Essay 3 of 52: Ericka Olvera

I am emerging from a trip down memory lane and I keep cringing.

This past weekend, I picked up some boxes from my parents storage - boxes I hadn't seen in years. They were filled to the brim with old journals, letters, trinkets, and medals.

I took the boxes home and sat down on the living room floor last night, pouring through each one - reliving all the highs and lows.

My high school box held things like my graduation speech (better than I remembered), my diploma (smaller than I remembered), and old pictures (my face a bit rounder than I remembered). I found my dad's graduation blessing and the waterworks started after the first few lines.

I remembered old relationships and heartaches, big mistakes and little crushes.
But more than anything, I was overwhelmed to remember how HARD high school was for me.

There were definitely bright spots - English class and track and pole vault and soccer.
But the hard parts ... they hurt.

My high school years started confidently, armed with a strong group of friends, many who had followed me to youth group. We were freshmen, and we were careless in the best way.

Then came sex. And drinking. And lying to parents - all things I just couldn't do. Wouldn't do. And those friendships began to fall away - person by person until I was existing in surface-level friendships only. It was the loneliest I have ever been, the summer after my sophomore year. I went into that summer knowing I wouldn't be receiving any phone calls, any invitations.

I felt frustrated and angry at my parents. I made some really stupid decisions, like lying about a crush being a boyfriend. Spoiler alert - everyone found out. I spent a night in a tent during our church retreat, listening to my "friends" smoke pot and laugh about me in the tent next to mine. Still, years later, I can honestly say that was one of the worst nights of my life.

But Junior year. Junior year was such a blessing. I have an incredible mother and at her insistence, I spent a lot of time in prayer that summer, asking God to bless me with new friends. And by some odd whim, I joined the soccer team. I was fast and aggressive and absolutely starved for fellowship.

But Ericka Olvera. One of my all-time favorite people on the planet. She was a year younger than me and I don't even remember how we became friends, except that we did. She didn't drink or smoke or sneak out. She had the kind of house that everyone just wanted to be at. She was the kind of person everyone just wanted to be around. Sunshine.

We had notes and secret phrases. We drove in my tiny Suzuki X-90 and listened to All-American Rejects and Kelly Clarkson and talked about how much we loved Garden State. We drank cherry lime-aids from Mr. Burger and went stargazing at night. We had crushes on boys who didn't like us back and dated her older brother's friends.

So yes. There was a lot of bad in high school. And those memories will most likely always make me cringe a bit. But in-between the lines of my old journals is so much good. Grass stained knees and Otter Pops. Rides in my first car and bus trips to games. Laughter.

I can't say I'm glad for those first two high school years or the stripping of friendships, but I am so appreciative for what came next. And that even as a high school student, I knew what an oasis was.

Here's to you Ericka, and to all those out there who have been Ericka's to other people.

Essay 2 of 52: While Tyler Was in School

In two days my husband will be finished with his winter finals and I. can't. wait.

I've learned so much since Tyler started school in May. Not just about myself, but Tyler, and our marriage too. It's been a season of hardship but also abundant blessing.

First, I am so thankful Anatomy is over. This was such a yucky summer and I am so glad it is done. I would go days without any quality time with Tyler - this being especially difficult since it's my love language. I was so selfish - missing my husband and pouting about a lost summer. Tyler went from working a steady 8 - 5, to wonky school hours and studying until 3 in the morning. I became resentful. I cried a lot. I got mad about dumb things. And overall, I just missed spending time with my best friend.

The thing is about these crazy times, is that you just have to let them pass. We patched up our feelings as best as we could. I tried to deal with my selfishness and be graceful to my incredibly hard working husband, who didn't really want to be studying past his bedtime either. We tried to be a little bit better each day. But mostly, we just focused on that light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes knowing that it will get better someday, is the only thing that gets you through.

Second, I am so thankful for our living situation. You can read more about our story in the archives, but just to recap, God went above and beyond our wildest dreams this year and provided us with free living and a part-time job for Tyler while he is pursing his Masters. Living with college students has it challenges, but I can't stop smiling at how God has provided for us in this season. And as a bonus, I LOVE our apartment. It is bright and small and sunny and cozy.

Because Tyler is in school, much of our future is unclear. We have dreams for what we hope happens next, but for the most part - it is completely wide open. But just like God provided us housing, I have learned that he will keep providing what is next. Not groundbreaking, but I think the first time you really see this happen in your adult life - the implications are profound. I didn't have parents to fall back on this time. God showed up. And as we keep fostering different dreams for our future, I know that God will continue to provide and continue to show up. It might not be my ideal situation, but it will be God's perfect plan.

Third, I am so thankful my husband is pursing something he loves. Tyler worked at a lab in town our first year together, and it broke my heart to see how restless and frustrated he felt. We weren't really sure what was going to happen next and there was no upward mobility in his current job. Tyler wasn't using his gifts at work and as a result, he was really unfulfilled. He was incredibly positive about it, but there was a tiredness that never really went away.

Now Tyler goes to school all day. He comes home, changes, eats lunch, and heads to clinical rounds. He doesn't get home for dinner until 7:45 or 8:00. A full, exhausting, 12 hour day, with studying to boot. And yet, I can tell that he is using his gifts. There is an energy that never really goes away. He and I are working towards something good.

There is something so special about watching your spouse be good at something, and then see other people notice it too. I couldn't be prouder if it was my own accomplishment. And in some ways - it is. I'm behind the scenes, making food for project dinners, cleaning the dishes while Tyler studies, grocery shopping, vacuuming, encouraging. This is my victory too and I love seeing all the hard work, all the study time, all the nights I went to bed alone, finally pay off.

And now we have one LONG month to just be. To just sit and eat dinner. To wash the dishes together. To go for a walk. To binge on The Office. For huge, long clumps of uninterrupted quality time.

Let's do this.

Essay 1 of 52: Vocation

There is no degree for Admissions Counselors.

We find our way to this position in a jumble of different ways - unsure of what career to pursue, unable to get any other job, "advancing" up the university ladder.

I came home from South Korea totally unsure of what job I wanted. I remember sitting in front of the computer, seeing job after job and knowing none of them were quite right. I remember going to a career advisor and him asking, "What type of job do you want?" and having nothing to answer with.

When I moved to Seoul, I was essentially escaping the "What kind of job do you want?" question. I was filling that void with travel and adventure. As great irony would have it, I really loved my job. It was difficult always being the outsider - the only American female in a group of 13 teachers, but the job itself? I loved it.

Our classes were small and structured. I had trouble students, but since I couldn't speak Korean, my co-teacher really had to handle most of that. I got to invent writing games for my advanced students - something right up my alley. I got to be admired, hugged, drawn, and praised by my students. I saw progress being made, day in and day out.

So when I came back to the states, I thought, maybe childcare?

It was a disaster. I worked in a low-income daycare/preschool for students in a rough part of town. It was the first job I was offered, and I jumped at it. It meant I could be home in the evenings and keep working with kids.

But I only lasted two weeks.

The classes were overcrowded and the discipline was non-existent. I literally had to ask three-year-olds, "Now was that a good choice? What choice will you choose next time?" That was the extent of discipline power I had. Nice in theory, terrible in practice.

I felt like the worst version of myself every. single. day. I cried in my car during lunch. I cried when I got home. And when my application for substitute teaching arrived in the mail, it seemed like a get out of jail free card.

So the girl who never quits anything, marched right into the school, 6 days after her first day, and quit. I gave them four days notice. They expressed gratitude that I hadn't just driven away without notice. (Apparently that has happened before?)

So I began to sub. The ultimate in-between job. I moved to different schools each day, spending exhorbant amounts of time in my car during recess, lunch, and off period. I read a lot. I cried a lot. I generally felt lost.

And then I ran into an old teacher of mine, who was planning on creating a new position in his department on campus. He needed an assistant. He remembered me and remembered my work ethic. (If you get nothing else from this, know that your character in college is the ultimate door opener)

And just like that, I was back at my alma mater, less than a year from graduating. It felt so strange to be back. I remember being a student and feeling such a sense of belonging, of purpose. And now I was back as an employee, feeling entirely lost and devoid of purpose. I felt like I had failed my English professors, who expected bigger things from me: graduate school, publishing houses, newspaper columns, etc. I felt like I failed. And ended up where I started.

A year into my position with the Honors program, I had the opportunity to advance into Admissions. It was a big raise and I had realized how much I missed being around co-workers, instead of a tiny department of two. I was lonely for company and Admissions was the answer.

I am so thankful for my job. So thankful for the steady paycheck and the security I have been given. I am incredibly thankful for understanding bosses, a Christian workplace, and holiday vacation days. (The real world doesn't have those, btw.)

But there was always this nagging feeling, this disappointment I feel. This dissatisfaction.

Do you want to know what my dream job is?

I don't have one.

But I have a dream purpose. A desire for what I want my life to look like.

I want to help my husband create an incredible career. I want to get him through the rest of graduate school and doctorate school and internships and fellowships. I want to have children, and raise them to be the most incredible Godly examples to their peers. I want to host people in my home. I want my marriage to be an example of forgiveness and God's faithfulness. I want to mentor young girls and be mentored by older women. I want a house that feels like an oasis - a bit of rest in this crazy world. I want to write. And I want my writing to tell at least one young girl, "You are not in this alone. You matter."

And I've always wanted those things more than any career, any degree. And if working as an Admissions Counselor for a few years gets me closer to those goals above, then I am working my dream job. I am pressing on towards something great.

I love writing. 

It's taken me a really long time to get comfortable with this statement.

Maybe because I want so badly to not just love writing, but to be good at writing. And maybe have other people love my writing, if I'm lucky.

But truthfully, the latter wishes don't change that I really, truly, love writing.

I was struck recently by the sheer volume of journals I own. And they aren't three-fourths empty "I bought this because I'm addicted to buying pretty notebooks" journals. They are real and full and me. I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing in a journal. Sure, the content varies like my feelings on pms - but I was always writing. I just was.

And so I'm ready for my next step. I am here, declaring my bold statement, Elise Blaha Cripe style.


And I'm going to keep doing it whether you read it or not.

So here's my challenge:
For the next year I will write one essay a week - 52 essays total. There will be no minimum or maximum length requirement. The themes will vary drastically. There will be stories from my past, current struggles, lessons, and random reflections.

It will be me, showing up every Friday, to work on a craft that I love.

Will you join me?

Check back tomorrow to see the very first essay.

(I am so terrified.)

thoughts on now

I've been reading through Jeremiah this month and man, the first half is brutal. Over and over, God tells the Isrealites how mad he is. And rightfully so.

But around the halfway point, the mood in the book shifts and you can read some foreshadowing about Jesus and what God plans to do in the future. Hope enters the picture.

But what has stuck out to me the most is what God asks of his people. God tell the Isrealites and the king of Judah that if they surrender to the Babylonians, they won't be killed. It will be shameful. It will seem like defeat, but they will propser again. God will rebuild Jerusalem.

But the king doesn't surrender. He's too afraid. It makes no logical sense to surrender.

. . . 

The older I get, the more I realize that God doesn't make a lot of logical sense. At least not earthly sense. Don't gossip about your co-workers? But it's so fun! It's so easy. God says no.

Give away my hard earned money? Donate to the church, take care of the bum on the street? God says yes.

All of this ties in to my experience with Whole30. I am constantly denying my body (and mind) things that it desires. Popcorn. M & Ms. Rolls. But now that I'm 23 days in, I am beginning to see the long-term benefits. My stomach is flat. My jeans fit loose. I feel good.

I feel good when I eat popcorn too, but this is a deeper good. A lasting good.

That's what the king of Judah didn't understand. He needed to deny himself - deny earthly logic for the lasting good. For Jerusalem. For his people.

Now that Whole30 is winding down, I'm afraid. I hear that most people are. I'm afraid that I won't know how to eat treats in moderation. That one or two bites won't be enough. One slice of cake won't be enough.

I just need to remember that it's all for the lasting good.


Eating: healthy, healthy, healthy.

Drinking: black coffee with homemade coconut milk creamer. It is a lot more satisfying than I thought it would be ... although I do miss sugar in my coffee. A dash of cinnamon always tricks me a bit.

Practicing: being kind and giving lots of grace.

Mastering: saying no to doughnuts.

Trying: to love veggies more than fruit.

Playing: this song ... along with every other teen in America. Such a dancy tune.

Reading: The Opposite of Loneliness. I should be finishing The Woman in White but this book is breathtaking. I sat down in the library to read the introduction and was swept away.

Remembering: the taste of pizza and beer on a Friday night...

Wearing: sleeveless and sandals, all summer long.

Cooking: roasted sweet potatoes almost every day. Paprika ... what a spice.

Wanting: to see a few more summer sunsets before school starts back up.

whole30: Days 1 - 10

Whole30 is tough, but rewarding.

That's what I keep thinking each day, each choice, each meal. Sometimes I focus a bit too much on the tough part, but I'm only in the first ten days. Apparently it gets better from here.

Tyler and I chose to do Whole30 for different reasons. We both want to be healthier, but I knew it was more for me. I needed to kick sugar. I needed to stop giving it power over my life. I needed to learn how to say no to the doughnuts in the office, no to the doughnuts in class on Sunday, and no to the ice cream every weekend night.

I had given all the power to my emotions, my whims, and my cravings. My mind wasn't ruling my body anymore, and it was time to put an end to it. Travel season is also in full swing during September and I knew I needed to get my sugar addiction under control before I hit the road. AKA Icees and mini Oreos for days.

But I've done it! I've said no for ten days. I've turned down doughnut holes, dessert at La Madeline, chips and salsa with coworkers, and candy at the front desk. I have never said no for so long. And it feels really really good. Saying no is empowering.

I've also learned how not healthy all those "healthy" things are. Guys, we've been tricked. We've been targeted. And I have fallen for it over and over and over. I eat granola because it's a healthy breakfast, right? Look at the cover of the bag! It says so!

But a deeper look and more knowledge has led to an eye opening experience - there really aren't that many healthy options in the grocery store. The pieces are there - the building blocks - but you have to go the extra mile. You have to combine it. You have to cook it.

It's hard. There are a LOT of dirty dishes. My cutting board gets a lot of action. I'm thankful we have really good knives. Some nights I come home and I just ... don't want to make the effort.

But you want to know a secret? The effort makes the food taste better. My food is worth more. And it is doing more for my body than any food ever has before.

A few tips from the Branhams:

- Splurge on healthy snacks. Lara Bars (frozen or heated up) are an absolute fave. I eat them like treats when I'm feeling totally deprived. The picture above is another treat - Kombucha. It's my end-of-the-week splurge.
- Banana ice cream works for special occasions and tastes so sweet! Tyler's birthday is this month and it's what I'm planning to make to spoil him a bit - Whole30 approved.
- Prep, prep, prep. We make a breakfast casserole each week to eat for breakfast. Such a time saver.
- Experiment with new veggies you don't love/know. I am so obsessed with sweet potato now.
- Indulge in the dips! The best part of Whole30 is getting to eat full fat dips. I love the paleo mayo and can make such delicious ranch dressing with it. I even whipped up a delicious compliant tarter sauce. I'm never going back to the store bought sauces! It is NUTS what crap they put in everything.
- MEAL PLAN. Take an hour, research recipes, make a list, and stick to it. It's such a time saver. And keeps me from going crazy.

Here's to the next 10 days!

she and he: july

They moved.

And it took a lot of work.

He studied.

She packed and unpacked.

They were pretty exhausted.

August, we are ready for you.


We needed this trip so badly. With Tyler's homework schedule, work, and moving, we desperately just needed to get away and reconnect. There is nothing I love more than six hours in the car with Tyler to just talk. And sing. Lots of car singing. (Poor guy. It usually ends up looking a lot like this. Start at 1:33)

We kayaked, hit up weekend happy hour, napped, stopped by the Barton Springs food trucks, and had the best Ikea trip to date. Lists are a must people!

ode to our first apartment

I remember my first night in our first apartment. It was only a few weeks until our wedding day, and I slept on a twin sized air mattress in the corner. The room felt so big and empty. Not at all home-like. But now we're leaving, and this is the first home we've created together. For us. 2610 Milwaukee will always be our first home.

I remember painting the ugly taupe walls white the week before our wedding. And realizing in hindsight what a foolish but good decision that was. We hated the painting, but never regretted it. Oh, and cheap paint? It is cheap for a reason.

This is where we returned after our honeymoon. The giant welcome home sign that my parents hung - the grill waiting for Tyler to discover. We were couch-less for a week and boy, are couches an awesome thing to own.

This is where our first real fight happened. And our second fight, and third fight, and every fight for a year. This is where I learned how hard and good marriage is. How good Tyler is at humility.

This is where Tyler studied for the MCAT and the GRE. Where I started quilting and studied Zumba moves. Where he played video games and I read silently next to him.

I learned to decorate in this apartment. I started from scratch - with 624 square feet to work with - and made a home. I hung a gallery wall, hung curtains, arranged bookshelves, and stacked towels.

I learned to cook for two in this apartment. Chicken parmesan, roast, lasagna for company - always lasagna for company. One minute microwave cake late at night and cinnamon rolls on holiday mornings. Coffee and lattes and hot tea and milk and the perfect sweet tea - all drunk from yellow glasses I've collected through the years, finally put to use.

I learned to share here. To compromise on thermostat temperature. To delegate household chores I hogged for myself. We learned how to live weekends here. To sleep in and then work all day. To have pizza/movie nights and share margaritas.

And Christmas. This is the first place we celebrated Christmas together. Our tiny twinkling tree in front of the window, Christmas cookies in the oven. Tyler's first time watching It's a Wonderful Life, and wrapped presents under the tree. Our first snow day, and New Years Eve on the back patio, just the two of us, ringing in the new year - how I secretly wanted it to be when we left the party early.

And spring! And evening walks around the old golf course behind us, and dips in the pool, and grilling in the tiny backyard. I loved reading my Bible each morning on the couch, the mornings growing brighter and brighter, as Tyler slept in the bedroom. I loved that view out the window, the silence in the air, and sharp warmth of the coffee.

I grew closer to God and closer to Tyler in this tiny house and I can't help but be a bit sad to see it go. There is still some work to do, repainting, cleaning, a few pictures still on the walls - but an era in our life seems over. The first year has passed and passed so quickly. And our tiny 27A apartment was so good to us then. 


Change is coming.

I can feel it.

There is obvious change, like our mailing address and the place we lay our head each night. But I know that more will change. These next two years will be refining, building us for wherever God chooses to take us next. We have no idea what life will look like when Tyler graduates, but I am so excited.

I've seen firsthand how God provides. I've witnessed how he blesses those who ask for His help, and continually seek His favor. I think tithing plays a huge roll in this. When we married, Tyler and I agreed that no matter how much money we had, we would always tithe. We would choose to put God first with our money ... His money.

I don't look at tithing like a transaction, put money in - blessings come out. I see it as worship. As faith. We give because we have faith that God will provide. Even when we have enough money each month, tithing is a reminder that we are not in control. That our financial situation can change at any minute.

But, God. Always God.

I look around the rooms of our new apartment and I just think, "God did this." When I show our apartment to friends, they must think I'm a grinning lunatic, proud of us living in this tiny apartment, in charge of 42 rowdy college boys. But it's because I am so overwhelmed at how God chose to provide for us in this season of life.

And I know that change is coming. He is changing my heart.

she & he: june

June brought their first anniversary, 365 days of being together.

She loved the dinner date.

He picked mini-golf.

She won.

Icees were had, Target was perused.

Study, study, study, was the theme of the month.

She watched the entire 4th season of Gilmore Girls while quilting.

And is moving on to season 5... for the third time.

He pretends that he doesn't like it.

They are days away from moving into their new apartment/job.

She has been savoring morning moments before the packing begins.

He is so ready to have an office of his own.

They spent all day Saturday painting, and it went down much smoother than the last time they painted...

 She is loving the white walls.

He likes the darker mint in the bedroom.

This new phase of life will be so different, but so good.

friday favorites

I loved this simple prompt from Ann-Marie Loves and wanted to borrow it for my typical Friday post. Sometimes it's so fun to see what others are up to!

Eating: The most delicious nectarines thanks to our Bountiful Basket. Seriously, the best I've ever had.

Drinking: As much water as I can. I've also been drinking a LOT of La Croix. It's such a good soda replacement, but completely guilt free since it has no additives whatsoever. Cherry Lime is the best!

Practicing: Letting go .... Work has been so stressful and frustrating. I'm working on letting all the anger I have just go away. I need to remember that when people behave badly, God is just and will take care of it. Whew.

Mastering: Quilting. Kind of. I'm almost done piecing the quilt top together. The more I sew, the more I love it.

Trying: Lots of different smoothie/fruit combos. I always use spinach and almond water. The fruit is whatever happens to be at home. Sometimes I'm delightfully surprised. Sometimes I just push through for the nutrients. 

Playing: This song. It is SO catchy.

Reading: The Woman in White. I'm really enjoying it!

Remembering: What it was like when we first moved into our tiny apartment. I can't believe that a year has already passed and I loved seeing the transition our space has been through. It makes me so excited for our next place.

Wearing: My Steve Madden sandals for the third straight summer. I will be so screwed when they bust.

Cooking: "Lazy Sunday Casserole" on a Wednesday. I subbed chicken spinach sausage and it was delicious.

Wanting: A kitchen like this.

a few of my favorite blogs

I love blogs. Obviously.

I love diving into the story of someone's life - what they choose/don't choose to share, pictures of their lives, and tidbits of their days. I've read so many different blogs and I'm always editing my list of daily reads. But what makes a great blog (in my opinion) can be summarized quickly: good and personal writing, pretty pictures, and varying content.

Blogs are a fascinating topic for many different reasons - one being that blogs are constantly changing, yet always remaining the same. Blogs will always be about communication, will always be a platform. But the type of platform -- that is volatile.

Archives are my favorite. I love finding a "famous" blog, but reading through the deep trenches of past years. I get lost in the narrative and reading posts when fear of offending an audience of thousands didn't exist. Those are the best posts. I encourage you to dig through the archives of these blogs, especially Elise Blaha's blog. She can do no wrong - and it's because she continues to write about what inspires her, not what sells. She communicates this over and over again and her transparency makes her so dang likeable.

Enjoy! I hope you find a new favorite.

Where My Heart Resides
The Art in Life
Tickled Yellow

Varied (and super interesting) content:
A Cup of Jo
EnJOY it - Elise Blaha Cripe
Annapolis & Company

Eat Sleep Cuddle (cutest baby ever)
Oh Hello, Love!

on beauty

Can we get real here? I absolutely hate my thighs. I am twenty-five and I have cellulite. Like real, actual cellulite. I am young, active, healthy, and my legs look thirty years older than my face. How this happens completely evades me.

And here's the deal: I spent more time on our vacation thinking about my thighs than I did anything else. Seriously. I thought about them every day, every time I changed, every time I got in the shower, every time I got in the pool, every time I glanced down. I feel exhausted just thinking about all the time I thought about my thighs.

I know that I'm supposed to feel beautiful. I know that I was made in the image of my holy creator. But sometimes, feeling beautiful is just really hard. I fought it all through high school. NOTHING about acne feels pretty. It feels more like a fake facade. Like it isn't your face at all, but some monster came to take your place. And these thighs aren't really my thighs at all! My gorgeously toned thighs are really hiding underneath.

These thoughts kept surfacing till I read this quote on A Cup of Jo by Anne Lamott:
...Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen.
And the more I thought about Lamott's words, the more sense they made. I realized that for me, feeling beautiful isn't about thinking, I'm beautiful. It is about giving myself the freedom to have fun. To enjoy life. To jump in the pool. To let go of the image of perfection I've been chasing.

And suddenly, I'm not so worried about my thighs after all. I'm having a blast.

I'm feeling beautiful. 

book report: 02 - 05

The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
This was a beast of a novel to get through. The writing was dense and detail driven, but incredibly interesting and well written. (As it should be, since it won the Pulitzer Prize) I originally picked this book because Nora Ephron recommended it to me in I Feel Bad About My Neck. She writes about being in awe as she reads Kavalier and Clay and how accurately Chabon describes the writing process. So I had to read it.

Kavalier and Clay spans the long relationship of two cousins - Kavalier, a Jew on the run and trained escapist, and his shorter, polio-pained cousin Clay. Together they create comic book magic, all against the backdrop of WWII. War propaganda is one of my favorite things to study in history, and Chabon does such a great job of describing the power of comic books and their influence on children and adults. My favorite bits were the chapters on the comic book characters themselves - so good I wished they were real comics I could read later. All in all, an epic novel and a bit sad, but so much good writing.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niquest
This book. Goodness, I loved it. I loved it more than any book I've read this year. It was almost as if my older, more mature self was writing to me. Shauna's words were exactly what I needed to be reading. Her premise is simple: we can't have the sweet without the bitter. Life wouldn't be grand if we didn't have to struggle for the good things. And we don't truly understand the story of Christ if we haven't been broken -- if we haven't been reborn.

I especially loved her chapter on being twenty-five, and struggling to grow during your twenties. She talks about questions that you should ask yourself each year, like, What have I learned about God? What kind of friends encourage me to grow? What do I like about myself? How am I moving forward? Instead of being stunted during your twenties - use this crazy evolving time to mature into the adult God is shaping you to be. Don't let the decade just pass you by. 

Highly, highly recommend. I can't wait to read her other books.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Have you read Special Topics in Calamity Physics? Stop what you are doing and add that to your Amazon wish list. STCP is one of my favorite books and I was thrilled when Annie let me know Pessl has just written another book. It was at my doorstep in two days. (Thank you Amazon prime.)

The story follows an investigative reporter who tries to discover the truth surrounding the suicide of a famous horror director's daughter. Cordova, the director, has a huge cult following. His movies have been banned and can only be found on the black market or underground screenings. Secrecy surrounds him, his family, and the way he directs his films.

The book has a lot of fun, visual pages - like a Time magazine photo gallery to introduce Cordova, or clippings from magazine articles. I was always so excited to get to another visual page and loved what they added to the story. I'm not one for any type of horror film, but this was more like a thriller than a horror book. I was gripped the entire novel and loved the way it was wrapped up in the end. Very satisfying read and I thought about it for days afterwards. 

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
I have to admit - I was imagining this to be more of a beach read/romance. But the story took me in a completely different direction. It jumps from character to character, and spans almost 50ish years, but it was done so seamlessly. Even though I only heard from each character three to four times, I felt like I really knew them.

In the author interview at the back of the book, Walter talks about book themes, and how regret plays into Beautiful Ruins. But I think this book was also about making something from regrets - not passively accepting them. I liked that the ending was unpredictable in that it was so much like reality. In a good way. A fun read, and the scenery/Hollywood descriptions were my favorite part.

25 secrets

I think about ice cream almost every day.

My favorite flavor usually involves caramel.

I have a pint of mint chocolate hidden in the back of the freezer right now.

I cross each day off my calendar as it passes. It makes the month go quicker.

I think cats are better than dogs.

All of my most favorite movies are rom coms.

Kathleen Kelly is my all-time favorite character.

So I based part of my senior thesis on You've Got Mail.

The first time I watched it, I was 10, and it was the free movie of the week at our public library.

I miss having real summers - with mornings free and easy.

My hair is my favorite feature.

My thighs are my least favorite.

I was 17 when I had my first kiss.

But 21 when I first fell in love.

I've never listened to "Stairway to Heaven."

And "soft rock" on the radio will always remind me of home. 

Taylor Swift plays in my car often.

I loved seeing She & Him in concert, but Zooey Deschanel has terrible stage presence.

That made me feel better about life.

Once every few months, I dream I'm back in South Korea and can't get home.

I always choose sweet over savory.

I never put earrings in my second ear hole.

But I miss my nose ring sometimes.

"Bad Day" by Daniel Powder will always be my favorite music video.

And sitting in the sunshine is my happy place.

Post inspired by Elise Blaha Cripe's secrets.

the senses

Fresh cut grass. Summer is here.

Coldplay's new album. Honestly? It seems to fall pretty flat. And is anyone else listening for hints/secrets about his breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow?

Our Bountiful Basket purchase.
I get so excited each week to see what's inside!

Cloudy skies - such unusual summer weather for us. But I'm not complaining.

I've been quizzing Tyler each night and I'm ready for a nap after this week's test is over.

an intentional summer

Last summer just flew too fast. We got married the first weekend in June, and the rest of the summer months just felt like catching up after being in wedding mode.

This summer, I want to be intentional with my time and my very limited number of summer weekends. We can't go too crazy - Tyler's back in school. At first, that really bummed me out. I didn't realize in all my cold weather fantasies that Tyler would have very limited free time, if any at all, during the summer.

So a lot of my summer goals include solo activities. Even if Tyler is doing homework, I can still make our house feel like summer (aka always have popsicles around) and still do summery things on my own.

Plus we have some big changes coming! We'll be moving into our new place/job in less than a month. That means a whole new remodel to tackle. I'm so excited because I really understand what we need in a space now that we've been married for a while. (More closed storage - a place to put our keys by the door - somewhere for Tyler to put his million pair of shoes) I've been making a mood/idea board for our new place and I'm feeling really inspired and ready to diy.

Hey summer - let's do this.

what this coffee cup reminds me of...

It reminds me of waking up before the sun, double checking my suitcase, nervous about the weight.

It reminds me of driving with my parents, sun still hiding, unable to stop worrying.

It reminds me of thinking over and over, "What am I doing? What am I doing?"

It reminds me of squabbling with my mom, because we didn't know what else to do.

It reminds me of
saying goodbye, knowing I wouldn't see my parents for over a year.

It reminds me of calling Tyler in the San Fransisco airport, crying so hard I couldn't talk.

It reminds me of my first night in Seoul, bed as hard as the floor.

It reminds me of teaching, and those first few miserable weeks.

It reminds me of meeting new friends, and going to Korean church for the first time.

It reminds me of
riding the metro - head buried in a book.

It reminds me of discovering new neighborhoods, new coffee shops.

It reminds me of my three month anniversary dinner in a restaurant that felt like Tuscany.

It reminds me of
my tiny, oven-less kitchen, of take-out pizza, of no bathtubs.

It reminds me of
laundry day, American movies with Korean subtitles, and kimchi.

It reminds me of Seoul Tower, Busan, and the bus to visit Rae.

But mostly, it reminds me of Tanja, my soul-friend. The person God sent to get me through one of the roughest and richest times of my life. And that time we visited the delightful Hello Kitty Cafe.

moments from the weekend

1. Having a unplanned day-date with Tyler. It started with the first Bahama Bucks trip of the season, and ended with checking out the progress on our new apartment.

2. Grilling Friday night.

3. Finally starting Lost, Season two.

4. Getting our first Bountiful Basket! Our kitchen was taken over by produce.

5. Finding the best cinnamon rolls in Lubbock at the most unlikely place ... reJAVAnate at Cardinal's sports store. I know ... but that coffee shop is the best. So quiet and comfy.

6. Cutting our 8" grass. Our backyard feels so tamed now!

7. Hiding under a gas station carport to wait out a hail storm. Serious wind gusts people.

8. A three-hour Sunday nap while it rained.

9. Starting a new book. Gobbling up the first 40 pages.

10. Becoming completely obsessed with the Waterlogue app.

what we've learned

We've learned...

Lauren is a morning person.

Tyler is a night person.

Sometimes it is difficult to mesh the two.

Compromise is a must.

Weekends usually mean less sleep.

And pizza.

Lauren can't watch TV with a sink full of dirty dishes.

Now Tyler can't either.

The Office will forever be in rotation.

A clean house always trumps clean cars.

Nature is our happy place.

We've learned...

How to decipher insurance choices.

How to deal without cable.

How to split meals at a restaurant.

How to cook for two.

How to budget for two.

How to save.

How to spend.

How to pray together.

How to ask for forgiveness.

How to say sorry. (And how to say sorry without saying, "I'm sorry, but ...")

I've learned...

That I didn't have it all together before we got married.

That I struggle with change. Especially quick changes.

That I am not the fairest fighter.

That quality time is my love language. 

That I crave time alone in the mornings, and don't function well without it.

That I haven't lost my individuality or freedom - like I feared before we married.

That Tyler is a better man today than the man I married.

That when one of us angry - the other is usually pretty calm. Like a balancing act.

That trusting Tyler is like using WD-40 ... everything in our marriage just runs smoother.

That marrying Tyler has been my best decision.

I love you Tyler! Happy one year anniversary!

Photos taken by Paul Norman Photography.