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

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - A Book Round-Up for 2015

Maybe that's a bit dramatic - none of the books I read were what you might call "ugly," and there really weren't too many "bad" ones in the bunch either. Were there some I liked better than others? Absolutely. Were there some I chose versus some I was "forced" to read? Yeah... As a middle school LA teacher, I don't always get to choose my content, you know what I mean?

Here's my list - 32 strong! (Not that quantity matters - it's all about quality in my book...) -->

1) "The Hobbit" (finished 1/1/15) - Fantasy (for school)
2) "Moon Over Manifest" (1/17/15) - Historical YA Fiction
3) "Eight Keys" (2/2/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
4) "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" (4/19/15) - Fantasy
5) "Elephant Talk" (4/25/15) - Nonfiction (for school)
6) "Into the Unknown" (4/25/15) - Nonfiction (for school)
7) "Shooting Kabul" (5/13/15) - Historical YA Fiction (for school)
8) "The Cay" (5/17/15) - Historical YA Fiction (for school)
9) "Fish in a Tree" (5/23/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
10) "Under the Egg" (5/25/15) - Historical YA Fiction
11) "Data Wise" (6/13/15) - Professional Development
12) "Brown Girl Dreaming" (6/14/15) - Memoir/Poetry
13) "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (7/6/15) - Spiritual/Religious Nonfiction
14) "Paper Things" (7/12/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
15) "One for the Murphys" (7/24/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
16) "Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change" (7/25/15) - Nonfiction YA (for school)
17) "Crenshaw" (7/25/15) - YA Fiction
18) "Teaching Reading in Middle School" (7/27/15) - Professional Development
19) "Sondheim: The Man Who Changed Musical Theater" (7/28/15) - Nonfiction YA
20) "In Defense of Read Aloud" (7/28/15) - Professional Development
21) "Echo" (7/29/15) - Historical YA Fiction
22) "Stargirl" (7/30/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
23) "The Classroom Management Book" (7/31/15) - Professional Development
24) "Be Always Little: Christian Fables for Young and Old" (8/3/15) - Spiritual
25) "Small as an Elephant" (8/5/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
26) "Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library" (8/22/15) - Mystery YA
27) "Stella by Starlight" (9/10/15) - Historical YA Fiction
28) "Unbroken" (audio) (10/25/15) - Nonfiction
29) "The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto" (11/23/15) - Fiction (with historical figures)
30) "I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives" (11/28/15) - memoir (dual) YA nonfiction
31) "The Hobbit" (12/14/15) - Fantasy (for school --> re-read)
32) "Just Mercy" (12/27/15) - Nonfiction

(Technically, the titles listed should all be underlined or italicized, but I kept this list on my phone, and I didn't really have the energy (or patience) to go back and change them all. I apologize to all of you grammar lovers out there.)

Now, I would award the books I read as follows (not that my awards matter - it's more fun this way, though):

BEST OVERALL ADULT READ: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (a story about the corruption within the US prison & judicial systems as well as one man's fight to bring justice)

BEST OVERALL YA READ: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (a story about being true to yourself and the effects of peer pressure/group acceptance in a high school setting)

MOST MEMORABLE READ: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (a fictional story of a musician set within the context of real world events; told from the perspective of music as the narrator)

MOST LIFE-CHANGING/APPLICABLE TO LIFE: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen (a wonderful read about mercy and multiple perspectives on the oft-heard Bible passage)

Some other highlights (or comments of note):

*I enjoyed Lord of the Rings #1 more than I thought I would. I was interested in reading the second book in the trilogy, but I felt I could not commit another two months (which is the length of time it took me to read book 1) to it at the time. Maybe one day I will finish the trilogy and finally see the movies!

*A number of the books I read hold potential for teachers to use as read alouds or books studies to draw attention to issues such as homelessness (Crenshaw, Paper Things), poverty & current events (I Will Always Write Back), and being true to oneself/accepting others who are different (Stargirl, Paper Things). One for the Murphys deals with going through the foster care system, and Fish in a Tree gives light to the idea that all children have different gifts and learn in different ways.

*I remembered reading The Cay in 6th grade, so I obtained copies for students to read in our historical fiction unit this spring. I firmly believe that every middle school student should read this book because of how it deals with prejudice, courage, and hope.

*Echo was amazingly crafted by Pam Munoz Ryan - the way she wove all the stories together so seamlessly left me in awe. Though it is a long read, it is worth your time!

*Unbroken blew my mind - Hearing about the torture and various events Louis Zamperini lived through and how faith ultimately saved his life was very inspiring.

As you might guess, I could go on and on, but, unfortunately, I still have quite a bit of student work to grade and some lesson planning to accomplish, so I must bring this year-end book review to its close.

I hope the new year brings many more incredible books my way and yours!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas is all about "Presence"

" 'Cause Christmas is not about presents,
But it's about being in the presence of the people you love!"

Such is how "Q Bros Christmas Carol" (a musical/rap adaptation of the Dickens classic) ends, complete with a lights and snowflakes spectacular.

The show is worthy of praise for its balance of humor and poignancy. But it really does hit the nail on the head with that last refrain (above) - it's about PRESENCE.

In our fast-paced, SMART- (but not wise-) phone world, being present - truly present - to others is a lost art. There are so many distractions and so much noise - we ask ourselves, how can we better listen? How can we just STOP and enjoy other people's company instead of checking Facebook/Twitter updates or being worried about who/what we're seeing next?

I invite you to reflect on this a moment: How would our world be different if we all slowed down, resisted what we call "progress?" That's the kind of world I wish for this Christmas - that's the kind of world I want to work for.

My Christmas card cover - sold at World Market

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Extreme Makeover: Advent Prayer Edition

As I admitted to my 8th graders earlier this week, I wasn't doing so hot in my communication with God prior to Thanksgiving. (As a religion teacher, this is probably shocking, I know. But, unfortunately, it is true. 100%)

But, along came Advent, and I decided it was time to overhaul my prayer life, starting with making it a priority. To do this, I set my alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier each day than I would normally get up. (On the days I go to the gym, that's pretty darn early (because prayer is literally the first 15 minutes of my day), but it's worth it.) And in those 15 minutes, I sit with the readings of the day or reflections (mainly) from three sources: The Little Blue Advent Book, Fr. Barron's written reflections, and Sacred Reading from the Apostleship of Prayer. In addition, I journal a few thoughts here and there - you know, the main takeaways.

In looking back over my journal recently, I noticed a few themes:

1) Waiting is active. And it is hard. We have to keep in perspective how sometimes God completes His will only after a very long time. God's time isn't our time. We need to trust in the "slow work of God." We can't expect immediate returns.

2) We need to ask God/Jesus for His will in our lives. "Lord Jesus, make me the person YOU want me to be. I give myself to you." That's hard to say and truly mean when you say it. (Kinda like the Suscipe.) It's easy to hold back and say this and add on "...but really XYZ," isn't it?

3) It's time to get more familiar with the Bible. Bible study is all well and good, but I need to examine Scripture on my own too. There is so much richness in history and in the fulfillment of Jesus' coming.

4) We make promises for the times it is hard to keep them, not for the times it is easy to do so. If I could only tell you how many times this Advent season this thought has kicked me in the butt to get out of bed for the gym (commitment) or to listen to the Divine Mercy chaplet as I snuggle into bed each night when I'd rather fall asleep. It's so true - We promise so that we stick to something (or someone) when the going gets tough or when we just don't feel like it. And keeping that promise makes all the difference. And you know something? God always keeps His promises.

I pray that the remainder of this Advent season brings you and your loved ones peace and joy.

Went to the Chriskindlmarket tonight downtown - not quite sure how this translates, but I think it has something to do with "Goodbye" and "Happy Holidays!"

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Arizona Visit Long Overdue

What an amazing weekend it was - I got to spend time with my dad in Phoenix. (He was there for a conference.) And, fortunately, I had the chance to go to my ACE school (SJV) and to visit some of my previous co-workers, friends, and students...

SJV <3 collage

Spending time with the SJV moms :)

The Don Bosco statue still stands!

so many good memories in that church

Then (top) and Now (bottom) with former students (and their siblings)

Met up with my college roommate (who currently lives in AZ)

SJV selfie :D :D :D

We stayed at the Arizona Biltmore - it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which you can definitely tell. It was a beautiful property...but we had quite a bit of difficulty finding our way to visitor parking each time. I consider this understandable - the property is huge and has multiple entrances and winding drives! (Did I mention that the beds were so incredibly soft?? AMAZING!) It was definitely a "how the other half lives" experience.

Christmas tree in courtyard (by night)
Christmas tree in courtyard (by day)

on the way to our room

We could have played chess...but we didn't ;)

No trip to AZ would be complete without some of my favorite restaurants ;)


On Saturday, my dad and I went to the Musical Instrument Museum (in Phoenix). It's organized by continent and has so many instruments from around the world. If you ever go, we recommend you start with Europe and North America and work your way through to Asia and Africa. (We had to squeeze in those first two mentioned in about 20 minutes, as the museum was about to close. Bummer.) If you are a music lover, you cannot miss this place!

Let me tell you, though - one thing I've really missed about Arizona is just the beautiful, serene desert. The colors, sunrises (& sunsets), and mild temperatures cannot be beat! It was absolutely incredible.

All in all, the trip was well worth it, and I am grateful that my dad invited me. 

It was good to be "home."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

So many Advent resources, So little time

Such is life - better to have too many than not enough, right?

But man does that make it difficult for someone like me - I'm afraid to miss out on a really good one, so instead I always find myself doing all the reflections. Clearly, when I do it that way, I'm not being fully present for each one.

There's no one remedy or catch-all solution. But I have (for the record) tried to pare down a little this year - here's what I've been doing:

*I begin my morning with the "Little Blue Book for Advent" and Sacred Reading, spending about 15 minutes in prayer first thing. (That's the promise I made to myself for Advent - and, as far as promises go, you should listen to Fr. Mike Schmitz's podcast this week on promises --> They are made for those times that are difficult, not for the times when it's easy to keep them. That definitely got me out of bed this morning when I was tired and would rather have stayed in bed, no joke.)

*I receive the "Best Advent Ever" daily emails from Dynamic Catholic.

*I've come up with my mantra/slogan (something to say to yourself every morning to help you focus the day) for the season, as urged to do so by our priest at Mass on Sunday: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!"

*I stopped reading a few daily reflections that I use outside of the Advent season. (I know this seems rather silly - why fix something that's not broken, right? - but it's really helped me focus.)

*I keep a written journal of my personal reflections and ideas based on what I read and pray about each day. (That's been AWESOME! I highly encourage the practice of journaling, even if it's just bullet points.)

What about you - Do you have any awesome reflections or things going on in your life this Advent season to help prepare the way of the Lord?


Sunday, November 22, 2015

I'm Back. (Briefly.)

Oh, hello. It's been awhile.



That last week and a half leading up to Thanksgiving break was non-stop, let me tell you.

But I'm still here.

(Quite honestly, I'd rather be reading The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, but that's another story.)

This is the first year my school is taking off the entire week for Thanksgiving break. (Woo hoo!) The kids were VERY ready. And so were the teachers - you should have heard the voices of excitement in the teachers' lounge on Friday...you wouldn't have had to listen too hard, even from halfway down the hall. The break is going to be wonderful - my parents are coming into town shortly (though, they were supposed to arrive yesterday), and we're going to my sister's school to hang out tomorrow morning. And then I need to buckle down and get some work done - Oh, my to-do list never ends, it just goes on and on my friends...

Knowing me (and, I think I know myself pretty well), I may not post again before Thanksgiving, and I definitely won't post while we're in Michigan (as we won't have internet), so now's the time to count my blessings and wish you a very blessed Thanksgiving holiday week/weekend. May you be wise enough to avoid the lure of Black Friday sales/commercialism, and may the time spent with family and loved ones be treasured and abundant.

"The turkey's a turkey, you turkey." (Muppet Family Christmas)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Just Be...Held

For some reason a few weeks ago, I found myself in tears on my way home from school. A bunch of upcoming deadlines combined with classroom stress and upcoming conferences was apparently more than I could bear in that given moment.

I had been listening to a podcast, but I found it too hard to concentrate, so I turned it off. In the silence (and in the dark - let's face it, I haven't left school before 5pm for the past month), I didn't know what to do except cry out (and cry it out, for that matter).

I ended up turning on the radio, and these were the words I heard:

Just be held.
Your world's not falling apart, its falling into place. 
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held, 
Just be held, just be held.

Can we just pause <dramatically> here for a second? Really, could the timing have been any better? I felt like I had found my personal soundtrack. The only thing I was missing from my very own Hollywood movie scene was foggy windows with rain slipping down the glass.

The song just struck me, as many a song has in my life. (I like music, what can I say?) And I was suddenly filled with peace. It's hard to explain, but I stopped crying and realized that the things that were bogging me down with worry were not deserving of my energy, stress, and tears. In our great, big world, I am so very small.

In that moment, I needed to know that. I needed to hear that. I needed to believe that.

Just be held. Yes, God - hold me now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Digging Deep...So Far, Coming Up Empty

It's the most _____ time of the year. (Just please don't start singing Christmas carols on me...)

You can fill in your own blank. What I want to know is how we've come to such off the wall behavior with the students before we've even made it to Thanksgiving break. Heck, there's no full moon to blame right now, and I know I'm not the only teacher out there struggling. (That is both comforting and frustrating at the same time.)

What's a teacher to do? I promise you, the gray hairs are coming...and my patience is really being tested. What I think the students are missing is respect for (and a healthy dose of fear of) authority. The whole "teacher look" does not work right now - in fact, I can be looking a student in the eye who then will proceed to keep talking after I personally invited him/her to stop. (Ah!)

Sorry, not trying to be Negative Nancy...I just am at a loss. Parent-teacher conferences are coming up this week, but many of the parents I want to see did not sign up. <Fail.>

I'm cautiously optimistic that the whole week we have off for Thanksgiving will be helpful...but there's a part of me that thinks when we get between Thanksgiving and Christmas that there will be no hope whatsoever for getting the students to be respectful participants in the classroom.

I think my prayers have intensified every day. And I'm going to keep revving my prayers up. Whatever it takes...100% every day, no less...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Because It's Friendship...

I felt like I was moving in slow motion today. And no matter what I did, I realized I had about 50 more things on my plate, including things I had to fix. On top of it all, I'm in report card mode - grades and comments were due today for review, so, needless to say, it's been a little hectic in our building these past few days.

My mind has literally been going in a thousand directions all week. And that's precisely why I needed to take a break this evening and phone a good friend. I needed to laugh, to share, to listen, and to breathe. She helped me do all these things.

Good friends do that.

Here's to friendship! God sure knew what He was doing by giving us the gift of others...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On My Knees

Latin. The All Souls' Mozart Requiem Mass was all in Latin (except for the homily). I couldn't understand the words.

But there were two things I did understand: the Eucharist and the gestures of the priest.

Isn't it amazing how no matter where you go for Catholic Mass that it is all the same? The universality of it - isn't it wonderful?

The Mass last night was done in the traditional way, which meant that we had to approach and kneel at the Communion Rail when the time came to receive Jesus' most precious body. I had never received (to my knowledge/memory) at the rail before, so I didn't know what to expect. But there was something absolutely humbling and incredible about getting down on my knees and receiving the Eucharist on my tongue. It was impossible to just go through the motions when I was required to do this.

For lack of a better phrase, It was SO COOL!

My takeaway from last night was getting myself back to the reverence of it all. The traditional Mass helped me do that.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

This is Halloween...This is Halloween...

Most kids prefer trick-or-treating...and most adults prefer costume parties...but me, I prefer pumpkin carving!

Growing up, we never had traditional jack-o-lanterns at our house. Not only were our pumpkins non-traditional, but my dad usually carved two, one for both of his daughters. Bert and Ernie, Gators and Spartans... What a champ.

It comes as no surprise, then, that when faced with my blank canvas (aka newly chosen pumpkin), I am ready for anything but ordinary. In honor of today's holiday of Halloween, I have compiled my 4 most recent pumpkin carvings below. In reading clockwise (starting with the top left), they are as follows: 2011 - Halloween in AZ (cactus and sun), 2013 - St Clement (my parish in Chicago), 2014 - Olaf (from Frozen), and 2015 (Mickey Mouse - this one's for Aunt Marg!).

I hope your Halloween is full of all of the good things you like to do. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day By Day

Family Mass at my school parish today - gotta love it. The church was bursting with parents and their children, and the kids even helped at Mass as lectors, choir members, and altar servers.

What I think was the best part was at the homily - Fr. Larry (not our pastor but the one who helps out) invited all of the children to come sit at the altar. And he sat right down with them, giving his homily from there. He explained how Bartamaeus had been blind and had called out to Jesus - he wanted to see him more clearly. After being healed of his blindness, Bartamaeus chose to follow Jesus. (It tells us this in the Gospel!) He told the children that we are called to follow Jesus too - and guess where Jesus is. As much as we may hate to admit it, Jesus is in our brothers and sisters. Do you see Jesus in your brother or sister?, he asked them. He wrapped up his homily by having us all sing the refrain to "Day by Day" - what are we called to do? "See thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly"...when? "day by day - every day!"

As a child, those opportunities really have the potential to stick with you because too many times, kids (and adults too!) are passive participants in the pews. Heck, I still remember being called up with the other children on any given Sunday morning when our "paper bag priest" would deliver (what I now know as) an object lesson - he would take a candy bar or ketchup bottle or some other seemingly random object out of his bag and teach us the message of the Gospel through some thoughtful activity and discussion.

So, yes, God is calling us to love one another as we follow Him. And, yes, that includes our siblings and those hardest to get along with at times. And it's not just for today or for tomorrow but for always. Day. by. Day.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Find Your Happy Place..."

It was so good to get away from the hustle and bustle of the day to day here in Chicago by heading out to Starved Rock with my sister and a good friend from church. As the next few weeks get even more hectic with the close of the trimester, I can go to my new "happy place," even if only in my mind:

We also had ice cream after. That pretty much takes any day to the next level...

God is slow...

Just wanted to pass along a prayer I received in my inbox today from Jesuit Prayer. I'd first heard it this summer from one of the ACE teachers I was mentoring, so it was a good reminder that God has a bigger (slower) plan that we may not see if we are constantly hoping for the next thing and the next, not truly aware of our present moments and circumstances:

"The Slow Work of God"

Above all trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and this may take a very long time.
Give the Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Get Excited!!!

Many of my 6th graders were visibly excited to come to Religion class today. (How refreshing!) They remembered that they had a project on stewardship ahead of them for the next two days, so it was time to get to work.

IN A NUTSHELL, here's what their task was… 

Role: Commercial writer/producer and advertiser
Audience: People (of all ages) of a local parish
Format: Want Ad/YouTube commercial
Topic: To recruit parishioners to serve their local church using their unique talents, time, and treasure - What is stewardship and what do the parishioners need to do about it?

(RAFT in disguise - yeah!)

I already saw a TON of creativity in the ways the students created their scripts for filming - some are going to act out various scenarios while others are going to voice over graphics that have to do with stewardship while still others are going to simply speak to the camera.

We have our "commercial viewing party" scheduled for Monday. Pretty excited for that, not going to lie...

Monday, October 19, 2015

You know Kelly's busy when...

...her blogging has fallen by the wayside - 10 posts for September/October (to date) combined? Sheesh.

I was at a school/parish meeting tonight, and in setting deadlines for our upcoming food drive, we all sat there marveling, Where did October go? (Next weekend is Halloween for crying out loud!)

Where has it (and September) gone? In honestly looking at this question, I could tell you the following:

- three to four nights of volleyball games or practices a week
- teacher professional development days, workshops, & webinars
- two incredible theater shows (Side Show & Ride the Cyclone) + one trip to the opera (Cinderella)
- multiple happy hour Fridays
- marathon-watching
- an end of the summer festival
- a one-day retreat
- ministry of care afternoons/evenings
- Bible study meetings
- two Notre Dame football games (Go Irish!)
- trips to the gym and runs along the Lakefront Path
- Etc...Etc...Etc...

I wish I had more time to read. 
I wish I had more time to talk to friends on the phone.
I wish I had more time to just kick back and not be consumed in stuff for school or church.

But, the funny thing is, I like being busy. Not busy for the point of no reason busy, but busy in the sense that I am taking advantage of all Chicago has to offer in  music and culture. 
Busy in the sense that I am spending time with friends/family. 
Busy in the sense that I am engaging in meaningful prayer and service through church.
Busy in the sense that I am watching my volleyball girls develop a better skill set and a deeper love for the game of volleyball on a daily basis.
Busy in the sense that when I hit the pillow on any given night I can drift right off to sleep due to sheer exhaustion.

That's the busy I love - I've found that when I take more time for other people and for church/service that God returns time to me in abundance. (He's so good about that.)

I do hope that November slows down just a tad, though. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Notre Dame, Michigan State, and University of South Florida football wins all on the same day - INCREDIBLE!

While it was a chilly day in the Bend, we had a good time...

Fight on for victory!