PNWonderland

There are few things I love more in this world than the Pacific Northwest, affectionately known as PNWonderland. I first traveled to the PNW in the summer of 2015 in order to visit my friend Sarah who had settled in Vancouver, Washington after we graduated from college. Vancouver, WA (not to be confused with Vancouver, BC, which is several hours up the road) is situated right across the river from Portland, OR,  about an hour and a half away from the coast, and about 3 hours south from Seattle, WA, making it the perfect location for an extensive look at all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

During my 11 day stay in the PNW, I walked through lush gardens and breathtaking parks, hiked up to the bridge at Multnomah Falls, gazed up at Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, visited Astoria (the town of The Goonies fame), explored Pike Place Market in Seattle, drank more delicious coffee and cocktails than I knew what to do with, and constantly got swept away by the awe-inspiring views of mountains, pines, and rivers everywhere I turned. It was absolutely impossible not to fall in love with such a place.

In particular, I really love Portland. I love how small it feels for a large city, and how many areas of downtown feel like quiet, quaint neighborhoods. I love the Rose Test Garden, and the Japanese Garden, and Powell’s City of Books. I love the “biker” bars, brunch spots, coffee shops, and the aesthetics of the city. I love McMenamin’s, a series of unusual pubs and bars often housed in converted buildings, like an elementary school (McMenamin’s Kennedy School) and a farm (McMenamin’s Edgefield). I love McMenamin’s delicious food, odd decor, delightful atmosphere, and how it never fails to feel like home.

I have never experienced any other place like the Pacific Northwest. I have never seen anywhere so uniquely beautiful, nor have I ever felt such a strong sense of belonging in a place that was entirely new to me. I have been back to the Pacific Northwest once since my initial trip, but it was only for a few days and situated entirely in Seattle, so it did not entirely satisfy the yearnings of my heart to be back in PNWonderland. So, whenever I encounter a quiet moment, I find my mind drifting to a place of crisp mountain air, dark pines, glistening rivers, and the best damn coffee I’ve ever had.

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That Lush Life

Anyone who really knows me knows that I’m not really a big spender. There are only a few things I will willingly spend money on for myself, and I very rarely splurge on “luxury” items. So, for me to regularly drop some serious cash at Lush, you know it has to be good stuff.

I was first introduced to Lush in college by my friend Sarah who lived in Portland, Oregon during the summers. By that time, Lush was already all the rage in Portland and was steadily growing in popularity across the country. Once I finally got to try it for myself, I could see why. I was immediately hooked.

If you are unfamiliar with Lush, allow this to serve as your formal introduction. Made famous on Tumblr because of their colorful bath bombs, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics is a Canadian company specializing in handmade, organic, self-preserving, and vegan bath and beauty products. I love Lush because it is all-natural, concerned with human and animal welfare, and environmentally conscious. Oh, and they make kick-ass products that smell great and really, really work. Here are some of my Lush must-haves:

5. “Honey Trap” lip balm – this ain’t your little sister’s lip balm. I have never used a lip balm as nourishing and glossy as this one. While Lush has a variety of different lip balms, this particular one is my favorite because of its honey scent and the fact that it is less grainy than other ones I’ve tried.

4.  “It’s Raining Men” shower gel – Lush’s shower gel is amazing. It lathers really well, so a little dab goes a long way. This means that a large bottle lasts, like, forever. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love Lush’s honey-based products, so “It’s Raining Men” is my favorite, but there are several other scents to choose from.

3. “Tree Tea Water” toner – the tea tree toner water is a fantastic product to invest in for these hot, humid Ohio summer days. This toner balances skin tone, combats excess oils, and prevents breakouts without drying out your skin. You can even keep it in the fridge for an extra-cool spritz throughout the day.

2. “Buffy” body butter bar – the “Buffy” bar is a block of pure magic. This bar exfoliates and moisturizes at the same time, making it the perfect product to have on hand after a shower. It is particularly useful on legs after shaving because it helps to soothe the skin and prevent irritation.

1. Shampoo bar (various) – this is the product that first got me started on Lush and my number one must-have. The shampoo bar is literally a solid round of shampoo that you slide over your hair like a bar of soap. It lathers right up, lasts much longer than a standard bottle of shampoo, and leaves your hair feeling and smelling fantastic. There are a ton of different bars to choose from, ranging from ones that help with specific concerns (dandruff, oily scalp, hair loss, etc.) to ones that are purely meant to clean well and smell great.

So, there you have it! While these are my biggest must-haves, Lush has a huge selection of products for men and women alike. If you are interested in learning more about Lush, check out lushusa.com or visit your nearest Lush store. If you’re a Daytonian like me, the closest Lush location is at the new Liberty Center near West Chester, with other locations at Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati and Easton Town Center in Columbus. Regardless of which location you choose, I can guarantee you will encounter friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful employees, as well as plenty of in-store demonstrations and free samples! So check out Lush today!

 

Ode to Odious Summer

Ode to Odious Summer

I hate summer. Really, truly hate it.

For most people, this public announcement of hatred probably seems blasphemous. I feel like most people would easily claim summer as their favorite season. Warm weather, bright sunshine, long days, warm nights, pools and beaches and outdoor festivities galore. Who on earth could possibly hate summer?

This girl, that’s who.

I could honestly do without the hot weather, the bright sunshine, and all of that other summer silliness. I’m the queen of sweaters and sweatshirts, so anything above sixty-five degrees is less than ideal. When these lazy summer days creep up into the eighties and nineties with that fabulous Ohio humidity, there’s nothing I want to do less than, like, go outside. I’d take a chilly November day over glorious summertime anytime.

It would probably be unfair of me not to mention that I am completely biased in this discussion because I am head-over-heels in love with autumn. What’s not to love about autumn? Colorful leaves, cute sweaters, chilly bonfire nights, cozy candle scents, pumpkin spice lattes, hayrides, Halloween…the list could go on and on. Fall is so invigorating; I always feel like my power is at its peak then.

Does that make me sound like an autumnal witch? Maybe. Do I care? No.

So, while normal people are soaking up the sunshine, relishing the warm weather, and enjoying every possible moment of the summer season, I’m left daydreaming about my favorite sweatshirt, McCall’s S’mores country candles, and the misty, chilly nights of October.

How many days until Halloween?

 

Humble Beginnings

As the semester begins to wind down to a close, I find myself reflecting on how I’ve gotten to where I am today.

As lame as it sounds, I honestly wouldn’t be an adjunct today if it wasn’t for Harry Potter. Without Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with teaching. I might not have majored in English. Heck, my entire life might have looked quite different if HP had never existed.

Allow me to explain.

I was first introduced to Harry Potter at the age on nine, when my third grade teacher began reading the first book to us. As we moved through Sorcerer’s Stone, I quickly became enamored with the magical world-building, the lovable characters, and the suspenseful storyline. Once we finished Sorcerer’s Stone, Ms. Masten moved onto Chamber of Secrets, and I was completely in love by the end of the year.

From that point, I started to read more and more. I read the third and fourth books, then I began looking for something else that could excite and inspire me as much as HP. While I found other books I loved over time, nothing could quite fill the Harry Potter-shaped space in my heart. Determined, I became an insatiable reader.

Around the same period of time, I began writing my first short stories. I figured that if I couldn’t find the books that were as good as HP, then I would write them. I quickly discovered that I loved writing just as much, if not more, than I loved reading. Every time a subsequent Harry Potter book would come out or I would encounter another excellent series, I just felt more and more motivated to write. By seventh grade, I was working on an elaborate book series and a handful of other written projects.

Needless to say, I have not become a best-selling author or anything like that (yet…), but my interest in writing fiction prompted me to major in English in my undergraduate studies. In college, Harry Potter became the quickest and easiest way to make new friends, especially with other English majors. We geeked out over our favorite moments, bonded at midnight movie releases, and took our Hogwarts houses very seriously. My friends’ house was even deemed the Hufflepuff Common Room, and they had a giant Hufflepuff crest fixated above their faux fireplace in their campus house.

By the end of college, I was still determined that writing fiction was what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to both MFA (fine arts programs in creative writing) and MA (regular English) graduate programs, and got accepted into one of each. After a lot of deliberation, I ended up deciding to stay at my undergrad institution and earn my MA so that I could apply to higher-caliber MFA programs later on. I was offered a teaching assistantship to fund my graduate studies, which meant that I would be teaching sophomore-level composition my second year in the program.

Sophomore-level composition at my university is theme-based, meaning that each individual instructor’s class is a different theme. I had a whole semester to design a course around whatever theme I liked, and I, of course, picked Harry Potter. The course was titled “From Hogwarts to the Humanities” and had units on identity, gender studies, religious studies, and philosophy, all connected to HP. When I finally got to teach the class in my second year, it was even more amazing than I had expected. I loved going to class every single day and reading all the great insights my students were bringing to the HP series in their writing and research. On the last day of the semester, one of the students asked if we could take a “family” photo. It was in that final class period, as we shed tears over a nostalgic HP tribute video and the end of our time together, that I knew I wanted to teach composition for the rest of my life. It probably goes without saying that, when I finished my Master’s degree, my graduation party was also HP themed!

So, while the concept may sound strange, Harry Potter truly changed my life. It impacted my hobbies, my friendships, and my career path. Without The Boy Who Lived, my life would look very, very different. Thank you, J.K. Rowling!

 

An Oregon Adventure

An Oregon Adventure

The forty-minute drive seemed to stretch on for hours as we barreled down the coastal highway. Erin and I fidgeted in the backseat of the Subaru as Robert yawned from the passenger seat, his thumb tracing patterns on Sarah’s shoulder as she drove.

When I had first planned my trip to the Pacific Northwest, the impending moment was one of the things I had been looking forward to the most. For years, Erin and I had swapped idyllic photographs of our destination on social media and at family gatherings, daydreaming of the day we would finally behold the sight with our own eyes. And, finally, here we were, just a short drive through the pines away.

I’ll never forget the moment that the road curved against the mountain side and the coast first came into sight. Massive rock formations jutted out of the water, Haystack Rock rising above the rest. Anticipation swelled within my chest. I couldn’t wait to get down there.

Of course, the wait was still a little longer than expected. Wrong turns sent us up a mountain to the entrance of Ecola State Park. Then, when we finally made it down into the coastal town of Cannon Beach, the parking situation was horrendous. Sarah circled the parking lot, a vulture in wait, until a spot finally opened.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you see something in real life that you can’t accurately process as reality? That’s how I felt when I first crawled out of the back of the SUV and into the sunshine and salt-air. Unbeknownst to any of us, Sarah had managed to park right next to Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop I had seen online in my trip research but never thought I would easily find. Seagulls swooped across the skies above us, cawing at their mates. Haystack Rock was absolutely massive, looming ominously over everything. As I sipped my Sleepy Monk coffee and headed down the boardwalk to the beach, I felt like I was drifting through a dream world.

When our feet hit the sand, Erin and I both had to pause for a moment and just take it all in. Neither of us had ever seen the Pacific Ocean. Hell, Erin had never been west of Chicago before. Rocky coastlines and cold ocean water were foreign to us. The four of us strolled along the beach, heading toward the giant rock of The Goonies fame.

Tide pools peppered the area around the base of the rocks as sea birds strutted along the shore. Children squealed as the ice-cold Pacific water danced across their toes. Mussel-covered rocks held secret hiding places for colorful starfish, and the sudden rushes of freezing water nearly knocked us down as we tried to snap a few pictures. Waves crashed against the rock formations, sending sea spray high into the air. I had never seen anything so beautiful and frightening all at once.

After a few hours, we finally had to head back to Portland. As we left the beach, I gave one last wistful look at the magical, mysterious Haystack Rock. I stared out the window as we drove through the center of town back towards the highway, taking in the quaint bed-and-breakfasts and cozy seaside shops. I had never been anywhere like this before, and I knew, someday, I would make it back here again.

 

Identity Crisis

Even as a published scholar who has been teaching writing for several years and formally studying English for even longer, I still struggle sometimes with identifying myself as a “Writer.”

I started writing short stories around the age of nine, a habit that persisted all throughout middle school and high school. I had a reputation for always carrying a notebook around with me and scribbling in them when I should’ve been paying attention to math problems and biology lessons instead. I was the girl who was always writing, the girl that was going to be a Writer someday. At the time, that’s what I thought a writer was…someone who published bestselling novels.

This perception followed me all through college and well into graduate school. Even when my first academic article was published and I held a physical copy of my own writing in my hands, I didn’t see myself as a Writer. I saw myself as a graduate student who had published some writing.

Only when I started teaching composition did I finally allow myself to recognize that I am indeed a Writer. As a teacher, I could see my students’ individual writing styles, their unique written voices, and their passion for some of the topics they took up in their writing.  They were absolutely, 100% writers, whether they could see it or not. This showed me that I, too, was a writer, regardless of the type of writing I was doing. Sure, published novelists are definitely writers, but so are bloggers, journal-keepers, academics, closet poets, and so many other types of people.

My main goal with keeping this blog semester is so that I can emphasize to my students that their struggles with writing are often my struggles too. That writing can be challenging, regardless of how long someone has been doing it. That even English professors can occasionally question whether or not they qualify as writers. We often think of writing as a solitary endeavor, but it is really quite collaborative and communal; we’re all in this together, folks.