Red-headed Heroes

I was flipping through fanfiction the other day, and I realized something. All three of my favorite fandoms (Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, and Tortall books) have redheaded heroes. In addition, my newest addiction, an anime called Yona, also features a redhead. According to Wikipedia, redheads make up 1-2% of the population. It does occur more frequently in people of northern or western European descent, coming in at a whopping 2-6% of the population. This does describe most of the characters I’m thinking of; Ginny Weasley is English, Anne Shirley is Canadian but definitely of European descent, and Alanna the Lioness (from the Tortall books) is from a mythological England-ish country. But Yona is a Japanese princess! So why is being redheaded so frequent in literature?

As I continued to scroll through the Wikipedia article, I learned a bit about redheads in literature throughout history. In medieval times, red hair was thought to be a mark of sexual desire and moral degeneration. It was also used to highlight Jewish characters (who were portrayed poorly, usually) in works ranging from Shakespear to Dickens. Some people also believed having red hair and green eyes marked people as witches or vampires. So…a long time ago, being redheaded wasn’t a good thing.

Even today, many redheaded characters are described as fiery or as having a temper. Ginny, Anne, and Alanna all certainly fit this mold, and I think Yona will too (I don’t know the ending of that particular story yet!). There are definitely modern cases of discrimination against people with red hair, mostly documented in Ireland and Britain. But there are also annual international celebrations of having red hair; in general, I think the perception has shifted since the 1400 and 1500s.

Through all of this reading, one thing made itself quickly apparent; redheads stand out. They’re rare, for one thing, and humans are really good at picking out the color red. Our brains are specifically trained to pick out red against green because it’s an excellent way to spot food sources like berries. Giving someone red hair makes them special and memorable. In a story, you want your hero to be special and memorable!

In another class I was taking, I learned about how many of our favorite heroes are also orphans. This is true of Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins…Wikipedia also made a list of this. You should absolutely go check out the list. It ranges from Phantom of the Opera to Twilight to Frozen to The Last Airbender. And that was just A-C. (Wikipedia is great!) There are a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, it makes having a secret identity really easy. It also sets up a really nice way for a character to be living life along one track until suddenly some message bearer (Hagrid, R2D2, Gandalf) show up and dump a whole bunch information out and completely change the trajectory for our main character.

It also helps that we automatically feel sorry for orphans – that’s a pretty incredibly tragic storyline – so making the hero an orphan ups the connect-ability the character pretty easily.

Anne Shirley is considered a fictional adoptee; she does have parent figures. In her case, being an orphan serves the same purpose as her red hair; it sets her apart as someone unique.

And in the end, I think that’s the key. We want our heros to be unique, but in ways that are possible for us. If it’s impossible for us, then we can’t identify with them.

Your homework: What makes you unique? Is that something you like about yourself or dislike about yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie

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Taking Care of

(Photo notes: This was from high school state championships when my parents hosted the Steamboat Springs High School team for a tuning party in our garage. I would absolutely not recommend tuning barefoot; metal filings in your foot aren’t fun!)

Ski racers spend hours and hours and hours and hours taking care of their skis. This is called tuning. We sharpen the edges, but that’s the easy part. The part that takes forever is waxing and brushing. I spent a significant portion of my racing career picking wax, melting it onto my skis, letting it cool, scraping it back off, and brushing my skis until they gleamed.

A lot of people are fairly confused by this whole process. Sharpening the edges is fairly intuitive; the snow is hard and a sharp edge holds better. But waxing and scraping and brushing? The trick is not to compare ski wax to car wax, which protects the paint and should be left on. Ski wax is more like conditioner for your hair. Without wax, ski bases get dry and the material of the base can start to fray and add friction. However, if you never rinsed your hair after you conditioned it, it would get sticky and gloopy and awful. The same is true for skis.

Ski wax is also special because there are different waxes formulated for different temperatures of snow. Cold wax is typically harder because cold snow crystals can strip a soft wax of a ski in a single run. Warm wax is softer and helps repel the water in the snow so the skis aren’t fighting adhesion. Some waxes had fluorocarbons in them, which made the ski really fast but also dried out the base like crazy.

Waxing is the easiest part of the whole process; it involves using an iron to melt the wax onto the ski base and get it all smooth. Then you have to leave the ski to cool. The longer you leave a ski, the more the wax soaks in and the better it is. Once the wax is cool, you can start to scrape it off. Scraping removes the visible wax. The better job you do scraping, the easier brushing is.

Brushing is the long process. When I traveled, I had three brushes; a brass brush, a horsehair brush, and a soft nylon brush. The brass pulled the most wax out of the ski, the horsehair pulled out a little more, and the nylon brush polished it. When I was in high school, I had a callous on my palm from how I held the brush. Done properly, brushing can take up to an hour for both skis.

I certainly had my moments of getting annoyed with brushing, especially on nights mid-series. It was hard to race all day, get off the hill and stretch, get dinner, do homework, and still be motivated to brush. Plus there’s all the other gear to take care off; wet mittens and bandanas to lay out to dry, boot liners to pull out of the shells…the list goes on. There were definitely days all these things didn’t happen.

But in general, I loved brushing and taking care of all my gear. It made me feel like the real deal. It made me feel capable. It made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And dry boots and mittens are a beautiful thing!

I don’t ski race anymore, but I still have plenty of gear to take care of. There are hiking boots to be rinsed off, a lot of the same gear for free skiing, bike chains to lube, and swimsuits to hang up to dry. I love taking care of my stuff. It serves me longer that way, but it also just feels good to do it.

This doesn’t stop with sports stuff though. I love washing dishes and wiping down counters and I’ve even gotten to the point where I appreciate sweeping the kitchen floor. I love the warm water and the smell of the soap, and I love seeing the kitchen all clean. But this is another form of taking care of my stuff. Is it easier to wash dishes right after I’ve used them and before everything has dried on to them? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that I truly enjoy cleaning my kitchen.

Again, I will put in the caveat that this is mostly true. My dirty dinner dishes are currently sitting in the sink waiting for me.

Laundry falls into this category too, as does putting things away. It’s really satisfying to have a place for everything and to have a neat space. The other thing that falls into this category, for me, is getting ready for the next day. This semester, one of my goals has been to have more relaxed mornings. To this end, I’ve been packing my lunch the night before, which generally involves spooning left-overs into a smaller container. I’ve also started packing my gym bag the night before. (I would like to point out that my gym bag is a fabric bag printed with the spines of the seven Harry Potter books. Mom got it for me for Christmas and I LOVE IT.) This is doubly-great; not only do I not have to scramble to do it in the morning, but I don’t forget socks anymore! (There was also one memorable time I forgot a shirt. I went swimming that day.)

There was a side-benefit to this that I didn’t anticipate. I stop working on school stuff at 8 pm in order to start doing dishes, packing lunch, packing my gym bag, and picking up anything that wandered out. (Seeing that I spend about four conscious hours in my house, I don’t know how this happens. But it does. Every single day. I blame mail.) This means that I’m not thinking about school and being stressed for the hour before I go to bed. And it means that I’m not sitting and staring at a screen, which I appreciate. I like the gentle movement of walking around my house and the calm that I get from putting my life physically in order.

I tried this out one other place in my life; I start my teaching day by getting my classroom totally ready for the day. The first thing I do is put my lunch in the fridge and turn on the heater in the office. Then I take care of writing the objective, agenda, and warm up on the whiteboard. After the whiteboard, I take a moment to sort papers and make tea. Only at this point do I take out my laptop. I love it because I start with something that’s guaranteed to be productive before I deal with not getting sucked into any of the distractions that come with the internet.

Just like brushing my skis, taking care of my things and my spaces make me feel good about being in them and with them. It makes me feel capable and productive and like I’m doing a good job with this whole adulting thing. Sometimes, at least!

Your homework: What do you enjoy taking care of? Why?

Hej dá,

Jamie

Genetics Part 3: Canon versus Relevancy

Every discipline has canonical knowledge and skills. They’re the stories and examples experts love to hate because, while they’re often canonical for a reason, they quickly lose context and rarely tell the whole story.

The best definition I can give of “canon” comes from fanfiction. (And of course, I’ll use Harry Potter as my example.) All fanfiction is divided into two categories; canon and Alternate Universe (AU). Canon fanfiction is anything that takes all the published books to be true, while AU fics write stories answering questions like, “What would happen if Harry had grown up with Sirius Black instead of the Dursleys?”

Note that canon, especially in the Harry Potter world, is a hotly debated topic. The most extreme of canon purists only count the seven books. Other writers will include things JKR’s said in interviews or published in other places (her website Pottermore, the Hogwarts textbooks she wrote, and at one point she wrote a few Daily Prophet newsletters). Now that The Cursed Child has been released, it’s created even more controversy. Some writers, who have been writing canon for years, have defined the “Sensible Universe,” where they can classify their writing as canon without having to update tiny details they made up as JKR gives us more information.

And I haven’t even mentioned the movies. I will just quickly state that, in my opinion, the movies are not canon. In fact, they’re the most expensive and widely consumed fanfiction ever. But, as with everything else, this is debated throughout the fandom.

For a somewhat more science-y example, I can tell you that they Watson and Crick story, which usually today includes Rosalind Franklin, is canon in the molecular biology world. It was a huge turning point in science and our understanding of all of molecular biology. If you go one level farther into canon, you’ll hear of Griffith, Avery and MacLeod, and Chargaff, all of whom made important discoveries about DNA. Hopefully, you’ll also hear of the beautiful, elegant, and delightfully simple Hershey-Chase experiment. It’s my favorite molecular biology experiment ever! (Yes, I’m that nerdy. I have a favorite experiment.)

But those people don’t tell the entire story of how the structure of DNA was discovered. It doesn’t tell the story of the wrong answers (Linus Pauling, you genius chemist, I’m looking at you…) and the false starts and politics of racing to find the answer. Everyone knew whoever finally got a good model for the structure of DNA would be famous forever. And James Watson and Francis Crick will be.

There are issues with canon. There are historical perspectives that need to be considered; Rosalind Franklin’s contribution wasn’t considered for a long time because she was a woman. Other stories are incomplete or missing because the people didn’t fit the mold of a scientist; there are often equity issues woven into canon stories.

And often canon stories aren’t super relevant to my students. My favorite ecological experiment is the one where Robert Payne used a crowbar to pry starfish off rocks and chucked them back into the ocean, demonstrating top-down population control and providing support for the Green World Hypothesis. But this story relies on marine ecosystems. Hi, I’m from Colorado! We’re one of the most landlocked states in the US!

If you’d asked me before spring break what I thought about canon stories, I would admit to you that I get some joy out of learning them and telling them. But I would write you something a lot like what I just wrote you. Canon can become a box that excludes other stories and people who can’t relate.

Then I started tutoring my friend Craig in genetics. He’s taking an introductory biology class at the University of Colorado Denver. I never took this kind of course (thanks, AP credits) and I never attended the Denver campus. In some ways, it’s tricky to help him because I know more science than he probably needs to, and I have to figure out what he needs to know. Craig could definitely learn everything I could possibly teach him and more, but time is limited, after all. What examples is he likely to see on the exam? How did his professor explain that one concept?

But fancy this: all the examples and stories I learned in high school, which are in turn the examples and stories I fall back on when I teach my kids, are the same examples and stories Craig learned in his class. Sure, there might be some slight variation; in order to teach incomplete dominance, his teacher used blue and white flowers instead of red and white. But in general, it was all the same. It was awesome! It meant that Craig and I felt like we were talking about the same thing, and like we had common ground to start from. In the same way that canon can exclude, people who know the canon are very much included in that discipline. Canon can be a unifying principle among a group of people.

And it was really cool that I could predict with a high degree of accuracy what he needed to know, how his definitions were worded, and which stories his professor had told.

I certainly don’t put this down to my excellent knowledge of biology content and/or teaching. I think this is a great example of the power of canon. And it raises some really interesting questions. How do certain stories spread through a culture? How do we make canon accessible to anyone?

Your homework: What canon is inherent to your discipline? What stories are left out? How does a shared canon strengthen a community, and how does it exclude outsiders?

Hej då,

Jamie

Genetics Part 2: Creating Notation to Fit Concepts

Welcome back to learning about genetics with me! In my last post, I told a story about how I learned about the difference and interconnectedness of conceptual, notational, and procedural knowledge. In that story, I explained how one student’s struggles last year with the procedures inherent in Punnett squares led her class to a new procedure that was, for them, more deeply grounded in conceptual understanding. This year, my students taught me even more about the confusion that can arise between conceptual understanding and notation.

I’m using a new textbook this year, one that relies a lot more on students reading and applying and a lot less on me talking and giving examples. I was really quite terrified of how this was going to when we talked about sex-linked traits. Students saw one example of the notation in the book and then had to go on to solve inheritance problems. Practice is important, and I was not convinced they were going to get enough practice. However, this lesson fell on days when I was gone (on Thursday, I was out during biology for an IEP meeting and on Friday I was at the Knowles spring meeting in Philly) so I just went with what was in the book.

(1) I’m back in teaching mode: humans have twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. Twenty-two of them follow the patterns we’ve already talked about. The last pair is the sex chromosomes. Females are XX, and males are XY. Females can only pass on an X chromosome; it’s all they have. That means the 50/50 probability of having a boy or a girl lies with the father; he can pass on an X, creating a daughter, or a Y, creating a son. This becomes somewhat ironic when thinking about how Henry VIII blamed his wives for a lack of a male heir…but there you are.

(2) But there are other genes on the X chromosome beyond just those that create different sexes. Color blindness is one example. Almost everyone learns the story of the Russian Imperial family, and how Tsarina Alexandria, originally an English princess, carried a recessive blood disease called hemophilia and passed it on to her only son and heir Alexei, leading to an obsession with healing him and arguably contributing to the Russian Revolution. See, I’ve linked history and genetics twice in one blog post! So talking about sex-linked traits is very important.

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 8.04.11 AM

(3) Ok, you’re looking at this Punnett square and thinking one of three things. Option A: Oh no, not another one! Oh yes, my friends, another one! Option B: I thought you didn’t like Punnett squares! I don’t like Punnett squares lacking conceptual understanding. I’m assuming you’re all brilliant and have the concepts nailed. And they really are handy tools for predicting combinations. Option C: This one looks really different.

(4) Ah, yes. It does. But it’s not! If you look at just the H’s, which represent you can see that the woman (on the left, XX) is heterozygous for this hemophilia gene. That means she’s carrying it, but she’s not affected by it (recessive, remember?) And you can see that the man is not affected by the trait because he has a dominant allele (big H) on his X chromosome. Do you see the similarities now?

(5) The interesting thing about sex-linked traits is that males are proportionally affected much more than females. In this particular case, boys have a 50% chance of having hemophilia. Girls, on the other hand, have a 0% chance of having hemophilia. Note that this is the cross for Tsarina Alexandria and Tsar Nikolai, which explains why none of their four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia) had issues with hemophilia, while their sone Alexei did.

(Ok, now go back to paragraphs 1-5 and see if you can find the conceptual versus notational things I taught!)

Back to the story of my students’ learning; we’d left them with a sub trying to learn sex-linked traits. After I returned, I reviewed them quickly, taught them about how incredibly complex human inheritance is, and gave them a quiz and a project as their assessments.

It was grading these projects, and watching students complete them, that led me to think again about how conceptual and notational thinking play with and against each other. The project was to choose a genetic disorder from a list of five and write a brochure that could go in a genetics counseling office about it. Two of the disorders were sex-linked, so students who chose them (and a lot chose hemophilia because it was the example in the book) gave me insight into how well they learned about sex-linked traits.

What fascinated me was that students were using different notation than was in the book, but their thinking was conceptually correct. Rather than using the superscript letters like in the Punnett square above, they were color-coding the X’s:

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 8.30.54 AM

or using apostrophes to mark affected X chromosomes:

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 8.31.50 AM

(note that the mother is on the top rather than the side in this case).

Now, I pulled all these images for examples from the internet, so it’s entirely possible my kids got it from there. But I think, in part, what I saw happening was my kids creating new notation to fit their conceptual understanding. They knew there were “good X’s” and “bad X’s” and they created a way to tell them apart. I gave them full credit no matter what notation they used.

Do they really understand that the Factor VIII gene, which causes hemophilia, is a short DNA sequence along the whole chromosome and there are thousands of other genes on this chromosome too? I can’t actually tell from this particular question.

(As a side note, assessment design to really show student thinking is HARD!)

But this opens up all sorts of interesting teaching questions. Do I teach kids a notation? Can I ask them to come up with their own? How would I scaffold that process? What’s the value of their own notation versus the standard notation they’ll see as they pursue science? How do I make connections between the two?

Your homework: Have you ever created notation or shorthand for something? Have you ever been annoyed or confused by someone else’s notation or shorthand? What’s the value of notation or shorthand and when does it fall short (hehe)?

Hej då,

Jamie

Genetics Part 1: How Punnett Squares Constrain Your Thinking

(1) During two weeks before spring break, I taught my kids genetics. You probably remember learning a little bit of something about genetics in school; we inherit our traits from both our parents and there’s some probability involved in which traits we get. You probably remember that some traits are called “dominant” and some are called “recessive.” You might even remember this:

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 7.19.28 AM

(2) That, my friends-turned-students, is a Punnett square. This one is a classic. It’s where we’ve crossed two heterozygous parents to predict what alleles their offspring will have.

(3) Now, there was a lot of vocabulary in that last sentence. So let me pause for a moment. When we’re considering the inheritance of a particular gene, we get one version of the gene from Mom and one version of the gene from Dad. This is true for humans and cats and bugs and pea plants. Each version of the gene is called an allele. In 99% of your cells, you have two alleles for every gene. (The other 1% are your sex cells, either sperm or eggs, depending on your biology.)

(4) We can define a person depending on which alleles they have. If they have two of the same allele, we call them homozygous (homo- means same). If they have two different alleles, we call them heterozygous (hetero- means different). These same roots show up in the words homosexual and heterosexual if that helps you remember them.

(5) So in that Punnet square above, I said both the parents were heterozygous for the “R” gene (whatever protein that might code for). In classic notation, we show that by using a capital R and a lowercase r. Also in this notation, we typically use the capital letter to notate a “dominant” trait and a lowercase letter to notate a “recessive” trait. To use our notation for someone who is homozygous dominant, we would write “RR.”

(6) (I could rant for quite a time about how the ideas of “dominant” and “recessive” are constructs that don’t really reflect our newer molecular understanding of gene expression. For now, just remember that in a heterozygote, the dominant trait “overpowers” the recessive trait and all you see is the dominant trait. It’s a usable construct for our purposes and this blog post is already way too long.)

(7) In order to fill out a Punnett square, you write one parent’s alleles across the top and one parent’s alleles down the left side. It doesn’t matter which parent goes where. Then you drag the top parent’s alleles down into each box. Last, you drag the left parent’s alleles across into each box. You should end up with two letters in each box.

(8) Now, most human traits are incredibly complicated in terms of their expression, so geneticists often use plants (or fruit flies) to talk about simpler patterns. So if I give a concrete example to the Punnett square above, I could say that we’re talking about red and white flowers, and that red is dominant to white. In that case, both of the parent flowers would be red. If we look at their offspring, each box represents a 25% chance that particular combination of alleles will be produced. So in terms of the genes, there is a 25% chance of getting an offspring with RR, a 50% chance of getting an offspring with Rr, and a 25% chance of getting an offspring with rr. This means a 75% chance of getting red flowers (remember both RR and Rr make red flowers) and a 25% chance of getting white flowers (you have to be rr to get white flowers).

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 7.31.58 AM

(9) Ok, this image used purple instead of red and P’s instead of R’s. But it’s the same heterozygote crossed with a heterozygote cross. Can you see how they’re the same concept?

Alright, I’m finally going to acknowledge that I did something truly bizarre with the format of this post. I numbered the first nine paragraphs. I know this has been bugging some of you the whole time! Here’s why. I just taught you a little bit of something about genetics, and now I want to explain how I did it and why genetics gets really complicated really fast. Being able to reference the paragraphs will make that much easier.

There are different kinds of information involved in teaching genetics. First, I gave you some conceptual underpinnings in paragraph three, when I talk about what an allele is and where we get them from. Paragraph four is also conceptual. In that paragraph, I’m telling you that it not only matters which alleles we have, but the combination of them is also important.

Concepts are super important. But we have to have a way to communicate them. So in paragraph five, I gave you a bunch of notation. This notation is really handy so we don’t have to write out huge DNA sequences to see the difference between alleles. In fact, this notation is older than our ability to sequence DNA! But one thing that’s really tricky for students is to keep concepts and notation linked. I hear students talking about big R’s and little r’s and I know they understand the notation, but I don’t necessarily know that they understand what those letters represent.

But that’s not all! In paragraph 7, I gave you procedural knowledge. I gave you steps to fill out a Punnett square. And this is typically what my students remember the best. They LOVE  to fill out Punnett squares. They remember the steps, they can get it right, and it makes them feel confident. It also drives me absolutely nuts because most of those students have NO IDEA what a Punnett Square actually represents. They’ve completely lost the conceptual underpinnings.

Last year I had a student who was on the autism spectrum; I’ll call her Anna. For whatever reason, she could not stand Punnett squares. She’d built herself a sizable mental wall over them in middle school, and just the sight of one on the board could send her straight to tears. At first, I was completely bamboozled. Anna needed to be able to do Punnett squares! She needed to understand inheritance patterns!

A key moment of learning for me was realizing this: those two things are not the same thing, and only the second statement is true. Anna’s tablemates came up with an alternate format for creating all possible combinations of alleles from parents.

Anna had great success using this alternate format, and her tablemates told me (and their answers to a couple of key test questions told me) they really understood genetics a lot better. They had to rely on a conceptual understanding of alleles and inheritance to create a new format for combinations. They taught it to the whole class, and the whole class grew from the experience.

I’d like to point out quickly that it was my students who came up with the new format. I think I’d created a classroom culture that allowed this to happen; asking questions and trying stuff out was normal, and student ideas and collaborative learning were valued. But if it had been just me, Anna would’ve been stuck in the Punnett square cycle of despair forever.

This was my first window into separating my own thinking about genetics from a conceptual, notational, and procedural standpoint, and it was hugely informative. I saw kids getting so good at a procedure that they lost the concepts. This year I taught all my classes how to NOT use Punnett squares, much to their consternation!

But my students weren’t done teaching me things yet. This year gave me even further insight into this tangle of information that is genetics. That’s for a Part 2, coming on Wednesday!

Your homework: Can you think of an example of concepts and notation that is specific to another discipline? Do people (or you) place more importance on one than the other?

Hej då,

Jamie

Spring Break!

Weeeeeeeee did it!

I can say with certainty that my students and I were very, very ready to not be in school for a little bit. I know I was flagging! My piles of grading stared at me, I stared at them, and not a lot got graded. Take that idea and apply it to the rest of everything school-related, and that’s about how it was going. To quote the lovely Anne Shirley of Green Gables (and yes, I’m rereading them all again this spring!):

Studies palled just a wee bit then; [the students] looked wistfully out of the windows and discovered that Latin verbs and French exercises had somehow lost the tang and zest they had possessed in the crisp winter months. Even Anne and Gilbert lagged and grew indifferent. Teacher and taught were alike glad when the term was ended and the glad vacation days stretched rosily before them.

And now I’m on spring break! It’s not quite the end of the term yet, so I gave every student a very serious injunction to SLEEP over break, and to do something fun. We won’t have another day when we get back – we go straight through all the way to graduation. I wanted my students to come back refreshed and ready for the last six weeks of content.

And as for me? I’ll be refreshed too. I’m spending my break in Utah with Jonathan, going back and forth between playing, catching up on aforementioned stacks of grading, and acting like an adult.

I’ll start with the adult bit; Jonathan and I have a HOUSE. In the four days I’ve been here we’ve made two trips to Lowe’s and one to Home Depot and we’ll go back again tomorrow I’m sure. We’ve been spackling walls and painting and scrubbing and replacing handles and putting up blinds. I really like painting! And I’m good at scrubbing, which is incredibly satisfying. Of course, we’ve done a tiny fraction of the things that could be done or the things I want to do, but I really am finding myself to be very excited to work on all these projects.

I’ve also been playing a lot too. I’ve been skiing at Snowbasin, the site of the Olympic downhills in 2002. Both times it was snowing, which made it feel a little more like winter. The slush at the bottom, however, paired with all the green grass, made it feel a whole lot more like spring. Either way, it was lots of fun to explore a new hill, whether I was skiing by feel through fog or sailing through heavy crusty powder behind a gate or tooling around on the groomers.

And on Saturday, Jonathan surprised me by taking me to Salt Lake for dinner and a show. He took me to see Audra McDonald, backed by the Utah Symphony, sing her way through the history of American musical theater. It was so much fun! Audra played the wardrobe in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, as well as having played in multiple shows on Broadway. It was really different than anything we normally do, but it was great fun.

So now it’s Monday, and I am finally tackling the grading from…pretty much the entire month of March. Sorry to all my lovely wonderful students – I know feedback is better immediately! I’m excited to say that I’m finally out from underneath several major projects. My licensure application for my Utah teaching license is in the mail and my job applications are nearly finished (for the moment, of course). I successfully TD’d all of my three races, and once this stack of grading is taken care of I’ll be on the path to just finish teaching the year strong. I have to say, it’s a really exciting prospect.

In a little bit. There’s still a lot of spring break left to enjoy!

Your homework: How do you refresh?

Hej då,

Jamie

An Incomplete Story

As Facebook likes to remind me, last year this week I wrote a story about stories. In particular, my favorite stories. And I wrote, especially about Anne of Green Gables.

But there was one story I completely and totally forgot about. It’s not a classic and it’s not really famous. But it’s been a part of my life for so long that I really should have included it last time.

Anyone who was in elementary school with me likely remembers the big carpet-covered blocks in the back of the library at Soda Creek, where we sat to have read-aloud time. Mr. Belz, our librarian at the time, read us a small chapter book called Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville. Every day he’d read us one chapter, and because Bruce Coville has a penchant for cliff-hangers, each day I’d come back dying to hear more.

It was at one of our elementary school book fairs when I saw a cover that looked vaguely familiar. There was a redhaired girl on the cover with a unicorn and the title was in silver foil. Yep, it was the second book of the Unicorn Chronicles, The Song of the Wanderer. Such a book had been promised at the end of the first one, but you never really know if you’re going to get one.  It was significantly longer than the first one, and I devoured it!

That was, sadly, the end of the Unicorn Chronicles for me for quite a long time. The end of the second book was an incredible cliff-hanger; everything had just gone terribly wrong and people who were supposed to be together were separating and I really, really, really wanted to know what happened next. Though I scoured the rest of the elementary book fairs, I never did find it. I have vague memories of searching for it online in middle school, and still nothing. Though I normally reread fairly frequently, I didn’t as often with these books because I always ended up annoyed that I had no ending.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I thought about the two books again. One of my roommates, a girl named Taylor, worked at the Boulder Bookstore. We were swapping stories one evening when she mentioned that sometimes people came into the bookstore and asked her help for finding books they half-remembered or were part of a series they hadn’t finished. Often the people only remembered bits of the plot or the author’s first name; Taylor was both exasperated by and enjoyed the detective work required to find the books.

And I told her the story of Bruce Coville and the Unicorn Chronicles, and how it drove me crazy that I had never been able to finish the series. She said she’d look it up for me. We giggled about it for a while and then moved on to other stories.

A week after, Taylor presented me with beautiful hard copies of books 3 and 4. It was incredibly kind of her to do that for me; really all I wanted to know was if they existed!

And oh, they existed. I promptly ignored all of my biochemistry homework and devoured them both. It was a twisty ending, to say the least, but mostly I was just satisfied to have an ending.

Last week, both Jonathan and I were very, very stressed out (albiet for somewhat different reasons). When I’m stressed, I read. And after tearing through all the available fanfiction updates, I found myself perusing my favorite books on my bookshelf. I pulled out the first book and began to read. When Jonathan called me that night, he remembered the book and I read the first two chapters out loud to him.

Of course, I then proceeded to tear through the rest of them over the course of five days. It’s what I do when I read. I love to bury myself in another world. And I think I like knowing the ending.

The bummer with that is that I don’t know my own ending. I’ve been struck more than once, when thinking about my own life, by the compulsive feeling I get when I’m halfway through a book. I want to pick it up and turn the page and find out what happens next. And in real life, it’s just not possible. I’ve always found anticipation and prediction to be more uncomfortable than exciting. The only way I don’t finish a story is when I literally can’t get my hands on it!

So my homework for you, and for me: Do you enjoy the anticipation of wondering what will happen next? Do you savor your books? Or do you devour them as I do? What do you think that means about your approach to life?

Hej då,

Jamie