Name: Ashley


Posts by Ashley:

    A Partial Strike – #DayWithoutAWoman

    March 3rd, 2017

    Since the Women’s March organizers announced that our next step was to be a general strike to make our absence felt in the workplace and make it known how necessary women are to the economy, I’ve had my reservations. I applauded the women of Poland in October for their strike against their government’s proposed abortion ban, and I stand in solidarity with Irish women doing the same next week, but I can’t seem to shake the idea that ours is not the same.

    I’m a teacher, and though my districts have thankfully never gone on strike, I am no stranger to strikes in general. It seems lately that the Chicago Teachers Union calls for a strike every other year or so, and I follow this closely. They are extremely effective – you can’t keep working of your employers refuse to treat you like human beings who deserve good working conditions and living wages, and until you are working again, everything is at a stand-still. Strikes ultimately force those in power to listen to those who are directly affected by said power which, in turn, effectively transfers power from the have’s to the have-not’s for at least a little while. And that is important.

    However, A Day Without a Woman has seemed decidedly less focused than this. While I understand the intent – there is no better way to make our presence known than our absence felt – I don’t understand the purpose. Strikes, in my limited experience, function best when in a direct response to an economic or political problem, and when they seek a direct change as a result of that direct response action. While our president’s degradation and assault of women is no secret, it hasn’t been so for a long time. Furthermore, there have been no new incidents involving women that require direct action. So what does this strike hope to do? Change his attitude? Change his policy? I doubt either will come to fruition.

    To be sure, we should not refrain from striking just because we do not think anything will come of it, but it would make sense to have a more direct list of demands like the women of Poland or Ireland. Without such, I’m left with the question: Haven’t we done this already? When we marched for the Women’s March, didn’t that require many of us to take days off of work, shirk household and caregiver responsibilities, and leave the menfolk to fend for themselves in our absence in order to rally? How is this different?

    It is because of this that I have decided not to strike from my job. I want to save my striking for when it is a focused response requiring a direct action. So, I will come to school on Wednesday

    However, I will make my presence known in several ways. My girls’ group – Fearless Females – is running an awareness campaign about the plight of women and girls around the world for International Women’s Day. We hung up posters and are making announcements, and we are entering everyone who comes into my room wearing women’s rights apparel an entry into a raffle to win a prize. I will also wear red, like the Women’s March website suggests. (I will also, of course, wear my Pussyhat to school, though probably not in school because, you know, rules.)

    On top of that, I will be refraining from all nonessential duties at work. I will not respond to any email that does not need my urgent attention; I will not be running anyone’s errands; I will not be planning or grading or making copies – teaching and teaching only. On the home front, I will not be doing any childcare duties, either (though, in my house, this won’t make much of a difference because Tim is the parent-on-duty on Wednesdays anyway since I have early yoga and Fearless Females meetings after school, but these things are largely symbolic for many). I will, instead, attend a rally or a panel or knit another Pussyhat in public or do something that takes me away from the home. My family and I will not spend any nonessential money (nonessential being a caveat because, well, I have a dog that just had surgery and a toddler, so, you know, things happen) except to make a donation to an organization that directly affects women. I am also toying with the idea of live-tweeting the work/caregiver tasks I do end up doing during the day.

    All of this does not mean that I think you shouldn’t strike if you believe it is the right thing to do. It is just me wrestling with my own thoughts about the event. But, more than that, I want to push the women’s movement that was borne of the March into direct and motivated action, and I have a hard time seeing this as such.

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    We Are Teachers: These Women of Color Belong on Your High School Reading List

    March 1st, 2017

    I’m over at We Are Teachers this week, talking about nine women of color in literature that all high school students should be reading:

    1. Sethe from Beloved

    Beloved by Toni Morrison is an unforgettable novel about Sethe, a woman who has escaped from slavery. When she is found by slave hunters, she does the only thing she knows to do to save her children from a fate worse than death—she tries to kill them. She only succeeds in killing one of her daughters, who comes back to haunt her house. At times disturbing, this is a realistic depiction of what it was like to be a runaway slave in the American South.

    BEST FOR: Grades 11-12

    WHY I TEACH IT: As a runaway slave, Sethe is forced to make an unthinkable choice, and she does what she feels is best for her family. It takes an immense emotional strength to do what she did, and then to live with the consequences of those actions. Sethe is an important, realistic portrayal of what black women faced before the Civil War, and shows students another side of history they may not read about in their textbooks.

    Check out there rest of them here!

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    Today in Slow Fashion: Toaster Sweater and Espe Boots

    February 13th, 2017

    Saturday was exhausting. We had an all-day speech tournament – the one that could qualify  our students for State – so I left my house at 5:30 AM and wasn’t back until 9:00 PM. And, while one of our kids did make it to State (yay!!), some of them didn’t, so there were a lot of emotions riding all over the place. So Sunday was my day to recover.

    And what do I do when I’m recovering from things? I make stuff.

    I didn’t feel like making anything that required much thought, since the goal here was to fill myself back up after a rather depleting day, and I really wanted to see something from start to finish, so knitting was out. Enter: The Toaster Sweater from Sew House 7.

    This sweater was so stinkin’ easy to make, it probably would have only taken me about an hour and a half from first cut to final press if my serger didn’t all of a sudden start making seams that split apart about halfway through my first cuff. At that point, I had to walk away and come back because I was in no mood for problems. But, with a clearer head, I was able to fix the serger (just cleaned out the dust and re-threaded it and it worked just fine – go figure) and finish it all in one day. And I have a toddler, so that’s saying something.

    I picked the version 1 because I didn’t feel like learning how to do mitered corners, and I also know that I always think I want to have blousy, boxy shirts because I don’t always feel great about my body, but they never look like I think they’re going to look, so I went with the more fitted version. I have to say, I absolutely love it, and will probably make about 10 more of these, spring weather be damned!

    I’m wearing it today and I have never been more comfortable at work on a not-spirit-wear-Friday day. The long cuffs and bands give it a cool-to-wear-to-work vibe, but the french terry fabric I chose gives it a Sunday afternoon feel and I couldn’t be happier. I’m also feeling like it hugs all the right places and doesn’t hug all the wrong ones and, while I did use my new tailored-to-my-measurements dress form to make it, I didn’t make any alterations to the pattern. Since I’m a sleeve-pusher, I will probably make the cuffs on my next one smaller or use a fabric with better recovery since they are driving me a little crazy as they fall down.

    I can see pretty much endless variations to this sweater, and I plan to make at least one more in a floral pattern for those chilly, spring days. This fabric is decently lightweight, but not so much so that I need a cami underneath, and the mock turtleneck makes it so I don’t need a scarf over it, which is perfect for a chilly or rainy spring day.

    I’m wearing pants today because post-Speech-tourney Mondays are all about comfort (and survival), but I can totally see this sweater with a black pencil skirt, or with a navy-and-ivory polka dot swing skirt to dress it up a little. This is a versatile staple to my wardrobe that I will probably wear holes through, and is definitely my favorite sewing make so far.

    Today, I’ve paired the sweater with my black Gap jeans and my new, handmade Espe boots from The Root Collective. These were a Valentine’s Day present from my husband (that I picked out and ordered for myself because that’s how marriage works sometimes) and I cannot say enough good things about them. They are sturdy, well-made, and probably the cutest, most comfortable boots I’ve ever owned. They were delivered last Thursday, and I’ve worn them every day since. Of course I love that they were hand made by people making living wages with minimal environmental impact, but if we’re being real, what I love most about them is that they can pair with both black AND brown-toned outfits. This is what we call a win-win. Hey, who says sustainable fashion can’t be fashionable fashion?

    This review is just my opinion. I did not receive any compensation or freebies for it.

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    My Journey to #SlowFashion

    February 7th, 2017

    One year ago, I was knitting my very first adult-sized sweater. It was a goal of mine for 2016 to make a sweater for myself for no other reason than I could, and I would be proud to wear something I made with my own two hands.

    My first sweater

    Since then, I’ve made about a million baby sweaters, a total of four sweaters for myself, and one for Tim. There’s just something about sweater knitting for me that is unlike any other make. I don’t generally do any complicated lace or cables, so the endless rows of knitting are soothing and easy, and the end result is always fabulous. I have yet to make a sweater I don’t like.

    But something else happened when I started sweater knitting. I started to pay attention to other people who knit sweaters, and why they knit sweaters. Then, I started to see that these sweater-knitters not only knit clothes for themselves, but sewed them, too. Conveniently, my mom had bought me a serger for Christmas, and so I started trying that out, too. I made myself a few dresses, and I made Emily about a million summer clothes. Not everything worked out, and some of it fell apart after the first wash, but I learned a lot.

    At first, making my own clothes was an exercise in pride. I wanted to be able to say that I made my clothes, and I was excited to have pieces that were unique. Eventually, though, my journey into the world of slow fashion became much more than that. It became a new kind of activism for me, both in ethical fashion, and in loving my body.

    First, loving my body. Before Emily was born, I was skinny. Super skinny. And I didn’t have to work very hard at it. Everyone promised me I’d “bounce back” right away after the baby was born, but a c-section, some major anxiety, and a year of insomnia later, I started to realize I would probably never get back to the weight I was before I got pregnant. I bought myself some new clothes, but they were cheap and poorly made because I felt guilty about having to go through two entirely new wardrobes in less than two years between my maternity clothes and my post-baby clothes. I was never happy in anything I wore, both because the new clothes I had weren’t very nice, and because I had to cultivate an entirely new personal style because the tight t-shirts and cardigans I used to wear now showed by squishier belly. It was frustrating.

    It was also frustrating that I didn’t want to ever go clothes shopping – hence the cheap new wardrobe built almost entirely from Amazon and Target – for several reasons. First, most of my friends have babies of their own and taking babies clothes shopping is the absolute worst. I didn’t want to go alone, because that is soul-crushing, but I didn’t really want to go with friends, either, because it’s even worse when you try on a million things in the dressing room and don’t want to show anyone because you’re not happy with the way you look.

    One night, while Tim was out with the guys and Emily was sleeping, I had a few glasses of wine and decided I was going to take my own measurements once and for all. I figured this would help me order clothes online that would reliably fit me, and would help me choose sizes of patterns to make myself. So I did it, and it changed my world. I have not bought or made a single item of clothing since that does not fit me the way I expect it to which, as you might imagine, is really empowering. It truly taught me that clothes should be made to fit me, not the other way around.

    But an incredible by-product of all of this is that I naturally became more conscious of the clothing choices I was making. If I was going to spend time making an item to wear, it had to be perfect, and it had to be something that my closet was lacking. If I was going to buy something, I was going to buy nice clothes that fit well and would last. I had to be willing to spend a little more money, sure, but it would be worth it in the long run.

    As I found these brands of clothes that I liked, and as I did more research, I was drawn towards brands that were working to make a difference. The truth is, any way you slice it, someone makes your clothes. Is that person paid a living wage? Do they work in acceptable conditions? If you don’t know, and if you paid less than $20 for that t-shirt, the answer is probably not. Add to the human cost of clothing the fact that fast fashion is creating an environmental crisis, and that $10 cardigan you picked up from Walmart costs a whole heck of a lot more in the long run.

    I always kind of knew this, but doing the research really made it hit home with me. And, once we elected a climate change denier to the White House, I decided I had to do my part to make a difference.

    I know I said no New Year’s resolutions for me this year, but I do have a goal: I’m not buying any clothing that isn’t either second-hand or ethically made, and I’m going to make as much as possible of what I need or want myself. And I’m going to try to document this journey as much as I can on this blog so maybe I can inspire a few of you to make just a few changes to your wardrobe this year, too.

    Itching to get started? Try reading this quick e-book from The Root Collective.

    You can also try buying second-hand, which is a great and economical way to reduce the impact of fast fashion, from sites like threadUP, or you can visit your local thrift store.

    You can also follow these ethical fashion companies on Instagram to see just how beautiful ethical fashion can be:

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    Ms. Blog: The Women’s March on Washington Was as Educational as It Was Empowering

    February 2nd, 2017

    My post about the Women’s March has been re-posted on the Ms. Magazine Blog:

    She also mentioned that she learned a lot (and, as her former teacher, that was music to my ears). She saw one sign, in particular, that broke down the pay gap by men and women, and then by the race of the women, which was the first time she had seen the pay gap broken down in that way. What that taught me is that I need to do a better job of showing the young activists in our extra-curricular group statistics such as these that directly affect their lives.

    Read the full post here!

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    The Women’s March on Washington was Educational and Empowering

    January 31st, 2017

    I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Women’s March on Washington on January 21 with a former student of mine, and the ability to share this momentous occasion with her was something neither of us will soon forget.

    Lizette is a very special young woman. When she was a sophomore in high school, she approached me about starting an after-school group for young feminists. She needed a sponsor for the group, and I agreed. Even though she graduated in 2014, our group still meets, and we are growing every year. Needless to say, I was thrilled to share such a momentous occasion with a favorite young activist. We were even able to bring signs created by current members of the group, which allowed them to be involved, and created a powerful connection between the generations of feminist activists in our school.

    The overnight bus rides there and back were brutal to say the least, but it was hard not to feel that we were part of a truly historical moment. Even though the cell towers were overloaded and we didn’t have the ability to check social media, we could tell that there were a lot more people there than anyone expected, and we could feel that energy. As Lizette noted: “Someday, I will be teaching a history lesson and this will come up in class and I’ll be able to say, ‘I was there!’”

    While the positive energy was palpable, so was the white privilege. There were a lot of straight, white, cis, able-bodied women there who seemed to feel entitled to something just because they showed up, because someone had called them a hero for doing so, and you could see that entitlement oozing from them as they not-so-subtly elbowed their way through the tightly-packed crowds just so they could get a little bit closer, or as they loudly asked questions in response to speakers’ points such as, “How are we standing on Native Americans’ land? This is Washington D.C.!”

    When we got back to the bus, Lizette noted that there weren’t as many women of color there as she would have liked to see, and we engaged in a discussion about white feminism and its sordid history. We both felt that the organizers did a great job creating the kind of intersectional space we would expect from a modern-day women’s rights rally, and as a Latina, she felt the speakers were inclusive and intersectional. However, we both noted that the crowd could learn a lot from listening to them.

    She also mentioned that she learned a lot (and, as her former teacher, that was music to my ears). She saw one sign, in particular, that broke down the pay gap by men and women, and then by the race of the women, which was the first time she had seen the pay gap broken down in that way. What that taught me is that I need to do a better job of showing the young activists in our extra-curricular group statistics such as these that directly affect their lives.

    All that said, though, the experience of attending the march – especially with a former student of mine – was awesome, in many ways. To see so many people put their “bodies where their beliefs are,” as Gloria Steinem said, was incredible. But it also hopefully opened a lot of people’s eyes to the awesome responsibility we have as citizens to not only show up, but to do the work. It was amazing to see Lizette, someone whom I have watched grow for years, have a fire lit under her. She and I both left the march having had an overwhelmingly positive experience even as we acknowledged that the movement had a long way to go, and we are already planning our next steps to participate in the resistance. The takeaway for both of us was this: Keep working. Keep showing up. Keep fighting. This is not the end.

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    Teaching Tolerance: For My Students, the Women’s March is Just the Beginning

    January 27th, 2017

    I’m over at the Teaching Tolerance blog today, talking about my students’ reactions to my going to the Women’s March on Washington:

    Their responses were as varied and multifaceted as they are. One girl said that the march should be a steppingstone to more concrete activism, and she wanted to see the march succeed. But she also wanted to see people use the event as a building block for other actions that would help lead the nation toward equal treatment of all Americans. Another girl felt passionately that women should not be slut-shamed. Several wished for immigration reform that would allow their families and the families of their friends to stay in the country. Yet another wanted to fight for comprehensive health care, and even more wanted reproductive justice.

    I promise to write up a post about my experience very soon. In the meantime, you can read this full article here.

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    Ms. Blog: A Crafty Way to Support the Women’s March

    January 12th, 2017

    I’m over at the Ms. Magazine blog today talking about Pussyhats: and the Women’s March:

    In launching the Pussyhat Project, the co-founders created a meditative and communal activity that serves as a mindfulness practice as well as an organizing opportunity. “We are hearing from participants that they are connecting through knitting circles, workshops, family, friends, and social media,” Zweimann told Ms. “People who are housebound are joining the movement. I have even connecting with a long lost cousin who will be wearing my hat at the march!”

    Each pussyhat carries a story, many of them moving and deeply personal. There are women who are unable to march sending a piece of themselves to a marcher. There are grandmothers and mothers using their craft to outfit their children, carrying on a tradition of both craft and protest. There are even people sewing hats with fabric from a deceased loved one’s stash—a fitting way to pay homage to activists who are no longer with us.

    For the whole story, click here!

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    3 Ways to Shut Down Pussyhat Haters

    January 8th, 2017

    Like most people in my circle of friends, after the election, I was left in a dark place. I wanted Hillary to win for women and girls everywhere, but I needed her to win to prove that progress isn’t perfect, but that it’s at least a given and not something we should have to continue to fight for.

    I, like many people I knew, was left questioning pretty much everything I thought I knew about politics, about America, about the world. And after a while, I was more than mourning the loss; I was downright depressed. How was I supposed to look my students in the face and say that everything was going to be OK? How was I supposed to raise a daughter knowing that she would know the word “pussy” before her 5th birthday? How was I supposed to tell my girls that they could be anything they wanted to be?

    I lost interest in a lot of things I used to love. Teaching and coaching, sure, but that could have been the product of the end-of-the-semester blues so I wrote it off as such. But when I started to lose interest in knitting and sewing, food, and yoga – and when I started falling asleep on the couch at 7 PM for no apparent reason – I knew something had to be up.

    Top that off with the fact that I wanted so desperately to attend the Women’s March on Washington but didn’t think I could. I just wanted to do something that felt like action, but it was too expensive, too hard to leave a toddler, I’d miss a Speech tournament, I had never done anything like this before, I didn’t want to go alone…

    And, just in the nick of time, I saw a post somewhere on my social media about the Pussyhat Project. If you haven’t heard about it, check out the link. (Go ahead. I’ll wait here.) The jist of it is that these women want to outfit all of the marchers in handmade – knit, crocheted, or sewn – pink cat hats. The idea is to create a stunning and noticeable visual statement at the march (and to keep the marchers warm, because it’s January in D.C. and it’s going to be COLD!) that protests our President-Elect’s use of the word “pussy” by reclaiming the word as our own, all while reclaiming the color pink – one that has been used against women to demean them – and the concept of handmade items that traditionally fall in the realm of women’s work.

    I jumped right on board. I’ve made over 30 hats, and will continue to make them right up until the day of the march. I will probably be knitting one on the bus on the way there. (Oh, did I mention I abolished all of those reasons floating in my brain for why I couldn’t go and bought a Rally Bus ticket? Because I did! AND I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED!)

    I knit. I sew. I’ve made a lot of hats. (This isn’t even all of them!)

    But, you know, hatters gonna hate, right? I’ve heard a lot of arguments against the use of these hats lately as the project has gained momentum and, while I see where these people are coming from, I disagree. If you’re a Pussyhat Project Proponent but are at a loss for what to counter, then here are some things you can say to those Pussyhat Pessimists’ arguments.

    Argument 1: These hats are silly. We need to be taken seriously.

    You’re right. They are. I have been wearing mine every day since I finished it, and I will admit that I feel weird about it. As one of my students said on the Speech tournament bus this weekend: “That’s an interesting hat choice for a grown woman.”

    This isn’t about one woman wearing a silly hat, though. It’s about over 150,000 women and men – angry women and men – wearing them in solidarity, and when the world sees us connected by this symbol, it will be powerful.

    Also, I hate to say it, but we have a President-Elect that says silly things. (And hurtful things. And demeaning things. And downright damaging things.) Sometimes, you just have to meet your opponent on their level to get them to pay attention. And he will be paying attention. This man gets rattled. Easily. 150,000 people marching against him, when the spotlight is supposed to be on him, decked out in pink Pussyhats… He’ll say something about it because it’ll get to him.

    Correction: He’ll tweet something about it. But it’ll still get to him.

    Argument 2: Pink is not the right color for this. Why choose such a girly color? And why cats? Why not vaginas or something more revolutionary?

    Pink is exactly the right color for this. Black or white wouldn’t make the intended visual statement, and Democrat Blue would just confuse the issue. Would you prefer purple as something girly but not too much so? Like Hillary Clinton’s concession pantsuit, all that does is blend the red and the blue, which isn’t want we want at all. Green? Yellow? Orange? It’s a women’s march. Pink has been used for and against women for a very long time, so why not reclaim it for this, an important women’s issue?

    As for the cat imagery, let’s never forget that kitties have claws. And it isn’t our fault he used the word “pussy” to describe women’s genitalia, opening himself up to endless cat puns. I hate to be the toddler here, but he really did start it.

    More importantly, though, these patterns were meant to be easily accessible to anyone, even those without a lot of experience. Crocheting an elaborate labia would be time-consuming and something only the most elite crafters would be able to do, which would not only defeat the purpose, but go completely against the accessible and intersectional nature of the event itself.

    Argument 3: Why waste your time making hats when you could be doing something more productive to “Dump Trump.”

    Well, as a matter of practicality, it’s D.C. In January. It is going to be cold. More importantly, though, this project was a way to channel anger, frustration, and astonishment for those of us who needed something to do and weren’t sure where to start. This project has been a lifesaver for me, and not only because I had something to do with my anxiety. Knitting (and other crafts) are so meditative that I had no choice but to slow down and become very mindful about my next steps. It helped me organize my thoughts and clear the post-election fog from my brain.

    Moreover, this project was intended to foster connections between people, and allow people who couldn’t attend the march a way to send a piece of themselves there. Knitting, crocheting, and sewing is all about making connections – connecting loops and knots of yarn, thread, and fabric together, sure, but also connecting crafters with other crafters. I even saw a post on Instagram that was a box of hats, each with a note saying that the hats were made from her late mother’s stash of fabric as a way of allowing her mom – who had died in December – to participate in the march. That, right there, is the epitome of love, and love trumps hate, which is possibly the most important message we can send right now.

    Photo Credit: Instagram User @mckfly

    Also, these crafts were and still are typically considered “women’s work;” something that was expected to be done in the home, alone, but soon knitting circles, sew-ins, and other craft groups emerged to connect people together. The natural outcropping of this is some discussion about more revolutionary topics in safe spaces for women to do so. That tradition has continued with several knitting parties across the country to make Pussyhats and discuss the next steps in our “craftivism,” and our resistance. I attended one at Women and Children First Bookstore in Chicago last week and it was amazing. It just felt so good to be with women who all cared deeply about feminist issues, and who all still felt dejected about the election results, and who all felt passionately about crafting for the cause. (See also: that point up there about making connections.)

    Photo Credit: Women and Children First Bookstore


    Photo Credit: Veronica Arreola


    If none of this works and you love the project while some of your feminist friends still hate it, you can tell them they by no means have to wear one, and then continue to rock your Pussyhat with pride. But, if you are going to the march and you can, pack an extra. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually give in to the power of the pink Pussyhat.


    No Resolutions for Me This Year

    January 4th, 2017

    ‘Tis the season of resolutions and promises to ourselves. Of one-word focused thoughts. Of gym memberships and diet plans. Of trying to be better versions of ourselves.

    At the moment, though, guilt is probably the most powerful motivator in my life because I feel intense guilt for not being more, or better, or focusing, or dieting. I acutely feel the ever-present and all-encompasing Mom Guilt, sure, but also guilt over pretty much every other aspect of my life. I feel guilty over wearing clothes that weren’t necessarily made ethically. Over my toddler’s eating habits (or lack thereof). Over my own eating habits. Over going to yoga. Over not going to yoga. Over creating waste in my kitchen, my house, my classroom. Over taking a shower that’s longer than I absolutely needed. Over turning the heat up a few degrees to stop shivering. Over what I teach my students. Over what I don’t teach my students. Over the work I do from home. Over the work I leave at work. Over not really blogging or writing for the past few years. Over deciding to spend my time crafting rather than reading books. Over the election.

    You get the idea.

    The list goes on and on. It’s pervasive. It’s enough to make me not want to do anything at all… so maybe I should say that guilt is probably the most powerful un-motivator in my life sometimes.

    I have grown and changed quite a bit over the past few years. Some of this is for the good, and some not. There are some things I really like about my new self – I’m a mom! That is exciting and challenging and new every day. I’m really trying to do more with less, which feels good and productive. I’m trying to bring more mindfulness into my everyday life, which is a really popular buzzword right now, but I think it’s important anyway.

    But there are some things about my old, pre-kid self that I miss – Attending book club (and reading books in general). Dinner and drinks with friends without also having to entertain the kids. Writing. Being more politically active. Being more active in general.

    So this year, instead of making some kind of resolution based on the guilt I already feel, I’m going to try to recapture some of the things about myself that I liked before, while also retaining some of the things about myself that I like now.

    To start: Crafting Pussyhats and marching on Washington the day after the inauguration. Teaching Beloved by Toni Morrison to my AP students so we can have real conversations about race in America within the context of my class. Blogging more.

    But for now, I’m going to sign off and spend this last day of winter break with my kid. Because that’s important, too.

    Image credit: marc falardeau

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    Musings on #SlowFashionOctober 2016

    October 30th, 2016

    Last year, I came upon Slow Fashion October on Instagram and I was curious. At the time, though, I had just started knitting small things (mostly cowls and hats) that actually looked decent and, while I was proud of those things, I definitely wasn’t in a place to think about crafting much of a wardrobe. For Emily, sure. Her stuff is tiny and doesn’t take very long to knit, but for me? No way.

    On top of that, I still wasn’t very close to the size I was before Emily was born, and I definitely wasn’t close to the size I wanted to be, so I wasn’t sure why I would make myself clothes if I was just going to try to lose more weight. On top of that, I felt that my body didn’t necessarily deserve clothes that took a lot of time to make because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. My solution at the time was to buy cheap clothes to cover the transitional period. I figured if I bought a few pieces, I could get by.

    What happened in reality over the past two years was that I essentially ended up with three wardrobes: my pre-Emily wardrobe I always thought I’d get back into, my immediately post-Emily wardrobe full of cheap pieces that never fit right and never made me feel good, and my post-transition wardrobe full of pieces I love and make me feel good and I wear all the time. Several pieces in that third wardrobe are handmade, because I realized at some point that clothes should be made to fit me, not the other way around, and when my clothes are well-made and fit me well, I feel a lot better.

    When I started to make and wear my own clothes, I also started to do a little more research into fast fashion, and it is kind of terrifying, though not at all surprising. As with many things in our speed-oriented society, there is a dramatic surplus, and the waste from the industry is ruining the environment. And the cheaper the clothes, the worse the problem gets.

    There’s no perfect solution to this problem, of course. We need to clothe our bodies, and some of us don’t have infinite funds or time to do so, but, as with every problem our world faces, I believe that if everyone did a little bit, we could collectively make a huge difference.

    For me, this past year has been about minimizing and feeling good. When we do more with less – use leftover food, for example, or create interesting wardrobes with a few well-crafted pieces – there are quite a few benefits. Personally, you look better, feel better, and save money. Globally, you make a positive impact on the environment and the economy.

    After all of this thinking and researching all month long, I decided there was nothing left to do, but to do it.

    To celebrate the end of Slow Fashion October, I decided today was the day to go through my closet once and for all. I started by telling myself that, yes, I did have a lot of well-made pieces from years and years ago (some of this stuff was from college, I’m not even kidding). In some cases – like with dresses that I truly loved that I had bought for bridal showers and weddings – they didn’t fit me anymore, and then I had to tell myself that it was time for someone else to enjoy these pieces. In other cases – like with some of the teacher clothes I bought when I got my first job – they fit just fine, but the cut was outdated and they didn’t make me feel good because they weren’t stylish. In other cases – like with the suit I bought for job interviews – they just didn’t have any use for me anymore.

    So, I purged. I packed away some of my nicer transitional clothes (if we do this again, not having to buy new clothes for the immediate postpartum period would be really great), and I got rid of three huge garbage bags of clothes, shoes, and accessories. On top of that, I put away some other pieces that had fabric that I really liked in order to upcycle them into pants for my super tall daughter. All in all, I got myself down to just one wardrobe that is filled with pieces that I enjoy wearing all the time and that are stylish now.

    I know no one wants my old clothes (as I stated above) so donating isn’t a great solution, but what was happening to me was that so many of my great clothing items were buried under years of accumulated crap that I didn’t like or wasn’t useful, and I was spending my mornings either crying that I had nothing attractive to wear, or disappointed that I was wearing the same old thing yet again and needed something new. And then I’d spend my afternoons on Amazon buying new, cheap clothes that I thought would make me feel better, thus compounding the problem. Now, I know that anything I pull out of my closet will fit well, look great, and pairs with most of the other things I own since I stuck to a definite color palette as I was purging.

    I counted, and if you count only items of clothing that could actually clothe by body – so not counting underwear, outerwear, accessories, shoes, gym clothes, spirit wear, and loungewear – I have approximately 140 clothing items left in my closet and drawers. This seems pretty great to me, considering Project 333, a guide to minimizing your wardrobe, suggests that you start with 33 pieces every 3 months, which would be about 132 pieces per year. I decided not to cycle out clothing items each season and, instead, keep all of my items in circulation because I live in Chicagoland and you never know what the weather might bring. Plus, putting a cardigan over a summer dress or top works really well for me, so I figured I’d keep everything out. It’s also very likely that I’ll donate pieces here or there throughout the next year as I try on clothes I discovered during this purge and decided to keep because I didn’t have time today to try everything on, or as I go through the year and realize that I’m not really wearing a piece as much as I thought I would.

    My goal for the next calendar year – until Slow Fashion October 2107 – is to be very mindful about my clothing. I’m only going to buy or make clothes if I truly need or want something new for an event, or if something I own wears out (or if I do finally lose that weight, but I doubt it at this point). And, if I’m buying something instead of making it, I’m going to either purchase it secondhand or spend the money on quality pieces that fit well from companies who ethically source their clothing. Furthermore, I am going to donate one piece of clothing for every item I buy or make. Oh, and I’m going to take the time to care for my clothes to make them last longer, not just launder everything in the quickest possible way.

    It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And, while I’m a long way away from a 100% handmade wardrobe, it feels good to know that I’m trying to do what I can, and that tomorrow, when I go to get dressed, I know that whatever I put on my body will look and feel great.

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    Yoga Challenge: Day 1

    September 19th, 2016

    My yoga studio started a fall fitness challenge today. 21 classes in 30 days, and if you make it, you’re entered into a drawing for some pretty sweet prizes. So, I figured, since I’m looking for a way to kick my butt into shape before Speech season starts, and since I quit my gym membership in favor of only doing yoga, why not? I mean, it’s only 5 days a week (plus one) for a month, right? Right??

    Since I’m doing this, I figured I might as well take these next 30 days to really overhaul my routine. Since Emily was born, I’ve had a couple of false starts – trying for a week or so to eat well, then caving and ordering pizza and shoving it in my face because I was too tired to do anything else. Making it to yoga maybe once or twice a week and calling it a win. Not writing, not thinking, not taking care of myself in general.

    Not this time. I’m going to start a new routine and it starts today. For one month, I am going to eat food that fuels me rather than just fills me. I am going to go to yoga 21 times to complete the studio’s challenge. And I am going to blog about it.

    I started today, which is great, but I’m not feeling any more introspective about it than usual, since Monday is my normal day to get my yoga on. However, as I was practicing tonight, I thought that now would be a good time to set some intentions for this challenge. In yoga, sometimes you set an intention for your practice – a word to meditate on, or a goal you want to accomplish. So here are my intentions for the month:

    1. Feel better. This one is just a given.
    2. Lose the last 5 baby pounds. (8 if we’re being honest, but I’d be happy with 5.)
    3. Sleep more. OK, that’s probably impossible given my schedule, but sleeping better would be a plus.
    4. Drink more water. 91 ounces a day. This seems specific, but it’s just a number some app gave me based on my activity levels and age/height/weight, so I’m going with it.
    5. Eat better. No dairy, no grains. Nothing that typically makes me feel bloated.

    I’m hoping to get a few things out of this with all these goals:

    1. Better skin
    2. Better fitting pants
    3. Better body image
    4. Better energy levels
    5. Better routine of self-care

    These may look like they are in order of least to most important, but they are, in fact, in order from most to least important. Better skin above all, and then the rest will follow.

    This sounds like I’m joking. I’m not joking.

    I’m going to try to blog about this journey. I won’t blog every day; that’s just unrealistic. But I will try to blog every day I go to yoga, or maybe just a few times a week to check in. We’ll see how it goes. I’m setting the bar low.

    Feminists often talk about self-care and how radical it is to take care of yourself and love yourself. Well, I’m about to embark on that journey for the first time since my child was born almost two years ago. I doubt that it will be radical, but I think it might be necessary. They – whoever “they” are – say it takes 21 days to create a habit or something like that?

    Well, here’s to a new habit.

    Here’s to a better version of me.

    Photo Credit: Hamza Butt

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    America and Me? We’re Old Friends.

    September 13th, 2016

    I have a student who declines to stand for the Pledge of Allegience. She takes issue with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all,” because it is not “for all” in her view.

    I asked her about it once. I said, “I take no issue with your choice not to stand during the Pledge. I just want to make sure it is because of your beliefs, not because you just don’t feel like standing up.” And she said, “No, Miss. Here’s the thing. It’s about liberty and justice and it’s not for all…”

    “I’m going to stop you there,” I told her. “That’s all I need to know.”

    And would you like to know why I did that? Because it is within the rights of a student not to stand for the Pledge because of his or her beliefs. And you do not get in the way of that. That is Law for Teaching for Dummies 101, that’s how remedial it is. It is the first thing they tell you in your education classes, and the last thing they tell you before handing you your diploma.

    OK, maybe it isn’t that drastic. But it is made pretty clear. You don’t have to agree with students’ beliefs, but your job is to help them express those beliefs, not to impose your own on them. You don’t want to stand during the Pledge because you take issue with any part of it? Fine. I don’t have to agree with you, but I have to let you do it.

    It wasn’t long after this episode that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and blew up news cycles everywhere. My attitude about this was the same: You take issue with any part of the National Anthem and what it stands for? Fine. Good for you, even. You have something to say, and you are saying it. What’s wrong with that?

    I’ve stayed silent on this issue and let others talk for me. I’ve stayed silent on a lot of issues over the past year and let others talk for me. Some of this was because infants and toddlers suck all of the life out of you require all of your time and attention. But some of this was because I was a little bit afraid.

    You see, I have never been one to have a million friends. I’m much more the person who guards friendship carefully and only lets a few select people in. And when I love, I love fiercely, and I want those I love fiercely to be the best human beings they can be. Sometimes, if they are not being the best human beings they can be, I even tell them about how I want them to be the best human beings they can be. Most of the time, as you might imagine, that blows up in my face.

    But here’s the thing: A sure sign of loving something fiercely is wanting to help it be better. Spending time and effort, blood and sweat, tears and toil helping a caterpillar to become a butterfly is time well spent. Caterpillars are fine, don’t get me wrong, but butterflies are better. If I didn’t care about the caterpillar, I would accept it the way it was. But I do care about the caterpillar; I care so deeply, that I want it to become the butterfly it was always meant to be.

    We are over the clichéd metaphors? OK.

    America and me? We are old friends. And I love America deeply. Because I love America deeply, I want it to be better. It’s pretty great already, but it’s not the best it can be. And a sure sign that I love America deeply is my work to make it better. I can’t speak for them, but that is where, I think, my student and Colin Kaepernick and the hundreds of other Americans who take a knee during the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are coming from.

    And who can fault them for that?

    Featured Image Credit: Robert Claypool


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    These Kids are MY Kids

    May 1st, 2016

    I am a teacher.

    It has taken a long time for me to be able to come to terms with that. It was always something I knew I was good at, but it wasn’t always Plan A. Plan A was to write fiction. And then I became a feminist and realized that I wanted to be able to support myself and, unless you are J.K. Rowling, no one supports themselves writing fiction. So I moved to Plan B, which was to become a journalist. And then the Twin Towers fell and the economy crashed and the news outlets crashed with it and I realized I would never be able to support myself as a journalist. So I moved to Plan C. Teaching.

    This makes it sound like I ended up with this major in English and nothing to do with it but teach, which is not the case at all. I went through Plans A, B, and C all before I graduated high school. By the time I got to undergrad, I was certain that I wanted to teach high school English. People told me that there was no money in it, that it was a really hard job, that I was too smart to teach. Sure, people also told me how wonderful and stable and rewarding it was, but they also told me all of those other things, too.

    Didn’t matter. I wanted to teach. My mom was a teacher, so I knew what I was getting into. I really enjoyed helping people, which sounded like a cliché and probably was at the time, but ended up being true anyway.

    Ten years later, and I’m still teaching. Still writing, too, even though I ended up taking a bit of a maternity leave from it for a while there. But it’s the teaching that really keeps me going, even though I thought it was going to end up the other way around. And, while I’m not surprised it happened this way, I definitely wasn’t expecting to end up as a middle-class, white teacher in front of 150 students, most of whom are not white and most of whom would qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

    (I mean, I saw the first part of that statement coming. It’s the latter part I didn’t expect. You get my point.)

    Here’s the thing, though: I wouldn’t fit anywhere else. These kids are my kids. I am constantly thinking about ways to help them succeed. I’m putting in extra hours, taking on extra curriculars, doing whatever it takes to give them the edge that so many other students in the Chicago suburbs seem to have – that I, myself, had – by virtue of being born into a wealthier school district.

    I tried to pull back a few years ago. It certainly freed up more time to do things like write, which I haven’t had time to do this year. But it didn’t work for me. It never felt good to scale back my commitments to my students. Don’t get me wrong – I still have boundaries. When I go home, I’m home and I’m not working. But I’ll do what it takes at work to make it work, and that is sometimes very difficult. I have a kid of my own at home. But I also have these kids at school. And I want them to succeed as much as I want my own kid to succeed. And I’m proud of them like I’m proud of my own kid. I could go on, but you get the idea.

    Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver. It’s just real life.

    If we’re being honest, this school year has been the best of my life both personally and professionally.

    If we’re being honest, this school year has been the most challenging of my life both personally and professionally.

    Right now, I’m just waiting for a little break this summer, and wondering if I can have one of the previous two statements without having the other. Do I need to be challenged in order to be happy? If so, do I need to push myself to the max like I did this year, or can I relax a little and achieve the same results?

    Can I be a teacher, mother, wife, writer, knitter, reader, feminist, friend, and still have time for the occasional glass of wine? Or does something have to give?

    I’ve always said that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. Am I just trying to have it all and all of it right now?

    I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Image credit: Denise Krebs

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    Teaching Tolerance: #DayoftheGirl 2015

    October 9th, 2015

    It’s been a while, but I’m trying to get back into the writing game. This post at Teaching Tolerance is a great way to start – talking all about how to celebrate and honor Day of the Girl, which is this weekend – 10/11:

    This Sunday, I’m lucky enough to be hosting an all-day camp for girls in grades 5 though 8. We will be discussing and doing activities about relational aggression and bullying, body image and careers—all in honor of the United Nations’ Day of the Girl Child, an annual observance on October 11 also known as Day of the Girl.

    While you probably don’t have an entire day to devote to celebrating Day of the Girl, you might have some time in your classes to do one or more of the following activities. The best part is that all students, not just girls, can participate in any of them. It’s important to build awareness of the issues facing girls so that their peers can stand with them against these issues. Also, many students, including boys, are facing these issues, too.

    It’s like riding a bike. Check out the whole post for ideas for how to deal with relational aggression and bullying, media literacy and body image, and how to inspire girls to choose interesting careers!

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    Teaching Tolerance: Girls in STEM Fields

    May 21st, 2015

    I’m a little late on this one, but I have a new post up at Teaching Tolerance about how to encourage girls to stay in STEM fields:

    This might seem like a no-brainer, but one of the most important things we can help our girls realize is that being smart is nothing to be ashamed of. Dr. Carolyn Phillips, assistant computational scientist in the math and computer science division of Argonne, told the girls, “You want to be around smart people because smart people make you smarter.” In her keynote address, she cited studies that state that women are more likely to feel frustrated when they fail than men are. Men are much more likely to subscribe to Thomas Edison’s statement: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Phillips encouraged the girls to persevere with the hard problems, saying, “You know you’re working on something good if you can’t solve it right way.” Science is all about failing; some of the best inventions and solutions to the most difficult problems have come from experimentation and subsequent failures.

    Read the rest here!

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    The Broad Side: Teachers for Hillary?

    May 11th, 2015

    I’m on The Broad Side today, talking about what Hillary Clinton can do to win teachers’ votes:

    On a more personal level, since the Common Core has been implemented, I have seen an incredible uptick in students diagnosed with and hospitalized by severe anxiety disorders. What a teacher should do in the case of a panicked student vomiting during testing is, in fact, now written in the test instructions, which gives you a sense as to how common this is. On top of that, where I used to stand in front of the classroom, ask a question, and receive 20 different analytical answers, I now ask the questions and am often met with blank stares from my students. Sometimes students even ask me, because of what they’re expected to know for the standardized tests, to just tell them what I want them to know and move on. How’s that for a lack of creativity in the classroom?

    The reasons for wanting education reform might not match up across the political aisle, but one thing is for sure: Hillary Clinton, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, is going to have to be very careful when she talks about education policy on the campaign trail.

    Read the whole article here!

    Image via Wikimedia Commons/in the public domain

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    Six Months a Mother

    May 10th, 2015

    It is my first Mother’s Day as a mother. Incidentally, I’ve also now been a mother for two days shy of six months.

    I feel that six months is a pretty significant milestone. Half a year. A half-birthday. It’s also when things start getting significantly easier. Fewer feedings and more smiles. Less crying and more sleep. Reaching out for things she wants, and sometimes she wants me. And that alone is pretty great.

    They say that you can tell a lot about what your baby’s adult personality will be very early on. If that’s true, I can already tell that baby girl’s personality and mine will be very similar.

    She watches and watches and watches. She’s curious and wants to know how things work.

    She can’t stop moving. She doesn’t do well sitting down for long periods of time.

    She laughs easily and often.

    She’s not mad a lot of the time, but when she is, she’s really mad.

    She does things her own way, even if there might be an easier way to do them.

    She wants to do everything by herself, even if she can’t quite do it yet.

    My hope for her is that she continues to be all these things and more. I hope she grows to be a better version of me; I hope she grows to be the version of herself that she designs.

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    Etsy Shop – Mother Lovin’ Knits

    May 8th, 2015

    If you follow me on the interwebs, you know I love knitting. And, I like to think, I’m pretty good at it, too. A bunch of people told me I should open up an Etsy shop to sell some of it, so I did just that. Right now, it’s just baby stuff, and most of it is made-to-order (because I like that people can choose their own colors!) but I hope to get some scarves and hats up there in time for cooler weather.

    Check it out, and maybe even buy something!

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    Symbolism and the Smiling Poop Emoji

    May 6th, 2015

    Here’s a little levity for your Wednesday evening.

    My students started today by taking notes on symbolism. I’m sure they all already knew what symbolism is, but repetition is always good.

    Me: Can anyone give me a real-life example of symbolism?

    Student 1: Emjois?

    Me: Yes! That is the perfect example of something standing in for something else.

    S1: What is your favorite emoji, Miss?

    Me: The smiling poop.

    S2: She didn’t even miss a beat. You didn’t even have to think about that.

    Me: Well, I live with a baby, two dogs, and a husband. I find the smiling poop very useful.

    S1: It is a versatile emoji.

    Me: It really is. What’s the baby doing? Smiling poop. How are the dogs? Smiling poop. My entire family is coming over for dinner; I hope you want to cook tonight. Smiling poop. How was your day? Smiling poop.

    S2: Do you have bad days that often?

    Me: Not really. But the smiling poop could stand for a bad day, but remember it is also smiling, so it could symbolize a day that isn’t going as I had planned but I’m still smiling about it. In that case, it symbolizes persistence, perseverance, a positive attitude…

    S1: Who knew emojis were so deep?

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