Cooking for the Fall

Ok, it’s not really fall yet. Sometimes I think the beginning school gives me minor seasonal displacement  – I think the leaves should turn as soon as the first bell rings and stay colorful until the end of October, which is not actually how it works! But despite the calendar and the temperature telling me it’s still summer, class has started and that means my energy is being sucked up by my already incredible to-do list.

After spending all day pacing my classroom and kneeling to look at student work and projecting my voice and my presence in a room full of thirty other humans, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook dinner! I usually avoid this by cooking family-sized meals on Sundays and eating the same thing all week long. This works brilliantly – I can go to the store once a week and have tasty, healthy food every day (although I will admit I am developing a serious bias to foods that keep well in the fridge).

That is, it works brilliantly until the weekend I’m not home. And knowing that I’m planning on making an effort to adventure and get outside more this school year, I thought I’d better plan ahead a little bit more. So this weekend, I’ve been creating meals-in-a-bag that can live in my freezer until the moment I need them.

Meal 1: Cajun Shrimp and Rice

When Safeway has 2lb bags of frozen shrimp for buy-one-get-one-free, this is always a good choice. I chopped up 2 plum tomatoes, 2tbsp parsley, and 1 bunch of green onions and tossed them in a gallon bag. I also minced 3 cloves of garlic and put them in a small zip lock with 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning.

When the time comes to cook this up, I’ll make 3 cups of cooked rice (which starts as 1 cup of uncooked rice), heat the spices and garlic in 1 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and cook the tomatoes, green onions, and 1 lb of thawed shrimp together before tossing all that tastiness in with the rice.

Meal 2: Quiche

Whenever I try to make quiche, I end up making enough for two fillings and I have to freeze some of it anyway. Doing that one weekend last year inspired me to always have some quiche filling and pie shells on hand for a super easy dinner. The only caveat with quiche is that it still takes about an hour to bake.

I chopped 3-4 carrots, 3-4 sticks of celery, a box of mushrooms, a yellow onion, a ham steak, and cleaned a bunch of baby spinach. All that became the “solid filling” bag. Of course, the variations here are endless. Bacon, crab meat, artichoke hearts, asparagus, and various other left-over bits and ends have all made it into my quiches before.

I also shredded smoked cheddar, Gouda, Jarlsberg, and and Fontina cheese. I will totally admit that I splurge when I get cheese for quiche. It’s totally acceptable to use normal Swiss and cheddar instead; I just also like snacking on the cheese. This should total four cups of shredded cheese delicious-ness. The cheese does need to go in a separate bag than the other goodies. (Note that this is all to prepare two nine-inch quiches; I’ve also seen this amount of filling used to make one deep-dish quiche.)

When I go to make the quiche, the things I need to have on hand are a pie crust (sorry Mom, I definitely buy them frozen from the grocery store…), 4 eggs, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Once everything is thawed, the cheese gets mixed in with the beaten eggs and cream, the veggies and ham get tossed in the pie crust, and the egg/cheese mixture gets poured over the top. I cover mine in foil so I don’t toast the crust too badly, and I bake it on a tray for when the egg rises over the top, at 375F for about an hour.

Meal 3: Chicken Enchiladas

This was a huge favorite at home, but I almost never make it on my own because of the effort of shredding the chicken. Mom used make the filling ahead of time and freeze it to avoid that conundrum. Like quiche, this takes a while to bake even if the prep is done ahead of time.

This starts by boiling 3 chicken breasts for 15 minutes and then shredding them with a fork. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s worth it. Then I go on to chopping an onion, a red, yellow, and green pepper, and saute all of that together. I mix all of this with a large can of chopped green chiles, a cup of green salsa, 4 tsp of cumin, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese. This is what lives in the gallon zip locks in the freezer until later.

When later happens, all I need to add are eight tortillas, chicken broth, and cream. I don’t ever remember how much chicken broth and cream, of course, but I do know they get mixed in equal parts and poured over the top of the enchiladas until I can see it at the edges. I bake this at 350F for about 45 minutes. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll have sour cream, salsa, and/or avocado to put on top when they come out of the oven.

Beyond the relief of having something to eat when I’m starving and exhausted, I love preparing food against hard times later. Last spring I re-read Little House in the Big Woods, and a significant portion of the story is taken up by Laura describing how her family preserved food for the winter. Their attic was full of vegetables and jams and cured meats.

None of the recipes I described today particularly take advantage of the seasonal vegetables, but I have done some other projects that do. Some ideas include: baking, pureeing, and freezing pumpkin or squash (which is handy for anything from scones to soup), canning jams, jellies, apple butter, and/or tomato sauce, and cooking and freezing spinach (this happens in the spring but is awesome for making saag).

Last year I wrote a bit about canning apple butter; the apples we got were from a friend in Steamboat whose apple trees went crazy. They didn’t know what to do with so many apples! But this year, a late frost killed all the flowers, and this fall there won’t be any apples. We had an interesting discussion about how it can be impossible to predict the weather and thus the crop production of years to come. Years ago, people just had to preserve as much as they could and hope it would last. Preserving food helps me tune in to the seasons and the environment, as well as our history.

Your homework: How do you usually use food to take care of yourself? What’s one thing you can do this week, related to food, to take care of yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie

Knitting at the Campfire

Hello everyone, and sorry for the late posting this week! I’ve just returned home from a sixteen-day multi-part adventure in which connectivity services were somewhat limited. Let me catch you up on some of the craziness.

On June 30th, my dad picked me up and drove me to Steamboat. I spent two days enjoying being lazy and hanging out on the porch, and then my brother gave me a very special birthday present. He took me backpacking in the Zirkel Wilderness Area north of Steamboat for two nights! This is especially nice of him because he carries all the heavy stuff for me. We hiked five miles in to Gilpin Lake and spent the first night there. We didn’t anticipate how much snow was left, that’s for sure! Our original plan was to continue past Gilpin to Gold Creek Lake and complete an 11.5 mile loop, but we decided climbing the snowfield between the Gilpin and the nearly 11,000 feet high ridge line with packs did not sound like a ton of fun. Instead we stayed both nights at Gilpin. Jeff even packed in a cupcake for me!

We packed out on July fourth, and returned home for some frantic showering, unpacking, and repacking. I was trading my backpacking set up for car camping stuff, which required just enough overlap and just enough difference to be really confusing! After dinner Jeff drove me down to his house and I slept on his floor before heading to the airport early on the morning of the fifth. I spent the next eight days in California, learning about the natural history, biology, and geology of Yosemite National Park. I also learned how to tie together citizen science, NGSS standards, growth mindset, outdoor lessons, and the 5E lesson planning model in fascinating new ways.

This was A LOT of adventuring, and also a lot of being really nerdy. Only at a teacher training will you find twenty-two adults laying on their bellies on a chunk of granite, exclaiming about the striations in the rock and other evidence of glaciation! It was tons of fun and I went through lots of sunscreen and pages in my notebook.

But the gist of my birthday goals was about balance. Where was my hobbit self?

Despite the overwhelming emphasis on adventurer and nerd these last two weeks, I made sure to tuck a ball of pink and purple and grey yarn into my duffle bag (right between my tent and my camp chair…). And in the evenings when people were roasting marshmallows for s’mores and getting out ukuleles, I pulled out my knitting.

I was impressed by the amount of conversation it generated, actually. Everyone wanted to know what I was making, which I expected. But the conversation didn’t end there. By sharing my own project, people wanted to tell me about their experiences with crochet or cross-stitch, or their favorite something that someone special had knitted for them. Lost of people agreed that it seemed meditative, and thought it was a cool thing to do for someone.

There were a lot of things I appreciated about knitting in this situation. It opened up conversation, which reflected to me that people were totally cool with my knitting. Often I get insecure about the hobbit parts of myself – what hard core adventurer knits? But no one else seemed to think it was weird at all. I also liked how it allowed me to be doing something with my hands and still participate in the conversation around me. It was a nice balance between having something I like to do and being social.

What exactly was I knitting? A baby blanket for a little girl named Macy. Her mom is one of my colleagues at Longmont High School, so this project has been in the back of my head for a while now. It’s a really simple pattern – I cast on 150 stitches on my size 9 circular needles. I knit garter stitch for the first ten rows, and then for the majority of the blanket I knit garter for the ten stitches on either end and stockinette stitch in the middle. I’ll finish this one with ten rows of garter. I like the garter stitch border because it prevents the stockinette from curling up so much! And I like simple patterns like this when I’m using a variegated yarn.

The blanket definitely smells like campfire smoke now, nor is it anywhere close to done. But I think I learned something valuable by sneaking in a couple of rows here and there; these things are more compatible than I could have expected. I don’t necessarily need big chunks of time to be an adventurer or a hobbit or a nerd. I can sprinkle them throughout.

This next week will be the longest stretch of time I’ll be in Boulder since graduation (five whole days!) so I hope to indulge my hobbit a little bit more. I’m enjoying the quiet of my house and the time to get some of those nagging adult things done (renewing my passport, for example). And then I’m off on a whole different adventure – I’m visiting some friends in New York City and Philadelphia before going to the Knowles summer meeting.

Your homework: When was the last time you mixed two seemingly contradictory things? If it’s been a while, try it out! What happens?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

A Mid-Year Accounting

Hej everyone! Today is July 2nd, and it is officially the 26th anniversary of the day you all got stuck with me. I love my birthday for a couple of (completely unrelated) reasons.

My Grandma Gay’s birthday was July 4th. She used to joke and say it was because she was such a firecracker, and she was right! Grandma loved to cook, clean, and sew, and she painted ceramics and porcelain dolls. She loved roses and lace and pink, and I learned a lot about being girly from her. However, she also loved snowmobiling and tubing behind a speedboat, and she even went parasailing in Switzerland one time.

When I was little, Grandma and Grandpa used to come to Steamboat to celebrate our birthdays. But I didn’t totally grasp the whole concept of the 4th of July, and so every year I experienced a powerful wave of jealousy. Every single year, Grandma got fireworks for her birthday, and I didn’t! I have since learned a bit about our national history, but I still find it amusing to imagine six-year-old me getting all worked up about the whole thing.

The second reason I love my birthday is because my mom and I go for birthday hikes, just the two of us, each year. We started this tradition when I turned fifteen, and even though I’m lucky to see my mom far more often than just once a year, I still love that we carve out this time.

But the last reason I love my birthday is because July 2nd is the exact middle day of the year. There are 182 days before it, and 182 days after it (unless Leap Day messes with it). Often people use New Year’s to make goals or resolutions for the coming year. I’m fortunate because I have a ready-made reason to reflect on the other side of the year’s arc.

So what can I say about the last sixth months? What have I learned?

As an adventurer, I got back on my mountain bike and I’ve ridden more this summer than I have in the last three summers combined. I was given many opportunities to remember how much I love being outside, feeling my muscles contract and release, and getting sweaty and dusty. I’ve also learned that I can swing too far into adventure mode and forget the other parts of myself.

As a nerd, I had some incredible learning experiences this spring semester. I got to present for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the National Science Teacher’s Association and work with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study on their STeLLA project. STeLLA is based on instructional strategies to understand student thinking and create a coherent content story line. I’ve really only been focused on three of the eight student thinking strategies, but they’ve changed the way I teach.

But I also struggled with taking on way too many things this spring. In the fall semester I did a good job of limiting my involvement in things outside my everyday teaching job. I was happier and had more energy to be present in my classroom. In the spring, all these fantastic opportunities arose, and I took them! I don’t regret a single one, because they all had hugely positive impacts on my teaching. But I did let my nerdiness, particularly the teaching vein of it, take over everything else.

As for my hobbit-self, I think the thing I’m most happy about is my renewed commitment to my friends and family, especially this summer. I’ve visited Granny (my mom’s mom) more often in these last couple of months, and I’ve done better at staying in contact with with my friends who are far away. Traveling is not a hobbit trait, but finding my people is; I can officially say I’ve spent nine days in Boulder since May 27th. The rest of the time I’ve been with the people I care the most about. I’ve learned a lot about how to share and accept love, and how to really see the people around me.

But in many ways, I neglected the hobbit part of myself in these last six months. Exactly why this happened requires a bit of backstory.

In one of my (far) earlier posts, I described how I had a massive blood clot in my right leg when I was nineteen. I had just been to a cadaver lab, and was feeling incredibly grateful for how well my body works. What I chose not to describe in that post were some of the after-effects of the clot. Most people notice very quickly that I wear one knee-high compression sock on my right leg. The clot destroyed the valves in those veins that help push blood back up, which means the blood will pool in my foot. The compression sock helps ameliorate this problem. What most people didn’t see was the fact that I was on an anticoagulant (blood thinner) for five and a half years.

Being on an anticoagulant meant I had to stop ski racing and mountain bike racing. I had to be careful when I did pretty much anything, because any concussion or internal injury could be very, very bad. Losing the ability to do these activities changed the way I viewed my own identity; I lost my connection with my adventurer. I threw a lot of my energy into nerdy pursuits, and this is also when I developed a lot of my hobbit hobbies.

This past October, I made the decision to stop taking anticoagulants. I feel better and I got all of my adventuring back! It’s been a process of learning how to not hold back and remember all of my love for being outside. But in that process, I lost some of my hobbit-ness, and I started using it as a means to recover instead of loving it for itself.

As I look forward to the next six months, I have a lot of really exciting things coming. I have six more glorious weeks of summer, which includes going to Yosemite National Park for a professional development about naturalism and water ecology, visiting Ogden and Steamboat again, visiting Knowles friends in New York, and going to the Knowles Summer Meeting. I have the fall semester of my third year of teaching, complete with piloting a brand new textbook in biology. I get to attend conferences about teaching and ski race officiating. I have two baby blankets to knit, and some canning to do.

I think my goal for all of these things is balance. I want to express all three parts of me because I can learn from and enjoy each part. I don’t mean to say I’ll create equal time for each thing, but I want to be intentional about how I engage in doing the things I love.

Goals are slippery things. How will I engage in this goal? By writing to you all, of course. This space to reflect will be both part of my process and my measurement.

Your homework: Do your own mid-year review! Write a paragraph about what you want your life to look like for the next six months. How will you engage your goals?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

 

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

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

Creativity and Community

My friends laugh at me when I remind them I’m a hobbit. They know it’s true. I like to stay at home. I don’t like crowds or meeting new people. Sometimes I find myself thinking I just don’t like people in general. This year in particular, however, has made it clear that I do, in fact like people. I’m a teacher, after all. And in my hobbit-ness, I especially like my people.

I wrote a little bit about this in my post about having breakfast with my family. I enjoy the things I enjoy more when I’m doing them with people I love. I like sharing the experience in the moment and reflecting on the shared memories later. And I think this is more true in creativity than I originally thought.

See, when I think about a creative genius I think about someone pouring over a manuscript or music score for hours, forgetting to eat or sleep or generally about the outside world. I think about an inventor in a lab or a baker elbow-deep in flour. But without a community, creativity is like shouting at a mountain. All you get is your echo.

My friend Matt made this especially clear when he wrote me about creativity. Matt is a Knowles Fellow who teaches math in Washington state. We were going back and forth about things we’d stopped doing when we started teaching, and we both mentioned music. I played the flute in middle school band and I took piano lessons through high school. I still have my flute, but a piano is a bit harder to move. I miss practicing and playing and the occasional composing I did. Here’s what Matt had to say:

I miss playing music. I played viola. The other day though I got my hands on a piano and was missing around and really want to get in touch with that part of me again. Especially playing in an orchestra or group. I would always be overwhelmed after a performance thinking, ‘Man. We just made that. We just made music.’ It’s…hard to explain. But I got to feel like I was a part of something great. I miss making things!”

I think he nailed it. One of my favorite parts of middle school band was the feeling that I was a part of something. We were making something way bigger than any one of us could make on our own. I liked imagining I was weaving the sound of my flute into a tapestry that was made of all the sounds of all the instruments.

Once Matt got me thinking about this, I started wondering about my other forms of creativity. One thing I love to do creatively is bake. I like the flour, the way it smells as it’s in the oven. And I also really like sharing my baked goods. (Seriously, any potentially sticky meeting you have? Bring brownies. Or snicker doodles. It is automatically better.) I like making huge batches of things so my people and I can enjoy them together. So baking is also very much a community creative thing for me.

I also like to write. Writing especially seemed individual when I started thinking about it. And it’s true to some extent; the initial act of writing is fairly solitary. But grab the nearest book to hand, and look at the acknowledgements. Depending on the author and type of book, it might be a list of a handful of names or it might be three pages long. Revision and editing is a process that takes a lot of people.

And at its heart, writing is about communicating. It’s about joining a larger conversation about what it means to be human. I’m nerding out a little bit here, but I really think that’s the heart of literature. Reading is a passive way to participate, but writing is actively contributing. That conversation evolves over time and across culture, but there are similarities in every story.

One of the reasons I started writing fanfiction was because I wanted to participate in the conversation. I love the Harry Potter series. I may or may not have broken the bindings of three of my books because I read them so often. And when I found a place where people were joining that conversation, I was delighted. And I wanted to join in too! So I did. I started writing. And more than that, I started getting feedback on my writing. I made friends with some of the other people who write. One person, Gerry, was my beta for my last story. (A beta is like an editor; they read your chapter before you put it up and give you feedback for revisions.) It was incredible to have someone to have a conversation with about my writing. I learned so much about writing styles and language and characterization from this process!

And, like all good thoughts, I took this one to my mom. When I told her I was pleased with myself for figuring out that writing was totally about community, she laughed at me a little bit. She pointed out that I had formatted this blog in such a way as to encourage interaction. After all, don’t I give you all homework? I want to start conversations!

So…yeah, Mom’s always right. I’m definitely ok with this.

I really do believe that being part of something bigger than myself is really important for my sense of purpose and happiness in my life. It’s part of why I love teaching. It’s why yoga class is better than yoga at home. And it is a huge part of what inspired me to start this blog.

This fall I attended the National Association of Biology Teachers annual conference. I got to see some of my Knowles friends, meet a lot of amazing people, and in general get inspired by how many absolutely incredible biology teachers there are. And I decided I wanted to be a part of it. All of it. I wanted to reach out and look for opportunities. I wanted to participate in the conversation.

Sometimes sharing my creative “masterpieces” is scary. When I create something, it’s directly a piece of my heart. But without the sharing, I think the creativity is seriously diminished.

So my homework for you: How do you participate in the human conversation? What is your creative community?

Hej då,

Jamie

Blondie Birthday Breakfast

Two days ago, when my colleagues and I were swapping plans for what we were going to do this weekend, I quite honestly felt like I had the best plans of all. This morning I got to have breakfast with my ENTIRE family. Mom, Dad, Jeff and I met in Golden and spent three hours chatting and laughing and generally just enjoying hanging out together.

This doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Jeff likes to go adventuring in the mountains and he’s almost always planning his next escapade. Dad and Mom both travel for work, and in fact they had just gotten off a red-eye flight home from Hawaii. But I’m especially glad it worked out this weekend, because it’s the blondie birthday weekend!

Jeff’s birthday was on Friday, and Mom’s birthday is today. Dad and I both have dark hair, so we tease them about being the blondies together. It’s always great fun to have two celebrations in a row (we never combined them, and Dad always made sure we had something fun for Mom even though she was focused on Jeff).

Today wasn’t anything massive or elaborate. We just met up and had breakfast. Mom and Dad had brought Jeff a new pair of flip flops and some macadamia nuts from Hawaii. I got their opinions on their gifts (and now I need to order them). But in some ways, that’s what made it so special. I am incredibly grateful that my family still takes the time to get together and just hang out.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me happy. One thing I’ve realized is that all of the things I enjoy, whether camping or knitting or nerding out about something, are more fun when I have someone to share them with. I enjoy practicing yoga the most at my weekly Tuesday classes because I love the teacher, Maggie. I like knitting at my granny’s house while she’s quilting because we can talk about our projects together. I like sharing my favorite hiking trails with someone who will also appreciate the beauty.

This has been an interesting realization in some ways. As a general statement, I don’t always like people. Interacting requires energy and people can be loud. I don’t like loud things. But I care very deeply about my people.

I realized this in part because of a silly ice-breaker at the Knowles Spring Meeting. One of the questions was about what super power I would choose, and I chose Apparition without hesitating. (For those who are not obsessively acquainted with Harry Potter, that’s a lot like teleportation. It’s the power to disappear and reappear in a different place.) Later, one of my friends asked me why I chose that super power. I didn’t have to think very hard about my reply. If I could Apparate, I could be with my people more often and more easily than is currently possible.

I’ve written a bit before about how I value my friends, even though we’re scattered all over the place. If you need a refresher, I currently have (at least somewhat) regular communication with two friends in Europe, three on the East Coast, two in Colorado, one in Utah, and one on the West Coast. This has taught me a lot about the value of different styles of communicating, and it means I really treasure the time I have with these people.

I spent quite a lot of time growing up pushing myself to be strong and independent. Traveling to ski races meant learning how to take care of myself. And I’m really glad I did learn how to do this. But I’m also starting to realize that this does not devalue how much I care about my people.

And my family is even more powerfully close to my heart. My parents taught my brother and I how to be adventurous and nerdy and caring. We took all of our vacations from school together. Last summer we took a super secret surprise vacation together to celebrate Jeff’s graduation from college. This meant that Mom and Dad didn’t tell us where we were going; they gave us dates and a packing list and told us when to show up to the airport. This is not the first super secret surprise, nor will it be the last!

I could tell you stories for days and days about why and how I love my family and what I’ve learned from them. I could tell you about how Jeff drags me out from under piles of papers when I’m way too stressed and tosses a Frisbee with me, or how he stealthily packed all the really heavy stuff in his pack the last time we went backpacking because I had just come back from three weeks at sea level and was struggling. Two weeks ago he made me chicken enchiladas and chocolate chip cookies, both of which are Mom classics, and we sat at my dining room table for hours listening to Eric Clapton and talking about life. I felt like I was at home.

I could tell you about how Mom taught me how to make a to-do list and work my way through it when I feel overwhelmed, or about the three-hour long conversations we have about teaching. She taught me how to name wildflowers, swim, ask good questions, bake, make jam, and start a campfire with one match. It’s still a work in progress, but she gave me the beginnings of The Teacher Look that can freeze any student in their tracks.

I could tell you about how Dad is comfortable in any situation and can talk to anyone. He can go from climbing through vents following wires to gracefully handling business receptions. He taught me how to pack my backpack for officiating a ski race, and that any bike ride you came home from bloody was a good ride (although I think he might have been covering for the fact that it took him a while to learn how to get out of his clip-less pedals!). He taught me how to keep track of details, to anticipate the next thing coming, and to take away excuses in order to get projects done.

This morning our conversations ranged from ski racing rules to Jeff’s upcoming trip to China. I told a story about my third block anatomy class and Mom told one about how she and Dad made friends with a native Hawaiian who taught Mom how to weave fishing nets. Three hours later, we were still talking and laughing. On the surface, it wasn’t anything complicated. Breakfast with the family. But in its simplicity is also its total awesomeness.

So happy birthday, blondies. Thanks for getting up way earlier than you normally would have on a Sunday morning (Jeff) and for stalling the three hour drive back to Steamboat after a seven-hour red-eye flight (Mom and Dad). I’m lucky to have you all.

Your homework: Who are your people? Take five minutes (or an hour) and tell one (or six) of them how much you love them.

Hej då,

Jamie