Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I bought this book for Lauren for Christmas because I wanted it for myself. This is the glorious thing about having two teenagers who like to read, you understand. By using Christmas as a valid excuse, I can, with very little guilt, triple my regular book purchases. (Because I have to get myself a few Christmas presents too, of course.)

So, I got this one for Lauren, pretty sure she would enjoy it about as much as I would. And I selflessly let her read it before I did.

The story begins with a girl named September standing at the sink washing a teacup. She is thinking about how lonely she is, and about how she really quite hates the teacups. And her amiable dog. And living without adventure. So, when the Green Wind stops outside her window, riding the back of a Very Kind Flying Leopard, and extends his hand in invitation, September steps out the window and follows him into Fairyland.

September accepts Fairlyland as it is, with its various delights and problems. Soon after her arrival, she agrees to retrieve a witch's spoon from the evil Marquess, who has taken control of Fairlyland and imposed many rules, such as 1) no iron of any kind is allowed, 2) the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays, 3) aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragword Stalk, and several more.

Soon September collects some friends (such as a Wyverary named A-Through-L, whose parents were (obviously) a Wyvern and a Library (and his siblings are M-Through-S and T-Through-Z, of course) and a Marid (rather like a genie) named Saturday).

I loved this book for its beautiful prose, its wry humor, and its magical descriptions. Let me show you:

September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.


No one may know the shape of the tale in which they move...Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.


A-Through-L looked pityingly at her, his blazing face scrunched up in doubt. "September, really. Which do you think is more likely? That some brute bull left my mother with egg and went off to sell lonemozers? Or that she mated with a Library and had many loved and loving children? I mean, let us be realistic! Besides, everyone says I look just like my father. Can't you see my wings? Are they not made of fluttering vellum pages? If you squint you can even read a history of balloon travel!"


"This is for washing your wishes, September," said Lye [a soapy simulacrum, of course], breaking off another of her fingers with a thick snap [don't worry: she's soap; it doesn't hurt her]. "For the wishes of one's old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes."


She certainly did not see Death stand on her tiptoes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children can travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.

Did I mention each chapter begins with an illustration?

I really can't explain exactly everything that makes this book is so delightful. You'll just have to trust me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: Notes from a Small Island

I picked up this book at a used bookstore (that's becoming quite a refrain of mine lately), not sure whether I'd like it or not, but determined to spread my bookish horizons a bit and stop reading so much fiction. Plus, "visit the British Isles" is on my list of things to do, so it seemed a logical choice.
I could. Not. Stop. Laughing when I read this book, and I couldn't decide which bits to share with you, so I picked a few of my favorite excerpts and typed them out here. As I was typing and thinking of you reading, I found that perhaps--taken out of context--these excerpts may not be as funny to you as they were to me. That is why you must borrow the book from me and read it for yourself.
The author is American, but he lived in England for almost twenty years. Now, he is planning to move back to the States with his family, but first, he needs to say goodbye to his home by traveling the length and breadth of the island. On his journey, most of which is taken either on foot or by public transportation, Bill Bryson visits some of his favorite towns and some he has never visited. These are some of his observations.

On London, Queen of Cities:
It has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theaters, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.
And it has more congenial small things--incidental civilities, you might call them--than any other city I know: cheery red mailboxes, drivers who actually stop for you at pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with names like St. Andrew by the Wardrobe and St. Giles Cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like Lincoln's Inn and Red Lion Square, interesting statues of obscure Victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policement, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. What other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person once lived there, or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the curb? I'll tell you. None.
Take away Heathrow Airport, the weather, any building that the architect Richard Seifert ever laid a bony finger to, and it would be nearly perfect. Oh, and while we're at it, we might also stop British Museum employees from cluttering the forecourt with their cars and instead make it into a kind of garden, and also get rid of theose horrible crush barriers outside Buckingham Palace because they look so straggly and cheap--not at all in keeping with the dignity of her poor besieged Majesty within. And, of course, put the Natural History Museum back to the way it was before they started dicking around with it (in particular, they must restore the display cases showing insects infesting household products from the 1950s); and remove the entrance charges at all museums at once; and bring back Lyons Corner Houses but this time with food you'd like to eat; and finally, but most crucially, make the board of directors of British Telecom go out and personally track down every last red phone box that they sold off to be used as shower stalls and garden sheds in far-flung corners of the globe, make them put them all back, and then sack them--no, kill them. Then truly will London be glorious again.

On Chopsticks, Which Are Evil and Awkward
Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites, and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back three thousand years, haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?

On Women's Shortcomings when It Comes Time to Pay for Things
Men, for all their many shortcomings, like washing large pieces of oily machinery in the kitchen sink or forgetting that a painted door stays wet for more than thirty seconds, are generally pretty good when it comes to paying. They spend their time in line doing a wallet inventory and sorting through their coins. When the till person announces the bill, they immediately hand over an approximately correct amound of money, keep their hands extended for the change however long it takes or however foolish they may begin to look if there is, say, a problem with the till roll, and then--mark this--they pocket their change as they walk away, instead of deciding that now is the time to search for the car keys and reorganize six months' worth of receipts?

On Things You Only Enjoy If You're Old and British
There are certain things that you have to be British, or at least older than me, or possibly both, to appreciate: skiffle music, salt-cellars with a single hole, Marmite (an edible yeast extract with the visual properties of an industrial lubricant), Gracie Fields singing "Sally," George Formby doing anything, jumble sales, making sandwiches from bread you've sliced yourself, really milky tea, boiled cabbage, the belief that household wiring is an interesting topic for conversation, steam trains, toast made under a gas grill, thinking that going to choose wallpaper with your mate constitutes a reasonably fun day out, wine made out of anything other than grapes, unheated bedrooms and bathrooms, erecting windbreaks on a beach (why, pray, are you there if you need a windbreak?), an dcricket. There may be one or two others that don't occur to me at the moment.
I'm not saying that these things are bad or boring or misguided, merely that their full value and appeal yet elude me. Into this category I would also tentatively insert Oxford.

At the End:
...and in the center of it all, obscured by trees, our wonderful old stone house, which itself is far older than my native land.
It looked so peaceful and wonderful that I could almost have cried, and yet it was only a tiny part of this small, enchanted island. Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain--which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad--old churches, country lanes, people saying "Musn't grumble" and "I'm terribly sorry but," people apologizing to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, tea and crumpets, summer showers and foggy winter evenings--every bit of it.
What a wondrous place this was--crazy as all get-out, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farlegh Wallop, or a game like cricket? Who else would have a constitutional form of government but no written constitution, call private schools public schools, think it not the least bit odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, seat the chief officer of the House of Lords on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? ("Please, Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue.") Who else could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, Salisbury Cathedral, double-decker buses, and the chocolate digestive biscuit? Wherever else would I find a view like this? Nowhere, of course.

Exactly, right? I have nothing more to add. You may borrow this book, certainly, but make sure I have it back before I make my journey. I'll need to read it again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sweater Makeover

For some time now, I have been hunting assiduously for new cardigans. I have a couple, and Lauren most generously shares hers with me, thereby doubling my cardi-tunities, but I still need more! It's winter, you see, and my classroom temperature varies between a brisk 60ish to a balmy 80ish. Why don't I just adjust the thermostat, you ask. Ask away; I laugh at you and ask you to come visit my school. Adjustable thermostats weren't invented in the Pleistocene Age when my school was built.
Thus, Mrs. G has to be prepared for ever-varied temperatures. We adjust by opening the window, and that works sometimes, but I need to be able to shift from Antarctica-garb to Bahamas-garb very, very quickly. That's why I need more cardigans, you see? It just won't do for the teacher to be divesting herself of a pullover sweater mid-lecture. Strange and embarrassing things might happen.
So then I had a thought one day last week, and it really was a brilliant thought: Why not give a pullover sweater a fresh new look--and make it INTO a cardigan? I'm sure you were thinking the same thing.
I poked around a bit on the internet and found a few tips and ideas. Some of them were purely awful, but some were quite helpful indeed. And I had just the sweater to try it out on.

I bought this sweater a few years ago and got some good use out of it. I love the color and the feel of it, but alas, it hearkens back to the days when silly people (like me? really?) thought it looked cool to let a bit of the belly hang out between shirt and pants. (I've borne three children; nobody wants to see that stuff) (don't know what I was thinking) So, it has been sitting in the closet for a few seasons. The most helpful website suggested marking the middle with tailor's chalk and then sewing two straight seams 1/4" away from the center. I skipped the tailor's chalk step, preferring to wing it (okay, total honesty here: I didn't mark it because I don't have any tailor's chalk, but I freely admit it sounds like a very helpful thing!) (plus, the poor sweater had been folded in my closet so long that there was a pretty permanent crease down the middle anyway), but I sewed those two seams so that once I cut up the center, the raw edges wouldn't fray too much.
Then, taking a deep breath that tasted a little like desecration, I put my scissors to my sweater and began to cut. I was afraid, reader. I was afraid that I was taking a pretty useless sweater and turning it into a totally useless sweater. But then, as I cut and cut, a heady feeling of creative power consumed me. I laughed triumphantly as my scissors slipped to one last ringing close, as I reached the neckline of my no-longer-a-pullover.

Once I made the cut, I zigzagged the rough edges, deciding that finishing the edges this way would be best because it would leave me with more fabric for the front.

Then, I simply folded each front edge to the inside, pressed it, and straight stitched it. Now it was time to decide how to polish it off. I tried it on and posed in several ways for the mirror, but the message each time was the same: "needs a little something more."

I had some ivory grosgrain ribbon, maybe about an inch wide, but Clint and Lauren emphatically put the kaibosh on that idea. I agreed: too old-ladyish (sorry, any old lady readers--no offense intended!). Then I found a small stash of buttons. I have no idea what I bought them for, but I had a total of ten white buttons. Perfecto!

But then, after looking in the mirror a bit more, posing and smiling a number of very proud smiles, I decided to add a row of buttons to the other side (unfortunately, Clint had already taken this picture--and I did that bit of sewing in the car on our way to a delicious Ethiopian meal in Ann Arbor). I am pretty proud of myself for this one, not going to lie.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

First Shadow Box

When Jared talks about his friends at school, he usually talks about boys. He likes to play with Isaac and Brandon and Coby. But at least one girl always makes it into his daily litany: Rachel. And it would appear that he is as dear to her as she is to him.

A few weeks ago, Jessica, Rachel's mom, told me that as they were discussing her upcoming birthday, she asked Rachel to name all the girls she'd like to invite. Rachel started listing and then broke into tears. "Rachel, what's wrong?" Jessica asked. Rachel, sobbing, said, "Can Jared be a girl, just for one day? I want to invite him too!"

I'm not sure whether I'll subject Jared to the indignity of wearing one of Lauren's preserved fancy dresses (although Lauren and I would dearly love to dress him up), but I definitely needed to make this girl a special present.

I had bought some shadow boxes a while ago at IKEA after reading one of my favorite blogger's posts about the shadowboxes she makes (here). And I've just been waiting for the right project. I know Rachel's two favorite things are doggies (her dog Gus makes me want a dog) and pickles. So, after dreaming of ideas all night, I sketched out this plan this morning.

Then, I measured my space and sketched the design onto watercolor paper and then began applying paint. The painting on the left is the background, and the one on the upper right will be cut out.

And then, since I just can't say no to sketching over the paint with my lovely Micron pens, I did a little bit of that, which helped add some of the details I missed with my paint brush. Cutting out the girl and her dog was somewhat frustrating, but when I switched to my new (and very sharp and shiny!) embroidery scissors, things improved significantly. I wonder if maybe I should get a craft knife for cutting like this...Hmm...

After I cut out the Picklish Dream, I added some very fine glitter around the edges to make it even more dreamlike.

Then, I added some dimension squares to the back of the girl and her doggy so they'd pop right out. The trailing thought bubbles were a last minute idea. I used a hole punch to cut out the circles, then bored two tiny holes in each one and threaded them on silver thread (does it make you think of the Pensieve in Harry Potter? me too!) and ran the thread from pickle to girl.

And a closer picture so you can read the text.

Hmm. Maybe I should invite myself to the party so I can watch as she opens it.

Now, on to my next project: bow ties, I think. Why not?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Throwing in the Towel

I'm a perfectionist about many things; I know that. Bath towels have to be folded in fourths the long way and then in thirds, coffee mugs are arranged in a certain order in the cupboard with handles facing out, the socks in my drawers are neatly rolled and then organized by color. As are all the hanging clothes in my closet (not the rolled part, just the color-organized part). And spices are organized by type: sweet and savory, then seeds, spices, leaves, etc. I won't talk about my craft area; I think you get the picture.
Lately, I've realized I need to give up on some of these closely held foibles. For one thing, I need to delegate more of the daily housework to the kids so that I can have time to get other jobs done, those "mom's-truly-the-only-one-who-can-do-this" jobs like paying bills and organizing all of my books by color. Counting chocolate chips is also an important task that I shudder to consider passing off on someone else. Plus, I often bring school work home with me. I just need more time to do these things.
So, on Monday, I babystepped my way toward that goal of finding more time: I let go of a job, telling Lauren and Jonah that I would no longer be both the cook and the bottle washer in the family. I will still make dinner, but I'm leaving the cleaning of dishes in their hands.
Of all the jobs to relinquish, this was an easy choice. They've been helping me in the kitchen for years, so they know how to wash dishes to my (ahem, exacting) specifications.
But tonight, after the third night of their solo dishwashing endeavor, I am suddenly taken back to the days of my own childhood, when my mom threw in the towel and expected Ilona and I to wash the dishes together. As I listen from the other room to the arguing, the frustration, the petty picking they're doing, I remember--with a little bit of fondness actually--some of my cat fights with Ilona.
At the time, I thought having her for a sister was hellish. She always borrowed my clothes without asking, often trying several things on and then she would leave them lying on the floor. Yes, offensive I know. And then there was the abuse. The nightly leaps she made from her bed to mine, when she would sit on my chest, locking my arms uselessly at my sides with her knobby knees as she tickled me or (the most unspeakable of horrors) unspooled a long strand of saliva toward my mouth, sucking it up only at the last minute. I was helpless before her assaults, always the victim.
And of course, there was the uncanny way in which she always managed to call "clearing," which was patently the easier dishwashing task, leaving me with washing, which was always hot and involved hours of scrubbing furiously at blackened pots.

All of these memories trickle back into my brain as I listen to my children squabble in the kitchen, and I wonder what agony I have unwittingly set in motion for them as I try to salvage a few minutes of time from my day to write out my thoughts. Plus, I'm thinking that if only I had just washed the dishes myself, they would have been done in half the time and without any arguing. I tell myself I'm teaching them a lesson, and I have to admit that even though Ilona did torment me remorselessly, at least she provided me with realms of material for stories.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The First T-Shirt

Just to recap: yesterday, I bought these four pieces of knit fabric to make some t-shirts or some such happy shirty-ness. Why? Well, for one thing, I could always use another gray t-shirt (I only have about 10 or so) (keep in mind, scoffers, that some are long sleeved and some are short) (and a few have stuff printed on them) (like Edgar Allan Poe's head made out of ravens!) and the stuff I've seen at the store lately has been much less than thrilling.

So, Saturday night after I got all my jobs done, I looked around online for tutorials and free patterns for t-shirts. I thought about buying a pattern while I was at JoAnn, but I hate pattern prices (sure they're always 40% off, but 40% off 17.99 is still more than I want to pay for a t-shirt pattern). Plus, you're probably thinking, you're never guaranteed a perfect fit. What if the pattern is wonky? Yes, my thoughts exactly.

So, I did what I had planned on doing in the first place, and what many of the websites suggested as well: use a shirt I own and like, lay it out on the fabric, and cut around it, leaving a seam allowance of about 1/2 inch. Before I started cutting, I tested the stretch of the fabric, making sure I cut each piece so that it stretched the right way (side to side, of course).

Cutting the front and back were pretty easy. I cut it on the fold so I wouldn't have a seam down the middle. Then it was time for the sleeves. It took a little maneuvering, but I figured it out and cut them.

Then, as I was about to start sewing, I realized the sleeves were probably too short, so I cut two more, adding about 1-1/2 inches to each sleeve, just to be safe.

Then it was time to start piecing it together. I used a stitch that looks like a serger stitch, zigzag with straight stitches on both sides, to make the seams as tough as possible. Plus, I had read that a regular straight stitch is not good for knits as it doesn't let it stretch very well.

I sewed the shoulder seams first, then attached the sleeves to the shirt, then sewed up the sides and along the underside of the sleeves. That was the easy part. Then I needed to figure out how to finish the neckline.

I looked at several of my own shirts, and I decided that a rough curled edge would be the easiest finish for my first t-shirt. So, I measured the length of the entire neckline and cut a strip about 2" wide to that measurement. I folded the strip in half and ironed it, but it wouldn't hold the pressing, so I just winged it.

I started out sewing the folded edge to the inside of the neck, stopping after a few inches to look at what I had done because it seemed like I was doing it backwards. But I played around with the part I had sewed and it seemed right, so I kept going all the way around. When I finished, I excitedly called everyone in to see the finished product.

Clint fingered the finished edge and said "Hmm." I was thinking the same thing, so I tried it on. Sure enough, my first moment of doubt had been a correct impulse. I should have sewn the trim to the outside of the shirt.
Angry with myself, I now had to decide whether to just live with it or do something about it. Of course I couldn't just live with it. I shrugged and cut the trim right off, then cut another strip and sewed the folded edge to the right side of the shirt. No doubts this time.

Sure enough, it was the right choice. I liked it so much, I decided to use the same finish on the sleeves. The fact that the edges kept rolling while I tried unsuccessfully to press the edge under twice so I could sew it the traditional way had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on my choice. None. None at all. And the bottom hem? I'm just gonna let that baby roll.

So, here's the finished shirt. The neckline might be a little lower-cut than I had intended, but I have to wear a cami under it anyway because the fabric is pretty thin. I am pretty pleased with it and eager to get started on the next shirt. Maybe the gray, I think. I have an idea for dressing up the neckline on that one just a tiny bit. And I'm saving the ivory for my last shirt because it feels really nice. It has some rayon in it, I think, so it will drape really well. I haven't figured out yet what I'll do with it, but I'm thinking about a banded bottom so it blouses out a little and something ruffled at the top. Not exactly sure yet. Maybe sleeveless? We'll see.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Let's do a little math, shall we? Say you have eight siblings and each of them is married; say each of those couples has 2.7 children. That's a lot of people. Now say your husband has six siblings and each of them is married; say each of them has 3.4 children. That's a WHOLE lot of people. We decided several years ago that we would rather spend our money on things like really sharp cheddar and absurd amounts of the best chocolate chips we could find, so we don't buy presents for all of these family members. Instead, I make each one a birthday card.

They tell me they like them. That makes me happy because I really like them. And what's more, I really like making them. I try to make large batches of cards at a time when I have a free weekend, so before we went back to school last week, I made cards for all my January and February birthdays. Here is a sneak peek. And for those of you who are expecting a card in the next few months, I apologize for spoiling the surprise, but I really wanted to share.

This is for a pretty fantastic gymnast:

This is for a little drama queen:
This is for a very serious little boy:
This is for the best daddy in the world:
This is for a guy who's had to make some pretty drastic diet changes lately:
This is for a newly married girl who loves to sing:
This is for her very manly husband:
This is for one of the most obsessed outdoorsmen we know: This is for a sweetheart of a boy who reminds us of Jared:

New Wardrobe

Every few months or so, I look at my closet and sigh a very sad sigh. I feel like I've been wearing the same old clothes day in and day out. Clint always assures me that I always look great all the time, but he is a man with one eye constantly trained on the bank account, so I don't really trust him. Usually, this very sad sigh can be soothed by a quick shopping trip. I buy a new skirt or cardigan or shirt, and I'm cured of sighs (at least about my closet) for a few months. But whenever this discontent is paired with a newly rekindled passion for sewing, I am in serious trouble.
You're probably nodding sagely right now, expecting that I'm in trouble because I go to the fabric store and buy way too much fabric I'll never use, but that's not really my problem (I do that anyway--but I DO use the fabric, although I usually buy more yardage than I need. That is a different story, though. Not related to this issue at all). No, the problem is that I still do go shopping at my regular clothing-store haunts, and (here is the problem part) I can't find anything I like! Tragic, I know. (Clint hates to hear about this part, I can assure you.) I walk through the stores, fingering fabrics and peering at trims. I turn shirts inside out to look at the stitching. And then I look at the price tags. 24.99 for this? I mutter. That's crazy. I could make that.
And somtimes I do. I have made plenty of aprons and skirts and purses. I've even made a couple dresses. But this has usually been where I've drawn the line. Venturing beyond the boundaries of that comfort zone has been far too dangerous for me to consider.
But this time, as I looked in dismay at my closet, I realized that the real problem is shirts. I'm sick of all of them. I have a plethora of pants and far too many skirts, but I need more shirts. So this time, I stepped boldly forth into the unknown. I have decided to make myself a shirt or two.
So, I went to JoAnn today and found four different knits: a gray, an ivory, a heathery pink, and a gold/white stripe. And all but one on the bargain table, I might add.
Then I came home and got all my jobs done: packed away the Christmas decorations, commanded my slaves (ahem, children) to help me clean the house, and graded all my papers. Guess what I'm going to do tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Importance of Things

When I told my English students yesterday that today would be show and tell day, some of them groaned. "I don't like talking in front of the class. It makes me feel like I wanna puke!" they complained. I ignored them, as I usually do (the complaints, not the children), and continued explaining that they needed to bring in an object that represented someone or something significant in their lives; they were going to use this experience to write a reflective essay later on this week.

They shuffled out of the room when the bell rang, leaving me to wonder what they might bring in for show and tell the next day.

This morning, as they drifted into the room, I heard one student ask, "Is today show and tell day?" and I groaned. I've had years like this before, where a class just doesn't put much effort into anything, and nearly every student shows either a cell phone or iPod or a classmate as a best friend.

I let myself begin to doubt them, so I was therefore unprepared for the depth of today's experience.

I began by showing this pewter pig.

My brother Thad got him for me when his 7th grade class went on a trip to Shipshewana. I don't remember if he got gifts for any of our other siblings, but he brought this little guy home for me. He's tiny (the pig, that is): maybe as big as a baby's fingernail. I carried him in my pocket every day for years, a talisman that reminded me I was loved. I seem to remember carrying him in my pocket for my first job interview, but I'm not sure if that's a true memory.

After I shared, students began to volunteer to share. A couple of girls shared about how their hockey teams had won medals or they had gone to an elite sports camp. One boy showed his baseball trophy. Then, a boy walked up to the front with a picture of his junior high baseball team. After he introduced his topic, he began to get choked up. As he wiped away tears, he told us why that season was so memorable: it was the last season he got to play with his friend, who died that fall in a car accident.

Next, a girl shared a picture of her family when she was young, saying it was the last picture taken before her parents divorced and the family was shattered. Another girl shared a picture of herself with her father, saying he had died soon after. A boy shared a book his grandfather bought just before he died of leukemia, and his grandmother had just recently given it to him to keep. On and on the stories unfolded, stories of love and loss and moving on.

They were not all sad stories. Three students brought in musical instruments (two guitars and a bassoon) and we listened to mini-concerts. A few more talked about athletic achievements. One girl said she really just wanted to live in a van in her mother's driveway when she grew up: the rent would be cheap and she could mooch meals off her mom.

But even the funny, silly stories had an emotion in common with the sad ones. As we shared and laughed and sometimes brushed away tears together, I think we grew closer as a class: we learned that there is pain in the world, there is death and sadness, and it doesn't matter whether you are at the top or the bottom of the teenage social food chain--or somewhere in the middle--tragedy can strike just as randomly as joy can, and by sharing with each other and learning from each other, we learn a bit about ourselves as well.