What I’m Into: April & May 2018

April & May 2018. The bitter end of winter and the end of the school year and most of our sanity.

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This post is brought to you by a critical condition called End of the Year Teacher Brain. This is a condition in which my brain cells have been killed off, one by one, by every interruption and request for make-up work and time I have had to say, “You should be quietly reading at this point” in my quiet, I-have-eternal-reserves-of-patience voice instead of the guttural roar of “WHY IS THIS HARD. JUST STOP TALKING. YOU SHOULD KNOW HOW TO READ SILENTLY AT THIS POINT IN THE YEAR,” that is resounding in my head. Every day that I make it through without a. napping through my entire prep period or b. completely losing my mind is worth celebrating.

The Internet knows what I mean.

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At least it’s just a few days until I can do this:

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Here’s the long list of other things that are making this season a little bit better.

P.S. There is an excessive amount of stuff in this wrap-up – especially books – because I skipped last month. We can blame End of the Year Teacher Brain for that, too.

 

Reading

Dreamland Burning – Jennifer Latham. This book is really, really excellent. On her first day of summer break, Rowan wakes up to see that a construction crew has uncovered a decades-old skeleton on her property. The story unravels from there, jumping back and forth between 1921 and the present day. There is much to love here – multiple perspectives, a bit of mystery, and more information on the Tulsa race riots (a historic event I knew nothing about).

Rules of Civility – Amor Towles. Adam picked up this book, so I reread it at the same time. I love Amor Towles’ sharp observations and subtle wit, and I stand by my original assessment that this is similar in tone to The Great Gatsby (atmospheric, glitzy, melancholy), with more likeable characters. Now if only he could write another book soon…

Orbiting Jupiter – Gary Schmidt. I am discovering that I am very picky about endings. A student had told me that this one made her cry, so I waited to finish it until I was alone in my apartment. It was a good thing I waited. This ending is devastating, but incredibly well done. Go read this little book. Right now.

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein. I don’t want to say too much about this book. I can tell you that it’s told from the perspective of a female spy who has been captured in occupied France and who is writing out confessions to the Gestapo, and that it’s chock full of surprises. This ending, too, worked for me: aside from one coincidence that was just too perfect, it was tragic and excellent. It is YA, but this is one of those books that transcends the label and is worthy of being read by older folks.

(Admittedly, I couldn’t get into the prequel, The Pearl Thief. Perhaps it was a book hangover from this?)

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Pachett. This is a collection of essays by Ann Pachett, the novelist and co-owner of Parnassus books. It is only partially about marriage, and contains many other stories of her life and writing career. I enjoyed it. Worthwhile, but not life-changing.

The Wednesday Wars – Gary Schmidt. I remember loving this as a teenager, but I didn’t remember anything about it. In the midst of the Vietnam War, a boy deals with the typical coming-of-age struggles – while he also has to learn Shakespeare with his teacher. I guarantee that teachers will find this funnier than kids.

The Road Back to You – Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. I will admit, I only read the chapters of this that applied to me. (I am a One, undecided if I have a Nine wing or not.) Since I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts about this topic, the book wasn’t revolutionary, but I think it would be a great basic introduction to the Enneagram for the uninitiated. (I’m going to dive into The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz next and potentially check out Suzanne Stabile’s new book The Path Between Us, too).

What I Saw and How I Lied – Judy Blundell. This is a sparsely told story that takes place just after World War II. Evie’s stepfather has returned from the war, and inexplicably whisks her and her mother away to Florida, where buried secrets come to light. This was a quick read that I wished was deeper in parts, but I was fascinated by how it was impossible to tell if the narrator was unreliable or just naïve.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Khoul. Another book of essays! This one was fine. I think I was expecting her to be another Jenny Lawson or Tina Fey, and who wouldn’t seem only fine in comparison to those? My favorite parts were her descriptions of her Indian family, and her emails with her father at the end of every chapter.

It Won’t Be Easy – Tom Rademacher. This teaching memoir is by a recent Minnesota Teacher of the Year. It was fine. Maybe a little preachy. On the whole, a decent reminder that we should be in teaching for the kids.

Abandoned: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is a pick that so many people have loved, and what I read of it certainly was addictive. But I didn’t like Evelyn’s character enough to stick with it. Plus, I was terrified she was going to hurt sweet Harry, and I didn’t want to stick around for that emotional train wreck.

 

Listening

Darling – NEEDTOBREATHE. It’s a good thing I was physically with Adam the first time I heard this song, or I probably would have busted out crying. The Spotify radio for this song is excellent, too.

 

Be Kind to Yourself – Andrew Peterson. Kendra Aadachi of The Lazy Genius Collective has a playlist for Enneagram Ones. The first time I heard this song, I did bust out crying.

Watching

The Post. I thought this movie was well done. After all, it has both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It was extra interesting coupled with Slow Burn, a podcast I’ve been listening to about the Watergate scandal. I’m hoping to pick up Katharine Graham’s biography soon!

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction – David Letterman’s interview with Malala Youshafzi. This was such an unlikely pairing, but I found Malala to be a fascinating person. This would actually be a great interview to show students.

 

Loving

Warm. Weather. We had a snow day in mid-April, and it’s hard to believe that was just over a month ago. In the span of what felt like a week, we went from snow on the ground to 70 degrees, and I can’t say I’m mad about that. (Though I’m not sure how I feel about hitting 100 degrees on Memorial Day…)Now I just have to resist wearing shorts every day.

Kiehl’s Ultra Face Cream SPF 25. I searched long and hard for a moisturizer with SPF that doesn’t smell like sunscreen, dry my face out, or irritate my crazy sensitive skin. I tried just about everything, and I hated just about everything. This one worked.

 

Doing

Vising Adam. Over the past two months, I drove to Chicago three times, which equals driving for half a million miles. At least the guy is worth it. 🙂 Here are the highlights:

Weekend #1 – I was recovering from a bout of the stomach flu and decided to make the drive anyway. We didn’t do much other than attend a performance at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where the run up 6 flights of stairs and then the perilous descent from the top of the gallery to our seats nearly took me out.

Weekend # 2 – We went to the Party in the Sky, UChicago’s grad event at the Willis Tower. We also squeezed in a tour of Rockefeller Chapel’s carillon tour (incredibly cool and worth climbing eternal flights of stairs) and a walk down to Promontory Point.

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Weekend #3 – For Memorial Day weekend, we wandered through the Science of Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry and escaped the heat of Adam’s unconditioned apartment at the beach (you know it’s hot when you actually go into Lake Michigan in May). Adam also let me drag him downtown just for Shake Shack, Millennium Park, and the Buckingham Fountain. Before I left, we also tried bubble tea. Bobas are weird.

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Attending a Rend Collective concert with the family. I like Rend Collective’s Irish quirkiness. And my family’s general quirkiness.

Watching The Lorax. Though this was a production at the Children’s Theater, it was incredibly well done and thought provoking. I got to tag along with a few kids, and seeing their reactions was also a delight.

Running a half marathon relay! Andrew and I weren’t feeling up to a full half marathon, so we split the difference and ran the relay. Training for a race was a great way to kick my butt in gear after a winter of sitting on the couch, but I was grateful Andrew let me take the shorter 5 mile leg!

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Watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at the Guthrie. This show was excellent. I remember watching and enjoying the movie version of this, but I didn’t know what to expect from a play. It was simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching.

Teaching. Almost summer. Out of words.

Whew. What have you been into this spring?

 

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March 2017: What I’m Into

March. proper noun. The month of spring break and continuing to dream of tropical locales where it’s not still. freaking. snowing. And of Lent.

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I unfolded from my car and crept into the Maundy Thursday service. The sanctuary was unfamiliar, a service selected at random from the Internet at a town midway between the Cities and my parents’ house. I felt a little dazed, and not because I’d been in a car for four hours. I just didn’t feel like I was ready for this, the high point of the church calendar.

That’s not to say I hadn’t tried. I did the Lenten fast and waved away unnecessary purchases for 40 days. The hand creams and books and Trader Joe’s daffodils stayed on their shelves. I added to my online clothes shopping cart but didn’t purchase anything. I tried to free up my mental space for more holy things. It sort of worked. But I didn’t feel like I found more room for Jesus. I didn’t feel like I got holier. Mostly, I just saw how petty and shallow I am, and I felt bad that I didn’t know how to fix it.

I’m sorry I’m not better, Lord, I thought, as I sat through the song I didn’t recognize and the sermon about Jesus’s sacrifice. I’m sorry that I waste so much of my time on the Internet. I’m sorry that I care so much about stupid things. I’m sorry I don’t pray more, or read theology more, or sit in stillness more. I’m sorry that I didn’t solve my sins. I’m sorry you still had to die for them.

And then I was walloped by how completely I had missed the point.

Lent is to help me see my need for a savior. It is not to help me save myself.

Jesus knew I would be more Pharisee than Peter, more spic and span outside than in. He knew I would absolutely care about the things man cares about. He knew I would believe my plans were better than his. He looked into my eyes, knowing they would too often shift away from all that blood and all that undeserved agony.

And then he died. For me.

I still don’t understand it, this Jesus, this grace. Daily, my brokenness splashes everywhere, and I wonder what the heck he was thinking.

This mystery is one I will never solve fully. A love this deep, that asks nothing and gives everything, is incomprehensible. There will never be a way for me to earn it, no matter how many striped t-shirts I avoid buying or how many chapters of John I read. There will always be more to discover, through all the Lents into eternity.

His grace is sufficient for imperfect me, indeed.

 

When I’m not contemplating the state of my soul, here’s what I’ve been loving this month.

Reading

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green. I once had a theory that it will never take me longer than one day to finish a John Green novel. That theory is still going strong. This story is told by Aza Holmes, who has OCD. The plotline itself is fine ­– the resolution seemed a bit rushed, and I thought the romance element had a clunky start. The real gem here is the front-seat view into Aza’s thoughts. It’s what makes this book 100% worth reading. You see her perspective on life and hear her questions about what makes a person human and how much choice we have about our own lives. It also made me realize straight-up how wrong the picture in my head is of mental illness. Though I know that “just getting over it” isn’t an option, I’ve never had such clarity about what it actually feels like to have a “thought spiral,” as might happen to someone with mental health issues. It nearly made me cry, in moments. John Green’s insight into teenagers’ brains is striking, and it’s even more so than usual in this one.

English Creek – Ivan Doig. I read this as a study of how to write historical fiction for another writing project I’m working on, and because I loved The Whistling Season. The detail that went into this 1939 Montana setting was astounding. I was surprised to find out Doig had made up the entire English Creek area, mountain ranges and nearby towns included. Admittedly, the level of scenic detail and description made this one a bit slow-going in spots. But the narration feels like a collection of winding old-time tales that Jick, the fourteen year old narrator, might tell around a fire during a blizzard to his some-day grandchildren. I especially enjoyed the characters – they felt like spot-on caricatures, in the way that the individuals in small towns become reduced to a few stories that somehow tell you everything important about them.

Chasing Slow – Erin Loechner. I went to hear Erin Loecher speak through the Faith & Life lectures here in the Twin Cities, and my mom’s theory that we could be friends with her was absolutely confirmed. I bought this book to pass on as a gift…but I definitely read it myself first. Reading about her journey to pursuing less – in terms of both prestige and possessions – aligned incredibly well with what I’ve been contemplating this Lent. It reminded me that striving to accumulate less is nice – but it’s only truly good when we use the remaining time and resources and energy to pour into loving others well.

Moon Over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool. This is a reread from a year or two ago, about a girl in the Depression who is left in an unfamiliar town who stumbles upon a mystery from the past. I still adore this one. I’m realizing how picky I am about endings, and this one nails it. It’s a beautiful mix of sad and hopeful and tender.

Warcross – Marie Lu. This book tells the story of Emika, a broke hacker who hacks into a world tournament video game, gets found out, and accidentally gets herself hired by the head of the video game to be a spy. While reading, I enjoyed this one a lot. Then I finished it, and I couldn’t figure out why I was disappointed. Until I realized that I wanted this book to be Ready Player One, and it wasn’t, and I would suggest just reading that one, which has more action and more depth and a more interesting and clear virtual world. The end.

 

Listening

One – Sleeping At Last. Sleeping at Last is in the middle of a project where he creates a song for each number of the Enneagram. It should be abundantly clear that I am a One after reading the introduction to this post. The first time I listened to the One song, I thought it was fine (typical). But then I couldn’t get the line “As if I could earn God’s favor given time/or at least “Congratulations,” out of my head. And then I listened to the podcast explaining this song, and it became even more meaningful.

 

Bridges Burn – NEEDTOBREATHE. They have new music and an updated concert schedule releasing soon and I am not excitedly messaging my brother every time they post updates on Instagram. Not at all.

 

Ain’t No Man – The Avett Brothers. It makes me feel like I should be at a barn raising, in the best way.

The Liturgists podcast has made a comeback, and they make me think really hard about things that I always thought were true.

 

Watching

Baking with Josh and Ange. I’ve only watched a few episodes of this, but it’s a cute how-to YouTube channel where the Ange half of the duo is the actress who plays Angela in The Office. She seems so…nice? and normal? in real life. Naturally, the episodes with guests from The Office are my favorites.

 

Loving

Allbirds. I needed some comfy sneakers for traveling last month, and Allbirds caught my attention. The alleged benefits? They’re comfy, sustainably made from wool, they don’t get smelly, and socks are unnecessary. After nearly two months of wear, I’m happy to report all those claims are actually true. I was worried that they wouldn’t be supportive enough for my old lady, high-arched feet, but I walked for most of a day in San Francisco in them and have worn them all day at school with no complaints. Plus, I don’t have to wear socks. Praise hands. I have the natural gray wool runners, and they go with nearly everything.

Being off Accutane. Last spring, my skin went bonkers. I’ve struggled with spotty acne since high school, but toward the end of college, I started getting painful cystic breakouts where I would actually ice my face because it would feel so sore. I tried medication and topical products, and for a stint, eliminating milk and low-fat milk products. Whatever I tried would work for a while, and then all the spots would come back. My dermatologist recommended isotretinoin (more popularly known as Accutane), and I’ve been on it since August. And friends? It was entirely worth it. There are some definite downsides to that stuff. My lips and the skin on my face have never been so dry (thank goodness for Aquaphor and argan oil), and I did have more joint and muscle stiffness than normal. But I’ve been done for almost 3 weeks and my skin has never looked better. Everything – from the big breakouts to the little blackheads around my noes – has been healed. I haven’t regularly worn any foundation or concealer to school since December. Dermatologists are magic workers.

This bread recipe. I’ve been attempting to make bread lately, and this turned out the best of any of the loaves I’ve made. The King Arthur Flour Baking Company Bread 101 videos are also incredibly helpful.

Library cookbooks. Did you know that you can check out cookbooks from the library and take pictures of the recipes and then make them even after you returned the physical book to the library? This world is a wonderful place. I’ve checked out The Pioneer Woman’s Dinnertime and Come and Get It! and am looking forward to trying some new things.

 

Doing

Spring breaking! At the beginning of the break, a dear college friend and I met up in Chicago and drove to the Ohio-Kentucky border to hang out with another friend for a long weekend. Those two are the best. In addition to the required staying up way too late talking, we hit up Cincinnati for a concert, experienced some quirky local Kentucky culture and then went to Louisville to see Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Please & Thank You (a coffee shop with the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten – good recommendation, Modern Mrs. Darcy). We also saw the Indianapolis Zoo on our way back north, which had a fantastic orangutan exhibit and would be worth visiting again when it’s warm.

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I capped off spring break by hanging out with Adam in Chicago. Even though he was in the midst of finals week, we managed to squeeze in a viewing of the opera Cosi fan Tutti, which is funny and thus a little more my speed than Wagner. Other than that, we mostly hung out in libraries. At least they were pretty libraries!

Heading home for Easter. Having the whole family in one place is sweet – as is eating a lot of good food. I will never tire of angel pie.

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What have you been into this month?

 

February 2018 – What I’m Into

February. proper noun. The month of love. And also the month where I consider moving somewhere not this cold.

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This month was the Tale of Two Februaries.

There was the Vacation February. For one blessed long weekend at the beginning of the month, I flew to San Francisco to see my mom and sister. Brita gets to live somewhere with palm trees, you guys. This is great because, you know, good for her, but also because it gives me an excuse to leave Minnesota in February. I got to get the tiniest bit sunburned. I got to not wear a parka. I got to hike in a forest where there were actual leaves, and they were green.

The next blessed long weekend of Vacation February, Adam came to Minnesota for President’s Weekend. Thank you, presidents, for being born and giving us the day off. We ate good food. We danced. We got to sit next to each other. It was a delight.

And then there was Ordinary February. Ordinary February is even worse than Ordinary January because in February, it’s still freaking cold. And my tolerance of it is even lower. In Ordinary February, the hormone monsters also take over the 7th grade. The kids get weird and squirrely, and while they’re sometimes hilarious, they also make me very tired.

The moral of the story?

Take every February off. Entirely.

(I wish.)

And also, fine. Remind myself that there is good in the ordinary, for the 10,927 time. (That is not hyperbole.) Even when I have to get up before 6:00 am and even when it’s snowing again and even when I can’t handle one more interruption during class. There is still beauty and goodness here.

Here is some of that good from this month.

 

Reading

Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry. I first discovered Wendell Berry when I read Jayber Crow a few summers ago. I liked it enough to buy a collection of his Sabbath poems. And even those did not prepare me for how much I would love and adore Hannah Coulter.  I have never underlined so much and texted so many pictures of paragraphs to Adam, especially in a fiction book. This is simply the story of one woman’s life. Her words and story are ordinary. But her insights are striking and beautiful. This moved up high on the list of my favorites, and I might tell every woman I know to read it.

Refugee – Alan Gratz. This book tells the stories of 3 different refugees – Josef is a Jew escaping the Nazis on the St. Louis, Isabel is a Cuban leaving the Castro regime on a homemade raft, and Mahmoud is a Syrian fleeing from war. This book is gripping and heartbreaking, while still being entirely appropriate for a young adult audience. I kept feeling like the author should just give these characters a break already – how could so many terrible things happen to a handful of people? But that’s also real life. Highly recommended.

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon. This book ramps up the awkward-teenage-love thing – by introducting an arranged marriage. Dimple Shah heads to InsomniaCon, a coding camp, with plans to develop her app. Instead, she discovers that her parents planned for her to meet her future husband. I loved this book. Until the last quarter. Rishi is the cutest awkward boy-in-love, and I thought the tug of war between how Rishi and Dimple handled their Indian heritage was handled well. However. In the last quarter, there was a steamy scene that, while not especially explicit, just seemed unnecessary. I also didn’t entirely buy the ending. I wanted to be able to recommend this one to my students without reservations. But alas. If you’re older than 12, it’s entirely enjoyable.

Garlic and Sapphires – Ruth Reichl. Food memoirs are just scrumptious. (Or scrummy, as Mary from The Great British Baking Show would say.) This book tells about Ruth Reichl’s experiences as the food critic at the New York Times. It involves more wigs than you might expect. Besides making me hungry for things I’ve never even tasted (squid ink? Truffles?), this story has surprising reflections on how we create identities for ourselves and how society treats different women differently.

A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. This isn’t exactly my type of book. But when a student hands her very own copy of a book to me and tells me that I simply must read it, I can’t not. And this book was very dear. A dog is reborn into multiple settings to discover what is it, exactly, that dogs are here for. If you don’t cry at least once while reading this (a dog dies…multiple times…), you don’t have a heart. I managed to not weep while reading in front of students – but that’s because I got lucky and read the ending at home.

 

Watching

Folks, I finally started watching The Office. I’m just 10 years or so behind the times. My excuse is that I once had to watch 4 hours of the later seasons of this show with no context and it wrecked everything – until now. I’m glad I got over it. Michael still makes me so uncomfortable, but I am holding out for Jim and Pam. I’m just a few episodes into Season 3 (!!!!) and it looks like there’s no hope for them.

 

Listening

Havana, especially this cover by Pentatonix.

Fields of Gold by Drew and Ellie Holcomb. They are both so talented.

Random love songs, you know, for Valentine’s Day. And for any day when I have to grade things during my prep. Think L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours by Stevie Wonder.

 

Loving

Letterfolk Instagram. They share the best quotes. Case in point:

 

Cross country skiing. Well, this is a love-hate relationship. Skiing during a winter weather advisory is fantastic – until the falling snow actually freezes to your eyelashes. Heading out into untapped wilderness (okay, fine, onto fresh powder where track hasn’t been laid yet) with a friend who doesn’t mock your ineptitude is also great. But falling down icy hills (still. Again.) makes me question that I can be the next Jessie Diggins. Probably with good reason.

Speaking of Jessie Diggins – the Olympics. I get overly invested in people I’ve never heard of before the Olympic games begin, and I almost cried when I read the headlines that a fellow Minnesota girl had finally gotten gold in cross country skiing. And then this ice dance? Holy mackerel.

 

Doing

Watching the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Superbowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.  Well, I wasn’t in U.S. Bank Stadium. I was a few miles up 35W eating chili with church folks. I did not venture downtown once that entire week, and I am only mildly regret it.

As mentioned above, traveling to San Francisco! My mom and I flew out to visit my sister and had the best of times. Highlights:

  • Golden Gate Park, especially the observatory of the city in the art museum and the albino crocodile in the science museum
  • Dinner at the Cliff House, which had the best views (and the most delicious seafood)
  • Playing arcade games at the Musee Mechanique. Julie Andrews and “little Annie Hathaway,” as the guy on rollerskates who runs the place called her, filmed the arcade scene in the Princess Diaries there. That place is the weirdest and best.

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  • The chilly hike through Muir Woods (especially Cathedral Grove) and to Muir Beach

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  • Having traveling companions who agree that eating Boudin bread with Nutella in the car counts as an acceptable dinner and whom you still like at the end of a trip

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Observing Lent. For our Valentine’s Day Skype date, Adam and I both had ashes smeared across our foreheads. It was a strange collision. The kinds of reflections stirred up by Ash Wednesday and Lent don’t come naturally to me – it’s not often I contemplate my own mortality and the ways my heart’s idols need removing. I still don’t know what to do with what I’m noticing. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the noticing and the turning my noticings over to God is sort of the point.

As also mentioned above, Adam visited! I hadn’t seen him in 5 weeks, which turned me into a sappy weirdo when I finally did get to see him. There’s no one with whom I would rather eat a belated Valentine’s Day dinner at the University Club or go swimming at a community center while we pretend it’s summer or be adopted by random strangers at Loring Pasta Bar who want to teach us how to dance the bachata.

 

What were you into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up for more recommendations to see you through these final weeks of winter.

January 2017: What I’m Into

January. proper noun. The first month of the year; also known as the month in which we get 12 inches of snow in one day and don’t even get a snow day out of the deal. (I’m not bitter. Not at all.)

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December is such a trickster.

The holiday season feels so cheery and cozy. I actually believe that I can do the whole winter thing. It’s not so bad! I’m a hearty Minnesotan of the “bold north”! I will hygge my way through these cold dark days! My beliefs that summer is the only worthwhile season might change!

Under the twinkling glow of Christmas lights, even the end of 2017 looked satisfactory. I was making real food. I was investing in church and my people. I was doing more reading and writing, less Netflixing and Facebooking. I had figured out how to do insurance, for heaven’s sake. My life was all right.

And then January hit.

And some days this month, quitting my job and being homeless in Hawaii seemed like a legitimate option.

My complaints? Mostly, it’s still winter. I wince every time I walk outside, my shoulders scrunching up near by earlobes. On good days, I see a scant 20 minutes of sunlight on my drive home. I have to wear socks every day.

And there’s the extra annual anxiety about how little control I have over my life that crops up every January. What will 2018 (or the rest of my life, or heck, next week) look like? Who knows! There’s no guarantee of anything! All my plans will come to naught! My life is on the brink of purposelessness!

So let’s just say that I am currently a bucket of sunshine, and that I am glad January is behind us.

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How accurately this sums everything up

I would continue my weeping and gnashing of teeth, but my tears might freeze to my face in this below-zero windchill. So let us move on to more cheerful matters, like those things that have warmed this chilly month for me.

Reading

Home – Marilynne Robinson. With this book, Marilynne Robinson solidified herself as one of my very favorite authors. This tells the story of the Boughton family. Glory comes home to care for her aging father, and his wayward son Jack finds his way back to Gilead at the same time. Though it feels like the entirety of this book takes place with Glory cooking at the counter and Jack sitting at the kitchen table, it was tender and heartbreaking and so, so lovely. I might even like it more than Gilead.

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. This is a book unlike any I’ve ever read. A philologist (what a fun word) is kidnapped and taken to another planet. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this had I not read C.S. Lewis’s other works – so much of his philosophy of the world comes out in this that it adds an entirely new layer to the story. I look forward to the other books in the series.

Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way – Ruth Reichl. This won’t be my last Reichl book. This slim little book of essays is all about Reichl’s complicated relationship with her mother and the world of women in the mid-19th century. It was well-told, and it made me grateful for all the opportunities I have.

Heartless – Marissa Meyer. This book tells the story of Cath, a girl who lives in Wonderland (of “Alice in Wonderland” fame), who is being courted by the king, but who dreams of being a baker. I typically love Meyer’s spins on fairy tales, but this one didn’t work for me. Wonderland wasn’t nearly vivid enough, and Cath’s character didn’t do much except pine after a person she couldn’t have – until a sudden and unexpected sprint of character development in the last 20 pages. Plot-wise, nothing much happened in the first 2/3 of the book, and then everything happened in a way that felt jarring and undeveloped. However, online reviews are divisive here, so maybe this one would work for someone else.

Flying Lessons: and Other Stories – edited by Ellen Oh. This is a collection of short stories compiled by the editor of the We Need Diverse Books movement. Some of the stories were charming – Kwame Alexander is brilliant here, too – but not all of them were winners for me.

Currently Reading: Refugee – Alan Gratz. Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry. Book of Hours: Love Poems to God – Rilke.

 

Watching

There are multiple movies in theaters at this second that I want to see. I haven’t watched any of them. Yet.

 

Listening

Clear – NEEDTOBREATHE. Since I went to a NEEDTOBREATHE concert in December, my devotion to them has been renewed. I am especially obsessed with this song.

May You Find a Light – Josh Garrels. Though this is technically from his Christmas album, I think it’s entirely fitting for Epiphany, and I am listening to it shamelessly.

All I Ask of You – Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson. Josh Groban has an entire album of Broadway hits, I discovered this month. This song is gorgeous.

 

Loving – Alternatively titled “What’s Saving My Life in the Suckiness of MN Winter”

  • The Examen. I don’t do this reflection every night, but when I do, it helps me remember that not everything is terrible.
  • Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I’m still in the middle of this book, but it might be one of my favorites, ever. I’m reading it in small snatches because I don’t ever want it to end. It’s studded with brilliant lines that condense the deepest of emotions into a single sentence. Poor Adam gets these texts more than once every single time I open that book.
  • My microwavable rice heat pack. My grandma made mine, but I think you can buy them at Amazon or Target or wherever you buy random necessities like this. I’m using it almost daily to help my tight shoulders and make me not perpetually cold. I once put it on under a jacket before a long car ride, and it was magic.
  • Lemon ginger tea. Add a slice of lemon, and it kicks up the yum factor about 12 notches.
  • Spotify Premium. I cannot talk about how worth it this is. Also, how had I never tried Spotify’s radio feature before this month? It’s handy.
  • Argan Oil. I have the Acure brand from Target, but I know they sell it at Trader Joe’s and other fancier beauty places. My skin is insanely dry right now, and this eliminates the flakes and makes it almost dewy. It might even reduce the redness in my cheeks, too.
  • Keeping a blanket in my car. I use it on nearly every car ride. I may look like a nursing home patient with a lap robe. I care not.
  • Church community. I don’t understand how adult people find friends without church. The people at mine have been particularly lifesaving this winter.

 

Doing

Thrifting with my sister for a day before she flew back to Palo Alto. It felt like old times in college. I get to visit her in a week, and I am so excited.

Visiting Adam in Chicago. Despite a minor debacle where my phone died when I was alone, with all my stuff, in downtown Chicago, at midnight, trying to figure out how to get to Adam’s apartment…everything was great. We went to the American Writer’s Museum (see the typewriter and quote below – I highly recommend it), and went ice skating at Maggie Daley park, and read some good books, and ate donuts every day.

Attempting to cross country ski. I’m borrowing a pair of classic skis this winter, and I have never before been disappointed by days over 32°. I’ve only made it out on the trails one and a half times. The first time convinced me that I am not made for attempting to traverse hills on cross country skis when it’s icy. The half a time was me remembering my ineptitude and turning around after 5 minutes and one fall. C’mon, Minnesota. Give me a good snow (and a snow day too, perhaps?) and then good skiing weather.

Inviting people over. I am trying to get better about hosting things, and I’ve actually done this in January. It’s a good reminder that I don’t need to be Joanna Gaines with a degree from Le Cordeon Bleu to welcome people in.

A quick trip to Alexandria. One of my grandpas celebrated his birthday there, so my brothers and I drove up to meet the family for a few hours. We stumbled into a used bookstore before lunch and found some treasures – including a Marilynne Robinson I haven’t read yet!

Going back to school. This is the hardest part of the year for me. The kids get cabin fever, and it feels like there’s a whole lot of year left. On the bright side, we’re doing poetry. At least it’s a bright side for me – I am delighted by my own poetry assignments and would happily complete them. The students are slightly less enthused. Thankfully, they have been very into the Socratic Seminar discussions we’ve done, and it’s fun to hear their contributions to conversations.

 

What have you been into this month?

Linking up with both Modern Mrs. Darcy and Leigh Kramer.

December 2017: What I’m Into

December. proper noun. The only month of winter that’s worthwhile, let’s be real.

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Ah, December.

Despite the below-zero temperatures rearing their ugly heads earlier than normal this year, and the cold, and a mild Grinchiness at the beginning of the month, I really did enjoy December.

Maybe it’s that Advent really resonated with me. I couldn’t leap straight into the festivity. I needed to warm up with waiting, and longing, and watching. I needed to contemplate the contrast of the world’s dark and Christ’s light, of pain and hope, of sin and salvation. Instead of Santa and reindeer, the deep magic older than time itself, as Aslan calls it, beckoned.

I felt deep appreciation for my church in this season, for the Anglican readings and candle lightings and the poetry of the prayers. My own devotions were more intentional, too. It all made me feel prepared (well, as prepared as is actually possible) for the celebration that, suddenly, was upon us on December 25.

The month ended in a flurry of family and activity and long car rides, leaving me drinking the Christmas season down to the dregs now that things have quieted. For mere days more, the stars still hang, the tree is still lit, the Christmas music still plays, and I am still attempting to comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation. It’s going to take more than 12 days. More than a lifetime, in fact.

A big ol’ 2017 reflection is on its way. In the meantime, before the 12 days of Christmas are over and I officially move on from the season of good cheer, here’s what I loved in December.

Reading

A Rule Against Murder – Louise Penny. I adore the Inspector Gamache series. This is another solid installment that did not disappoint. The setting of this book, a lakeside lodge in the Quebec wilderness, is as magical as a murder scene can be.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly. Darwin is gaining popularity, the telephone is spreading to rural Texas, and Callie Vee is an intrepid tomboy who stumbles into the world of natural science. This book had so much to love, including a strong and sassy lead character, a vivid picture of turn-of-the-century Texas, and an exploration of science and family and adventure.

Watch for the Light. These readings for Advent and Christmas by authors like C.S. Lewis, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and Kathleen Norris guided my thoughts in this most-beloved season. I absolutely plan to buy the Lent version for later in the year.

Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker. True confessions: I read all the funny chapters of this before wrapping it up for someone else. I can’t speak for the more serious pieces of this, but her humor is true to form!

 

Listening

Advent and Christmas playlists. Songs on repeat this year included:

  • Follow the Shepherd Home by Mindy Smith
  • May You Find a Light by Josh Garrels
  • My All in Thee by Young Oceans
  • You’re Here by Francesca Battistelli
  • A Cradle in Bethlehem by Sara Groves
  • Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) by Amy Grant

 

Watching

The Last Jedi. While I would never claim to be a rabid Star Wars fan, I do accompany my siblings to the movies and enjoy the franchise well. After this movie, though, I discovered that I am capable of having some strong opinions about these films. This latest movie was enjoyable to watch, and seemed to be filmed well. It also busted all the fan theories, which I’m normally in support of. But there were too many weird things that weren’t explained well. What was up with Leia’s weird space walk? Why didn’t the stand-in Rebel commander just tell everyone what she was doing? Why did Rey believe she could save Kylo after so few conversations?

The Young Victoria. This story explores how Queen Victoria comes to power and the beginning of her relationship with her husband Albert. I enjoyed this movie a lot. Emily Blunt is rarely disappoints, and the same actor who plays Wickham in Pride and Prejudice plays Albert – a delightful surprise! However, I wanted something that explored Victoria’s thoughts and feelings with a little more depth – some of her decisions seemed too speedy or stubborn, and a little more information could have helped that pacing.

Victoria and Abdul. Another Victoria movie! This one focuses on the end of the queen’s reign and shows the little-known relationship between Queen Victoria and an Indian clerk named Abdul. Abdul is pulled from India for a ceremony, where he accidentally enchants the queen and becomes her “munshi,” or teacher and companion. Judi Dench is one formidable lady, and Abdul is disarmingly adorable, and together they make the story both tender and comedic.

The Crown. ‘Tis the season for dramas about British monarchs, apparently. I love this show so much, and I love that the second season is out, and I love that Adam will watch it with me.

Elf. Every year.

The Monuments Men. This is the only kind of war movie I will willingly watch, and I have wanted to watch it since it came out years ago. The best part of the film was how some of the character duos played off one another, but I did find the plot a bit lackluster. I also wish it were more historically accurate, so I’m planning to watch the documentary The Rape of Europa, which I watched years ago, to get my fix there.

 

Loving

Acure Organics Argan Oil. Thanks to drying medication and crazy cold air, my face got so dry this month that it started flaking. I added this under my face lotion both morning and night, and the flaking has ceased, hallelujah. I also haven’t broken out from it, which has happened when I’ve used face oils in the past.

Christmas treats. Caramel puffcorn (the recipe is on the back of the puffcorn bag – how handy) and Shannan Martin’s crack bark are my super easy go-to’s.

 

Doing

A million and one things.

Seeing NEEDTOBREATHE in concert! My brother and I attended their All the Feels acoustic concert at the State Theater. It was the perfect venue to see one of my bucket list concerts, and the band was freaking fantastically amazing. Especially when the turned off all the mics and did the final song and encore completely acoustic.

Seeing Ellie Holcomb in concert (the very next night)! ‘Twas apparently a weekend of bucket list concerts. Ellie’s voice is just as lovely in person, and she is completely enthusiastic and adorable. Case in point: she wore snow boots because she forgot to pack her other shoes, and she totally pulled it off. Since this was a small church sanctuary sort of gig, I got to meet her afterwards. She hugged everyone, and we talked about all of 10 seconds about being middle school English teachers (her prior gig). So basically, we’re best friends now.

 

 

 

Attending the European Christmas Market at Union Depot in St. Paul. My brothers and I met up with my parents for this event, which is honestly all about the food. If you like perogies, go.

Seeing A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie. The Advanced English classes at my school read this in December, and we brought some of them to watch an evening performance. Seeing how much they love the show – some of my 7th graders from last year came back again! – is always delightful.

Reading Dorothy Sayers’ Advent play He That Should Come. Anselm House, a Christian study group, held a reading of this play, which was originally broadcast as a radio drama. It was way more comedic than I expected while still being reflective, and I absolutely want to read her plays for other seasons. As a bonus, Adam happened to fly into the state hours before the event. We’ve loved sharing reading nights like this in the past, so it was the perfect kick-off to his time in MN

Checking out oysters at Meritage with Adam. They are not my thing, but hey, I tried. At least we felt very French. (We also attempted to check out ice skating next to the Landmark Center, but they closed earlier than advertised on Google. Boo. Next time.)

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Attending the American Swedish Institute’s Winter Solstice celebration with Adam and his family. On the tour of the mansion, which was beautifully decorated for Christmas, I discovered traditional Advent stars and realized that I already had them hanging in my apartment. I just thought they were random Ikea decorations. I love them even more now.

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All the school Christmas things, from Secret Santas and potlucks and parties…and attempting to make kids learn things while all they can think about is break. And let’s be honest, all I could think about was break, too.

Christmas break! So many highlights:

  • Downhill skiing with Adam’s family
  • Candlelit Christmas Eve soup
  • Playing Settlers of Catan
  • Christmas cookie baking with Grandma, my sister, and friends
  • Snowmobiling around my grandparents’ yard
  • Eating a lot of dessert…
  • Relearning to cross-country ski
  • Hitting up W.A. Frost and a friend’s NYE party
  • Having Adam in Minnesota! For more than 3 days at a time!

 

Whew. No wonder I only read two books this month. Here’s to a grand finale to 2017 and a beautiful beginning to 2018.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

 

 

 

 

November 2017: What I’m Into

November. proper noun. Meg March calls it “the most disagreeable month in the whole year.” At least we have Thanksgiving.

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I don’t have much to say on November, mostly because I’m not sure where it went. It was cold and dark, that I remember. I read a million 7th grade essays, more or less. And now, here we are, on the front end of the holiday season, rapidly approaching the end of the year. I’m not sure where 2017 went, either. How did all those days go by? And what on earth did I do with them?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Those questions can wait another month. For now, here’s November’s recap.

 

Reading

A lot. Especially, oddly, nonfiction.

The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis. A church in town put on a production of this, so I read the actual book in preparation. It is perplexing in the best way possible. It’s fun to read more of Lewis and see his views on heaven being the truest sense of reality woven throughout. This is one to come back to again.

Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman. This little collection of essays about the joys of books and reading is a delight. Anne Fadiman is whip-smart and observant and may have the world’s best vocabulary. The essay on reading aloud may be my favorite.

The Dog Says How – Kevin Kling. I enjoy Kevin Kling a lot – his interview with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast is one of my favorites – and you can practically hear his voice narrating all of these essays. He’s quirky and funny and reflective, and I love all of his Minnesota references and the honest way he talks about disability.

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy – Peitra Rivoli. I’ve been doing boatloads of reading about ethical fashion (see this post if you missed it), and this book was fascinating. It’s a bit dense – my boyfriend will actually have to read it for an upcoming grad school class – but the stories are well-told. Highly recommended if you want to know the nitty-gritty of where your clothes come from.

Bomb – Steve Sheinkin. This is the story of the race to create the first atomic bomb and all of the espionage behind the scenes. It’s technically a YA book, but I learned a ton, the stories are intriguing, and it did a good job of discussing the moral conundrum the scientists faced. I may have dreamed that everyone I knew was going to die in a war the night I finished it (can you say highly sensitive person?), but it’s definitely worth the read.

Need– Joelle Charbonneau. Students in a small Wisconsin town begin to join a new social media site, where users type what they need onto the message board. They are then given a task to complete, and when they do so their “need” is fulfilled. The tasks start small (invite 6 people to this site), but soon escalate. This book is suspenseful and felt frighteningly possible. I didn’t love the ending, but other than that? Couldn’t put it down.

Auggie and Me – R.J. Palacio. A student brought me her own copy of this and told me I had to read it immediately if I liked Wonder. So I did. It’s a sweet addition. It also made me more excited to see the movie (and I am a terrible English teacher, because I haven’t yet!).

Caraval – Stephanie Garber. I have mixed feelings about this book. There was so much potential. Scarlett dreams of being invited to a magical game called Caraval. Once she arrives, she finds that her sister has been kidnapped, and she must save her to win the  game. The mood feels much like The Night Circus, or at it least strives to. But unfortunately things just didn’t click for me. Scarlett and the rest of the characters don’t really develop for most of the book, and then do in the space of one scene. There are so many plot twists that I had to Google whether there is a sequel, or if there was just something I misunderstood. The setting is too ambiguous to be truly captivating – I could never entirely visualize what was happening. The plot is intriguing, and I was definitely sucked in, but the ending left me unsatisfied and emotionally muddled. That said, I know people who LOVE this book, so it might be worth a shot for you.

Daughter of a Pirate King – Tricia Levenseller. This book tells the story of, you guessed it, the daughter of a pirate king who is on a secret mission for her father. She lets herself be kidnapped, and can’t reveal her true nature (and also can’t fall for her handsome, strangely kind kidnapper). It was fine. It might fly with the perfect audience – perhaps a girl who likes fairy tales and pirate stories, but is old enough to handle sexual tension? I don’t know any of those. Read the Bloody Jack series instead.

Currently reading: A Rule Against Murder – Louise Penny. Watch for the Light readings for Advent.

 

Listening

At this second? Music for Advent. I’m following the traditional church calendar more intentionally this year, so I’m trying to save the Hark the Herald Angels Sing sort of tunes for closer to Christmas Day. To fill the gaps, I’m creating my own Advent playlist, with plenty of inspiration from this and this. A favorite: May You Find a Light by Josh Garrels.

Otherwise this month has been all about this jazz-filled playlist.

 

Watching

Flipped. I grew up absolutely loving this book, and I was terrified to watch the movie when it came out years ago. What if they wrecked it? But they didn’t. It was everything it should be.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I hadn’t watched any of these movies since going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Now I am dying to go back.

The Great British Baking Show, season 2. I can’t quit that show. Brita and I want to adopt Mary’s word “scrummy.”

 

Loving

I don’t love this article, exactly, but it is food for thought for all the teachers wondering why kids seem like crazy people.

This lasagna soup recipe. The hosts on the Sorta Awesome podcast talk about it all the time, and really, it is delicious.

The Thankful Tree in my classroom. I like my kids best when I remember that they are actual human beings with real lives and hearts. Seeing what they’re grateful for helps.

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The Christmas treats have arrived at Trader Joe’s! Give me all the chocolate-covered candy cane Jo-Jos.

Ikea. This is actually a love-hate relationship. How can a place so inexpensive add up to so much at the cash register? But I now have an actual curtain situation in my bedroom, plus these fabulous gold stars hanging over my bed.

 

Doing

Taking a bus to visit Adam. Overnight Greyhound rides are an adventure. The police only had to escort people off the bus once. (No, I’m not kidding. No, I was not in danger.) Otherwise, the trip was delightful. We went to Die Valkyerie, the opera famous for the Ride of the Valkyeries and my first foray into the world of really long operas. I still need some practice at fully appreciating them, but watching women riding horses “flying” over the stage while singing certainly was epic. The next day, we made it to the Museum of Science and Industry, and the U-boat exhibit was just as impressive as I remember. Dear friends happened to be Chicago the same weekend, and squeezing in breakfast with them on my final morning in town was the best surprise.

Celebrating Thanksgiving. My family members are delightful weirdos, who also make some good Thanksgiving food. As a bonus, my dad was able to surprise my sister at the airport when she flew in from California, and she stayed with me for a few extra days. Sneaking in a day with Adam and his family (and cutting down a real Christmas tree!) was lovely, too.

Finishing up the first trimester of school. I survived essay grading season. Barely. I also started up a weekly Creative Writing Club for girls. I have no idea what I’m doing, but it sure is fun.

 

As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. What have you been into this month?

 

 

 

October 2017: What I’m Into

October. proper noun. The month in which we all quote L.M. Montgomery about being glad we live in this world.

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October in MN = boots and parkas at farmer’s markets

 

We are smack in the middle of Ordinary Time, somewhere between Pentecost and Advent. Boy, am I feeling it.

As I pondered what’s been new and novel in October, it hasn’t felt like much. This has been a typical Minnesota fall. The weather was lovely and temperate, until it wasn’t. We swung from Birkenstocks to boots over the course of mere days. The cold snap, the early darkness, the leaves shaken from trees make me retreat, hoping for soup and a book and solitude. It all feels ordinary, indeed.

The Psalms have been meeting me in these days. I read them in the morning, before hustling out the door, before facing my day of the usual complaints and small joys. The Psalmist had those, too. He felt the days of praise, the days of panic, the days of wondering where on earth God has gone. In the space of a few verses, he swings from terror to reassurance to revenge. Sounds like a typical day teaching seventh grade to me.

In the anger and fear and still-resounding rejoicing, God finds me. He accepts my anger and answers my cries for help. He walks with me as I face my enemies, even if those enemies are mostly inside my own head. He gives me spacious places to rest and catch my breath. He covers me with his wings. He delights in me, and I in him.

I am learning to abide in him, in the beginnings and middles of things. When life is especially ordinary. When the first steps have been taken, but there are many, many more until the end is in sight.

Here’s what’s bringing more life and more love to this ordinary time.

 

Reading

Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance. This book is hard to read in places, but it is so incredibly important. J.D. Vance grew up in the unstable, impoverished world of hillbilly culture. He weaves his own story of surviving an unstable childhood and eventually finding both a home and a sense of purpose with explanations of hillbilly culture. This is a story of resilience. As a teacher, it reminded me just how little of my students’ lives I see, and just how important it is for them to have stable, kind, consistent adults in their lives.

At Home in the World– Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh, her husband, and their 3 kids sold their home and spend a year traveling the globe. This book is part travel diary, part memoir, all wanderlust inspiration. I greatly enjoyed her thoughts on finding home and on the value of seeing the world. I’ll also be honest – the first part of the book seemed to be much more vivid and poignant than the end, but overall, it was entirely worth the read.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion – Elizabeth Cline. This book explains our current fashion industry, from our obsession with cheap clothes to the beginning of the overseas migration of clothing manufacturing companies to the ways that the environment and the labor industries in those countries are being taken advantage of to ways we can cut our own consumption. It is a bit repetitive in places, but I learned an amazing amount. (More thoughts on this topic coming soon!)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson. This was my Halloween read for the year, and it set the mood perfectly. Though I knew the basic preface of the story, I didn’t know exactly how it unfolded. It was surprisingly suspenseful in spots, and the moral reflections are what makes it a classic.

Ghost – Jason Reynolds. This quick read follows Castle as he accidentally joins a track team and learns to take responsibility for his life and choices. I enjoyed both the story and Reynold’s writing – his voicing is authentic and interesting. This is also part of a series following different kids on the same track team, so I look forward to reading the next installment.

Solo – Kwame Alexander. This book, by the author of The Crossover, follows the story of Blaze, the son of a rock star. Blaze is dissatisfied with the privilege and craziness of rock n’ roll life, and misses his deceased mother terribly. His self-discovery and exploration of the meaning of family takes him across the globe. While the premise was interesting, I didn’t love this one. The story seemed too unlikely, and Blaze never seemed to actually learn anything. For music lovers who adore all the rock references, it might be worth it anyway.

Currently reading: Caraval – Stephanie Garber. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy – Pietra Rivoli.

 

Watching

The True Cost. A documentary on Netflix about the real story behind the fashion industry. It’s fascinating and powerful. If you wear clothes, you should watch it.

 

Listening

Random playlists on Spotify, including Hymns for Hipsters and Acoustic Favorites.

 

Loving

Chai lattes. I am perfecting my own chai concentrate recipe, which has been a delicious project. The Teavana Perfectea Maker strains out all the loose spices and makes everything better (because chunky tea? Not good).

The MN Landscape Arboretum. I had no idea how big – and beautiful – the arboretum is. It’s part gardens, part park, part trails, part landscaped gorgeousness. The day we went, it was swarming with kids and picture-taking families and happiness, and it’s no wonder. I will 100% be going back.

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Leggings. These specifically. It’s finally cold enough that I’m not wearing shorts on the weekends, so now these are on heavy rotation. Add this and you have my favorite weekend outfit.

Fully functional computers. The month began with the battery completely dying on my 6 year old laptop. Apparently my computer is too elderly for the Apple store to fix, so my brother performed computer surgery. Happily, everything works now!

Paying off my car! I feel like a real adult now. (And then, in an ironic and unhappy twist, I got rear-ended two days later. The damage is minimal, but the timing is terrible. And I get the unpleasant adult task of figuring out insurance. Whoopee.)

 

Doing

Driving to Chicago for a weekend. It was a delight to see Adam, get Insomnia Cookies delivered, meander through a used book sale, and wander around the Chicago Art Institute.

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Wedding festivities! Two college friends got married over MEA break. Their wedding was beautiful and classy and Christ-filled (just like them!), and it was such an honor to be a bridesmaid. Having an excuse to dance with Adam was fun, too. Congrats again, David and Nicole!

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Having a girls’ weekend. My college roommate and friend found a weekend to come to the Cities and stay with me. We hit up all our old haunts and watched girly movies and laughed at the way we looked in face masks. It was great to see them!

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Attending Singin’ in the Rain with my brothers. My family watched Singin’ in the Rain half a billion times in my childhood, so expectations were high. As one of the boys said, “The girl who played Kathy Seldon was good, but she just isn’t Debbie Reynolds.” That said, seeing a stage enactment (complete with rain!) was delightful.

Celebrating Halloween. Some kind church folks hosted a Halloween dinner party. The trick-or-treaters were limited because of the below-freezing temps, but there was plenty of good company and good food (and good candy!).

School. Things are chugging right along. We’ve had our first conferences, we’re finishing The Outsiders (our first big unit of the year), and I’m currently in the thick of teaching – and grading – essays. Some days are hard – I had to scrawl a smiley face on a Post-It and stick it to my computer to remind myself to not be the cranky teacher after one particularly long week. But I can still laugh when kids spell atmosphere “admiss fear,” and overall, the good days outweigh the bad. I’m grateful for that.

What have you been into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s site for all kinds of additional recommendations.

 

September 2017: What I’m Into

September. proper noun. The start of fall and school and ordinary life.

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What to say, about September.

It is a month of transition, always. This year especially. On the very first day of the month, Adam and I drove the six hours to Chicago and he picked up the keys to his new apartment. Days later, my sister moved to California. In the midst of this, my second year of teaching launched.

I had tried to push away my simmering worries about this month for the entire summer. And then September arrived. There were, of course, moments of heartache. But there have also been moments of unexpected sweetness, of surprises I know I don’t deserve.

Transitions are hard. I want to anticipate all the pain, plan a perfect system that will minimize it. And I can’t. It isn’t possible to plan a routine that will eliminate emotional surges, no way to stop change or bottle happiness to apply on melancholy days. The seasons turn, mornings cooling and sun dimming. Relationships and faith and stages of life shift, too. Those shifts, while jarring, sometimes unearth blessings. I learn how to be brave, in small and ordinary ways that make life feel tender and full. I wade on, and watch for the pockets of beauty half-buried in the muddle, because that is what makes life, no matter its circumstances, good.

In all that this month has brought, here is what I’ve been reading and loving and doing.

 

Reading

  • All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. Gorgeous. Haunting. Compelling. There are so many adjectives to describe this book, and none of them do it full justice. The story follows two main characters, a blind girl living in France and a radio-obsessed boy in Germany, and a smattering of others who intersect with their lives. The fascinating narrative structure and the sparkling descriptions made this book vivid and memorable – but it is also incredibly weighty. The death and hard choices and horror of war stand out. So, in the end, do the love and beauty and hope that are possible in humankind.
  • Wonder – RJ Palacio. What a dear, lovely story. Auggie, a fifth grader with a severe facial deformity, is starting middle school. While he tells the bulk of the narrative, his sister, his friends, and other characters are also given a chance to speak, which makes the story even more special and shows even more poignantly the importance of kindness. I loved it. My middle schoolers love it. Everyone should love it.
  • Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team – Steve Sheinkin. Let’s be honest – this history of early football is not my typical book. But I’m working on expanding the recommendations I can give to boys, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It blends stories of the formation of Native American schools and of early football with vivid characters (who just happen to be real people). It was engaging and made me unexpectedly invested who won football games played 100 years ago.
  • The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game Called Life – Kwame Alexander. If you have sports obsessed kids who need some inspiration, this would be a great book to pass along. It’s a quick read of quotes, a few stories of athletic diligence from famous athletes and the author himself, and some cool sports photography. I wish there was a little more to it, but for fans of The Crossover, it’s a good one.

 

Listening

  • Shane and Shane – Psalms. This album’s musical take on Psalms is real and beautiful and feels like a deep, sweet breath.
  • My morning playlist. I made Spotify playlist specifically so I can avoid the radio while I drive to work. It’s heavy on the Audrey Assad and Ellie Holcomb and All Sons and Daughters, and it’s exactly what my mornings need.
  • For the Love podcast with Jen Hatmaker: Getting Vulnerable with Dr. Brene Brown. I think I could listen to Brene Brown talk about paint drying and still be riveted. I listened to this while hurtling down the interstate and trying to scratch out notes without going in the ditch. Brene is even more funny and real than in her TED talks.

 

 

Loving

  • Taking piano lessons. After buying a keyboard this summer, I decided that I need some accountability to actually play the thing. I began taking one piano lesson a month, and the extra coaching and accountability is helpful for bringing my long-dormant skills back to life.
  • The new bullet journal! I ordered a Leuchtturm1917, an Internet favorite for its dotted grid, build-in index, and pre-numbered pages. I love it. Absolutely love it. It feels both fancy and functional. You should bite the bullet (ha. ha.) if you’re considering.
  • All things apple. After visiting an apple orchard, baking apple cake, which tastes like fall and cinnamon and magic, is required. Purchasing orchard honey and eating it on toast (or, you know, with a spoon) is optional, but highly recommended.

 

Doing

  • Dropping Adam off in Chicago. My boyfriend started a master’s program at the University of Chicago this month, and thus we return to the bittersweet task of growing a long-distance relationship. Though much of Labor Day weekend was spent in the minutiae of moving, we still had time for me to bawl my eyes out watching Up and wander his new neighborhood and eat some great food with his family. I miss that boy dearly, but I am so glad that he’s exactly where he needs to be.
  • Driving home. I hadn’t been home all summer, but I fit in one trip to see Brita before she moved to California. We watched movies and stayed up too late and went to the grocery store and had the most ordinary and wonderful time.
  • Going camping, for the second time in my life. Some friends from church planned a fall camping trip to a state park in southeast Minnesota. I am such a novice camper that I couldn’t even find a flashlight before I left, but hiking and making s’mores and talking around the campfire with thoughtful people convinced me that camping might just be all right. This view from my tent in the morning didn’t hurt, either.IMG_3168
  • Celebrating a bride-to-be. One of my dear friends is getting married at the end of October, so September held a bridal shower and bachelorette party to celebrate the upcoming event. I’m so excited to share in the wedding so soon!IMG_3186
  • Attending my church’s women’s retreat. We escaped to a rural retreat center near Stillwater. Making new friendships and deepening others was sweet, and I’m grateful to attend a church with so many kind, intentional women.
  • All. the. school. We’ve kicked off another year! Honestly, the weight of establishing routines and building relationships and teaching content snuck up on me this year. This season has felt so full, especially as I realize all of the ways I need to improve. But I am enjoying getting to know my students more and more and seeing the small ways that my teaching is improving. There’s still so much to learn and do (isn’t there always?), but I am excited for what this year holds.

 

What have you been into this month?

August 2017: What I’m Into

August. proper noun. The dog days of summer.

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Ah, August. I always anticipate that August will be full of lazy, slow days. It never, ever is. Though I didn’t have to go to work during most of this month, it felt like most days were a scramble to fit in all the things before the summer ended. The world was (and is) spinning in crazy and tragic ways, and I don’t feel like I had the mental space to grapple with white supremacy and the threat of nuclear war and the hurricanes that are raging miles south of me. I realize what a luxury that is. But I truly believe that the small things that make us smile – the books we read, the cardigans we can’t take off, the time we spend with those we love – matter. There is still good in the world.

So here we are. Here’s what I loved as summer wrapped up.

Reading

The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. After reading A Gentleman in Moscow in July, I decided to tackle this book. Actually finishing it felt like one of my greatest summer accomplishments. It’s long. The exposition feels very long, and the resolution feels almost equally so. The middle is better – brilliant and insightful in parts, attention-grabbing in others. I especially appreciated how Dostoevysky kept us in suspense (did Dmitry do it? Is he telling the truth?), and I keep thinking about Alexey and how influential he is in the lives of the children he encounters. It is worth reading.

The Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard. I’ve heard so much buzz about this book, and I know so many middle schoolers who love it. I thought it was fine. Maybe it’s because there seem to only be so many ways to do a dystopian novel. Maybe it reminded me too much of Cinder, which had more likeable characters and felt better written. It is engrossing, through, and the plot twist does suck you in to the ending. I’ll recommend it to the kids who might enjoy it, but I won’t finish the series myself.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld. This book was such a delight. It puts the characters and general plot of Pride and Prejudice into modern times. For example, Jane is a yoga instructor, Lydia and Kitty are obsessed with CrossFit, and Bingley is so eligible because he was on a Bachelor-style show called – wait for it – Eligible. It works because Sittenfeld changes the story just enough to make it not feel forced, while still keeping the beloved characters intact. A warning: it’s a little skankier than P&P (what isn’t?!), but nothing is explicit.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie. A reread of a favorite. Junior’s narration of his experience leaving his Indian reservation and going to a predominantly white school is hilarious and honest and surprisingly deep. Recommended for teens and everyone else.

Currently reading: All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr.

 

Watching

The Great British Baking Show – Season 1. This show deserves all the gushing. I am so sad to say goodbye to these bakers. They’re so delightful, and I would have been happy had any of the final three won.

Dunkirk. Though I sat in the theater for the duration of this film, I can’t exactly claim that I watched it in its entirety, as I spend more time looking at the back of my tightly squeezed eyelids. (War films stress me out. I can’t pretend that it’s fiction, and the suspense of people die suddenly, with great frequency, stresses me out.) That’s especially true in this one – a clock is basically ticking in the background for then entirety. I felt like I myself had survived Dunkirk by the time it ended. On the positive side, the time bending was clever, if not sometimes confusing, and the filming (what I saw of it) was striking.

Moana. Cute. Some fun songs. That about sums it up for me. I’m also not often cynical about Disney movies, but this is just too true.

 

Listening

Have a Great Day playlist on Spotify. My brother told me about this playlist, and it’s full of happy, energizing classics. Nice.

The Road Back to You. I am a Type 1 on the Enneagram through and through, and thinking about how I interact with the world has helped me get through some rough patches this month. I especially loved Episode 12, which featured a conversation with a husband and wife who are both Type 1s. I have unofficially diagnosed Adam as a Type 1, and this got me thinking through the different ways that our perfectionism shows up (and being encouraged that two Ones won’t kill each other).

Hidden Brain: You 2.0: The Value of ‘Deep Work’ in an Age of Distraction. This one is still on the brain. My more expansive summer free time has felt slightly sabotaged by my phone and its distractions of incoming texts and Instagram. Thanks to this, I have noticed how my day starts in a more positive way when I avoid social media for a few hours, and how much more focused I feel when I leave my phone in another room.

 

Loving

This is just excellent.

Trello as a digital recipe box. I have been using Trello, a free organizational website and app, to track the books I’m reading, but I recently made a board to organize favorite recipes. It’s excellent. I can sort recipes into categories, which makes it feel more organized that Pinterest, and including links to the recipes makes everything easy.

Going outside with a book. Every summer, I do this and think it’s magical and then don’t do it enough. I’m mourning the vitamin D and sunshine I wasted. But there’s still September.

Bullet journaling. Bullet journaling is 100% compatible with my personality, and my humble little notebook has made my summer free time feel much more purposeful. Every week this summer, I made a chart for my schedule and meal plan. Once summer school ended, I used the daily log idea to make sure I didn’t spend all day every day aimlessly surfing the Internet. It helped. I also just ordered this in Berry to start the school year, and I am SO EXCITED.

The “blardigan.” A blogger I follow coined this term (think blanket + cardigan) because this sweater feels like it was made from unicorn hair and magic. I wore it for almost a bazillion hours in the car this month, and I didn’t want to take it off even when we felt the southern humidity. It was the most expensive cardigan I’ve ever purchased (and I got it on sale), but the crazy cost might actually be worth it.

Massages. Give me a Groupon for an hour-long massage and I am such a happy girl.

 

Doing

Summering with the best of ‘em. In the dog days of August, I squeezed in lots of coffee dates, lesson planned in libraries and coffee shops, and indulged the back-to-school nesting bug (wash the sheest! Clean the closets!). I am never, ever ready for summer to end.

Road tripping to Chicago. My boyfriend just moved to Chicago, so I tagged along for a weekend trip earlier in the month when he went to check out apartments. We first attended a college friend’s wedding (after staying with a different college college friend). Then he introduced me to the University of Chicago campus, where he’ll be studying this fall, and we squeezed in a stroll around Promontory Point (one of our new favorite spots in Chicago) in between apartment viewings. We also stayed with the nicest couple through AirBnB, and I would totally use the site again.

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Road tripping to Florida. My cousin got married in Florida this month, so Adam and my sister and I drove down for the wedding. We drove through the night, had 48 hours in Florida, and drove back through the night again…which was…an adventure. We did get to stop in Rock City, GA, visit Epcot as well, eat Chik-Fil-A, and listen to Sherlock Holmes audiobooks, which made everything more fun.

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So. many. car. selfies.

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Wedding festivities!

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Our parents were in real Norway when we took this picture in pretend Epcot Norway.

Hitting the State Fair. My siblings made one last outing together before my sister moves to Cali at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. We ate all the food and walked through the best of the buildings. It’s not summer without Sweet Martha’s and cheese curds.

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Not pictured: Pronto Pups and turkey legs.

And now, the school year begins. Here we go…

 

 

July 2017: What I’m Into

July. proper noun. Perhaps my favorite month of the year; contains the 4th of July and my birthday and the height of summer within its short 31 days.

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Oh, dearest July. This month has been squashed full of friends and fun and a little work and squeezing every last drop out of summer. I never understand why it has to go by so fast.

Reading

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. Ah, this wonderful book. It’s currently ranking high in my favorites from 2017. The story follows a man who spends his life on house arrest in a posh Moscow hotel. I don’t always like sweeping stories that cover decades, but this is paced just exactly right. Towles’ descriptions, footnotes, and literary allusions are also witty and lush and delightful. (Plus, reading this inspired me to start Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Not just any book could do that.)

Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis. Another absolute favorite from this year. I read this a few years ago and didn’t love it. The characters, admittedly, are hard to like, and some parts are flat-out weird. But this time around, the depth and beauty of Lewis’s myth retold came through. Knowing the myth of Eros and Psyche, in addition to reading more of Lewis’s nonfiction, helped me see his thoughts on love and on humanity’s place before God much more clearly. Going to a book discussion to talk through the tricky questions didn’t hurt, either!

The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis. This summer has been full of C.S. Lewis. I am not complaining. Adam and I joined a book group to talk through The Weight of Glory, and throughout our discussions I was continually struck by the idea that we settle so much for the little, unsatisfying things that we know and forsake the hugeness of knowing God more deeply. Lewis’s wit and accessible metaphors are wonderful as well.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz Gilbert writes from her own experience about the practice of creative living. I didn’t think this was groundbreaking, but it was a timely reminder that valuing the creative process is just as important as the end product (and how that end product is received).

The Whole Brain Child – Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. This book is walks through how kids’ emotions interact with the rest of their brains. I read it as a teacher working to engage with all of students’ minds, and my biggest takeaway is that kids’ feelings need to be addressed before they can do any thinking about problems and solutions. A helpful reminder.

Currently reading – The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott.

 

Watching

Julius Caesar. Adam organized a movie night with a Christian study center around this film by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which sets Shakespeare’s classic in modern-day Africa. While the film is challenging to watch at some points (there’s a whole lot of murder and suicide), the setting definitely emphasized how timeless Shakespeare’s works are. His questions of power and rebellion are just as pertinent today.

The Tree of Life. I’ll be honest – I did not understand all of this film. It’s a dreamy, twisting representation of a man’s processing through his childhood, with extra commentary on the nature of life, family, and shame. The cinematography was lovely, at least, and it did spark fascinating discussion.

Peter Pan. Backyard productions with sisters are lots of fun.

Parks and Rec. This is possibly my favorite TV show, and yet…I have never finished it. Shame on me. I’m working on it.

 

Listening

The TED Radio Hour. This is my favorite running podcast – it dives right in to interesting issues, and the guests change about every 10 minutes so I get something new every mile or so. My favorite stories have been about a man who tried to get rejected every day for 90 days in A Better You, and the amazing exploration of kids’ brains in Unstoppable Learning.

The Liturgists. Favorite episodes from this month’s listening have been on the Bible and on the Enneagram.

 

Loving

This challenge. It’s ridiculously hard. I succeeded…but barely.

 

Sociable Cider Werks. Adam and I tried their tap room, and their flight of cider was excellent. My favorite is no longer on the tap list, but the Freewheeler is a classic for a reason.

Playing piano. I invested in a decent keyboard this month, and it’s been refreshing to plunk away again.

Homemade iced tea. Making iced tea on my stove isn’t even hard, but it makes me feel so economical and thrifty. Trader Joe’s Mango Black tea with just a little simple syrup is extra tasty.

 

Doing

Teaching summer school. I recently finished up my brief stint as a middle school math teacher, and I am so ready to teach books and reading in the fall! For now, though? Lovely, unemployed summer.

Spending time with friends. One of our favorite couples is moving, and we squeezed in some evenings with them before their transition started. Rachel and Joel, we will miss barbecuing and playing board games with you!

Lots of lake time. Adam and I split the Fourth of July weekends with both of our families and got in some good time on the water. Then in mid-July, a huge storm hit my family’s cabin, and my grandparents lost most of the trees on their property. We drove up for an unexpected cleanup weekend, and it was tragic to see how much the landscape changed in such a short time, though the support from family and community was encouraging. Finally, we spent another weekend up north so I could celebrate my birthday at the cabin. Plenty of good food and waterskiing was the best way to spend the day.

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More birthday celebration! The partying continued with a quick catch-up with a college friend and with a fun date with Adam. We stopped by a Carnegie Library on our way to dinner at The Kenwood, and topped off the evening by watching Beauty and the Beast. (See the library connection? He gets me.)

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Half a million miles + cute but not comfy flats = no shoes in nice pictures…

Running a half marathon! Let’s be honest – running in July is not exactly pretty. Adam and I attempted a long run on the Fourth of July, and those were possibly the longest 7 miles of my life. We spent the rest of the month strategizing how to not die of heat stroke while still getting our miles in. It all paid off when, at the end of the month, we both survived our second half marathons! I finished in 2:14:53, 7 seconds under my goal time, and managed to run the entire thing. My blisters have almost healed, and overall I’m feeling great!

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My sister got up ridiculously early to cheer us on. She may not have got a finisher’s medal, but she wins all of the awards.

Celebrating weddings. Friends who live out of state held a wedding reception in MN, and another friend had a bridal shower…on the same day. Both events were sweet – so much love is in the air!

Writing. Though the blog was relatively quiet this month, I’ve been working on some side ideas and have been braver about seeking feedback (thanks, writing group!). It’s been both challenging and inspiring.

 

What have you been into this month? Linking up with Leigh Kramer, as always.