What I’m Into: April & May 2018

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


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

The Internet knows what I mean.






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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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






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

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

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



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

Teaching. Almost summer. Out of words.

Whew. What have you been into this spring?



What I’m Into: May 2017

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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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!


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.


What have you been into this month?


Send-Off: What I Wish My Students Knew

Send-Off. noun. Parting words; good wishes for a person starting on another journey.


They warned me.

They said that Gilead was quiet, uneventful. Just an old man reflecting on his life, leaving letters for his son. Don’t expect much plot. Don’t even expect chapters. They were right.

It was beautiful.

In Gilead, the novel by Marilynne Robinson, John Ames is dying. He leaves behind a young wife and son, and he wants his child to know stories that the boy is not yet ready to hear. He wants to pass on the fear of his grandfather’s one-eyed gaze, the emptiness of the weeks-long walk with his father across the prairie, the simple and deep love for the light bathing the church pews in the morning, the feeling of a baby’s brow beneath his hand. His words breathe forgiveness, and loving friendship, and contentment with long-anticipated family, and gentle lament for an unknown future.

I’ve found myself returning to this book, in ways literal and figurative. The companion book Lila is now in my hands, its pages rounding out the story of John Ames’s wife. His letters, also, roll around in my head. The idea of thoughts shared for later, for when your absence is felt, intrigues me.

I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. But our school year is slipping away, quickly. I will soon say goodbye to the students who have filled my classroom. Like all endings, it is bittersweet.

This is the first class that’s been mine. They know to get their journals on Wednesdays, to find library passes in the checked box, to grab a book reviews on the front table. I’ve tested my nonverbal signals and exit directions and wait time on them. They laugh at mentions of Cookie Monster and chicken. They groan every day when, after interrupting me, they must return quietly to their seats before I dismiss them for lunch. One kid knows me well enough to ask me to solve a math problem so he can laugh at the confusion on my face, my eyebrows scrunched in concentration. Another says that she’s adopted the hand gestures I unconsciously make.

We might not notice each others’ absences right away. It’s likely that they won’t think much on me after June 10. They will move on to eighth grade, then to high school, then to colleges and jobs and children of their own. They will have many more teachers, and the memory of that one tall one from 7th grade will fall away.

My memories of them will fade too. In 20 years, I will have forgotten some of their names. I might not remember the tiny gymnastics leotard one student showed us from 2nd grade, that one family endured a house fire while their student was in my class, that one brought donuts to celebrate her birthday, that one gave a speech on getting lost in life and cried, and that another girl that ran across the room to hug her.

I hope they still read, after they’ve left my room. Some have learned to love books this year. One boy wrote a note telling me so. One girl didn’t consider herself a reader a few months ago, and she’s now reading 2,000 pages a week. It’s easier to decide that you’ll enjoy the 20 minutes we spend reading each day, I guess. Maybe having a teacher shoving book recommendations at you helps, too. For those who don’t love it (because they are legion, and they are loud), maybe, just once this summer, or next year, or on break from college, they’ll shut the screen and crack a book. It will do them good.

I hope they think, too. Much of school get it done, and not think. It’s true in my classroom too often. May their curiosity not be ruined and their minds not be dulled by it. When they can vote, as some of them are so excited to do, I pray that they do their research, that they consider carefully. If given the chance, they ought to vote for my student who read the Constitution one day during independent reading. I sure would. When seeking advice, may they turn to trusted authors and advisors. They will check the credibility of their sources, we can only pray.

I hope they know that they’ll make it through these awkward years. They’re sprouting into teenagers before my eyes. One boy began the year as a kid, who apologized for talking too much and thought school was “kinda fun.” He’s now a teen, with an attitude around his friends. I know his kindness and curiosity will reappear, even in public, someday. The others will learn how to apply eyeliner correctly and to wear pants other than leggings and to turn off Clash of Clans and to not care if others think they’re “cringey.” I have faith.

I hope they know they are valued. In their writing and speeches and their book choices, I see the people they are becoming. They are empathetic. They are funny. They are optimistic (occasionally). They want to be computer engineers and athletic trainers and nurses and authors and fathers and mothers. When they are absent, we notice. Their lives are precious. Even when they feel forgotten, they are not.

These are the things lost in the pre-adolescent brain fog, in my tiredness on Tuesday mornings, in the general insanity of May. I can barely make them stop talking after lunch, much less communicate that I care about more than how many pages they read last week and how many missing assignments they have.

We still have time before we part ways. (Too much, it feels some days.) I pray that in these last lingering days of the school year, in the hours of time we still share, they see a glimpse of truth. Even when they’ve forgotten The Outsiders and my presence and the hush of our room during silent reading, may they remember what I tried, and often failed to teach: Their ideas are important. Their minds are worth cultivating. They matter.


May (2016)

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


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.


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.



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



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.



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.



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.



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?

Adventure. sort of.

Adventure. noun. “An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” Conditional because it’s not unusual or exciting, most days.

mountain peak.jpg

It’s been quieter here. I’m probably the only one who noticed.

I was going to write a cheery May Goals post this week. I was going to be victorious and cocky because I did every one of my goals for April. I worked out twice a week and checked out the Red Balloon Bookshop and brought my reject clothes to Goodwill and made salad for my siblings and practiced fancy letter formation.

And then I stopped. Because I could think of one goal for May. And going off dairy for 3 weeks as a skin-improving experiment does not an entire blog post make. For this blogger, anyway.

The issue is: life feels hard and ordinary.

I tell those who ask about my job, “Every day is an adventure.” It isn’t a lie. But sometimes it’s an adventure that I don’t particularly want to be on. Sort of like when a camping trip starts off as the cute kind of adventurous, when there are lots of stars and you’re eating s’mores and you should be in an Eddie Bauer ad. But it truly becomes an “adventure” when the bears get into your food and there’s a leak in your tent during a  thunderstorm and there’s that one mosquito that keeps buzzing in your ear and you want to set things on fire.

This current adventure won’t end for too long. There are four weeks remaining of school, and I have hours left before I’ll be scraping the bottom of my energy reserves. I’ve been avoiding writing, trying to form neatly processed thoughts on this season, because the challenges haven’t changed. The kids are still crazy. Maybe more so, with the sunny days when they beg to go outside and get less than the usual little done. I haven’t slain the dragons that slither through my classroom when the desks are empty and hiss that maybe I’m bad at this. Maybe my classroom management sucks and will always be pitiful. Maybe I’m incredibly boring even though I’m trying to keep kids interested. Maybe my seventh graders are reading this because they continue to Internet stalk me, and they’re nodding and saying “Yeah, really, Ms. Christenson, you are terrible. Your class is lame, and we don’t really like you.”

I know, I know, I know. This isn’t true. My boyfriend tells me every time I talk to him. A kid in my hardest hour asked, “Do you complain about us to your boyfriend?” and I tried to skillfully avoid the question because I do. And he’s nice and tells me that I’m trying and that I haven’t stopped caring and that middle schoolers are crazy weirdos and it’s not my fault. My parents say the same. They say it will get better. Some days I believe them.

I saw a college friend at church last week, and I asked him how teaching was going. We both started in the middle of the year with similar situations. “It’s so hard,” he said. And I exhaled and nodded because it is. He said that he’s not getting through things, that he doesn’t like how he responds to the challenges of keeping a classroom under control, that he’s so ready for the year to be done. Me too. This is the hardest dang adventure.

There’s this quote I keep seeing. It says: “Are you living just a little, and calling it a life?”

Right now it makes me sigh. This teaching thing is supposed to be a profession where we make a difference! and inspire! and do something that matters! Instead I spend my days saying life-giving words like “You need to stop talking,” and “Take your seat,” and “Take your headphones out of your ears” and “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP YELLING. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?” (internally).

It feels like living just a little. We are not having interesting conversations. We are not diving deeply into literature. We are barely even getting in good directions and effective modeling because they interrupt me too much. It is the adventure of can we survive this day without the teacher losing her mind.

At the end of a day, my life feels so full. I’ve emptied myself, and I end on the couch, hoping for just 10 more minutes to recharge before I have to begin again. But I wonder if I am living just a little. I don’t know how to make it a life. I don’t know how to fix these challenges. I don’t think I can.

All I can do: show up. Drink tea, every morning. Try not to count the days until summer (try). Be kind even when I want to yell. Keep trying. Keep caring. Keep hoping that someday (maybe) this will turn from fight-for-survival adventure to the kind that’s fun. The kind that builds a life.



April (2016)

April. proper noun. The month when spring actually arrives!


Definitely pulled off the street. In the rain. To take pictures of a random person’s yard.

This month has felt quite ordinary. No big news, no big trips, not even any big 3-day weekends. Read on for the details – they might be noteworthy anyway.



The Lake House – Kate Morton. This book was classic Kate Morton – a mystery told in multiple perspectives with drama and romance and plot twists. This one centers around a family and their missing baby brother, who hasn’t been found 70 years later. The ending wrapped up a little too coincidentally for me, but if you like her other books, it fits right in.

The School of Essential Ingredients – Erica Bauermeister. This was a delight of a book. Lillian discovers the magic of cooking at a young age, and later in her life she doses out small miracles to her cooking class. Each chapter focuses on the story of one person in the class, and my biggest wish from this book is that it was longer so I could spend more time with each character. It’s full of lush descriptions and is guaranteed to make you hungry.

 Moon Over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool. This book won a Newberry Medal, and I have only good things to say about it. Abilene Tucker’s father sends her to the small town of Manifest, Kansas, when he decides that a life on the railroad during the Depression is no place for a young girl. While searching for traces of her father, Abilene also uncovers secrets and stories from the town’s past. Abilene’s voice rings clear, and the story is engaging and sweet, and I cried at the end. If I ever wrote a novel, I would want it to be like this.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart. This book was my pick for “A book you could read in a day” on my 2016 Reading Challenge list. That category turned out to be prophetic, because I did read it (or all but 14 pages of it) in a day. This story involves a girl from a wealthy family who spends her summers on a private island. Everything is idyllic until there is an accident. She is traumatically injured and loses most of her memory of the summer she turned 15. As the book goes on, she regains her memories of what happened and why her family has changed. You too may get hooked, and then have to go buy a copy because you accidentally forgot yours at school and you can’t wait for an entire weekend.

The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown. Plugging away slowly at this one, because it’s absolutely a case of right book, right time.

Currently reading: Gilead – Marilynn Robinson; The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown.



The Gardiner Sisters. Acoustic, folkly sounding covers. Excellence.


Thomas Rhett – Die a Happy Man. This song is the cutest. Best when the windows are down and the sun is out. (Don’t judge by the cheesy music video.)

The Lazy Sisters Podcast. This podcast is two sisters who talk about celebrities and basically nothing – but fun nothing. Kendra, the big sister, is the honest, snarky brain behind The Lazy Genius Collective. It’s the right amount of sass and about all of the depth I can handle on a drive home from work. Also, I once laughed so hard I cried while listening to this and driving down the interstate. In hindsight, this seems dangerous. So beware.



The Jungle Book. Basically a beautifully rendered sequence of a child’s many near-death experiences. I’ve never been so stressed by a children’s movie. Except when I was five and had to hide behind a chair to watch Aladdin enter the Cave of Wonders.

The Prince of Egypt. Apparently it was the month for intense kids movies. I hadn’t watched this movie since I was young, so I gained much greater appreciation for the complicated relationships between Moses and Ramses – and for the soundtrack – this time around.

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. I am in love with Mr. Darcy. Lately I’ve been watching a few episodes while I eat dinner, and it’s the best.


This post, which reminds me that “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Go to this link and click on the wedding video for London + Nathan. (P.S. Nathan is the kid from iCarly). I had to wipe tears off my keyboard after watching it. Just a warning.

I’m still on Hamilton kick. These kids rock this.

I’m still figuring out how to teach English, and this has been a good reminder of why literature matters.

And all of the teachers said yes and amen to this.

These shoes. I needed new teacher shoes that weren’t boots, and these fit the bill. They have taken a while to fully break in, but they go with everything, have enough support so I can stand all day, and are a little cuter than most other Danskos.

Avocados. Why had I never tried avocado toast before this month? It’s fantastic.


Playing in a teacher basketball tournament. I am ridiculously rusty, but it was fun to get out on the court for a few games. My school got 3rd place out of 12 teams from across our district, so that’s cool.

Going to the chapel and we’re…watching other people get married. Hometown family friends got married at my alma mater, coincidentally. It was strange but fun to see many home church friends on campus. Also, my family should not be allowed anywhere fancy or formal. Getting a serious picture was such a struggle.

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I found out I didn’t get a big scholarship that I had applied for to spend a year in Norway a while back. As consolation, my little brother offered me the first-ever C.W. Christenson Scholarship, which funded a dinner out with him and my sister. We ate wonderful deep-dish pizza at The Italian Pie Shoppe, and then watched our friend Anneliese and her a capella group perform.


My college roomie was in town for a weekend. We got to grab lunch, then take DQ Blizzards to the park, where we excelled at people-watching. It’s one of our talents.

TEACHING. PLANNING. GRADING. WOW. Mucho hours invested. I am still figuring out what to do with the small-ish people for 225 minutes a day. Also, I accidentally told one class that I have Instagram. Besides being AMAZED by this (because obviously teachers are supposed to be way too lame to have Instagram), I had multiple kids in my homeroom at the end of the day proceed to stalk me. I have never had so many new followers – or answered so many questions about my personal life ­– in one day. As in, “wait, when your boyfriend proposes, are you going to put it on Instagram?” “Hey, is that going to happen soon? Like have you guys talked about getting married?” “Wait, is this your website?” Until I blocked them all and made my account private. Alas. For them. Students, if you’re looking at this, go read a book.

In the few hours that leaves…doing the usual. Chatting with my new roommate, making dinner, avoiding the dishes, spending as much time outside as I can sneak in while spring in Minnesota cooperates.


What have you been up to this month?

First-Year Teacher: Survivor Edition

First-year teacher. noun. A title given to teachers who are brand new and just figuring out how on earth to do this teaching thing. See also: Ms. Christenson.

pug in blanket.jpg

My kind of survival.


So this great thing happened last week.

It’s called spring break.

I KNOW. Even though I’m not in college, I still get spring break. These are the perks of being a teacher, y’all. Because after working for all of 3 weeks, I was exhausted and more desperate for a break than the kids.

Why was I so excited about spring break, you ask? Allow me to list the reasons.

  • Having a teacher work day so I could do important things like: Have time to get iced chai before arriving at work. Update bulletin boards. Organize files. Plan stuff. Regain sense of order.
  • Getting to NOT be a teacher. For an entire 9 days. Thus gaining back 95% of my brain space.
  • Flying to DC!!! Seeing the boyfriend!!!
  • Walking through museums and getting to take my own sweet time and NOT being the person who’s shushing/rangling/managing all the kids on all the tours
  • Eating lunch OUTSIDE for an HOUR with the boyfriend (not for twenty minutes in the staff lunch room, nice as the other teachers are)
  • Wearing leggings! And jeans! And Converse! On days that aren’t Friday!
  • Being awake enough in the evenings to do things like host parties! Go to concerts! Run through the National Mall! Go to restaurants just for dessert at 10:00! Watch an entire movie! Eat birthday dinners until 11:00 pm!
  • Celebrating my sister’s birthday with donuts and cheesecake and concerts with my family
  • Having brunch with the whole clan (how often does that happen?) and thrifting with people who do things like try on/accidentally split acid-washed jean shorts at the seams

What loveliness.

But then Sunday came. Boo. I hit what Teach of Love, Teach blog fame calls The Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Hole.

I had already had slumps toward sadness in moments of the weekend. I had cried before getting on the plane. (I always do.) I had flown home to snow and an empty apartment. I had one afternoon of desolate napping and Internet surfing. And that was before everyone left.

Once Sunday afternoon quieted, I was stuck to the couch, feeling alone and hopeless and full of dread about returning to school. No matter that I had just returned from a wonderful trip to DC to then spend the weekend having fun with my family.

This is the suckiest feeling. I want to enjoy teaching! I want to be excited about seeing my students! I want to think “Yay! I get to talk about a subject I love today!” But on Sunday afternoon, my thoughts were more of the following gloomy variety: I think I’m bad at this. We’re going to have to start from square one with behavior management, aren’t we? How am I qualified for this again? Do I really need a job?

And then I read this post where I discovered this phenomenon had a name. I realized that I am not the only one who gets weary just thinking about Monday morning. It does not make me a bad teacher. And there is something I can do about it. Other than pray for miracles. Though that never hurts.

Here’s my own list of amazingly awesome mood boosters, for Megasad Sundays or Mopey Mondays or Terrible Tuesdays or whatever day of the week I need a reminder that my life is going to be okay.

  • Go for a walk. Or a run, if feeling ambitious.
  • Read an actual book
  • Do a quick yoga routine.
  • Clean the apartment using Mrs. Meyers peony cleaning spray while listening to One Direction.
  • Flip through old vacation photos.
  • Call someone near and dear.
  • Journal
  • Read a favorite Psalm
  • Bake chocolate chip cookies.
  • Try making a new recipe.
  • Do an easy craft. (Redo the chalkboard? Paint some polka dots? Letter something? Pull out the coloring book?)
  • Watch a favorite chick flick
  • Write a letter
  • Meal or outfit plan for the week. (Am I the only weirdo who finds joy in “jammin’ on my planner,” as Leslie Knope calls it?)
  • Go to the library and camp out with a few magazines.
  • Play the Ellie Holcomb Pandora station
  • Make plans to get coffee with someone.
  • Draft a blog post.
  • Paint my nails with something sparkly.
  • Watch Parks and Rec.
  • Wander through the Art Institute, the Conservatory, or another favorite free place
  • Find the “Bang Bang” Just Dance video on YouTube. Dance to it.
  • Take a 20-minute nap
  • Make hot chocolate
  • Browse the Pinterest board of my favorite things

Oh, and the biggest one of all: quit overanalyzing and assuming the worst. Because even if you have a Megasad Sunday, it doesn’t mean that you will have a Megasad Week. (Case in point: this week has been surprisingly not sucky, even after all that angst.)

Here’s to more intentionality and joy, to fewer Megasad Sundays and clouds of dread.


Anything I missed? What are your favorite get-happy activities?

May (2015)

May. proper noun. The month of real spring and finals week and graduations. Includes holidays such as May Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and The Last Day of School (don’t try to tell me that’s not a real holiday).


It’s the end of the month, which means I’m joining Leigh Kramer’s link-up to share what I’m generally enjoying this month. Honestly, May has whipped by in a blur of hard and good things, and I’m feeling a little off-kilter about my current state of transitional living, so I’ve probably forgotten important stuff. Oh well. Here’s what I’ve got.


Paper Towns – John Greene. I have a problem with John Greene. I can’t put down his books, and I neglect all responsibilities for the few hours it takes to finish them. Admittedly, this is the best kind of problem. This book, about a boy who’s in love with a girl who disappears, is his typical style and his typical amount of excellence. The movie version is coming out sometime this summer, and it would most likely involve far fewer tears than The Fault in Our Stars.

86, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff. This darling book is a real-life collection of letters exchanged over years between a New York woman and a bookseller from London. She’s sassy and he’s British proper. It’s a quick, charming read.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien. I have strongly resisted anything by Tolkien since reading The Fellowship of the Ring and being bored out of my mind by it. This one was more fun. And significantly shorter. According to my sister, this is proof that books meant for children are far superior to books for adults.



Friends, up to the beginning of Season 3. Watching a show about people in their 20s who have no idea what they’re doing is both relieving (I’m not the only one screwing things up!) and stressful (so you’re telling me this never gets better?).

Pitch Perfect 2. The plot was meh, but the music was aca-awesome.



James Bay’s album Chaos and the Calm was on repeat for all of finals week. It’s somehow both chill and motivating, both of which are necessary for end-of-school sanity.

Country radio stations have kept me company on long drives, especially songs like “Love You Like That” by Canaan Smith.



The Sugar Box blog makes me ridiculously happy, and this post about fantastic fictional teachers is spot on.

Minnehaha Falls. Wear Chacos, hike the trails, and get your feet a little wet. It’s even better if you have a good guy by your side.

Picture snapped by the boyfriend

Picture snapped by the boyfriend

After packing up all of my crap, I would believe these statistics about the amount of stuff we own. I’d love to pitch half my possessions and become minimalist, but I have a heck of a long way to go.

Birkenstocks. My mom laughs because I used to make fun of her Birks, but now I get it. They’re comfy and make me feel granola.



All the last stuff. Last friend date for the year at the Stone Arch Bridge and Mall of America. Last ResLife hangout at our end-of-the-year retreat. Last angsty, painful time pounding out papers and taking tests (halleluiah). Last time moving out of Hartill, my dorm for the last four years. Hello, emotions.

friendslast Collage

(staff photo borrowed from Facebook)

Watching wonderful friends graduate from college, and helping my younger brother celebrate high school graduation a week later.

grad collage

(college graduation photos borrowed from Facebook)

Celebrating my cousin’s wedding (the day after Caleb’s graduation, no less). There are 27 first cousins on that side of the family, and all of us were there. Cue all of the family photos. Highlights include flying from MN to WI thanks to a really generous uncle, staying relatively dry in spite of the rain, and getting to sit in the copilot seat on the flight home.

wedding Collage

Currently driving back and forth between Minneapolis, the cabin, and home a heck of a lot and keeping most of my possessions in the back of my car. Ay.

Next month: running a half-marathon, moving into an apartment, starting a new summer job, and having all kinds of summer adventures. Be prepared.


What were you into this month?


Graduates. noun. People who gets to wear funny hats and walk across a stage because they have completed some level of schooling.

mic wernej via Flickr

mic wernej via Flickr

I know and love a lot of people who are graduating this month. As a bossy older sister and blog writer (double whammy), I feel obligated write some big words to match this big moment.  Unfortunately, occasions like this make me realize how inadequate my words are. Especially when finals week has just ended, and I have been stripped of everything poetic and reminded that I know pretty much nothing.

But, my people, I want to leave you something. You all have touched my life, and I want to leave you something potentially touching in return. I want you to know that I love you all and I am thinking a lot about you as your life moves onwards and upwards, even if I don’t say it out loud.

So I’ll give you one of the few things I know for sure (I think) right now: I truly believe that nobody knows what they’re doing.

This is the sum of everything I’ve learned in college. (My tuition dollars at work, people.) For the last four years, almost everyone I knew started 2,000 word papers the night before they were due. Everyone sleepwalked through finals week, barely hanging on to their sanity. Everyone saw how long they could go without doing laundry. Everyone felt the thrilling tension between “I’m independent and free!” and “Wow, being an adult sucks.” Basically, nobody knew what they were doing.

I’m taking a wild guess that that doesn’t change as we start to move into the “real” world. Everyone wants fulfillment but has no idea how to find it. Everyone is scared that their friendships will change and they’ll be lonely and left behind. Everyone has worries about failure boiling in the backs of their minds. We each sport our own brand of brokenness, wackiness, and wonderfulness.

This gives you all kind of freedom. Be honest when you’re stressed and terrified, and you’ll find that other people are stressed and terrified too. Show people the real-life you behind your glossy status updates. Don’t compare yourself to other people’s glossy status updates – they have a grittier, messier version of themselves, too. Remember that we’re all in this together, and sing the High School Musical song for good measure – don’t pretend you don’t know all the words.

Nobody knows what they’re doing, and we’re all going to be fine.

To those graduates who know me well, you have full permission to not believe a word I say. You know first-hand how I personally have no idea what I’m doing and have no grounds to give advice to anyone. To all graduates, regardless of whether you know me or listen to me, I wish so many good things for you going forward. Good things include but are not limited to: full nights of sleep, strong hugs, shoes that are both comfortable and cute, abounding energy, waffle fries, and unlimited trust in the Lord. Blessings as you go out and rock the world.


Okay. adjective. According to me, saying that something is satisfactory or that you can accept what’s happening.

When life gets you down because it’s a Monday and it’s colder than last week, here’s a thought that will make things seem okay:

You are not in middle school anymore.

Halleluiah, glory day. This should make anyone excited. And if it doesn’t, you’re probably in middle school right now, and I’m sorry. Life gets better.

I’ve been in and out of middle school classrooms for the past few semesters, and I’ve realized a few things. Namely, I am incredibly grateful that leggings weren’t a thing in 2006. Also, that these poor, tortured souls are going through a lot. And that for some reason, I like working with these kids.

Maybe it’s that I know I won’t be any more awkward or uncoordinated than they are. Or that I’m not intimidated by the rowdy boys because I’m at least a foot taller than all of them. Or because I want to tell these kids that it will be okay. One day, they’ll be out of middle school and girls won’t be so demonic and boys will be able to have actual conversations and it will be okay.

I can only imagine that my authority on this would be questioned, like all authority in middle school. Prove it, they’d say. There’s no way you’d understand because you wear cardigans and don’t have Snapchat and are old enough to get married (in theory).

But I can prove it. Here are the stories I would tell. (And the pictures I’d share, because pictures of middle schoolers are worth at least 3,000 words.) If I can survive, so can you.


It was my birthday. I’d had a girls day, pedicures and shopping, and I got makeup from my friend who knew about such things. That fuschia shiny gloss and the fresh coral sparkle on my toes felt like the epitome of glam. I didn’t know yet that I shouldn’t wear that color brown, that those eyebrows should make friends with a tweezer, that sandals fancier than Old Navy flip-flops existed. Soon it would bother me when I was forced to go bare-faced while other girls in my class had been sporting eyeliner since fifth grade. But it’s okay. One day, my mom will finally let me wear mascara, and no one asked “You don’t have eyelashes, right?” again. (I have been asked that. I do have eyelashes, I swear to Covergirl.) But defined eyes and perfect skin aren’t the key to feeling gorgeous. That takes something more and deeper than makeup.


This was my first recital with a new piano teacher. I’d just moved beyond the numbered primers into real music, by composers whose names I remembered from the wall in music class. I nervously plucked out songs I never thought I’d be capable of playing. I still numbered every mistake. They proved I wasn’t good enough, just like my braces and that long, messy hair I didn’t know how to deal with and the math scores I didn’t think were high enough. That was a lot of weight to carry. I thought if I’d just try a little harder, I could be perfect. But I couldn’t. And that’s okay. I wish I would have given myself some grace, and let others give me some grace, and let God give me some grace. Sure, I wasn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t talented and kind and curious and hard-working.



This was my last dance recital. In a few months, I’d have volleyball four nights a week and leave my jazz shoes behind. I wasn’t sad. At dance, I was self-conscious, slouching, the only girl who wasn’t tiny and cute. Even after I left those high-waisted pink pants behind (praise the Lord), I kept fearing that I’d always be the gangly, tall girl on the edge of group photos. That fear came true. I learned to always stand in the middle of photos with short people, but I was not, and will never be, tiny and cute. Instead, I was 6’0″ by seventh grade and heard loud freshman boys comment about my height in the halls. Even ten years later, a woman at a concert stared. She stood in front of me in the post-concert mess, looked me up and down, saw that I wasn’t wearing heels, and nudged her friend to turn around and gawk at the Amazon woman. But it didn’t hurt so much. I smirked and hoped that Scotty McCreery would notice me because I stood above the crowd. (He didn’t. But that sure would have proved her right. And been generally awesome.)


My dad snapped this after the band concert themed “A Night at an Eighties Prom.” I wanted so badly to look beautiful that night, among all of the high schoolers dressed to the nines. I borrowed a dress that was almost long enough, and my mom’s friend said I looked like Cinderella. I didn’t quite believe her. After all, even though I was the only female in a section full of boys, they never seemed to notice me. (In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. The trombone is not a sexy instrument.) They wouldn’t seem to notice me for a very long time. That was okay. Middle school boys were dumb. High school boys were possibly dumber. It took most of the way through college for me to feel like things might come out all right. But they did. Just give it time.


I tossed on my dad’s old sweatshirt because the day we launched rockets in the playground was cold and crummy. I had no idea I’d go to college there, years later. There was a world waiting that I couldn’t have imagined, one where I didn’t have to go to bed at the same time as my six-year-old brother and where I wouldn’t have to add black olives to the spaghetti sauce I cooked and where I’d discover that I might want to teach awkward, gangly middle schoolers someday. And where I’d still wear that same sweatshirt. And still need to be reminded sometimes that it will be okay.