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I'm Still Here!

Y'all! I don't know what possessed me to open my blog account (it's been so long that I literally typed in the wrong URL and couldn't remember the right one!) but here I am. I'm actually sitting at Chick-fil-A which is basically my office/second home because it's where I come most often to do school work. The real reason I came tonight though was that I knew if I stayed home I would go to bed, and while I am pretty tight with the CFA employees, I don't think they want me sprawled out in my booth. (Yes, I have my own booth. I'm pretty old Baptist lady about and refuse to sit anywhere else. Give me a few more months and I may have it reserved with an engraved plaque.)

Anyway, there's no major reason for me to pop in except that I'm a little ashamed that my last post was almost a year ago. Oops! I do really miss blogging and I still love to read other blogs, but with school and a part (very part) time job and a sweet but sometimes diabolical 3-year-old, I just don't seem to have the time. I actually hate that excuse since I have as much or more time than lots of bloggers I know, so I guess I should say I don't choose to spend my time blogging when I could be reading. (I will say, if you're ever wanting a book recommendation, Instagram is where I share pretty much all of mine!)

I think the main reason I miss blogging, or regret giving it up, is that before I became a mom I picture my blog as a kind of internet diary for all my thoughts and experiences throughout motherhood. (Again, that role has kind of been commandeered by Instagram. Whoops.) But here we are, over three years into this gig as a mom and I've shared less and less, not more. I guess it's not a terrible thing since so many parents overshare about their kids on their blogs and I'm sure I'll give Alice other reasons to go to therapy but at least documenting her every move throughout potty training won't be one of them. (Side note- potty training is probably the thing I've dreaded most about parenting and it's actually not going all that badly. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, shoo away bad spirits, etc. We'll see. #notsofastGeorgeBanks)

Chick-fil-A makes everything better, even a bathroom selfie. (Right?) Also I wanted to use one of the gorgeous pictures my brother-in-law took at Christmas, but my hair was longer then and I felt like it was inauthentic. To quote Shawn Spencer, "I can't watch channel 8 anymore. Lloyd Lansing wears a toupee. It's like every newscast begins with a lie." 

But I also miss sharing my thoughts, or better yet, figuring out my thoughts as I wrote them. It still fills me with joy when someone tells me they read my blog (past tense) and enjoyed it, since I really loved coming up with fun content and telling stories and making people laugh now and then. I don't know that I'll come back to this space with any regularity, at least not until school is done (THIS SUMMER!) but I just wanted to jump on and give the ol' blog a little love. (Or life support. The Heimlich? I don't know that many medical procedures, apparently.)

If there's anything you think I should write about, suggest away and maybe I'll just tackle one of those at a time to give myself some structure (I'm an Obliger, folks. I need accountability.) There are so many things to  talk about, in my life and just in general, about that I would LOVE to hash out at some point (the enneagram! Pursuing speech therapy for Alice! All my grad school angst! My short hair! And cold shoulders- did I stay away so long that they've come and gone??), so maybe I'll be back sooner rather than later. If you've stuck around, I love and appreciate you (in a totally platonic and non-creepy way).

Happy Thursday! We're all still here together!


Alice Juliet- An Unbirthday Post

Today, Alice is two and a half. (Yes, I still celebrate her half birthday -- we call it an "un-birthday," like Alice in Wonderland, and I got her a couple dollar spot presents -- because she's a spoiled only child. šŸ˜ I haven't done one of these posts in forever, not even for her actual second birthday, which is kind of pathetic, but here we are. She has grown and changed so much over the past several months, and I just want a record (outside of Facebook, since who knows what's going on over there with all the privacy issues! ha!) of how things are right now.

No personality at all. 

I'm about to be really transparent for a minute, so buckle up. We noticed around 18 months that Alice wasn't talking as much as a lot of kids her age, so of course we kept track of her speech development for the next several months. At her two-year checkup, her doctor recommended speech therapy. That's a long story, but the short version is that we took her for an evaluation and she didn't qualify, due to her age and several other factors. We also scheduled an audiology appointment to check her hearing, which was also totally fine.

Since there were no other concerns (she follows directions, understands us, has no relational issues, etc.) we decided to wait it out, and that's where we still are. The therapist even said that her comprehension is off the charts and that she is just absorbing everything and will talk on her own terms. (That's appropriate because she pretty much lives her whole life that way!) Her progress of the last few months has been slow but steady, and she is saying more words all the time.

Here's the transparent part: the last year (specifically the last 6-9 months) has been very hard for me. Selfishly, I want my little girl to be talking and saying all the cute and funny things her cousins and little friends are saying. I know that's dumb; I know comparing her to other kids doesn't help. It's not even so much about the comparison as knowing how much I love it when she does talk and feeling like I'm missing out on more of that. (I realize I have a lifetime of her talking to look forward to, but I'm just dealing with the present moment. =) And, of course, there is the constant frustration, for her and for me and Jonathan, with a communication gap and trying to discipline her (among other things) without her being able to articulate what she wants or needs. (P.S. Saying "one day you'll wish she couldn't talk!" is not helpful and not true. Trust me. šŸ˜‰

I have cried many tears through all this and not been as trusting as I should. I've beat myself for even getting upset about it when she is perfectly healthy and other moms are dealing with much more serious problems. Still, at the end of the day, it's been stressful. I have worried myself into a tizzy over it many times. And even as she is starting to (slowly but surely) talk more, I have made it about me (as I do) and questioned how I could let this happen. I read to her, I talk to her, I give her educationally stimulating toys. Why am I such a failure?? (I know, it's irrational; welcome to my brain.)

Thinking deep thoughts

Finally, though, really just in the past month or so, I have come to terms with the situation and finally feel at peace about it- not entirely, but I'm getting there. Alice is talking, growing, learning, and she will be totally fine. (She's just now two and a half, which is too young to even be considered delayed by many doctors.) But the Lord has helped me to be okay with it and given me hope and peace for the future, and another thing I've been doing that helps is to intentionally note things about her that I like and love (beyond her adorable face). Here they are:

Things I Love about Alice:

- She loves musicals. I have talked about this many times before, but her love of old movies and musicals is still going strong, although we have now successfully incorporated a few animated movies to the mix (she's loving The Aristocats and Charlotte's Web. Clearly the girl has a preference for the Sherman Brothers). I love that she laughs at these movies, dances, gets so into them... the whole shebang. She loves it.

- Speaking of musicals... at the end of literally every song in every movie, she begins to applaud with wild enthusiasm. It's hysterical and she does it every single time, like clockwork. It never fails to delight me.

- Like her mama, she likes to clean and organize. (Granted, she' a champion mess-maker too, but at least she likes to clean them up!) She loves to help me with laundry and dishes, put her toys away, put her shoes and socks away, etc. It's so cute and fills my neat freak heart with joy.

- She is obedient. I mean, she's two, so it's not like she bats a thousand here, but for the most part, she does what we tell her to do, and more consistently than a lot of kids much older than she is.

-She is a tough girl! She definitely cries over absolutely nothing (like getting weighed at the doctor today... #staaahp) but when she falls (which she does a lot because she runs everywhere) or gets hurt in any way she hardly ever even makes a whimper- just gets right back up and goes on. She definitely didn't get that from me.

- A lot of my friends with kids this age deal with picky eaters, but Alice doesn't know the meaning of those words. Ha! She does have foods she prefers but she is good about trying new things and, inexplicably, her favorite food is sauerkraut. Who knows?

- She loves a routine. Morning, afternoon, bedtime, bath time... she knows where to go and what to do and wants to do it that way every time. Even more than when she was a baby, she thrives on a schedule.

- She is a great sleeper. Her naps are still not as consistent as I'd like, although they're much better these days since she's so busy and wears herself out, but she sleeps 12 hours just about every single night, which is possibly the greatest gift I've received in motherhood. šŸ™Œ

-And, of course, she's sweet and loving and beautiful and affectionate (at least with me) and hilarious and just a little sunshine. (Remind me of these words the next time she throws a tantrum.)

Seriously, even with her speech issues and typical two-year-old antics, she genuinely brings joy to everyone around her, even strangers. I love her so much and I don't ever want to forget how grateful I am for a healthy, happy little girl. Her doctor told us today that she's perfect. I will take his professional opinion and run with it. šŸ’—

Very Merry Un-birthday to you, my darling girl. Mama loves you to pieces!

The Greatest Showman Strikes a Deeper Chord

I wrote this article for a class, which is why it's a little more formal than the posts I usually share here. Or, in the words of Shawn Spencer, "It lacked all nuance, my signature mocking tone, and was utterly devoid of emoticons." =) 

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down,
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ‘em out.
I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be.
This is me."
These lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, sung with a breathless intensity by Keala Settle, are the heart and soul of The Greatest Showman, a musical that, in just over a month, has become an unqualified hit, topping the Billboard 200 and iTunes charts and bringing in well over $100 million at the box office. The film tells the story of P.T. Barnum’s ascent to fame and the way his circus changed entertainment forever.
Given the beautifully written score, dazzling costumes, all-star cast, and excellent performances, the movie’s commercial success is no surprise. However, this particular film, and its soundtrack, are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the tradition of Rogers and Hammerstein and Walt Disney. The movie owes its popularity not only to the director, composers, and actors, but mainly to the word-of-mouth and social media frenzy that has spread The Greatest Showman – and its message – like wildfire. Beyond the broad appeal of stars like Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in a musical?) or Zac Efron and Zendaya, who both attract the Disney Channel demographic, there seems to be a deeper resonance that transcends its entertainment value. The film and score speak to the desires of our souls: acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption. That these elements are also found within the gospel of Christ is hardly a coincidence and can serve as a powerful reminder to believers.
As mentioned, “This Is Me” has become the movie’s theme song, inspiring hundreds of covers and earning an Oscar nomination. (Keala Settles, who plays the “Bearded Lady” Lettie Lutz in Barnum’s circus, will be performing the song at the Academy Awards.) Lettie and the rest of the circus “freaks” sing “This Is Me” after Barnum, their former champion, excludes them from a party. His rejection is merely another wound to add to the lifelong sting of shame felt by these people who are startlingly, painfully different. As Lettie comments, “Our own mothers were ashamed of us.”
The response to this particular song has been overwhelming, and not just because of its powerfully anthemic melody or Settles’s inspired performance. It is speaking to people at a spiritual level – who hasn’t felt shame for simply being themselves? To be despised, feared, or rejected for whatever is “different” is a rejection of a whole person – one who is created in God’s image. Such was the life of the circus performers; in a time in which “sameness” was valued as a moral principle, to be an “oddity” not only broke propriety, it was practically criminal. The film also portrays the relationship between Barnum’s partner Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler, an African-American acrobat performer in the show whose only “difference” is the color of her skin. Their relationship was indeed considered criminal by many at the time, and it takes a tragedy for them to overcome the prejudices keeping them apart.
The circus troupe also finds among themselves a community, a respite from those who kept them hidden away. They quickly bond by finding common ground in their very “otherness” and ultimately in the art they create together. When protesters gather with angry accusations and demands for the performers to once again go into hiding, the group rallies together to defend each other. Even when Barnum goes bankrupt and their theater is burned down by the protesters, the performers insist on finding a way to rebuild, because to accept defeat is to lose the only family they have.
Brokenness and Redemption
            Beyond Barnum’s charm and charisma, his most prominent trait is ambition. Even as a young boy, he promises his future bride:
“I think of what the world could be,
A vision of the one I see,
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take;
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”  
But what began as a lifelong quest to create a life of adventure that he and his childhood sweetheart Charity had planned slowly morphs into a relentless pursuit of approval and fame. While Barnum is not rejected for the same reasons the performers are, he still feels the sting of being considered “less than” by the merits of his birth. Class distinctions were deeply ingrained in society and rising above one’s station was no small task. Proving himself, especially to his condescending father-in-law, becomes less about monetary success and more about achieving a certain notoriety that even the city’s upper crust cannot ignore. Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” who tours with Barnum and represents that “other world” in his mind, is portrayed as his ultimate temptation, the prize to accompany his journey to fame and fortune. As she sings, “Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough… for me,” we are given a look into each character’s yearning for what they cannot have: Barnum for success, Phillip and Anne for love, and Charity Barnum for the heart of her husband.          
Fortunately, at least in this semi-fictional portrayal, Barnum ultimately refuses the opportunity for an adulterous affair (although one could argue that an emotional one had already taken place.) While he does have the good sense to return to his family, he quickly realizes just how much he had truly sacrificed for his so-called success. In the wake of the disastrous fire started by the mob of protesters, he faces both financial and personal ruin. It is his own employees that encourage him to fight for what they have created – not just a show, but a family. In one of the movie’s most compelling scenes, Barnum sings (in perhaps Hugh Jackman’s best performance in the film) of chasing “someone else’s dreams” and how -- looking at a picture of his wife and daughters -- he can now “remember who all this was for.” Naturally, the movie’s happy ending shows the family (both the circus and the Barnums) reunited, Anne and Philip happily in love, and the circus as magical as ever.
            Other recent movie adaptions of musicals, such as Sondheim’s Into the Woods or even Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, have enjoyed commercial success, but there is something about The Greatest Showman, a cult-like following that has risen up and surpassed any love for similar movies. Those who love it really love it; audiences are not just seeing the movie once, but multiple times, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat. (The fact that a “sing-a-long” version of the movie was made available in theaters only a few weeks after its original release, with audiences already singing the songs from memory, is proof of this.)  Perhaps, beyond the fact that it’s just plain fun to watch, audiences are also refreshed by a family-friendly movie, one that relies on pure entertainment value and not sex or profanity for its excitement.
Furthermore, is 2018 all that different from Barnum’s day? Compared to the 19th century, diversity and tolerance are certainly more “mainstream,” but, ironically, the very resources that connect us also have the ability to divide and alienate like never before. Technology makes it easier than ever to reject or ridicule those who are different in some way -- whether physically or ideologically, we know that “different” is usually equated with “wrong.” No wonder people are thrilled at being told otherwise.
What can we learn from this public response? The Greatest Showman’s message is inspiring, but ultimately that message is meaningful to us as Christians because its truth is found in Christ. We can unapologetically declare “this is me” -- not just as an empowering statement but as God’s handiwork, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator of the Universe. We should also be reminded that we are surrounded by people who feel marginalized or alienated and are in search of acceptance or redemption. We can offer them our compassion, our love, and ultimately the Good News of salvation.

With the ugliest of hate speech found across both political aisles, emboldened white supremacy, belated responses to widespread sexual abuse, and other political, racial, and religious tensions in America today, a movie that preaches (or sings) about positive, uplifting themes is worth celebrating. However, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because… there is no such thing.” People can offer love and acceptance that only repairs so much damage; ultimate healing is found in Jesus. The response to The Greatest Showman reminds us that people are desperately seeking fulfillment and connection, and we have a message for them that will outlast any brightly lit theater or memorable song: the gospel of Jesus Christ. With His gift of eternal life, we can truly look forward to being “home again.”

My Favorite Books of 2017 (and How I'm Reading Differently This Year)

Oh, hey... remember me? Miss Accidentally Took Six Months Off from Blogging? (Oops! That's a hurricane, grad school, sickness, new job/schedule, and the holidays will do. Did I cover every excuse? =) But I'm back, at least for now, and have several things I'm excited to post about over the next few weeks. First up, as always, is some book talk.

Here we are... all alive and well! In case you forgot what we looked like. =)

I read more books in 2017 than I ever have before. In fact, I probably read more books last year than I had in most of my other adult years combined (2015-2016 being the exception.) My goal for 2017 was to read 200 books, and I ended up reading 237. I realize to most people that's an insane number and I haven't shared the number anywhere publicly because I feel like people will judge me and think I neglected my family or something. Ha! (That's only a little bit true. =) I will include the caveats that a) I read really fast, b) I read a lot of middle grade fiction, which I can usually knock out in a couple hours, and c) I have one child and no "outside" job. Beyond that, I just really like to read and it's basically my only hobby. I watch some movies with Alice and watch TV at the gym, but that's pretty much my only screen time (besides social media/checking my phone, which I admittedly do too much), but I make time to read and devote most of my free time to it, so there you go.

My favorite this year are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as usual, and are (obviously) only a small representation of the dozens of books I actually read. I could have chosen more than this group, but these are the ones that were the most memorable or that I recommended the most.

Only the best graphics for you, my loyal readers. (#noskills)

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. I read this last January, and I've recommended it so many times this year! The title is meant to sound like a newspaper headline and the book is about a family of sisters (of course I always love a sister story). Even though the plot involves a stalking/harassment case and I normally steer clear of anything remotely scary or true crime related, the tone is light and humorous and fun. I really loved this. (The next two books in the series aren't quite as good as the first one but still enjoyable.)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. I've decided that I prefer Ann Patchett's nonfiction to her novels, and this collection of her essays was no exception. It's not just about marriage; the topics range from her dog to her writing life (guess which one of those I liked better. =) I just love a good memoir and this is definitely one of those! Of course I enjoyed the insights into her writing life/process, but the most fascinating chapter was the essay about her summer spent training and applying to become a member of the LAPD (her dad was a former cop in Los Angeles.) SO interesting.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. With everything going on in our country, I have wanted to learn and expand my understanding of racial history and relations in America. This book, following three individuals and their journeys from the South to the North and West, provides not only a balanced, in-depth look at African American history in the 20th century (and into the 21st) but also gives context to some of the issues (such as government housing) that are still a problem today. Often people assume that racism is no longer a problem (which is clearly not the case) but also wonder why minorities today are still hurt or angry over wrongs done to their ancestors. This book makes that particular issue much clearer.

First Women by Kate Anderson Brower. I love behind-the-scenes stuff (definitely a bonus features/"making of" junkie) and I especially love inside looks at the White House, so this was right up my alley. I was nervous about how it would portray certain First Ladies positively or negatively according to their political party, but I found it was pretty even-handed. Also, these women can seem larger than life and, like other famous figures or celebrities, often don't even seem real, but this book humanized them in a personal, poignant way.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I read this book last summer, promptly fell in love with the author, and then was heartbroken to learn that she had recently passed away. I had read this article (have a tissue ready!) but hadn't made the connection that she had written it. This book is super quirky and different from anything else I've read, both in content and format, but I loved it. There's actually a feature that allows you to text along for certain music and other things she references, and I only followed along for about half of those, but they did enhance the experience. It's kind of hard to describe this outside of just calling it a memoir, so you need to read it for yourself, but it's delightful, and all the more meaningful now that the author has died.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. This book might be my favorite kind of memoir. Writing AND food? I've decided why I love food memoirs so much. I have always (like, since I was a little girl) loved to read cookbooks (even though I tend to read them as fiction, as in, "this would never happen in my life." Ha!) But reading about other people's rich, fulfilling experiences with food and cooking is fascinating to me, maybe because I am so shaky (literally) in the kitchen and it's fun to read about people who know exactly what they're doing with any number of cooking tools and unidentified produce. Anyway, this includes a lot of recipes (very loosely worded) and a look at the author's life in New York City (my favorite!) as a young woman. So good.

A Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle. I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't read anything by Madeleine L'Engle before this year (although I did read these before the movie previews were out, so I'm not that trendy =) but they have quickly become favorites. Her writing is just so beautiful and strange... in the best way. I chose this series because I loved it the most but I read a handful of her other books too and loved them all. I am currently working my way through A Circle of Quiet, reading it in small doses for maximum reflection/enjoyment, and even though I have a kindle version I'm planning on ordering my own physical copy because I'm highlighting every few paragraphs. Grab a copy of AWIT before the movie comes out! Costco has a lovely box set. =)

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Man, Gretchen Rubin just continues to kill it with every new book. Her books have been favorites for years, her podcast is one of my can't-miss shows, and I just really love all her stuff. That being said, I think this is her most helpful book to date. It's not quite as personal or light-hearted as some of her past work, but the information is SO fascinating and insightful. Everyone should read this: spouses, parents, teachers, friends. If you have relationships with other humans, it will help you, or at least help you help yourself.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I put off reading this middle grade book for a long time because I was intimidated by the length (right at 500 pages!) but it doesn't feel that long at all. It's a very fast read and such a wonderful book. It follows three kids whose lives all end up intersecting because of a magic harmonica (way better than it sounds. ha!) and a lot of it takes place in Europe right before the start of World War II, which is one of my favorite eras to read about. If you have kids, I've heard the audio version is amazing and would be a good choice for "stuck in the car" entertainment.

Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover. I just loved this. I rarely buy books but purchased my own copy of this one, which is a pretty good indication that I thought it was great. I wish everyone woman could/would read this book. Adult friendships are weird and harder than we want them to be (most of the time), and women especially can have all kinds of complicated feelings about friendship with other women. Portions of this book were like looking into a mirror of my own tortured thoughts regarding loneliness and community... and then Christine (sure, we're friends!) proceeded to destroy all my reasonings about being too afraid or awkward or whatever to reach out more. Convicting but so needed.

Honorable Mention:

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush
Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Residence by Kate Anderson Brower
Red China Blues by Jan Wong
Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konisburg

So yeah... 237 books last year. A LOT. I loved watching my lists grow longer and my numbers go up, and of course I read a lot of great books, but I felt almost a frantic need at times to read or finish books, which of course is stupid because no one was putting any pressure on me but me! I want to read less this year (or at least, I've chosen a smaller number and if I exceed that, so be it) and really relish my reading experiences. I do read fast, but there's a difference in reading fast and flying through books with little to no comprehension (which I confess happens sometimes.) I also want to give myself permission to abandon more books that I'm not enjoying or even not LOVING... I know not every book is going to be a top ten winner but there were plenty of books I finished last year that I knew were a waste of time. Life's too short to read dumb books! =)

One more note: I've started a book club on Instagram! I'll be posting to my blog's Facebook page occasionally too, but most of the action will take place on IG. If you want to join in the discussion, follow along at @dashofashblog. =)

As always, if you've read anything good lately, do tell me what it was. And if you want more recommendations, I really do love giving them, so leave a comment or send a message! I never get tired of book talk!

Happy New(ish) Year! Here's to my not disappearing again. =)

Fourth of July Movie Party + The Best Dessert!

I love the Fourth of July. I love wearing red, white, and blue; I love that it's the very middle of summer; I love the ice cream and hot dogs and celebration of freedom (even though being patriotic is apparently a sin now, according to Twitter. #whoknew) I don't love the fireworks so much now that I have a baby whose precious slumber is disturbed by them, but other than that it's still one of my favorite holidays. 

I'm not throwing any kind of Independence Day bash this year, but I will be home with my movie-loving child and we'll have almost all of these on the DVR ready to go. I may even get fancy with some kind of red, white, and blue dessert (see below!). But let's not get crazy. You certainly don't have to have "theme" foods to enjoy these movies. Chips and hot dogs are more than adequate. (But they better be on a stars and stripes napkin or I can't trust you.)

This little girl takes her movie-watching very seriously. All of these choices are Alice-approved. 

Take Me Out to the Ballgame- let's start with my favorite, shall we? Even the title is all-American. This is such a great musical and one of Alice's current favorites. It stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as vaudeville partners who also play professional baseball (totally believable, right?) Of course, when one of them decides to mix business and baseball, hijinks ensue. I've probably seen this movie one million times, and I still love it. Patriotic moment/song: "Strictly U.S.A." What more do you want?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington- only one of the greatest movies ever made. Jimmy Stewart is just phenomenal here as a young, starry-eyed senator who arrives in Washington full of the American spirit and dreams to make a difference to the boys in his state. Unfortunately, he runs into a huge corruption ring backed by powerful crooks who do their best to destroy him before he can expose their plans. There are funny moments but it will also just give you all the feels. Patriotic moment/song: Jeff's filibuster on the Senate floor... pretty much the whole thing. "I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine." #sobbing

Summer Magic- this movie really doesn't have anything to do with the Fourth of July but it's so quintessentially summer to me. The Sherman Brothers songs, the cast (Burl Ives!), and just the whole experience... when I watch it I'm 10 years old again. Patriotic/summerish moment/song: "On the Front Porch." Just hearing it puts me in a good mood.

At War with the Army- this may be one of the dumbest movies ever, but I don't even care. It's one of the first Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedies, and it's hysterical. I may have screamed in delight when I saw that it was coming on TCM and I was finally able to record it a few months ago. Again, it's reeeallly silly/slapstick, but hilarious. This isn't patriotic or a song, but my favorite line is, "You're driving me crazy!' "That's no drive; it's a short putt!" 

Follow Me, Boys!- talk about being hit in the feels.... I hadn't watched this for years when it recently came on TV and I recorded it. I sat down to watch it with Al and literally teared up within the first 20 minutes, then several more times after that. I think it's a mixture of nostalgia and my old age. But seriously. This is such a classic. A traveling musician puts down roots in a small town and inadvertently becomes the new Boy Scout Master, then becomes a hero to all the boys in town for several decades. Patriotic moment/song: "Follow Me, Boys" and the war games. 

Johnny Tremaine- this is kind of a lesser-known Disney movie from 1957, but there really was a Johnny Tremaine during the Revolution and almost all the other characters are real people too: Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, etc. Johnny joins the Sons of Liberty right around the beginning of the War for Independence. It's really good! Patriotic song/moment: "Sons of Liberty" and the speech that James Otis gives in a meeting. "We give all we have. We fight! We die, for a simple thing. Only that a man could stand." 

The Music Man- this is probably the movie I feel most comfortable talking about since, thanks to Alice, I have watched it too many times to count. (I'm not exaggerating... I have to play the soundtrack in the car to get her to stop crying. No regular lullabies for this girl... just 76 Trombones.) Anyway, this is also just one of those "Americana" movies that makes me feel like celebrating the Fourth. In case you're not familiar, a traveling salesman stops in a little Iowa town and convinces everyone that he's a professor of music who will form a boys' band and teach the kids to play their instruments. Only the local piano teacher isn't fooled, but she eventually comes around when the professor gets her little brother to finally come out of this shell. (There's way more going on than that, but it's a pretty long movie.) I have to say that this one has grown on me over the years and now the songs are some of my favorites... good thing, given my hostage situation with the movie in general. (i'm the hostage.) Patriotic moment/song: "Seventy-Six Trombones" or "Ya Got Trouble."

Honorable mention: Pollyanna, the "America the Beautiful" scene in which Hayley Mills and several other girls are dressed as the American flag in what look like straitjackets, and Holiday Inn, for the Firecrackers dance that Fred Astaire does. AH-mazing. 

Okay, now to The Best Dessert! part. I know I said you don't have to do themed food, and you definitely don't, but this is so good and easy AND uses the appropriate holiday colors. Plus it makes enough to feed a pretty big crowd... or provide leftovers the next day for a small crowd. =)

Berry Cobbler

Ingredients: one stick of butter, 1.5 cup sugar, 1.5 cup self-rising flour/bisquik, 1.5 cup milk, one can cherry pie filling, one can blueberry pie filling 

I know. I should be a food blogger.

1. Turn the oven on to 350 and melt a stick of butter in a 9x13 pan. 

2. Mix 1.5 cups EACH of sugar, self-rising flour (or Bisquik), and milk. 

3. Once the butter is melted, pull the pan out and pour the batter in.

4. Add dollops throughout of cherry and blueberry pie filling. If you want the cobbler to be more cake-like, use less fruit filling (about half the can each.) To make it gooier/fruitier, add the whole cans. (I try to leave a little space between each spoonful so they don't all run together.) Don't mix/stir the batter and fruit... just plop the fruit in. 

5. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. The edges should be golden brown. 

6. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream!

Happy Fourth, everyone! Despite all the craziness, America is still awesome and worth celebrating! I hope your cobbler is delicious and your movie watching experience less painful than mine, given I'll probably have an Alice pulling my hair the whole time. =) Happy Independence Day! 

Do It Scared

Ever since college (or maybe even before), I've planned on getting a master's degree. Of course, I decided to be a teacher when I was like eight and never really strayed from that. Not everything in my life has gone according to plan (thank goodness! ha!) but majoring in secondary education and becoming an English teacher pretty much stuck pretty close to my original script.

I loved teaching... don't get me wrong. But after just a few years in the classroom, I was already questioning whether I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. Schools, students, parents, etc. have just changed SO much since I was in school, and I'm not that old. =) I loved my students, I loved the actual instruction part of teaching, I LOVED doing my bulletin boards (still miss that!)... I'm still passionate about education, but I just couldn't see myself doing this for the next thirty years (or even the next ten.)

Four summers ago, being crushed under the weigh of my curricula. 

Still one of my favorite boards ever. Those hashtags! 

That hand on the hip pose, though. #ohdear 

Plus I had also always planned to stay home once I had a baby, at least for a few years. So between moving away from the school job I had and getting pregnant, I took time off from teaching and was spared, at least for a while, from the decision of getting back to it later.

So what would I do instead? When I was a teenager, literally nothing else ever occurred to me. Teaching was it. And even though I had always gotten good grades on my papers, I really didn't consider myself a writer at all. I actually made it pretty clear that creative writing was not my thing and that I was terrible at it. (You may be thinking... "well, yes. You still are." That's fine. hehe)

But I took a composition class in college and got some really positive feedback from my professor (Dr. P! The BEST!) and throughout the semester (and in some other classes with him) he made it clear to me that writing was something I shouldn't ignore. And that maybe I wasn't terrible at it after all. Maybe even...a little bit good? (His words, not mine. =) So that made me feel good considering that he's a genius, but I still didn't consider anything about writing until I started this blog five years ago and wrote my first play a few months later. And obviously I've been writing (albeit sporadically) ever since.

Fast-forward to the past year, where I've been thinking about my future job, whatever it may be, as Alice will be off to school before too long. (Not that I'm ready to even consider that! Ugh. #allthetears) But I knew I had to start making some kind of plans; I just couldn't decide in what direction to go. Education? Writing? Editing? I don't know! Not to mention I haven't worked a regular job (besides being a #momboss) for the past three years. Kind of out of the game.

I've had grad school on my mind all this time but not really front and center given my daily schedule of keeping a toddler alive and all that entails =) but a couple of months ago, I came in from a run (obligatory reminder that I'm a runner now, y'all) and Jonathan said (out of the blue) "I think it's time for you to go back to school."

The thing about Jonathan is that he seems off-the-wall with statements like that but the great thing is that he won't bring something big up without having thought it through meticulously first. So he had already worked through a lot of the logistics (mentally, at least) before bringing it up to me. God bless him.

I immediately jumped online and started looking around at different programs. My first (and really only) choice has always been Liberty University...for many reasons, the main one being that they have SO many options online and we've always had a great experience with them (Jonathan got his master's from LU in 2014.) But I still wasn't sure about which direction to go... getting a generic education degree seemed pointless since I wasn't even sold on going back to teaching, and anything writing-related just seemed so beyond me. Where would I even start? I even briefly considered library science. (I'm not gonna lie; I would still love to be librarian someday. =)

But that day, I found a brand-new program that Liberty was offering- a Master of Arts in Professional Writing. (Sounds pretentious, I know!) I knew instantly that it was the best program for me. Not only does it cover a lot of the "business" side of writing- marketing, research, etc., but it offers education classes too. SO whichever direction I go in professionally- writing or teaching or both- I'll have a ton of tools to help me in the future. It's really the best of both worlds.

I applied that night and then the most horrendously stressful three-week period began. (Basically, getting in was a huge shot in the dark because my undergrad degree is only partially accredited, blah blah blah... it's not that interesting, but trust me when I say that it was torture. All I could do was write an impassioned "purpose statement," pray really hard, and hope for the best. (I guess the admissions department couldn't know that dragging out the decision over such a long time was literally killing me and bringing out the most obsessive parts of my personality. I have forgiven them. =)

So, (spoiler alert!) I GOT IN. And then registered. And then looked at my course guides and nearly passed out. (Holy workload, Batman!) And even though I'm insanely nervous, I'm excited. I've always been a huge nerd who actually really loved school and learning (I vividly remember going back to campus for the last few weeks of classes after our student teaching and feeling a little thrill when I started taking notes for the first time in months. #coughlosercough) And since I'm going in a different direction than what I've always planned for grad school it's even more unfamiliar. Not to mention, I've really never written in this kind of setting before. I've written college papers and my blog and a lot of miscellaneous stuff but I haven't been formally "graded" in years and (given my need for approval and straight A's that's bled over from like second grade), I'm slightly terrified.

My friend Lauren always says, "Do it scared." I've actually applied that little commandment to a lot of areas in my life in the past year or so- starting Weight Watchers, doing Couch to 5k, approaching new friendships... all kinds of things. (Lauren is very wonderful and wise, always. =) And that's how I'm going into this new venture in a couple months- scared. Scared of failure, of rejection, of stress and exhaustion and oh yeah, taking classes with an almost-two-year-old as my study buddy. (I'm sure Alice's pterodactyl screams will only enhance my work environment.) But I'm doing it anyway, with the support of my awesome husband and lots of Dr Pepper, no doubt.

If nothing else I have a stock of G-2 pens at the ready!

Which brings me to this post. I have been insanely lazy about blogging for, really, the past three years. It was almost like losing the rigidity of a school schedule also took the structure of my days (which it did in a lot of ways.) I remember thinking that I'd have tons of time to write, but as Gretchen Rubin says, "Things that can be done at any time are often done at no time." Such is life, and I can't do anything about it now, but one huge disadvantage to not blogging regularly is that it makes it infinitely harder to come back to it when I choose to. It's very much like a muscle that has atrophied (picture my attempt at writing as swinging a scrawny arm that's been in a cast for months and resembles a noodle. That's how it feels.)

I hate it, but over the years blogging has always been the first thing to go when I get busy or overwhelmed or whatever. (I know... what a great writer I am!) But it's easier to cut this out than reading (never!) or cleaning my house (for my own sanity's sake, no) or, you know, caring for my family (kind of a nonnegotiable.) Poor Dash of Ash gets pushed aside every time. And in the coming months, I can't make any promises about how faithfully I'll update here. BUT given the whole atrophied muscle thing, it seems really dumb of me to not write at all this summer and then start back up again cold turkey when I'm actually going to be graded. Yikes.

So consider this post (and the ones coming soon, I hope!) the writing exercises I need to get my strength up for my classes starting this fall. I promise to keep things way more fun than the gym (and I'll never yell at you or make you plank. Have you planked? Good grief.) Think of the exercises as more like the old lady aerobics class that just give you an excuse to wear cute gym clothes but not really break a sweat or experience any awkward locker room TMI. (Aaaand that's enough of that metaphor.)

Okay, I'll wrap this up. Thanks for all the encouragement already and for being so great about still reading what I've written here. If it weren't for this blog and all the sweet comments over the years, I know I wouldn't ever have had the courage to pursue anything with writing at all, let alone "professional." #sofancy. Thanks, everyone! You're the very best! Wish me luck! In the meantime, I'll be reading for fun all I can and stress-bingeing Psych. What could be better?