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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Measure Your Life in Love

"A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles." - Tim Cahill

I thank God every day for the people He has put in my life. And this year has brought many joys and blessings with some pretty wonderful people...

My family...
Detroit Zoo trip - Summer 2017

Leah & Delilah's visit to MI (and to Aunt Marg's)

Friends from church...

Annual trip to St. Louis

Kimm & Alex's wedding

Ozark road trip 2017

Q Bros crew

My volleyball girls and co-coach...

My soon-to-be brother-in-law...

Marisa and Patrick's engagement day

the gang at Wait Wait

My ever-growing ACE family...

visiting northern CA Remick classmates - Nov 2017

2/3 of our ACE PHX house (+ 2 cute kiddos!)

PLC 1 with our fearless leader - summer 2017

PLC 1 post-presentation - summer 2017

Remick 15 - summer 2017

post-missioning Mass - summer 2017

Milwaukee grad school field trip - Sept 2017

reuniting with ACE 15 classmates in Milwaukee

spending time with the current ACE teaching fellows - Oct 2017

San Fran visit - Nov 2017

another reunion with ACE 15 classmates - Dec 2017

school choice talk - ACE 15 representation (Dec 2017)

my ever-growing Remick family

My students...

taught this young man in Phoenix when he was in 4th grade...time flies!
(He found me in the dining hall at ND this summer.)

Confirmation - Feb 2017
honored to be this young lady's sponsor

In a sense, this is my way of thanking everyone who has been a part (large or small) of my life this past year. Thank you for the encouragement, the smiles, the tears, the recommendations, the adventures, and more! I cannot wait to see what 2018 has in store...

Reading My Way Through 2017

Though this list is not as diverse or long as I hoped it would be, it's always good to look back. Some books were recommended by friends; others were required for school or grad school. Still others just happened to be ones I had around my house or that I happened to pick off the shelf due to their names, covers, or authors... 

Books of 2017:

1. Mercy in the City (Kerry Weber) - 1/12/17
2. The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway) - 1/15/17
3. One Ordinary Sunday (Paula Houston) - 2/4/17
4. Raising Cain (school book club) - 2/26/17
5. Walk in Her Sandals (Wahlquist - women's Christian book club) - 4/16/17
6. The Charm Bracelet (Viola Shipman) - 6/6/17
7. The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) - 6/21/17
8. A Sense of Urgency (John P Kotter) - 6/22/17
9. My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante) - 6/27/17
10. Moo (Sharon Creech) - 7/2/17
11. 7 Riddles to Nowhere (AJ Cattapan) - 7/22/17
12. Understanding Independent School Parents: The Teacher's Guide to Successful Family-School Relationships (Thompson & Mazzola) - 7/30/17
13. The Alchemist - 7/31/17 - audio
14. Something Beautiful for God - 8/5/17 - audio
15. The Chosen (Chaim Potok) - 8/8/17
16. Saints for All Occasions (J Courtney Sullivan) - 8/10/17
17. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi) - 8/13/17
18. Wishtree (Katherine Applegate) - 10/1/17
19. The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (Matthew Kelly) - 10/7/17
20. Tattoos on the Heart (Fr Greg Boyle) - 10/22/17
21. Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall & Denver Moore) - 11/18/17
22. Barking at the Choir (Fr Greg Boyle) - 11/21/17
23. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philipp Sendker) - 12/11/17
24. Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese) - 12/26/17
25. Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt) - 12/28/17

I feel that readers can find so much joy and wisdom from the pages of books. It looks like I'll be reading into 2018 with St. Augustine's Confessions, but after that my recreational reading will depend on grad school, so we shall see...

Friday, December 29, 2017

What makes a meaningful life?

I've NEVER (I repeat, NEVER) been excited about teaching Family Life. Why we still use the textbook series we use is beyond my comprehension - the themes are there (if you look REALLY hard), but the substance is completely surface level. How are we supposed to get the kids serious and interested about the topics if we don't give them anything worth being serious about in the first place?

It has taken five years of teaching middle school religion to finally take this into my own hands and do something different. (It's not that I haven't changed things up before in Family Life - I must say, "Tuesdays with Morrie" has been the catalyst of some of the most meaningful discussions I've ever had with students - but they need something even more.) In sixth grade, the topics span all stages of life, from natural conception to natural death, and focus on the decisions we face in each stage. 

So, if you think about it, the question I should be posing to my sixth graders is this: What makes a meaningful life?

This question has been posed throughout history and, notably, across many great works of fiction (and nonfiction)/entertainment. Take A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge learns that a life of building up one's own riches and not spreading love and joy to others is no life worth living at all. Or, consider my personal favorite, "It's a Wonderful Life," where George Bailey gets a chance to see what the world would be like without him, and through that experience he understands how much one life has the power to positively affect so many others.

Think about Mitch who took a lesson from his old professor in Tuesdays with Morrie:
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

I'm still fleshing out the exact activities and discussions of this unit... What makes this unit/theme difficult is that many students have lost grandparents and one of my sixth graders recently lost his father to a rare disease, so I do need to tread carefully, allowing students opportunities to speak with the guidance counselor or do whatever they need should a particular discussion or activity bring certain emotions or memories to the surface. (While it has been a long time since my grandparents died, I admit I still cry at the end of the movie "Tuesdays with Morrie" every year when we watch it in class. And that's okay...and I want the students to know that and be able to safely experience that too.)

Some people may think middle school students should not have to grapple with this question or may not understand it or cannot handle it...but I respectfully disagree with anyone who feels this way. Our children can and should think about these things. If not now, then when? If not under guidance and in the safe space of a classroom, then where?

So, right now the plan is to keep "Tuesdays with Morrie," but I'm going to open our unit with a look at a work of fiction, Tuck Everlasting, to set the scene and to act as a comparative piece of literature. (If you have not yet experienced this beautiful book, then I suggest you make your way to the closest public library or to Amazon because, in my humble opinion, you are missing out.) It's the story of Winnie Foster and how her path crosses that of the Tuck family on one fateful summer day. To not give away too much while still providing the context of using this in class, the Tucks drank from a spring that allows them to live forever. At first this seems like a marvelous idea, but as Mr. Tuck explains later on, it's more complicated than the glamour and thrill such a life suggests. It's not natural. "You can't have living without dying," Tuck states to Winnie at one point. (Morrie says it another way: "Once you learn how to die you learn how to live.") But when faced with the decision to drink from the same stream or to let her life keep its natural course, what will Winnie do? And, as the reader, you ask yourself, what would you do? What if you could live forever?

I'm hoping the students can use this opportunity to engage seriously in considering all aspects of life, from conception to death, as the gift God has given each of us. And I hope this book (as well as "Tuesdays with Morrie") will help provide the structure the class needs to do just that and to consider how their decisions and actions will shape their lives into meaningful ones.

As the years come and go - can we believe it's 2018 so soon?! - it's a thought worth pondering for all of us: "What makes a meaningful life?" And, perhaps more importantly, we should be asking ourselves, "What am I doing to make my life meaningful - something beautiful for others and for God?"

On that note, Happy New Year! I wish you all the best in 2018!

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Day in the Life of Miss Foyle...or is it Miss Foyle?

The reaction is (nearly) always the same:

"Wait...but who's the real Miss Foyle?"
"How can you both be Miss Foyle?"
"You look alike - you have the same face."


It blows kids' (and many adults') minds that Marisa and I are identical twins. But it's still amusing to get the same reaction time after time, whether Marisa comes with me to my school or, as was the case today, I go to Marisa's school. It just so happened that I had the day off school today, as we ended for Christmas break on Thursday, so it clearly just made sense that I would go to school on my day off.

I had the honor of finding a new hiding place for Humphrey, the Elf on the Shelf. Let's just say he was hanging around when the kids came in from breakfast.

Overall, the day was a lot of fun. I spent most of it with her students; though, the school has a tradition of "Christmas Around the World," where the students rotate through all of the classrooms/teachers to learn about different cultural celebrations for the Christmas season. Marisa's classroom was Russia. (Please don't ask me how to pronounce "Merry Christmas" in Russian because I can't.)

Students watched a short video about Christmas in Russia while coloring matroyshka dolls. They kept coloring as the audio switched to Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite." (A few pirouettes were not out of the question.)

Mine's the one on the left

After lunch I had the chance to be a guest reader for my sister's class - it was a book about a tree who wanted to grow big for Christmas but learned it would have to wait and try to be the best it could be at its own height. I'd never heard it before...

Pretty soon it was time for Christmas carols and tamales. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. When it was time to pack up, it was evident that the students were ready for the break, especially a break from one another. Before leaving, many came to give me a hug and to thank me for coming. Of course, it was my pleasure. I wish I could do it more often, but with nearly identical schedules, it makes it difficult.

Heading home for the holidays tomorrow...praying that traffic isn't too heavy and that the weather stays calm...

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

And we're off!

Today started like a normal day - I got up to go to the gym, ate breakfast, and headed to school. I had just finished making my usual cup of coffee when I walked out of the teachers' lounge and witnessed a marvelous sunrise...

4th floor vantage point

a more zoomed in view

I am pretty sure I stopped my coworker mid-sentence to get him to come into the hallway to see the same view. (It was even better than the photos show.) In less than 5 minutes, it was gone...and we were soon off and running for our shortened school day.

The kids were a bit excited, as rightly they should be, considering they were less than a few hours away from Christmas break and they had a Christmas party too. Many kids donned festive sweaters, and the teachers joined in too.

Yes, it really does light up...

Thank goodness for 11 a.m. dismissals.

It's been a crazy week, but now we're off for two. I have a handful of books to read, some materials for school to prepare and organize, and luggage to load in the car. Here we go...!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

And they rose to the (creative) challenge...

These Saint Week packets to go along with the 7th grade Ablaze text have been a really neat experience this year. At least, I'd like to think so. With each chapter/Saint, I try to create tasks that challenge their thinking but also allow for creativity.

And I'm never sure what kind of responses I'll get.

This time around, the students read about Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, a young girl who lived during the 1970s and 1980s in Italy. She has been the most relatable Saint to date, as the book highlighted her love of socializing, playing tennis, hiking, and doing other things normal kids do - by no means did she sound like she lived an "untouchable" lifestyle. Still, it was clear how much Chiara loved God and how much she wanted to help others. Even as a young student in grade school, she would often give her snack away to other children at lunch. And, she would attend daily Mass as often as she could.

While Chiara died (from bone cancer) before the invention of cell phones (and definitely before Smartphones), I couldn't help but wonder what she would have had on her phone if she lived in our day and age. And that sparked an idea - I challenged my students to detail three apps that Chiara would have had on her phone and provide reasoning for each one using their understanding of her life. When I graded their packets this week, I realized how creative each student had been in determining the apps (though some definitely explained their reasoning better than others), and I was blown away.

Here are two examples - You may have to click on each image to read its content:

There were other tasks too, including the more typical paragraph with evidence and reasoning as well as the invitation to design a symbol to represent Chiara and the effect of her life on others.

Here are a couple of those - again, you may have to click on each to view:

All in all, I am glad the 7th graders have been open to being the "guinea pigs" for this book and the respective packets. Hopefully each year I'll be able to tweak the packet to be better and clearer.

I'm feeling pretty good going into Christmas break. My bags are (mostly) packed, my presents (though unwrapped) are all in the bag, and I'm ready to visit my sister's school on Friday.

Tomorrow is an 11 a.m. dismissal - we've totally got this! Happy Christmas break everyone!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas is coming...right?

Advent is my favorite liturgical season...and not just because I get to wear purple and pink (err...I mean, rose). I love the anticipation, the joy, the hope that the season brings. I love the idea of trying to simplify and refocus, even when it seems that everyone else around you is getting busier and stressed.

But usually it feels more like Christmas right about this time. (Happy third Sunday of Advent, by the way.) I was talking with some friends last night as we were in the lobby before taking our seats for a show, and we were mostly in accord about this - the feeling of the holiday season just hadn't hit us yet, even though the stores are wall to wall Christmas decorations and we've done our shopping and our trees/lights are up... What was going on this year?

It's funny how things change so fast. As noted, the above conversation was in the lobby as we waited for a show. When we came out of the show at its conclusion, it finally felt like Christmas. Yes, there were holiday songs and Christmas lights in the theater, but that wasn't the reason. Yes, it was an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," but that wasn't it either... 

I think what made it finally hit was the contagious joy and beautiful messages conveyed cleverly and beautifully through the play. As I looked around the audience at various times during the play, everyone was smiling - they just couldn't help it. The show just gets it right. One "catchy" message that comes in the final song is this: "Christmas is not about presents but about being in the presence of the people you love." (And here's a short reflection from America Magazine that's along these same lines.) As I sat in a long row with 12 of my friends, I realized how true this is. It doesn't matter what we have or give but how we love and accept others' love in return. It's an age-old message, but one worth repeating over and over.

What a group, what a night! The holidays finally feel here. :)

I'll leave you with a few photos from the day/evening - I love bringing good people together:

Patrick couldn't quite get the camera to work at first, so here's a candid shot.

Now we're in business!

I'm getting better at these large group selfies with practice!

Best show (and great new venue)!!

These people bring me so much joy - love them!!

waiting with great anticipation

These smiles say it all - what a show!

Understanding Life Backwards

I just started reading a book, Cutting for Stone, and one of the quotes that stood out to me in the prologue was this:"You live life forward, but you understand it backward." In our own lives, how often do we stop and reflect on where we've come from and where we're going?...

An unexpected death, that's what it was. Many of us had no idea this school parent was even ill. This man touched so many lives in his short time on earth, and that was evident at Saturday's service, where hundreds of people gathered in the church to celebrate his life and to pay their respects. His family, kids he coached in baseball, friends of his kids, friends of him and his wife, faculty from the school, and others filled the pews. I was touched to see so many students from our school and alumni who had gone to school with this man's daughter (who is now in high school) - they came to support their friend(s).

Funerals tend to do this - they bring people together and allow all gathered to collectively pause and reflect on both the life of the person who died and their own mortality, not in a morbid way, but in a way that makes one ask, "Am I living in such a way that is for others?" and "Am I living in such a way that, at my funeral, they can say I lived a full life?" (I'm sure there are other questions we should be asking too.)

The priest gave us an image to use to help us think about our time on earth - When we are born, we have an hourglass filled with sand that gets turned over. Only God knows how much sand is in our hourglass. Some people have more, some people have less. But what we do during that time (however long or short) is up to us.

Father's image reminded me of the Mary Oliver quote that says, "Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?" Let us remember our time on earth is a gift - we don't know its length, but we can live it to the fullest to love and serve one another as well as be catalysts of joy.

Friday, December 15, 2017

I can't think of anything better (or more needed)

I was scheduled to be at school till 6pm today for aftercare duty, but, as luck would have it, I got out over an hour early. Yes!!! That meant I had time to do a few things I hadn't banked on being able to do tonight: go to the grocery store, eat dinner, and bake a cake. Pretty soon I found the time nearing 7pm, which meant I needed to get going if I was hoping to get to Adoration on time.

Admittedly, I don't go to Adoration nearly as often as I should, but I am convinced that if more people spent time in Adoration our world would be a better place. With such hectic and crazy (and LOUD!) lives, our world (myself included) needs to SLOW DOWN. And Adoration provides just that - an opportunity to be still...to listen...to wonder...to love...

Tonight was a much needed date with Jesus. In His presence I felt such peace and such joy. I can't really even put it into words...but maybe these lyrics are close:

My little heart is swelling with a song from somewhere else,
It's filling up with glory and I'm ringing like a bell,
My little heart, my little heart is racing,
It's racing just to keep up with your love and live to tell, and live to tell,
and it's all I know...

- "No Turning Back," Audrey Assad

I feel like I needed tonight even more so than usual, as I now feel grounded for everything about to happen this weekend and upcoming week (which is the last one before Christmas break). And there are a lot of people in my life who need some extra prayers lifted up to God right now. Tonight, I turned it all over to God, and, therefore, my prayers are in the best hands.

Monday, December 11, 2017

That used to be me...except...

Smiles abounded from the three current Chicago ACE teachers and their friend on Sunday afternoon at the Christkindlmarket.

"Thanks for getting us out of the house!"
"Man, I still have my grading left from Monday to do when I get back tonight..."
"This is so much fun. I love it!"

Such were the remarks that quickly followed our greeting. I was glad, too, to have an "excuse" to get out of my house. I'd been curled up with a book most of the day, having gone to the gym and grocery store earlier in the morning, so even though it was cold outside, it was refreshing.

Thankfully, it was less crowded on Sunday than it had been the past weekend. (I think the cloudy and cold weather had something to do with that...) We were able to wander around a bit, standing in lines here and there to browse the shops and purchase some ornaments. We even treated ourselves to hot chocolate in the classic "boot" (though, as you can see below, it's not a boot this year).

After leaving the market, I couldn't help but think, That used to be me...except...I might not have been convinced out of the house on a Sunday night. I used to worry about getting everything done and making sure I was ready for the week. I needed people to be the ones to get me out...and now, I find myself as one of those people. It's not because I care any less, but I think, instead, it's because I recognize the value of balance. I think sometimes it is possible to work too much - you have to be able to say no. You have to find some way to recharge.

And so I commend those ACE teachers for doing something I probably wouldn't have done myself but that is much needed, especially during the holidays. (Plus, I told them they can now say they've been to the Chicago Christkindlmarket - them + half of Chicago + tons of tourists...)

Now, here we are - only one more Monday to go until Christmas break - woo hoo! It's pretty hard for me to believe it, actually. Time sure flies...

To celebrate, here are a few highlights from today before I close:

One of my grade school teachers posted this on FB, and it brought a smile to my face :)

One of my Advent angels fulfilled a wish for dark chocolate...

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

I went out to help a friend with Christmas card stuff and found myself covered in snow - was NOT expecting that but was pleasantly surprised. I caught a snowflake or two on my tongue...

Tomorrow, December 12, is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe - Catholics have so many ways and reasons to celebrate Mary during Advent - and so let us, once again, entrust ourselves and loved ones to our Mother: La virgen de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

a gift from one of my students last year who visited Mexico