NETA 2023 Recap

I’ll always remember my first NETA conference in 2007. . . the buzz, the people, the energy. All these years later, I’ve changed, but those good NETA vibes haven’t. My school paid for me to attend the last two days, and I can’t help paying it forward and sharing some goodness. So in that spirit, here are some notes on NETA 2023.

Zoom Up Stuff

ChatGPT... This session, by Dr. Lynne Herr was seminal. I went to bed that night thinking about it. I woke up thinking about it. In grad school we talked about seminal teaching/research moments as places where things shift. Those spots where the furniture in your mind is rearranged forever. When I was a new teacher, I told students to go home and find the answer to some question. I don’t remember what I asked, but I remember a student walking out, Googling it on his phone, and coming back for his extra credit within 30 seconds. I thought to myself, “I’m teaching in a brave new world. These kids have the Internet in their pockets.” I had a similar experience hearing Lynne talk about ChatGPT at NETA. Lynne has been a mentor to me for awhile. When she talks, I pay attention. I had heard about this disruptive/transformative technology, but her teaching is what gave me courage to dip my toe into the artificial intelligence water. Lynne said, “With this technology you can be empowered and you can be afraid; in this session, you will probably be both.” And I was. I must have looked shell-shocked as many of the session participants filed out. As I sat there, feeling both excited and terrified, a fellow participant heaved a sigh, and we looked at each other with empathy and started up a conversation. In our discussion, I learned of our shared interests, and Kiewit Luminarium. I loved the learning in this session, and I loved ending it with something that no artificial intelligence could architect, the spontaneity of human interaction, the play that happens when we connect to someone new.

Lindsay Zilly was the keynote speaker on day two. Her secondary session had some strong tidbits for teacher sustainability. While I’m not a fan of voices that tell us teachers to take care of ourselves, she had practical suggestions around boundary setting. 1) Quit saying “no problem,” instead say “my pleasure.” This simple change in wording can communicate that our time is valuable and that we are not expendable. 2) Don’t apologize for your priorities. Instead of, “Sorry, I can’t help out; my son has a baseball game,” say “My son has a baseball game, I won’t be able to help out.” 3) Working too hard diminishes our creativity, and 4) Gripe Jam protocol – While this sounds negative, it’s actually agentive. A group shares out gripes on sticky notes and then moves them to show how many people they impact. In short, it’s a formula to help groups create intentional action around issues.

Note Nuggets

Adobe Creative Cloud Express & Canva – These two technologies can help us build graphics, fliers, posters, webpages, newsletters, resumes, and more. Adobe Spark (rebranded) is free for educational settings. As someone who’s felt the joy of doing Newspaper layout from literal scratch both on paper and digitally, some of this feels like cheating, but in today’s busy world, it’s a gift. Plus the way Adobe shows layers can help kids as young as 1st grade learn about design in a way I didn’t learn until college.

Project Zero out of Harvard (from Jenna Krambeck-Reeh) – This thinking routines toolbox is deep in the research. It’s like a free online methods textbook.

Appointment Scheduling in Google Calendar (From Jackie Ediger) – In Google Calendar, if you’re in week mode, you can create appointments (free for educational Google accounts) and share a link for open appointments.

Google Arts and Culture – Pre-made lessons, virtual field trips, interactive exhibits. Teacher playground!

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

In all of it I’m struck by the generosity of teachers. Again and again, a speaker would share something they made–no strings attached. Between sessions, I kept running into educators from previous seasons in my life. After a short catch up, I was struck again and again with their positivity, their enthusiasm for education, and their curiosity about my teaching and life. Rick Rudin (my current reading and podcast obsession) says that when we are all zooming straight ahead, it takes someone who veers left to help us realize we can turn right, or up or down. The way these teachers see life helps me to see my own with fresh eyes. I am thankful to have been at NETA, surrounded by Nebraska educators and content still full of zest after all these years.

I brought home two sticker souvenirs. A colorful one that says, “Sunset Chaser” called out to me, as did a tried and true NETA one. Tonight’s sunset is at 7:34. I’m going outside to soak in the last light of what has been a great two days. I’m thankful my district got me a sub. I’m thankful my hubby took care of all things on the home front (to the tune of new puppy and a sick kiddo). Gratitude Gal is a lot of things, one of them is a teacher. And this teacher is thankful for fresh starts, for old NETA friends and new, for days of snow that turn to sun, and for our new puppy, tail wagging, ready to welcome me home.

The Grateful Flow

“The Grateful Flow is not the things you’re thankful for. The Grateful Flow is the process of creating these things.”

Stutz, in Jonah Hill’s new documentary film

This photo is my favorite Christmas pic. It’s a picture of joy. Nine years ago, both Charli and Ralph are smiling, in the flow of gratefulness. I was sitting by our tree recently, looking at the white twinkle lights, noticing how the light shines through some ornaments. They sparkle. I feel the same way about students sometimes, seeing the light shine through them in moments when they dare to be themselves. I, myself, feel a dash of that Charli-on-the-sping-horse joy sitting by twinkle lights sparkling in this darkest time of the year.

Unpopular opinion, I like winter. I like the coziness, the time to watch movies, the blankets. I used to always want to be around people, but the older I get, the more I love the quiet.

In some of my movie-watching time, I just saw Jonah Hill’s new documentary, Stutz. In it, Hill’s therapist asks him to close his eyes and prompts his thinking into gratitude, “Now, say two or three, or at most four things you’re grateful for,” he said. “And the smaller the thing the better, because it forces you to concentrate Gratefulness. You want to do it nice and slow. You want to feel The Gratefulness. Good. The next thing you do is that you feel that you’re going to create another grateful thought, but you don’t–You block it. So all you feel is the force that would create a grateful thought. And as it feels stronger and stronger, you feel taken over by It.”

When he had Jonah stop before the next gratitude, it kind of blew my mind. I have felt that, but never named it, and certainly never thought about naming it as a force we can concentrate, something somehow “between the things,” on our gratitude list. What if it’s all not so much about the list of things we’re grateful for, as it is our attitude toward them, not just love or positivity, but our sense that this life, this this, might just be a gift.

Sometimes that’s hard for me to realize when my mind shifts into dis-liking winter. When I concentrate the coldness, or concentrate the lack of green, or get stuck in the negative ruts that I’ve been mining for so long.

Again and again, life dazzles me, sometimes even in spite of my keen ability to be a total curmudgeon.

And for that, I am thankful. Listening for gratitude does come to something. I’ve never sat down and named it, but there’s an energy to it. So cheers to that energy, and good ole moments of spring-horse joy. May we mine for them when they feel hard to find, and experience grateful flow–seeing twinkle lights and tomorrow shining through.

This and That

  • Worth a listen: Trans Siberian Orchestra. This might be pure nostalgia, but my sister and I used to jam out to their electric guitar Christmas instrumentals in high school. I still love it.
  • Worth a watch: Stutz. I wrote about a section of this documentary above, but it is worth watching the whole film. The friendship between these two, their banter, and their willingness to “go there,” left me with such a feeling of completeness that I sat in the quiet for a few minutes after the credits rolled.
  • Worth a watch: Wednesday. This Netflix series is quirky perfection. Tim Burton’s macabre style along with Jenna Ortega’s unblinking and intense performance had us clicking on to the next episode and the next. The writing, design, and acting come together just right. Enjoyed.
  • Something that’s inspiring me:  Twinkle lights! I don’t know if they inspire me as much as they delight me. In the book Joyful: The surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness Ingrid Fetell Lee shares the research behind small bursts of color bringing happiness–be they confetti, or twinkle lights. It’s not silly; it’s science. And maybe-just-maybe, a light in the dark.

May right now be a time to slow down, a time to notice, and say thanks.

It’s Gratitude Season!

Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. . . Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here, which is gratitude, to be a given a mind and heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy.

Mary Oliver, “The Messenger”

Three friends and I hiked near Mount Hood in Oregon this summer. It was warm enough that you didn’t need a coat but cold enough that snow stayed on the ground. Around each tree trunk, the snow was melted, the dark dirt circled with a halo of white.

As we hiked, the path was hard to follow. Sometimes we were on a clear dirt trail, and other times we were on snow. We would keep moving forward looking for clues that said, “This! This is it. You’re on the trail.”

Other times we found clues that said, “Um, you’d better look at your map.”

We made it home that day by moving forward, one step at a time. This chunk of the trail, and then the next.

So cheers to finding the trail again, and again, and again. To gratitude season, and to all of the things that change this time of year–the leaves, the clock, warmer clothes. All of it has us on this trail of life, even if we can’t always see the path or know just where it’s going. One step at a time. We got this.

It’s a grace to me to know that some times the trail even has a way of finding us.

p.s. A friend asked me recently, “What is Gratitude Gal up to for Thanksgiving? I need a gratitude practice!” So, I made a handy-dandy printable for the next three weeks. All you need to do is print it and jot down three gratitudes each day. Enjoy!

This and That

  • Worth a listen: Tree of Forgiveness by John Prine. This was his last album before he died in 2020, and it is everything I love about John Prine. The last song, “When I get to heaven,” just plain makes me smile.
  • Worth a listen: Kelly Corrigan Wonders. I might have written about this one before, but each week she shares an obituary or a speech that someone has sent in. It always re-sets me to what matters. I love this podcast.
  • Worth a watchThe Martian. This is a bit of an old movie, but someone put it on my radar, and it was a good night at the movies. Botany in a plot line–nerd love. Also, Matt Damon was my middle school crush in Good Will Hunting, so there’s that.
  • Something that’s inspiring me:  Art! I just got to see Six the musical in Minneapolis. The colors, the harmony, and the sheer bombardment of beauty had me crying in the first minute! I am thankful for artists who share their gifts in ways that fill me with awe and remind me just how beautiful life can be.

May right now be a time to slow down, a time to notice, and say thanks.

Gratitude Gram #4: Soaking it all In

One of my favorite words is the Japanese word komorebi, which refers to the interplay of light and leaves as sunlight shines through trees. It has other meanings too. It can refer to a melancholic longing for a person, place, or thing that is far away. Or it can refer to impermanence. Dappled light shows us that what is here will be gone in an instant. Nothing stays the same.

Mary Piper, A Life in Light

Sitting on our deck under leaves just turning colors, I read that fall is for soaking in the lessons and experiences of summer.

The thankful I feel now is different from the zest at the end of summer.  It’s slowing, cooling off, reaching for hoodies and hot tea.  I hope like me, you’re finding time to think back on the sunny times of summer, asking what might “fall” away to make room for what’s coming next.  I’m thankful for my bowling league, for beautiful Nebraska temperatures (if only for a bit), for still wearing sandals, and for soup.  May there be lots of soup this fall.

This and That

  • A book: Hell of a Book by Jason Mott. I wanted to dislike this–with its cheeky title and all its accolades, but I read the first half in one day.  If you love converging stories, try this out.  The first chapter introduces you to a boy who can make himself invisible.  From then on, I was hooked.
  • Worth a listen: As it Was by Harry Styles.  I heard this song was killing the European charts, so I had to see what all the fuss is about.  The synth sounds and broody lyrics get me thinking about life before cell phones and maybe about life before big things change, as they tend to do.  It’s fun.  It’s short.  
  • Worth a watch: The White Lotus.  At a friend’s recommendation, I binged this show on HBO Max.  I honestly can’t say I enjoyed it, but I’m glad I watched it.  I can’t quit thinking about it.  Parts of this show are so uncomfortable in the way that good art is.  Unsettling, re-setting, challenging.  Jennifer Coolidge is so much more than “Stiffler’s Mom” in this–she’s uncomfortable perfection.
  • Also worth a watchBrian Wilson: Long Promised Road. This bio-pic of the genius songwriter behind the Beach Boys made an hour plane ride feel like minutes.  This man’s creative man’s approach to song-writing once included making mathematical fractals with his hands on the keyboard.  In spite of ongoing hallucinations and mental paranoia, he creates some of the most iconic music of all time. . . I’m picking up good vibrations.
  • Something that’s inspiring me: One of my junior high students had been a bit down in the dumps lately, often by himself during our after lunch “recess” gym time, scrolling his phone.  Seeing him alone, another student broke off from the larger group to tap him on the knee to play football, just the two of them.  Compassion lives, even in adolescents.  

May right now be a time to slow down, a time to notice, and say thanks.

Collegeville #3. . . the Pool

I’ve already written about Collegeville twice. I always tell my writing students to avoid being repetitive, and yet I feel like a year’s worth of learning was packed into this one trip. I read this week that the fall is for soaking in the lessons and experiences that we had this summer. Collegeville is still settling into my bones, and the writing of Robert Lax (an author I read at the institute) keeps circling my head.

It was 10 days–the longest I’d been away since before having kids. Collegeville is an ecumenical (representing a number of different Christian churches) Institute that supports research, writing, publication, and education at the crossroads of faith and culture. It is located in a beautiful section of Minnesota near two colleges that are encircled by lakes and hiking trails, and near a monastery filled with monks. I’ve worked and had meals and conversations with eleven other writers from all over our country: New York, Texas, California, the Twin Cities and more.

In addition to the people, one of the most transformative parts of Collegeville was working with a writing coach. At my job I often sit in writing conferences with student writers, so I was reminded how it feels to have my writing on the table. It can be scary.

Other times, writing community can be just plain fun. At one point during the week, I was writing on the porch outside my little apartment when two other participants came walking up the brick sidewalks from either direction.

“Are you coming?” they said.

The group social time we had each day at 5 p.m. was starting. It was 5:05.

“I’m just about done,” I said, typing furiously.

And then the two of them did something that will forever be a snapshot in my memory. “Go Evi!” they cheered doing impromptu cheerleading moves and smiling in solidarity.

What a joy to have cheerleaders. Writing does enliven me, but it also requires courage, as it can be easy to over-think it all. During the week at Collegeville, I would swim at the pool on campus for exercise. In Nebraska, I swim laps at the YMCA in a pool depth of 4.5 feet. The pool at Collegeville is a NCAA competition pool with high edges, starting blocks, and a 16-foot well on one end for platform diving. As I swam in this bigger pool, I found my breath catching and my heart racing, not because of the swim but because of fear in a pool that seems way outta my league.

And yet the lane, the edges to push off, that top 4.5 foot of water–in so many ways–it’s just the same. . . if I focus on my breath, count the laps, and simply move my arms, kick my legs.

I can swim in that hard-core, deep-welled NCAA pool. Another part of me just likes the YMCA. I think this week has been me being my own cheerleader, me daring to say that yes, I am a writer (as I learned at Nebraska Writing Project), and yes I’m gonna swim in this deeper end of the pool too.

As I packed for this trip, my ten-year-old daughter, Charli said, “Here, you gotta take this with you,” as she handed me a drawing she did of a woman facing right with a pony tail. The woman’s blue hair fills the top left corner of the page, all swirls.

“It’s a picture I made,” she said. “I started off just making squiggles and it became a picture!”

Smiling at the simplicity and depth of her words, I asked brother Ollie (age 8) if there was anything he wanted me to take. “No,” he said, “You’ve got all you need.” My husband joked at how many things I packed for this trip, and yet for 10 days away, it’s been enough and just right. What if we’ve always got all we need somehow, if we can only learn to see it?

During my time at Collegeville, I read the biography that my writing coach wrote, Pure Act, the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax. In it, I learned of a man who lived his life and his art as a prayer. I was struck by both Lax’s life and by Michael, the book’s author, learning alongside Lax. Both of them were searching, following that tug that says, “Hey, try this crazy thing and see what happens.”

I want to end this post again with a poem I love from Robert Lax. I just keep thinking about it. He wrote vertical poems, breaking up words, the style daring us all to take everything slower, with more intention–and attention, no matter the pool, no matter the depth.









-Robert Lax

The Last Day at the Table, A Collegeville Reflection (because one post about it just wasn’t enough)

What I know for sure is this: we come from mystery, and we return to mystery.”

Parker Palmer, On the Brink of Everything p. 16

I sit here in a place I love, a place that only nine days ago was foreign to me. I look out the window here, feeling strangely at home at the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota. The window looks out over moving water with branches above. This little nook can, if the light reflects just right, feel like an intimate light show with patterns dancing on the water’s surface.

Compared to the liveliness of this little space just two days ago, the water is darker, a reflection of me. I am sad to leave. I tried to drive off this morning once but turned back.

My time here has been personal, spiritual, and professional all at once, like these branches of me got to come together and have a party. Coming to the institute, I was spun up, wanting to somehow unify all these sides of me. Writer, teacher mom, church, college, school, home. Where is the through-line? I’ve often wondered. Where is the me-est me? How do I find her?

One of my big take-aways from this week is that even though I am this one person, there are so many facets to me.  So often I’m trying to put them together into one grand-unified-field-theory for Evi, and say this-this is who I am!  But when instead I honor the many voices, the many parts that make me up, my writing comes fast, the voice sings in different ways, and I find myself laughing in the writing, crying amazed at how there’s a grace to re-telling your stories and saying, what was that all about?

It’s a lesson I’ll treasure forever from my time here. So as I sit here by the tree window on my last day at the table, I’m slowing, my steps and also my spirit. What a grace it’s been to feel at home for a week in Minnesota among thinky, kind, whip-smart, funny writers. This week has dared me to say, “What if all of this is me? What if all of this is home? What if God is busy at work in all of it creating, making space, and asking us to dance?” A friend I met at the institute quotes John Coltrane in his (my writer friend’s) book about music. “It all has to do with it,” Coltrane says, speaking of the higher power bubbling up in and through everything. This week I’ve been in “it,” if that makes sense. Speeding up even as I slow down, knowing that this, even this facet of the life we get to play in is pure gift.

I’m thankful for Collegeville, for my coach, Michael McGregor, grateful for my mom and Ralph for taking good care of my kiddos, and thankful I just said “Why not?” and submitted my application to Colegeville one more time. Just a year ago I posted on Facebook how I had been denied again on my Collegeville application. “I’m hungry for some Writing and Community in 2021,” I posted. I guess we make our plans and the timing, well that’s another thing. And yet, the timing has worked out poetic, as I know this summer, this one was when I was ready for the intensity, for the high standard, and for the challenge that has been Collegeville. Cheers to that.

“When we see a Cezanne, we feel what he saw in the landscape, and that opens up the possibility of his sensitivity to the world being awakened in us.” – Michael McGregor, Pure Act

Gratitude Gram #3: A Little Bit of Everything

Horsetail Falls, Hood River, Oregon

As I sit here in the afternoon sunroom stillness, the green leaves filling all the windows outside, I’m filled-up with everything summer. It’s been bananas, like drinking from a firehose! But when a friend asked me recently if it’s stressed me out, I just smiled, “Nope. I’ve just been riding the wave.”

Collegeville Institute! A year ago (and another year prior) I posted my disappointment on Facebook about my rejected application for The Collegeville Institute. Thankfully, third time was a charm, and I was accepted along with 11 other writers to travel to Minnesota for 10 days for a writing retreat sponsored by the Lilly Endowment. It was a professional experience, a spiritual experience, a bombardment of blessings–learning on steroids. Peak. Life. Experience! I’m not exaggerating when I say I will think of my life as “before Collegeville” and “after Collegeville.” The Collegeville/St. John’s campus has such a unique vibe. Originally created around the quietude of a monastery, the two colleges and ecumenical institute feel like a vortex-of-love. The area is surrounded by hiking trails and a lake which I had the opportunity to kayak.

My writing coach at Collegeville was Michael McGregor. Wowza, what a teacher. He pushed me in ways that were frustrating, then freeing, then challenging throughout the week. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a teacher willing to push me so hard, someone who could see what I was trying to do and hone in on what might help. He wrote (among other things), Pure Act, The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax. It’s a biography of Robert Lax, a creative and spiritual seeker who was best friends with the famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. I love this book. I read it in a flurry, unable to put it down, even in spite of the parts that made me feel upside down in their headiness. I left the institute feeling like a jar of ocean water whose salt has all settled to the bottom. Looking back, I can see how the time there not only gave me new practical writing tools that I’ll use for myself and with my students, but it also gave me a greater sense of how I can share the joy that lives in me, how I might write a book filled with laughter.









Robert Lax
My little office space at Collegeville. ❤️

Oregon. . . a.k.a. Waterfalls! After Collegeville, three gal-friends and I headed to Hood River, Oregon for our adventure trip this year. We hiked, we rode e-bikes, we went to breweries, we saw more waterfalls than I could count. It zooms me up in the best way to learn about diversity of plant life, diversity of ecosystems, diversity of other women’s experiences. One little nugget I can’t help but share is that 14 species of flowers only grow in the Hood River Gorge–out of the entire world! The wind in the Gorge creates a prime location for kiteboarding, which I learned is like windsurfing, but the athletes ride on their boards feet above the actual water and pump their sail. The sport attracts very athletic, adventuresome people to the area. Not only were the people and the nature so diverse, but the waterfalls were too. We saw two-layer waterfalls, trickly waterfalls, horse-tail waterfalls, roaring monster falls, and everything in between. Oh, and the icing on the cake was an eagle who flew circles above our mountain-top lunch site. All of it left me with a sense of awe, filled up with beauty.

Family Time. . . After Oregon, my family and some other friends headed to Milford Lake for the 4th of July. My immediate family also spent a short week at Mahoney cooking on the campfire, laughing in the wave pool, and lounging in hammocks. I do love the energy, the fresh start, and the new school shopping that’s coming, but for now, I’m thankful to soak in these last bits of summer sun and time not measured by a clock. It has truly been good stuff. And for that, I am thankful.

It’s easy to feel thankful when life is so juicy, so full of travels and zest, but even on the most epic trips, I come to a place where I’m ready for home, ready to see Nebraska with fresh eyes and get back to our community, to my beautiful, regular life. People say Nebraska is the good life, and this year’s scattered showers have left it lush in July in a way that feels like nature showing up. I’m thankful to have been away, thankful to be home, and thankful for a place that’s always here waiting for me to plan the next adventure.

This and That

  • A quote: “I make a point to appreciate all the little things in my life. I go out and smell the air after a good, hard rain. I re-read passages from my favorite books. I hold the little treasures that somebody special gave me. These small actions help remind me that there are so many great, glorious pieces of good in the world.” – Dolly Parton
  • A book: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I am working through this 12-week creativity/spirituality program for the fourth time this summer. Each time I learn something new. If you, or someone you know is a creative, or wants to be, this is my top recommendation. It’s woo-woo and farm-girl practical in the best way. 🙂
  • Worth a listen: A Little Bit of Everything by Dawes, a song that inspired this post’s title. I love the joy and the pain all wrapped up in this. It’s Gratitude Gal vibe–not sugar-coated Polly Anna positivity, but joy that knows how hard this all is and yet daring to see the good. If you like Dawes, Free As We Wanna Be is like a prayer.
  • Worth a watch: Stranger Things Season four. Yep, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. After falling out in season two, we skipped ahead and watched season four in two days. If you can get through the (sometimes cringy) horror flick nods stacked throughout, you’ll find an epic battle where love conquers fear/hate, and who isn’t up for that? Plus, Eddie’s character arc and Metallica solo are pure perfection.
  • Also worth a watch: Kurt Vonnegut, Unstuck in Time. This bio-pic of Vonnegut is a long-term labor of love. The relationship between Kurt and the film’s director has so much heart. If you like documentaries, authors, or creativity, this is a good night at the movies.
  • Something that’s inspiring me: “Don’t delete parts of yourself,” and “You don’t have to be just one thing.” I’ve always been searching for some unified-field-theory-of-Evi.  Emilie Wapnick’s Ted talk about multipotentialites has helped me feel less alone in this search, but these two quotes above (said by different guys in my life) have given me permission to lean into the sides of myself. I am a teacher, I am an academic, I am a scoliosis kid, I am a writer, I am a mother, I am a leader, I am a wife, I’m a listener, I’m a spiritual-yoga-nature-gal, and I’m just goofy ole’ Evi Jane. Whitman said, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” Me too Walt, and maybe, just maybe, it’s a good thing.

May right now be a time to slow down, a time for thanks.  Amen.

Evi (rhymes with Chevy) 

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Gratitude Gram #2: Tiny Beautiful Things

Photo by Curt Brinkman of Life’s a Story Photography.

“We can find evidence for whatever mindset we choose.” – James Clear

A while ago, my book club read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.  It’s been awhile ago, so I don’t remember a lot of the story, but one image sticks with me.  It’s of a soccer player.  The player is described as so “in” his body–never walking out in front of himself.

Out in front of himself.

As I shift from school teacher year me into summer teacher me, it’s hard at times to unwind the tightness that has me ever out in front of myself somehow.  My hope for June is that the sunshine and my kiddos might remind me how it feels to be never walking out in front of myself.

I don’t want to be so busy buzzing that I miss the good stuff.  Cheers to summer and the energy of fun, play, and the bright pink peony blooms that have just started.

A Writing Challenge (because even though it’s summer, I’m still a writing teacher):

Inspired by the book, The One Thing You’d Save.  Imagine your house is on fire (I hesitate to type this as a dear friend really did experience this–it’s just a writing exercise.)  Okay, fake fire. . . you can take one thing.  Family and pets are safe.  It doesn’t matter how big.  Avoid overthinking the “rules” and just think on this a sec.  Write any thoughts for 5 to 10 minutes and let ideas flow.  No perfectionism allowed, just write.   This little exercise got my junior high students laughing and crying this spring.  Even though I’m glad school is out, I do miss our daily interactions. Here’s my quick write from class:

  • I would save a quilt–not just any quilt.  It’s the one my mom made for me when I went to college.  A lot of kids got fancy dorm-style comforters from Target, not me.  My mom and I went to a small fabric store and laid out what felt like100 different colors to see what went together  Mom always says you have to have some “uglies” to make the quilt work.  I picked navy, greens, muted purples, and nature prints.  We cut squares and pieced them together.  She put cozy flannel on the back–with an angel print.  Along with the quilt, her excitement for my next step was such a gift.  I took that quilt to the hospital when I had both my babies, wanting to feel at home somehow with all those bright lights and medical equipment.  Today the quilt is frayed and has been repaired more times than is reasonable.  It’s so very worn out, but it’s my favorite.  

Some Reflection Questions for a Saturday morning coffee in a cozy chair:

  • What do I want to experience this summer?
  • What do I want to not do this summer?
  • What’s something I’m looking forward to right now?

This & That

  • A quote: “To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.  Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” – Walter Percy, The Moviegoer.
  • A book: A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson.  I’ve read his memoir before, but this biography is really something different–in a good way.  While the beginning is a little slow with lots of details, once he gets to college, Eugene Peterson’s life is so compelling.  Here are just a few random quotes: “He sensed a magnetic pull toward the truth and beauty he felt must lie at the core of all things. . . I (Eugene) like people who act like they know where they’re going.  I like people who live aggressively–who have a purpose.”
  • Worth a listen: Tiny Beautiful Things.  This collection of advice columns penned under the anonymous name “Sugar” was written by Cheryl Strayed, author of the popular book and movie, Wild.  Cheryl moves beyond advice into short pieces that read like memoir.  She’s such a true, fierce, deep writer that I always have to catch my breath reading her.  She has a beautiful way of looking at the hard things in life, while still reminding us we’re not alone.
  • Worth a watch: As They Made Us, a movie written and directed by Mayim Bialik (a.k.a. Blossom & Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory.  I paid to rent this–her writing and directorial debut–and it was worth every penny.  The depictions of Jewish ritual, along with its reflections on grief and family ties make this worth the watch.  Bring tissues.
  • Something that’s inspiring me:  Asparagus.  I know this sounds silly, but what other thing in the world is like this?  I do literally nothing, and it comes back each year, stronger, and more prolific.  Plus, it makes your pee smell weird in minutes–this stuff is magic!  Cheers to the asparagus winding down after a great season. 

May right now be a time to slow down, a time of thanks.  Cheers to that. 

Evi (rhymes with Chevy) 

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The Gratitude Gram #1: April 2022

Photo by Curt Brinkman of Life’s a Story Photography.

The first book I ever read in one day was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I am still enchanted by the idea from the book that our daily lives could have small windows into a different world.  No, we can’t escape to Narnia through a freestanding closet door, but we can be reminded of joy, lightness, and beauty in small hidden moments in our days.  I think the doors are there.  And even if they’re not. . . it’s more fun to live as if they were.  For example, I’ve been noticing the spring dandelions popping up.  I know these are yard pests, but it was also a little burst of yellow where just two weeks ago all was brown and dry.  We just cut our first bits of asparagus. Even with all these cold snaps in Nebraska, spring is here.  

This Spring the “new thing” that’s popping up in my life is a desire to re-vamp the ole blog a bit.  Some of you have been subscribed since 2013. . . or else you deleted those email accounts. #shrug.  Either way, I feel like this space could use some spring cleaning.  I don’t have the energy to write 30-day challenges anymore, but I do like writing, and I like having a place to share my thoughts.  So, in that spirit, I’m launching the Gratitude Gram–a monthly newsletter that’s not a newsletter as much as it is me passing along some positives–a note filled with stuff that’s put a little pep in my step and been slice of Narnia in my life.  So cheers to that, to the little bursts of yellow popping up, and to Gratitude Gram Issue #1!  


April 22: Moments of Joy

A Writing Challenge (because I’m a writing teacher):

Find a piece of paper and draw an eyeball in the middle.  Hint: can be made less creepy with eyelashes.  Around the eye, make a list of things you’ve seen that sparked awe–that feeling that the world is beautiful, that all is well, and that I am but a tiny part of something larger.  Here’s my eyeball list titled, “Moments of Joy.”

  • A sunset from a canoe campsite, reflecting across the water making two sunsets.
  • Lightning Bug Magic – When I was a church camp counselor, we hiked down into a valley at dusk and found ourselves among a twinkling array of bugs that stretched out in each direction.  Junior high kids got quiet.  Holy ground.
  • My daughter rehearsed her play lines a bunch this last month–working hard to memorize them all by herself when nobody else was watching.  Proud of her.
  • Seeing my new baby Oliver, feeling like I recognized him somehow.
  • My grandma Pearl’s hands.  They always had long, filed-round, painted fingernails and were especially good at picking up cards and slicing fresh bread.

Some Reflection Questions (that someone shared with me) for a Saturday morning coffee in a cozy chair:

  • When have you felt most at home in the last six months?
  • What makes me feel the most at home/relaxed?
  • Which friendships do I want to add extra energy to this month?
  • What do I need to release to feel more at home?
  • What in my home/personal space doesn’t match the way I want to be?
  • What emotions do I need to let move through to get to a deeper calm?

This & That

  • A reminder: “You have to put some energy into it” – Michelle Obama.  This seems like a duh quote, but I needed reminding that day.  I can’t expect things to work when I’m just stepping back and waiting.  
  • A book: The Runaway Bunny – An oldie, but a goodie.  For Easter this year, I read it to the pre-schoolers (because I’m a writing teacher and a librarian).  All eyes were glued to the pictures of the mother bunny searching out the young bunny again and again and again.  Moral of the story is–home is always a good place to be, even when home is changing or the only place you feel at home is with someone else.
  • Worth a listen: Oprah interview of Johann Hari. This two-part podcast got me thinking during bike rides this month.  For parents, for teachers, for anyone really–his ideas of stolen focus, the changing nature of childhood, parenting with less fear, and brain downtime are some good brain candy for our time.
  • Something that’s inspiring me:  “A bike ride, and what’s on the other side.”  Earlier this month, I felt down and out.  Somehow, I got the spark of an idea to go on a bike ride.  Little did I know that the bike ride I envisioned was on the other side of like five hurdles.  Can’t find my gloves.  My tire is flat.  Can’t find my tire pump attachment thingy.  I can’t get it attached!  I can’t find my headband.  Anyway. . . after somehow persevering, the ride on the other side was a respite my body and my mind needed.  Plus, I didn’t know I’d listen to that podcast when I set out.  Just this idea of “a bike ride & what’s on the other side” is inspiring me.  If we can somehow muster the energy to push whatever it is up the mountain, sometimes we find ourselves riding it all the way down and around all these things we couldn’t plan for.  So what’s the thing this month that might take seven hurdles, but it’d be worth it to push through?  What might be waiting on the other side?

Cheers!  If a friend sent you this email, you can sign up to get monthly emails here.

Evi (rhymes with Chevy) 

Thanks for reading.

Things I’m Thankful For. . .

My family just went through a gratefulness re-set. For just under a week, our plumbing’s been messed up, so messed up that we had to avoid doing laundry, showering, or flushing the toilet. While this was super annoying, now that it’s fixed, I’ve felt an oddly amazing sense of freedom in our water use at home.

Last night I felt a surge of joy just letting the water run while I washed my hands.

As our friendly gas station attendant said to me this morning, “You don’t really appreciate that stuff until it’s gone.” And while I know this in my brain, the lived experience of it is really giving me pause.

What if most (certainly not all) of our “problems” are gratitude resets? What would it look like to trust that that swirling mess of a life problem going on right now will eventually settle, that it will work out, and that maybe it will even leave us with a gift of perspective? That is not to say that some problems aren’t real. That would be a dumb thing to say. I’m not saying that. I am saying that this week has me thinking about problems and what they really do in our lives. Big ones. Small ones. And all the things in-between.

Whether it’s a bigger thing or just a small one in my life, I’ve never felt so happy to get a dish dirty, to take a shower, and to use the toilet as I have been this week. It reminds me of the feeling I get after going on a week-long camping trip. Thankful for the things I haven’t had, as having them again feels like a luxury. So today, I’m extra thankful. Thankful to my husband for getting all of the fix-it work lined up. Thankful that we even live in a place where having all this running water seems normal. And I’m thankful for problems that work out, for problems that remind me what it even is I’m thankful for.