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.


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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




  • 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


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.


Slow: Thoughts on Social Media

Slow. adjective. “Requiring or taking a long time for growing, changing, or occurring; gradual.”

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I was the last person in the world to get Facebook. Almost.

It was June, 2011, at the cabin. We borrowed the lake neighbor’s wifi because we did not have Internet at home yet. (We were the last people in the world to get wifi. Almost.)

I filled out my profile, deliberated over a picture, and added my future college roommates. Getting to know them was the whole reason that I joined Facebook in the first place. I sent friend requests. Then I got friend requests. My attention-seeking heart thrilled. People cared that I existed! They wanted to know what I had to say! They wanted to see pictures of my exciting life! I checked back often, wanting the accepted requests, the likes, the comments roll in. It was addicting.

It stayed addicting.


Lenten disciplines were new to me this year. Giving up anything meaningful seemed too hard. Chocolate? Please God, no. I saw the glory of God in dark chocolate regularly. Shopping for clothes? I just gave that up a month ago. Plus, my ancient skinny jeans were about to lose a battle with the dryer and need replacing. Social media? I blogged (kind of)….and I needed Instagram for inspiration…and I’m going on a trip and I want the world to know…and…and…

The niggling feeling that maybe it would be good to go without social media didn’t go away. My headstrong, irrational opposition to the whole idea was my first clue. After all, I’d survived 18 years without status updates. So I moved Instagram from its prominent place on my phone and deleted Messenger and mustered up my self-control.

I thought it would be easy.

I was not correct.

At first, especially, I felt the ache of boredom. After work, when I’d checked my email and read the few blog posts sitting in my feed, I had to choose between staring at the ceiling or doing productive things. It made me antsy.

I noticed it especially on slow Saturday mornings. I couldn’t reach for Instagram to wake up my sleepy brain. So I stared at the light slanting through my blinds. Or checked my email, again. (What 23-year-old obsessively checks non-urgent non-work email?) Or wondered how many days it was until Easter. And then I finally picked up a book, or wrote, or did the dishes, or moved on with my life.

There was no moment of picturesque clarity during those 40 days. No rush of satisfaction. No pell-mell deleting of accounts.

But books I’d been meaning to read got picked up, and read. Questions got asked, and their answers became clearer. For the first time in years, I started reading the Bible before bed again. My room was cleaner than usual.

Maybe it’s all coincidence. Maybe not.


“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness,” Rebecca Solnit says. If I have had any small revelations during my forty days in the wilderness, it is this.

I have been convinced of my need for less. Less fast and furious consumption. Less surface-level engagement in the lives of others. Less comparison to others’ relationships and lifestyles and photogenic chops. Less of what I won’t remember in a week. Less of what won’t really matter, now or in 5 years.

And this emptying and slowing makes space for thought and thoughtfulness. I actually read an article and discuss it with the man who devours deep conversation. The question that wrinkles my faith gets a fraction smoother. Books move to the finished stack, and I pass on their names to students. These things take work and energy and thought. They are worth it.


Lent has passed, Jesus has risen, and I have broken the fast.

On Saturday morning, I let myself scroll aimlessly through Facebook. I was content, at first. When I finished, just 10 minutes later, I was restless. My Friday night had been peaceful, and my life seemed fine. But everyone else was getting married and going interesting places and having more fun.

Hello, procrastination. Howdy, comparison.

We were back to square 1, where I started before Lent, and where I started on that June day when I first opened my account.

As I realized this, I stopped browsing. I closed the computer, and picked up a book.


Ashes: On the Weight of Sin

ashes. noun. “The remains of something destroyed.”


We arrive at church on Wednesday at 7. We are shockingly on time. Our rustling echoes in the stark sanctuary, where crosses are covered.

Ash Wednesday is new to me. So is this form of church, with its thees and thous and ringing bells and kneeling at times I can’t yet anticipate. I feel shifty under the weight of its liturgy, shiftier still when we get in line for the imposition of the ashes. The priest intones, over and over, “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return.” His thumb is smudged black.

I walk back to my seat, forehead smeared, uncomfortable. It’s not often I contemplate my own mortality. It’s not often that I ponder how my sin has separated me from my God.

Adam flips through the missal to the confession, and I realize how, now that I’m saved, sin seems a minor inconvenience. Yep, we mess up. We apologize, to God or neighbors or ourselves. We face the consequences. But mostly, we’re doing just fine. Sin is a hangnail, ignorable. It is no great welt across the soul.

We confess, and I hesitantly pray that God would show me the gravity of my sin. It is a halfhearted prayer, like the ones I often whisper that God would show me his presence and want to then take back. The hardest days are often the ones where I see his presence most. I don’t know what this request will bring me.

I forget this prayer. But two days later, I see it answered.

I am waiting outside Adam’s apartment after school. He calls. Our plans have suddenly changed. He needs sympathy, kindness, love. Instead, I am irritated at minor inconveniences. I rarely deal gracefully with changed plans. Often, I can brush off this tendency as a character quirk. This evening, it manifests itself as selfishness. I am nasty.

I see my error, almost as soon as I hang up the phone, and with increasing clarity as the evening goes on. Apologies are made. So are wounds. I want to ask Adam to not hold this against me, to not think of this moment as he considers the future of our relationship. But he should. If he is going to truly love me, he needs to know it all: my capacity for pride, my selfish heart, the control-seeking that makes me desperate. These are the sides that make me wince and rattle off justifications for myself. These are things I want to hide.

And these are things that God already sees.

God is very aware of the idol I mold of control. He knows my irrational angst when interruptions snatch my precious free time. He hears the cocktail of excuses I mix to say that I’m not that bad and given the circumstances and if that miscommunication hadn’t happened and…and…and..

I want these excuses to stand. I want to believe that I am okay, that I’m mostly self-sufficient after the initial salvation stuff, that I have my act together. All evidence stands toward the contrary. My inconveniences do not include being crucified. Jesus bore that with less grumbling than I bear heavy traffic.

The fact remains that I am sinful.

And so, Lent.

I am learning the tandem gravity and joy of this season. Repentance is due. No excuses. We drove ourselves from the Garden and drove Jesus to his death. So we must confess that we have sinned, in thought word, and deed. We fast, believing that it shows us with sharper clarity our need for God. We pray. We beg for reconciliation, from God and from man, after our blunders. We whisper, “Lord, have mercy.”

We wait for Easter, and victory.


 We have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

In your mercy

forgive what we have been,

help us to amend what we are,

and direct what we shall be;

that we may do justly,

love mercy,

and walk humbly with you, our God.





*from the Liturgy of the Church of England