Crypt Lake Trail: Thrill of the Rockies

When my friends and I planned our southern Alberta Rocky Mountain vacation, we were pretty laid-back about which activities to do, except for one: the Crypt Lake Trail. We knew we would be camping at Beaver Mines Lake Campground in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and we were looking for an epic hike to conquer between kabob-roasting and kayaking. When we heard about the Crypt Lake Hike in Waterton Lakes National Park, we were sold.

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The Crypt Lake Trail was voted “Canada’s Best Hike” in 1982, and National Geographic rated the hike among the top twenty of the “World’s Best Hikes” in the “Thrilling Trails” category in 2014. Note it says world’s best, folks. World’s. This thrill was to be ours.

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What views! Credit: Julia Shank

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What sets the Crypt Lake Trail apart from other hikes is its beauty, its wildlife, and its exciting trail features (guaranteed to get your heart pumping).

B E A U T Y
The 10.8 mile Crypt Lake Trail, featuring a 2300 ft. elevation gain, is accessed by a 15 minute ferry ride across the beautiful Upper Waterton Lake (emerald and shining are two appropriate descriptors here). Some of the trail features include numerous waterfalls, noticeable scenery changes with gains in elevation, and intimate views of the Canadian Rockies.

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A light hail falling on Crypt Lake.
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Our ferry. Credit: Julia Shank
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…Waterfalls along the trail…
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Credit: Julia Shank

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We enjoyed the changes in scenery as we climbed higher into the Rockies. Credit: Julia Shank
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My friend Amy posing with a fun drifty-wood thing. Credit: Julia Shank
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Credit: Amy Gillett

W I L D L I F E
One of the thrilling features of the Crypt Lake Trail is that it is prime bear country. (Thrilling and a little terrifying to this Midwestern flatlander). We also began the hike with the knowledge that a cougar had attacked a teenage girl in Waterton Lakes National Park only just last year. This knowledge made us pretty aware of our surroundings. Not to mention the necessity of letting out a hearty “Hey-o! HEY-o!” everyone now and again, just to let the bears know we were in the neighborhood. (Sort of like ringing their doorbell. They don’t like to be spooked any more than we do.) Besides hollering, we weren’t exactly sure what we would do if we encountered a bear. A grizzled Canadian fisherman we had met the day before when we were kayaking gave us at least one tip: “Back away slowly, and don’t make eye contact.” Alas, we saw no bearkind, but this did not keep the bears from depositing their dung, twice, upon our trail. I mean, they could have pooped anywhere in the forest. But no, they had to do it on the trail. I took this kind of as a hint. “We are leaving this here so that you freak out.” –Bears, pooping. We also saw quite a variety of birds, and even a marmot. On our mid-June hike, mountain wildflowers were blooming, peeking out of their buds, as the last bits of snow melted in the warm summer sun.

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Credit: Julia Shank
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Credit: Amy Gillett
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The trail only opening a week before, we saw traces, yet, of melting snow. Credit: Amy Gillett

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O B S T A C L E S
Perhaps Crypt Lake Trail’s “thrilling” status is due to the various obstacles hikers encounter. Whether it’s crossing a running stream, climbing through a cave, or skirting a cliff while hanging on to a cable, there are many exciting moments. A grown adult man said, “Basically, I got to the point where I just focused on the mountain and did not look down.” A fear of heights is not recommended for this trail.

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Julia crossing a stream. Credit: Amy Gillett
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Approaching the mouth of the cave. Credit: Julia Shank
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Do not look down. Credit: Amy Gillett
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Credit: Julia Shank
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Credit: Amy Gillett
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Only a liiiiittle steep.
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Credit: Julia Shank
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A little windy here! Credit: Julia Shank

Another thrill of the trail is that there is a bit of a time factor. For most of June, only one ferry runs between Waterton and the Crypt Lake trail head, leaving promptly at 10:00 a.m. and returning at 5:30 p.m. My friends and I happened to miss a turn on our way from Beaver Mines to Waterton, leaving us only seven minutes to buy tickets and board the boat! Thankfully, it was early enough in the season that there were still tickets available. When we arrived at the trail head, we re-packed our backpack and took potty breaks near the shore. This meant that our group was the last group to set out (around 10:30). While I enjoyed our solitude at the back of the pack of hikers, I was a little pensive about reaching the summit on time. The hike can take 2.5 to 3 hours one way, not counting hydration breaks and photo shoots, which, for my friends and me were quite numerous. (Our time was 3 hours, 11 minutes.) This left us about 30 minutes at Crypt Lake for lunch, bathroom breaks, and exploring. One gains a little extra time on the descent. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to miss the ferry back to Waterton, unless you’ve packed your down-filled parka, a flashlight, and a bedtime story book. Goldilocks and the Three Bears might be appropriate. The announcer on the ferry had announced as we were approaching the trail head, “We’ll be arriving soon, dropping you off, and picking up whoever didn’t make it back to the boat last night.” We took that to mean: be on time this evening. Anyway, the hiking time is totally doable, but it’s probably best to keep an eye on your watch.

T I P S
Here are some tips to make you fully prepared for the hike.
1. The Waterton Shoreline Cruise’s boatman’s speech is pretty informative. Listen up for history, interesting facts, and pertinent trail advice. He also might allay your fears regarding bears.

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Credit: Julia Shank

2. However, don’t be careless regarding bears. Take bear spray, a form of pepper spray designed for aggressive bears in the wild. The boatman and some other hikers downplayed the possibility of bear sightings, but my friends and I decided we couldn’t be too careful. And the majority of other hikers thought the same. We saw a total of five cans of bear spray among the ranks.
3. Toilet paper. It’s really okay. You can rough it behind that tree.
4. Take enough liquids. We took one water bottle plus one Gatorade per person, stuffing them into a single backpack along with bug spray, sunscreen, ridiculous amounts of trail food, a camera, and flip flops (in case we needed to ford a raging stream). Rushing on to the boat with five minutes to spare, the ferry man looked at our single backpack and asked where our other packs were. “We only have one pack,” we said. He shook his head, “How much water do you have? You should have 3 liters a piece. It’s a warm one out there today.” We ducked our heads and hopped onto the ferry. “Ch. ‘Warm.’” I laughed. “Maybe for Canadians!” Honestly, though, we did find ourselves conserving our water. It would have been best to take a few more bottles with us.
5. Take a watch so that you can keep track of time. I took my fancy runner’s GPS watch which was very useful for keeping track of time and distance.

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Resting hikers eating lunch by Crypt Lake. Credit: Julia Shank

I find that being fully prepared means that you will be better able to enjoy the delights of the trail.

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And this trail affords many: the delicious scent of alpine air, the curious existence of mountain wildflowers, the rushing roar of steep waterfalls, hair-raising moments using the cable on the cliff, warm sun and abrupt clouds, and miles of mountains and scraggy rocks and green trees. If you sometime find yourself in the southern Alberta, I guarantee you won’t regret taking this thrilling hike in the Canadian Rockies.

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Credit: Amy Gillett
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Credit: Julia Shank

In Which I Post Pretty Pictures From My Vacation in the Canadian Rockies

For an end-of-the-teaching-year gift, God wrapped up a package in wind-tousled bows and pine-scented paper, stamped it “Alberta,” and left it at the base of a beautiful mountain. Folks, vacation is good for the soul.

I recently returned from Canada where I spent time camping in the Rocky Mountains and celebrating with friends in the nearby Alberta prairies.

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My first hostess was my beautiful cousin Ginger, who moved to Alberta three years ago from warm southern Virginia. She and her husband graciously hosted me amid moving boxes while introducing me to many interesting Canadian things.

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Did I mention that they roast their own coffee? Ginger’s uncle brings back coffee beans from his trips abroad, and Edward roasts them to perfection. At this house, I drank some of the best coffee I’ve had in years.

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Their darling daughter Addison, who wears her hooded sweater backwards because We Are Two.

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Tried poutine, a wonderful Canadian delicacy: French fries and cheese curds, smothered in gravy. This stomachache is available for purchase at most Canadian restaurants. Yum!

My cousin was also able to get me a tour of a Hutterite colony. Hutterites, a unique religious sect living a communal lifestyle, are quite prevalent in southern Alberta.

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Dining hall: Men sit on the left, women sit on the right at meal times. 110 people live on this colony.

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Part of the *TEN ACRE* garden that the small Hutterite colony farms. The 18-year-old Hutterite tour guide told us, “We have about an acre of garlic, and my dad says that alone is a $45,000 crop.” #wow

For the next portion of my trip, I met up with some of my old Bible School chums for a week of camping and active adventures.

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The characters:
Amy: Canadian. Lover of God, Gage (her husband), cats, coffee, and coulees. Also probably one of the most passionate nurses I know.

Julia: from Virginia, married to Sheldon (who likes to golf). This girl can always make me laugh. She’s funny, friendly, outgoing, and always ready for an adventure. She’s usually singing, and things you might hear her talking about include her family, her church, volleyball, and health. (Did you know that coconut oil is really great on your skin?)

We spent the first two days camping in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Arriving on a Thursday, we had our pick of choice campsites amid the Canadian pines. Our campsite was a short walk from Beaver Mines Lake. Girl-camping aside, we did not resort to “glamping” or “glamorous camping,” as one might assume. We chopped our own wood and set up our tents and unloaded our own kayaks, thank you very much.

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Kayaing. (And practically posing for National Geographic. Is not this location incredible?)
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Photo credit: Amy Gillett

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Hiking to Crypt Lake, an exciting adventure deserving of its own post, which is forth-coming.

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A steep section of the Crypt Lake hike. Approaching the cave.
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Mountain wildflowers.
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Sitting by the lake at 11:00 p.m. Days are much longer in the North. Photo credit: Amy Gillett
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Chicken kabobs. And magazines.
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Brewing Tim Hortons coffee. Of course. It’s Canada! Photo credit: Amy Gillett
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The view from our campsite.
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These girls tho.
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Posing with wildlife!
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Stupid deer stuck out its tongue at me.

We returned from the Rockies to Lethbridge, a university town in southern Alberta, home to an amazing geographical feature called “coulees.” I describe coulees as inverted hills. The flat Alberta prairie stretches unendingly, then suddenly dips down in these upside-down hills. Some coulees have water flowing through them. They are rather beautiful, and Amy took us on several coulee walks.

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In Lethbridge, Amy also treated us to Spudnuts, donuts made from potato flour. I loved this adorable shop.

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Time at home…

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Getting pretty with Finn, Amy’s (thirsty) 16.8 pound rare white Burmese mountain cat.
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Making Honduran enchiladas with Julia for Amy’s family. Photo credit: Amy Gillett

I’ve never gone on a vacation where I’ve played so many sports. We went kayaking, hiking, walking, swimming, played tennis, and even played a round a golf!

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Hey, I never claimed to be Venus Williams.
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Magrath Golf Club. Amy worked it out so we could get in for free! Hee hee.
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Each golf cart is equipped with an iPad informing you of which hole you’re on, what is par, and any pertinent golfing tips. #Swanky
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Golf class in college really paid off. #not
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So much laughing every day.

The Sunday after camping I commented that all that hiking and mountain air made me feel so good… that I feel like I can truly take a deep breath for the first time in months.

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Last week was an extremely happy trip with life-long friends.

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My heart is full.

Everything You Wanted to Know About My Life: Family Summer Edition

It’s morning, and I’m peering out from messy hair and cotton pajamas, animatedly insisting some political point, getting crumbs on the newspaper, when I realize I’m having trouble expressing what I’m thinking. I scoot closer to the solid oak table, my Mom picks ups her coffee cup, and I try to explain again what it’s like to come home after moving out of state.

“It’s amazing to me how everything is the same here! The same fields, the same houses, the same people, the same problems. Life goes on, and it goes on without me.”

“And at the same time, I have this whole other life. Indiana.”

“Yet. At the same time, everything is different here! My friends have moved away. The children are grown. There are tons of new people. Even our house is different because my bedroom is empty. Everything is different.”

As disorienting as these things can be, coming home for the summer is deeply gratifying. I’m learning that returning home means I will be tired for about a week. It’s like my whole body relaxes because I can finally fully be myself again. I fall into the rhythm of being part of a family. I can yell and be yelled at. I can be hugged. I can be painfully honest. My family can be painfully honest with me. I understand them. They understand me. They get me.

Being part of a family again means noticing how my parents have aged. It means sitting quietly by Papa in a Sunday night service and having him quietly ask me afterward, “So what are you thinking?” It means reading the newspaper with Mom nearly every morning and discussing our favorite stories. It means staying up late reading and Papa interrupting to tell me all about the great new thing he learned from the book of Matthew. It’s my married sister popping in at every possible waking hour to be with her little sister. It means relishing animated news updates with the mother and the sister about absolutely all the new Plain City things. (Guess. Who. Is. Engaged. Did you know they moved the cell phone tower? …And, I mean, I wish I could tell you which old lady has a crush on Jack Hanna, the local zookeeper, but I was sworn to secrecy.) It’s my mom hinting that she wants her canning room cleaned. And finishing it in 2.5 hours with my sister. (Cringe: we found apple butter from 2005.)

Things I’ve done so far:
1) Sun-popped Corn Ice Cream and Black Current Frozen Yogurt by Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. It was the buttery-est popcorn ice cream I’ve ever had. It’s also the *only* popcorn-flavored ice cream I’ve ever had. But still.

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2) Bleh, gone car shopping to no avail…. Bleh!
3) had Sunday dinner with some of my favorite people from church. Tried not to cry when 200 people swelled in 4 part harmony to old familiar hymns…
4) behold, haveth sewn an stripe-ed shower curtain for the holy halls of far yon’ Nappanee bathroom, wherewith I shall be-deck mine hardy shower with said fair-colored tapestry, er, sheet.

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5) cut peonies, ma fleur préférée

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I apparently even liked cutting flowers in 1995.

6) went thrifting for my sister who ALWAYS complains that I find these really great bargains at thrift stores but that’s only because I have a lot of patience for picking through every single shirt on the rack in order to find one great one, you really have to be patient, and she basically just wanted me to do the searching for her, and I did, and we found her some really great stuff and it doesn’t hurt that I found a J Crew top and two Alfani skirts, but is anyone counting?

7) ran 3 miles JUST IN CASE I decide to run a marathon in the fall because I turned 26 on the 26th this year and why wouldn’t I run a 26 mile race this year, because, I mean like, seriously, HELLO?

So now that you are at the end of this post. Maybe you are thinking along the lines of one cousin commenter: “Nobody cares.”

Well. I’m on vacation. And this is what I posted.

And tomorrow we’re buying FORTY POUNDS OF SUGAR to make strawberry jam. So there’s that.

Diversity in the Classroom: the Mennonite Surprise for Liberal Educators

One of the things that has constantly amazed me about teaching at my tiny little Mennonite school is that there is so much diversity. You wouldn’t think so, would you? Not, at least, in a church school serving a conservative denomination that, for better or for worse, has historically stressed conformity.

DIVERSITY IS THE WORD
The word “diversity” is certainly a current catchphrase in today’s world, especially in the liberal public university. You hear about it everywhere from biology (natural diversity), to sociology (social diversity), to literature (various and diverse literary theories). In education courses, we study diversity as it relates to the kinds of students in the classroom. We study different kinds of learners, but we also talk about the various cultural differences that might pop up in the classroom which we might have to deal with. We are instructed to be understanding of that diversity.

MENNONITES: CULTURALLY DIVERSE?
When I moved to Indiana, I felt that in some ways, my days of figuring out diversity were over. After all, I was moving to a tiny town in a rural religious community. How diverse could it be? I figured pretty much everyone would be wearing John Deere t-shirts and camo, and totin’ rifles and warm apple pies. I assumed that I had this community all figured out. I mean, hey, I grew up Mennonite, how “culturally” different could it be?

I assumed I would have my classroom figured out because I reasoned that my students would have a similar background to me. And to a certain extent they do. For many of the students, we have a lot in common. Things like whoopie pies and homemade bread. A capella singing and church food committees. Funerals meals and wedding volleyball. We all know what these things are. But there are ways in which diversity pops up in unexpected ways. For example, our school serves over ten different area churches. Those churches differ in practice and expression of their Christianity. That means the children’s homes differ. Different families have different attitudes toward education. Different families have different practices relating to the use of social media, movies, and Netflix.

A visitor to our school would look out at all my students and see one mass of Mennonite kids. But to the keen eye, the diversity is invigorating. Contrary to what would have been my assumption, not all of my students have white European ancestry. We have students whose racial backgrounds span four different continents. So in history class, I can’t so easily gloss “our ancestors” as being the early Anabaptists in Europe. Also, we have diversity in family background. I think there’s an assumption that Mennonite families are these perfect little units with a Mom and a Dad, six kids, and grandparents next door. But I have found that not all of my students have picture-perfect-package, tied-with-a-bow, families. I see a child desperate for attention, attention she doesn’t get from her large family at home. I see students whose families have been touched with death or separation. I see students fiercely missing their older siblings who are growing up and moving away. I see students with parents from different cultural backgrounds. Backgrounds other than the cookie-cutter Mennonite background of Northern Indiana Amish ancestry. I see students whose families have been touched with pain due to church problems.

And while our private school employs a strict dress code (thankfully), you can even pick out diversity in the students’ personal style through their footwear. Vans or Toms? Converse or Air Jordans? Uggs or wedge booties? There is certainly diversity and difference of opinion.

STEREOTYPES: WHAT’S THE POINT?
So I ask myself, where did this cookie cutter come from? And since it doesn’t fit so many of my students, why don’t we just get rid of it?

Because life is easier if we don’t take diversity into account. It’s much simpler to talk about things “on the whole.” It’s easier to talk about “the majority.” It’s easier to make something “one-size-fits-all.”

But maybe we’re missing something by ignoring diversity. Maybe we’re missing something by not taking other viewpoints into account. Maybe we’re missing something by not using our creative minds to imagine what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

DIVERSITY IN UNIFORMITY
It’s interesting to me that my school is more diverse than I (and maybe other outsiders) originally assumed, but that my school, as a whole, also adds to diversity in literary experiences. Let me explain. While my students’ home lives may be diverse (they have different backgrounds or family dynamics), they still represent, “on the whole” (to borrow that horrid phrase) a generally similar ethnic, or people group, background. The religious background is pretty unifying at our school. So while there is diversity, we do experience a unifying identity. (Students are taught to filter life’s questions through an Anabaptist, Biblical worldview. And many students experience the same in their home churches.)

Yet taking this further, I see this unifying Mennonite identity as adding to diversity in contemporary culture. It is intriguing to see my Mennonite students defy secular teenage stereotypes in the English classroom. I would like to explain how my Mennonite students add diversity where my secular university said there would be no diversity of opinion.

I once took an education course on juvenile literature. The class should have been renamed: Liberal Agenda for Teaching Trashy Young Adult Novels. My professor put together a reading list of “diverse” contemporary literature written for young adults. We read these books in order to get ideas for what to teach at the secondary level. (Later, I found out that nearly all twelve novels were on the banned books list. I should have figured that out. I THOUGHT they were trashy! But coming from my Mennonite background, I wasn’t exactly sure what you “English” people read when you are teenagers.) The point my professor was trying to make by having us read these books and discussing them in class was that there is some literary merit to banned books, and reading edgy novels like this in class can get students excited about literature. It gets them reading, and it gets them thinking. Sometimes contemporary novels can be paired with classics to make that interaction with a classic text more meaningful. (For example, pairing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with The Scarlet Letter to update discussions about  subculture versus dominant culture.)

The point of the class was not always that classics are bad, but sometimes we need to work really hard to make connections for students. However, there was much classics bashing in that class, especially about some of the heavier religious classics. For example, I was told up and down: “Do not teach The Scarlet Letter. Students hate it. They do not relate to it. Are you teaching is simply because it’s on the curriculum? Get creative.” When I got to my school, I noticed The Scarlet Letter on the curriculum, and I thought to myself, “Oh no, here we go.”

Guess what?
My students loved it. One student gushed: “I loved that book! I would have read it on my own, but I got soooo much more out of it because we discussed it in class!” Every day the kids would come to class: “WHAT?! Dimmesdale is THE FATHER?!”
And the themes of legalism, communities’ response to sin (and sinners), the theme of guilt… All of these things my students highly identified with, and they could relate to these themes. We played conscience alley with the different characters. We played “What Would I Do?” games. We talked about the spiritual themes of the book. (We get to do this at our religious school.) So, thank you, Hawthorne. You wrote a classic, and it still speaks to people today, even teenagers.

I bring this up because I was told that teenagers HATE The Scarlet Letter. Ironically, an institution that preaches diversity got it wrong. They left a Christian perspective out. Interestingly, my teenagers’ one point of uniformity is their one point of diversity in the world. They deeply understand the idea of community versus the individual. They understand the idea of sin and guilt. They’ve seen legalism and hypocrisy played out in their own communities, especially in religious contexts. In some ways, the themes of the novel are very real to them. So I say that I love that my classroom is diverse. And even in its uniformity it is diverse, because they relate to literature they’re “not supposed” to relate to.

This year we read The Pilgrim’s Progress. I had a bit of the same reaction. Oh, dear. Here we go again. Another deep religious classic. But again, my students were so into it. It was the first day, and we had an invigorating discussion about justification by faith alone versus the viewpoint of salvation being faith and works. WOULD YOU EVEN GET THAT READING TWILIGHT. What excited me most about the conversation is that the conversation wasn’t entirely between me and the students. The students were talking amongst themselves, exchanging ideas. So I went home that day smiling. Once again. My students are proving the majority wrong. There are teenagers who want to talk about spiritual things. They don’t see Bunyan and Hawthorne as boring dead guys. (Well, I mean, let’s be honest. Of course they do. But they are willing to discuss the themes of their work. And sometimes volatile discussions ensue. I feel like those are the days that I WIN as an English teacher. Or at least literature wins.)

My take-away lesson is: never assume there is a cookie-cutter shape. Always be on the lookout for subtle differences. If there is a majority, find how that majority is different from other majorities. Diversity is a thing.

My teens get The Scarlet Letter. Not a ton of English teachers can say that.

Maybe we’re missing something by ignoring diversity. Maybe we’re missing something by not taking other viewpoints into account. Maybe we’re missing something by not using our creative minds to imagine what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Summer Reading List 2015

School’s out! Which means that it is time to begin acting out my single summer fantasy: reading barefoot on the patio. All. Summer. Long.

It’s been a humdinger of year, and maybe someday when I’m really brave, I will decide to write about it. At this point, I’m REALLY happy to be out of the classroom. Like. Out. Rolling in the grass. I have lots of goal-setting to do this summer for next school year, but right now that can wait.

Here’s my summer reading list, full of books which I will be voraciously devouring between trips to the library, the coffee shop, and the local farmer’s market.

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1. Obligatory Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Would you believe I have never read this book? I am quite possibly the least well-read English major with a bachelors degree. I always feel the need to apologize for my lack of knowledge of classic texts. Anyhow, I am making up for it by inhaling classics whenever I can. (I most recently finished Briggs’s translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and it was an absolute delight. A monument to the theory of history, to Russia, and to everything that makes us human.)
I picked up my Warner Books copy of To Kill a Mockingbird at a garage sale a few years back, and it’s been waiting for me on my shelf. I had half a mind to save it until after I read Lee’s new novel due out in July called Go Set a Watchman. Here’s why. Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman before To Kill a Mockingbird! Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first but publishers declined publishing it and instead encouraged her to create a novel about the main character’s childhood, which ended up being To Kill a Mockingbird. Technically, I had the chance to read these books in the order that Lee herself created them, rather than reading them chronologically. But. I couldn’t last. I guess I’ll leave that experience to some other young scholar and instead read the books in their chronological story order along with the rest of the population.

I’m halfway through savoring To Kill a Mockingbird, and besides being delighted with the vocabulary that reminds me of all things childhood (phrases like “open-faced sandwich” and “Miss Priss”), I am fully absorbed in Lee’s characters, and their familiarness, yet their curiousness, not to mention her slick and humorous descriptions (“Two geological ages later, Jem came home”) and her appropriately placed aphorisms (“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”). I think it is safe to say that everyone should read this book.

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2. Obligatory Classic #2: Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
In case you didn’t know, Lee wrote a book about Scout’s adulthood before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird! I certainly didn’t know, and no one else really did either until Lee’s lawyer found the old manuscript last October and began working with 89-year-old Lee to get it published. Only two million are being printed, so you better snap yours up quickly! Mine is preordered from my local bookstore, and just so you know, July 14th will be theeee literary event of the year!

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3. Theology: Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
Is this theology? I don’t know. It’s definitely inspirational religious scholarship. Wright not so much as presents new topics but instead reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible but we sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important, and how that changes how we live here on earth. Wright writes his book because he has picked up on an oddity of Christians that even Harper Lee notices. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Miss Maudie says, “There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.” Wright notices the same. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening,” and seeking only to “endure” this life, until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.”

I’m currently still in the beginning where Wright presents many facts about the early church and its views on the resurrection, and I’m learning A LOT. Not a light read, but he could have fooled me in the friendly, conversational introduction, which introduces the interesting landscape of British Christianity, which is in fact the viewpoint from which N. T. Wright is writing. Besides being one of the world’s top Bible scholars, he is also a Bishop for the Church of England.

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4. Nonfiction: 1491 by Charles C. Mann
What happened in 1492? Columbus sailed the ocean blue!
But what was America like in 1491? What was life like in these United States before Europeans arrived? Many of our American history books begin with the story of Spanish explorers, and very little space is devoted to the history of indigenous people. This book gives a fuller history of pre-Columbian America along with ground-breaking research that brings into question many of our assumptions about our land before colonization, including assumptions like:
“The New World was relatively unpopulated.”
“Native Americans lived in the wilderness and never touched it.”
“Native Americans were unsophisticated and lived in simple societies compared to Europeans at the time.”
“Cities didn’t exist.”
However, did you know that the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was larger than any European city at the time and also had running water?!

I suggested this book to a high school junior this year for a book report, thinking she might like it, and I got rave reviews! I’m so looking forward to reading this book! Hoping it might inform me before I dive back into American literature next year.

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5. Nonfiction: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
In much the same vein, Bury My Heart is an American history book about how the West was won, but it is written from a Native American perspective, one which happens not to leave out inconvenient truths about the American government. Historically, and contrary to popular belief, not all American Indians were tomahawk-thrusting, war-painted savages. Neither were all European settlers simply gentle pioneers. The fact of the matter is that the American government committed many atrocities against Native Americans. We are all aware, aren’t we, that “history” is essentially a narrative told from the perspective of whoever is in charge, right? I would argue that it’s probably good to hear from alllllll perspectives, not just the ones of those in charge. Basically, you are responsible for what is left out of your history book. You’re going to have to work a little bit to get the correct information, but the books are out there. Read them.

By the time I get through these, I’m guessing it might be the middle of July, and I’ll be heading back to the classroom.

What’s on YOUR summer reading list?

What I Learned the Day I Blogged about Single People

Once I wrote about blog about how sometimes the church mistreats single people. I learned a lot in the wake of the response to that post. Here’s what I learned the day I blogged about single people.

I learned that I must have touched on something really important.
Who knew that blogging about what my single friends have felt and experienced would create such a firestorm? Yet I had single friends cheering, married friends staying silent, moms all upset, pastors’ wives nervous, home school moms in a tizzy, single guys agreeing, and cousins arguing.

Church, take note. Something happened here. What was impressed upon me was that many people, from all different walks of life, feel misunderstood in their communities, to include church communities. And many people, it seems, from all different walks of life, could do with a little thoughtfulness, kindness, and hospitality. Let’s not take this lightly.

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I learned that bloggers don’t get to choose which of their posts go viral.
I care about how single people are treated, but I am WAY more passionate about topics other than this. If any of you happen to stick around, you might get to hear about some of those things.

I learned what it’s like to get thrown to the wolves.
Helloooooo, internet! I have never met you before, but apparently it’s totally okay to judge a person you have never met. Since my very first semi-viral introduction to the internet, I have personally been called “rude,” “hostile,” “judgmental,” “whiny,” “catty,” and “ignorant” by people I don’t even know. (And yes, this is different than calling a group of people “rude,” which is what I did in my generalized post about the church.)

On the other hand, I have learned how incredibly supportive readers can be! First, thanks to anyone who bothered in the first place to read my work AT ALL. But also thanks to many of you who have shown your genuine support. It truly means a lot.

I have learned that we still have work to do in the English classroom.
Apparently, in high school English class, we need to keep drilling the difference between satire, sarcasm, and irony, and we need to continue discussing its place in journalism. Satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Satire is sarcasm that is not intended to hurt, but rather is intended to effect change. I’m amazed at how many people took my tone seriously and not with a grain of salt like I intended. I hoped you would laugh along. You took this seriously? In my last post, there was a picture of a MAN DANCING WITH BUBBLEGUM. How could you take that seriously?

Secondly, in high school English classes, we need to keep teaching students how to understand the theme of a written work. MANY PEOPLE apparently got hung up arguing about who’s busier, married people or single people. That is not the point! The point is that a lot of my single friends have been mistreated in church contexts, and I think we need to talk about it.
At my Christian school, I train my high school students to pick out the theme of a work, rather than get hung up on superfluous details that might tick them off. I have always said: “The sign of education is listening and not reacting.”

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I have learned that the internet is a tricky thing.
I think I’m writing this tiny little blog for a few close friends and family members, and WHAM-O! My audience changes overnight! Audience is SO important when it comes to writing and speaking, and if I were to write a speech about these issues, I would have taken a much different approach.

Many people who know me weren’t offended in the LEAST by what I wrote. The key here is that they know me. Writing responsibly means that I am responsible for how I come across to people who don’t know me. Looks like I’ve still got some work to do in how I come across on the internet. Was I a little too brutal? Probably. (Know how I know? I asked my mom. She’s always my voice of reason. Thanks, Mom.)

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I learned that blogs are a really fun way to practice writing voice.
Fellow writers! Wasn’t this little experiment SO fun?! One commenter pointed out that overall it seemed that many single people took it well, but many married people had a problem with it. This totally has to do with voice! In the post, I set up this us/them dichotomy, where the singles were the “us” and the marrieds were the “them.” Nobody likes to be the “them.” (Yet the marrieds were the “them” for a split-second while they were reading the article, and they were not happy about it.) I’ll just let that sink it for a bit.
Also, would the post have had the same effect if I had changed my main points from “You are rude” to “We are hurt when…”? If it wouldn’t have had the same effect, would it have been more or less useful? So many questions.

To sum up:
1. Maybe I should get a new hero other than Sara Willis Parton. (But she is SO FUNNY.)
2. One thing that is really cool, whether you agree with me or not that single people are mistreated sometimes, is that I’m pretty positive that this whole blog has sparked some pretty important conversations everywhere, and that’s all I wanted.
3. Yet, as one friend pointed out: “It’s not like we can really ‘argue’ here. I mean, who really wants to argue that single people should be mistreated? Who’s really going for that?”

Finally, to people who know me, including friends, family, and fellow church members past and present: I have not experienced every single one of the points from my last post, and some things were written tongue in cheek, so don’t go trying to match these examples with places I’ve lived in the past. I currently attend a very welcoming church, one whose friendliness on a single Sunday prompted me to start attending there full time. However, many of the examples have happened to single people I know, and unfortunately, they are VERY believable, and therefore, I included them.

Satire aside, I stand behind my post.

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Internet, it’s been nice knowing you. Why don’t we all move on to bigger and brighter futures where speaking, listening, and understanding (and maybe even a little forgiveness) are commonplace?

Let’s also be on the lookout for ways we can encourage and include our single brothers and sisters in Christ.

Stop Being Rude to Single People

So it’s like this. Living as a single person in a tightly-knit religious community is a total suck-fest. Our loving, supportive, tightly-knit Mennonite communities are beneficial only if you (1) have close family in the area, or (2) are married. If you lack either of these qualifications, or worse, lack BOTH, watch out for rude, thoughtless comments. My single friends and I frequently lament these comments, and I’m tired of my friends suffering in silence, so I give you this post: “CHURCH! Stop being rude to single people!” If you know a family-less, single person in your community, please read on so that you can learn how to stop being rude to single people!

1. You are rude when you don’t invite us over.
Thursday I ask you, married person, to hang out and you can’t because you have plans. Friday I see pictures all over Instagram of you and two other mutual-friend married couples from church.

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Hello! You seriously think we don’t find out when you throw fun married-people parties and don’t invite us? Don’t assume that just because you are married that we don’t want to hang out with you. Do you assume that we wouldn’t want to come because we might feel like a 3rd wheel? Don’t assume for us! We’re pretty good at deciding if we’ll feel awkward or not, and we’ll decline the invitation if necessary.

On the other hand…

2. You are rude when you invite us over.
It goes something like this: “Hello, we’re having over Herbert Boring and Jared Icky. We thought you would like to come too.” We, remembering last time’s invitation where we spent our time trying to entertain Creepy Dog and Weird Uncle, suddenly remember that we are QUITE busy.
Hello, people! We have feelings, too! Just because you are hosts and are obligated to invite all the social misfits doesn’t mean that we single people need to do your hospitality for you! We do not simply exist to fill an extra space at your 14-person capacity solid oak dining room table. Invite someone else who you think we would get along well with!

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Why can’t you see that there is something so wrong about this?

And, just so you know, we single people WILL avoid social suicide. If we deflect your invitation, I mean, okay, there’s a tiny margin of a possibility that we actually DID have a previous social engagement (though not extremely likely because we’re totally “never busy,” ha ha), but it could also be a serious indicator that there was something really uncomfortable or especially undesirable about the invitation.

3. You are rude when you assume that we aren’t busy people.
My friends and I have been in so many conversations where we get the feeling that you think that single people have absolutely nothing to do and have all the time in the world. Let’s think about that for a second.

You know that person, called a spouse, who you split housework 50/50 with? Everything from yard work, to changing oil, to fixing shower heads, to frying bacon, to scrubbing toilets, to folding laundry? Okay, imagine NOT HAVING that person to split the housework with (not to mention paying bills), and then add on top of that a full-time job. … … … It would be like your husband living by himself and having to keep up with all the housework, too.

(Some of you will raise your hands, objecting here, and say, “But, children!” You’re right, I know that’s an incredible responsibility, but again, you probably still have a spouse to share that and other household responsibilities with.)

A tiny tangent here is the single teacher. One way to infuriate single teachers is to act like we aren’t busy in summer and to ask if we teachers will be getting “summer jobs.” ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME. This question reveals so much ignorance, all of which is addressed here, but if you’re the type of person who has rules about clicking links on blogs, I will sum things up for you: I’ve spent the last 9 months working 12 hours a days, 6 days a week at school. Do you not even think I need a break. I’m physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. I need to rest, and when I am not resting, I will be spending my time this summer researching how to be a better teacher. Yet, in our work-driven Mennonite communities, I’m seen as lazy for not getting a job at a coffee shop and instead trying to be better at my career. I’m SO AMUSED by Mennonites who have absolutely no concept of rest or even career development.

4. You are rude when you get snobby about our (lack of) cooking.
Can I just say that it is really tricky cooking for one person? Also, we’re still working on building up our own huge mother-lode of pantry ingredients. (It’s not like we get grocery showers or Tupperware parties like young marrieds do when they move out. But that’s another story.) Ingredients are expensive, and sometimes we’re just trying to make ends meet. So we make do.

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But, kind of along with #3, some people assume we have all the time in the world to spend making amazing pinterest-inspired meals. Now, some single people have all their ducks in a row and continually inspire us with Instagrammed crock-pot amazingness (I hate you, I’m hungry, let’s be frieeeeends), but some of us are really invested in our jobs and careers, and we don’t have a ton of time to cook, especially with the whole keeping up a household thing.

Anyway, please don’t turn up your nose at us if we don’t pull out our inner Betty Crocker for every single gastro-event.

Recently, one of my hardworking nurse friends boldly deposited a “bought” cake from Kroger at a Mennonite church potluck (gasp), and I think the unsaid comments were as obvious as the spoken ones. She’s strong enough that it doesn’t bother her, but it irritates me that church people had to make such a big deal about her cake. It’s not like she just got off a 12 hour shift of changing the world or anything! Don’t be rude because you are jealous that she has the guts to eat/bring things that aren’t always homemade.

5. You are rude when you assume that we aren’t as spiritual as married people.
Can I get an Amen here! Since when is a married 20 year old kid more spiritual and more qualified than a 30 year old single guy at church? What about marriage makes someone more spiritual? Why is it that married people are elected to lead in devotions on Sunday morning, but very capable single people are overlooked? I’ve never understood this.

Stop overlooking single people and instead ask them to serve on committees at church. Single people have many skills, talents, and abilities. The church NEEDS their perspective in leadership positions. So elect them! Stop asking them to be in charge of Vacation Bible School games. Start asking them instead to teach Sunday School, or even serve as a deacon or elder!

Because Paul the Apostle was single. And so was Jesus. And I’m pretty sure they were spiritual.

6. You are rude when you assume and don’t ask first.
We single people actually have lives and schedules, but many married people, especially ones with children seem to think they are so much busier than we are and that we can drop our own schedules at the drop of a hat.

I have this married friend who every time I tell her that I have a break from school coming up she asks “What will you even DO in your house by yourself in your time off?!” LADY. I will probably do what you do every day, which is enjoy a luxury day at home, that will consist of cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Housework doesn’t stop just because I don’t have kids or a husband.

But my married friend doesn’t seem to understand this and proceeds to invite me over to help her do her housework.

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Moms, you are incredible, and sometimes we single people really want to be with you and your kids. But sometimes we don’t. Respect that.

7. You are rude when you don’t include us on holidays.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and someone asks us AT CHURCH if we have plans. A little forethought would go a long way. We out-of-town singles have been agonizing for weeks about how we will deal with being alone on this holiday, away from family, and you just let us worry this whole time before inviting us, last-minute, the DAY OF?! Let’s talk about how to properly invite a single person to a major holiday.

If it’s close to a holiday, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, invite us by asking if we already have plans. Having to admit that we have no plans makes us feel really lame and like we don’t have any friends. Some single people I know feel really insecure about admitting that they don’t have plans. It makes us feel needy and like we have to accept something from you. Nobody likes to feel needy. Or, worse, you weren’t even planning to invite us anyway, but were just asking to be polite, but now just everyone feels awkward. (So, don’t ask the question unless you are ready to include us.)

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A much better way to word a holiday invitation is to ask, plenty of time in advance: “Hi, we’re having turkey and stuffing on Thursday, and Fred Funnyjokes and Candy Coolcousin are coming over, and we were really hoping that you could be there, too.” And leave it right there. Do not ask if we have plans. It’s really none of your business, and if we want to tell you our plans, we will. But, maybe we have plans that we plan on canceling in order to come to your house. Seriously, we single people sometimes have these little agreements with extremely supportive older church people that we are always welcome at their homes unless we get a better invitation, like, one where we could meet other single people, hee hee hee, if you know what I mean, and we really wouldn’t explain that to YOU now, would we?

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8. You are rude when you stand us up.
We made plans with you. We respected your busy schedule and used forethought to plan a time to hang out with you. Married person, we care about you, and we want to be your friend. So we made plans in advance. We programmed it into our phones, and we put it on our calendars.

And you stood us up. You’ll be hanging out with your spouse, but do you do realize that when we are stood up that we will be left at home alone, right? With some leftover cheeseball and a really lame movie on Netflix.

Be responsible. Stick to your word. Either plan to hang out, or tell us you’re too busy. I’m sick and tired of sticking up for you when you ditch our plans… when you get too tired or you decide that you’re just going to stay home with your husband and “go to bed early.” (Riiiiiight.)

Look, married people, we can make this work. How badly do you want to be friends?

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Married people, married people with kids, families in church: do you realize that you’re not the minority here? Family-less single people are the minority. My friends could really do with some lovin’. Like seriously, we can’t even remember the last time someone hugged us or touched us. And it’s really hard.

Church: go hug a single person. And stop being rude.

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