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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What I’m Into: December 2016

December. proper noun. The month of all the celebrations and all the events and all the cheer and all the fun.

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It’s time for the last What I’m Into of…last year! I love looking back over these posts at the end of a year, reviewing all that I’ve read and watched and loved. Here’s one more month’s worth of recommendations and (many, many) events.

Reading

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens. I had never read this full book before, so I was excited to teach this book to my Advanced students (and read a play version to my other classes). There are some beautiful, quotable lines in this familiar story, I loved catching small symbolic moments, and I have gained a new appreciation for the whole tale. It’s one of my favorite novels I’ve taught (in my very limited experience so far).

We are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen. This book follows two perspectives: Stuart, a super smart and awkward boy whose mother has recently died, and Ashley, a girl whose parents just divorced because her dad is gay. Their parents move in together, and the two have to learn to navigate blending a family while they’re also walking through middle school. This book took a more adult twist than I was expecting, but it brought up interesting questions about true friendship, what it means to be mature, and homophobia.

The Memory of Things – Gae Polisner. This book tells the story of a teenage boy in the moments after 9/11 and a girl with amnesia who he finds on the street. The window into New Yorkers’ personal experiences with the crisis was fascinating. I have complicated feelings about the relationship that develops between the two characters – the premise seems too easy, almost like cheating the system. Trauma unites two people who know almost nothing about each other! But I devoured it anyway, and I would still recommend this one.

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Did you know that you can download audiobooks from the library? And they will appear right on your phone? And you can maximize the number of books you read in a month? Though it took me a while to learn to follow a detailed storyline like this, I loved listening to Sherlock and Watson on my commute and while washing dishes.

Watch for the Light. This collection of essays on Advent was beautiful. There is a different essay for every day of Advent and Christmas, and I didn’t read them all…so I’m already excited for next Christmas so I can pick it up again.

Kristin Lavransdatter – Sigrid Undset. I finished Book 2 of 3 in this series? extra-long book? this month, and I’m still not done with this tome. I continue to be surprised by the drama, beauty, and deeper significance of the story, so it makes pressing on worth it.

Currently reading: Reading in the Wild – Donalyn Miller, Flygirl – Sherri L. Smith, Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (audiobook).

Listening

All the Christmas music. My new favorite discovery: A Very Neighborly Christmas by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

I’m just beginning to check out Becoming Wise, the latest podcast from Krista Tippet. They’re sound bites of inspiration, and the short interview with Brene Brown reminded me, in the best way possible, how much my conception of myself is messed up.

Watching

Passengers. I was pretty unsure about the premise of this movie. A ship is destined for another planet, and all of the passengers are put into suspended animation for 90 years. Two of them wake up early. It’s a fascinating (and nightmarish) idea, and I’ve been thinking about the choices the characters made since I watched it. Pros: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are a sort of dream team, and the movie was gorgeously made. Cons: much moral and situational suspense (for me, anyway), and though I liked the ending, I don’t know if it was realistic.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, for the first time ever. (I know. What kind of Christian college student am I?) There was a lot of walking and a lot of fighting. Big surprise. But it did exceed my expectations.

White Christmas. It happens every year and is always so delightful.

Loving

Eddie Bauer Oversized Down Throws. My siblings and I got these for Christmas, and they are the best. They’re lightweight and almost too warm (except there’s no such thing in MN). I’ve been snuggling with it since the 24th.

Lindy hop lessons. The boyfriend and I had a coupon for a free private dance lesson, and we’ve taken a few group lessons as well. It’s been great fun.

Being home for the holidays, and having the boyfriend there too. Even when it results in photographic gems like these.

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Autostart. It should be mandatory in Minnesota winters.

Doing

Co-hosting a Christmas party with the boyfriend. We rang in the season with friends and good food – the best way!

Christmas at Northwestern. My sister performed in her last band event ever (!!!), and it was fun to attend, see my family, and ring in the season at the same time.

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Photo from my mom’s Instagram

Handel’s Messiah. I’d never been to Orchestra Hall or listened to the full program before. I can’t say that operatic singing is entirely my thing, but the choral selections were gorgeous, and the lyrics of the entire thing merit more reflection.

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Seeing White Christmas. The boyfriend’s family had a mini reunion at White Christmas at the Ordway. The production was a delight, and it started snowing (in the performance hall! And in real life!) during the show.

Seeing college friends. We all met up at the Mall of America for Christmas shopping, and it felt just like the old days.

Brita’s graduation. My little sister graduated from college! She’s applying to grad school and becoming a real adult and it’s very strange.

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Isn’t she cute? And grown-up? And hire-able?

Martin Luther exhibit at MIA. The MIA is currently hosting a collection of artifacts from all over Germany about Martin Luther’s life and time. There are some beautiful and fascinating artifacts in the collection – go see it before it leaves Minneapolis!

Surviving the Christmas crazy at school. Mostly. Highlights: chaperoning a trip to the Guthrie to watch A Christmas Carol with students. Some of them got to meet the boyfriend, who volunteered to come with, and their reactions were hilarious. Having four of my boys team up to buy me a book and chocolate for Christmas. Lows: After making it through days of sugar-hyped kids, my immune system decided it had had enough and I caught influenza three days before break. Thankfully I only had to spend one day on the couch before heading back.

Christmas Eve Eve with the boyfriend’s family – his family moved their celebration up an evening to accommodate bad weather, so we filled up on appetizers and seafood. They are very generous with their time with their son, and I am very grateful!

Christmas with my family and the following relaxing holiday – I love Christmas break so much. Other than having a Christmas blizzard, nothing remarkable happened, but the break was full of lovely, ordinary good times. We spent time with grandparents, watched movies, played lots of Settlers of Catan, lounged on the couch for many hours, stayed in pajamas until late in the afternoon, and watched my brother’s basketball game. I avoided thinking about school, read less than I had planned, and ate a lot of cookies.

New Year’s Eve concert. We rang in the New Year with a concert of Broadway hits and Rachmaninoff, then danced to swing music to ring in 2017. It was a celebratory start to the new year!

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Whew. It was a full month – and a full year! Here’s to good books, fun with loved ones, learning, growing, and a bright start to 2017.

As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Check out other What I’m Into posts here!

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Remember

Remember. verb. “To have in one’s mind an awareness of something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past.”

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Fall is here. The school routines have found us. I’m awake before the sun now, and I wear mascara every day. We fell easily into these rhythms. It feels like what we’d always done. (It is.)

Already, the easy breezy days of summer seem long gone. They were sweet, full of ordinary surprises. Sometimes I fear that I will forget them. The memories will disappear from my head, poof, like the definition of cosine and the way to fold a fitted sheet. So I write them down, just as I send myself reminder emails of online resources and copies to make. This is my to-do list: do not forget these moments.

I toted books to the park most days. I used to live minutes from the one with the lake. I brought lemonade and a blanket and, in the pages of a mystery, stopped fighting the quiet gift of rest. Teens playing Pokemon walked by, and I peeled back the layers of memory lying over the grass and walking trail: walking with the boy when our relationship was young, running long laps around the lake, eating sugar-laced beignets, following my brothers on rented bikes, paddleboarding at sunset.

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We slept outside on the dock one weekend. The air was clear and cool, and scattered stars kept us awake. We found constellations, and talked sleepily as sisters do, and listened in the pauses to the chatter of two teenage boys on a dock further down. We curled up under our sleeping bags and drifted off to the lullaby of shooting stars and waves against shore, the one composed just for us. I woke early, to bright sun and a lake shining like glass.

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We went sailing one afternoon, on the bowl of a lake. I sat near the bow, ducking as the boom swung and tripping over the keel every time we tacked. The boy sat in the stern calm and confident, framed by blue sky and blue lake and blue polo shirt. We’d talked of going sailing, just us, for years. When we finally did, I wanted to freeze time, bottle it, to return to sun and sweetness on lonely winter days.

We drank iced tea and ate tuna tacos at our favorite restaurant, up the shore on Lake Superior. When we were no longer hangry, we tripped down the steep shore, climbed rocks, skipped stones, snapped pictures. The water was clear enough to drink. Stones – heart-shaped, striped, perfectly round – loaded our fists, just as they did 17 years ago when we looked on the same shore together.

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I hold these moments as I look at the end-of-summer sunshine out the window. It reminds me there is still time left: time to go outside, to wander, to rest. So I strap on skis during our last lake weekend, even if the water is cold and the air colder. I bring my book to our tiny patio after school. I walk through parks, avoiding the geese headed south, on Sundays. The slow, sweet moments return. I won’t forget them.

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?

June (2016)

June. proper noun. The month holding the longest day of the year and the start of summer. God bless it.

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I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share all of the awesomeness from this month.

Reading

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh. Another book crossed off my 2016 Reading Challenge list! This book wasn’t entirely what I expected. For one thing, I had always thought Evelyn Waugh was female. He is not. His story follows Charles Ryder as he befriends eccentric Sebastian Flyte and becomes entwined with his entire family and Brideshead, their estate. This is one book that my boyfriend and I read at almost the same time, and it made discussing themes of Catholicism and the dying aristocracy extra interesting. The mini-series has been compared to a more artful Downton Abbey, so I am hoping to find a way to watch it for less than the Amazon price.

Orphan Train – Christina Baker Kline. This quick read pairs the stories of two unlikely women: Molly, a surly foster child, and Vivian, the old woman whose attic Molly must sort through as a community service project. The parts of the story told from Molly’s perspective were fine, but I was fascinated by details of Vivian’s life as an orphan sent from New York to small-town Minnesota. I’d grade it a solid B.

The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater. Every year, the island of Thisby hosts a race in which men ride water horses, fierce predators who come from the sea, and try to stay alive until the finish line. Sean Kendrick, water horse whisperer, has won four years in a row. One year, Puck decides to enter. She is the first girl to ever enter the races, she rides her own horse (who is not a water horse), and she is desperate. It took me a while to be captivated by the story and to piece together essential background information. Then, this book surprised me. For having fantasy elements, it reads more like historical fiction, and the way Stiefvater portrays relationships between characters is striking. I gulped it down in a weekend and found it incredibly satisfying.

Emma – Alexander McCall Smith. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a successful retelling of Jane Austen stories is almost as difficult to find as a single man in possession of a large fortune. This one, like Pemberly, is a rare jewel. All Jane Austen similes aside, this modern retelling of Emma is delightful. It stays true to the essence of the story and adds McCall Smith’s gentle charm. Though I am a snob about retellings, I can recommend this one without sullying my honor.

Currently Reading: Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton; Still Life – Louise Penny.

 

Watching

Love & Friendship – Apparently it was the month for Jane Austen retellings. This brand-new movie follows the plot of Austen’s Lady Susan. As you can tell from the trailer, it is Jane Austen at her sassiest. The plot is not quite as developed as some of Austen’s other works, and it’s no polished big-screen Kiera Knightly rendition. But the wickedly smart lines absolutely make up for it. Go see it.

 

 

Jurassic World – So this is possibly not typical sister sleepover fare. This is especially true if you know my sister or me. But we watched it when Brita spent the night at my apartment (see below) because Chris Pratt. We deeply admire him. After watching the movie, we stalked him on IMDB, as one does. We discovered that he was born in Minnesota, to which Brita exclaimed, “He’s from Minnesota?! We could have married him!” And that is what I learned about dinosaurs.

Okay, maybe I learned more than that. Like: I would like to ride a triceratops, no woman can ever run in heels like that crazy Claire lady, Brita or I would be way better for Chris Pratt than she is, and I make anyone feel like a movie warrior because I actually scream when dinosaurs jump out of the woods.

 

A few episodes of random TV shows, including Fixer Upper (like old-school Trading Spaces and House Hunters had a baby!), North & South, Parenthood, Friends, and Parks and Rec. I am uncommitted to anything as of late.

 

Listening

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake. I have an excellent car dance to this song. It’s epic enough I should have been in this music video.

 

Sit Still Look Pretty – Daya. Preach.

 

This is my favorite recent Adele song. My cool friend Anneliese did a rocking a capella cover of it, but I don’t have a video of it (and she would kill me if I posted it, anyway). This one works, too.

 

 

Loving

This Thai salad recipe. If you want to save yourself a lot of time, just buy an Asian coleslaw mix and skip a lot of chopping. The dressing is fantastic.

It took me a while to get into the groove of summer. This post helped.

I haven’t tried this cookie recipe. I have fallen for Chris Pratt. They’re related, I promise. Just click the link.

When thrift stores turn up gems like a J. Crew gingham shirt and gold Sperry Top-Siders.

This article on the life of the average (tech-obsessed) teenager has me thinking about how to teach today’s students better.

My small group girls, who are there to do things like play board games and take road trips to support one another and order pizza. I am so very grateful for good friends.

 

Doing

On the first weekend of June, one cousin got married and another cousin celebrated her high school graduation. It was a good family weekend, which included such fun as going jet skiing for the first time, antiquing, doing hours of grading on the car ride, learning attempting to do the running man, and getting to ride in the trundle seat of an old car. Congrats to Gretchen and to Zach and Allie!

 

I haven’t been to my childhood Bible camp in years, but my sister and I met up with my mom for a women’s retreat. I still don’t feel mature enough to go to adult events, but hey, the line to go water skiing is way shorter and they have good snacks. The company is great, too. Bonuses: My brother is working at camp, so it was fun to see him, AND my college roomie lives a mile off our route so we caught up with her on the drive.

We. Finished. School. Halleluiah.

I decided to spend a few days at home while waiting for my summer job to pan out. While home, I made serious progress on my college t-shirt quilt, went on walks down gravel roads, and read a lot. I also got a massage. I had so many knots (thanks, teaching) that I was bruised the day after. The time with family was quiet and sweet.

We celebrated Father’s Day weekend at the lake. It was all usual forms of excellence. Except we could not get a photo of the two kids present and their father where all involved looked normal. This one will have to work.

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The park near my apartment featured an outdoor performance of Much Ado About Nothing. It was a delight to watch one of my favorite Shakespeare plays on a perfect summer evening.

My sister and I had big plans to go camping for the first time ever. Everyone whom we have told this goal and who knows us both well has been confused, because apparently nothing about us says “Let’s sleep on the ground, outdoors, with bugs and no electricity!”. We were set out to prove them wrong. Except on the night we were to pack up all of our very essential camping snacks and pitch our first-ever tent, there were severe thunderstorm warnings. So we swam in her apartment’s pool and ordered Chinese and admired Chris Pratt and read magazines and slept on mattresses instead. We excel at sleepovers, at least.

I thought I had great job plans for June! And then things fell apart, just slightly, and I have had more free time than I anticipated this month. It’s turning out to be an okay thing for the sake of my mental and emotional well-being, but it has taken me a while to adjust to not running on stress at all times. I’m finding many creative ways to use this time well, including visiting a cool old library, taking free outdoor workout classes at a park in my area, tutoring occasionally, volunteering for a field trip around Minneapolis with English learners, and boldly going to a Ginny Owens concert by myself. It’s been incredibly good for me. That said, if you need a highly qualified tutor, proofreader, or a babysitter and you live in my area, let me know!

 

What have you been into this month?

May (2016)

May. proper noun. The month when summer is so close, you can almost taste it.

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We’re keeping it short and sweet this month. I’ve been busy, and trying to hold my sanity intact as students get antsy for summer has taken up lots of mental space. The only thing I’ve been consistently good at is making crack broccoli. I’m still posting because routine, thy name is Anna, and because there are still some gems here. If you want further recommendations, hit up Leigh Kramer’s link-up.

Reading

All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven. Enchanting but heartbreaking. School weirdo Finch meets grieving, popular Violet on top of the school bell tower. Violet is contemplating ending her life. Their romance is unexpected and sparkling and tragic. Similar to The Fault in Our Stars, but with mental illness instead of cancer.

Currently reading: Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta; Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh.

 

Watching

I cannot recollect one movie or TV show that I watched in May. This is the truth.

 

Listening

The Sorta Awesome podcast. Megan Tietz and her rotating crew of co-hosts explore all kinds of topics that make life awesome. These podcasts are chatty, but also reflective and informational. I’ve really been enjoying them.

 

Loving

We need less Christianese and more of this.

This delightful summer salad recipe.

Almay Intense I-Color Liquid Eyeliner for blue eyes. I am not necessarily good at eyeliner, but I know that this eyeliner goes on more smoothly than others I’ve tried, and I love how the flecks of gold that make an ordinary brown eyeliner seem prettier. Plus, I can wash this off without eye makeup remover.

All teachers will tell you that this is so true. Especially the end-of-the-year-teacher pic.

 

Doing

Surviving at school. We are ready to be done. I had one kid tell another “You are slowly driving Ms. Christenson insane.” That about sums it up. Except I’m going to try harder to be positive than that. My eighth graders wrote some short stories that are fun to read, and right now they’re in the middle of giving speeches. Sometimes they’re hilarious. My kids actually showed improvement in grammar and vocabulary. And best of all, we only have 5 days left.

Catching up with my boss/mentor from my RA days and getting to see her cutie pie daughter. I love good conversation and entertaining kiddos.

Spending an evening with just my parents. My mom had an appointment in town, and my parents decided to fly out of Minneapolis to surprise my sister while she was on tour with her college band. Before they left, my mom and I got pedicures, we went out for dinner, and my parents helped me grade homework. They should come to town more often.

 

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I discovered later that night that my toenail polish glows in the dark. I find more joy in it than I would like to admit.

Spending a week with the boy in MN. He was an usher in a wedding. I met the bride and groom at their rehearsal (an interesting dynamic) and got sunburned while helping set up at their wedding. We also went swing dancing, discovered that you can effectively use one paddleboard with two people, and spent some low-key quality time together.

Attempting to go dairy-free. I started on a hastily researched whim as an attempt to reduce cystic acne without going on medication, and my highly scientific experiment has told me it hasn’t made the situation worse? It may have improved? I’m still undecided about the whole thing. I do put almond milk in my tea and have an excuse to buy the expensive gelato because it doesn’t have milk in it…but I also eat cheese when necessary (read: too often?).  I may cut out everything dairy for another few weeks and see.

Frantic job applications. I didn’t get the summer school position I was hoping for, and I’ve been scrambling ever since. I am hopeful that I’ve have a solution soon.

Getting a new roommate. I have to admit, I have been incredibly blessed to have found kind rent-sharers on short notice/by miraculous coincidence.

 

What have you been into this month?

March (2016)

March. proper noun. The month of the start of spring, St. Patrick’s Day, Women’s History Month, Easter (sometimes), my sister’s birthday, and spring break (and all the teachers said amen).

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Life has been swinging right along, and March has disappeared exceedingly fast. Maybe it’s the weather that has not been awfully temperamental by Minnesota standards. More likely it’s that my plate has been full recently. Read on to find out all that I’ve been loving. Linking up with Leigh Kramer, as always.

Reading

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith. This mystery redeemed my opinion of J.K. Rowling’s adult fiction. (I attempted, but strongly disliked, The Casual Vacancy.) She is the queen of intriguing little details and story-winding. It works well for mystery. I’m excited to read the sequel.

The Selection – Kiera Cass. Think dystopian world meets The Bachelor for teens. It’s light and fun, but the ending – one of those read the next book to find out who Maxim chooses! – was frustrating.

Self-Raised – E.D.E.N. Southward. The sequel to Ishmael, a book I was introduced to by the boyfriend. While Ishmael was all about the main character’s rise in society through moral perfection, this one held much more intrigue as a side character attempts to escape a scoundrel of a husband. Fun fact: the author was friends with Harriet Beecher Stowe and is among one of the female writers who influenced Northern politics after the Civil War, according to a random book I noticed in a bookstore.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie – Jordan Sonnenblick. Steven is just a drummer with a crush on the hot girl in his eighth grade class…until his brother gets cancer. This is more sassy – and less weepy – than your typical cancer story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Currently reading: The Lake House – Kate Morton; The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown.

 

Watching

Lincoln –I know this movie is old news, but if you’re behind the times like me, watch it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It touched on all aspects of Lincoln’s life, from his role as a father to his tenuous political relationships, with artistry. Bonus if you watch it with a history major.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding IIMy Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of the movies that my family has practically memorized, so we all went to the sequel together on Easter weekend. The plot isn’t as original as the first, but it got just as many laughs from us. Especially from my parents, who thought it was hilarious to watch a movie about rekindling marriages with their children. We thought it was… awkward…but funny.

Parks and Rec – It’s possible that I need to add some variety to my TV watching, but I’m at the point in the show where the Leslie/Ben thing is just beginning and everything is delightful.

 

Listening

Hamilton – I knew about the opening number to this Broadway show from the Oscars performance. Then the boyfriend introduced me to the rest of the songs and the actual storyline. A story about a Founding Father told in epic hip-hop? I enjoyed it so much that I downloaded the entire album for the long drive home. I don’t normally grin foolishly while driving down I-94. Or listen to 90 minutes’ worth of podcasts about a single album. Definitely did with this one. Two of my favorites are below.

On that note, I also discovered NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast through their episode on Hamilton. It’s smart and nerdy and fun – the kind of NPR I can get behind.

 

The Piano Guys Pandora station has also kept me sane during some long after school grading and planning sessions.

 

 

Loving

Listing the small, good things that happen at school in the same notebook where I write all of my notes and to-do lists.

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Crack broccoli. Oh my yum.

My meme/classroom rules bulletin board. Kids actually look at it. Except one of them once walked up to the board, pointed to the picture of Grumpy Cat, and asked “Is this you today, Ms. Christenson?”

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Doing

 

Having brunch at J. Arthur’s with a friend. We had good conversation – and a single pancake massive enough that I got 3 meals out of it.

Going to a Piano Guys concert. My college roommate got Piano Guys tickets for her birthday, and I was the lucky duck who got to accompany her. Watching them perform the 8-hand version of “What Makes You Beautiful” and seeing them bring actual bagpipes on stage for a mash-up of “Amazing Grace” and “Fight Song” was amazing, to say the least.

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No pics from the concert…but the venue wasn’t too shabby.

Flying to Washington DC. I spent my spring break with some of the very best company. We drove to Harper’s Ferry, wandered through the National Gallery, ate out an irresponsible amount, and went to a concert at the Kennedy Center. While he worked during the week, I joined him for lunch and learned how to use public transportation so I could check out the fascinating exhibit on news coverage of 9/11 at the Newseum, the Air and Space Museum, and some fun shops.

 

Celebrating my sister’s birthday. We got donuts and went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. Can you tell she likes dessert? The next day, my whole family got together for a Rend Collective concert. Their Irish feisty-ness is such fun.

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This family is pretty feisty, too.

Celebrating Easter. I didn’t have any extra time off from school, so I fit 12 hours of drive time into a regular weekend. It was worth it to play Dutch Blitz and eat a lot of Absurdly Addictive Asparagus with my family.

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Not pictured: elbow throwing or swearing

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Teaching. It has been a month of a lot of progress and a little frustration. I read somewhere that adolescents misinterpret emotions and directions up to 40% of the time. I’m beginning to believe it may be more like 70%. On the bright side, my students make me laugh, and I am gaining quite a list of interesting quotes, like this one: After looking at my example on the board, one student said, without sarcasm, “You’re really good at the ELA thing. You should go pro.” My response: “Yep. I did.”

 

What have you been into this month?

February (2016)

February. proper noun. Recognized as Black History Month, the month of Valentines Day and Groundhogs Day; also the time in which we all pine for spring.

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I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month. Honestly, I’m not sad to say goodbye to February. Winter starts to suck at this point every year, and the post-college angst hit hard in this month’s transitions. But there were still some lovely moments.

Reading

All Fall Down – Ally Carter. This is a fast-paced YA mystery about a girl who saw her mother’s murder and the rest of the population of Embassy Row who thinks she’s crazy. This book will keep you hooked. However, Grace’s narration was a little whiny for me and the cliffhanger ending where everything has changed! But you must read the next book to find out how! is not my favorite literary technique.

Ishmael – E.D.E.N. Southworth. I’m following Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge, and this is my pick for the category where someone close to me (in my case, the boyfriend) chose a book for me to read. I can see why he picked this one – it’s one of the books that most inspired him during his high school years, and I enjoyed reading it to see the kind of person he idealizes. The main character is almost too perfect for me, though.

Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery. The sweetest book in all the land. I reread this one for the Reading Challenge as a book I’ve read before. Now I just want to move to Avonlea and become Anne Shirley. That’s all.

I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron. I expected this book of essays to be just as delightful as Ephron’s other works, like You’ve Got Mail. Unfortunately, I think her writing needs narration (or Tom Hanks?) to come alive for me. It was fine.

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis. Lewis is the master of metaphor, and he makes theology clear and beautiful. This book is classic for a reason.

Currently Reading: Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire – Rafe Esquith; The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith.

 

Listening

I have some shame in admitting that I’m having a Justin Bieber moment right now. Especially with this song.

 

 

Charlie Puth – One Call Away. Related: I listen to the same music as my seventh graders. I should maybe be concerned by this.

Watching

Sense and Sensibility, as pregaming for a theater production. As well as the BBC Pride and Prejudice. (Again, I know. But with my mom this time.)

This YouTube series. Sensing a theme yet?

Gilmore Girls, because apparently Jane Austen alone doesn’t offer enough relational drama.

 

Loving

My parents and I laughed until we cried over this. (Side note: I’m possibly the only twenty-something on the planet who knows what the Lawrence Welk Show is.)

 

This is such a good reminder during February (because Valentine’s Day does such wacky things to our romantic expectations).

The new GIF feature in Facebook messages. Group messages with my siblings will never be the same.

This is fantastic. So is that guy’s smile. He just won’t quit.

 

 Doing

  • Becoming a real teacher! This month, I interviewed for, got, prepared for, and started my first teaching job. I’m teaching ELA at the middle school where I student taught, and I’m still getting a thrill from being able to tell cashiers at Target that I am an actual teacher. The middle of the year start date makes for some unique challenges: for example, we skipped right over any honeymoon period and are hard at work establishing new routines and expectations. But I love getting to know the kids and having my own classroom.
  • Before the job: 2 weeks at home. Highlights include: time with family, crafting during a blizzard, watching a lot of basketball, and subbing for a few days in a preschool class. I was more terrified to enter a class of 3-year-olds than of middle schoolers, honestly.
  • A weekend with the boyfriend. The overlapping of President’s Day (3-day weekend, yo) with Valentine’s Day was a happy coincidence. We fit in dancing, a play, ice skating, visits with both of our families, and lots of long talks.
  • Catching up with friends. I got to enjoy some long talks and a production of Sense and Sensibility by my alma mater’s theater department with dear company. So fun.

 

What have you been into this month?

Ditched

Ditched. verb. A word I made up for driving into the ditch. Not to be confused with being left behind on a social outing.

snowy road

‘Twas the day after a raging good blizzard. The wind was still howling, as it is wont to do on the prairies of northwest Minnesota.

The roads are fine when I drive the three miles to my grandparents’ house in the afternoon. When I leave later that night, I give travel conditions less than half a thought. It’s all of three miles. Roads should be fine, since this afternoon they were totally clear. Even though the wind has been whipping for six hours I shouldn’t run into any drifts, right?

Wrong-o.

I’m a mile from home, nearing the spot where the road is almost always drifted over. Even in June. I see one snowdrift, hit it, no a big deal. I might drive like a grandma, but I’ve got this. There are more ahead. Oh well. We’re already committed, Dora the Explorer and I. (Dora the Explorer is a car, for context. A Ford Explorer, if you were wondering.) So, like a good country girl, I gun it. Hold the steering wheel with loose control, go through a few, no problem, see that bump ahead and also see that I’m almost through, so go, go, steer a little to the left to avoid that biggggger tidal wave of snow and I’m bouncing and that one was harder than expected and almost there and a little more left and –

Ooooh – shhh – zmmm – vlumpt – whump.

My car has stopped. It’s still in drive. But we ain’t goin’ nowhere.

I throw it in reverse, just to see if miracles happen and I can get out the easy way. Nothing. Jesus does okay with water, I know, but he must be less experienced with snow. I leave it in reverse. (Whoops. Oh well, didn’t matter ‘cause we didn’t move anyway.) I call home. I tell my mom that I’m in the ditch and that this fair damsel needs rescuing. While I wait for the knights in shining…mittens? I assess the situation. Out the driver’s side window, snow is half-way up the door. It won’t open. I text my boyfriend a picture, forgetting that maybe he might freak out that his girlfriend is in a ditch, in the dark, and that she has not mentioned the state of the vehicle or the rescue plans. I decide to shimmy over the center console and out the passenger side door. I click the unlock button four times, because I am not getting locked out of the car that is still running after I just drove it in the ditch. The universe is not that cruel. I step out, and sink in snow up to my shin. Special. I don’t know why I got out of the car in the first place, actually. Examining my tracks will accomplish zero things. I’m not dumb enough to start walking home, because there’s a -25º wind chill. No exaggeration. The wind might be blowing express from the north pole.

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The phone photo. Should the boy have been worried?

I get back in the car and watch for the car lights from home. I’m so close that I can see my yard, half a mile away across the field. I check Instagram while I wait, because avoidance. Avoidance of thinking that well, this was stupid and how in the heck did I do this and why does it take so long for them to put on boots and come and get me?

Car lights leave our yard. The dad and the brother pull up and admire how I very clearly drove right off the road, in a straight, angling line. My dad points out that I did, at least, clear all of the drifts. The ditch just got in the way. We do not attempt pushing the car out, because we know a hopeless case when we see one. We drive home. I reassure the boyfriend that all is relatively fine. Except my pride, because I feel mighty foolish. I am supposed to be an independent country girl at heart who does not drive into ditches to avoid drifts.

My grandpa comes with his pickup. We go back out onto the frozen tundra with two shovels and a chain and more horsepower. My brother hands me an ice scraper. This is symbolic of my helpfulness in this entire process. They move a lot of snow. I, again, wonder what in the heck I was doing. The pickup, chained to the underside of the car, bucks all over the road, to no avail.

Time for plan B: the tractor. We drive to my grandparents’ to retrieve it. One hiccup: it doesn’t have lights. Oh, and it might not start. And it doesn’t have any heat. I thank my lucky stars that my grandpa has more sense than the rest of us and is wearing snow pants. And that he and my dad and my brother are nice to me.

Miracle of miracles, the old tractor lives. We drive, very slowly, behind it, our headlights blazing. No one in our ungainly procession drives off the road (except me, an hour earlier. But I had lights). The tractor plows straight through the troublesome drifts. The guys hook up the chain, and I try to helpfully hold the flashlight. The stars are nice tonight, at least. But my legs are popsicles. The car pops out. Halleluiah. It’s only been an hour and a half since I left my grandparents’ house.

It all works out. Everyone (and all vehicles) make it home. Not before I pray that, while driving my grandpa back to his house, I don’t lose control on the snowy parts and slide off the road. Again. And not before I contemplate for a nanosecond trying the drifted-in road again because there are tracks now! and I almost made it through one time! and OH MY GOSH, ANNA, ARE YOU AN IDIOT, JUST TAKE THE OTHER ROAD, my rational side says.

When I park the car, in the driveway where it’s supposed to go, finally, I question whether maybe I should have a chauffer for the rest of my life. I also wonder, not for the first time, at the irony of being voted the “safest driver” in my senior yearbook. It hits me anew, most striking of all, that my closest people don’t love me because I am a good driver or because I never require them to spend an hour and half standing in Arctic windchill fixing my messes or because I am flawless. I didn’t earn their love. It’s not gifted to me based on my merit. They show up when I need them, even when it’s not convenient.

And that is a miracle. Maybe Jesus can work in snow, after all.

August (2015)

August. proper noun. The dog days, the last hurrah, the fond farewell to summer.

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I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer, as always, to share what I loved this month. Head to the link-up if you’re looking for other good recommendations or are generally nosy about how Internet people spend their time.

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Reading

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson. Watch the movie, then pretend you’re spending a few hours with Amy Adams while you read about the incredulous, down-and-out Miss Pettigrew and her day with Miss LaFosse, the stunning socialite juggling three men. One of my favorite lines: “Miss LaFosse was sitting quietly with the radiant, shining look on her face of the woman who has just been thoroughly and satisfactorily kissed.”

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion. This book was all over people’s lists of best summer beach reads, with good reason. The story of the geneticist who creates a questionnaire to screen potential wife candidates was cute and quirky. Though I’m curious if I should be worried that I can empathize with a man who claims that, in regards to being on time, “poor synchronization is a huge waste of time,” and refers to minute-wasting chatter as “the inevitable small talk”?

Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist. Shauna’s writing feels down-to-earth and comforting in this book, exactly like the kind of food she serves. Food is an interesting lens through which to write a memoir, and not quite all of the chapters worked for me. If I liked vinegar more and knew more about cooking, maybe I would have been head-over-heels for this book. As it was, I simply enjoyed it.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen. This wins the award for Funniest Book I’ve Read this Summer. Also Best Book to Read Aloud To Anyone Who Will Listen. Some reasons why: She describes a road trip in which one of her brothers had to eat a raisin that had been up her other brother’s nose. Her mom sewed patterned fabric strips on to the bottoms of her pant legs to make them last through growth spurts. Her father would carefully supervise their TV time and, whenever actors hinted towards a kiss, would mutter “Smut,” while switching the channel. These episodes are hysterical in Rhoda’s voice, which is sassy without being cynical, and which pokes fun at her childhood without being mean.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. True confessions: I tried reading The Great Gatsby once in high school. I didn’t like it. This time, after watching the movie, talking about it with my boyfriend, and not expecting to relate to any of the characters, I could read for the rich writing and enjoy it much more. Fitzgerald made a classic out of this by the sheer force and luxuriousness of his descriptions. Maybe second time’s the charm on this one.

Listening

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Car rides alone call for well-loved audiobooks.

The Madeleine Peyroux Pandora station. It’s moody and swingy and just right for quiet evenings.

Locked Away – R.City ft. Adam Levine. Catchy.

Watching

Father of the Bride. The perfect movie to watch with one of your dearest friends on the night before her wedding weekend.

I’m back on the Gilmore Girls train. Though I’m not sure I can take the Dean/Jess drama.

Loving

Because Kid President is da bomb.

This is classic for the start of school.

If you don’t follow Love, Teach, you should. This list shows exactly why. Though I would add these socks to the list, too.

I, and all other English teachers, need this shirt.

If you’re in a relationship or ever want to be in one, this is such good advice. Hold me to this, people.

The smartphone life. I have joined the 21st century AND I have a baby Instagram account. (Find me here at @agirldefined!) I must admit, my old clunker of a phone and I had a good run. We shared four years together, and I might even miss the dinosaur a little.

Polka dot pants. The Pixie pant from Old Navy is working for me. Find ‘em on sale for extra happiness.

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Doing

Bachelorette party. We celebrated the bride the weekend before her wedding with a trip to Stillwater, the cutest riverside town. We kept it classy. Except that I bought my dress at a thrift store. Though this is the story with all of my fancy clothes lately.

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The bride and me. I like this girl.

Wedding celebration! I got to be a bridesmaid when one of my dearest friends married her honey. They were radiant with happiness, and it was fun to get glammed up and celebrate their love. Best wishes, Rachel and Joel!

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From freshman orientation group to wedding days…

Finishing my summer job with the kiddos. I had a sweet summer with them, which culminated in a trip to Wild Mountain, an amusement park with an alpine slide, waterslides, a lazy river, and Go-Karts in 90º heat. I went all in. I even scratched up my back going down the Black Hole, the scariest waterslide of them all. The kids might have been impressed.

Heading home, for a long-awaited break. I got my first-ever massage and a brand-new pair of happy shoulders. I also got my hair chopped off, crafted with my mom, worked out with my brothers, and avoided setting my alarm. And my dad was patient enough to take pictures with me. (Pssst. Check the About page for more.)

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All of my family was in the same room for the first time this summer when we dropped my brother off at college. There are now 3 of us enrolled at the same school. Significant tuition discounts should be given, I think.

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The gang’s all here

Hey ya, hey ya, my boyfriend’s back. And we’ve done all the things in the few days he’s been here. Dressed-up dinner, swing dancing, double date with friends, the Minnesota State Fair, hiking at Taylor’s Falls, and plenty of real life and conversation in between. He’s swell.

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Student teaching. And so it begins. The teachers are in workshops now, so I’m helping with admin work and trying not to get in the way. When the kids come in a few days (and I can actually start making progress on the edTPA), the real fun begins…

What were you into this month?