Dropped into the moment

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MHS students at Boulder Beach in South Africa (notice the penguins in the back!).

by Addie Gill, junior writing coach

On January 12th, 44 Minnetonka High School students departed for Cape Town,  South Africa.  It took around 26 hours total of traveling , but we now have taken selfies with some penguins, swam in the ocean, experienced history at the prison Nelson Mandela was held in, and overwhelmingly found ourselves engrossed in a new place across the world.

My own experience was a whirlwind: I had never been out of the country before in my life, only to be dropped into a culture unlike my own.  I loved learning the nuances of the way my host family worked.  I got to experience the diversity of people walking in the streets, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery in my life.

One of the most striking places we visited was the District Six museum. During Apartheid, District Six was a housing area that held people of all backgrounds, races and religions. This harmonious living did not follow Apartheid laws of segregation, so over a period of many years, the government bulldozed the area and displaced thousands of people from their family homes. We had the privilege to talk to a previous resident of District Six, and he told us of his heartbreak when his home, where multiple generations of his family had been born, was torn down in front of his eyes. Although the government had shown great cruelty towards him, our guide showed stunning forgiveness and love for the people around him.

Traveling is quite an experience.  This trip has reminded me of that in every second, and I hope this can be a reminder for everyone (as life is a trip anyways):

Remember these moments. The good, but the bad was apart of it too. The whole collection- that is what we have. Treasure each piece, each moment, each cry, each laugh.

For they are our lives, our loves.

Us.

I personally follow this by writing in a journal; it comforts me in knowing that my memories and my thoughts will forever be with me.  I challenge everyone to remember this even as we transition into our new semester. Take all your experiences in stride, for they shape much of who we are.

Good luck, and hello from South Africa!

Beating Writer’s Cramps

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By Anne Malloy, junior writing coach and blog co-editor

My finals last week brought on an array of feelings, as always, but pain was not one I had prepared for. In the midst of writing in-class essays I got a visit from a writer’s cramp, that painful sensation any student or writer dreads. Rather than grit my teeth and work through the cramp, or switch the pen to my left hand mid-sentence, I decided to look into some hand exercises to combat these pesky hindrances the next time they happen.

For any aspiring writer or busy student out there, try out one of these exercises next time an unwelcome writer’s cramp pays you a visit.

 

  • Stress Ball: Believe it or not, the squishy spheres that help alleviate our stress can also help stop a hand cramp. Simply grab a stress ball and try squeezing it or rolling it out in your hand so it can work its magic.1-01

 

  • The Hunger Games Approach: You all know the gesture: touch your thumb to your pinky finger and you have the iconic hunger games hand gesture. When you feel a cramp coming, start with this District 12 salute, then move your thumb to each finger, one at a time, before ending on a clenched fist. Repeat until your hand goes back to feeling normal.1-02

 

  • Standard Approach: If you don’t have a stress ball handy and you’re not a big fan of the Hunger Games, another hand exercise you can try is the standard approach. Simply straighten out your writing hand for 5 seconds, and then make a hook fist, full fist, and straight fist on 5 second intervals as seen in the diagram below. Once you reach a straight fist, make a few circles with your wrist before beginning with a straight hand once more. Again, repeat as you need. 1-03

Any writer can commiserate about the painful hand cramps that show up at the worst of times (say, for instance, in the last few minutes of a final exam when you still have a paragraph to go). Writer’s cramps are anything but a pleasant surprise, so learn these simple exercises to end them as fast as they appear the next time they decide to visit. Happy writing!

Time to celebrate: end of semester recipes!

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Loaded nacho grilled cheese – one of many post-finals celebratory recipes to choose from.

by Mei Gong, sophomore writing coach

ATTENTION ALL MINNETONKA STUDENTS: first semester is ending and we are halfway there! (I’ll leave it up to you whether all those capital letters and that exclamation point were there for excitement or alarm.)

I would love to write a blog post about the ending semester that’s perfectly nostalgic and sentimental the whole way through…but, unfortunately, sweet emotional writing isn’t one of my strengths. However, making food is. I recognize that this isn’t the case for everyone, but even if you don’t cook, hopefully even just the ideas of these recipes can help with your semester switch sorrows (or high school completion progress pep)! Just click on the names of each dish for the link to the recipes.

For the freshman finally figuring things out:

Congratulations! You made it this far and I feel that’s something worth celebrating. Might I recommend some Filet Mignon and Balsamic Strawberries? No? Okay, so maybe that recipe is kind of complex. And time consuming. And expensive. Well, you and your family could always celebrate with some lemon cake instead.

For the sophomore just cruising along:

Surprisingly, this isn’t too bad, right? We’re getting the hang of all this high school craziness. You know what else is, surprisingly, not too bad? This recipe for loaded nacho grilled cheese sandwiches. Initially, I was doubtful that it’d be worth the effort, but I made a simplified version and the taco seasoning definitely adds a nice flare, bringing the sandwich way above my low expectations for a mere grilled cheese.

For the junior swamped with work:

It’s okay guys, school is hard. But I know you can make it! Here’s a superfood casserole to keep your body at its prime and your immune system humming. Of course, if the taste of these potent veggies makes you feel sick, it’s kind of counterproductive. If that’s the case, this comforting beef stew should do the trick.

For the senior who can’t wait for the next step:

Why wait for your favorite summer treats? Science might keep you from traveling to the future, but if you really, really want it to be summer, nothing’s stopping you from at least getting in the mood. Sure, summer classics like watermelon and berries aren’t exactly in season, and it might be hard to get the grill going in this weather, but we can’t let that stop us! Rapid fire, here’s some sweet tea, light chicken salad, and ice cream. Enjoy!

Tired of the same old same old? Read Heap House by Edward Carey

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By Anne Malloy, junior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

Looking for a unique read? Look no further. Heap House, by Edward Carey, is one of the most intriguing books I have ever read. It’s somewhat of a dark and quirky read, complete with a multiple perspective narration and creepy illustrations….

The book follows the story of Clod Iremonger, a boy who lives with his family in a mansion amongst the trash heaps of a somewhat twisted version of London. No one in the Iremonger family, except for their grandfather, has access to the outside world. They are born in the house and die there – a fate Clod wishes to escape. When things at the house go amiss, Clod begins to uncover the dark secrets of his family’s empire: secrets that are better left untouched.

There is nothing predictable about this story. It has so many different components that make it difficult to explain, but I can best describe it as a Charles Dickens meets Lemony Snicket kind of read. It has a certain degree of morbid intrigue and comedy that make it hard to put down. I would highly recommend Heap House to anyone looking for a refreshing read – something different than they have ever read before.

New semester…new you?

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by Anna Barnard, senior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

The new year has been gladly ushered in, and many resolutions have long been forgotten in the 12 days since the year began. For us students, we’re reaching a new beginning as well: finals are approaching, and with them, second semester. As we schedule our lives around our school days and class work, the start of the second half of the year may be even more distinct for some of us than the new year itself.

Despite this, we are realizing that we still have a whole half of a year left. For some, this is cause for celebration; for others, a daunting time period. The middle of the year is a place where some of us may feel stuck: bored with our day-to-day routine, tired of Minnesota’s cold, gray winter…I know that I feel this way.

What’s helping me approach second semester with a better attitude, then? Drawing back to my first few thoughts, I’ve decided to look at this midpoint as having potential for new opportunities and experiences. If you’re taking a new class second semester, be enthusiastic about your chance to learn some new material. If not, look for something new to do: you could develop a new habit of journaling, start volunteering somewhere new, or simply get a new haircut. The bottom line is to switch things up, and to create some variety in your life. I’m confident that it’ll give you a little boost going into part 2 of this year.

For some inspiration, I leave you with a poem:

New Things Are Best by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

What shall I tell you, child, in this new Sonnet?

Life’s art is to forget, and last year’s sowing

Cast in Time’s furrow with the storm winds blowing

Bears me a wild crop with strange fancies on it.

Last year I wore your sole rose in my bonnet.

This year — who knows — who, even the All-knowing,

What to my vagrant heart, for its undoing,

Of weeds shall blossom ere my tears atone it?

— New Spring is in the air with new desirings;

New wonders fructify Earth, Sea, and Heaven,

And happy birds sing loud from a new nest.

Ah, why then grieve Love’s recreant aspirings,

His last year’s hopes, his vows forgot, forgiven?

Child, be we comforted! New things are best.

The Best Underseen Movies of 2016

 

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By Kate Schiltz, junior writing coach and Joe Schiltz, class of 2011

At the end of the year, it seems like we hear about the same five or six movies over and over again—whether it’s huge blockbusters like “Rogue One” or surefire Oscar contenders like “La La Land.” Of course, these movies usually deserve the attention they’re getting, but a lot of the time there are equally deserving movies from earlier in the year that lose out on some of the attention. So, before you run out to get your tickets to “Passengers,” here are a few other options from 2016 to consider.

I Am Not a Serial Killer Based on the 2009 YA novel by Dan Wells, this indie movie tells the story of John Wayne Cleaver, a teenager who, indeed, is not a serial killer—yet. He has, however, been diagnosed with clinical sociopathy, and is desperately fighting to keep his darker urges at bay. But he becomes tested when his hometown becomes attacked by a real serial killer, and John decides to use his knowledge of the serial killer psyche to stop him. The movie was filmed last year in northern Minnesota, and it perfectly captures the look of a small Iron Range town and the chill of a frozen Minnesota January. (Available on Netflix and to rent on Amazon & iTunes.)

The Monster As you might have already guessed, we’re both big horror movie fans, and one of our favorites from the past few years was “The Strangers”—one of the most intense 80 minutes of our lives. Luckily for us, the director, Bryan Bertino, finally released another film: “The Monster.” At first glance, it’s a simple story: a mother and her daughter drive through the woods and get attacked by, well, a monster. What makes the movie especially impactful, however, is the complicated, angry relationship between the two main characters, which at times is more terrifying than the creature trying to kill them. That relationship also gives the movie an emotional payoff far more satisfying than typical for a horror film. (Available to rent on Amazon & iTunes.)

A War  This movie was released way back in February—in fact, it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars. But it was so fascinating and emotionally wrenching that we’re still thinking about it eleven months later. It tells the story of a Danish soldier fighting in Afghanistan, who must face an agonizing decision in the battlefield and then face the consequences of that decision when he returns home to stand trial for war crimes. Both the combat and the courtroom scenes are incredibly suspenseful—like the director’s last film, “A Hijacking,” this movie enriches an action-movie plot with fascinating characters and difficult themes. (Available on Netflix and to rent on Amazon & iTunes.)

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Joe Schiltz graduated from MHS in 2011, and worked at the Writing Center as a junior and senior writing coach. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 and studied English and Studies in Cinema and Media Culture. He now is working as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Berlin.