Happy 10th Birthday to this Blog!

I clicked PUBLISH on my first post 10 years ago today. Never would I have dreamed that I would still be adding posts a decade later. Writing on this blog for the last ten years has been a learning journey, a reflection tool, and a fun way to capture some big life events. For the first six years of its life, I celebrated my blog’s birthday with a round up reflection post (see 1st2nd, 3rd4th, 5th 6th and 8th birthday posts). I’m not sure why I didn’t write a post in year 7, but I can blame the pandemic on the lack of a 9th post!

Since July 2020, my word of 2021 was daring and my word of this year is connection. Last year was my best reading year ever recorded on this blog (thanks to my 6 week medical leave full of reading!). Also thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t done much traveling in the last two years. I did manage a girl’s trip to Austin, Texas, some visits to Las Vegas to see my nephews, and a trip to Memphis, Tennessee with good friends. I also made it to Boston, MA for a rescheduled concert and to Seattle, WA with my favorite group, New Kids on the Block.

Even when I only publish one post a month, my reading updates, I still think about writing other posts. I have an entire folder of drafts that have been started, but not finished, for a variety of reasons. I love that I have no pressure to post any more or less than I do, as I have always used this blog for myself and my own reflection, that I’m willing to share in public. I’m happy when other people read my blog, and I LOVE when people comment on the posts or tell me personally that they have read and enjoyed something I wrote. But I have not set up a required schedule that I must follow. I write when the mood strikes, when I really need to reflect on something, and when I am drawn to share my thoughts.

Here are a few stats about my 10 years of blogging:

  • 484 posts
  • 2014 – the year I wrote the most words (34,000!) and received the most written comments
  • 2013 – the first full year I wrote the least words (8,000!)
  • Average words per post – fluctuate from 300 to 1,000
  • The word that people search the most that leads them to my blog: reflection
  • Most read post of all times: Core Values
  • Most read post of 2022: Carbon Footprint

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June 2022 Reading Update

The end of the school year is busy. The end of this school year, when we could finally get back to so many fun events, was busier than ever. It seemed like we had night events every night for the last 6 weeks of school! While I enjoyed so much of that, there was not as much time for reading as I would like. Add to that a travel weekend full of concert fun and my list looks sparse this month. This June I read:

  • Finding Me by Viola Davis [audiobook] – I love listening to a memoir read by the author, especially with a beautiful, storytelling voice like this incredible actress. I heard good things about this from a variety of sources, but honestly could only name a few of the movies or shows I have seen Davis in. Her memoir was so much more than her journey to being a hard-working, talented, and finally celebrated actress. It was really a story about a childhood full of abuse, in a family that loved big with little money or support, in a town of mostly white people, where a young Black girl wanted to become an actress. Viola worked so hard for every step in her career, supporting her family as much as possible along the way, after overcoming some truly horrible situations and experiences. It was hard to hear some of her stories, so I cannot imagine how hard they were to write about or perform in this audiobook. I have so much more respect for her as a person and a performer after hearing her stories. This is the value and importance of taking time to listening to the stories of others, especially people who have very different lived experiences that I do.
  • Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome – I saw a teacher reading this to her 5th graders and she told me it was good. I thought it was a fictionalized version of Langston Hughes’s childhood, but I was wrong! I young boy named Langston recently moved to Chicago with his father after his mother’s death. As Langston struggles to find his way, he stumbles into a library that changes his life. He learns who he was named after, he learns he enjoys poetry that reminds him of home, and he learns about himself and his father along the way. This was a short, sweet story!
  • The PD Book: 7 Habits That Transform Professional Development by Elena Aguilar and Lori Cohen – My love for ALL of Elena Aguilar’s books is well-documented on this blog (see…). I appreciate that she brought in a co-author for this interesting look behind the curtain at how to facilitate purposeful professional learning for adults. I appreciate the level of detail included in this book. Elena and Lori are skilled facilitators of in person and virtual workshops of varying lengths, with diverse audiences. I underlined and tagged multiple points to remember in every chapter. I plan to use the what-why-how agenda template for future meetings, along with other valuable resources.
  • True Biz by Sara Nović – I LOVED this book! I started it, then had to put it aside for my book club monster reading, and was happy to get back to it and then finish it in about a day. I love the characters of Charlie, Austin and February, two Deaf students and a CODA (Child of deaf adults) who now runs a Deaf school. As they all struggle, we, as the reader, learn about Deaf culture, the challenges with Cochlear Implants, and the value of ASL. Years ago I worked at a school that had a DHH program, and I wish now that I learned more about the students and staff in the program, took time to learn ASL, and understand the pros and cons of C.I. You don’t know what you don’t know – this book can teach people a lot about the Deaf community.
  • *** As part of my Stephen King summer book club, we are reading IT. This is a 1,200 page book! In June I read the first 890 pages, for our first meeting. We will finish the book in July and watch the movie (eek!), so it will be on my July list. However, since I read more than 2+books worth of pages already, I wanted to document it here for June as well.

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: True Biz
Nonfiction: The PD Book: 7 Habits That Transform Professional Development

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How Meditation Has Changed Me

I have been cultivating a daily meditation habit since November (after various sporadic attempts on and off over the last few years). Since November 1 I have only missed about 7 days total, which is the best I have done with this habit over the last decade. This time around, I have been using the Calm app. I do a 10 minute session every morning and it’s part of my work day morning routine. I haven’t found the perfect rhythm on weekends, which is when my streaks tend to get broken.

While catching up with a friend recently, I was sharing my new habit and he asked me if I noticed any changes. This was the first time I had taken time to pause and reflect on the benefits of regular meditation. I’m so grateful he asked because I truly believe that this has positively impacted me.

Being present helps me find beauty in small things

People often say, “How do you quiet your mind?” about falling asleep, taking a nap, or about meditating directly. I used to say that my mind was never quiet and I could never sit in silence for 10 minutes. One of the things I’ve learned from meditation is that the goal is not to quiet your mind. The goal is to be present, and to recognize when your mind has wandered. The longer I do this, the more I am able to stay present, focused on my breathing, for longer stretches at a time without as much distraction. That’s not to say my mind is quiet the entire time. It’s not! But I am getting better at realizing when my thoughts are taking me back to relive a past conversation or ahead to plan a future conversation (where my thoughts often go!), and bringing my attention back to the breath.

In addition to the in-the-moment improvements, I feel that the practice of meditation has helped me slow down some of the time. Anyone who knows me knows that I talk a million miles a minute, I drive too fast, I walk fast, and I work very fast. I still do all of those things, but when I am having conversations with people, I am more intentional about slowing down, being more present, focusing on the personal connection. I attribute some of this to meditation and some to intentionally trying to live out my word of 2022.

Many of my friends are Type-A personalities like me, and our brains are often on over-drive all of the time, especially when we need to shut down and get some much-needed rest. In recent conversations I have been able to share that I notice a change in myself in this area, especially at bedtime. I find that my mind is not drowning in thoughts, like it once was. This is something I am able to recognize thanks to my friend asking me to pause and reflect, and thanks to many days of practice. I love seeing my daily meditation streak rise (as of today it is 75!) but more importantly, I love feeling more grounded.

My Calm app stats as of June 2022

In addition to my Calm app, I find that 1-2 minutes of deep breathing can also have a significant impact on calming my nerves, getting me back into the present, or helping me take a pause. As part of a wellbeing section of my weekly newsletter this year to our leaders, I have been sharing the Greater Good Science Center’s keys to well-being. Taking time to read these tips reminds me of the value of journaling, reflecting, and meditating, which is literally listed on each key along with research citing the value!

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May 2022 Reading Update

May was another month full of nonfiction reads and more audiobooks than normal for me. During stressful or just busy times, audiobooks are so helpful to me. I also had random books become available from library holds all at once, so the fiction I read was added to my TBR months ago and just popped up this month, for the most part. This is what I read this month.

  • The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward – This is a creepy horror story with some wild twists. The story begins with narrations by Ted, his cat Olivia, and Lauren, a young girl Ted seems to be hiding in his home. As the story continues we learn more about each of them, along with Ted’s past, and some other big events. I don’t want to give anything big away, but if you like mysteries with some highly graphic horrific details, this is a fun read!
  • Do You Mind if I Cancel? by Gary Janetti [audiobook] – Gary just came out with a new book and as I was waiting to get it I realized he had an earlier book I never read. I know him more from Instagram and his husband Brad than from his TV writing. But I love his sarcasm and this was a fun, quick listen to his collection of essays. These essays were mostly about his childhood in Queens, his brief acting class one summer in Oxford, his years as a Bellhop in NYC hotels, with brief hints to his future husband and life as a writer in LA.
  • Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski – I loved the book Burnout by this author (and her sister), which was all about the stress cycle. I heard about this book when the author was interviewed on Glennon Doyle’s podcast. This is a book every young woman should read! It’s very informative, full of science, research, and personal anecdotes of people’s stories we follow throughout the book.
  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller [audiobook] – I’ve had this book on my TBR for awhile, since the Brock Turner trial when her victim impact statement went viral and we learned her name. However, it wasn’t until I heard her interviewed on Glennon Doyle’s podcast that I realized I wanted to hear her story in her words, which was when I checked the audiobook out of the library. This is not an easy read. Chanel was unconscious when she was sexually assaulted on the Stanford campus. She remembers being at a party with her younger sister (Chanel was a college graduate already at the time), and then she woke up in a security office being told only parts of what probably happened, unaware of what the next years would bring when she agreed to press charges, before even fully knowing what had happened to her. Hearing the physical and emotional toll this one event had on years of her life was devastating, yet hopeful because she showed such strength and determination in her writing, especially her victim impact statement and her desire to help change the system for other victims.
  • Start Without Me by Gary Janetti [audiobook] – I love Gary’s sarcasm, his fun memories of life in the 80’s, his obsession with TV in his childhood, and more. Each essay is short, fun, and full of his hunor. I loved listening him reading this.
  • Bury Your Dead (Gamache #6) by Louise Penny – I love this series so much! Penny creates these warm, cozy mysteries that make you want to move to Canada and sit by a fire during a snow storm! This story picked up where the last book ended, when Olivier was accused of murder and sent to prison. Gamache is doubting the facts of that case, while recovering from a horrible accident. He sends Beauvoir, also recovering, to Three Pines to dig into that case, while he ends up sucked into a murder case in Quebec. All of these story lines end well for some, and poorly for others. I love the main characters of this series!
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley – I’ve had this book on my TBR for awhile, because of Currently Reading. But last week I heard the author speak at an Equity Conference and had to get the book and start it immediately. I loved hearing her tell the story of how she’s had the idea for this story since she was in high school, and how, in her 40’s or 50’s she finally wrote the novel and worked to get it published. This is a great mystery about Daunis, a biracial girl who ends up working as a Confidential Informant for the FBI, who are investigated a serious drug problem on the reservation. This mystery kept me intrigued, while teaching me so much about Indigenous culture. What powerful representation for Indigenous youth.
  • Hello, Molly! by Molly Shannon [audiobook] – I love a celebrity-read audiobook/ memoir! I like Molly Shannon as an actress, but I knew nothing about her life. She lost her mother, sister, and cousin in a tragic accident when she was 4 years old. Her father raised her and her sister in a fun and wacky household, battling his own demons. Molly’s love of comedy and life shine through her stories. She seems like a genuinely nice person who worked hard to get what she wanted (career, family).
  • The Book of M by Peng Shepherd – When I first started this, I wasn’t in the right mood for a dark, pandemic book. I paused, listened to a few audiobooks, and then picked it up again and got into the thick of it. In this pandemic, when people lose their shadows, they lose their memories. We follow the story of Ory and Max, a married couple who have survived for years. When Max loses her shadow she leaves, so they don’t have to survive together in the end. This is a fascinating look at what happens when the world as we know it collapses, who come together and who tries to tear people apart.
  • The Light Through the Leaves by Glendy Vanderah – I loved Where the Forest Meets the Stars by this author, and loved this one even more! She writes beautiful literary fiction, that lives heavily in the world of nature. People who live best outside, with minimal distractions. In this story, we meet Ellis, a mom of 3 young kids, who, when distracted, forgets to put her infant daughter in the car before leaving one day. That mistake haunts her, as Viola goes missing, and Ellis’s marriage unravels. We also meet Raven, a teenage being raised in the woods by her eccentric mother, who swears Raven was a gift from the Ravens for her mother. We as the reader assume Raven is Viola, but don’t have confirmation as we get to know both stories at the same time. This story makes you want to hug a tree and your family! I LOVED it!

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: Firekeeper’s Daughter and The Light Through the Leaves were amazing reads for me this month!
Nonfiction: No favorite, but I enjoyed it all.

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April 2022 Reading Update

This month I read a lot more nonfiction than usual, and it was all so different. This was a diverse reading month for sure.

  • The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb – I LOVED this book (5 stars for me!)! Ray is a young Black man who loves music when we meet him. Most of his family does not support his desire to play the violin, but his grandmother does. She gifts him a family fiddle passed down from when her great grandfather was enslaved. As we follow Ray’s study of the violin, we are also fast-forwarded to the present, where we learn that Ray’s very expensive violin was stolen. The story in the present goes back a few months, while the story in the past, tells us a lot more about Ray, his family, this violin, and the greed that comes with a valuable possession. I played the violin in middle school and I wished I had continued my studies. Reading this love letter to classical symphonies was a joy. It was also hard to read all of the very real racism that Ray faced, as only 1.8% of orchestra members are Black today.
  • Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad – I heard Gholdy speak at last year’s San Diego County Office of Education Equity Conference. She is a passionate teacher who helps us see the necessity in using historically responsive literacy to reach all students, especially our Black students. Her book is a lesson on the history of Black joy and literacy and a framework for educators to reach students of all identities.
  • The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan – Anne Bogel, of the podcast What Should I Read Next, recommended this series as being good for fans of Louise Penny. While I am waiting for my next LP book to be available in my library, I got started on this Rachel & Esa series. This is aptly described as a cozy mystery, where you are slowly learning about the characters (both police people Rachel and Esa and the crime they are investigating). This takes place in Canada, but focused on refugees and the history from Bosnia, and specifically the Srebrenica massacre, which was genocide of Muslims. I knew nothing about that, so being immersed in the characters and their culture was eye-opening. I also loved the storyline of creating a museum dedicated the mixing of cultures in Andalusia, SPAIN (Toledo, Grenada, my favorite places!)! I enjoyed this and will continue on in the series.
  • Tales from My Uterus and Other Undiscussables by Fabiola Bagula – My friend, who helped me with the questions I needed to ask to make the decision to have a hysterectomy, self-published this book about her stories and memories being a girl, an adolescent, and a woman who was gaslit by many doctors before her health was taken seriously. I love her brutal honesty!
  • Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho – These two Taiwanese-American girls because friends as children, and we follow their friendship as it ebbs and flows across decades. We jump from one girl’s journey to the other and back, experiencing snippets of their failed relationships, complicated relationships with their mothers, guilt, cultural experiences, and more. This was an interesting story, with a unique structure, as I felt like we never went deep into any one part of the story, yet by the end I was invested in both of their lives and wishing the best for their futures.
  • Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain [audiobook] – I loved Susan Cain’s first book, Quiet. When I heard her on a podcast talking about her new book, I was intrigued, though not as excited by this topic as I am by the study of introverts. In this new book, Cain explore why she has always loved funeral music. She explores the research on bittersweet – why we cry and when, how sometimes when we cry with joy there is also sadness mixed in. She shares her love of Leonard Cohen and sad music, and why it has an impact on us. I personally usually do not like slow or sad music, but I did listen to some of her recommendations off her playlist, to feel the mood she was describing. I could appreciate the celebration that crying is a good thing, as I am known for welling up with tears over the slightest emotional topic and I cry at commercials, books, and movies!
  • I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet by Shauna Niequist [audiobook]- I have never read anything by this author before, but Laura Tremaine has been friends with her for decades and speaks so well of her as a person and an author. I enjoyed listening to her read these essays, most of which were written during the first year of the pandemic. I love her love of NYC, which she has only moved to in the last few years after a life in the midwest. She speaks about her family, her writing, her faith, and vaguely about family and church crises from the recent past. I had to google to learn what she was referencing, but it wasn’t necessary to know the specifics to feel the pain and longing and growth she described. I am finding more and more that I enjoy essay collections.
  • Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice – I read this for Laura Tremaine’s Secret Stuff book club, and that was the only reason I finished it. If I wasn’t reading it for a book club discussion, I would have abandoned it before page 50! While I heard of this series decades ago, and my brother told me LOVED the movie, which I never saw, I never knew much about it beyond the movie trailer. I did not enjoy the writing style, as there were practically no chapters, with TONS of overly written narration that just went on and on – not my cup of tea! I was annoyed by all the characters and I wasn’t even satisfied by the ending. My least favorite reading experience in a long time. ** I did, however, enjoy the book club discussion. I’m always fascinated to hear other people describe what made them love a book that I did not enjoy reading. I realize that the writing style was too much for me to overcome, despite a semi-interesting plot (of crazy vampires!). It also seems that all vampire writing is derivative of Dracula, which I have never read.
  • Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon – Another disappointing read here. In this story, Oliver is bored with his life with his older partner Nathan. When Oliver visits a Bath House, to cheat on Nathan, he is choked and almost killed by Kristian, the stranger he meets there. As Oliver tells lie after lie to Nathan and the police, Kristian begins to stalk Olive. This gets messy and I didn’t like any of the characters nor all their ridiculous lying. I only finished it to know how it ended.
  • Vox by Christina Dalcher – This was horrifying and propulsive and truly a dystopian world we never want to see come true! In a post-Obama world, a new regime has taken over America. As they work to get us back to a Pure society, all women are forced to wear arm bands that count how many words they say – and they have a limit of 100 per day. After 100, they get shocked. Dr. McCellan is a neurolinguist who was studying aphasia (second book I’ve read about this in a week!) and she is brought in to help the government. Everything that happens next is tense and propulsive and I loved it!

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: The Violin Conspiracy
Nonfiction: I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet

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Earth Day 2022

I’m writing a series of blog posts to document my learning about green schools; work that I have landed in over the last few years. Please follow along with my journey and share where you are in the environmental sustainability movement. 

One of the green initiatives in my school district is a district Green Team, which I described in this post. In a recent meeting, in which all of our schools were represented, our community members discussed Earth Day. This year, Earth Day is on Friday, April 22, 2022. Our Green Team leaders shared a number of ideas that the site reps could take back to their school such as:

  • A table at lunch where students could make recycled art, or art that represents one of our green initiatives, or around the theme of Earth Day
  • A scavenger hunt for students to go around the school and find each of the green initiatives signs (explaining our key initiatives such as water filling stations, no idling zones, rain collection barrels, solar tubes, etc.)
  • A Waste-less lunch day, teaching students how to bring a lunch from home with no waste
  • A trash collection (we are finding more masks on the ground now than ever before)
  • A Bike and Walk to School day

While our green team leaders consider how they will celebrate Earth Day at their school sites, our Educational Services team also puts together resources for teachers to enhance their lessons throughout the entire week leading up to Earth Day. The Earth Day website, https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2022/ is a great resource. This year’s theme is Invest in Our Planet. You can find lesson ideas, campaigns to support, the history of Earth Day, and so much more on their website. I encourage every educator to consider how you can bring in Earth Day education to your classroom, school, or district this year, whether you have any green initiatives or not. This is a free, easy way to start and our earth deserves it.

 Previous post(s) in this green schools series:

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Learning Something New

When was the last time you learned something new? What about something new that has nothing to do with your job or profession or degree? I consider myself a lifelong learner. I believe that phrase was in my first “educational philosophy” that I had to write in college. I am sure it has been in various cover letters I’ve written over the years. My email signature at work currently reads, “Always learning, Amy”. I am an avid reader and I share my new learning with others in many ways, so I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that I am a learner.

I have recently been a learner in a new and different way that had nothing to do with work, and which was not connected to anyone else or anything I’ve done before. The experience felt so fresh to me. I signed up for a virtual course with a content creator I have admired for years on Instagram. Every year I choose a word of the year, and I do that by following the journaling prompts created by Susannah Conway. I love her prompts for this annual event, for photo challenges, and more. I finally decided to bite the bullet and pay for a full course, both to support her and to challenge myself.

The course was structured through a Learning Management System where Susannah uploaded the course work. Each week consisted of at least three videos, accompanied by written content detailing what was said in the video, as well as a task for us to try on our own. I appreciated that this was self-paced, as I didn’t have time on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening to do coursework after a long work day, but I could catch up on the weekends when I had more time. Also, I have access to the coursework for months after the official six-week course is over, so I never felt rushed.

Normally I am not an auditory learner. If I had a choice between learning something new by watching a video or by reading a description, I would choose reading. I watch How To videos only when they are my only option, or when I’m trying some DIY project for which I have no natural skills (which rarely goes well!). However, in this case, Susannah’s videos were an incredible learning tool for me. The content was visual in nature, and seeing multiple examples in each video, along with written follow-up really helped me learn. Being able to listen, look, pause and then journal was a great structure for me as a learner.

The course, called 78 Mirrors, was a guide to using Tarot Cards for your own self reflection. Before this course, I knew NOTHING about tarot cards. I had rolled my eyes at the thought of them in the past. One of our first assignments was to buy 3 tarot card decks. I found the cheapest I could on Amazon, because I didn’t want to overcommit to something I might regret. By week two of the course, I had already purchased two more decks that I found to be gorgeous, and I only knew about them because each of Susannah’s videos included examples of tarot cards from multiple decks.

One of our next assignments was to create a journal specifically for this course, so we could capture our learning about each of the 78 cards in a tarot deck in one place. I like to journal, and had fun creating this. More importantly, before I hit play on every video, I had my journal out to the appropriate page, and my decks out in front of me, ready to take notes. At the time, I wasn’t sure if or when I might use those notes, but I have gone back to them many times. In addition, writing down my new thoughts and reflections helped solidify learning for me.

An aspect of the course I truly appreciated was how the content was broken up. A tarot deck consists of 78 cards, separated into 4 suits (like a deck of cards), plus an additional 22 cards. each suite has number cards (Ace- 10), plus the court cards (Page, Knight, Queen and King). The videos went through the number cards first, so we looked at the Ace of all four suits together, then the twos, and so on. Then we studied the court cards, and finally the additional 22 cards. I appreciated that for each element, we saw multiple examples, heard various interpretations, and even saw sample journal entries related to the cards. More importantly, the whole purpose of this was to make this your own, to benefit yourself in your own reflection, which felt freeing and empowering.

Throughout this learning experience what I appreciated was the loose structure with autonomy to make it my own, the visual and written supports, the community (there was a Facebook group created where we could share our thoughts with others in the course), and the excitement when I realized the learning had sunk in! I’m happy to report that still love learning and am glad to have had this unique experience.

A sample of some of my Tarot cards
What my study session often looked like, with Diego needing to be involved!

What was the last new learning challenges you gave yourself?

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Checking in on my word of 2022

I was intentional about my word of 2022: Connections. I was craving this from deep in my soul, a need to be with my people in more meaningful and authentic ways. Connections continue to drive how I spent my time this year. I think this also makes me more mindful (a word from many years ago!) Lately connections have looked like:

*a 5 hour dinner catching up with a friend I haven’t seen in two years – lots of storytelling and sharing

* a 5 day trip to visit friends who moved away and who I have missed during the last two years – lots of laughter, loud singing, a new card game, and exploring a new-to-me city (Memphis). This trip did also have connecting flights, which were part of the inspiration for my graphic this year (see below). While connections are often a pain, it’s a first world problem I am happy to deal with as long as I can keep traveling!

* a day-long visit with my childhood best friend who is in my town on her vacation – lots of walking, talking, reminiscing and eating

* silly text exchanges with friends near and far

* making videos for my nephews

* sharing the books I love with my online book community

Brene Brown, in her latest book that I own but haven’t read yet, talks about the importance of connecting with ourselves first so we can better connect with others. This rings so true with where I am in life right now, and how my own hobbies and habits are about connecting with me. I’m moving her book to the top of my nonfiction to-be-read stack so I can dive in deeper to her research and findings.

Previous posts on Connections this year:

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March 2022 Reading Update

March was a very interesting month of reading for me. After a year of listening to the Currently Reading podcast, I have a HUGE list of recommended books I want to read. I put many of them on hold at the library and I read them as they are available, and based on my mood. This month felt especially random, with much more nonfiction than normal for me! This month I read:

  • How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu – This was reminded me of Station Eleven (life in a post pandemic world) and Project Hail Mary (space and alien life possibilities), both of which I enjoyed for their unique structures and beautifully-told stories. This was a collection of chapters about different people before, during, and after a global pandemic, but not COVID-19, and while each chapter felt isolated from the others, eventually you found connections amongst the characters. We traveled from Siberia, across America, to Japan, to space, and back throughout the stories, each tale full of death and those who survived. This was a bittersweet story well-told.
  • How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith – This was a 5 star read for me. Each time I pick up a book related to American history, I think this will be the one where I will hear repeated facts, and won’t learn anything new. Wrong again! As we continue to peel back the layers of incomplete histories that we have been taught, I am amazed and saddened by the harsh realities that make up our country’s foundation. Smith takes us through a deeper look into various historical homes, former plantations, current prisons, and other historical markers. As someone who went to college in VA, I really enjoyed the chapter on Monticello, Jefferson’s home, which I toured in the early 90’s. It was wonderful to hear how the home is now incorporating entire tours on the Hemings family and acknowledging the lineage from Jefferson. There was so much personalization to this, with Smith taking the tours available, asking the harder questions, and including quotes from enslaved people captured through the Federal Writers’ Project. I borrowed this from the library, but might need to buy it for myself – it was that impactful. I highly recommend this!
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green [audiobook]- I loved Green’s The Fault in our Stars years ago, which was a bittersweet YA story. This is nothing like that, and yet has the same heart. In this collection of essays, Green uses a 5 star rating system to rate each essay topic. Topics include Haley’s Comet, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Scratch N Sniff Stickers, among many other random ideas. Green blends humor with seriousness, facts with fun memories, and new learning with pandemic life, as he wrote most of this during early COVID-19 days. I really enjoyed the different topics and the depth of knowledge he went into with them. This was fun to listen to him read.
  • A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – I read this for Laura Tremaine’s Secret Stuff March Book Club. I hadn’t ever read anything by Didion, and I was a littler nervous to read a memoir about grieving, but I enjoyed her writing. This book captured the year after Joan’s husband John died of sudden cardiac arrest, while their daughter was in a coma fighting for her life. Joan had an incredibly rough year, not able to grieve for her husband until her daughter’s health improved, and then took a turn again. When you grieve, the simplest things can bring back floods of memories. Joan takes us through what she tried to avoid thinking about to stay away from her memories, and what she did to lean into them. This was melancholy but also so full of a lifetime of love.
  • State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny – I have read books by both of these authors in the past, and I am excited that they paired up to write this political thriller. I loved this fast-paced book and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! Ellen, the Secretary of State, does not have a good relationship with the new president, who seems to have appointed her just to get her out of his way. When an immediate and real terror threat threatens Europe and the USA, Ellen must figure out what is going on in order to save lives, including her own adult children. She travels to many countries (Iran, Russia!) and must face awful people in her quest for the truth. It’s hard to know who to trust. This all felt so real it was scary, and a little too close to being a possible plot in our world. I love that the main characters, Ellen and her best friend Betsy, were modeled off of real people who sound like they were wonderful.
  • The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino and translated by Alexander O. Smith – This is a mystery that takes place in Japan. We meet Yasucko, a single mom who has a horrible ex-husband and we meet her neighbor Ishigami, a quiet math teacher. Something happens early in the book and our police detective Kusanagi must figure out what exactly happened. As he, his partner, and his friend, who is a physic professor and a genius, try to solve the mystery, we learn more about Ishigami. This was a interesting story that held my attention. I appreciated reading a book translated from Japanese, and learning a little about Japanese culture.
  • Save Yourself: A Memoir by Cameron Esposito [audiobook]- I’m not sure how I started following this stand-up comedian on Instagram, but once I found some of their videos funny, I wanted to listen to their memoir. Cameron’s memoir describes their very Catholic upbringing, their realization that they were a lesbian, their guilt about that “sin”, and their eventual self acceptance. I’m using the pronoun they because on Instagram Cameron has shared that they are nonbinary (though the book was written when they thought of themselves as a masculine-presenting female).
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – One of my nephews (CM) recommended this book to me recently when we were at a family lunch. I always ask him what he is reading when I see him and he told about this series. He said, “It’s good, not very fast-paced, but I liked the story and the characters” and I agree with him. This is a cute middle grades story about a robot that gets turned on after a crash on an island with a lot of wild animals. The robot learns how to adapt and live with the animals and make friends and be “wild”. There are a lot of themes of love, friendship, acceptance, and support in this book.
  • Verity by Colleen Hoover – This was a fast-paced, tense read for me and I loved it (4.5 stars!)! Lowen is a struggling author who is hired to finish writing a very famous series when the original author has an injury. Lowen moves into the author’s home with her family, to go through all of her materials. As Lowen gets to the know the author through her notes, and her family, she finds more and more traumatic details of their life. This is a very open door romance with lots of descriptive detail, along with some very tense moments when you are unsure who to trust. It’s a fun read! Thanks to Andree for loaning me her copy!

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: State of Terror

Nonfiction: How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

What I read in March 2022 (9 book covers pictured)
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A Gratitude Circle

I love when authentic connections happen between people in unexpected ways. Recently I was co-facilitating a professional learning afternoon with three colleagues at a school site. The learning was focused on school and classroom culture, building relationships, and also expressing gratitude for our colleagues and our own resilience. One of my co-presenters introduced a Gratitude Circle as our closing activity for the session.

We got into groups of 4 and each group completed their own gratitude circle. To do this, the group would start with person A in the “hot seat”. The other three group members would each take turns saying something they appreciated about person A, or something they were grateful for about person A. Person A was only allowed to respond with “Thank you”. That is a key rule, because so many of us want to brush off compliments or kindness. This is a time to soak in the positive words. After person A, person B gets into the “hot seat” to hear the gratitude from their colleagues.

While the staff was doing this activity, our group of four presenters did the activity in the front of the room ourselves. Part way through I paused us and had our group turn to face the staff members, all seated at tables around a large auditorium. Immediately the principal said, “Look! I have never seen her smile like that!” and another person said, “Wow! Look how happy he looks!”. Observing the Gratitude Circles around the room gave us a chance to see authentic joy, happiness, laughter, some tears, and camaraderie amongst this staff. It was such a beautiful feeling to see how kindness spreads so easily.

I left this day so filled with gratitude. I went back to my office and described the activity to my friend and boss (Hi AG!), who then brought the Gratitude Circle to a group we were in together the following week.

As a participate myself in this activity twice, there were two profound elements of this for me. One was the challenge of coming up with some unique to share about my colleagues, so that I wasn’t repeating what was already said and I was being genuine in celebrating a strength about each person. The second was hearing the strengths or the compliments that different colleagues chose to share about me. It was fascinating to hear the specific examples of things I have said or done that stood out to other people, especially some people I’m only just beginning to get to know and others with whom I have worked very closely for almost 3 years now. One colleague told me she was impressed with how good I am at having difficult conversations. This is something that I have worked hard to learn my entire time in leadership. This was a HUGE weakness when I first became a school leader, and something I struggled with for years. It was so affirming to hear someone see this as a strength in me now, after I have read, studied, practiced, and role-played to develop skills in this area specifically.

Have you ever participated in a Gratitude Circle?

a circle of people amongst many more circles.” by brett gullborg is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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