I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Try Again

It's hard to believe that it's practically Easter. I feel that Lent passed so quickly - and that I didn't quite stick to my Lenten promises. I even caught myself fading in and out of the Gospel at this evening's Palm Sunday liturgy.

These things (among others) are the very same that I talked with our parish's priest about at Reconciliation this week. I'm so thankful he was able to put things in perspective for me - he explained that in noting our shortcomings and failures, we, in turn, recognize our need for a savior. (Well, ain't that the truth? I sure can't do it on my own.)

So, after my uneventful (as far as promise-keeping) Lent, my goal for this Holy Week is to try just a little harder. Those promises I haven't kept or prayers I haven't said - this is the week for those. And then - hopefully - I can continue those habits into the Easter season. 

Remember, we're not perfect. And it's not too late to try again.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Had to dust off my cross-making skills...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reading with our ears

After this week, I will continue to swear by audiobooks for students - they are SO good. (And they seriously aid in classroom management.)

Quite honestly, with four mystery novels going on at once in the classroom, it's difficult to sometimes keep all of our kiddos on track. Constant reminders and gentle proddings of "Are you ready for group tomorrow?" and "Have you finished all of your summaries?" generally fill the classroom. And still, some students don't quite make it to literature circles prepared.

Enter audiobooks: new voices that free students of trying to decipher harder words on their own and, instead, allow them to enjoy the content of the novel. Listening to books on CD allows students to sit close together, read at the same pace, and respond as a group with laughter, disappointment, confusion, or excitement when the mood fits. It's a whole new world - and, admittedly, it's hard to break them away to move on to the next subject. (Guess that's a downside? Ha ha.)

So, as for me and my classroom, we will continue to listen and enjoy...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting to Know _____

Against my better judgment, I reread the first book of The Hunger Games series this weekend. However, who wants to hear more about that after all the hype that's been plastered all over billboards, websites, social media, and the news? I surely don't. It is what it is - although, it reminded me why I constantly caution both parents and students about the series (or the movie for that matter) being age-appropriate for a fourth grader. But I digress...

Let me shift focus to another book that's been on my mind a lot lately - Living Your Strengths. This Sunday was our third meeting (with just one more to go next weekend), and it provided yet additional insight and open conversation.

We reflected on a number of question, but one sticks out in my mind - "How can you learn enough about Christ to know how to live his life as our own?"

One person suggested that we look for trends in the Bible - Jesus was always searching out a specific person, from Zacchaeus to the woman who touched his cloak to Lazarus. And Jesus was always serving others.

Another person brought up that we never can really learn enough about Jesus - there's so much to know!

The question, for me, begged another question: "How do we really get to know anyone well?" We spend time with him/her of course. How else do we know what he/she is up to or what he/she is feeling at a deeper level than just what Facebook or Twitter tells us? (Check out This Ignatian Life blog today - it somewhat hits on the same topic - it's called "Intentional Friendship." It's totally worth the read.)

And so the same must be true of how we come to know Jesus - we must spend more time with him in prayer and in conversation about him with others.


So simple. So true. Yet, at times, so difficult.

But, as we came to realize as we continued our discussion, in spending more time in prayer, our outlook on the world changes - it changes for the better, allowing us to see Jesus in all things and in all others.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day of Rest - As well it should be...

At school, the students have been reviewing the 10 Commandments as they prepare to make the sacrament of Reconciliation during the Lenten season - they have examined their conscience in light of these 10 Commandments, and it has really made the wheels start turning in their heads.

This was so much so with one student who, when I suggested she spend a small amount of time studying on Sunday to prepare for Thursday's Social Studies test, exclaimed that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest.

And so, today (Sunday), I decided to take that Commandment to heart. Yes, I worked out at the gym (but for me, strangely enough, running is a form of relaxing and "resting"), but I have spent most of the rest of today trying to rest as best I can.

This is most evident in how I spent my time between about noon and three this afternoon: The weather was simply gorgeous - even the sun (which I haven't seen for days due to fog and rain) was out for a little bit. The temperature was definitely "all you need is a light jacket" weather, and for that I was very grateful. (It actually felt like spring, not summer!) I stopped at the coffee shop at the end of my street to give myself a little caffeine boost and to help warm me up from the inside out. 

As I was heading down the street, I received a text from a friend who has been visiting Chicago this weekend and was looking to meet up. We kind of "met in the middle" of our then-respective locations, and decided to hop on over to the Lakefront Trail, seeing as it was not far from where we were. It was a touch chilly and very peaceful - but the fog made it impossible to even make out the skyline of downtown or see the silhouettes of the many sailboats on Lake Michigan. Still, it was restful. And the mist gave off this feeling of freshness. Mmm. 

We walked and chatted, stopping on our way back to grab a refreshing drink. And then we parted, and I made my way back home.

Three hours out and about - can't quite beat that for a Sunday. I honestly feel so refreshed. (I still have my Strength-finders group and Mass tonight, so that will, no doubt, only add to my peace.)

Days like this are how Sundays should be. Yes, when the work has been finished, we are called to a day of rest - and that feels oh, so good.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Here's that rainy day...

Funny, but here's that rainy day...

I didn't think I would care that much, but when Michigan State lost tonight, I was honestly at a loss too. All I wanted to do was call up my grandpa and lament over their poor defense and lack of quality shots.

But that isn't really possible...unless you count a conversation in my head.

And, just as if my life were a movie, it did rain today - bringing a feeling of both sadness and a fresh new start. I don't know - the song (above) just fits today (well, not all of it - school was quite good, no lies).

But some days (such as the 'rainy ones'), you just wish you had certain things, moments, or people back. Let's face it, some days are harder than others without them...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Problem-Solving Toward a Solution

When one of my rather reserved students flew past me at recess today shouting a resounding "No!" to her friends, I knew something was up. (And apparently, this "something" had been building for some time...)

Nearly an hour later (through Writers' Workshop and into P.E.), we had gotten to the root of the problem - but by no means had we solved it.

Here's the gist (remember, these are fourth grade girls): The student who was visibly upset at recess had hit her limit. Apparently, she had been the go-to person for two different people, so she was feeling pulled in two directions - one friend (who happened to be in the other fourth grade class) wanted to join into a game that my student and a few other girls in my class were playing, so she went to my student to ask to play. Then, my student went and asked the other girls if her friend could play. They usually agreed, but then they would change the game, and this got both my student and her friend upset. But my student didn't know what to do - she is really good friends with both "sides", and all she wanted to do was be able to make everyone happy. (She's definitely a peacemaker, that one.)

I guided the girls' discussion, prodding for clarification, statements of feelings, and more, but it was tough. The one girl from the other class had been feeling excluded (been there too!), and the other girl from my class explained how she didn't like when games got too big because the rules changed and she couldn't keep track of everything.

Amazingly, all of the girls were very aware of their actions and feelings. For example, the one girl in my class said something along the lines of the fact that she realized her actions weren't good because she was hurting another girl's feelings, but she honestly didn't know how to solve the problem without just letting the game get so big (which was what she is afraid of). Later on, this same student remarked that I had missed my lunch break because of our discussion and that I must need my break. (I laughed. I knew that as long as I had some P.E. time to eat, I would be fine.)

My next step is to go to our guidance counselor - it's not that the situation is catty or out of hand; it's just that I would appreciate an outside set of hands and eyes to help get these girls on track and think up some solutions with which most everyone can be satisfied most all of the time.

Until then, I'll pray about it. After all, that's usually the most peaceful and helpful way toward solutions, isn't it?


Monday, March 19, 2012

Pray as you can

"Pray as you can, not as you can't."

I feel that this quote really speaks to the fact that oftentimes we find ourselves making excuses about why we can't pray (or can't find the time to pray) rather than actually spending time in prayer.

In reality, God doesn't want us to be perfect in prayer - He wants us to come to Him with our faults, our inability to pay attention (at times), and the many other distractions and activities that take up our lives. God wants us to offer these up in prayer as best we can - again, that's "as best we can" NOT perfectly, NOT worrying about how we can't do this or that in prayer.

We need to open ourselves up and allow ourselves to hear God's response in our lives.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Difference in the moment

One of the questions we focused on in tonight's Strengths for the Journey group was this:

"Do you sometimes pause just to notice how God is with you in simple, everyday moments? What difference does this make in your life?

After thinking quietly for a few moments, a memory from this school year made itself very clear. I distinctly remember standing out at recess on a gorgeous fall day - one of those days when the air was crisp and Thanksgiving vacation was drawing near - and I remember having a certain feeling of peace (mixed with satisfaction and joy) wash over me. It was a feeling I felt down to my very core. It was a feeling that made my heart happy. It was a feeling that said, "I am exactly where I should be at this very moment - with these children, with these co-workers, serving God in this capacity."

It was one of those a-ha moments, one of those God moments. And it really gave me some perspective and patience for the rest of that day.

It was a reminder to pause and let God speak to me through the everyday (just like I know He does when I pray the Examen). It makes a difference. Trust me.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Top o' the Mornin' to Ye

“May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, The foresight to know where you are going, And the insight to know when you have gone too far.”
- Irish Blessings quote

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 16, 2012

March Madness

It's crazy!

After tonight, my brackets might just be shot to you know where...

But I love this time of year.

Basketball practically 24/7 on the weekends.

Upsets, Cinderellas, and favorite teams...

No doubt in my mind.

March Madness...

#1 in my book.

What about yours?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Giving of Gifts

Tonight, my sister and I celebrated our birthdays. I admit that I love birthdays when it's my turn to give gifts - it's probably because I usually see things that are "perfect" for someone and can't wait to see his/her reaction.

Such was my gift combo tonight. (At least, that was my opinion.)

I had three things for my sister - one spiritual, one practical, and one silly/somewhat practical because she's a teacher.

1. Story of a Soul (the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux) - This book is an excellent read that truly is good for every soul. It is a beautiful account of a saint whose life, while not long, was filled with the knowledge and wisdom of God. She is both my sister's and my Confirmation saint, and as I continue to read this very same book (yes, we now each have a copy), I am blown away by her complete and utter devotion to God, even as a small child.

2. An NPR Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me travel coffee mug - I'll let the picture speak for itself, but I thought the teal blue color was just perfect, and the design is clearly very chic. (See below)


3. Chopsticks - As its name suggests, this book is about chopsticks who are best friends and have literally been together their whole lives. Well, one poor chopstick gets hurt and is rushed away, so the other chopstick must learn how to make it on his own. (And he does so in style.) There are plenty of plays-on-words (a lot of kitchen humor) and cute illustrations. In the end they learn an important lesson of standing strong both together and apart. (Connections, Ms. Foyle!)

Good times. I must admit, when it comes to birthdays, it sure is nice to share one. (And that's not just because I got a present in return...) :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Empty and Full

With the desert beauty and the magnificent mountains fresh in my memory, I got to thinking about my time out West both in and post-ACE. I thought of all the activities I volunteered for, all the games I went to, all the extra hours I spent grading and lesson planning. And that made me think of how I grew (both spiritually and personally), how I learned, and how I loved (and was loved in return).

As you'll see in the poem below, I know I emptied my hands every day over those three years (and I strive to continue to do so in my present positions too), and there were times when I felt lost and unsure of where all that effort was going... And then, I take a step back - a move away from where I was - and I see it. The students still remember things I taught them and said; the families still cared about me and how I have been doing; the spirit of the Salesians and Holy Cross priests lives on at the school...

This weekend, I was filled to the brim with God's goodness and love. Everyone's loving kindness and hospitality energized me to continue to pour out that love in all I have done and continue to do this week. God almost quite literally hit me over the head in AZ and showed me through my friends and students that He loves me.

He loves you too. It's time to enter into His love and the ever-revolving circle of emptying and refilling.

I hope you enjoy the following poem as much as I do:

Empty Hands

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most;
Until I was empty-handed,
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth's highway, grieving,
In my rage and poverty,
Till I heard His voice inviting,
''Lift your empty hands to Me.''

So I held my hands toward heaven
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches
Until they could hold no more.

And at last I comprehended,
With my mind stupid and dull,
That God could not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

It's true - I absolutely love that poem. (Thanks again, Dad.) And it makes me think of other wise words (attributed to Mother Teresa): "Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness."

In giving fully of ourselves, we are emptying ourselves to make more room for God's love to share. And it's a beautiful cycle of emptying and refilling, as long as we continue to pour out Christ's love to others.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Read all about it

Books, books, books. Some people must think that's all I ever talk or care about.

Clearly, books are something I love - and I love to share them too. This is evident when I recommend some solid reads to others, whether those 'others' be children or adults. (Trust me, I know some gems at all levels of reading!)

Take this past weekend, for example - I spent a great deal of time during my visit on Friday in the classroom of the fifth graders (whom I had as fourth graders last year). Somehow, I did not manage to leave their room without first sharing with a few of them about The Mysterious Benedict Society (see post on mysteries). Their teacher (a current ACEr and a good friend of mine) explained later how my eyes had lit up with excitement as I spoke with the kids about the book.

Even in my own classroom, this phenomenon has been evident: A few weeks ago, a student was at a loss for what to read next, so I pulled a few - okay, more like 8 or 10 - books from the bins in the classroom library and started talking about each one and why it would be a good read. A student close by proceeded to gently "shhhh" me; however, I then explained how it would be simply impossible to be quiet when talking about books.

Here are just a handful of ones that I've enjoyed (some more recently than others) that would do well to be on most everyone's list of books to read. (Let's face it, a Top 10 here is just not possible!):

(Adult) Realistic Fiction:
Any books by Jodi Picoult
Water for Elephants
One Day
The Help

Story of a Soul (St. Therese of Lisieux) - you can access this text online*
The Reading Promise

For kids of all ages (by genre) -->

The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Westing Game
The 39 Clues series

The Tale of Despereaux
Tuck Everlasting - our newest read aloud!
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Secrets at Sea
Percy Jackson and the Olympian series

Realistic/Historical Fiction:
Any books by Sharon Creech
To Kill a Mockingbird
Esperanza Rising

...And there are SO many more.

But that would require a lot more space and a lot more time.

For now, this is a start. I hope you have enjoyed (or will enjoy) many of the books on this list. (And I hope you have a list of your own.)

Happy Reading... (Remember, the library is your friend...)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekend Wonders

This weekend was a great decision - spending time with friends and school families in Arizona was incredible - how the students have grown! Time moved on without me - I expected the same students I left, but I was pleasantly surprised instead.

It was weird to be the one who was visiting - only being in town for a brief stay. One parent took the words right out of my mouth - "It just doesn't seem right, you being a 'visitor.'" (And it surely didn't, especially after spending three tremendous years at that very school - but at least I was #1 - see below.)

I will hold so many fond memories from this weekend in my heart - a true blessing. (And I am sure that future blog posts will include reflections on my time out West too.)

This weekend was exactly what I needed. It was everything I could have wanted.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's a Mystery...

Never have I ever met with such dramatics as I encountered this very afternoon when I picked up my students from lunch.

And what were they being dramatic about?

Why, their new mystery novel assignments, that's what!

(I'm sure the normal walk up our one-flight of stairs back to our classroom never seemed so long!)

But where was I? Oh yes, the mystery novels...

Now, hold it right there - considering they are mystery novels, you didn't expect the students to get off so easy as to simply get their assignments, did you? Really, where would the fun be in that?

Well, as in many a good mystery, it all started out with a clue:

What book will you read? It's a mystery...(But, let's just say, a clue is very close by.) Hmm...
Little did they know just how close the clue was...

Surprisingly, it did not take long for one student to decide to check under her seat and desk. There they were - taped to the bottom of their desks - success!

Found it!
 But wait - more clues?

5 Clues given to students for novel assignments
Time to figure out these puzzles - many clues dealt with the authors, characters, or general plot. Plays on words were a must (obviously - it's me we're talking about here!). Soon, the students had organized themselves into groups - with a few a little mixed up before getting sent to the correct book.

And, in no particular order, those books are

The Westing Game
Chasing Vermeer
The Mysterious Benedict Society
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler

Oh the unrivaled excitement, the thrilling suspense, the beautiful mystery of it all.

Seriously, should I be allowed to have this much fun at my job? (I'm such a kid!)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Finding Strengths...for the Journey

I'm not going to rush into posting too much about this too soon, but I'm fascinated already...

Okay, so, Kelly, what on earth are you talking about?

Well, in response to an invitation on retreat a few weekends ago, I joined a small faith-sharing/discussion group called "Strengths for the Journey" - we've had one meeting so far, and then we were given an assignment to take an online assessment that would calculate (in order) our top 5 "strengths" (more about what "strengths" are at a later time - once I understand them more).

I'm still reading up on my results, but here are my Top 5:

1- Strategic
2- Responsibility
3- Includer
4- Learner
5- Adaptability

And what's especially interesting in reading more about the different strengths is that each one is discussed in the book using certain Bible passages (okay, it's the Catholic edition of the book) to give further insight.

For example, take the strength "Strategic" - here are 2 Bible passages centered on this strength:

"Without knowledge, even zeal is no good; and he who acts hastily, blunders." -Proverbs 19:2

"No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it." -1Corinthians 10:13

I think those match up pretty well with me.

Now, once we've all taken our assessments, we are going to read the book Living Your Strengths (Catholic Ed.) and participate in 3 more weeks of small group discussions about the book, our own personal strengths, and, finally, how we can best capitalize or use our strengths to serve God and others.


This is turning out to be a pretty worthwhile and meaningful Lenten promise. Amen to that.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ending and Beginning

It felt like a lot - giving about 4 hours (including travel time) to Church on a Sunday night.

I went in knowing that this would likely be the last thing I would do before going to bed tonight.

And then, I kind of turned things around in my head: I'm both ending my weekend AND starting my new week with a small faith-sharing group followed by Mass.

What better way to do both of those things - ending and beginning - than by receiving Jesus' most sacred body and blood?

(No need to answer that - it's rhetorical.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Now is the time...ah!

It's that time again.

Oh, you know - it's when you can hear the train rumbling as it approaches and can see its headlight? (And the crash seems inevitable...)

Enter -->
     the end of the trimester.
          the wrap-up of grades.
               the late nights at school.
                    (and the missing out on runs and the gym.)

At least I know this period doesn't last forever.
I understand that these grades and report cards are important for noting progress and tracking our students.
And I realize that with teaching (as with other occupations) comes personal sacrifices.

But these students are worth it.

Every opportunity.
Every connection.
Every smile.
(Every tear.)
Every thank you.
Every laugh.
Every hug.

Yes, it's a Friday night when I just finished my evening's worth of grading. I'm worn out from the week and still have lots packed into my weekend.

And, maybe I'm crazy...

...But I sure love my job.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Small Victory

"We made it (lining up for gym) without the other class having to shut their door today," remarked one of my rather bright students.

We sure did.

It's the little things - such as lining up quietly and calmly for gym.

Small victory noted.

Well done.