What I’m Into: January 2017

January. proper noun. The first month of each year, igniting joy and panic and Vitamin D deficiency.

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Despite all the fresh-start vibes most people love, January has never been my favorite month. It’s cold. It’s still dark. It’s lacking in holiday cheer. But there have been many bright spots to this month, too. Read on for some favorites.

Reading

Reading in the Wild – Donalyn Miller. Donalyn talks about strategies teachers can use to create lifelong readers. Her insights were helpful and gave me motivation to read more myself.

All American Boys – Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. This story is told in two perspectives. Rashad is an African American boy who is accused of shoplifting and is beaten by a police officer. Quinn is a white boy who witnesses the beating – and who knows the policeman. The authors navigate a touchy topic with unflinching empathy. I highly recommend this.

Flygirl – Sherri L. Smith. This book tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a fictional WASP during WWII. Ida is African American, but she passes as white to join the WASP. Though it was fun to read about the adventures and challenges of being a woman in a field typically dominated by men, I thought that some of the issues could have been handled in a deeper and more complex way.

Falling Over Sideways – Jordan Sonnenblick. Wow, am I grateful not to be in eighth grade any more. Claire is 14 years old when her dad has a stroke. She navigates the way that changes her family, as well as all the other middle school drama, in a voice that is authentic and especially funny to someone who’s not in that life stage anymore.

The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare. Adam, my boyfriend, would have been a better English major than I was. Case in point: he routinely listens to Shakespeare on his commute. Though I was skeptical that I would be able to follow this story, he passed the audiobook on to me, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I catch while sitting in traffic. Portia is one of my favorite Shakespearean women so far.

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Benet. Imagine if the Queen of England became a voracious reader. This novella tackles that premise with whit and charm. The British accents make it a delightful audiobook.

Currently reading: The Call of Stories – Robert Coles. Cress – Marissa Meyer. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Listening

Audrey Assad – Inheritance. Audrey is the center of my winter playlist, and her newest release is gorgeous and centering.

Spotify Premium. If you see a promo urging you to try 3 months of Premium for 99 cents, do it. Except you might become addicted to music without ads.

Watching

La La Land. This film is everything that I want movies to be: it’s a musical with romance and surprises throughout and thought-provoking ideas and likeable characters including a charming female lead who wears adorable dresses. The ending took me aback and gave me a lot of feelings and made me think about this story long after the credits ended. So basically, go see it.

Rogue One. I decided to live it up and go to this movie on the night Christmas break ended. I questioned my decision a little bit when we got out of the theater at 11:00 pm and a lot when I had weird dreams all night. That notwithstanding, I thought the movie was solid, especially because it broke the typical Star Wars plot model enough to keep things interesting, and it had intriguing themes of self-sacrifice.

The Crown. This show is so beautiful. Everyone must watch it.

Loving

I don’t know if loving is the correct term for this article about the way we approach poetry on standardized tests, but it is thought-provoking.

Batiste Dry Shampoo. Judge if you want, but I don’t wash my hair every day. If I did, it would look and feel like straw. (Staticky straw, in the winter.) With this miracle potion, I can leave my hair down on day 2 and not be grossed out.

Are you burned out of politics? (Still?) (Already?) This reassurance has more grace and beauty than I can muster.

Zumba! My sister and I have started going to classes once a week. We are not gifted in hip-shaking, so we burn extra calories laughing at ourselves.

Doing

Jumping back into the school routine after Christmas break. These days have included mental health trainings, conferences, attempts to make kids interested in poetry, and the daily grind of grading and planning and talking in front of people.

Celebrating my grandpa’s 80th birthday with a weekend trip up north. Grandpa was an excellent partygoer – he tried sushi and saki at the hibachi grill and let us hang out in his hotel room until late, keeping him awake far past his bedtime. We’re so grateful for him and his active presence in our lives!

Time with friends. Some friends gifted Adam and I a double date at salsa dancing lessons for Christmas, which was so much fun! We’ve also played Pandemic with them a few times this month and finally beat the game…at the beginner level…

Attending a performance of Diana’s Garden, an opera from the time of Mozart, at The Ordway. This show tells the story of Amore, the god of love, trying to set the “natural order” of the world to rights by overthrowing Diana, the goddess of chastity. It was entirely a delight. I especially loved the 1950s staging.

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Surviving winter. Some days more successfully than others.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – head to her site to explore more! And please tell me – what have you been into this month?

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July (2016)

July. proper noun. Pretty much the best month ever. It’s made for celebrating.

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July is my favorite month. It’s also the month that disappears so dang quickly. But we all know that against the odds, summer will last forever. Obviously. The end.

While I try to remain in that state of suspended disbelief, here’s what I’ve been into this month. As always, check out the link-up at Leigh Kramer’s site for additional recommendations!

 

Reading

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Still Life – Louise Penny. This is the first of the Inspector Gamache mystery novels, and it will absolutely not be the last one I read. A resident of a charming town in Quebec is murdered, and the investigation influences the entire community. The story was intriguing and character-driven and not gory – everything a mystery should be.

Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson. I read mostly of this during an evening that also included a torrential thunderstorm and a power outage. Jenny Lawson makes me snort-laugh. Even when I’m reading by headlamp. She advocates for those who suffer from mental illness with honesty and an amazing, ridiculous sense of humor.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens. I didn’t want to read this book. I attempted Great Expectations in high school and couldn’t get into it, so I avoided Charles Dickens until my 2016 Reading Challenge made me pick a book that intimidated me. I’M SO GLAD I TRIED THIS. I finished this book on the morning of my birthday, in bed, and I read the last page three times over because it was so beautiful. I could write pages and pages on all the layers of this story. A new favorite.

Meet the Austins – Madeline L’Engle. My new life goal is to join the Austin clan and move in to their grandpa’s seaside stable full of books. This book is nothing more than episodes in the life of the Austin family, and each is delightful. Madeline L’Engle is the only writer in the world who could pull this off.

Essentialism – Greg McKeown. This book teaches “the disciplined pursuit of less,” not in terms of possessions, but in terms of time management. McKeown encourages people to determine what is essential and to use their time for the things that matter most while saying no to merely good options. I have complicated thoughts about this book. His principles seem most helpful for business people or those who have more flexibility in how they structure their time than teachers do. Sometimes this mindset also seemed selfish – there will be occasions when you need to do things that aren’t in the best interest of your own time management because you are not the center of the universe. However, I was inspired to make sure I have strong priorities in place, both in my classroom and in the rest of my life, as a good framework for making decisions. McKeown also emphasized how his work has led him to prioritize things like family, rest, and play, which is a message I can support wholeheartedly.

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton. One of the most beneficial things I’ve done this summer was join a reading group to work through this book. I wouldn’t say that Chesterton is particularly approachable – his writing is meandering and sometimes obscure. But he has some fantastic metaphors, and thanks to discussions with my group, this book has left me with some striking ideas about how poetry and wonder are necessary for faith.

Currently Reading: Redwall – Brian Jacques

 

Watching

Finding Dory – I was so nervous that I would be disappointed by this movie. I wasn’t at all. It kept all of the fun of the original without being too similar. Baby Dory is also the most adorable animated character I have ever seen.

The Secret Life of Pets – Cute. Fluffy. Made me want a puppy. (Also. The actress who plays Mona Lisa in Parks and Rec is the voice of the lead female dog, and it is wacky.)

Hello, My Name is Doris – I went into this movie expecting a light-hearted comedy. After all, it’s about how Doris, a socially awkward older woman, develops a crush on a coworker (played by Schmidt from New Girl!). This wasn’t light-hearted, and while it had some funny lines (and funny-looking outfits), it wasn’t a comedy. The situation could be amusing, but Doris is so earnest in her pursuit of the guy that it’s not. Overall, it was uncomfortable.

Fixer Upper – This is not the summer show I expected to love. But I want Joanna Gaines to be my best friend. I also want to see what she could do with a rental where she’s not allowed to paint or take out walls or put up shiplap.

Sherlock – I am only one episode in. But oh, Benedict Cumberbatch. I did not previously understand people’s obsession with him. It’s beginning to make sense.

 

Listening

Simply Happy podcast for TED radio hour. Some fascinating perspectives on what makes us happy.

The Liturgists podcast Episode 34 – Black and White: Racism in America. This month was a tough one, in our city and around the country. It will take brave, honest conversations like this one for healing to begin.

Some Kind of Love – Charlie Puth.

 

Loving

Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered graham crackers with sea salt. The longest name for the most delicious snack.

The world is not what you think, according to this article.

This thai quinoa salad. I wanted to eat the entire recipe in one sitting.

Aldi. Yay cheap groceries. I had never shopped there before this month. How did I survive college without it? I’m beginning to wonder.

Outdoor yoga classes. They are keeping me sort of fit and mostly sane.

 

Doing

Going to the lake! The agenda rarely varies (eat, read on the dock, swim, eat more, nap, kayak, roast s’mores, look at stars, watch movies, stay up too late), but it hasn’t gotten old yet.

Surviving without power for three days. It could have been worse. I could have gotten groceries the night we lost power, and I could have returned the headlamps I had borrowed for camping in a timely manner. Sometimes procrastination pays off.

Going to the Lion King. My parents treated me to the show as an early birthday present, and it was magical. The music and the staging and the costumes are incredible. It’s not too late to go see it (if you live in the Twin Cities, that is), and YOU SHOULD.

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We only have terrible quality pics because we didn’t have time for pics during daylight hours and because my parents were still learning to effectively use their iPhone cameras. (As an aside, my parents got iPhones. This is a big deal for the people who are practically Amish.)

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My early birthday celebration also involved this. We had fun candles. We did not have cake. My parents were bringing me homemade bread and think they’re funny. (They sort of are.)

Hanging out with the boyfriend. He came back to Minnesota for a wedding, and then we spent some time with his friends and family at their cabin. I will never get sick of sailing with that boy.

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Partying! For my birthday, that is. I spent the day doing exactly what I wanted: drinking Izzy for breakfast, reading in bed, eating Punch Pizza for lunch with my sister, wandering through a stationary store, talking with my favorite people, roping some friends into joining me for a waterskiing show and dinner. Here’s to another year of life!

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The Copper Hen is delightful. These friends are delightful.

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Brita makes this flourless chocolate cake every year for my birthday. Just another reason I love her.

Field tripping. I’ve been volunteering with an organization that takes non-native English speakers on field trips around the Twin Cities. We’ve been to the Minnesota Historical Center, KTIS radio station and Northwestern, and The Minneapolis Arts Institute, and it’s a delight to see familiar landmarks through new, curious eyes.

All the moving. And unpacking. I moved out of my very first apartment and into a new space. I also switched classrooms at school and have lots of boxes to unload. Order is finally beginning to emerge from chaos, but feeling settled is a slow process.

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Adios, #4!

 

Generally enjoying every second of summer that I can.

 

What have you been into this month?

golden

Golden. adjective. The color of late summer, of the minutes before sunset, of serendipity.

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We’ve been eating peaches all weekend: they are golden rimmed in red, edible hot sun and sweet rain. A pie turns to juice in our mouths and disappears. The white fan moves the evening air, all humidity and laughter. The brothers who eat and tease, the dad who listens, the mom who sasses, the other family who color the conversation, sit around scratched-up wood tables. They tell stories about people I don’t know, of wedding crashing 50 years ago. Their words mix with the lake water in my hair and the smell of piecrust, simmering into joy.

The twenty-somethings and moms gather on the lawn, yoga mats sprawled. The leader, in hot pink leggings, intones “inhale, up dog; exhale, down dog.” I lose my breath, and my Warrior One wobbles when she nears. “Left hip down, right hip forward,” and I shift, muscles stabilizing. I hear “good adjustment” and wonder if it’s for me, the girl who knows no one and feels too young, too tall, too much into cardio for this. But still I try. When I lay in stilled savasana, breath slow, eyes closed, tongue dropped from the roof of my mouth, golden sunlight fills my palms.

The pictures blur, twenty-two candles and golden glow. We eat cupcakes, extra frosting on hand, even though we’ve had dessert twice already. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this birthday, the first without my family around the table and my sister’s flourless chocolate cake. But I am sandwiched between two friends who planned an evening of surprises, with breadsticks and minions and girlish chatter. Though I’d forgotten to invite it, love joined the party.

It’s too late. I’m the only one who ever mentions it. I yawn. I don’t know how he does it, the boy a time zone ahead of me. Someone finally clicks and the call ends. Though this is hard, this communication through computer, I glow golden as I brush my teeth. He cares what I think, even when my words are scrambled. He loves me. He admits it in front of his roommates.

The professor in the movie, wearing a beanie and jeans, claims, “We should concern ourselves, not so much with the pursuit of happiness, but with the happiness of pursuit.” Hector, the psychiatrist on an international quest for happiness, finds it in a flight home. When he asks the stewardess if the plane can go any faster, his face is golden, lit with love. I know where I’d fly for happiness, given the chance. But apparently happiness doesn’t take miles of travel to find. I don’t know exactly what I’m pursuing. But I want to be surprised by happiness here. I think I’m learning how.

July (2015)

July. The month of the Fourth of July and my birthday. Also the month of the year that seems to fly by the fastest.

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Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share the things I’m loving this month. Head to the link-up to get some great recommendations.

Reading

A lot.

Just One Day – Gayle Forman. In high school, I remember spending an entire summer afternoon reading If I Stay, another Gayle Forman book about a girl in a car accident, and crying for nearly the entire book. Going into this book, I expected similar emotional manipulation. This story is about Allyson, a rule-follower who spontaneously decides to spend just one day in Paris with a mysterious street actor, and spends the entire next year getting over the experience. Beware: much boy angst and wanderlust for Paris ensue. This book wasn’t particularly deep, but when I read the ending, I might have actually stared, open-mouthed, at the book and said aloud, “That’s the end?,” so I guess I got my emotional manipulation after all. Overall, an enjoyable read that made me remember why, as a teenager, I could read for afternoons without stopping.

Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher. This book, by a writing prof at the U of M, was a clever story told in the letters of recommendation and business correspondence of a fictional writing professor of a small university. After working in a professor’s office and overhearing many conversations about inter-department politics and budget cuts, I found this book additionally amusing. The writing is smart, funny, accessible, and though sometimes it’s hard to find an overarching plot in the letters, the end is surprising and makes the entire book work.

Rules of Civility – Amor Towles. This is possibly my favorite kind of book: an exploration of different, fascinating characters where nothing particularly explosive happens but little events keep uncovering new revelations. Rules of Civility follows Katey Kontent, a young New Yorker, and the vivid people who shape her life in 1938. The story felt like a book version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with a sharper, less flaky narrator. The writing was clear, with clever descriptions and simple flair. Simply put, I loved this book.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks – E. Lockhart. This YA book, about a girl who hates being underestimated and tries to infiltrate a boys-only secret society, is fun. It has a few traces of interesting social critique, but it wasn’t a stand-out for me.

Found – Micha Boyett. I stumbled across this in the library, and what a serendipitous gift as I lived out a quiet, seemingly unremarkable month. This was a gentle, grace-filled book about prayer and motherhood. I’m not a book underliner (especially in library books), but this book made me want to be one with lines like, “Stability is not something you do,” and “The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” Loved it.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity – Lauren F. Winner. Why do I feel the need to clarify that one can read books about sex without having sex? Now that we’re clear, this book. It focused on chastity, or basically doing sex within God’s intentions. It did more than toss out a few verses from Paul; Winner went deeper into the theology of the body and sex, busted common myths, and shared her own story. Though I didn’t agree with all of her ideas, and I’m curious how her thoughts have changed now that she’s no longer a newlywed, I’d recommend this for the fascinating conversations it sparked and ways it made me question my unconsciously-held ideas.

Persuasion – Jane Austen. My dad claims that all Jane Austen novels/movies are exactly the same: sisters lacking money search for men. There is minor disaster and someone has a scandalous history. It ends happily. That isn’t exactly true… though this one did have all the major ingredients. It also had a little more rawness. Austen nails the descriptions of pining after lost love, perhaps because this novel supposedly based on her own lost romance.

 

Watching

Hector and the Search for Happiness. What a delightful movie. Hector, a bored psychiatrist, goes on an international journey to learn more about happiness (and find it for himself). He learns that happiness is such things as “being loved for who you are” and “avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness.” It’s tender and funny and insightful. (It’s also rated R for a few f-bombs and some implied sex, but I didn’t think it was too offensive. My mom recommended it to me, if that tells you anything.)

The Minion Movie. I have great friends who take me to children’s movies on my birthday. It was exactly the kind of silly you expect from the Minions. Nothing deep, but all kinds of cute. I still want a minion of my own.

Sleepless in Seattle. I got to introduce an uninitiated friend to this movie, which I feel is one of my callings in life.

The old Footloose. I prefer the new one, honestly. Is that heresy?

A little FRIENDS, and when I needed a something new, a little of The Vicar of Dibley. Alice, particularly her story about I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, makes the entire show worth watching.

 

Listening

Dan + Shay – Nothin’ Like You

Tried-and-true favorites like NEEDTOBREATHE and Ellie Holcomb. I need something new – any thoughts? What are you loving this summer?

 

Loving

Still jamming on salads in a jar, especially one with ranch, salsa, rice, chicken, corn, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, and crushed torilla chips. The perfect summer lunch (and a cheaper Chipotle substitute).

Mail. Few things make me feel more loved than getting cards.

This Instagram account, a guy who records his adventures as a third wheel, is hysterical.

Free outdoor yoga classes. A park down the road from my apartment offers free yoga a few times a week, and I’ve been trying to hit them when my schedule is open. Though one time I stumbled into a PiYo (pilates and yoga fusion) session and thought I might die, the other sessions have ended with me feeling incredibly relaxed.

These realistic-looking images of Disney princes. Yessss.

Skype, the savior of long-distance relationships (and it’s free!)

Freshly updated dressers. I spent one evening spiffing up a beat-up dresser. All it took was a sample size can of paint of interior paint – just enough to cover the drawers – and some new drawer pulls from World Market.

I suck at decorating pictures. But for a beat-up dresser, I like this.

I suck at decorating pictures. But for a dresser dug out of our basement, I like this.

Doing

Working with kids at the park. Pros: my job includes tasks like going off a massive zipline into a pool, playing laser tag, and giving piggyback rides in the pool. Cons: my job includes tasks like dealing with kids with selective hearing or ones that cry because they can’t get their shoes on, and I have been asked by children when I am going to replace both my phone and my car. At least it’s different every day.

Celebrating the Fourth of July at the cabin, complete with an extra day off, naps in the hammock, sparklers off the dock, and terrifying tube rides from my brother. Don’t trust 18-year-old boys to drive their older sisters.

Looking patriotic

Looking patriotic

Visiting my longtime roommate and friend. I got to hang out at her house, cackle at ridiculous Backstreet Boys and N’Sync music videos, craft, and drive around Minnesota’s Iron Range. I miss having her around!

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Hull Rust Mine overlook. Both photos from the lovely Janae.

A truck tire from the mine. For context, I'm 6'1".

A truck tire on the vehicles that work in the mine. For context, I’m 6’1″.

Gearing up for a sweet friend’s wedding with a bridal shower. I can’t believe that someone I became friends with on my first day of college is about to get married!

Thrift store dress for the win. Photo credit: Rachel's mom, who actually remembers to take pictures at events.

Thrift store dress for the win. Photo credit: Rachel’s mom, who actually remembers to take pictures at events.

Celebrating my birthday with dear friends. I got an evening full of surprises, complete with a visit from a faraway friend, dinner at Eddington’s with lots of breadsticks (a classic for us), the Minion movie (because nothing says 22 like animated movies), and cupcakes with candles. I felt so loved.

Feeling 22!

Feeling 22!

Hanging out with my family for another lake weekend. We ate a ridiculous number of peaches and spent many hours on the water. I swam all the way across the lake and failed at getting up on one ski. It was perfection.

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Classic. Anna says “We’re going to die!” while Caleb says “Go! Faster! Gun it!”

What have you been into in July?

Birthday

Birthday. noun. According to Dictionary.com, “a day marking or commemorating the origin, founding, or beginning of something.”

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

One year ago, I sat in my dorm room and hit the “publish” button for the first time. Happy birthday, dear blog, happy birthday to you.

I feel like this is supposed to be a big deal and that I should make up celebration-y things in its honor: My readership has exploded! My writing and character have grown so much! But I don’t know if those things are actually true. I started with a readership of, well, zero, so having any readers is noteworthy. If I evaluate my own performance, my thoughts are, “Oh look! Another sentence started with a conjunction! Another anecdote about perfection! More proof that I have gone nowhere in a year!”

So we’re not going to go there.

Here’s what I’m probably not supposed to write on the birthday of my baby blog: When I started this, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I didn’t talk about my writing and balked at sharing it. I didn’t think that my minimal writing experience and kind-of English major made me qualified.

All of these things are still true.

But when I let myself see, there are other, more important things that are true as well.

Other people have read and felt, so they say. Letting them into my head is terrifying, but it’s better than thoughts swelling too-large, unexposed. Molding ideas with words pushes deeper thinking, which leads to deeper living (sometimes). The writing is intentional here, the words rubbing harder against art than in scrawled journal pages. On quiet library mornings and late nights full of drowning thoughts, typing words keeps me sane. Perhaps blogging sucks away time, steals sleeping hours, and makes me more concerned with site stats than I should be. But it has been worth it.

These things are small, simple, un-revolutionary. But even when I don’t know what I’m doing and think someone else could do it better, they are enough to keep me going.

That is something worth celebrating.

So happy birthday, Girl, Defined. Here’s to another year.