans, checks tire pressure, schedules house inspections, takes out the garbage, and generally makes sure that we aren't thrown in prison for tax evasion, so I don't have to deal with all that frustrating stuff.

The guy who is so spoken to on a soul level by every Modest Mouse lyric that ANNA YOU JUST HAVE TO STOP AND COME TO LISTEN TO THIS RIGHT NOW. And then when I can't tell what on earth Isaac Brock is saying, he has to rewind it and replay it until I can figure out what crazy new backwards play on words just happened. Whose mind is blown by each and every song.

The guy who has so many areas of interest, from the Civil War to really good beer to C.S. Lewis to Phillies baseball to cigars to hockey stats to vinyl records to Italian food to jazz-rock fusion to Studs Terkel to theology.

The guy who totally came out of left field in my life. The guy who is simultaneously the most handsome and cute and lovable person I know. The guy who will completely cringe at being the subject of anything I write. The guy who hates attention for this kind of stuff. Who has mastered the ability to appear to be a little bit on the rough around the edges/tough guy side (gold chain around his neck and all) but is literally theee most responsible person I know. The guy who is dark and handsome looking but totally loves to follow rules and make our parents happy and to do things correctly.

The guy who is a perfectionist at heart, constantly itching to get a little bit better, and is always feeling just a bit discontent with his efforts. (Even though the rest of us know he kills it at anything he tries, from teaching to snorkeling to all things hand-eye-coordination.)

The guy who takes life so seriously, who cares about everything deeply, and yet is the weirdest goof when I least expect it. The guy who tells me to "Come in here for a second!" and puts on a cartoon for us to watch and die laughing at together.

The guy who is just the best teacher. I would love to go back to high school and be in his class. The guy who inspires me to never settle for "the way things have always been done" in a profession where that can sometimes be the status quo. The guy who has a big impact for God's kingdom every day.

The guy who takes all of my emotional highs and lows like a champ, always accepts me back after an apology, and never accuses me of anything. Who absorbs any crazy I throw at him and just turns everything okay again.

The guy who is a true worldview live-er. Who has an intrinsic passion for people who have been at a disadvantage or through a struggle or are on the outside looking in. The guy who loves God and shows it instead of giving it lots of lip service like I can sometimes do.

The guy who is so committed to me. The guy who is actually the most thoughtful person I know. The guy who makes me feel lucky every day.

Happy Birthday, Brian :)

You're the best guy I know.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Wands in a Lifetime

So I'm hoping this wasn't just a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but visiting Hogwarts felt so magical. and wonderful. and precious. and perfect. 

Two weeks ago I accomplished one of my most exciting bucket list goals: visit Harry Potter World! This whole thing began when Reese, ever so supportive of book nerd goals everywhere, noticed that I was really getting into Harry mania. I read the entire series last year. She lent me the books, watched the movies with me (I still have to finish the last two), and planned this awesome weekend to Orlando to make these dreams a reality. I went with two people that I already know and love: Reese and Michal. Then I also got to meet their friends from college, Sarah and Esther, who went too, and now I know and love them as well! I know very few friend groups who can adopt a new girl into their plans so quickly and kindly like they have to me. I've been so blessed by Brian's college friends and this was just one of those icing-on-the-cake experiences. Waiting in line to ride the Hogwarts Express didn't feel so long with these four to talk to. 


We packed five of us into a one-room Airbnb condo and kicked off the weekend by meeting our enthusiastic 70-year-old hosts at midnight to get the keys, learn the layout of the area, and hear all of their precious musings and marriage advice. They must've thought we were here to party, because they decked out the room in Mardi Gras beads and decor, chocolates, brochures, and a bottle of Chardonnay that tasted like old perfume. The whole gesture was almost too adorable for me to handle. Little did they know we were totally here to pretend to be Hogwarts students for two days. No beads necessary. 

All I can say about the park is that IT EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS. The RIDES. The TRAIN. The DRAGON. THE FROZEN BUTTERBEER. (I was skeptical if I would like fantastic in frozen form.) It was all just magical. I took the quizzes to be sorted (we all did at some point either prior to this weekend or while in line for one of the rides) and was put into Ravenclaw, which I can embrace. Then I took the quiz for my hybrid house and it put me in RavenPuff, which is TOTALLY me. I am definitely interested in rebranding Hufflepuff as a baller house to join. Kindness, friendship, and loyalty? Yes please. 


At a few points throughout the weekend, I caught myself just looking around with a big dopey smile on my face. A thought creeped into my head: Am I too old to be this happy visiting a place like this? And that thought would quickly vanish when one of the other four would point to the next most awe-inspiring thing and we'd be off to visit that. Nope, not too old. I'm probably just now old enough to appreciate the place with some appropriate respect. With each passing year I'm kind of loving getting older. I don't wish to be 21 again or even 18. Sure, some memories make me nostalgic, but I like that with each stage of life comes its own dose of adventure and experience. I love that with each stage I find more people that prove to me that God is good. 

One funny little detail about this trip was that it coincided with Valentine's Day. Brian and some of his guy friends also had a little weekend trip, so I didn't feel too bad about leaving. I have to say, it was one of the best Valentine experiences of my life. To me, one of the things that makes J.K. such a strong voice is her intuition for eternal and important themes. I mean what on earth does Harry Potter stand for if not friendship, sacrifice, and the power of unconditional love

It only lasted for about 48 hours, but Valentine weekend seemed like it lasted for several sunlit days. It was that good. 

It's hard to take selfies sometimes. The other four look good, though :) 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Stitch Fixer Upper

I just wanted a reason to reference my #relationshipgoals couple, Chip and Jojo, with the title for this one. WHO DOESN'T WANT TO BE CHIP AND JOJO?! But this has nothing to do with my latest unhealthy addiction to HGTV interest in their TV show. Let's move on to the real stuff here. You guys, I did Stitch Fix!


Thanks to Alex and Heidi and a cool Christmas gift idea, I got to experience Stitch Fix for the first time this past month. Here's the deal: You are assigned a stylist, whose job it is to give you clothes that you love. You click through a bunch of pictures to show them what kind of outfit would be your thing, you give them all of your sizes, and schedule for your box to arrive. Then BOOM on that day a box of brand new clothes that you like and fit into are waiting to be opened. It was like Christmas on January 21st! (Which, let me tell you, is something. Because January is a hard month to be a teacher. Christmas break is painfully over! Spring break is so far away! Testing is happening! Indoor recess! Germs! Report cards! Agh!) Let's just say it's a good time to get a little dose of retail therapy.

You only keep what you like, you only pay for what you keep, and you mail back the rest in a prepaid bag. The only time where you would pay for stuff you didn't buy is if you decide to send EVERYTHING back, in which case they charge you 20 bucks for the trouble of your stylist's time. So basically, you should resolve to keep at least one thing.

Now, word to the wise: unless you have a million dollars, don't go too crazy on Stitch Fix. I could see it being a huge money drain for our budget if I did this each month. When setting up your preferences, you have the ability to set a price range, but even at the cheapest possible setting, my pieces averaged 50 - 60 bucks. That's fine for a quality item! But it's just not plausible for me to be spending $250 on dress up in addition to everything else each month...that is if you would keep all the clothes sent in the box. Just something to think about. However, you can set the box to arrive however often or seldom you would prefer. I did a one-time box in January, with plans to maybe do a Stitch Fix box 3 times a year or so, to freshen up my closet when the seasons change or if I've been saving and feel like I want a treat. This is a better system for me than 12 times a year, in which case Brian would have to sit me down and just take. away. the. credit. card.

With that disclaimer in mind, I loved it! There were items in there that I would definitely pick out on my own while shopping - and I love them because I won't be wearing the same things as everyone else I see roaming the halls at school. The brands are somewhat obscure, which I appreciate as I tend to nest in Loft, H/M, Target, Anthro sale rack, and GAP and never leave. It broadened my horizons a bit.

SO. You ready to see the winners? (Don't look to closely at my dirty mirror or messy hair or anything else one can be judged for):

The sleeves are made of sweatshirt material so my shoulders fit! Rare find!

I like my work clothes to resemble pajamas as closely as possible.

Seems like a normal black sweater....

....but it had this cool slit all the way up the side. I dig it. 

...andddd the losers! Here are the two pieces I sent back. The plaid shirt was sent back because it was too tight on top and the button was sort of pulling because it was struggling to stay buttoned. NEVER IN MY LIFE has a shirt fit me in the shoulders and not fit me in the bust. THANKS SHIRT for making me feel very voluptuous! But sorry, totes inapprop. The yellow pants were sent back because although they felt like velvety heaven when I pulled them on, they were just a leeeeeettle too pastel. A leeeetttlee too close to a skin tone color. I did a double take to my own reflection in the mirror because at first glance it looked like I wasn't wearing any pants. Can't be having people think I'm not wearing pants. That's a deal breaker. All I had to do for these two pieces was to seal them up, drop the package off at our school's business office, and voila. Done.


Wanna try it? Check it out:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Catching Up

I've been avoiding writing. Any other person who writes tells me that they do this too; they also weirdly avoid the very thing that they are good at. The very thing that clears my head demands so much of my energy to produce a mindless, tiny amount. Ack! I've definitely struggled with that this year. It's not that I don't have a lot to say, or that a lot isn't going on in my life, or that God isn't moving, but I kind of buckle underneath the effort that it takes. I think a lot of that energy and anxiety comes from the pressure of the need to have writing be good. Now, I suppose that I want to write well. But I don't want to avoid acting for fear of not acting perfectly. So this post is the act of me just writing to catch up and break the non-writing funk I have going currently. Here are a few pictures from this winter that have stuck out to me.


Ah, Dad. What a guy. Living in the Chicago area has its beautiful moments, but I miss my parents, man! This is from a weekend in December when they came to church and then out to brunch. I cherish those days. 


Okay my kids rock. So much so that they are moved to tears by how much they love to read. It's moving, really. 


Well aren't we just full of Christmas cheer! This was the day before break and I died laughing. 


Brian and I, back at the scene of the crime. Here we're standing on the very spot where we made our wedding vows to each other about 18 months ago. 


Annnnd this. Oh people. Vote for someone, just not for Donald Trump. And stop being weird about it on Facebook. Please and thanks. 

There you have it, guys! I did it! I blogged! Ah. I feel better already. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Do You Believe in Magic?

I did something that felt super grown up yesterday. Over the last week I read the book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and took its advice. Written by Marie Kondo, a celebrity personal organizer and de-clutter-er from Japan, it tells you everything you need to know to employ the KonMari (her trademarked system) method of decluttering your life. I decided my closet was the perfect victim for this organizing trend, and so Monday was the day it happened. Be forewarned that if you drink too much of her kool-aid, you might start talking to your clothes, thanking your socks for their hard work, and greeting your home each time you arrive at the front door. Whatever, man. The closet looks good, so she must be on to something!


Before I go into the details of how and why this worked for me, let me just say I feel like I'm channeling Gwyneth Paltrow and all of her rich-person minimalism with this whole program. Suddenly I was like "Hmm maybe I'll make kale shakes for breakfast now...and name my firstborn child Apple...and be spiritual but not religious." Then I was all like, "But wait, Anna, remember how you like pop tarts and Jesus and not scarring children for life?" Right. So maybe not.

I digress.

First, I will say that it's always good to evaluate our relationship to stuff, and I found that this kind of confronted the root emotional reasons why we keep stuff, instead of doing a more legalistic "get rid of one thing each day" or "throw away everything you haven't worn in a year" type of method. Here are the steps she follows - distinctive from other advice you've probably heard about putting your house in order. The first step, obviously, should begin with getting rid of stuff.

1. Downsize by category, not by room. Don't go around the house tidying up one room at a time. Work on clothes first. (This is the only one I'm doing - since it's the only category where I had an extreme amount of excess, but you could apply this method to everything you own.)

2. Get ALL OF THE THINGS from one category and put them on the floor in one place. And I mean EV-ER-Y-THI-NG. Yikes. This is where my first-world-guilt kicked in. As I stared at that massive pile of possessions, I couldn't believe that this all belonged to me. Just look at that beaut.

My mountain of stuff. 

3. Physically pick up each item, and ask yourself, "Does this spark joy?" This was the most important question, and the central idea to why you should keep anything. You don't ask whether you wear the item a lot, whether you have worn it in the past two years, whether it is in good condition or not, or even whether somebody gave it to you as a gift. You should be surrounded only by things that you love, that spark joy for one reason or another.

4. Keep the joyful stuff - pitch the rest. For real. Get rid of every last item you own that doesn't have a spark of joy. Now, I had to think around a few things. For example, exercising is something I love to have in my life, but it doesn't spark joy at first - I know it always comes after the workout is finished. So I kept the workout clothes with this in mind. Or, while I don't absolutely love my school-issued Timothy Christian School polo, I do love my job, and it is a joy to work there, so I kept the shirt for our spirit day Fridays. Basically, I tried to be reasonable. After I got going, the "joy" test was very effective and I ended up making all of my decisions to keep or not to keep within about 90 minutes. I sent a crazy amount of stuff off to be donated. For those who are counting, that would be 9 large garbage bags filled to the top, along with a 3-drawer set and a huge storage container, all filled as well. I gave over half of my clothes away. 


5. Put each and every item that you keep back in a specific and intentional place. This seems simple, but it was a really important part of the book. One bonus tip she added: hang things on hangers so that they slope up and to the right. It just looks good that way. So I put my wedding dress on first, then maxi dresses, then regular dresses, followed by skirts on the end.


6. Reevaluate all you know about folding. You can see from some of my pictures how I've changed my folding habits. Here's an article with a few tutorial videos attached: This is my favorite part, as I can get a good view of everything I own, and, unlike my old method of the stacked-up piles, I don't make a mess every time I want to pick one shirt off of the shelf.

Tank tops, sweaters, and t-shirts

My athletic t-shirts now all fit in one drawer! I gave 30 away in the donation pile. 

Jeans and other pants. 

So there you have it. My closet renovation. AKA, I have too much time on my hands because I'm a teacher on winter break. 

Happy tidying, everyone!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Round Table

This year's Thanksgiving was spent with my in-laws. Their celebration is a far cry from a crowded house, buffet style animal eating, paper plates, and card tables. With a smaller crew, we all fit around one table (my first time not at a kid's table was after I got married!), and we get to use real silverware! The nice kind, even! My mother-in-law, Beth, worked herself crazy for 24 hours straight to prepare the most ridiculously delicious spread. I was all like CHEESE! WINE! MEATBALLS! POTATOES! SWEET POTATOES! AHHHH! everywhere I looked. I particularly get spoiled with the first two in that list at my in-laws' home.


When we were all sitting around the table, the food coma almost starting to kick in, my father-in-law directed the conversation to a Round Table. He asked 3 questions of the table, and each person took turns responding. I thought they were very thoughtful.

1. What are you thankful for this year?
2. What are some goals you have for this year?
3. If you could change anything about yourself or the world, what would it be? 

The goals for this year ranged from hilarious (Nanny, Brian's grandma, simply blurted: "Survive!") to practical (Beth wants to be healthier, as if she isn't already putting us all to shame with her paleo lifestyle) to heartfelt (Ed wants to be aware of God's grace each day, particularly by always setting aside devotional time).

Earlier in the day, I chatted with my dad and got some group texts from my immediate family about the Packers (don't even pretend you weren't weeping when Bart Starr and Brett Favre hugged before the game), saying thanks for each other, and sharing pictures of crazy indulgent Thanksgiving spreads.

How is this my life? How is all this mine? I haven't really unraveled just how blessed I am. I just was overwhelmed with the people in my life yesterday. People who are open, kind, thankful for each other, generous, funny, and intentional with these days and milestones in life. Of course each year, as we switch between families, one of us will miss being home, but when you have such wonderful in-laws, it's got to be the next best thing. The coolest thing is that we are home no matter which family we're present with on each holiday. Brian's a son in my family, and I'm a daughter in his.

I shared my answers at the table, so here are my 3 responses.

1. What are you thankful for this year? First, for Brian. For being a fantastic husband, being a great buddy to spend all the mundane and exciting and frustrating and happy days with. For supporting me and making me think. I also said my fantastic parents and siblings. I know a lot of people with horribly hurtful families, and of course we are not perfect, but I could not have asked for better. I continued on to my in-laws, who have just opened up a spot for me and accepted me as I am. I can't join in on those "my crazy mother-in-law" rants, because mine is thoughtful and sweet and not a control freak and a great friend. Basically, my thankfulness this year is for all these sweet and wonderful people.

2. What are your goals for this year? I have a few outlined each year during my birthday, so I'm working on those continually. Right now, I've started my goal of watching every Seinfeld episode in chronological order and making plans to visit Harry Potter World. Less importantly, I want to run a half marathon this year.

3. If you could change anything about yourself or the world, what would it be? This is that big question that always brings me to the same answer. The thing I would change is that justice would really happen, that it would really roll down like a stream for forever. That all that junk about what you look like, what zip code or country you're born into, what culture your family is from, would never hinder us from loving one another. That we would have those goggles to see each other as God sees us, that we would look at the heart. God infamously picks the left out, too old, too young, too poor, oppressed people to be great. I wish we all had more of that first-shall-be-last-and-last-shall-be-first conviction in our hearts as we govern societies, live intentionally, and decide how we're going to serve God in this world.

It was a very moving Round Table this year. If it sounds cheesy, it wasn't cheesy at all. It was great. And as much as we love our families, I know that it can be the hardest to be vulnerable and share from the heart with the ones who know you and love you the most. The more we practice this sharing, the more we open up to each other, I think the easier it will be to see the best in everyone.