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YA Author of Chasing AllieCat and Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged. YA Author, insane cyclist, ravenous reader of YA and Kidlit, Newfoundland dog owner. Talking about all things writing, reading, & biking. Tour de France junkie.
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1. I'm Moving!

I'm moving my blog to a new site, linked to my new and improved website. 

Find me at Becky's Blog.

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2. Issues in Lit

Someone told me last night that they have no interest in reading novels that are about issues. I had explained that the book I'm working on is about fracking, frac-sand mining, and also  about a mixed-race, mixed-religion high school couple. He said that didn't interest him in the least.

However, he has read my current-trying-to-get-out-in-the-world novel, Slider's Son, and loved it. That book is loaded  with issues: Native American relationships with whites in the 1930s, Germans' reactions to Hitler in the same period, the winding down of the Great Depression, poverty, history, etc.
So....not sure if that means he's only interested in story, or if maybe I have enough story going on that he didn't realize there were imbedded issues. Of course, I started out to write a good story, not to make it an issue book, and the issues just sort fell into it.
Maybe that's the key: the story has to carry everything. But we know that as writers. It's the readers who need to be cajoled into reading by saying "it's about...." the story, not the issues. Just pondering.

AND, my agent as asked me to find a Native American writer who would be willing to read my MS. He's scared to market it without a stamp of approval that it is not insulting, and treats the Native people in the story with respect.
So that's my quest. If by ANY chance, you can help me with that one, let me know, please.

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3. Mankato Area High School Cycling

Just have to say....
I had a BLAST tonight at Franklin School. I met some excited young cyclists who will join the local cycling team.
Singletrack High is so much fun. I made me want to just get out and ride right now, but it's late and dark and cold and windy. I'm hoping that it will be nicer in the morning, and maybe I can sneak in a ride before school.
Thanks Mike Busch and Matt Busch and Jenna and Justin Reinhardt from Nicollet Bike for all making this happen!

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4. TONIGHT! At Franklin School, 7 p.m.

Singletrack High Film Tour comes to Mankato!

Join the Mankato High School Cycling Team at the Franklin Elementary Auditorium, 1000 N. Broad Street, Wednesday, April 23rd for a FREE screening of “Singletrack High” Doors open at 6:30 p.m! Student Athletes, Parents, Teachers, Friends & Family--all are welcome!

Singletrack High Film Tour comes to Mankato!



Photo: Singletrack High Film Tour comes to Mankato!  Join the Mankato High School Cycling Team at the Franklin Elementary Auditorium, 1000 N. Broad Street, Wednesday, April 23rd for a FREE screening of “Singletrack High” Doors open at 6:30 p.m! Student Athletes, Parents, Teachers, Friends & Family--all are welcome!Trailer for Singletrack High

And I'll be there with CHASING ALLIECAT!
 

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5. New Website and and old Blog that made my dya

I'm in the process of moving my website and blog into one bigger site. Right now, it's usually impossible for me to update the website. I get an error message every time I try. Sooooo....it should be up and going Monday for sure. In trying to see the new look, I googled myself, which I don't do very often. As a result, I found this recap of a program I have given several times. This writer, however, was listening VERY well. She captured most all of the main points I was making. What an honor to have someone listen so closely!

Dancing Through YA Blog

And on another note, I was walking Freya by the horses today. One disturbed another. Both were antsy-prantsy in the wind, and the one in the pasture was bucking and jumping between bursts of full-on gallop. None of this fazes Freya, but a girl was trying to lead one of these horses, a big Friesian, who outweighed her owner probably twenty to one.  The Friesian on the halter went a little crazy, too, responding antics.  I figured Freya better not add to the dilemma, so I held her collar while we walked past.  Both horses were tossing and bucking, so we didn't get to close. I was watching the horses, not where I was going, stepped in a rut, and took a nose dive. My glasses dug into my nose and I got up full of dirt. By the time I got back, my nose was covered in blood. Only then, after watching my face, did I realize I'd lost a lens from my glasses. So Freya and I went back again, not full of much hope, but lo and behold, there was the lens--untrampled, unscratched, in one piece. Repair job, cleaning: good as new.

Back to work.

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6. Spring!

 Last night I squeezed in twenty miles after school. I didn't feel all that great, and I knew that some exercise would help. It did. It's lovely to be able to ride outside in shorts again!
 And here's Freya down at the creek this morning. Happy girl waded through the water.
Just seven days ago, this was us! How easy we forget!

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7. Mark Ruffalo's petition: Stop exporting FRACKED GAS and save our planet, maybe.

Tell Congress to stop supporting FRACKING and spend our resources developing clean, renewable resources! 

URGENT: Stop Congress from Rubber-Stamping Fracked Gas Exports!

To be delivered to The United States House of Representatives and The United States Senate
The oil and gas industry is using the crisis in Ukraine as an excuse to pressure Congress to rubber stamp approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

But gas exports won't help the situation in Eastern Europe. It’s just a ploy by the oil and gas industry to increase fracking and export U.S. fracked gas to the highest bidder abroad, while causing irreparable damage to our climate and to water, air and health here at home. Protect our communities and climate – not big oil and gas industry profits.
There are currently 55,833 signatures. NEW goal - We need 75,000 signatures!

Petition Background

The oil and gas industry has created a massive PR campaign to convince the public that fracking will create American energy independence, while working behind closed doors to open up export facilities to ship gas abroad. This would drive up gas prices for U.S. consumers and create huge oil and gas profits, all at the expense of U.S. communities.

And now, the industry is trying to use the recent crisis in Ukraine as leverage to get Congress to rubber stamp approvals for new export facilities, even though the gas would be sold to 158 World Trade Organization (WTO) countries on the open market. Bills to allow these exports have been introduced in the House (H.R. 6) by Cory Gardner (R-CO) and in the Senate (S. 2083) by Mark Udall (D-CO). However, the ploy is a complete sham by the oil and gas industry to take advantage of a foreign crisis.

Exporting natural gas spells disaster at all points. First, it requires more fracking – a process that is poisoning Americans’ water, air and health while dramatically increasing methane emissions in the atmosphere. Second, it entails enormous multiple football-field-sized facilities along our coasts to supercool gas to -259 degrees – facilities that are a huge energy sink and pose grave threats if they explode as they have in the past. Third, the liquefied gas must be shipped overseas in huge tanker ships, re-gasified, compressed, transported and ultimately burned. The climate implications of the entire process are extreme.

It is irresponsible to push for more fracking and an extremely dangerous export process that is contributing to climate change, leading to more global instability and in the long run, undermining any national security goals that proponents claim will be achieved. The real solution is to transition off of fossil fuels through proven clean energy solutions.
Tell Congress to stop Fracking and develop renewable, clean resources!

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8. Minnesota Book Awards and St. Peter Reads

Rachael Hanel's Blog about being a finalist for the MN Book Awards

Her memoir, We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down is worth the read! It's a lovely, powerful book about being a gravedigger's daughter.

I'm in one of her pictures, too! Rachael is in our writing group, and we are oh, so proud. This is our second writing group finalist for a Minnesota Book Award (Kirstin Cronn-Mills was a finalist a couple years ago for The Sky Always Hears Me).

We had a grand afternoon and evening at the Awards.  Here is Rachael Hanel (left) before the awards ceremony, talking to her husband David, while she is ready to sign books.  Beside her is Melanie Hoffert, who won the category for her memoir Prairie Silence.

Here are the members of our writing group in attendance:
Judith Angelique Johnson, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Rachael, and me. Our friends Steve Deger and Leslie Gibson joined us for dinner and for the festivities. Here they are with Leslie's and my favorite outfit spotted at the Gala. We have no idea who this lovely and creative woman is, but she was willing to pose with Leslie and Steve!
Also, notably, sitting at Rachael's table,  were several of us who usually ride the Minnesota Ironman together. We had to take a picture becasue we've never been photographed together while NOT wearing lycra/spandex.
Left to right: Loretta (Rachael's mom), Renee (Rachael's sister), me, Rachael, and David Hanel (Rachael's hubby, who often lets us draft on long rides).

Before we dressed and went to the event, Angie and I wandered around downtown Minneapolis while Kirstin was at a meeting. Here I am being Mary Tyler Moore. :)
And since I'm telling this story backwards, I want to include that I started the day in St. Peter at the St. Peter Reads event. It was a blast. Nicole Helget did a brilliant job as keynote speaker with an extended metaphor comparing baseball and writing. She was captivating, as always.

Twelve of us writers were invited to a "Moveable Feast" (Great name) where we sat with one breakfasting table of interested readers for fifteen minutes and then moved to another. We got to meet many readers and fascinating community members this way. It's a GREAT event, and I encourage any local reader or writer to attend next year.  


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9. Medusa's Head

As you can tell from my Medusa book (or if you've taken one of my Humanities courses), I'm a bit of a mythology junkie.
I thought I had looked upon almost every depiction of Medusa imaginable, but today, I just found another new one:

Now that one creeps me out. It's not just scary, but it's realistic, as if I'd be scared to get within a few feet of that dead head--and the snakes don't look dead at all! EEEk.
One look would indeed petrify me with fear.
Another creepy one that isn't as scary, but is more famous is by Caravaggio, the Baroque painter:



And then another fairly common image in relief sculptures:
http://www.loggia.com/myth/images/medusa01.gif.

There, your Medusa for the day.

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10. Raising money for Aplastic Anemia

Once again, I'm riding the Jackson County Brevet century (100 miles near Atlanta, Georgia) to raise money for research and treatment of Aplastic Anemia and related blood disorders. These are pictures from when I did the ride two years ago with my son-in-law Tom McCaslin, who is a healthy survivor of AA. I feel as if this cause is one worthy of my work and  makes me not ashamed to ask for contributions. Tom and I are at it again.

My Jackson County Brevet Page

George Hincapie on the Brevet! : )


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11. Beware the Ides of March and unrelated--Marguerite Henry

Can't pass this day without thinking about Rome and Julius Caesar. Greek Mythology  and Roman lore are two of the staples of my Intro to Humanities Class at South Central College.

On a different note, Nikki and I took Alec to the Greenville Library yesterday. There is a terrific children's wing. We perused books, picked a bagful for Alec, and I came across this nostalgic section:

When I was in grade school, I read every book I could find that Marguerite Henry wrote.  My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, made us tell the class what we wanted to be when we grew up (Smile), and who would to teach us how to do it. I said I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to learn from Marguerite Henry.

I got to hear Marguerite Henry read once at the University of Minnesota--she was the very first published writer I ever saw do a public reading--but I was too shy (believe it or not) to go  up and tell her she was my idol. I wish I could still tell her. Instead, I'll try to do her legacy justice.

Thank you, Marguerite Henry, for all your wonderful stories.

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12. Dr. Seuss

It was Dr. Seuss' birthday this week, and I missed blogging about it. But trust the guru of children's literature, Anita Silvey, to keep us up to speed. Here's her blog about Dr. Seuss' near miss of being a dry-cleaners-owner instead of the author we all love.

To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street

I have to go grade papers (just got off the trainer), so you can read Anita Silvey's words instead of mine.

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13. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee






















Clementine! If you've read Clementine an her sequels, you'll never forget her.

We read Clementine for Children's Lit tonight, had a good discussion, and we watched this delightful clip of the author and illustrator talking about creating this delightful series:

Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee talk about "Clementine"

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14. Picture before our panel

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15. AWP Panel

AWP: Our panel, "What I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Writing for Children and Young Adults," seemed like a success. At least we had a good time. It seemed as if our audience did. At least there wasn't much shuffling, squirming, and reading of programs while we were talking. :)

Heather Bouwman organized us and moderated the panel. My buddies from my writing group, Shelley Tougas and Kirstin Cronn-Mills, and I joined Sheila O'Connor to fill out the panel.

We all are used to talking in front of groups, so we were surprised by how nervous we were beforehand.

I wonder if everybody who gives presentations runs over what they forgot to say or wish they had said during the program. I do that in school, too, but then I get to see my students again in a few days, so I can add or correct or fix what I missed. There's no second chance when it's a conference.

Anyway, one thing I wanted to say is that I think every writer should write poetry, even if he or she never publishes any...It's such a terrific exercise in conciseness and paying attention to language and lyricism. I think writing for kids uses those skills, absolutely and entirely.
I never felt that as fully as when I wrote Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing: Medusa Tells All for the "Other Side of Myth" series published by Capstone. That book started out as a longish lyrical poem and then condensed itself into the snarkier voice of Medusa in which it was published.

Anyway, AWP was fun, and I had a grand adventure with my two buddies. We were reduced to uncontrollable laughter several times.
We became the Three Musketeers of Vehicular Safety (in our cab to the airport), and the Three Musketeers of Row 19 (in the aircraft). Yeah, we tried to be reasonably quiet. Not sure how well that worked. But we had fun.



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16. Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle GirlsThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian


My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I LOVED this book. I attended a launch luncheon with Chris Bohjalian a couple years ago, and it's been on my to-read shelf ever since. I finally read it, and it's spectacular. It brings to life a little-known black mark on the history of mankind: The Armenian Genocide at the beginning of World War I. The way Bohjalian weaves his characters together in connections and twists makes the story unforgettable and heartbreaking. His prose is consistently beautiful, and this is my favorite of his books so far. I'm going to seek out the others.




View all my reviews

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17. Medusa Tells All: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing

Yesterday, a box of books arrived on my porch, covered with a light dusting of snow.

Very exciting moment in an author's life to open the box of complimentary brand-new copies and hold the baby in your hands for the first time.

Check it out:

Photo: It's HERE! Medusa Tells All: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing! Pretty excited about this new Picture Window Book. Thanks, Jill Kalz!
You can buy it here...

OR go directly to Capstone Books for young readers:
Capstone Books for Young Readers
Thanks to my editor and friend, Jill Kalz, you can enter promo code 6027 at checkout and get 30% off plus free shipping.

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18. Kobus van Wyk

Today--well, Thursday in South Africa--marks the funeral for one of the most amazing people I have had the privilege to know personally.

This is the last photo taken of a gentle giant of a man who changed his world, and changed our world.

http://www.peherald.com/images/cmsimages/big/kobusvwyk_news_23464_7534.jpg
Kobus van Wyk, we will NEVER forget you.

This was Kobus van Wyk, talking to our American students from SCC and MSU, explaining the need for a change in housing development to end the legacy of apartheid in South African Townships. In spite of the chair blocking the view, I like this picture because his passion shows so clearly. He spoke quietly but with a gentle force you couldn't ignore. We all fell in love with him.

Kobus had spent the last twenty years building the Human Settlement Development Management Degree program at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. This week, the program launches its first group of students.  His dream is becoming reality.

His legacy will live on.

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19. Happy news and poetry to make you laugh from Richard Meyer

My friend Richard Meyer, who taught Humanities in high school to both my kids (and they adore him), retired a few years ago and has immersed himself in one of his primary passions: poetry. He's getting quite a pile of publications, and here are two of his most recent ones.

I sat at the kitchen table, reading them, belly laughing all by myself. Freya wondered what was so funny. So I read them to her.

Richard Meyer's poems in the Journal "Light" (Can't italicize in a link here)

Read them and smile!

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20. Another snow day....or rather another snowy day




Photo: My big black dog.
Freya carries in a blanket of snow. I try to grab her with a big towel before she shakes.

Writing this morning before school. Going to try to hop on the trainer for a bit, too.

Rafi and Maddie, the characters in the novel I'm working on, have me hooked and all I want to do is write, but then comes a little thing like school.
 
Rafi is a Muslim and Maddie has grown up in a conservative Christian home. They are both fighting the frac-sand minds, and they fall in love. They're smart, so of course they talk about their religions. I'm worried about too much "talkiness" sometimes, but I guess I will have to read the whole thing aloud and see. It's sort of pouring onto the page.
All I want to do is write. I already said that.

Yes, this is the novel where both kids go to St. Peter High School. 

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21. I was higly insulted this morning...

When I woke, I saw what I thought was a mouse turd on my phone! On my night stand! I have a cat, that crazy Katniss, and besides, what ballsy mouse would dare make a deposit one and a half feet from my head during the night?

Well, I put on my glasses and picked up my phone. Turned out to be a Boxelder bug wing. Farsightedness sucks, but in this case, it was a relief.


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22. January 20, MLK Day

A good day to remember how important it is to make sure everyone gets equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal chances.

Is that realistic? No, and the longer I live, the more I see that level playing fields aren't a reality. We can each do our best to make sure that we are not part of any system that perpetuates oppression, that students and any other people in our charge not only get a fair shake, but get encouragement and see what's possible. But we can't make sure that anyone gets a level playing field.

I had so much fun two Wednesdays ago (January 8) in Marshall, MN at the Southwest Cooperative Young Writers' Conference. Students were eager and engaged. Freya and I had fun meeting students and spending the day talking about writing.

Then I wonder...how many of those eager young writers will publish the books they want to? Will working long hours, piles of other responsibilities, the need to keep bread on the table, keep them from realizing their dreams? Maybe, but some will reach their dreams, and having a dream is as important than being successful in many, many ways.

I'm a big Downton Abbey fan. I don't watch live TV much at all, but I've caught up to season four on Netflix and Amazon Prime. It reminds me of the sharp divide of class. We pride ourselves that in the U.S., such classism doesn't exist, but that's a lie. If we think we have no such class divides in the U.S., we are living with our heads in the sand.

Look at what money can do without regard for its effects: Fracking destroys property, health, animals, and long-standing family ranches or farms because big oil and gas companies have the money to do so.  Frac-Sand mining is doing the same thing in Minnesota and Wisconsin because Fracking is such a big industry that the silica sand miners can get what they want, take the property or make it worthless, mine the silica, sell it for billions, no matter how many people the company tromps all over in order to do so.

Lime Township has been up in arms for most of two years, battling the new Jordan Sands processing plant and mines. What's happened? The entire township full of citizens can't stop the power of a big wealthy company with the potential to make billions more.

Class? Money? Yeah, my friends, I'm afriad it's everywhere.
This could be very depressing, and if we let it, it is. However, the fact remains that we have to each do everything we can, to chase our dreams and to make the world as just and safe as possible. To fight injustice and the greedy destruction of our planet however we can.

If we don't, then we are living with our heads in the sand.
 
 

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23. Happiness takes a different shape

-->

Happiness as you age takes on a different shape.
Not so much setting out cookies for Santa
As cleaning up the crumbs afterward, smiling,
Satisfaction with the illusion.

Not so much stumbling down Christmas steps
To tear bright Santa-laden paper
But the settling into a rocker, after
Surveying a paper-strewn living room
In the glow of tree lights you assembled
December 26 before your children came home
When you finally had an evening
Without work.

The joy of rest.
The joy of action.

The joy of climbing a hill
With a three-year-old towing his sled
The pushing of the happy ones, screaming
Bigger even than the thrill of descent
Which is still a joy.
You want to ride the toboggan when you’re eighty.
When Alec has to protect your bones from the
slide downhill.
You want to go down, laughing.

**

I can’t imagine my own grandma
Playing with me in the snow.
She was always working.
There were evenings when we all sat
And played cards,
Afternoons when my brother and I
Sat, doing homework for Bible School
When she and Grandpa John sat
at the kitchen table with us,
and a day we wrote our own version of
the delightful ironic children’s book
Brave Daniel.
Grandpa caught the spirit of irony
And wrote, “I killed a fly.”
Grandma, the literalist, said, “I killed a snake with a spade.”
That’s all I remember from the afternoon:
The contrast of the two.

But how I loved them both
Anyway.
But I remember my grandma
As sweetness
And cookies
And an apron.
And the funniest story she had to tell
On herself was showing up at church
To be organist, slipping off her coat
And finding
her apron still around her waist.

She made the best cookies in the world
as did her daughter
my mother who inherited each recipe.

But my grandma never played.

I am working in the kitchen and
Three-year-old Alec comes to me,
“Nannie, will you play with me?”
And oh, I set everything aside.
Everything. We can microwave dinner
Or have Kraft macaroni and cheese from a box,
But oh, I will not say
“No, I cannot play with you because I’m busy.”
Because years are too fleeting and you’re already growing
So tall,
and I screwed up
Enough with your parents’ generation,
I will give anything and all I can to you,
Little one.
Not stuff, not things—I don’t have enough money
But I will play with you
Until my knees give out.

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24. LOOK! It's Medusa!

 My Capstone Book from Medusa's point of view will be out soon!

Medusa Tells All: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing

Loved writing this book!
 Medusa Tells All: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing

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25. A new year, and reflections, goals, and all that

I always tell my comp classes about Emmitt Smith. I'm not a big NFL fan (or even a little one), but I read an article about Emmitt in Sports Illustrated while in the Orthopedic and Fracture Clinic waiting room once. He says that his high school football coach told him, "A dream is a dream until you write it down. Then it becomes a goal." Therefore, I make my comp students dream about their life in ten years--writing down their fantasy life; then, they have to formulate three goals for the semester. I almost always (or at least once a year) do this with them.

The point of this rambling? To write down my goals. Here. Publicly. So my friends and acquaintances who glance at this blog will help hold me accountable. I have found that a buddy in the goal-setting business is helpful.

1. Finish my novel, the title of which is Who the Frack is Maddie Jackson?
2. Get back in shape, race the Minnesota senior games, and ride at least two centuries: "The Ironman" at the end of April, and The "Jesse James" in September. (I read an article in  Bicycling about several people who collectively lost over 600 pounds through riding and eating right. For some reason, that was a kick in the butt to get back on the wagon of paying attention to what I eat and riding in a way that you could actually call training. I also just received an email about the National Senior Games. A few pictures of some senior athlete women's arms reminded me that I can get truly fit no matter how old I am. I've always been pretty fit, and reasonably competitive. I have let it slide lately. It's hard to make writing a priority AND riding a priority, but it can be done, and I'm going to do it.
3. Keeping a balance. Keeping up with schoolwork, and still doing the above two priorities which are the work of my soul.
It's hard for me to make the two things that are a priority for my own soul (versus school which is ever-present) when I am overwhelmed with work to do. Maybe I'll assign fewer assignments. I always say that and rarely do it.

Less important to me:
4. Trying to get my finances in better order. When you don't have enough money, and your monthly teacher income barely covers all the bills (it does, but barely), it's hard to make this any kind of priority because it's so depressing, especially in light of all the hours I work every week all year. However, I'm actually determined to put some effort into this. I just made a new budget, and I'm going to file taxes in February instead of April this year. Those are starters.

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