what I have been reading (almost summer edition).

Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson (purchased a copy)

I heard the author of this book interviewed on this episode of the Slate Culture Gabfest and I think I ordered the book before the interview was over. It sounded so fun and interesting and it did not disappoint. It’s about looking at taste and snobbery by examining Celine Dion, who you will probably see in a different (more sympathetic) light after reading more about her life and her fans. I love books that challenge expectations, and this one is marvelous. The new edition has essays by different authors who respond to the book, and those are hit or miss but I did enjoy some of them. Recommended for: music snobs, people who secretly sing along with that one Celine Dion song when it comes on the radio.

Why Do Buses Come in Threes: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life by Robert Eastaway (via NetGalley)

You have probably seen some of those math problems on Facebook where people are outraged at how their children are being taught through Common Core. Besides being totally out of context, those people are missing the fact that the problems are focusing on number sense, understanding how numbers work and how they fit together. This book is basically about number sense and how it applies in the real world, covering things like cooking and traffic and botany. It reminded me of The I Hate Mathematics Book by Marilyn Burns, which I loved as a kid. I could definitely see a teacher or a parent talking about these ideas with kids.

No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace (via NetGalley)

Olivia and Liam are twins who fall for the same girl. The novel switches from Olivia’s perspective to Zoey (the aforementioned girl) but the transitions are not completely smooth because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to remember which one is which (except that one girl is rich and one is poor). I was struck by the banality of it all – apparently we as a culture are ready for LGBT teen romances that are just as formulaic as the straight ones. Quirky younger sibling: Zoey’s younger sister is not so much quirky as fragile.

Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah (via NetGalley)

This book is about a family that was torn apart by wolf attacks even though wolves supposedly don’t live near their small town. My big problem with the story is that the description of it seemed at odds with what was happening in the first few chapters, so I spent a fair amount of time being confused. Once I finished it, I understood why some of that had happened, but it was still pretty frustrating as it was going on. I can see this being a big hit with high school students who enjoyed books like Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater or who enjoy thrillers or mysteries. Just make sure they know to hang in there even if they are not totally sure what is going on. Quirky younger sibling: makes crafts to protect them from the wolves, has gone missing and left clues as to where she might be.

Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett (via NetGalley)

Anna had an uncle who was raised as a brother to her, and she idolized him. In the year since his death, for which she blames herself, she has practiced “coffin yoga” by lying still every morning and by turning herself into Patti Smith. There is a mystery aspect to the story as she realizes that she didn’t know everything about her cousin, and there is a nice romance (that I did not totally buy even though the character was sweet). I enjoyed the story until the end, when something is revealed about her cousin’s actions that I found to be totally jarring and unbelievable. I also raised an eyebrow at the idea that Anna spent all this time on Patti Smith’s words but hadn’t read Just Kids, which turned out to be part of the resolution. There were a lot of vivid and interesting things about this book, but the end fell flat for me. Quirky younger sibling: a sister who likes to hide in small spaces, even the oven.

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Life After Death Row: Exonerees’ Search for Community and Identity by Saundra D. Westervelt and Kimberly J. Cook (purchased a copy)

I go to church with Saundra and taught her son in Sunday School. What a gift it is to know people who are so smart and who share their expertise. Saundra and her friend conducted interviews with people who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death but then subsequently released. There is no automatic compensation for them, no assistance as they transition back into the outside world, and there are barely any apologies from the state. Exonerees, though they were wrongly convicted, have to go through a complicated legal process to get their records expunged (and if they don’t, their records will be flagged when potential employers run background checks). If they do receive compensation, it takes an average of four years for the money to get to them, but of course it’s needed much earlier as they are trying to find housing and start over. The parts of the book that I found most moving were when the exonerees discussed their conversations with the victims’ families and how much those apologies meant to them. I also really enjoyed the discussion of the ways that exonerees deal with the pain of their wrongful convictions. Some of them turn inward and believe that there were things that they needed to learn or that God used that time to teach them certain lessons. Others take that pain and use it to fight against the death penalty and for more assistance for other exonerees. This is a smart, well-organized discussion of the exonerees and their experiences, and I recommend it for a peek into the injustice of our justice system.

Some of these books came from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

#weneeddiversebooks like the great greene heist by varian johnson.

weneeddiversebooks

Last month, I followed and participated in the #weneeddiversebooks discussion that was sparked (at least in part) by Walter Dean Myers’s article in the New York Times.

This is a topic close to my heart because I am constantly searching for books that reflect my students’ lives and their experiences. Like all middle school students, they love books that feature “drama.” And I’m sympathetic, because I don’t always enjoy reading books where nothing happens. When you are 12 years old and everything seems extreme, of course you want books where extreme things happen. But, to be honest, it bugs me that the books that feature characters who look like my students will often have plots that feature violence or teen pregnancy. Many of my students live in difficult situations and I want them to see that there are stories about people like them. But that is not all of who they are, and I wish for them to read about other, less charged drama, too. I thought about this a lot this winter when we read The Snowy Day to Atticus and I marveled at how it portrayed a young boy just being a kid. My students deserve to read books about kids being kids. They deserve funny books and science fiction and fantasy. They shouldn’t be relegated to the “urban” section.

great greene heistThat was one reason I enjoyed The Great Greene Heist so much – it was about a diverse group of kids dealing with a rigged election at school without having anything to do with darker kinds of drama. School drama is drama enough sometimes! Especially when you, like Jackson Greene, come from a family of con artists. Echoing Ocean’s 11, Jackson gets his team back together to pull the con to end all cons – re-rigging the election that the principal has already rigged, thanks to a generous donation from a parent.

I think that this is a book that will appeal to a lot of smart middle school students (especially the troublemakers). There were a few parts where it was a little bit challenging to follow until I read the passages with Oceans 11 in mind. It was obviously written with that tone: funny and sharp with great pop culture references. And it features a diverse cast of characters without feeling forced. I hope there are more books featuring Jackson Greene and his friends, because it was a pleasure to read. (And Mike enjoyed it, too!)

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley but I also purchased a copy of my own (from our local independent bookstore).

strength and honor (a review of the little boy in the tree by roland russoli).

image I do not know very much about the military or about military service. Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day have always just been days off from school. That’s why I thought Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to read my friend Roland Russoli’s book about the years in his life after his son Andrew, a marine, was killed in Iraq.

I did not know Andrew very well. I saw him at church a few times and shared a meal with him the summer before he died. My church community was proud of him and has grieved him, and I have borne witness to their grief because I see the hole that he has left in their lives even though I was not so personally affected.

Roland’s book is structured around the emails that he sent to his friends and family after Andrew died. These emails, sent early in the morning and late at night, were honest and witty and descriptive. At the time, Roland and his wife lived overseas, first in Mongolia and then in Mauritania, so his stories are peppered with those experiences. Although he does not specifically say this, I am sure it was hard to be so far away from friends back home, but the differences he faced seemed to help him grieve this terrible change in his own life.

Roland has been a great encouragement to me as a parent and a reminder to be patient with my own little boy who likes to climb trees (and pews and furniture). On a recent Sunday, when Atticus was a little more squirmy than I wanted him to be, I specifically thought about how Roland might want me to respond, which helped me take a breath and remember that Atticus has a place in the community, too. One day soon we will tell him about Andrew and his motto, Strength and Honor. I hope Atticus learns that he is beloved in the same way by our community.

I recommend Roland’s book for people who have experienced grief, especially the pain of losing a child, or who are walking through it now. It is a powerful reminder of the very real cost of war.

moral monday 2.0

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I went to Moral Monday this week. There were lots of television cameras, and the reporters kept asking the participants why they were there. I studiously avoided them all because the idea of me breaking into tears while trying to explain that I want a better world for my son was beyond embarrassing. But I do want a better world for my son. That is why I was there. And if I am crying about it right now at least none of you can see me.

It was a powerful rally that included a symbolic shared meal that echoed Jesus’ feeding of the 5000: when we share what we have, there is enough to go around. When we break bread together, we are more able to listen to one another and recognize our common humanity.

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The words of Dr. Barber on acknowledging our common humanity were on my mind last week I read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book, Strangers at My Door, which I got for Christmas (but didn’t want to read because I didn’t want it to be over). He has been a powerful teacher to me in the past few years as I have begun thinking more deeply about poverty and race. His humble example has guided me through some difficult days and conversations. And the fact that he is a North Carolinian is an added bonus for me. Strangers at My Door is about welcoming the people around us who are in need and seeing their humanity rather than their statistics or their list of misdeeds. It’s about seeing that they too are created in the image of God. Wilson-Hartgrove lives these principles out by living with his family and other families in what is called an “intentional community” in one of Durham’s poorest neighborhoods. Not only do they share their house beyond their family unit, but also by opening their house to the people around them. In the book, he tells stories both good and bad about what he has seen and experienced. I loved it for his gentle, thoughtful style, but I loved it even more for the fact that he doesn’t say (or believe) that this is what God is asking of all of us. What he does challenge us all to do is to see the stranger before us in our own lives and consider how to welcome him or her like Christ. I thought about these words from the closing paragraphs on Monday as I sang and prayed and protested a little bit, hoping for a different sort of world for my son.

This strength to build a new world is itself a gift. It comes to us from beyond, from the spring that is the source of every living thing. And it comes to us through people who know down in their bones that the world is not as it was made to be.

Somehow the fire that stirs in them sets you and me aflame, and we are, together, like the bush that Moses saw in the wilderness–burning, but not consumed.

We are becoming an eternal flame. -Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Strangers at My Door

At the end of Moral Monday, we all danced. Well, not me, because I can’t really dance. But there were people around me who had moves and those who were pretty goofy, but they all welcomed me anyway. I stood and swayed awkwardly, accepting my limitations, but feeling accepted as part of the beloved community just the same. Building a new world together.

dad is fat by jim gaffigan (guest review by mike).

imageWhen I requested Dad is Fat, I had some vague plan to read it on the sly where Mike wouldn’t see me. And then I could give it to him for Father’s Day! This plan was brilliant except for one thing: Mike always gets the mail. And, let’s be honest here, he loves to open mail, so when he sees things that he thinks might be books, he opens them before I get home. Instead of finding a package on the counter, I found the book on the counter. He looked at me sheepishly then accused me of not telling him not to open my mail. Do you guys see what I have to put up with?!

Since he was already totally excited about it, I let him read it first. There were tons of giggles from his end of the couch and his side of the bed, and when I asked him to read me the funny parts, he said, “Everything I’ve read is funny.” Here, in his own words (lightly edited by me for clarity), is Mike’s take on Dad is Fat:

If you like Jim Gaffigan, you will like this book. I like him because he finds the humor in some of the terrible parts of parenting like living in a two-bedroom apartment with five kids and because he tells stories that make his wife sound great. I had heard some of this beforehand his standup routine but still enjoyed reading those parts. My favorite stories were when he took all of his kids to the park alone and the trip to Disneyland. Everyone should buy this book because Jim Gaffigan needs to be able to afford a bigger apartment.

Takeaway: Don’t open other people’s mail even if they don’t ask you not to. And read this book. Or give it to your dad.

I got a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books but opinions here are our own.

what I have been reading (it’s been a while edition).

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Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor (purchased)

I’m only mentioning this here because it was so good that I want everybody to know how good it was. Five stars! Go read it! I can’t summarize it but there were beautiful thoughtful things on every page!

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois (via the public library)

I didn’t pay a ton of attention to the Amanda Knox thing when it was happening, so I don’t have hugely well-informed opinions about the case. I will say that when the prosecutors are saying that what took place was a sex-crazed satanic ritual, I am likely to be skeptical. Anyway, Cartwheel is not about Amanda Knox, but it is a fictional version of something very similar – an American exchange student whose roommate is murdered. I liked it quite a lot, more than I maybe should have, because I loved how we as the reader could see what different characters were thinking and what their motivations were. That device is often used to piece together “the truth” but in this book, like the Amanda Knox case itself, the truth remains a little murky at the end. Recommended for: a good summer beach read!

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (purchased)

This is a great little book on the seasons of the church calendar. I have learned most of these things through loosely practicing them at my church but it would have been a perfect book for me a few years ago. Excellent as an introduction and for parents who want practices to include for home. Though I didn’t need an introduction, I can see myself pulling it off the shelf to get some ideas of ways to celebrate certain seasons with Atticus. Pairs well with To Dance With God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson. (You can order it directly from the author herself and she will sign it for you.)

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando (borrowed from a friend)

My favorite of Sara Zarr’s since Once Was Lost. It’s about two girls who are assigned to be roommates for their freshman year of college and the emails they send to one another. I really enjoyed how their lives paralleled with summer romances and conflicted feelings about leaving their parents even though they lived on opposite coasts. A super enjoyable read for me.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier (via NetGalley)

Aargh, you guys. I am so conflicted about this book. It’s about a girl named Dimple whose family is from India, but she is American. Of course she feels pulled between her family and her culture, not fitting in fully in either place, which is why she feels like she was “born confused”. On one hand, I loved the main character and her almost Elizabeth-and-Darcy meeting with a friend of her parents. I loved this particular expression of what a lot of teenagers feel, whether their families are immigrants or not. And I loved how she began to find a place for herself with others who feel the same way. But. I didn’t like her best friend at all and I thought in many places it was hard to read and understand. I think it would make a good audiobook because you would be able to hear the inflections that were intended that were not always clear to me as I was reading. In the end, I will remember it as a sweet book about a character I really liked but that was frustrating to actually read.

The Book of Not-So-Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, a New Way to Live by Linda McCullough Moore (via NetGalley)

Linda seemed like a nice person but a little bit rigid and I didn’t find her suggestions extremely helpful. I wasn’t sure what was so uncommon about her prayer life or her advice, because I didn’t feel as if there were tips I hadn’t heard elsewhere. I kept hoping there would be one section I might recommend but that never came. Overall not a winner for me.

Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad by Jerry Mahoney (via NetGalley)

Mommy Man is the story of Jerry and his partner Drew and how they got together and decided they wanted to have kids. They chose surrogacy and I enjoyed the discussion of the fertility issues because I have several friends who have done IUIs and IVF as well as some LGBT friends who have adopted or used sperm donors. The story pretty much ends with the birth, so it’s not about parenting as much as it is about becoming parents. I really did laugh and cry while I was reading it. I read this on Mother’s Day and it was a perfect reminder of the miracle of life.

I received free copies of some of these books from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

on motherhood.

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Yesterday I spent a good chunk of time weeding a bed in front of our house and placing bricks around the edge. Then we had a giant thunderstorm and it flooded. After the skies cleared, Atticus in all his wisdom decided to move all my carefully placed bricks into the mud and throw some of his toys in there, too. When I tried to put the bricks back, I had a “helper” who wasn’t too jazzed about the idea (“no, I want the bricks in the mud!”) and then decided he should be the one to use the hammer (which I find fairly terrifying, especially when the target is near my toes). Plus, I dug through dirty buggy wormy mud and didn’t manage to find all the toys. Whatever Atticus got me for Mother’s Day, I earned it. Four words: mud in my underwear.

As I was looking for that one final toy, I knew that I could tell the story in a way that could be played for laughs or that would paint me as a harried mom. But the truth is that, yeah, it was kind of irritating to see him destroy all my hard work, but he didn’t do it out of malice. He saw me digging in the dirt and playing with bricks earlier, and he wanted to try it, too. Toys are fun, mud is fun, why wouldn’t toys in the mud be ultra fun?! It doesn’t help any of us if I yell at him for not seeing the world the same way that I do. I get to learn how to communicate a little more clearly and he hopefully learns some things about other points of view (and maybe that mama makes a mean mud pie).

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I am telling this story because I want to stand up for motherhood a little bit. I read one too many articles this week on how hard and difficult and draining it is and I mean, of course it is. Of course I don’t enjoy every minute. But everything I do these days seems kind of hard so I am not sure why this is the thing that should be different . . . except for the fact that our society likes for motherhood, especially Mother’s Day, to be all rosy cheeks and smiling perfection. That or the frazzled mom with Cheerios stuck to her shirt, that’s all we get.

Shockingly, real life is a little more nuanced. I have a three-year-old who is beyond stubborn but yesterday he also watched a thunderstorm with me on the couch and we made snowman pancakes and mostly things are pretty good. These are the things I remember about being a child: my dad holding me during thunderstorms, my mom’s pancakes. I hope it’s what Atticus remembers, too. It might not look like much, but it adds up to the beautiful muddy frustrating exhilarating life we share together, one that brings us joy. I want to bear witness to those small stories because they are where we live and what I find life-giving right now.

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I might be here to stand up for motherhood but my general ambivalence about Mother’s Day continues. Mother’s Day is a painful day for far too many of my friends for me to feel comfortable making a big deal about it. Here are three links that have helped me rethink Mother’s Day:

Nine Ways to Have an Empowered Mother’s Day by Megan @ SortaCrunchy (Wouldn’t it be nice if Mother’s Day was more like Wonder Woman Day where we did things to empower each other?)

Why I Hate Mother’s Day by Anne Lamott (Hate is kind of a strong word but I completely agree with her points.)

An Open Letter to Pastors (a non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day) by Amy Young (Thankfully my church doesn’t do the Hallmark holidays but it’s a good reminder of the various situations the people around you might be experiencing.)

Happy Mother’s Day to my own mother and my wonderful aunts and grandma. And happy Mother’s Day to all the mothering hearts out there. We see what you do and we appreciate you.

library secrets: the bottom shelf.

I had to gather some books for a teacher this morning. I enjoy that sort of thing because I get the opportunity to see the collection in a different way. Oh, I didn’t realize that book had information on that topic, good to know. But here’s what I don’t enjoy: the books that I need are always on the bottom shelf so that I have to squat to get them.

I know what you’re thinking. They can’t always be on the bottom shelf unless you work in a magical Harry Potter library where the books shift themselves. Well, maybe I do work in the Hogwarts library, because whenever I need to pull a book, I swear to you that I will find it on the bottom shelf.

Is it a conspiracy to get me to exercise more? A conspiracy to make me fall down sometimes? A conspiracy to make me feel like I am a little crazy? Possibly it is all of those things. Conspiracies are real and I am living in one that requires me to awkwardly balance myself in a squatting position on a regular basis.

Today’s library secret is brought to you by someone mean like maybe Jillian Michaels. I bet she is moving the books while I’m not looking. I bet she laughs at me when I fall down, too.

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two awkward conversations I had at the polling place.

(AKA why I can’t go places.)

This one was my fault for stirring up trouble.

POLL WORKER: Remember, in 2016 you will need your ID to vote.

KARI: And how do you feel about that?

POLL WORKER: I’m not allowed to say. I can’t talk about it. We’re not allowed to talk about it. But if I see you at the grocery store you can ask me.

KARI: Well, maybe we will make some changes before then.

POLL WORKER: I’m not allowed to talk about it. Ask me at the grocery store.

I did not ask her where she shops, but now I wish I had.

This one was not my fault in any way, shape, or form.

GUY STANDING OUTSIDE HOLDING A SIGN: Thanks for voting! Does your shirt say Let’s Be Still?

KARI: Yes.

GUY STANDING OUTSIDE HOLDING A SIGN: Is that like, be still and know that I am God?

KARI: No. It’s a song.

GUY STANDING OUTSIDE HOLDING A SIGN: Oh, I thought it was from the Bible.

Good thing I hadn’t voted for the person on his sign, because I would have had to go back in and demand my vote be changed because of awkwardness.

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library secrets: secret page twenty-nine

I am lucky to have had great people to teach me the tricks of the library trade. There are a lot of little things that librarians have to do that nobody else knows about, things that keep stuff running behind the scenes. Some of those things are more important than others – the state report that must be turned in every year, for example, or inventory. Both of those are more important than what I am about to tell you.

When I order books for the library, I get them with processing already done, meaning the spine label and the barcode are in place. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything in house, because we do. Either my trusty volunteer Vicki or I will stamp the books with the library name and address and write the barcode number on the inside cover. Inevitably Vicki will ask me to remind her about the secret page. “It’s secret page twenty-nine!” I say.

We stamp the books on secret page twenty-nine and write the barcode number so that even if the cover of the book was lost, I would know that it was mine.

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Secret page twenty-nine is one of those things that is already drifting away with things like graphic novels (there is often no place to write the number without messing with the story) and will be completely gone when ebooks rule the land. I think it is my favorite of the library secrets because it’s my way of shepherding the books that are in my care, and because I learned it from other librarians (although not every library uses the same page). I am the only librarian in my building, so when I stamp secret page twenty-nine, I feel connected to the greater community of people who help connect the books with the readers again and again and again.

If you are a librarian, do you have a secret page?

library secrets: let it go.

This year, I have been diligently weeding (library word for discarding old or worn out items) the library’s collection because we have a bunch of really old books and equipment that I have to dig through when I want to, you know, do my job. There are all different kinds of librarians–I know this might be a shock to those who think we are all the bun, sensible-shoe-wearing, glasses type. Some are more like Boy Scouts, keeping everything so they are prepared for every situation. I admire the heck out of those people but I think I am a little too disorganized too be one of them. I have to throw things away so I don’t get overwhelmed. The good news is that it’s extremely rare for me to throw something out and then need it, and that the more I get rid of, the more I am able to find the things I do need.

I worked in collection development (buying books and weeding the collection) way back in my public library days, and I loved that job a lot. That collection and I had a real understanding of each other, and it was a great honor to be its caretaker for a while. I am still getting to know the collection at my school, partly because there is so much of it that goes unused. That’s the part I am getting rid of, and as I free up the space, I have found that the books are speaking to me more than ever, as if they can finally breathe again. I imagine weeding is what being a sculptor is like, shaping the wood or the marble until you can see what is inside. Or you can picture me like Queen Elsa singing “Let it Go” to the books. Actually, that’s not a bad comparison, because I have had to learn not to mind what people say when you discard things, even broken computers or fifty-year-old books that are covered in dust. Or laserdiscs.

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Letting all that stuff go makes me feel like I can breathe, too. Weeding the collection is always a good reminder of how great it is to make space, both to enjoy the things that I already have and so I can see where the collection needs to grow. If you need me, I’ll be the one covered in dust with a big smile on my face.

every common bush afire.

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From “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries

what I learned by giving up meat for lent.

I rarely talk in detail about my Lenten disciplines because they feel private and revealing, but this year I decided to give up meat because that’s a very common thing to give up and I had never done it before. And for once, I didn’t mind talking about it because I felt so connected to the global church (mainly my Catholic friends) by giving it up. I missed meat a lot, but I felt connected to my body in a different way that was cool.

In no particular order, here are some things I learned.

1. When you say you are giving up meat for Lent, the first question you get every time is, “Are you eating fish?” Mike and I don’t eat a lot of fish (because we don’t like to cook fish at home) so I hadn’t planned to. Isn’t fish meat? I thought it was so I gave it up.

2. Food really fuels your body, you guys. I gave up eating meat while I was in the middle of training for a half marathon, and all of a sudden I had less energy and had a terrible 11-mile run. During my terrible run my thoughts mostly centered on the fact that I was going to fail at half-marathoning. But then after I got home I realized that I had only had a salad the night before and I needed to feed myself a little differently before a run. Here, let Andy tell you about it for me.

3. The things that really got me through the day were eggs, spinach, and quinoa. I had to particularly think about how to get a good amount of protein before the long runs. I rediscovered the joys of spinach ravioli.

4. Giving up meat was emotionally tied to the half-marathon for me, so it seemed kind of redundant that last week (the half-marathon was on Palm Sunday). We were in Florida during Holy Week, and I ate fish and I didn’t even feel guilty about it. Fish on Good Friday feels practically holy.

5. It’s easy to think that changing up your diet will cause you to lose weight but that did not happen. In fact, neither did running a half-marathon. But there’s more to being healthy than just weight, and running and fueling my body well has made me strong. That’s something to be proud of. I can do hard things like running a lot of miles and changing up my diet.

6. I am not cut out to be a vegetarian.

7. I wouldn’t say that it caused me to reflect in spiritual ways, but I was mindful about my eating practices and more amazed than ever at how our bodies function. It was a really positive experience for me. And now I am eating all the meat, all the time.

I know this is a little bit late for Lenten reflections, but I had to have the experience and then have time to reflect on it, so we’re drifting into Eastertide. Anybody else learn anything during Lent? Anybody want to speak up for vegetarianism?

emerging from the night and heart of me.

Hard Night by Christian Wiman

What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?

What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?

The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone.

What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.

how weightless words are when nothing will do.

“Gospel” by Philip Levine

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

it might have been otherwise.

“Otherwise” by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

a blessing for wedding.

We are going to a wedding today!

“A Blessing for Wedding” by Jane Hirschfield

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let this light bless you
With these friends let it bless you
With snow-scent and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

on turning ten.

This is the poem Mike carried yesterday. He teaches ten-year-olds. He said it might have depressed them a little bit.

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“On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

poem in your pocket day 2014.

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about her book, Carolyn Arends left a nice comment. After I picked myself up off the floor, I of course emailed her back. I tried not to fangirl all over the place but I may or may not have succeeded. But the best part was that she also responded to my email! With a poem that she thought I would like! Carolyn Arends gets me, you guys. Somebody invent a time machine so I can tell 16-year-old me about this.

Obviously I carried that poem, “St. Thomas Didymus,” with me today for Poem in Your Pocket Day. You can see the full poem here. I carried the last stanza.

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I celebrated with my students a little bit differently this year. Instead of asking them to bring me anything, I just handed out scraps of poetry to anyone who would take them.

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Can I have one? You can have as many as you want. Why are you doing this? These are poems I like that I want to share with you. What do we do with them? Read them? Or maybe use them as bookmarks?

I gave the crooked neighbor with the crooked heart to my John Green fangirl, who squealed. One student took “Invictus” and read it out loud, and when I told him about Mandela, he smiled happily and said, “That’s what’s up.” But the best moment for me was when a young man took “Still I Rise” and read it to himself, then looked at me with eyes wide and said, “This poem is true!”

The point of carrying poetry around is to show that it’s real and tangible. It can unfold itself in fluorescent cafeterias, not just ivory towers.

As always, Poem in Your Pocket Day was a highlight of the school year for me. Thanks to my students for having ears to hear, or at least playing along for a few minutes.

possible answers to prayer.

“Possible Answers to Prayer” by Scott Cairns

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.