93 meetings in one day

So….I have a confession to make. I forgot March 31st existed. Just like April Ludgate in Parks and Rec….who scheduled all of Ron Swanson’s meetings for March 31st because she didn’t think it existed.

Much like April….I feel a little embarrassed. But, hey, I’m human, and Spring Break Brain is a thing. So I’m letting it go.

The appropriately named April gave me inspiration in more ways than one. I suppose I’ll use this last post as a way of looking back at what I’ve learned and looking towards the future (at April and beyond…get it?)

This challenge, as I’ve seen in several other places, has pushed my abilities as a writer, as a person, and as a teacher. I’ve learned how to stretch small moments, take on new perspectives, and look back on memories with a specific audience in mind. I’ve learned the true importance of using mentor texts as a guide for my own writing.

I’ve also learned to be aware of the others in my atmosphere. Reading some of the things you all chose for your slices opened my eyes- what are the people around me taking away from each and every moment? What is the source of inspiration for others in this room? This challenge inspired me to look for the beauty in each and every moment- or at least take the perspective of someone else and analyze how they might find beauty.

Looking forward, this will absolutely make me a better writing teacher- and it’s already made me a better person. I will now be able to confidently walk my students through the process of selecting a small slice of their day to write about. Now that I believe in the power of the “tiny topics notepad” I’ll definitely utilize it more. Further, I understand the power of writing something every day- something that is my choice. Not an assignment. A free-write. Whatever I wanted, whatever I was feeling. It was my choice what I put out into this community, and because of that, my authentic writing got feedback. I need to give my students to create and share authentic pieces of themselves in the classroom- not just the assignments we put in front of them. There are so many different personalities in each and every room that could benefit from having a creative outlet.

I was so nervous to begin this challenge . I am a first year teacher with no real background on anything in particular. I didn’t feel like I had a lot to offer in any real sense- that I would be writing about fluff and nothing more. I feel like I proved myself wrong this month. I got “real” with you, shared pain and memories with you, and admitted my shortcomings. I am so grateful for this challenge. Who knew writing every day for a month would have such a profound impact?

Thanks for providing this space for growth. I’ve appreciated each and every one of you along this journey. So, for real this time….That’ll do, pig. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

XO,

Steph

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where’s your will to be weird?

My mom made the sacrifice to stay home with the 3 of us when we moved to McHenry. That means we were a young, one-income family with 3 kids not even 4 years apart. When we moved to McHenry, I was 4, Jack was 2, and Chris was about to be born. Or something like that. I’m not exact about specifics from then…I was 4. Either way, it was hard. We struggled, like any single-income family does. I remember mom clipping coupons and going grocery shopping at 3 different places. I remember our tiny house with one bathroom for the 5 of us. I remember lots of hand-me-downs from the ladies of church daughters & lots of sharing. I remember drawing our own wrapping paper for birthday gifts and making our own signs…and most of the time making our own gifts. Despite all of these struggles….we had no idea. We were oblivious. Despite the headache and heartache and agony I’m sure my parents felt- were they doing enough- did she make the right choice- what are they going to do…. us kids were oblivious. We always went to school clean, rested, and fed. We always had a lunch packed with a note from mom. We always were read to, and prayed with, and prayed over. We never missed out on a school trip or felt less-than in any way. It’s only looking back now that I see how much we probably struggled….but the point is, we didn’t notice.

We grew up on the good stuff- Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Earth Wind and Fire, the Jackson 5…. family dance parties were common and encouraged. We were always close. I did everything with my brothers. I still do everything with my brothers. A huge part of my identity is wrapped up in being a big sister- the best one I can be. I love those two little boys (even though they’re both over 6′ and tower over me) with my entire heart and I will until the day I’m in the ground. (enjoy the really cute throwback pics of me and my boys below)

So, let’s look at the weird stuff so far: came to school in whacky, church lady outfits that usually involved some kind of sparkly, multi-colored cardigan and corduroy pants, danced to music that was more my parents’ speed, and was very close with my siblings. Not too bad.

It was the sibling thing that really got me in trouble. I was (and am) fiercely protective of my little bros. One day at school, one of the kids on the playground (a dumb boy) was making fun of my middle brother, Jack. So, what did I do? I started barking at the guy. And then punched him in the nose. See? Weird kid. I got in big trouble for that one…but my parents were proud of me for sticking up for my people. And it was satisfying to make a bully bleed. (Although….I don’t advocate for that behavior in my classroom…)

As an adolescent, my weirdness peaked. I was a band kid, with multicolored braces and I ONLY listened to religious music. I had NO idea about any popular/secular TV shows…. I was a little alien. But, a wicked smart alien. So….double whammy. Junior high was terrible for me. I got bullied mercilessly, but I was a very happy and resilient kid so I came out stronger.

High school, I found myself a little more. I branched out, found the music I liked to listen to (still mainly classic rock at that point), and started taking control of my own wardrobe…finally. Regardless, I was still the target of a LOT of mean girl drama…so it goes. High school is not a time I’d likely revisit.

College…I was THE music guru. Everyone came to me for new music, playlists, mix-tapes, whatever. If you gave me an idea of what you were into, I would curate a playlist for you with bands you might like. Like pandora, or spotify….but human.  I could easily adjust if you decided you hated something. And, I was usually up most of the day and night. This was my edgy, too much eyeliner, straight across bangs and purple hair phase. I wore exclusively band tshirts and skinny jeans and beanies, owned a record player and an eccentric collection of vinyls. What a time to be alive.

Now, I find myself an interesting mix of all the different kinds of ‘weird’ I’ve been over the course of my life. I’ve matured into a woman that I’m  (mostly) very proud of. I am still fiercely loyal and protective of my family/ my people. I still remain resilient in the face of adversity and have a mostly positive outlook on life. I pride myself on remaining a music guru for the people in my life….and I’m still very much into all of the same weird bands. I have kept that childhood glee, and my love of singing so loud in the shower/ around the house that everyone feels like they’re living in an opera. I’ve toned down my love for horses and cardigans and replaced it with more stylish, adult options. I still get called weird by people older than I who don’t understand how or why I like the things I do from their time…but I embrace that. I know more trivia about bands like the Beatles, Zeppelin, the Doors, etc.. than my parents do, and I think that’s a really cool part of my personality.

I still feel like a space alien most days…..but I really, really dig it.

On this penultimate day, I thought it’d be nice to share some of the weird that makes me, me.

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different” – Coco Chanel

 

purge

Today……my project is to purge.

Purify thru donation.

Get rid of anything I haven’t worn or used in the last year- because the reality is, if I haven’t worn it in the past 12 months….I won’t wear it in the next 12 months either.

The areas of my purge will include: dresser, closet, attic and desk.

I’ve already got a head start on the dresser and closet….but the attic / desk will take a while.

Purging in this way is cathartic for me. I feel much less anxious when everything is neat and in its place.

Out with the old, in with the new…or just out with the old.

I have a feeling that at the end of today, I’ll be both emotionally and physically exhausted….but it’ll be worth it.

I suppose the term spring cleaning was coined for this exact reason- the idea of making room for new in a season where the debris and dead of winter is being pushed aside for new life.

Happy Wednesday.

Xo,

Steph

girls of summer

The girls of summer

Steph, Shelly & Mere.

Barefoot and sandy.

Playing mermaids in the lake.

Tube rides and tanning.

Bents camp fish fry’s and bonfires.

Those days are gone.

But the girls of summer live on in our hearts.

Two of us teach, one of us is an accountant in training.

All 3 of us tall, brunette and with those funny laughs from the Reehl side of the family.

All 3 of us have a love for spotted cow, fried cheese & our Wisconsin roots.

All 3 of us still laugh, still joke, still share secrets.

One in Nebraska, one in Missouri, one in Illinois.

Connected by our summer days covered in popsicle juice.

Connected by the gravel roads of forest lake.

Connected by the starry nights under the pine trees in the little red log cabin with the stone fireplace that our family has owned since it’s origin.

Cousins by blood, friends by choice, girls of summer by trade.

Today was a good day, surrounded by my girls of summer.

breakfast date

I met my best friend of 13 years now when we were 10 years old and in band camp. She was the only other girl in the flute section that was going to the same junior high that I was. She gave me her phone number, and we agreed to hang out. The conversation hasn’t stopped since.

We went thru (and continue to go thru) all the good and bad stuff of life together. She’s my person. At this point, we are really two halves of the same whole- our personalities have melded, merged & swirled together. In December, she got her first big girl job. I was excited , but knew this meant a new phase of life for our friendship. Previously, she’d been working part time at a retail place & I had been teaching. She had a pretty predictable schedule with mostly normal hours and finding time to hang out wasn’t really a problem. But when she accepted this new job as a corrections officer for severely mentally ill inmates….we knew she would most likely be working 11-7 overnights. This is a less than ideal schedule for best friend purposes…because I’m sleeping when she’s about to go in, and she’s leaving work when I’m getting to work…and she’s sleeping when I get off of work. Her off days are not normal weekend days, they’re two random days during the week. So, two days a week (usually one) I get to spend some quality, one on one time with my person.

Today, the first weekday of spring break, she made an exception to her “get home and pass out” rule to grab breakfast with me. We went to a little diner by her place and she ordered a skillet and milk while I ordered raspberry chocolate chip pancakes and hot chocolate. For her, it was basically dinner. For me, breakfast. We got to chat and catch up and spend some time together during the daylight hours which has become somewhat of a rarity in our evolving, adult friendship.

I was struck by how nice it is to have someone constant in your life – someone who won’t leave you no matter how screwy your life gets. Someone who works with you through the bad stuff and doesn’t give up just because it’d be easier to do so. Someone who values your company so much that they’d sacrifice sleep to be with you on your break. Someone who has known everything about you- good and bad – for over a decade and loves you more because of it. I am so grateful this morning for my person.

(Amanda and I right before our 7th grade band solo festival)

(Amanda and I at a family wedding 10 years later)

I hope everyone enjoys time with their person as much as I enjoy my time with mine.

Xo,

Steph

red brick house

I had the house to myself this weekend….which hardly ever happens. In the absence of family, I did a LOT of cleaning, and dug through some old boxes to find photo albums from when I was a kid. I found myself traveling in time back to when some of those pictures were taken.

There was one, taken on the swings in front of our old house in McHenry, IL that made me start to tear up. It was taken on a summer day (probably later in the summer, based on my tan), and it was just of my middle brother Jack & I smiling on the swingset. You could see our little red brick house with the lattice porch behind us, and I remember what it felt like to turn around, hop off the swings, and race Jack as fast as I could into the house and through the kitchen and up the stairs to our bedroom.

I was reminded of childhood. Of community. Of simplicity. We lived on a street with a private back alley. The front of our house faced a field with a playground and a baseball diamond, and the back of our house backed up to the private alley. There were probably 5 houses on our side of the street, and the two to the left of our house were also young families who had children the same age (or close to the age) of my brothers and I. Talk about a band of misfits. We did EVERYTHING together. As soon as we woke up, we’d all be out in the back alley- riding bikes, drawing with chalk, playing tag, making up plays/ concerts, building forts and laughing. We would break to make lunch….then we’d all eat it together in one of our yards. We’d go inside to grab a granola bar and grab 5 more for the rest of our friends outside. We were Popsicle-faced, tan, caked in dirt and asphalt and happy. Our parents were close too- while we played, the moms would talk, do a bible study, or help each other around the house/ with errands. One of the neighbors used to cut our hair, the other used to run carpool, and if someone ever had to run out unexpectedly, there were always people willing to babysit. That wasn’t even the best part, though.

See, on the other side of the street, there were 3-4 houses of senior citizens. They were the center of our worlds as kids. They came and sat on folding chairs to watch every single play or performance or ‘parade’. They would give us tootsie pops every time we knocked on their door. They brought birthday presents and warm sweaters and plenty of hugs. They taught us how to play dominoes and the importance of respecting your elders. We truly grew up surrounded by the best of people.

I pondered how I remember the strangest of things about my childhood- the lilac bush outside our kitchen window- the blue flowers that climbed the wall next to my window, the way that I used to open my window and talk to my friends through their window across the gap between our houses when it was way too late and we were all supposed to be sleeping- the smell of fresh cut grass and how it felt to run down the brick pathway to our garage (and how many times I fell on the misshapen/ out of place bricks)…my childhood is made of the smallest sensory details. I can be taken back there instantly- to my little red brick house in McHenry, IL with my best friends- running through the field by the Firestone forever.

Funny how moments become memories, and how the most seemingly insignificant things can carry the most weight years down the line.

Happy Sunday.

Xo,
Steph

spring {heart}break

As I sit here, on the first morning of spring break, I can’t help but wonder (worry) about my kiddos.

There are some students in my room who will spending the entire break in the company of their friends at day care. Seeing mom and dad / grandma / aunt for a few hours at the end of the day before bed, most likely when they’re too tired to talk about anything anymore.

There are some students who get their biggest and most nutritious meals at school- will they have enough to eat? Will they come back to school as healthy as when they left? 9 days is a very long time.

There are some students who come to school in just sweatshirts. It’s unexpectedly chilly for this time of year. Will they find warmth?

There are some students who don’t have a parent at home who will read with them. Or take them to get books from the library. Did they bring all of their school library books home? Did they find the extras I snuck into their backpacks?

There are some students who will interact more with a screen this break than a parent. Will they come back to me on a jacked up sleep schedule, strung out from long hours with the screen sitter?

Yesterday, THE trouble child in my class, went to the restroom at the end of the day. When he came out, he had tears running down his face. Immediately I went into panic mode- what caused him to have a breakdown in a BATHROOM of all places? I asked, and his response was just this:

“I started crying because I thought about how I’m not going to see you for a whole week. I’m going to miss you so much.” And then he walked over to me, put his little arms around me and leaned in.

This particular kid, the same one I’ve written about repeatedly, holds such a huge chunk of my heart. Even when he’s naughty, he means well. He truly is a sweet kid. And I love him to pieces. And seeing this genuine, sweet, child-like display of emotion (sometimes it’s easy to forget that the naughty, smart ones are still kids ), broke me a little. I found myself walking him to his car a little more slowly than usual. And he walked right with me, grabbing my hand right before getting in the car, and whispering “can I just get one more hug?”

While I am very much looking forward to the extra sleep and time in sweatpants….I am sad too. Because I know for some of my kids, the 6ish hours they spend in our classroom community are the brightest, most social, most engaging / informational hours they’ll get in their days. It’s a place where they can feel supported and loved and surrounded by people who will read with them and talk with them and share and connect and grow with them.

For some of my kiddos, this spring break isn’t a treat.

I’m thinking of them always, but especially today.

Xo,

Steph