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

Friday, January 31, 2014

I'm Lovin' Catholic Schools

Today brought us to the end of Catholic Schools Week with Teacher Appreciation Day. We had a lovely luncheon, but what I found even more meaningful and heartwarming were the poster and notes I received from my students:

student-written poem for all of the teachers
banner from teacher swap

Good thing I don't teach grammar... ;)

I really do teach some great kiddos. Even though we have some rough classes, we make it through. We smile, we laugh, we pray, we keep going...

I am so grateful for a lovely (though short) Catholic Schools Week. 

I <3 Catholic Schools.

Oh, and added bonus (well, I think it's a bonus) - here's a picture of Thursday's sunrise:

Maybe tomorrow I'll take a break from the school work. I have Downton Abbey Season 4 to watch...

Allegiant to read...

Tuesdays with Morrie to preview for my 6th graders...

and, as usual, laundry (joy!) to do.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book 2 Down...Book 3 to Go...

I spent the past two nights engrossed in Insurgent - it's the second of the Divergent trilogy. (Actually, I fell asleep on the couch around 9 last night and couldn't keep my eyes open to finish because I was plum exhausted - that's why it took 2 nights.)

Yes, it's a young adult book. (Think Mockingjay but more clever and unpredictable.) And, yes, I said engrossed.

At first, I honestly thought I enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy more (and, granted, I haven't finished this series yet), but now I'm inclined to stand down from that opinion.

What most impresses me about the Divergent books so far is the large number of twists and turns in the plot - characters changing sides and popping up unexpected, many times when you don't know if Tris is in a simulation (you'll have to read the books to understand what that means), and deep truths about human nature/character that come to light (which, let's be honest, is probably my favorite aspect). You (the reader) think you know what's about to happen and then, bam!, change of plans.

And, like all good second books of a trilogy, Insurgent leaves you on the edge of your seat. (Good thing my copy of Allegiant (Book #3) is sitting in the school office, waiting for my arrival tomorrow morning.)

Apparently there is a line to check out this series at the public libraries (according to my mother)...but if I were you, I'd get in line now. (Or, you could borrow it from a friend - I bet someone you know has a copy.) The movie comes out in March. I'm excited to see how it turns out, considering how they filmed in Chicago and all...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A little on edge

What do I do when the kiddos were getting a little on my nerves this afternoon?

Sketch Olaf on a post-it, of course.

What would you have done?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Look Within

“Happiness is not in our circumstances, but in ourselves. It is not something we see, like a rainbow, or feel, like the heat of the fire. Happiness is something we are.” - John B. Sheerin

I love this quote.

Above all else, this quote reminds us that happiness cannot come from outside sources. Happiness is found within...and we can choose to foster it. Sure, there are things that seem to make us happier than others - people, activities, etc. But really, in any circumstance, we can choose happiness. We can reach deeply within ourselves and find it.

It reminds me of learning about the Sacraments with my 6th graders. (Bear with me here.) We discussed how Sacraments are visible signs of God's love and grace in our lives: We cannot see God's love or His unmerited grace (just like, in the quote, we can't see happiness), but we catch glimpses and find "evidence" in the Sacraments, nature, etc. God's love is a huge part of who we are, and the Sacraments make us holier and closer to God. God is around us, yes, but, more importantly, God is within us.

And I think we would all do well to remember that...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Catholic School Experience, Dr. Seuss Feel

Because I will likely not be reading this to the students at Wednesday's Mass (we're opting for something simpler and shorter), I decided to share my Catholic Schools Week poem with you here:

Beginning in Kinder
Going up through 12th grade -
A love for learning was nurtured,
Catholic school girl was made.

At HFS grade school
mighty falcons were we -
We soared high and proud
in every activity.

I played every sport
that the school had to offer -
volleyball, basketball,
track, softball, and soccer.

Through student leadership board,
school news, choir, and mime,
I learned so many ways
I could serve with my time.

In high school I flourished 
with my education
Because my Catholic grade school
gave me a solid foundation.

Study skills, reading habits
and working with peers
are things that stuck with me
after all of those years.

In high school my faith
grew more with each day
with my teachers and principal 
leading the way.

It was during this time
I prayed always to Mary -
a devotion that to this 
very day I still carry.

Through the course of the school day
we'd start with prayer in each class,
and each sports team was assigned
an afterschool day for Mass.

I remember the chapel 
we had right on campus
and during my passing periods
I'd stop and say hi to Jesus.

We had retreats every year
the out of state ones were best.
Spending time in reflection,
I realized I was blessed.

Because of my success in
Catholic high school, you see,
I earned scholarships that sent me
to college for free.

My parents were glad that
all those years of tuition
turned out to be investments
in future education.

And after that time
Catholic ed was still on my brain
so I became a teacher through ACE
at the University of Notre Dame.

The money pays better
in other jobs I suppose
But being a Catholic school teacher
I deliberately chose.

Catholic School Week reminds me
it's a celebration well-deserved
for it's in Catholic Schools where
we make God known, loved, and served.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catholic Schools Week...Here we come...

Last night, my school kicked off Catholic Schools Week with our annual faculty/8th grade basketball game. As defending champions, we (the teachers) were up for the challenge. (Personally, I hadn't touched a basketball since the same game last year, but I didn't play much, so it all worked out. Because when I say that I played, I use that term very loosely.) And we ended up pulling ahead for a victory by 2 points. Surprisingly, most of the students were on our side, so it was fun to have them there and cheering in such large numbers. They really are great kids...

I'm looking forward to our celebration of National Catholic Schools Week, complete with grandparents' day, academic activities, a service project, appreciation days, Mass, and more!

(Here are some recent articles on Catholic ed: http://stlouisreview.com/article/2014-01-22/catholic-educationhttp://catholickey.org/2014/01/24/bring-catholic-schools-into-the-light/)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Little Trivia for You...

Here's a little bit of trivia for you - what were the last words spoken by Mary in the Gospels?

(Hint: It wasn't at the cross...)

Are you ready for this? It was at the Wedding Feast at Cana - Jesus' first miracle. 

That was a lucky guess for me during our Pillars class tonight. What, exactly, was our instructor getting at by pointing this out? Namely this - that we should not maximize Mary as someone standing on her own (like a goddess). Rather, we should recognize and revere her in light of her relationship to Jesus. He asked us to think about her words at Cana: "Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you." Even in that moment, we see her pointing to her son.

And so, we are reminded to look to Mary, our mother, as a guide to Jesus. We should love and honor her in special ways, remembering that we do so because of the role she played in the birth (and life) of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What a gift we have in Mary! What a wonderful reminder of her role in our faith lives...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Divergent...What will the choice be...?

I stayed up later than I had wanted to last night because I was finishing Divergent, a futuristic/dystopian novel that takes place in the future "ruins" (for lack of a better word) of Chicago. (The author describes Navy Pier, the l, streets, etc. - it's pretty cool if you are remotely familiar with the city.)

You can say I'm a sucker for giving in to the popular young adult books that are on the verge of being made into movies. (In the case of this book, it's coming to a theater near you in March.) I mean, let's be real, it's important to read the book first - Hunger Games...Harry Potter...amiright?

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, though, at times, it was pretty predictable. I think my favorite aspect of the plot was the 5 factions/groups: Abnegation (the main character's family's group), Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless. Each group has a special quality/skill that they hold in highest esteem and stand for - if you know the meaning of these words (or look them up), I bet you can guess what each one is.

The novel opens right before "Choosing Day" - the day when 16 year-olds take a test to guide them to pick their allegiance. Beatrice, the main character, gets "inconclusive" test results...She's "divergent" - but, shhh, don't say it too loud. It could get you into trouble...

So the choice is up to her. Will she choose her family? or will she pick a new group? And what will the repercussions be?

Guess you'll have to read and find out. (It was a fairly fast read - all 487 pages of it.) I do encourage you to pick it up and give it a try.

And if you do, let me know what you think.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Days Like This

Days off - we all need them. That's what the weekends are for. And, yes, that's what holidays are for too.

Because of the MLK holiday, I was able to take today (and Sunday) pretty easy. And after the hectic-ness of Friday (with dealing with car stuff) and doing errands on Saturday, that was pretty good.

In fact, on Sunday I did absolutely nothing school-related. I didn't even check my school email or review my lesson plans.

So, what did I do? I went for a jog on the Lakefront Trail with my sister. I had a relaxing brunch with my sister and a friend. I read a book. I went to Mass at a new (for me) Church with my sister and another friend. I watched Downton Abbey with my sister. It was simply a lovely day.

Today wasn't quite as relaxing, though I did find time to go to the gym, read, cook, and watch some television. I did spend an hour or so lesson planning for this and next week, as well as preparing additional materials to accompany my lessons. And, in just a little bit, I am off to Bible Study. A good, full day indeed.

Yes, days off. We all need them. Thank goodness for days like these.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Waiting for Confirmation

I spent this afternoon planning Confirmation lesson plans for my 8th graders. And then, on Monday, I'll be able to give some thought to the Confirmation retreat (which is coming up at the end of February).

Preparing students for their Sacraments is a pretty special opportunity (as I am sure my sister can tell you - she absolutely loves First Communion). The most challenging part I have found is making sure I have prepared them enough. Are my 8th graders really going to be ready to say "yes" to becoming adults in the Catholic faith?

And then, I stop myself and think, was I ready to do the same? I certainly didn't understand my faith anywhere close to the way I do now.

And so, I realized that it's not about them knowing all the answers or teachings of the Church right now. (And I breathed a sigh of relief.) It's about cultivating a desire in each of them to pursue and deepen that faith for the rest of their lives.

I know I won't reach all of them. And no, I'm not being pessimistic - See #1 - I'm being realistic. But I do sincerely hope that they understand the significance of Confirmation and that they feel they are taking this next step in their faith of their own choosing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Silence, Please

Our pastor's homily focused on something very important (and yet often overlooked in our society) today: QUIET/SILENCE.

He explained that if we don't take time to listen, then we will never learn. If we do all the talking, how can we hear other people? If we're always plugged in, what are we missing?

Very good thoughts. Very timely questions/reflections.

Silence is good. We all need more of it in our lives to better be in tune with God, with each other, and with ourselves.

Can you imagine what a better world we would live in if we all started listening just a little bit more...?

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Could Care Less...

I recently came to the conclusion that life would be a heck of a lot easier if I cared less.

Think about it:

  • The 8th grade wouldn't drive me so bonkers because I just can't figure out how to stop them from interrupting each other (and me) so much in class...
  • I could skip commitments at Church if I wasn't feeling up to it or had other things that I needed to get ready for school...
  • I wouldn't be so stressed if other teachers at work were getting worked up over things I couldn't handle....
  • I wouldn't be frustrated by the lack of respect students show their peers and their teachers throughout the school day...
  • I would let someone else worry about and take responsibility for guiding a student through conflict in choosing a Confirmation sponsor...
  • I would take planning time for things I personally needed to accomplish rather than RTI meetings and other obligations with committees, parents, etc. I'm involved in...

Sometimes, the stress level just gets too high. And what frustrates me the most is it ends up stressing me out because I care SO much and want to do my very best to help my students & others. But then what happens is I end up neglecting myself.

So, what do I need to do? Well, probably the best thing is to keep praying about it all. I also need to constantly remind myself of the big picture and of what's most important in my life. This article provides some additional suggestions, especially for the weekend, on how to keep things in perspective.

Yes, I could care less...but I don't think that's my best option.

If I cared less, I definitely wouldn't be teaching in a Catholic school.
If I cared less, I wouldn't find as much meaning in my daily work and activities.
If I cared less, I wouldn't be surrounded with friends, families, and co-workers of such high caliber.
If I cared less, I wouldn't feel triumph in overcoming challenges and struggles.

Caring less isn't the answer. We have to fight the good fight and finish the race. (Ok, so I paraphrased from Timothy's passage a little...but it's true!)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

MSU BBall Weekend 2014

More to come later...but guess who went to East Lansing this weekend for their first Michigan State men's basketball game?...

These girls! (We were thinking of you, Grandpa!)

What a great weekend, brought to completion by an MSU victory (though it was done via OT) and an opportunity to grab dinner and drinks with some of our ACE friends who are currently residing near MSU for various schooling reasons. (Lovely!)

It really was a dream come true - one that was first dreamed as middle school students a long time ago.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

And we're back...

A three day work week? It sounds like a dream come true.

And it has been...almost...

Can we just subtract all the chattiness?

Honestly, it's great to be back with the kiddos - I was even beginning to miss them. (Yes, I even missed 8th grade.) But my goodness, I think some of them are just go-go-go...and I don't know if they even realize they are talking.

And coming back from a break, where I am pretty sure they talked to their parents, aunts/uncles, and other adults more like they were peers than adults, it's taken a few reminders to get them back in the whole respect  for teachers (and each other) mode...but we're getting there. Today was definitely better than yesterday in that regard, so I have high hopes for tomorrow...even though it is a Friday...

I know I've said this before, but those snow days were clutch (for mental & emotional sanity). There's nothing like curling up on a Monday (and Tuesday) with some coffee, a quilt, and a good book (or whatever your chosen activity may be) when you would normally be at school. It was very refreshing.

But it's also refreshing to be back on a schedule. I was asleep by 9 p.m. last night, so even 5:20 a.m. didn't seem so bad this morning - in fact, I felt refreshed. (Yes, I have decided sleep is good, so I will try not to sacrifice it this year...as much as I am able.) And, hey, even 25 degrees felt warm - I managed my drive from school to home without even wearing a hat or gloves. (I'm not recommending that to anyone - I'm just lazy sometimes...and it wasn't that far.)

Well, in looking ahead, this weekend promises to be a memorable one - and for now, that's where I am keeping my eyes. Love me some Michigan State basketball! Let's go Spartans!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Book"-ing it Through 2014

Let the love of reading continue! Thanks to these past 2 snow days, I was able to finish a book I had on loan from the mother of one of my students - The Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch - my first book of 2014!

It's a young adult historical fiction account of the Crusades. On the plus side, I found it a very easy read with lots of action & strong vocabulary usage, and it has great potential for being a read aloud. On the negative side, it's only published in England, so it's a bit more expensive on this side of the pond.

(Might I suggest a friend who has it or the library if you're interested in the series? That's what I did. Worked well.)

Well, it is back to reality tomorrow, so, alas, there will not be quite as much time to read for pleasure. But (as much as it pains me to say it), it will be nice to get back in the swing of things with the students tomorrow. And with the short week, we can ease back into school. (Amen to that!)

Monday, January 6, 2014

And then there were 2...snow days, that is...

Nothing says 2nd snow day tomorrow than curling up with a good book and a cup of tea with my makeshift fireplace. (It crackles and everything!) And then, of course, there's a college football championship later tonight, though, quite frankly, I don't have any vested interest this year.

Stay warm, my friends...

Snow Day = Extended Christmas Break

Snow day? That phrase is one of which dreams are made.

When I got the text from my co-worker that school would be closed on Monday, I pretty much squealed with joy. (Think small child receiving amazing gift on Christmas morning.)

Can we say decreased stress level? Yes.
Are my lesson plans for the week finished? Yes.
Do I have the motivation to work ahead for next week? Ummm...I'm working on that.

But it was so nice to take a break last night and this morning - after Mass, my sister came over, and, with one of my roommates, we did some typical night-before-snow-day activities: board game, movie, and chocolate. And, before bringing my sister back to her apartment this morning, we caught up on Episode 1 of Season 4 Downton Abbey. (It's a good one!)

Yes, it's certainly cold outside. (If you don't believe me, check my car's digital temperature reading on the left below - I didn't think it could show negative numbers, but, apparently, it can.) I wonder what tomorrow's weather will bring...

Looks like it's time to get motivated - It shouldn't be that hard because it's too cold to venture outside and there's not much on TV...but these things are easier said than done...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 "in the Books"

One of my friends from Church had a goal in 2013 to read 52 books in the year...and she did it. (And they were regular adult novels, some longer than others. Wow!)

Though a far cry from 52, I managed to read 25 books (at least, as best as I can recall) last year. Here they are, color-coded for your reference:

Red = YAC (Church) Book Club
Blue = Children/YA
Purple = Professional Development
Green = Personal/For Fun

* = rating (out of 5)

- Rediscovering Catholicism ***
- My Life with the Saints ****
- The Goshawful Gold Rush Mystery **
- The Mysterious Benedict Society ****
- Our Greatest Act of Fidelity ***
- Tuck Everlasting *****
- Wringer ***
- The One and Only Ivan ****
- Wonder ****
- Hold Fast ***
- 39 Clues (Book 1) ***
- The Book Whisperer ***
- Because of Mr. Terupt ****
- The Giver ****
- Hoot ***
- What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most ***
- 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator ***
- The Storyteller *****
- The Fault in Our Stars ****
- Tuesdays with Morrie *****
- The Boy on the Front Porch ***
- Love and Salt ****
- Fearing the Stigmata ***
- Shirt of Flame ****
- Counting By Sevens ***

Yep, that just about does it. I've blogged about some of these as I read them within the past year, but if you're interested in any of the above, feel free to email me or leave a comment requesting further details. As you can tell, I love to share my joy of reading!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Goals

Yes, the countdown came and went...it is now 2014. 2 0 1 4! Holy cow. Reminiscing with some long-time friends last night, we realized we graduated from high school 10 years ago this May. (Let's say that we all felt a little old.)

But, yes, here it is - 2014. Now, having been on vacation this past week and a half, I oftentimes found myself on Pinterest (in between all the visiting, trips to Publix, reading, and other things). While on the site, I found this idea for using with students in the new year -

from http://messyjofu.blogspot.com/2013/12/here-comes-2014.html

But I figured, why not use it for me too? So, here goes:

2 - Two new goals I have for this year:
     1) Spend more time doing things for self-improvement (cooking healthy, running more, reading more, trying new things, praying more, spending more time at Church-related events & in prayer groups) and less time making excuses/wasting time.
     2) Be a better friend and listener by keeping in touch via letters, emails, and phone calls. 
     (Bonus Goal = Go to the Holy Land - woo hoo! Thanks to my Church, this is going to be a reality this summer!)

0 - Something I'd like to stop doing: There are a lot of things I should stop doing, but the one I want to concentrate on is to stop spending so much wasted time on Facebook. (In addition, I'd like to stop eating quite so many sweets - all in moderation, I say.)

1 - One new book I want to read: Scratch that - there are at least 10 titles I already have lined up. (And heck, we're in the tens place, mathematically speaking.) Here are some of them: 
     - The First Phone Call From Heaven (Mitch Albom)
     - An Abundance of Katherines (John Greene - YA)
     - The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis)
     - Divergent series (Veronica Roth - YA)
     - Jesus of Nazareth (Pope Benedict XVI)
     - Bell Canto (Anne Patchett)
     - The Heroes of Olympus series (Rick Riordan) - I left off after finishing The Lost Hero...

You know me...the list goes on...Any recommendations or must-reads I'm missing? Please let me know!

4 - Four things I want to learn:
     a) How to play the guitar
     b) How to more effectively use Twitter for professional development & edchats
     c) How to be more creative with my cooking (recipes or not)
     d) How to implement new assessment and classroom activities for my middle school students

Well, that just about does it. Have you thought about your goals and resolutions yet?

If you're still thinking, here are a few good reads:

Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! May the year ahead be a blessed one!