Every Stitch

Today I’m writing from yet another state! I’m currently sitting outside of Penn Valley, California, at my friend Hannah’s childhood home. She grew up on a glorious five-acre property, with huge trees and vegetable gardens and a little orchard and chickens. This part of California is the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but it’s really different than the foothills in Colorado. At home, the the transition from flat to mountains is fairly abrupt. Here, I’m nestled into rolling hills of pine forests and farms. I think I found the Shire.

And when I found Hannah, I absolutely found a hobbit! Hannah grew up doing three-week backpacking trips with her family and close friends, packing all their extra food and supplies on horses. She wanders around barefoot almost all the time, and she bakes the best pumpkin butterscotch chocolate chip cookies you’ll ever have. We met in college in our leadership program, and I can easily say she’s one of my best girlfriends in the entire world. We’ve stayed up late giggling and singing, hiked and hugged trees and swam in rivers, and had some of the most honest conversations I’ve ever been a part of.

The first time I came to her home was for spring break during our freshman year of college. She took me cross country skiing to a cabin that some of her family friends built by hand (no power tools!), and then she took me on my very first backpacking trip at Point Reyes. I loved both of these adventures, but what I remember most about that trip was how included and loved I felt with her family. It’s been a happy place ever since in my memory.

This time, I’m back for Hannah’s wedding, and I could not be more honored and delighted and totally overwhelmed by how much love there was, not only at the ceremony last night, but as I’ve been here helping for the last several days. Hannah’s family is deeply intertwined in this community, and people demonstrated such an incredible amount of support, creating decorations and food and moving tables and chairs around in 100+ degree heat. I’ve been crashing at her house, and I’ve had so much fun painting signs and chopping veggies for appetizers at the rehearsal dinner, and carrying anything. I’ve met Hannah’s friends from all different parts of her life and reunited with some of our college friends. In the midst of everything, Hannah still carved out two hours to pick me up from the airport and to chat with me about my life and what we’ve been thinking about lately.

Another good example of the love here: Hannah and her (now husband!!!!!!!) Ben decided to opt for a less-traditional wedding theme and combine Star Wars and Lord of the Rings into a fantasy land of awesomeness. Everyone showed up in costume, including her grandfather in the Leia buns and dress. My costume experienced a bit of a setback when the green dress I wanted to be an elf archer didn’t come on time, so I rushed to grab a back up plan. What I ended up wearing consisted of my mom’s cowboy boots, Hannah’s sister’s socks, a brand new friend’s white tunic, Hannah’s dad’s bow and a pair of earrings I stole from Hannah herself years ago. Only my brown leggings, camisole, quiver and arm guards were actually mine! People gave freely and without thinking about it, and I wasn’t even the person of interest.

Yesterday, the day of the wedding, we all headed to the ranch where it was going to take place and set things up for several hours. At 11:30, we headed off grab lunch and go to one of Hannah’s favorite places: the Yuba river. After a (SUPER HOT) short hike, we jumped in the water for a bit and then ran back to the wedding site. Supposed to be back by two-thirty for celebrations starting at 4? Definitely arrived at 3:20. But Hannah has collected the kind of friends who a) will jump in a river and not worry about their hair and b) can totally handle getting ready for a wedding, in less than an hour, with only one bathroom between eleven girls. We had a blast braiding hair and gluing elf ears, and watching Hannah transform from hiking river girl to absolutely stunning bride. This is the kind of girly-ness I really do love.

The ceremony itself was beautiful and multi-part and incorporated lots of Jewish rituals (my knowledge of Yiddish had probably quadrupled in the last three days). I won’t try to explain it all, but I will tell you it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. All the cliché things people say about weddings, the radiant bride, the crying mothers, the perfect light…all of it was true last night. I cried through both ceremonies and afterwards when I got to tell Hannah how much I loved her. I danced until I had blisters and laughed harder than I have in a very long time. And after we cleaned up, we all lost our heads a bit and ended up paddling around in the pool on the property, most of us still in our dresses and costumes!

I like to write. I love stories and words. But how could I ever begin to explain how much my friendship with Hannah means to me? How could I describe how much I loved coming home with her and experiencing her community? How could I possibly capture this weekend?

I didn’t even try. At least, not in words.

A year ago, when Hannah called me to tell me she got engaged, I knit two nine inch by nine inch squares out of some left-over turquoise yarn in a basket weave pattern. And over the course of this last year, I’ve (very sporadically) worked on creating 46 more squares and sewing them together to create a blanket. There were months where I forgot about it, and a lot of frantic knitting and sewing in these last couple of weeks! (I actually finished it here, on the floor of Hannah’s guest room.)

When I knit, every stitch is a good wish, a thank you, and a promise. They’re little tiny good thoughts, but they add up. And I thought it was a nice metaphor for building a life together. It’s a series of small things.

And when I knit, I don’t do it in isolation. Mom taught me how to make cable patterns. Granny helped me lay out all the blocks so the colors were balanced. The whole thing is a work of love. And it’s a way for me to say it without fumbling around with words and clichés.

My friends are so incredibly important to me. Hannah’s given me more sunshine and support than I thought possible.

Your homework today is very similar to some other homework I’ve given before, but I think it’s worth doing twice. How do you show your people you love them? Try to find a way to demonstrate that this week!

Hej då,

Jamie

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Summer Rest Days

It’s quite possible you’ve noticed a theme in my last couple of blog posts. I really, really like to be outside. I like to be in the sun, or in the water, and I like to get sweaty and dusty and tired. I’m really not picky about how this happens; I could be hiking or biking or backpacking or doing yoga on my porch or playing Frisbee with my brother. There’s a part of me that feels like any summer day that didn’t require sunscreen is a day wasted.

And so far, this has been glorious. In this past week I’ve been biking and hiking around Ogden, Utah, and I spent three days camping and hiking in Zion National Park. (I will 100% be writing an adventure post about that trip at a later date; it was incredible!) But today was one of those days where I just hit the wall.

Today I had the pleasure of enjoying a very lazy day of summer. I had a lazy breakfast, laid on the couch and called my dad for Father’s Day, knitted for a bit, read for a bit, and now I’m writing for you. I’m hiding my sunburn from the sun a little bit, and I’m letting my calves and hamstrings recover. I’ve also realized it is high time to do some laundry and reorganize and clean all my toys.

In short, I’m having a hobbit day.

In some ways, this is really hard! The sky is blue but it’s not too hot. I want to go explore a whole unknown trail complex at the base of the Wasatch mountain range. I want to find new flowers and ferns and creeks and butterflies (there are AMAZING butterflies here!), and feel that delicious tired feeling in my legs and ribcage. But this is the adventurer in me, and I’ve been indulging her quite lot lately.

Actually, now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing something else about how these three parts of me work together. (I love this aspect of writing. It helps me think about things I otherwise wouldn’t think about.) I’ve been rather out of balance for the last three weeks since I’ve been on summer break. I’ve been in almost full-on adventure mode, with only hints here and there of the nerd and hobbit.

I have spent a chunk of time working with a new biology book I’m piloting next year. I have read a novel that Mom lent me. I have been knitting. (Actually, I knit for almost two days straight last week. But that’s also a post for another time.) But almost every single day has involved some kind of outside adventure. So today’s hobbit rest day is long overdue.

I think that, in part, this is because I’ve been unbalanced for such a long time. This spring semester, I took on several projects outside of normal teaching, including presenting for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the National Science Teachers Association annual conference. These projects were huge honors to be a part of, and I learned so much from them. But I really do think I took on one (or three) too many projects, and I was in full-on nerd mode for way, way too long. I really lost my adventurer for most of the spring semester.

Being an adventurer is really important to me. It makes me feel strong. It brings me a lot of joy. Being outside makes me, and consequently my worries, feel smaller. It makes me feel connected to a living, changing world that’s much bigger than I am. Ignoring that part of me for such a long time means losing an important part of myself. But at the same time, being a nerd is really important to me. I get great satisfaction solving problems and being creative in my classroom. I deeply enjoy stories and understanding how the world around me works. I love asking questions and contemplating answers. Ignoring that part of me would also be doing myself a huge disservice.

So where does all of this thinking and reflecting lead me? To a new commitment. I want to be more aware of how I’m balancing these three parts of myself. I don’t want to lose the adventurer during the school year, or the nerd during the summer. These two parts of myself often seem like such opposites (high school stereotypes, anyone?) but I think they can inform each other in really beautiful days.

I also think I’ve been underserving the hobbit aspects of my personality. I think I’ve been using those things as “rest days” in between working hard on school or adventuring; the purpose has been to recover just enough to get back to it (whatever “it” happened to be). But that’s not why I knit, or bake, or play music. That’s not why I seek out quiet gatherings with the people I love. I knit because I love to knit. I like the colors and textures of the yarn, I like choosing the patterns, and I like watching a tangible thing grow out of a literal ball of string. This part of me is just as important in its own right, rather than in relationship to the adventurer and nerd.

Well, there you go. Just in writing this, I’ve changed my perspective on what I’m doing today. I certainly am not enjoying it any more or less (it’s been pretty glorious so far!) but my purpose has shifted somewhat. Today, rather than being a “rest day,” is about nurturing the hobbit-ness in me.

My homework for you: How do you rest? Why do you rest?

Hej då,

Jamie

Naturalism

Well I have to admit, this is the first time I haven’t felt like I had a million and three options for a nerd post. So you’ll have to look for the nerdiness woven into stories  about adventuring. I’ve still been spending lots and lots of time outside biking and hiking, but also thinking.

Mom has said for years that she loves being able to go for bike rides and hikes in the summer and just think about teaching. And she’s right! It’s really fun to think about what I want my classroom to look like next year: what systems I want to put in place, the kind of community I want to build, the type of learning activities I want to incorporate. As I’ve been wandering around the mountains of Boulder, Steamboat, and now Ogden, I’ve been thinking about the different parts of biology, how they’re connected, and which ones we give more importance to.

Usually the major units in biology are ecology, molecular biology and biochemistry, genetics, evolution, and…everything else. What this “everything else” consists of depends on state and district standards, the school’s curriculum, and mostly on the knowledge base of the teachers. Mom taught a lot about comparative anatomy and taxonomy, and we also learned quite a lot about plants. Mom’s master’s degree is in arctic and alpine botany, so this makes sense. At Longmont, we’ve had teachers who have believed really strongly in comparative anatomy taught through dissections, so we spend a week every spring taking apart pigs, frogs, and sharks.

I was trained as a molecular biologist, so all that stuff about carbs, proteins, and lipids, cell structure, molecular genetics…I loved it. But it’s interesting to explain to my students, especially in anatomy and physiology, that I will place an emphasis on molecular mechanisms and in exchange, I won’t focus on development. I never took a developmental biology class, so I don’t have the background to teach it. (As a side note: Someday I plan on getting more background in development. But there are only so many class hours, and I have to make choices somewhere!)

Perhaps my background is why I didn’t notice, over the course of the last three years, that there was a part of biology that was really quite sadly lacking from my classroom. In fact, I didn’t realize it until I was standing on the Mesa Trail in Boulder, watching a man identify the local birds, that I figured out what was missing. I don’t teach anything about naturalism.

When I tell the story about why I’m a teacher, I start with how Mom used to teach me the names of the wildflowers on the side of the trail as we hiked. Well, (sorry, Mom!) I only remember about half of what she ever taught me. I don’t know the bugs or the birds, and I can’t identify conifers past deciding if it’s a spruce, fir, or pine. I don’t know much about fish or amphibians. Yesterday, as I was hiking up a trail called Fern Valley in Ogden, I was trying to dig through my memory to explain how ferns have two life forms, haploid and diploid, but I couldn’t remember if mosses were the same (I think they are) or what else went into the category with conifer trees (which reproduce differently than ferns but also aren’t angiosperms, the flowering plants).

At some level, I understand why biology has moved away from naturalism. As the field of molecular biology expands, there is more and more to teach and, as I mentioned before, there are still only so many teaching days. Molecular biology is not only the hot new topic, but it is opening a lot of interesting ethical questions that students are likely going to be voting on in coming years. Also, observational field studies can take years, and science funding emphasizes studies that can give results quickly. Naturalism is highly place-dependent; even between Boulder and Steamboat I can see different ecosystems and local variations. For many students, learning the names of organisms could feel like a list of terms to be memorized.

But in that one day on the Mesa Trail, I chatted with this local man who was identifying birds, and I could see his pleasure in being connected to the world around him. I saw a brother and a sister exclaiming over ants and trying to figure out how they knew where to go and why they followed each other. I eavesdropped on a twenty-something couple as they read an informational sign about the bats in Mallory Cave, exclaiming about how bats have sex in the fall and then the female stores the sperm in her reproductive tract until the spring. (I would really like to know how the sperm stays alive that long, actually.) I laughed out loud as I passed a four or five year old girl who was explaining erosion to her mother.

These were people who were engaged in their world. They were making observations and coming up with explanations. They were curious and asking questions. THIS is science. THIS is biology.

This summer I’m going to a professional development about water ecology in Yosemite National Park. (I’m unbelievably excited about this opportunity!) And in part of doing so, I’m reading some ecological classics (Silent Spring, for one) and also a book called Last Child in the Woods. My background is not in ecology, which is why I chose to spend my summer this way. But even more than that, the ecology we teach is based in principles like the ten percent rule, which applies to ecosystems everywhere. Teaching this way means the knowledge students are learning is widely applicable, true. But how do I connect that to the genuine engagement I saw in those people on the trail?

This is one of my goals for the summer; I feel like there is some inherent value in naturalism, despite all the reasons I listed that make it tricky. I feel like the connection to something that’s physically around us all the time is important for many reasons. I feel like I’m not painting a true picture of biology without naturalism, and I want my students to see the innumerable options biology can give them. But I’m (clearly) not very articulate in explaining how and why I feel this way, and I don’t have a lot of evidence to say that it’s better (or not) for my students. So I want to explore this and start to figure out what it might look like in my classroom.

Your homework: What do you see when you go outside? What value does it have for you? What do you see people getting excited about?

Hej då,

Jamie

Summer!

Hello, and happy, happy June! I can now say that school is over; finals are graded, my classroom is cleaned out, and I’m sitting in Steamboat after several awesome days of adventuring. I’m already planning and dreaming about what I want to do differently next year, but I’ve been doing it while playing in the mountains.

I’m going to make one thing really clear first. I do not know a single teacher that takes the summer “off.” Not one. I have 100% flexibility in where and how I choose to work, and that’s a glorious thing. I definitely don’t work 40 hours a week on school in the summer. I choose to go to professional developments and such, and I’m not complaining whatsoever! I love the summer work I do. But when people ask me if I became a teacher because I get summers off, I have to work really hard to remember that they likely don’t understand what it means to be a teacher and I should try to explain it.

Whew. Now that I’ve got that off my chest…

I have been playing outside nearly every day so far this summer, and I am a very, very happy human being. Graduation for Longmont was actually last Saturday, and I worked really hard to make sure everything was done by the end of the day on Saturday. Then, the mountain time began!

I started hiked on Sunday by going to Mallory Cave in Chautauqua Park. I didn’t climb the rock up to the cave itself because the bats were having their bat babies (batlings?), but it was a beautiful climb. Along the way I saw a four-year-old girl explaining erosion to her patient mother, a brother and a sister exclaiming over ants marching in a line, and two twenty-somethings reading about the bats on the informational sign below the cave. Science education for the win!

On Monday I hiked in Chautauqua again, this time towards Saddle Rock. There’s a large rock ridge up there I like to get on top of, and Paige (who teaches math at Longmont with me) was willing to scramble up with me! We bailed pretty quickly when we saw dark clouds rolling in, and sure enough it started pouring just as I dropped her off at her apartment.

On Tuesday I spent all day repotting my plants from my classroom, doing yoga, and packing to go to Steamboat. Wednesday was similarly mellow, consisting of me driving and spending a significant chunk of time digging through the new textbook I’m working with for piloting next year. (It’s BSCS’s fifth edition of A Human Approach, if anyone has anything I should know about it!) Mom and I sat at the dining room table together, nerding about naturalism and pedagogy and everything in between. On Thursday I played around on my yoga mat, worked through more of the textbook, devoured a really good novel called The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, and knitted on the front porch swing.

But the mellow time ended quickly when Friday came around. Mom and I got up early and hiked up the road on Emerald Mountain to the quarry. This was followed by an afternoon bike ride up very different trails to the same quarry (out Bluff’s, up Lupin all the way to the quarry, then down Blair Witch, down Larry’s, and down the lower section of NPR, if you’re a Steamboatian or curious). Getting up there twice in one day was a good way to make my legs a little tired.

But I wasn’t done yet. Yesterday I put my bike on the back of a car and drove to the Lower Bear trailhead, which is nearly all the way to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. It’s not a super long ride, only three miles, but I had forgotten how steep it is! It gives great views back towards town and the ski area, so it’s totally worth it.

And this morning I hiked up Fish Creek canyon to the second set of waterfalls. I’ve never figured out quite how far it is – the trail continues past the second falls to Long Lake – but it’s rather steep and absolutely beautiful. The trail was dry but the water was really high. I love watching the falls when there’s that much water pouring over them.

I promptly returned and fell asleep on the couch for an hour. Hooray for summer!

There are many things I love about summer. I love the long hours of sunlight. I love how I don’t feel rushed or under pressure to get stuff done. I love that I can come up to Steamboat and hang out with my family. And I really, really love being outside. I love watching the trees bud out, identifying wild flowers, hearing the wind through the pines, the way the woods smell, the feel of my hiking boots, the way I can roll through switchbacks on my bike, all of it. I love all of it.

I’m currently a little bit sunburned, a little bit bug-bitten, a lot sore, and wondering how I can get outside more during the school year. I’m thinking this is pretty critical for my sanity right about now.

Your homework: Where is your favorite place to get outside? What’s your favorite method of getting there?

Hej då,

Jamie