Trying To Find My Aesthetic

This is going to sound a little dumb, but man, oh man, I want to know what my “aesthetic” is. 

You know. Aesthetics. I want to know what colors, textures, images, fonts, and other pretty things truly embody the essence of who I am.

It’s why I’ve changed the header photo of this blog a million and a half times–I’m always on the hunt for the perfect image/color/icon/something that captures my voice, that sums up my tastes. I don’t ever seem satisfied. I’ll probably still change the header a million times more, even after this yet-another-list-like post aims to pin down my general aesthetic, my vibe, my brand. 

I’ve never sounded more millennial. 

Let’s get to list-making. Also, maybe we’ll make a mood board or two. That could be fun

We’ll see how this goes. 

AESTHETIC One: Disney Parks (Specifically Magic Kingdom)

This is a no-brainer. Walt Disney World will forever be my most favorite place, so it’s no wonder I’m attracted to pastel colors, castles, popcorn, fireworks, that sort of thing. Let me try to capture what I’m talkin’ ’bout in a nifty little collage of pics found on multiple free stock photo sites and/or just Google Images or Pinterest or my old camera roll because why not: 

Ok, finding those photos made me realize there are subcategories to a Disney park aesthetic, but this about captures the gist. I think. 

Mickey Mouse, forever!

Aesthetic Two: Artsy Writer/Reader But not artsy in a moody way; artsy in a *cheerful* way 

So. I write. I’m currently getting my MFA in creative writing, and I’ve had some small success so far with publishing some short fiction. It’s no wonder I love typewriters, books, blank pages, notebooks, books, more books, bookshelves, knick knacks on bookshelves, office supplies, and more. You get the idea: 

Ok, in that little collage, I took three of the photos, so that’s impressive; maybe I know my aesthetic after all! Also, as you can probably tell, I really like wood–the color, the texture. Which leads me…

AESTHETIC THREE: DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM/TRAVELER/ECLECTIC/plants lol 

I love Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Everything about it. 

First, I used to work there. I was a character attendent and got to spend each and every day helping my Disney pals go on the best adventures. Second, I love Animal Kingdom’s overall atmosphere. The vibrancy of the colors, the smells of plants and soil and Flame Tree Barbeque, the park’s commitment to conservation, and the Tree of Life, an icon, a beauty. I love, love, love this place. 

To be honest, all but one of these photos are my own, so you can tell I freakin’ love, love, love, love this place so much. Maybe this is my favorite of the aesthetics? Mabye?

But wait! There’s more!

Aesthetic Four: neon lights, calm, cool, artsty, dark

This one’s new for me, but lately I’ve been drawn to this aesthetic. I’m just going to drop a collage, because it’s hard to explain:

See? Totally random. I don’t have a good explanation to why I connect to the lights, the darkness. But I do? For some reason? 

Aesthetic five: vintage things but not-too-vintage, maybe? ALSO VINTAGE DISNEY BECAUSE, *YES*

I LOVE vintage-y stuff. Like 50s/60s/70s vibes. I think it’s because I watched Mad Men for the first time this year. Also, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a show set in the late 50s/early 60s, is just fabulous.

There’s just too much great TV set in the past, and those shows have influenced me in the best way possible, mostly because the shows I’m discussing feature women kicking you-know-what and taking names!

Also, I love vintage Disney posters/art. 

To the collage! 

So this collage is a hot mess, but you get the idea. 

Also, I found the Peggy Olson print on Pinterest, and I just love it. Also, NO, I do not condone smoking (Peggy has a cigarette dangling from her mouth, you see). Remember, this was a different time! A different era! 

i think i’ll stop there 

As you can see, my tastes vary. The vibes I vibe with (gosh, do I sound millennial or what?!) differ across the board. As I look back, though, I think each aesthetic correlates with a different aspect of my life: 

  • Disney parks  = my inner self, my spiritual self. I’m optimistic to a fault (for the most part). My public persona is bubbly, smiley, all-too-happy.
  • Arsty writer/reader = my career, my goals, my aspirations. I love what I do, and these images remind me of what I am lucky to do each day. That’s cool. 
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom = my home life. Would you guys be surprised that I have an entire gallery wall dedicated to DAK?! I own a succulent! I love natural wood! My pillows are bright yellow, and I want to acquire more textured pillows!
  • The moody neon lights = I think this represents my work, my fiction writing. My stories are a little dark with flashes of humor, light. I think this is why this blog and my portfolio employs some of these images. 
  • Finally, the vintage = while I don’t really own any clothes from these eras or inspired by these eras, I find myself wishing I could pull them off. The structured peacoats = swoon. The sunglasses = adore. A good hat = need. Come to think of it, I have a few pieces like these, but gosh, I don’t know if I would be able to pull of an entire wardrobe like it. I wish, though. Also, I want a record player so badly, it’s not even funny. 

Ok, now I’m really done. Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog post written entirely in the spirit of procrastination. 

Christmas break is almost here, and I am so, so ready. 

Ok, bye! 

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I’m a Pushcart Prize Nominee (!?!)

So. My first published short story (“When the World Goes Dark” published by Glassworks literary magazine in their Spring 2018 issue) was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize

WHAT?! 

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’m so grateful for the editors at Glassworks for giving my words a home, and for choosing my story for the nomination. I know a lot of writers receive a Pushcart nomination, but this feels special to me personally. (And to other writers who have been nominated: be proud, gosh darn it!) “When the World Goes Dark” was the first story I was truly proud of, my first publication, and now it will always be my first prize nomination. I’m so happy. 

Again, thank you Glassworks editors! I’m so thrilled and honored. 

End-of-Semester Chat

HOW DID I ALMOST GO AN ENTIRE SEMESTER WITHOUT WRITING? HOW?!?

I’ll tell you how. Grad school is BUSY. And I don’t prioritize well.

So. I thought I’d hop on the blog and chat a little, provide a casual update of my life, and maybe offer some sage advice. The advice thing probably won’t happen, but we’ll see. This space is not a space in which I plan my content. I have all of graduate school and my fiction writing for that. This space is my space to write what comes to mind as I go. It’s my free space. My happy place. 

So. What’s new? Or what’s not new? Here’s a list of what comes to mind:

  • I’ve got my adviser, my committee, and my plan of study APPROVED! I’m on track to graduate with my master’s in the spring of 2020 (my program is a three-year program). 
  • I think I have an idea of what I want to do after my master’s, but that’s not important now. 
  • I’ve given up eating bread for the most part, and for some weird reason, I feel like this has changed my life for the better. I haven’t given bread up completely (I love pizza and cheeseburgers too much), but I’ve cut back on the stuff quite a bit. 
  • I’ve started running again. I’ve been keeping track of my workouts on Instagram. It’s fun! I feel better! 
  • I’ve been planning/writing my thesis. It’s going to be a collection of short stories, and the thought of putting it all together before approximately February 2020 both thrills and terrifies me. 
  • I’ve almost read 50 total books this year! I’m hoping to get to 50 by the time 2019 rolls around. 
  • Teaching this semester has been a total dream. My students are FANTASTIC. I’m also more comfortable with myself as an instructor. I put stickers on their rough drafts and, I don’t know, I feel like myself when I lecture. It’s fun.  
  • I’m gonna end this list because I’m rambling. 

In short, things are good.

Now for the advice, maybe. I’m not going to go into detail, but if you’re feeling down or unhappy about yourself (any aspect of yourself), make the conscious decision to do something about it. I’ve tried to do this over the semester, and I feel it’s working. I just feel good. It’s hard to explain, but really it’s simple. I’m doing good, feeling good. 

Now that we’ve chatted briefly, I should get back to doing something about my to-do list. I have some stuff to get done by the end of the semester (obviously), so I need to actually go and do that stuff. T-minus two weeks until winter break, however. Ah. So excited. 

I hope everyone and anyone reading this is having a lovely day. You’re great, I believe in you, and December is going to be your month. And, if it’s not, the next month will be your month. And the next. And so on. 

You get the idea. 

Okay. Bye! 

“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.” 

-From Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Manifesto-of-Sorts

The semester starts in a week! THANK GOODNESS! I LOVE GRAD SCHOOL!

(I really, really do.)

I’ve been lesson planning, writing, reading recreationally, and getting my life together. It’s always a fun time when “getting your life together” is on the agenda.

Getting my life together involves errand-running and goal-setting. In this post, I’d thought I’d write down a few goals, even though some aren’t really concrete. Some are super vague, and most you can’t check off a list.

So this reads more like a little manifesto, I think. Unless I’m getting the definition of “manifesto” confused with something else. Oh well.

So. During this school year, this semester, and this life, I vow to…

  1. Stand taller, speak louder, and cut I’m sorry and I don’t know from my vocabulary. Or at least limit those phrases to situations that actually call for them.
  2. Take failure as it comes and handle it with grace. Accept that it’s a part of the ‘biz and life and everything.
  3. Celebrate every victory, big or small. Maybe with some cake (but not too much).
  4. Work my you-know-what off every single day.
  5. Rest and relax and do what I love every single day.
  6. Read for my craft.
  7. Read for my enjoyment.
  8. Send snail mail to people, because I’ve realized I love writing letters and I want to spread more ink-smeared magic.
  9. Smile more.
  10. Say, “Yes!” more.
  11. Say, “No!” when it’s best for me.
  12. Find so much joy in the opportunity I’ve been given to learn and teach and write.
  13. Go to [restaurant that is famous in college town], because I feel like it’s essential to the whole experience of living in [college town].
  14. Maybe exercise some. (Really, Kaila. EXERCISE SOME.)
  15. Take pride in my work, take pride in the process, and take pride in the ideas that pop into my head. Because sometimes I have some good ones.

I hope everyone is having a happy day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Kids Baking Championship. Baked goods and cute kids = a winning combo for television.

Ha. Okay. Goodbye now.

When I Think of Summer 2018…

My summer’s almost come to an end–it’s almost time for workshops, writing, lesson planning, grading, meetings, readings, etc. It’s almost time for my second year of grad school to commence.

Oh man. I’m so excited for the upcoming semester.

And while I’m excited for what’s ahead, I wanted to write a little post about this summer, about the little moments that have become memories.

So. When I think of the summer of 2018–

I’ll think of purchasing bubbles for a dollar and sitting in the backyard nightly, blowing bubbles for Ellie (my pup) to chase.

I’ll think of reading so much and learning so much for my craft. This summer I truly discovered the complex joy that is literary fiction.

I’ll think of large Diet Cokes with vanilla from Sonic, purchased almost every single day during happy hour.

I’ll think of the week I spent with my best friend up in South Dakota and Iowa, in which we talked and drove and talked and bid on pies and ate s’mores and went on a wagon ride to which I said, “It’s like Kilimanjaro Safaris of South Dakota!”

I’ll also think of the soundtrack Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and miles and miles of corn fields.

I’ll think of finally seeing Waitress after more than a year of obsessing over the soundtrack and the story. Sweet smells (that lobby, though!), sweet pie, sweet experience.

Side note: when can I see another musical?!

I’ll think of trekking to the local library almost every day to write fiction (hopefully the start of my thesis…ahh!) among the books, huge wireless pink headphones spitting the newest Carousel revival soundtrack into my ears, the songs “Mister Snow” and “If I Loved You” always on repeat. So soothing. So nuanced. So great.

I’ll think of finally writing more for this blog after months of being stuck.

I’ll think of The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men, the two shows I watched religiously over the summer. Elisabeth Moss is a master, and the characters she portrays are incredible.

Side note: from now on, whenever I’m feeling a little glum/not confident when it comes to my work, I’ll ask myself, “What would Peggy Olson do?” She’s amazing. 

I’ll think of the sleep I lost because I stayed up late watching The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men. 

(Ha. I love television, don’t you?)

I’ll think of my re-discovering the gloriousness that is Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (is that how you spell it?!) ice cream.

I’ll think of barn swallow nests and bird watching.

And, finally, I’ll think of spending time with the people I love most.

It was a good summer, indeed.

Twentysomething Thoughts

The following post contains twentysomething thoughts unique to my own experience, inspired by a real-life middle-of-the-night existential crisis. 

Enjoy!

***

Does anyone still feel like they’re perpetually sixteen? Or is it just me?

Should I know how to do [insert random thing you don’t know how to do] by now? (For me, personally? I don’t know how to change a tire. Or the oil. Or fix a toilet or a toaster. Or anything.  Isn’t that what AAA is for? And management? Or am I pathetic?)

Do I look “old?” Or could I pass for a college junior/senior? I mean, I am in grad school… it’s still school, am I right?

I think I look old. I spot crow’s feet. I need moisturizer, stat!

I remember when I was in high school and my friends and I were just sittin’ around chattin’ during lunch about our futures, and I remember thinking, okay, by the time I’m 24/25 there will definitely be a guy I’ve either married or am about to marry, and I’ll have a real job, and maybe a little house and for sure a dog or two, and I’ll be thinking about kids by the time I’m thirty, for sure. 

Isn’t that hilarious?

I mean, if you do have that–good for you. Truly. That’s awesome.

I just can’t imagine that right now. For me, at least–it’s scary. So permanent.

I do have a dog. Ellie. That’s something. My goodness, I love her. Do you want to see a picture? You do? Okay, then! Here you go:

Back to this permanence thing–I think that’s what scares me most. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered I like things to change, I like to move around and mix it up. My dreams change, my address changes, my taste in clothes changes, etc.

So when it’s time to “settle down,” will I be ready for it? Could I live in one place forever and ever? Could I do the same thing every day forever?

Is anyone ever really ready for it?

Shouldn’t I be content with permanence? Shouldn’t routine be a comfort? A joy? Only some are lucky enough to have it, I guess.

Okay, this next one is serious:

Do I need a signature shade of lipstick?

The thing is, even though I’m mostly just a chapstick kind of gal, there’s a part of me that loves the idea of a signature lip shade, perfume, scarf, etc. Having a signature anything–now that’s something, isn’t it? Isn’t that the epitome of being a grown-up, a woman in charge?

Maybe I’ll look into it. The signature lip, I mean.

What if I always feel unsure of everything? Why do I always say, “I’m sorry,” or “I don’t know,” after every dang sentence? I’ve noticed I try to qualify everything that comes out of my mouth. I know what I think; why do I feel like I have to apologize for thinking it?

You know what’s sad/funny? I’m obsessed with presentability. I want every aspect of my life to be presentable. Acceptable.

It’s funny because I claim not to be.

I want to be acceptable. Normal. Me. My apartment. My clothes. My car. My bag. The stickers on my laptop.

Am I too old to have stickers on my laptop?

Is anyone ever really “too old?” I mean, whenever I say, “I feel so old,” to my mom, she just rolls her eyes and says, “Kaila. You are not old.”

And I don’t think she is either.

Don’t we all want to get super, super old? Isn’t that the goal, ultimately? So why do we worry about the whole age thing? Shouldn’t people just be people no matter the number of years they’ve lived?

So there’s no “too old,” or even a “too young,” right? Or is there?

I don’t know.

There I am, saying (typing), “I don’t know,” again. Oops.

One thing’s for sure: I am in my twenties, and I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

Except for quesadillas. I know how to make quesadillas. And pasta. And scrambled eggs.

And that’s something.

 

Goin’ For an MFA–Reflections from my First Year

This post also contains a sprinkling of advice–even though, you know, I still feel like a newbie at this whole grad school thing. Ha. Enjoy!

So! You’ve been accepted to pursue your MFA in creative writing. Woohoo! I’m proud of you, internet stranger!

Now, if you’re anything like me, you are scouring the internet for advice/experiences/blog posts/etc. by people like me, people actually in an MFA program doing the whole grad school thing. You’re nervous, excited, anxious, happy, free, confused, and lonely (thanks T-Swift), all at the same time!

I was in your shoes a year ago. I had no clue what I was doing, so I Googled incessantly and nightly trying to figure it all out.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I hope my reflections/ramblings can give you some insight before you start, especially if you are like me–let me tell you, I am not kidding when I say I had no flippin’ clue what an MFA entailed.

Here goes nothing! Please enjoy this list of things/feelings I experienced during my first year as an MFA candidate.

Imposter Syndrome

Every moment. Every day.

You’ll feel like you don’t belong. Like they let you in on accident. If you’re semi-fresh out of undergrad (me) and your classmates are older and more experienced, you’ll feel so naive and clueless during a workshop. Maybe you won’t know what to say, how to do the workshop thing. I didn’t. I had no experience prior to the MFA–I was a literature major, so I just analyzed the heck out of really old novels and poems and plays but never asked how/why a story worked.

So every workshop felt like a whole bunch of “What the heck am I doing here? Can I DO THIS? Can I say this? Will I sound stupid?!”

My advice to confront imposter syndrome? Just roll with it. Truly. After a full year, I still feel unsure of myself as an artist most of the time, but isn’t that with everything? As I enter my second year, I’m trying to embrace this uncertainty. And after talking with my cohort, I can almost guarantee you that almost everyone deals with this feeling. An MFA program can be an intimidating/competitive place, but just know even the best feel like imposters.

Solidarity!

Criticism–& Lots of It 

Oh, gosh. I was prepared for all the criticism, but, then again, I was in no way prepared for it all.

Ha. Haha. You and your stories will get torn to shreds at one point–even the most talented writers in our program have endured a horrible workshop. I’ve suffered a few, I admit. The worst is looking at written comments after the fact and reliving the humiliation.

Okay, okay. It’s not that bad. It just depends on your perspective.

Every bit of criticism helps you become better, helps your stories become stronger. We’re all just here to become our best (and maybe, I don’t know, get published and get tenure-track positions one day, yes?), so every little bit of constructive criticism helps.

As a class goes on, you learn to filter the comments–you almost know whose comments you can “trust,” and you cling to their advice, their margin comments.

A little piece of advice? Find friends you can commiserate with. If you have a bad workshop, it almost always helps to laugh about it afterward with a friend. Make fun of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously. We’re all in an MFA program to learn and get better–why stress so much when you come up short?

(P.S. I’m still trying to actively live my own advice–HA.)

Speaking of Friends

Find you some. Be social, at least a bit. Talk to people in your office, if you have an office. That’s an order.

During my first semester, I wasn’t so keen on being social. I felt too busy, too overwhelmed. Also, my dog had stomach problems and big vet bills, so that didn’t help.

My second semester, however, I did stuff. With people. Usually just dinner, and, toward the end of the semester, game nights, including a round of Dungeons and Dragons.

Side note: I had no idea how fun D&D could be. Holy cow.

Anyway.

My point: friends can help you feel not so alone in all of this. All of my friends are in the English department, creative writing or otherwise. We all share the fourth floor of the English building as TAs, we all teach sections of Comp, we all come from different walks of life and different parts of the country/world. It’s a wonderful feeling to talk to people who are going through the same things you are–you learn from your friends, you have fun with your friends.

My advice: just talk to people in your classes. Go to mixers. To pizza nights. To readings. Don’t be afraid to say “yes.” Know when you need to say “no,” but, man. Say “yes” every once in a while. It could lead to some awesome experiences.

Me Time: Take Some

Friends are essential, but so is a little thing called “me time.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like your whole life is consumed by the MFA–there is so much to do between writing, preparing to teach, teaching, office hours, obligations such as readings, meetings, etc., and writing center hours (at least if your program is like mine, with funding etc.). The MFA is a job, so it makes sense that I’m talking about a little work/life balance.

Find hobbies outside of your field. This is proving difficult for me–I love reading, I love writing, but I know I need something away from it all. Walking my dog and cooking dinner–in that order–have become my solace. I listen to music (mostly musical soundtracks because I can’t seem to break away from storytelling completely) and podcasts, and I tie up my shoes and strap in Ellie (dog) and we set off around the block. When we return home, I make something simple for dinner (all while listening to music or a Podcast still), and I either sing my heart out or laugh out loud to whatever Podcast I’m listening to (usually @GilmoreGuys, because I’m still obsessed with Gilmore Girls). This time away from the books, from students, from grading–from thinking–helps so much.

Find something outside of the MFA that you enjoy. The MFA is not your whole life–it’s what you do, not who you are.

Ha. I’m so cheesy.

Submit! Submit! Submit!

The MFA is your chance to spend 2-3 years on your craft with the guidance and help of your cohort and professors. Why not actively try to get published in the meantime?

When I say “submit,” I mean to submit to literary magazines, contests, journals, etc. I’m saying this because a year ago I definitely had no idea what this whole “submitting” process was like–I couldn’t tell you any small presses, magazines, etc. Remember: me = clueless.

Get a Submittable account–it’s free, and you can easily discover new opportunities and submit to places and keep track of your submissions all on one site! A ton of journals only operate through Submittable, so it’s almost essential. Also, if you want to invest a bit of money, get a Duotrope account–I believe it’s $50 for the entire year, and it is wonderful. You can search journals based on acceptance rates, etc. You can also search for individual magazines and check your chances of acceptance and see how long it takes on average to hear a response.

I’m guilty of checking Duotrope every day. It’s probably unhealthy, but hey.

Once you start submitting, be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Also, be prepared for rejections galore. Don’t worry–it’s normal. Although it can hurt, every rejection feels like a step towards an acceptance.

My philosophy? Submit without abandon, often and plenty. You never know what will come of it. In my first year, I have been published once, and I’m always hoping another acceptance is around the corner.

Enjoy

And, in true Kaila fashion, let’s end this post on an extra-cheesy note!

While pursuing an MFA can be stressful, intimidating, and competitive, it’s been such a great experience so far. I’m surrounded by ambitious people just like me, by people who love to discuss their art and books and other nerdy things. I’ve tried to soak up every minute of academic bliss–sometimes I pinch myself because I realize I’m still a student, one of my favorite things to be. I get to walk around on a campus that’s buzzing with potential and dreams not yet realized. I get to teach students just starting their own journeys, see them grow as college students and as writers. I get to become the best writer I can be, and I’m surrounded by accomplished faculty who are on my side. I get to write fiction; I get to be completely immersed in worlds and characters I create. I get to attend readings by accomplished authors and ask them my questions, pick their brains.

It’s fantastic.

Enjoy your MFA experience. Don’t stress. You got this, internet stranger.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go kick some you-know-what!

For more advice/posts from fellow MFA candidates, check out the blog “The MFA Years.” It’s a wonderful; I’m pretty sure I make up half of the traffic to the site. 

“Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Cheese Curds”

Alternate title: “My Week of Christmas Trees, Red Barns, and Midwestern Charm.”

Hey, blog.

As you can tell by the two titles, I’ve just returned from a vacation in the Midwest. My best friend from the DCP lives in northwest Iowa and eastern South Dakota, so I was so excited to finally make the trek up north to visit her and her family!

Also, as you can tell from my “trek up north” comment, I do not reside in the Midwest, so everything I experienced was so. Much. Fun. And new! And adorable. And eccentric. All wonderful–magical, even. Charming as heck.

For reference, I like to think of myself as a Texoman–I divide time between the Lone Star State and Oklahoma. (Yeehaw, I guess?) I say “Y’all” religiously, Whataburger spicy ketchup runs through my veins, and I know my state songs forwards and backwards, partly due to overt/obnoxious pride, and partly because we were required to learn “Texas, Our Texas” in the fourth grade. I sang the song in front of the class, as did every little Texan in my school.

I digress.

Let me tell you, I love experiencing new places, especially new regions of our country. In the past, I’ve fully experienced the deep South, Florida, and Texas/the lower Midwest (what I call Oklahoma), but I had never really experienced a place like Iowa/South Dakota. As I was driving north, I noticed some differences in the physicality of the land.

First: Christmas trees. Evergreens! Everywhere! On farms! Beside the road! Just chillin’!

I couldn’t stop saying, “Look at all these Christmas trees!” I loved them so much–Allyssa’s (my friend) childhood home had so many just hanging out in the yard, so that alone could make a girl happy.

But there’s more.

Did you know red barns exist? That they’re not just on postcards? Or on Thomas Kincade prints?

Red barns, my friends, actually do existUsually in an idyllic little grove in the middle of corn fields, as did most of the farms I saw. When I got closer and closer to Allyssa’s homestead, it was late afternoon, stupidly (perfectly) sunny, and my head kept swiveling to-and-fro to catch glimpses of these perfect little barns, some stamped with a decoration that indicates they are part of a “century farm,” a farm that has been in the same family for at least one hundred years.

Can you believe that? I don’t know where I’ll be in two years, and these folks and their family have been running a farm for more than one hundred. (!!!)

Of course, I knew red barns existed before this trip, but where I’m from, most of the barns I see are abandoned and collapsing by the side of the road–I’m from Texas, yes, but not in an area dominated by farmers and/or ranchers. I’m a suburb gal, so the sight of these red barns–bright red, trimmed with white, beautiful, clean and pretty barns–made me so happy.

Let’s move on to the different attractions I experienced. I’ll give you a quick rundown:

Obscure museums, tours, a corn palace (yes, you read that right), a small-town Fourth of July parade, fireworks, a stop at a cathedral (I’m still a Catholic school girl at heart), walks around an entire town (because it’s that small), bingo, a pie auction, and quality chill time with my best friend and her family.

There was probably more–we did so much during my short visit.

Let me discuss the most quirky/charming/wonderful activities, because this trip was chock-full.

The Corn Palace. Yes. It’s what you think it is. In Mitchell, South Dakota, there’s a big building that’s covered in corn, corn husks, and other corn bits. The corn composes intricate murals that interpret the theme of the year. This year’s theme is “South Dakota Weather,” so the Corn Palace was covered in murals depicting snow, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and more. The Corn Palace is one of those iconic roadside attractions–like the world’s largest Ketchup bottle, or ball of yarn, or polyurethane cow (anyone watch The Middle?!)–and, let me tell you, I’m a sucker for that stuff. I live for all things quirky, and I love a good gift shop.

It was no surprise I went nuts for the Corn Palace. I bought a hat and three postcards. The hat is now my most treasured possession.

The Corn Palace = a-MAIZE-ing.

Ha. Haha.

Let’s talk about the pie auction. It is possible, out of everything Allyssa and I experienced, that the pie auction was my most favorite.

A little background: I was in town for Allyssa’s hometown’s Freedom Days, a weekend full of Fourth of July themed fun. There are tons of fundraisers that happen for Freedom Days, and the pie auction is one of them. The proceeds help pay for next year’s fireworks display (which was incredible, by the way; #thankyoupies).

The gist: people in town bake pies, a real auctioneer auctions them off, and the bidding starts at $50.

Yes. $50.

I CANNOT BEGIN TO EXPRESS HOW INCREDIBLE THIS EXPERIENCE WAS. Pies went for $100! $200! $300! $400! $500!

The biggest bid?

$1,025!

I KNOW, RIGHT?

Apparently, this bid holds the record as the largest in the town’s history. To be a part of this historic night was magic. I even bid on a pie (thank you to Allyssa’s dad for being the sweetest ever), and came home the winner of a S’mores concoction.

Victory tastes sweet.

Speaking of food–let’s talk about FOOD. Midwestern food.

Here are food/restaurants I savored while experiencing the Midwest to its fullest:

  • Culver’s (Hello, Cheese Curds! I LOVE CHEESE CURDS! Those things just don’t exist down here.)
  •  Pizza Ranch. Delicious.
  • Culver’s frozen custard.
  • There was more, but for some reason, I can’t remember.
  • Oh, yeah! Allyssa’s fam cooked brats (my first time trying those, and holy cow, so good), burgers with the best-tasting beef, and “barbeque,” which is our version of Sloppy Joes. All delicious.
  • And Taco John’s. I find the whole concept of Potatoe Oles wonderful/wacky–remember, I’m a Texan, and we think our Tex-Mex can do no wrong.
  • Okay, I still think that. BUT. I loved Taco John’s and its “West-Mex.” Apparently, that’s a thing.

Overall, experiencing some of the cuisines of the Midwest proved fun, tasty, and new-to-me. I loved it.

The best part of the Midwest?

The people, of course. Adorable accents and all (everyone had an accent–Midwesterners seem to skip over their vowels altogether, at least compared to us Southerners. Also, the vernacular: “Pop” instead of “soda” or “Coke,” phrases like “shoot a pickle!” [FAV], and more. Oh, I could dissect dialects ALL DAY).

The people are so nice. I felt so welcome by everyone–Allyssa’s family (I love y’all), the townspeople, our tour guides on our many excursions, etc. There’s a lyric from “Iowa Stubborn” (from the musical The Music Man) that sums up the people of the Midwest perfectly:

“But we’ll give you our shirt/ And a back to go with it/ If your crops should happen to die.”

Good, good people with the biggest hearts. What more can I say?

Thank you, Allyssa and fam, for being my hosts and my guides to all things Iowa/South Dakota. Not only was last week a week for catching up with my best friend, it was a week of new adventures and new experiences. I had the most incredible time.
Now, if you excuse me, I’ll be here craving cheese curds for the rest of the year. They are just so dang good.

Favorite Feelings

The first day of a vacation, i.e. what today is for me. (I’m coming for ya, Allyssa and Iowa and South Dakota!)

The first sip of a large Diet Coke with vanilla from Sonic, because it’s extra vanilla-y.

Reading in a pool, your body half-submerged as the sun warms your shoulders and arms.

When you flip on the Food Network and the Pioneer Woman is on. She’s fantastic.

The crunch of a tortilla chip dripping with creamy jalapeño sauce from Chuy’s. UGH. I melt.

A perfectly clean room.

When you sit down to write and your brain actually spits out ideas.

The first time you listen to an album or a song, and you end up loving it. It’s the magic of listening to lyrics for the first time, you know?

When you used to work at Disney World and you visit for the first time in over a year, and Russell from Up remembers you and walks you to the Wilderness Explorer Clubhouse. (Oh, Disney. I MISS YOU.)

Receiving snail mail from your friends. Just sayin’ hi.

Sitting between the shelves of the local library, writing. You feel so official.

Actually seeing–not FaceTiming, not texting–your best friend for the first time in months. (Tomorrow, tomorrow!)

The tickle of your dog’s tongue on your nose.

Watching baby birds evolve: from aliens to gargoyles to feathered gargoyles to real life birds.

Long drives by yourself. You sing at the top of your lungs and no one judges you when you zone out to think about life and stuff.

And on that drive, you’re able to think of new story ideas and blog posts (like this one) and you feel energized and creative and productive!

And, finally, the satisfaction that comes with writing your thoughts down. There’s nothing better.

“She’s Imperfect, But She Tries…”

Hey friends. What’s up? How’s it going? Long time, no write!

(Do I say this before every blog post? Yes. Yes I do.)

I wanted to blog a bit about my experience seeing my favorite musical as of late: Waitress. I recently (like yesterday recently, at least at the moment I’m typing this) saw the touring production, and holy moly, I was so blown away; it was everything I imagined and so much more. I’ve been listening to the original cast recording for some time now, and to see the story come to life on stage was all sorts of magic.

A little background on the musical, if you’ve never heard of it:

  • Created by Broadway’s first all-female creative team (#girlpower)
  • Music was written by Sara Bareilles
  • Based on the 2007 movie by the late Adrienne Shelly
  • The story charms the pants off of you and gives you all the #feels (at least in my experience)

Why do I love this musical so much?

Last year, before grad school, when I was living at home after the Disney College Program, working two jobs, and trying to figure out what the heck I was doing with my life (ha), I “discovered” the Waitress Tony performance on a late night YouTube binge of Hamilton vids. (Because I had just “discovered” that show, too. Ha. Haha. I’m always late to the game).

The last song of the performance, “She Used to Be Mine,” was performed by Sara Bareilles and Jessie Mueller, and it broke me in the best way. Long story short, on that night more than a year ago, that song (“She Used to Be Mine”) and Jessie Mueller’s performance reminded me of my mom, the strongest woman I know. The resolution of the musical also reminds me of my mom–she has always puts her girls (my sister and me) first, and I love her so much for it.

I spent that night bawling all by my lonesome in my childhood bedroom, and then I promptly downloaded the album. The music became the soundtrack to my day: “Opening Up” and “Everything Changes” for the morning commute, “Bad Idea” for my weekend jogs, “A Soft Place to Land” for shower singing, and “She Used to be Mine” for literally anytime, anywhere. Since starting my MFA last August, the music of Waitress has become a go-to writing soundtrack and inspiration for my own characters in my stories–I focus on women’s experiences and relationships (especially sister and mother-daughter relationships), and the music puts me in the perfect mindset to bring my characters to life.

Let me tell you, actually seeing this beautiful production was such a joy. This musical has everything–I laughed (so much), I cried, and my heart soared. (Can we talk about how cheesy that sentence was?)

I also had an incredible view: fourth row (the best I’ve ever had during a performance/concert/etc.). Also, the couple in front of me didn’t come back after intermission (why, though?!), so I COULD SEE SO WELL for Act II. I COULD SEE THE ACTORS’ FACES so CLEARLY.

This, my friends, is a very big deal to me.

If you have a chance to see this musical, do it. It’s heartwarming, heartwrenching, and an overall wonderful experience. If you love stories about real, good people just trying to do their best, you gotta see Waitress. 

Also there’s pie. Who doesn’t love pie?!