Goodness through the Cross.

It’s been an emotional 24 hours.  Yesterday, September 14, was the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross.  It always falls on that date, and since 9/11/01 I have paid very close attention to this feast day.

Our school had it’s annual Roo-Ha! day, a day where we celebrate community, spirit, and fall sports teams.  The day began with Mass and a welcoming ceremony for our freshmen – the class of 2022!

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Next, we separated by homeroom groupings and participated in 4 stations of very fun and spirited activities, from “Minute-to-Win-It” events, to “Finish the Lyrics” and a break for snacking on Mr. Softee and Kona Ice, and field relay races.  The Cincinnati heat and humidity joined us – 90 degrees – so we were glad to be in air conditioning for most of the events!

We ended the day with a very spirited pep rally lead by our GAA leadership “princesses,” who were joined by the band and dance team. The talent and creativity of our student groups really shined through and got everyone out of their seats and cheering!

The girls were dismissed at noon so they could primp for the Fall Ball.  I drove downtown to file my mom’s will and meet with a magistrate at probate court.  W-O-W.  It hit me.  After 15 years, this is the final act of taking care of my parents.  My mom really is gone.  Dad’s death of 10 years ago felt fresh and raw.


I teared up and I was so embarrassed to be choking up while talking with the judge!  Fortunately Judge Ken Cotes is an amazing human being who recently lost his father, and he was very kind and understanding.  I held it together until I got in my car, when I blubbered my angst of tremendous loss to my husband over blue-tooth on the way home.


Fast forward to 7 PM.  St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church.  Celebrating Divine Liturgy with faithful Catholics from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iran,  India, and the US.

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I did not know that the September 14 feast day begins an entire SEASON of the celebration of the Holy Cross for many eastern Churches.  This liturgy is so beautiful, and is celebrated every Sunday throughout this sacred season.  This liturgy confirms:  we honor, worship, and adore Almighty God.  God loves us, and is so ready to forgive us; we simply place ourselves humbly before him and ask.  We pray for Holy Mother Church, and for Her children.  We are all wounded.  We are all brothers and sisters, united in the body and blood of Jesus.


I want to obtain the words to this liturgy so that I can pray them again.  They touched my heart so profoundly.  God is good, and he has blessed me richly in spite of my shortcomings.  Dear Lord, help me to avoid sin, to do your holy will, and to be an instrument of your peace and unity.

How did the day end?  Generosity and nourishment.  After the Divine Liturgy we processed to the church hall for fellowship and a lecture on the challenges of Middle Eastern Christians.

I served wine with 2 very special friends, soon-to-be-Dames of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and we feasted on delicious Middle Eastern foods prepared lovingly by our hosts.  As individuals and as community, we pick up our cross and continue to follow Him.  And we are strengthened on the journey.

A Peek into My Classroom

I wanted to share with you my space for this school year, updated a bit from last year.  The good news is that I am not sharing my classroom this year.  Typically full time teachers have another teacher use the classroom during our planning bell.  My planning bell is the last bell of the day, which makes for an exhausting day, but what’s nice is that I can stay in my room and plan/grade/ponder for a long stretch.  Loving that part of this frenetic schedule.

My summer was spent building the classroom library, as you know from an earlier post:

classroom library

I had fun creating a wee bit “girly” check-out/return station.  I got the idea for the book-as-a-bookmark-holder from the Friends of the Public Library warehouse.  A quick pop into Pinterest provided further options and inspiration.  I cut card stock for bookmarks.  Look for sales and coupons at Michael’s and JoAnn’s Fabric for great prices on scrapbooking paper.  Lots of classroom uses!  Lastly, a vase which once held a beautiful orchid, a gift from students, holds pens/pencils.  I still use the old-school card checkout for books.  The school colors are Columbia blue and white, and I had fun incorporating shades of blue into the room.


I will always treasure the crosses, gifts from students over the years, and the Vatican flag is a prominent reminder of the universal, world-wide Church.

My daughters gave me some artwork – Sarah made the Dr. Seuss quote. Love both!


I moved my desk to the front of the room instead of the back.  It’s working well.  AND, I cherish my stained glass Mary drawing from my former artistic student, Stephen F. I’m also very jazzed that I can use the document camera this year.  It was too intrusive for the other teachers who used my room last year. Welcome home, old friend!


I continue to display the OWP (Ohio Writing Project) posters, even though they are getting a bit old.  OWP has significantly shaped me as a teacher, and these posters mean a lot to me.


In addition to the American flag, I believe every classroom should have a good map, regardless of the content.  Never miss an opportunity to show the relevance of geography in everyday life!  It’s amazing how often students refer to this map in English class.

Each year we focus on one hallmark of a Notre Dame de Namur learning community.  This year we reflect on, practice, and apply Hallmark 1:


May the good God fill this school year with fruitful learning, faithful friends, and intentional followers of Jesus. May the world be a little kinder, more peaceful, and little more beautiful as a result.


Kroger Meal Prep Kit – Tried It.

I resolve to cook at home more this year.  While at Kroger I passed by the boxed meal kits – everything prepped and ready for you to cook fresh at home.  Pan-Roasted Coriander Chicken and Carrots was half-priced, so I snatched one up and popped it into my cart.

I made it for dinner (2 servings). My boys were not interested, so I had lunch the next day ready to go!  Here’s the 411:

Directions:  Easy. Readable.  Printed on sturdy paper that would hold up to that accidental spill.

Three pats of butter were included – I guess it is not considered a pantry staple.  Recipe assumes you have oil, salt, and pepper in the pantry.  The coriander was missing; perhaps that’s why it was 1/2 priced.

Recipe was so easy to follow, and everything was so step-by-step.  This would be a great way for someone to learn to cook, except a full price meal would be a bit costly at $16.00, so maybe not the best option for newlyweds or college students.   It was fun to actually use my Pampered Chef kitchen shears to cut up the fresh cilantro instead of the usual use of opening some pre-packaged food!


From the recipe photo it looks like the cilantro was supposed to be a garnish, but since the coriander was missing, I used it on top of the carrots and chicken.  I found out today at work that coriander is basically dried cilantro.  Did. Not. Know. That.


This meal was quick, easy, and tasty.  It also made me realize that cooking a weeknight dinner is not the behemoth task I make it out to be, and this recipe was so ridiculously simple that I need to grow up and use my kitchen range/oven like the powerhouse it was for my mom’s generation.

Oh, BTW.  Dan and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary Sunday.  Yes, indeed, that plate is Pfaltzgraff circa 1989.  Aura.  Durable.  Brides, make sure you LOVE that pattern you pick out.  You’ll be looking at it for the rest of your life.  🙂

My Day ONE of 180 Days

Well.  I read this inspiring book over the summer along with a fabulous group of Ohio Writing Project colleagues.  We paced our reading, posted to a Facebook group, and met in July to discuss, ponder, encourage, and recommit to our continual evolution as English educators.  Find the book here.

180 days

This book was amazing and just the booster shot I needed to launch a reading/writing workshop approach in a rigorous high school environment.

When I taught junior high, I was ‘all in’ with reading workshop, and spent 10 years developing a pretty extensive classroom library that appealed to boys and girls of various reading levels.  I had meaningful writing connected to their independent books, scheduled due dates by trimester, with rewards for exceeding the requirements, and as a whole we all sincerely enjoyed books together.  It was a little scary to leave all that environment created by years of sweat and enter the world of high school English, but I was ready for a new challenge.  My first year of high school was a huge culture shock, but a great experience.  With that first year under my belt, I am ready to incorporate what I know to be the best way to teach English, and to create a culture of readers through reading workshop.

In addition to reading a TON this summer, I frequented the “Friends of the Library” book sales and scoured Half Price Books for specific titles.  Bringing in books box-by-box throughout August made the process manageable.  Many weeks and many hours later, I was ready to launch my classroom library.

I teach mostly sophomore honors but also junior and freshman CP, so I needed a pretty wide range of interests and reading levels.  I drew on some standby favorites from my middle school days, and also incorporated various literature, many that my daughters enjoyed while they were in high school.  Sprinkled in a lot of new non-fiction as well.

Our school is blessed with an AMAZING librarian who cleared off some shelves for me to use in my classroom.   Our awesome facilities staff moved them to my room, and I quickly filled them with my new collection.

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classroom library

In the book, 180 Days, Penny Kittle describes her first day approach to getting a book in every hand.  This was always a goal of mine in middle school Reading Workshop, and I hand-picked a book for each student in an individual conference.  Penny lays all her books out in groupings by genre and invites the kids to “Speed Date,” picking a few books to examine, and selecting one.

The thought of pulling all my neatly shelved books and scattering them throughout the room sent my control-freak minions that live in my head into a tizzy, but, I’m all in for learning new things. SO. I. TRIED. IT.  I called my organized chaos a BOOK BUFFET.  Sample, and taste. Bring a plate of 2 or 3 choices back to your seat, and you can go back for seconds or be satisfied with what you picked.  See for yourself the tasting in action:





Success!  After 6 classes, the shelves are a little sparser, and over 100 students have books in hand!  Each class now begins with 10 minutes of silent reading.


Next week we will visit the school library to browse that collection and interact with our inspiring and gracious librarian.  In addition, I grabbed a few books from the public library that students requested.

I will admit that reorganizing the remaining books was a bit of an effort, but one that was well worth the inconvenience because the pay-off of a Book Buffet – organized chaos – and the excitement and conversation that it sparked – is the ultimate goal of a reading teacher:  hooking kids on books from day one.  I also learned that mystery/spy/political intrigue was a hugely popular genre and I definitely need to grow that portion of my library!


As the year progresses, I’ll continue to post my experiences with rolling out a reading/writing workshop while also meeting curriculum demands and maintaining academic rigor in a private, college prep high school.

A Magdala Miracle?

July 1, 2018.  Today’s Sunday Gospel (Mark 5:21-43) describes Jesus’ healings of Jairus’ daughter and the woman suffering with a hemorrhage for 12 years.  We learn of the setting:

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat
to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.  

Sea of Galilee Map

Now, in the beginning of Mark 5, Jesus heals the possessed man of Gerasene, by casting out the demons who enter swine which stampede into the Sea of Galilee and drown.  The site of this miracle is in present-day Kursi, located in the Golan Heights on the eastern shore of Galilee; Gergesa on this map.  So, Gergesa is “on the other side” of the Sea from Magdala.

The actual town of the miracle of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman is not mentioned in Mark’s gospel.  However, the town of Magdala recently uncovered the ruins of a synagogue dating to the first century, and a house nearby which is believed to belong to St. Mary Magdala, as well as ritual baths and mansion homes, and other evidence of a prosperous and busy port city.

Although a portion of the grounds are still being developed into a retreat center under the direction of the Legionaries of Christ, the archaeological site and spiritual center are open for public viewing.  Our 2014 pilgrim group was blessed to stumble onto the Magdala Center right before its official opening, and we were given a private tour of the archaeological site of the synagogue ruins – and even allowed to touch the Magdala Stone, which has since been encased in protective glass!

Most impressive is Duc In Altum (Put out into the deep waters), the spiritual center with the Women’s Atrium, the boat altar, and intricate mosaic art in side chapels.  The entire spiritual center is about the faith and forgiveness of women throughout bibilical history. It is too inspiring and beautiful to put into a short blog post, so I invite you to take a virtual tour on its website, here.

When we toured Duc In Altum in 2014, there was an altar on top of the ancient port marketplace, on the ground floor of the building.  We were in awe, standing in this space.  Imagine my surprise when I returned to Duc In Altrum in 2016 to see a stunning mural, created by Chilean artist Daniel Cariola, behind the altar depicting the healing of  the hemorrhaging woman mentioned in Mark’s gospel.  So much evidence points to this  miracle occurring right on this marketplace stone floor!   The name of this chapel?  The Encounter Chapel. Wow.

I invite you into a virtual encounter with Duc In Altrum, to draw you closer to the personal encounter with Jesus that he invites each of us to enter.


An Anecdote Against Fake Reading

Every English teachers knows that we compete with MANY distractions and demands that draw students away from actually reading our assigned texts. Students are busy with sports, special interest clubs, part-time jobs, friends, the rabbit hole of cell phone apps and social media, and video games.  With so many time-hogging interests, how can we assure they engage in extended focus on the written word, either digitally or through  old fashioned pages?

Well.  We can’t.  We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make it drink.  BUT, we can offer  that horse salt lick,  exercise it, or keep it in the pasture while the mid-day  sun beats steadily down; all will have the effect of making that water very appealing.  So, too, we as English teachers can nudge our students to quench their curiosities in the vast well of words found in literature, poetry, non-fiction, etc.

The first day of class I do a little activity to show the importance of engaging in text on a personal, individual level.

  1.  Let the students pick a partner.
  2. One partner faces the Smartboard, while the other partner turns her chair to face the opposite wall.
  3. I display a painting on the Smartboard – of your choosing.  I like one with a lot of impact, like the impressionist painting by Daniel Wall below.


4.  Show the painting for a minute, then ask the student looking at the painting to describe it to her partner whose back is to the painting.

5.  Once descriptions have been provided, ask the students who listened to the description if they have a picture in their mind.  Once all do, ask them to turn around, and view the image.

6.  There most likely will be an audible reaction – and now allow the listeners to share their responses – they will be a little indignant at what was missing from their partners’ descriptions and how much different the actual painting is from the one in their mind’s eye.

7.  I explain how Sparknotes and similar websites can help you “pass a quiz” but literature is a personal encounter, and we each bring something unique to the text.  We  interact with words on a personal level, and by not engaging in the text we rob ourselves of the author’s personalized message for each one of us.

Just one way to get that horse feeling thirsty!  What are your hooks to engage your readers?

It’s Showtime!

Another school year is peeking around the corner, and this year I begin a new role as a high school English teacher.

I will be teaching Honors Sophomore English, Journalism, and an Academic Transitions class to freshmen.

Major God-incidence on this unexpected but blessed job change.  But first, here are some photos of my new digs, ready for my 94 new female students!


I love the transom windows on the hallway side of the classroom, which let light flow in. The opposite wall has wonderful big windows looking out into the woods!


This is the back of the room.  I have a small library appropriate for high schoolers, and a collection of crosses which are gifts from former students.  Of course, the Vatican flag had to move with me!

This close-up of my bookshelf reveals some transferred books I purchased for my junior high students as well as some new additions from Half Price Book’s summer sale.  I am excited about sharing adult novels with my students – introducing them to Kristen Hannah, Fannie Flagg (what a hoot!!), Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express is coming out as a movie this fall), and some good non-fiction reads.   I will be adding to this collection like the crazed bibliophile I am!  20170811_123134  This quote from Dr. Seuss was painted by my daughter as a birthday gift a couple years ago.  I’m proud to include it in my new classroom!


Don’t you think this is a fitting message for teenage girls?


My dad was a high school Journalism teacher and managed the newspaper and yearbook for 26 years.  I feel I am becoming my dad, and I hope I can do justice to his legacy.  I am including these photos from back-in-the-day.  I love how diverse that student body was, and nobody made a fuss.  They simply worked as a team.  1960’s-70’s.


This drawing of Our Lady was done by one of my sweet junior high students, and I am really glad I had him sign this artwork in May.  I had no idea it would hang in a different school.  I have his permission to hang it!


Here is the front of the room; I am excited to have a document camera in my new learning space!


Here is a close-up of an OWP poster and a quote from Kurt Vonnegut.  “Go into the arts.  I’m not kidding.  The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”


Next to last, two treasures from my retired partner, Christy Taylor, and a very special gift from my friend Wasseim in Bethlehem.  They will be the first things I see when I turn on the lights, and the last things I see when I walk out the door.  I hope they inspire my students to be kind, loving, and faithful servants to all fellow people on this planet.


And, last but not least, this lovely lady graces my doorway.  At first glance, people may see a homely little nun.  Get to know her.  She is an amazing, strong, faithful, fiercely loyal servant of Jesus, who did great things while being paralyzed for 22 years.  Once she recovered her ability to walk, she trail-blazed for Jesus in spite of threats from the French Revolution. St. Julie, pray for me!  Watch over my students and pray for them, too!


Choices and Consequences

Today I had a LONG overdue annual check-up (of the unpleasant kind, ladies).  By long overdue, I mean the last time I got in the stirrups was when my son was still in diapers.  He’ll be 15 on Friday.

Why the delay?  My last two babies were delivered by midwives, and the Cincinnati community has this sort of passive-aggressive relationship with CNM’s.  Consequently, midwives move among practices.  A.  LOT.  So, since my midwives were constantly moving targets, I just stopped trying to track them down for annual exams.  Life was busy with 3 kids and working full time, so I simply stopped going.

Finally, at my age, I decided its time to make my health a priority, and I returned to the kind, warm, well-mannered, and skilled OB/GYN who delivered my first baby 25 years ago.  He welcomed me, and made me feel special.  He gave me his full attention, and listened to me.   Although I can not imagine he actually remembered me after caring for thousands of pregnant women, he sure made me feel like we were old friends.

After the doctor’s visit in Clifton I had just enough time to cruise downtown for 11:30 Mass at the cathedral. I have been praying non-stop for a high school classmate battling cancer, and I wanted to offer mass for her, as she entered hospice last night.


It is my nature to be last minute/late to everything, and I got the last spot on the street outside of St. Peter in Chains at 11:29 AM.  I had about 60 cents in loose change between my car and my wallet and quickly fed the meter…buying me only 33 minutes and no spare time to root through any crevices in the upholstery for any mystery cash or insert a credit card!  I made a choice.  Go to mass, hope for a short homily, and risk a very expensive Cincinnati City parking ticket.  I took the risk and entered church with the opening hymn blaring on the big pipe organ.  The kind  presiding priest delayed his entry up the aisle to let me go first!


During mass I focused on Teresa, my classmate, and did not fret about getting a ticket.  Her cancer is a far more traumatic experience than a citation!  The message today:  be humble, and open up your heart to God’s purpose for you.


I walked out of church to the little red light blinking on the meter – a beacon of lawlessness summoning the ubiquitous city meter attendants.  Parking citations are a huge revenue for the city.

No ticket.  Whew.

I am so blessed.   In many other countries around the world, citizens can not risk being so cavalier about disobeying minor civil rules.  If I were a Palestinian in the West Bank, a parking ticket could be an excuse to arrest me or seize my home.  In North Korea, people get tortured and killed for watching an American film.

My choices made today had pretty minor consequences – my choice of a GYN check-up, and my choice to deliberately run out of meter time.   America is great.  Always has been, and it still is today.  We can not truly appreciate our right to individual liberty until we travel where it does not exist.

PS:  If you could, please offer up prayers for my classmate Teresa.  She is a beautiful soul on a difficult journey.

Play Ball!! Or, a Cincinnati Holiday

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Today, April 3, 2017, is a holiday here in the Queen City,  when our Cincinnati Reds play the opening day baseball game AFTER our big parade!  On the rare occasion that spring break falls on Opening Day, the Bohlens are at the parade.

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Instead, today I tried to bring the parade into my classroom.  First, we sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as I paraded around the room in my Reds regalia.  Two very different responses from my reading classes:  7B humored me by timidly singing along, and 7A rocked it.  Find the song and lyrics here.

I was so surprised that my students were luke-warm to our beloved Cincinnati Reds.  Such short memories!  Yes, last season (okay, seasons) = abysmal failures.  YET.  The Reds!  The FIRST professional baseball team in the history of America!  THE team (until recent history) to ALWAYS have the FIRST game of the season.

It’s my job to get this generation educated on the magical days of THE BIG RED MACHINE.  Sparky Anderson managed the “Great Eight” All-Star team of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey Sr., and Cesar Geronimo.  Because I was a kid in the 1970’s, baseball will always have a special place in my heart.

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In this spirit of Opening Day in Cincinnati, we read the narrative poem Casey at the Bat by Earnest Lawrence Thayer.  Find the poem here.

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James Earl Jones has an amazing narration of this poem, complete with theatrical background music.  Listen here.

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My students really liked the poem and “got” the message.  They were crestfallen when Casey struck out, and very annoyed at his arrogant showmanship.  They got the message.

It was a good day in my Milford classroom, in spite of my Redlegs losing to the Phillies later in the day.

Opening day score