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?

 

 

 

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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.

 

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.

June 2017: What I’m Into

June. proper noun. The first burst of sweet summertime.

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June and its long, sweet days have slipped away. To where, I don’t know.  Why they had to leave so fast, I’m not sure.

This month has been jammed full of events and errands and emotions. Blogging fell off my radar, for a time, and that’s okay. Ideas are percolating on these slow summer afternoons. I’m learning to wait for them, to listen, and to know when to do the work of drawing them out. We’ll see what they hold.

In the meantime, here’s some of what’s been happening in June.

Reading

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Not mentioned – this very long tome, which has been abandoned for now.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrick Backman. I adored this book. The story of Ove, a widowed curmudgeon, is unexpectedly hilarious and tender and raw. However, do not listen to the last five minutes of the audiobook while running errands. You will be crying too hard to go into Trader Joe’s. Or so a friend tells me.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas. This YA novel tells the story of Starr, an African American girl who is in the car when her childhood friend is shot and killed by a police officer. The book is timely and brings perspective to a situation that’s so often exploded by the media until the people closely linked to the event appear to be public figures giving interviews, rather than real people. It was engrossing. However, I do think that the book tried to do too much. It felt like the author wanted Starr to face every possible hurdle an African American teenager might encounter, which made some of the issues too thinly addressed. I would have preferred deeper insight into just a few issues, but I think it’s still worth reading.

The Cruelest Month – Louise Penny. This is the third mystery in the Inspector Gamache series, a delightful mystery series set in a little Quebec town. The murder in this book was creepier than in the first two, but I enjoyed how the author continued to deepen the bigger mystery that spans across the entire series. I’m excited to dive into the next one.

As You Like It – William Shakespeare. I much prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his other works, and this one was great fun. There are a number of famous lines (“All the world’s a stage,” for example), and Rosalind is a fantastic character.

Currently reading: A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis.

 

Watching

Wonder Woman. I’m not a big superhero movie person, but I did enjoy this one. It portrayed of a strong woman who is motivated by love and avoided slamming the audience with a feminist agenda. Gal Gadot is a wonder. Bonus: the Amazon general is played by Robin Wright, who is both Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride and Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Who knew?

The Great British Baking Show. I’m nearing the end of season 1. In a particularly tense episode, two bakers help another finish when she’s in a panic, and a shot of two women holding hands in support during the final reveal made me cry. I love this show.

Much Ado About Nothing. This is one of my absolute favorite plays, and Emma Thompson is young and hotblooded in this version.

 

Listening

This podcast explains one expert teacher’s views on how to deal with rude, disrespectful students. It merits a re-listen right before school starts.
Loving

Jockey wicking slipshorts. Perhaps this is too personal. But it’s a great discovery, so I’ll share anyway. Unlike my old volleyball spandex that I usually wear under dresses, these slipshorts don’t ride up and help prevent obnoxious leg sweat. Find ’em at Target.

This post is old, but I laughed out loud multiple times while reading it.

A makeup tutorial from a real person who forgets to wash their makeup brushes? Yes please.

Volstead’s Eporium. Thanks to a teacher friend, we discovered a little-known bar that, like a speakeasy, is completely unmarked, doesn’t have a website, and is hidden in a back alley. Once you’ve been let in and gone down a sketchy stairway, suddenly you enter the 1920s. Everything is decadent, and entire rooms are hidden behind moving bookshelves.

 

Doing

Celebrating Adam’s birthday! We got panekoeken, explored the Minnesota Zoo, and capped it off the day with a fancy dinner at The Lexington. I’m so glad he was born.

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Attending women’s retreat. My brother spends his summers at a Bible camp, and my mom, sister, and some women from my hometown church spent a refreshing weekend there. The weather cooperated enough for us to spend some time on the water and for three of us young, brave souls to attempt to sleep outside in hammocks.

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Watching An American in Paris at the Ordway. The show felt like spring and magic. We also got appetizers at Meritage, a fancy French restaurant. Not despising beef tartare made me feel very French indeed.

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Celebrating a rainy Father’s Day at the lake. It was a quiet, slow weekend, but we at least fit in an inaugural boat ride!

Attending the first of many summer weddings and wedding receptions. The wedding was held outdoors next to a creek, and it was entirely lovely. Congrats to Jack and Kaela!

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Running. Adam and I are still committed to running a half marathon. Despite one 5-mile run that left me convinced my knees would never be the same, things are progressing well. My knees have recovered, and I’m rediscovering that a runner’s high is actually a thing.

The school cycle continues! I finished up school midway through June, praise the Lord. I had one week of freedom (read: one week of catching up on everything I don’t do during the school year, like babysitting and sweeping the kitchen floor) before summer school began. Now I’m teaching summer school for 5 weeks…just not in the capacity I expected. Based on student class sizes, I’ve been moved from teaching ESL to assisting a 7th and 8th grade math class. Yep. Anyone who knew my attitude towards math in 10th grade is laughing right now. I’m getting good classroom management – and fractions – practice.

 

What are you into right now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Into: May 2017

May. proper noun. It brings flowers. Specifically lilacs. Hallelujah.

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Spring has officially sprung! Here’s what I’ve been loving.

Reading

Lila – Marilynne Robinson. I adored Gilead, and this companion book was not a disappointment. Marilynne Robinson is a master. Her characters are ordinary and real and beautiful, and her rich, quiet storytelling is a treat. I can’t wait to read her others.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anna Fowler. I found Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald intriguing, but I didn’t know much about them before reading this book. Their romance is dazzling and more heartbreaking than I realized. This story of their relationship, told from Zelda’s perspective, provides an interesting contrast to the vision of Scott that comes through in his writings.

The Tempest – Shakespeare. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever read Shakespeare’s full volumes, but listening to audiobooks of his works is good mental exercise. I can’t say that this play is my favorite – it’s difficult for a plot to hold much suspense when a sorcerer is controlling the actions of everyone who is shipwrecked on his island – but I loved hearing the line“they did confine him…Into a cloven pine; within which rift imprisoned, he didst painfully remain,” and gasping aloud at the depth in the book A Wrinkle in Time, which references The Tempest multiple times.

Out of My Mind – Sharon Draper. This story follows Melody, a young girl with cerebral palsy. She is brilliant, but is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. Throughout the book, Melody learns to talk and prove herself. Melody’s voice felt authentic, I enjoyed hearing from her perspective, and the story challenged me to make sure that my perceptions of people are fair. However, if you’ve read it, tell me your thoughts on the ending. I’m conflicted.

The False Prince – Jennifer Nielsen. Sage is taken from an orphanage and gets wrapped up in a plot to impersonate a supposedly dead prince. This book started out okay and got better as the story progressed – it had some major plot twists that had one of my students checking in with me daily to see how I was progressing and whether I had gotten to the exciting parts yet. Reader-ly middle school boys seem to love this one.

Currently reading: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas; A Man Called Ove – Frederick Buechner (audiobook); The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis

Watching

The African Queen and Casablanca. Apparently it was the month for introducing Adam to Humphrey Bogart. These classics are two of my favorites, and everyone should watch them.

 The Great British Baking Show. This show is an utter delight. Brits bake in a tent on the countryside. Picture bunting and British accents and shots of lambs in between shots of cake. The competition is also the kindest I’ve ever watched – these people are from all walks of life, from construction to graphic design to homemaking – and they are more supportive of each other than any other competition I’ve watched.

Listening

Blue Babies Pink podcast (and blog). Brett Trapp shares his “Southern coming out story” in episodes on his blog. He also has a podcast where he reads the posts. I’m not too far into the series, but both are fantastic. Brett is real and honest and tells his story – one that needs to be heard.

What Should I Read Next podcast. I like Anne Bogel (or Modern Mrs. Darcy) and her reading guides, and I’ve known about this podcast for ages, but I didn’t check it out until this month. Guests share 3 books they love, one book they hate, and what they’re currently reading, and Anne matches them with 3 books she thinks they might enjoy. I’ve picked up some fun recommendations, but I also just really love hearing people talk about books.

Loving

I swear, this article could have been written about my students. I recently had two of them tell me that if I get married, they need to be invited to my wedding. Another asked me, in the middle of silent reading, what my favorite stores are.

This necklace in white. I think I’ve worn it at least 3 times a week since receiving it. It goes with everything.

Running. Sometimes. Adam convinced me to run a half-marathon at the end of July, and our training has officially begun. I am currently “enjoying” anything around 3 miles, but the long runs (my longest is 5 miles thus far) feel really, really long. Don’t tell me how many miles I have to add by race day. I’m not thinking about it.

Sunshine! The warm temps are finally here, and it’s all I can do to not wear shorts to school every day.

Doing

Attending a Kentucky Derby party. The race, was, well, shorter than I expected. But hey, it’s a great excuse to dress nicely and eat food with friends.

Watching La Boheme. Adam and I attended a performance of this opera at the Ordway. The first few acts are sad, but the last moments of the last act? Epically tragic. RENT is based on this opera, for context.

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Exploring the Twin Cities. In one weekend, we were able to hit up an estate sale on Summit Avenue and wander through an open house of a mansion that’s for sale. My standards for future houses have risen dramatically. We also stopped by the Grand Ole Creamery for pizza and ice cream (and to smell the homemade waffle cones. Delightful.)

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The parasol did not come home with me. Maybe it should have, since I got sunburned later that day.

 

Hosting an after-church tea with friends. I learned how to make scones for the occasion. They’re not that difficult. It’s a dangerous realization.

Celebrating Andrew’s graduation! My youngest brother graduated from high school this month. I still can’t handle the fact that he’s not 13 anymore! We all enjoyed listening to his trumpet solo during the band’s senior song, eating at the s’mores bar (I’m still thinking wistfully about brownies topped with marshmallow and a dark chocolate sea salt caramel) and catching up with family. Unfortunately, my sister was stranded overseas after flight cancellations and the party wasn’t complete without her!

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DSC_0970.jpgStarting off the lake season. We were ambitious with the paddleboards and tried to go around the lake…only to get stranded when the wind picked up and I panicked at the size of the waves. Lessons learned? Accept that falling in is not the end of the world (even when fully clothed), and Minnesota lake people are nice when you show up wet and bedraggled on their porch.

School. Almost. Done. This seems about accurate at this point.

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What have you been into this month?

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What I’m Into: April 2017

April. proper noun. Its showers are supposed to bring flowers. We’ll see.

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It’s cliche, I know, but where has April gone? I blinked, and now I’m mystified as I write May on the calendar. It’s been a mixed month – spring is slow in coming, and there have been some anxiety-inducing decisions stretching through this month. But Christ has risen. Though it’s easy to make that cliche, the magnitude of it has been hitting me in this Easter season. We are saved. We have hope. Our lives are worth celebrating.

Here’s what I’ve been loving this month.

Reading

The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis. There’s a reason that this is a classic. C.S. Lewis expounds on the four types of love (affection, friendship, erotic love, and charity) and why they are all important. The charity chapter was most mind-blowing to me. A favorite quote: “All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times – and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit – they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.” There are so many of these in this slim book – I need to read it again, soon.

The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown. I adore this book. That’s in no small part because I listened to the audiobook, and Edward Hermann (the grandpa in Gilmore Girls) has the perfect voice to narrate this blend of history and rowing strategy and narrative. I am now half in love with all of the hardworking, dedicated boys of the 1936 crew team, and joining a rowing team has never had more appeal.

The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon. Recommendations for this book are all over the place, and I was a little scared to read it because I didn’t know if it would live up to the hype. It did. It chronicles one day in the life of Natasha and Daniel, two very different immigrant teens who meet on the streets of New York. Their story was unlikely and beautiful and heartbreaking and reminded me of how much our actions matter and influence those around us.

Very Married – Katherine Willis Pershey. This book is a sort of marriage memoir, with reflections on the beauty and struggles of lifelong commitment. Each chapter covers one aspect of marriage and offers stories, musings, and advice. I would love a bit more depth and length – sometimes it felt like Pershey just touched on a topic before moving on – but it was helpful to hear very real stories about married life.

Mosquitoland – David Arnold. In this book, a young girl runs away from her dad and stepmother in “Mosquitoland,” and boards a bus in search of the mother she left behind. It didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I did adore the characters, especially the friends Mim made along her journey. The empathetic, real portrayal of mental illness is also powerful.

Winter – Marissa Meyer. I finally finished the last book in the Lunar Chronicles. I’m glad to be done reading the series and know how it ended… but it seemed like Meyer was glad to be done writing the series, too. Overall assessment of the series? Great and fun and clever. Overall assessment of this installment? Meh.

Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan. Willow, a super smart and socially awkward preteen, learns one day that her parents have been killed in a car crash. This book follows the unlikely generosity that helps her survive. The story is tender and sweet.

 

Watching

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Though this movie was a good deal creepier than my highly sensitive self expected, I loved the magical twist on 1920s New York and the subtle references to the world of Harry Potter. I’m curious what they’ll do with the sequel!

 

Listening

Spotify Daily Mix. I just found this Spotify feature, with individualized playlists that combine songs you’ve liked with other music of a similar genre. Yay for not making decisions.

The original version of this song got stuck in my head after every Zumba class (which is problematic when you only know 7 of the words…). But I have to admit, I love the Justin Bieber in this remix…

 

Loving

This video makes me laugh.

Olive green pants. I struggle dressing for spring in Minnesota, when boots feel too wintery but it’s still 38º on morning bus duty. These have given me a springier option than my constant black pants. Pseudo-neutrals for the win.

Salsa dancing. Adam and I finally tried out our moves at a dance this month. We are, well, not Latin. But it was fun!

Black Coffee & Waffle Bar. Leslie Knope would approve of this place. They understand the necessity of adequate whipped cream.

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Doing

Participating in a panel of new teachers at my alma mater. We spoke to student teachers about the hiring process. It was fun to hear the perspectives of a few teaching friends, and it also reminded me just how much I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been teaching.

Dress shopping. I am lucky enough to get to be a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding this fall. We picked out our dresses this month, and I am now even more excited for their wedding!

Taking a family trip to Chicago. My sister had her final grad school interview over Easter weekend, so my family drove to the windy city to spend the weekend with her. We packed our little vacation full, walking over 20,000 steps each day. Highlights include the Tilt window at the John Hancock observatory, the beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium, the mummy exhibit at the Field Museum, and the limo ride we took when we were too tired to walk back to our hotel. (Yes, you read that right. We rode in a limo. We were not at all chill about it.) We also fully recommend the CityPass, a booklet of tickets for the most popular museums and experiences in the city. It made everything, especially the long lines at the Willis Tower observatory, faster. We finished off the weekend by celebrating Easter at Moody Church, which had a full orchestra and choir for the occasion.

 

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Note the four blond adults staring enraptured at an animal spouting water…that’s us.

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We also got matching tattoos. They were temporary.

Attending a concert at Orchestra Hall with friends. One of our favorite double date couples invited us out on the town for a birthday celebration, and we loved eating dinner and listening to enchanting music with them. Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye, or Mother Goose, collection is dreamy.

Finally, as always, teaching. We finished off our final session of parent-teacher conferences and are on the last leg of our year. I have no idea how we will fit in everything left to cover. None. We are currently finishing up a public speaking unit. I’ve learned even more about my students by listening to them share about items that represent them – it’s a good time of year for a reminder that they are complex human beings. My Advanced kids are also practicing mock debates. So far, the most memorable thing they’ve learned has come from a debate we watched to study technique. One of the debators said that television can be a positive influence because Cookie Monster teaches us that “cookies are a sometimes snack, not an always snack.” I have since heard this line once a day. I am clearly an influential teacher.

 

What have you been into this month?

 

 

What I’m Into: March 2017

March. proper noun. The month in which it’s sorta spring and sorta not.

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March is always a weird month of transition in Minnesota. We’re dying for spring, but the temps rise from bitter to mild to warm oh-so-slowly. We’re getting there.

Below is what I’ve been loving in this current in-between season.

Reading

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner. This book tells the story of two young married couples, the friendship that forms between them, and how it shifts as they age. The narrator, at one point in the story, says, “How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?” I’m not sure how Stegner does, but his writing is gorgeous and provocative. I loved this one.

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson. This is another quiet, striking book. I had been warned when starting Gilead that there are no chapters and it is simply a collection of letters written by an old minister to his son. That’s it. Since I was armed with those expectations, this book seemed meditative and beautiful, and Robinson weaves subtle suspense as she reveals events one small moment at a time. I finished it and added Home and Lila, its companion books, to my to-read list.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline. This book begins in a dystopian world where everything is falling to pieces, so everyone spends most of their time in a virtual reality called OASIS. The inventor of OASIS dies and leaves his fortune to the first person who can work through a series of clues to find an Easter egg hidden in the vast virtual world. Wade, known as Parzival online, is one of the people who joins in that quest. It’s not my typical style, but the concept was intriguing (and frighteningly possible), and the storytelling was well done. All the praise I’ve been hearing of it is justified.

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher. Do not start this book unless you have no other plans for the night so you can read the entire thing. I started this during 6th hour at school (when I’m not conferencing with students during silent reading time, I “model good reading habits” by reading alongside them. That is not an excuse for wasting time at work. They genuinely read better when I’m reading at the same time)… and had finished it by 7:00 that same night. Anyway. A high school boy receives a mysterious set of cassette tapes. As he starts to listen, he realizes that they are the recordings of a girl who committed suicide, detailing the “thirteen reasons why” she allowed herself to make that decision. He is one of them. The story, told in both Hannah and Clay’s voices, is heartbreaking and suspenseful and completely worth reading. There’s a movie of this story coming out soon that I will not watch because it would make me weep copiously.

Currently reading: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley. The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis. The Boys in the Boat (audiobook) – Daniel James Brown; narrated by Edward Hermann.

 

Watching

Beauty and the Beast. Twice. I’ve been anticipating this movie for literal years – it’s my favorite Disney princess story, and I adore Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Overall, it was a delight. The new music was perfection, and the world they created was enchanting. That said, I also have to admit that Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle didn’t seem quite as timeless as I had hoped. It felt more like I was watching Emma Watson, not her character, avoid Gaston and discover the Beast’s library. Recommended anyway.

 

Listening

Ed Sheeran’s new album Divide. His songwriting is so stellar. I especially love this.

 

I’ve also been listening to this, plus the rest of the new Beauty and the Beast soundtrack:

 

Loving – Spring break edition

The highlight of my March? Adam and I flew to Florida for my spring break, and I loved pretty much everything about it.

1st love: the beach.

On our first day in FL, we headed to the Tampa/Clearwater area, rented kayaks on Honeymoon Island, and paddled/waded across the bay to Caladesi Island. Even though it was the height of spring break, Caladesi was quiet and perfect. We packed a picnic, took our time lazing on the beach, and explored the mangroves by kayak. We did go to Clearwater Beach after the sun set to check out Frenchy’s South Beach Café for dinner, and to be very thankful that we chose a less rollicking place to spend the day.

 

2nd love: THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER.

IMG_7046.jpgIt deserves all caps. I love Disney, I do, but I think the Wizarding World may truly the most magical place on earth. Adam said that he has never seen me so excited in all of our relationship as when I was sprinting from the gate of Universal Studios to Diagon Alley. And I maintain that my fangirling was entirely justified. They have butterbeer (my definitive ranking of butterbeer varieties: 1st place – hot. 2nd place – cold. 3rd place – ice cream. 4th place – frozen.).

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They also have Hogwarts. And a fire-breathing dragon. And a freaking train station. And Honeyduke’s. The details are all perfection, and I want to go back next week.

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3rd love: manatees.

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We capped off our trip by an early morning trip to Crystal River to snorkel with manatees. Manatees are massive – 10 feet long and over 1000 pounds. I didn’t fully appreciate these facts until a manatee surfaced right in front of my face. We only saw two, but I would absolutely do this again.

So many thanks to my aunt and uncle for hosting us and making our trip extra awesome!

 

Doing

Road tripping to Madison, WI. My sister is interviewing for grad school, and her first interview was at UW-Madison. I joined her on a quick one-day road trip, which meant I had lots of time to explore the city while she did professional things. Even in the dead of late winter, the Olbrecht Botanical Garden and Conservatory was beautiful, and definitely worth another trip. (Imagine if the picture at the top of the post and the one below were green!) We also explored A Room of One’s Own, an independent bookstore with an excellent selection.

 

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Celebrating Brita! My sister turned 22 this month, and we had a weekend long celebration in her honor. On Friday, we went with my brother to our alma mater’s performance of Mary Poppins, which was an utter delight. My favorite moment was Bert tap dancing on the ceiling during the Chim Chim Cheree number. On Saturday, we ate donuts and did a girls’ viewing of Beauty and the Beast, went shopping, and ate Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cake (one of the best desserts on the planet). Sunday brought waffles and thrifting. Yay, Brita. Thank you for letting us eat sugar in your honor.

Attending Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Orchestra Hall. It was part of their Symphony in 60 series, where the piece is introduced with a quick lecture, then performed. Rite of Spring is, put bluntly, jarring and weird. But it also changed the face of music and has some fascinating moments. This format worked perfectly to help us get the most out of the performance.

And finally, school is still in session. Spring break kicked off the third trimester, and we’re onto the final (admittedly long) stretch before summer! We’re working through myths and legends (in the midst of MCA preparation) with both of my classes, and I have a new appreciation for just how wrong the Disney version of Hercules is.

 

What have you been into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up to see other views of March, too!

 

 

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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