Be yourself. But like, way better.

It's December and everyone is high strung and I suspect the supermoon didn't help.

Yesterday I lost my cool in one of my classes.

Most students were being squirrelly and distracted, and some were being real ding-dongs. 
My classroom wasn't a room full of diligently-working angels.

But that's irrelevant, because they're kids and I'm the adult.
And it's literally my job to be the adult.
(not to mention to design instruction that doesn't leave much room for ding-dong tendencies)

I was reactive and ugly and mean. 
Grouchy at best and hurtful at worst.

It bothered me all day. 

This morning, I started checking thesis statements and outlines for the essays students are developing.
Their works-in-progress are amazing. 
Their learning is evident, in all of its tiny stages, right there in the documents.

A lot of them worked really hard on it.
The proof is in the pudding, and I'm really, really proud of them.

These two things don't have everything to do with each other. 
Except to remind me that this work requires my best self.

And there isn't room for my ding-dong tendencies, either, when true learning is at stake.
Not just what's in the assignments, but what this entire experience is about for young people.

My work happens in front of an observant and impressionable teenage audience multiple times a day.
They deserve the best.

And I have to bring it.

image via Peyton Fulford's Abandoned Love project

The Right Kind of Hard

After the 12th graders in my class read The Handmaid's Tale, they write a critical analysis essay that takes a deep dive. From a single passage in the novel -- one chapter or just a part of it -- they complete a close reading and determine a thesis that captures the impact of the author's choices and their greater significance to the text as a whole.

They really dig into each word and read in between the lines.

It's a tough assignment.

The Deep Dive Essay has even developed a bit of a reputation, or so I hear.

So. I set out to do it myself.

I don't often get to do my own homework. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.
And I don't think I have to, really, to prove that the work makes sense.

I set out on this particular journey to be able to provide better support for the writers in my class. I hoped that I would be able to use my process as a model; I wanted to show students how I went from point A to point B.


It was tough. Really, it was.

I shared them into this document to show them my process for the close reading and how I tried to arrive at a functional thesis statement. It's comically chaotic.

It took me forever, too.
And I still don't love what I've got so far.

from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake -- figures

In class today I talked about how writing is really hard.
Even for me, who's naturally fairly decent at it and finds it enjoyable.
And who is way more educated than they are.

There were some dejected faces in the room.

Which didn't go away when I compared it to running or working out.
I said something like, "You know, you get better at it, and you get a lot stronger and faster and you build your endurance, but you never really finish a worthwhile workout and think, 'Whew! That was so easy!'"

At this point their looks were somewhere between dejected and downright agitated.

I regret not kicking off the semester with Anne Lamott.
(I should say that about any course, any semester.)

from Aldous Huxley's manuscript for Island -- more rejects than keepers

All of this to say:

It's hard.
It's worth doing.
Maybe those two ideas go really well together.

Regardless, kids. I'm right here with you on this journey.

Process // Of Air And Earth

It can be tricky taking on friends as business clients. You need to navigate making them happy while holding to best practices. You need to listen to their needs and wants while supporting their ideas with your knowledge about good design. You want to give advice without being overbearing.

Fortunately, when Alexa approached me about her venture with Of Air And Earth, what I found was a perfect example of how this working relationship could go beautifully.

I've known Alexa for a number of years. She has been a mentor and a friend, someone whose work I've looked up to and whose sensibilities I admire.

Visually, she knows what's up.

Alexa told me about project she had recently undertaken: creating arrangements of air plants, gemstones, and found vessels. Her creations were beautiful. She showed me some photos from her brand new Instagram account and we talked about some ideas for her logo and branding.

She had decided on a name: Of Air And Earth.
I doodled it about 800 times.

I asked Alexa to put together a Pinterest board of images that somehow get at the vibe she wanted reflected in her branding. Here is a sample of what she gathered:

These captured a lot of what I already knew about Alexa's aesthetic: classy antiques mixed with modern elements, plus lots natural elements, pops of color, and variations in texture. Over a delicious sushi lunch, we unpacked some of these elements and Alexa provided me with some language and guidance. Some keywords I jotted down included: elegant, Santa Monica, sort-of boho, muted, prism.

This pretty much captures the puzzle I had to solve. Alexa is tasteful and thoughtful and knows what looks good, but she's not a designer. It was up to me to figure out how these images and words from her brain would translate into a tangible design package.

I started with some color choices:

Then I played with shapes and layouts and various design elements, knowing that none of these would actually stick. I sent over these initial concepts:

In this first round, I wanted to give Alexa a lot of variety, so I played with type, drawn graphics, watercolor, and photographic elements. Now it was up to her to identify details she liked or didn't like.

She settled on a favorite, and I got to work customizing the pieces. Alexa would need a logo, a square business card, a sticker, and a banner for web stuff.

I did, and we got down to the nitty gritty, mostly around type and color balance.

This, this or this? These or these? Here are only a handful of the varieties I sent over:

Alexa sought her second and third opinions, and we finalized her new designs!

I'm really happy with the outcomes. Here is the completed logo, business card, the sticker, banner, and the care card that will come with each purchase of an air plant:

I love that Alexa wasn't afraid of the playful but muted color choices. She really liked the navy blue background, which looks awesome in print, too. This was my first time playing with patterns much in Illustrator; the overlapping circles reflect vibe from some of the rugs and tiles from the original Pinterest board. I'll be excited to practice with this tool more for future projects.

Alexa didn't waste any time while I was tinkering with vectors. Her designs are already for sale on her Etsy shop and IRL at Weavers Way Mercantile in Mt. Airy.

And she has these fancy printed materials to show, too :)

Congratulations to Alexa on starting her small business! This was a fun project for a dreamy client. I'm excitedly following along on her Instagram account and plotting which air plant design I'll pick out for myself and my favorite people soon.


I was chatting with a first-year teacher who said he realized this week that the honeymoon phase of the school year is already over.

I replied that I think of this as the piles phase.


Includes: Rearranging the classroom furniture, hanging up crisp new posters, setting up a gradebook or a seating chart or a folder full of documents, planning and fantasizing about the culture you'll create, the lives you'll change, and the learning that will take place.


Includes: Piles of submitted assignments to be graded, piles of emails, the spread of sticky notes on your desk forming into a pile, piles of people you were supposed to call back, piles of dishes in the sink, piles of things you've been meaning to say to your person, and so on, in every area of your life.

I mentioned this feeling to the 12th graders in my class.
Actually, the exact conversation was more like:

Me, after a pause and a sigh: Do you lately just feel -- ?
Student, cutting me off in the best way: Yes.

They of course have different piles: piles of college applications to process, piles of personal essays to edit, piles of recommendations to awkwardly ask for, piles of new classes that aren't easing up on them during senior year, piles of feelings related to being ready to transition into that next phase.

I feel you, kids. We're all in this boat.
And I admit that your suggestion to just close the blinds, turn off the lights, and collectively put our heads down for the rest of the period did not fall on deaf ears.

But I guess we all know that's not why we're here.

Your hard work is truly going to pay off.
I believe that.
(If I didn't you know I'd take that nap.)

And even though this pile is taller than I am, reading through your projects with my coffee and the windows open on this Saturday morning is secretly lovely.

And there's really only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

So goodbye, September. Here we go.

Swimming Pool

I can't get over photographer Maria Svarbova's "Swimming Pool" series. It's currently my favorite thing on Instagram, and I find my brain returning to its faded pastels, potent reds, the haunting symmetry, and the tension it creates so beautifully between stillness and movement.

Happy Camper // Here I Go

A policy I've always wished I'd embraced more fully involves saying yes to more things. I'm usually fairly risk-averse. I'm quick to acknowledge that I don't have enough time or money or that something is just not right for me.

I've believed -- falsely, I think -- that life is long and that opportunities come back around.

And I've happily plodded along -- more or less -- squarely within the boundaries of my comfort zone.

For example, I was among a handful of women who received this email:

... and against all logic my first thought was, "Nope, don't see how that can happen."

I can't actually explain what's wrong with my brain (this being part of what's wrong), but I'm happy I came around a couple of weeks later. I said YES.

And I was the only one who ended up doing so.

Currently, after a few weeks of putting together some plans, this amazing friend and I are going hiking and camping in GLACIER NATIONAL PARK for 11 days.


Let's talk about this particular comfort zone.

I've camped before, a night or two, here and there. With a small group of friends. On the beach. With my Girl Scout troop, surrounded by other troops.

But this? This is a whole new adventure.

My packing list looks alien to me. I'm borrowing gear from wonderful people I know and otherwise expecting to live in my running clothes the entire time. I've got safety pins and duct tape and layers for all weather and Ziploc bags.

And all of the bug spray.

Eleven days is long for any trip.
I mean. That's a lot of time to basically hang out outside.
How much even is that?

So far my friend is a rock star with knowledge and updates and preparations, while my only contribution has been a beautifully laid-out Google Doc of our plans, complete with hyperlinks and screenshots. I plan to overcompensate for the rest with my stellar attitude and joyful company.

I'll be a better version of myself on the other side of this trip.
To be sure I make it, I'm spending the morning reading about bears.

Any tips for this noob?