“Wonder”, Baby Boys, and the Finding of Jesus at the Temple

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This is Reesa. The last post I wrote (or even attempted to write) was July 3, 2013. I’m proud of myself for making it with this post before July 3 of this year. Woohoo!

I made a Lenten promise (resolution?) that I would read the daily readings every day and write a short (really short) reflection on those readings. It’s only been two weeks, but I’ve already failed a pretty significant percent of that time. It was looking like today was going to be one of those days–and I was kind of okay with that. By 3:30 I hadn’t even looked at the readings. But maybe St. Joseph interceded for me or something, because I picked up my phone (I use the Laudate app to look up and/or listen to the readings) this afternoon and had one of the most fruitful experiences with the readings I’ve had in months. I wanted to share it with you here, in case you’re interested!

The reading I focused on was Lk 2:41-51a–the Finding of Jesus at the Temple. Specifically, this line caught my attention: When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

Here’s what I wrote about it:

This Gospel reading really surprises me, because it shows Mary reproaching Jesus and telling him that she suffered from real anxiety because of his choice. I’ve also always thought it was weird that the Gospels pick up on this story as somehow significant. One of the best homilies I ever heard was about this strange, strange incident. The priest talked about how it revealed Jesus’ psychological adolescence.’ According to this priest, when Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he’s actually coming to grips with his (very complex!) identity, grappling with it… and hurting a few people (particularly those people most wrapped up in that identity–his parents) in the process. In short, he’s going through adolescence. The priest pointed out that Jesus took on our humanity even to the point of mental and psychological humanity. He underwent the (horrible) experience of psychological maturation, just like we do.

The priests point, I think, was that this incident is significant because Christ begins to consciously accept his role as the Son of God. I thought it was significant because that even had to happen. Somehow, I had always thought baby Jesus was born knowing He was the Son of God. And this priest didn’t say he wasn’t. He just implied that Jesus came to know it more fully around this point in his life.

* * *

Last night I started reading this book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. I absolutely love it. It’s multiple-perspective, first-person middle school literature, which might be my absolute favorite. Long story short: the narrators (so far) are a 10 year old boy who’s severely deformed and his 14-year old sister. The boy has been home schooled his whole life because of his various medical needs, but he’s starting to go to school for the first time in 5th grade (yikes…). Middle school is always hard, but it’s that much worse for this boy because of how he looks. Auggie (the boy) is in a lot of pain… and you see, through his eyes and his sister’s, how much pain he causes his mother specifically–both by her experience of his humiliation and alienation at school and just by the way he treats her sometimes as he’s trying to figure out who he is and how to live.

As I was reading, I kept thinking about my baby boy (due early June) and how hard it will be to ever see him in pain or (as is bound to happen) watch him semi-purposely inflict pain on me. It’s hard to think about.

But I came to a couple of realizations after reading the Gospel today. First, Christ has conquered adolescence. He’s been through even this cross.  Second, Auggie causes his mother a lot of pain–but it’s not because he’s evil or because he hates her or because he’s never going to be kind to her again. He’s causing her pain because he’s… well, trying to figure out who he is. And your parents inevitably have a lot to do with that. They get caught in the line of fire, and that’s okay. Or, if it’s not okay, it’s something that Mary, the Mother of God, has, in some way, gone through through too. I didn’t think I would be able to have recourse to Mary in motherhood because, well, Michael Patrick is not going to be Jesus. But after today, maybe I will.

Serena’s Wedding Toast

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BY RACHEL

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I can’t tell you how excited I am about this wedding! Actually, I (like many of you here) may be able to claim the dubious honor of being excited about this wedding before it was for sure going to happen. Actually before there was a couple. Oh dear, possibly before I was technically friends with either party?

 

This is because this marriage has been a while in the making. I remember when I was just getting to know Serena freshman year at UD. Several of us were sitting in that cozy tea filled dorm room in Catherine Hall. I asked “So… you and Anthony…?” And of course she said… “Oh god, no! Why does everybody think that?!”

 

Well, part of why everybody thought that is because (I am pretty sure) that Anthony knew that. But he also knew the value of patience, but we will get back to that.

 

You frequently hear the phrase “Opposites attract.” And it is sometimes true. For instance, Anthony is capable of being ON TIME. However, I have also developed a theory from watching my friends fall in love: the most beautiful couples work because (even when they are radically different in superficial things) at a deeper level, God has blessed them both with one or two of the same gifts. A blessing so rare that only the other person can really appreciate the value of that virtue. There are two gifts I have seen running through every part of Anthony and Serena’s beautiful relationship.

 

Let’s start with the virtue of Patience. Anthony, here’s to you. From O’Hara before Freshman year (when, I’m guessing, you knew that this girl was the one?) to Mike Lococo’s 21st birthday party Junior year when y’all actually started dating for real is a long time to wait for a date. And you spent every minute of it being the best possible friend. Never pressuring, always caring for her. Amid the difficult times that came over those 2 years, you were a rock and the picture of true generous patience.

 

Serena, here’s to you. From the end of Senior year until this August is a LONG TIME of long-distance relationships, train schedules, bus schedules, and negotiating the rival demands of grad school, work and endless labs. And you managed it, quietly trying to adapt your plans so that when the time came, you would both be ready. That is patience the like of which I cannot even fathom.

 

The other virtue that both Anthony and Serena have in spades is care. I am not sure that is quite the right word. I want to call it present-ness too, but that isn’t exactly it either. Let me explain:

 

You may have noticed a tea theme in the room tonight? Maybe? Remember that beautiful tea and pillow-filled room I mentioned from Serena’s freshman year? Serena’s room is ALWAYS like that. When you come in with a problem, she has the gift of knowing that so many of the problems we face can actually be fixed by a cup of tea. Or (once she moved into an apartment with a kitchen) something delicious and artery clogging. Even when we didn’t have tea readily available on our Rome, Serena was blessed with the ability to be present and care, not in an abstract way, but in a solid way for those around her. I came to value this gift all the more when we moved to different states after college and I realized that my best friend’s caring and present-ness can miraculously extend across at least 1,425.8 miles. By the way, that is how far our houses have been apart for the past couple years. And it sucked.

And against all odds, Anthony has the same gift, though not in the same way. (Anthony, I am sorry, you will never be quite as awesome at tea-and-oxytocin as your wife… you might be able to give her a run for her money in the cooking delicious things department. )However, Anthony also takes care of people. I remember figuring this out on a trip to Cinque Terra with 16 BILLION people. Maybe it was only 10… but still. While most of us were fighting the urge to strangle each other, Anthony quietly took care of us. While most of us whined, were indecisive, snapped at each other, and generally made each other miserable, Anthony printed schedules, looked up maps, and figured out our actual options so that when the rest of us calmed down, we could make a choice. (Incidentally, this quality of taking care of people is what earned him the endless envy from his junior year roommates who called this type of behavior “Just being The Sig”. I am pretty sure Anthony has never met a problem he couldn’t eventually work out. From traveling to camping to Serena. Boy did we girls love him for that! And, MAN were those boys jealous!)

 

So, those are the qualities. Patience pretty obviously played into Anthony and Serena’s relationship. But actually I have to tell you a little more about how that “care-taking” gift that they share has become to me the emblem of a beautiful and equal relationship.

 

As some of you may know, UD has a Rome semester, which can be miraculous. What very few people will tell you is that the semester after our Rome semester is not exactly a walk in the park, and it certainly wasn’t for Serena and I. When you come back, having learned more about yourself than you thought possible or really… necessary, figuring out how to live a normal life in Irving can be difficult. I lived with Serena that semester, and what I remember most (aside from her perpetual snooze-button-routine every single morning) was Anthony. (Remember, this is before they were dating). Anthony was always there. Always ready to reorganize his schedule so that he could bring her food, or study with her, or sit with her, or just be normal with her when being normal was difficult. Anthony took care of her.

 

So much so that even knowing how gifted she is at caring for people, I wondered how she would ever be able to be as present to him. But she was! The December after they started dating, Anthony came down with what I can only describe as the plague. Technically it was just mono, but it was awful and (over-acheiver that he is) ANTHONY WOULD NOT JUST SLOW DOWN AND SLEEP. So he got worse and ended up dehydrated and sick in the hospital, and I got to see just how much Serena could take care of Anthony. Sitting in those waiting rooms, I was blown away by the lists of questions Serena had written down to ask the nurses and doctors. (Later she told me she got them from her wonderful mother). Every free moment she was at the hospital. She kept the most organized log of what and when Anthony ate, what he drank, which medicines he needed, etc. etc. When they got out of the hospital, she lovingly force-fed him every vitamin and homeopathic cure known to man until he went home to St. Louis. Serena took care of him.

 

I remember looking at them and thinking – as I have done on many occasions before and since – “So this is what a relationship looks like.” They have been an example to me. Not only of a good relationship, but of the virtues that make a good marriage possible.

 

So, without further ado, let me propose a toast: to Anthony and my best friend Serena. I can think of no better people to set out on this adventure, and no better virtues on which to build. Be patient with each other. Take care of each other. And thank you.  

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Awkward….

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BY RACHEL

Hi.

This is kind of awkward.

I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I just wanted to say that I missed you. And that I think about you often, but when I come right down to it, I don’t know what to say anymore. Not because I don’t have rings to say, just because I can’t seem to decide which to say first. Here is a list of things that I want to say or talk about.

1. Sorry for being a bad blogger.

2. Second year teaching is so much less stressful, but comes with a much less potent buzz. Which makes it oddly harder.

3. Theater is wonderful and crazy and crazy-making… and sometimes I wonder if it is good or bad for my soul to be involved. Because there are pretty powerful cases for both.

4. Serena got married and I gave a speech and stuff.

5. So, dating is a thing…?

6. Is dating non-Catholics a thing?

7. Why do I have such a profoundly hard time trusting God?

8. “Sure!” is a 4-letter word. Especially when followed by: “I don’t mind helping with that!”

9. I haven’t watched ANY movies. No really. None. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

10. I have succumbed to so many technological things. I have an iPhone. And a Snapchat. And I love them. My moral technophobia is losing all of its righteous fury. Is this a good thing?

All of these could be blogposts if I were more coherent. But right now they are just rants. I am almost to the point where I am going to start posting them. Let me know if any sound like they might be more interesting. And I will try to make the thoughts clearer on those before I just post.

 

We are all incarnate babies (or I need a freaking nap)

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BY RACHEL

Remember my posts on humility? Yeah, this is going to be kindof one of those. But with BABIES!

First, I would like to tell you a story. Once upon a this summer, I spent three weeks traveling with a 15 month old baby (and a group of sixteen 16year olds) through Italy. Aside from complete admiration for the parenting style of the 15month old’s mom and dad, I found myself learning or being reminded of something: humans are incarnate.

So freaking incarnate. I have been known to comment joyfully on this to my friends, for instance: “Gee isn’t it awesome that we get to eat and enjoy food for nourishment! We could be photosythethic! Isn’t incarnation grand!”

Cookie goodness? Thank Incarnation!  ... You don't have to taste these babies. BE GRATEFUL!

Cookie goodness? Thank Incarnation!
… Aren’t you glad to taste these babies? BE GRATEFUL!

This particular realization comes from a less joyful place and it progresses through three stages.

  1. Baby Stage.
  2. Teenager Stage
  3. Me Stage

BABY STAGE!

Being a baby ain't to bad! Right?

Being a baby ain’t too bad! Right?

OK, so watching this baby through the 3 week trip, I started noticing. When she was hungry, tired, or had been sitting still for too long – we knew it. (I have to qualify this a little because this experience of “knowing” when a baby is cranky has got to be the most mild version of the experience I have ever had. Because her parents are traveling/parenting rockstars.) Nonetheless, when when baby was incarnationaly upset, her ability to be happy, good, calm, and otherwise Gerber-Baby-Like was hampered.

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Basically she needed a freaking nap.

The good thing was that whenever this happened, her rockstar parents dealt with it. They fed her. Let her sleep. Let her toddle around the Roman forum showing them every possible variety of old rocking thing. And then she got better. I will come back to this.

TEENAGER STAGE.

Much as my brilliant, inquisitive, charming teenage students were determined to be grownups (and they really did mostly succeed), on the LONGEST TRAVELLING DAY EVER* that status as intellectually impressive Shakespeare prodigies slipped a little. (*When I say longest day ever, believe me. They woke up at 6, crammed to stand on a packed train for an hour, hiked up a hill in no shade for 2 hours, hiked back down, listened to 4 lectures, walked 3 more miles to cram onto another train, picked up their bags, got on a 4 hour train ride back to Rome Termini, negotiated through pickpockets for 15 minutes, and then sat in traffic without dinner until 10 pm.)

I don’t say this to make fun of them, but sincerely, in the most mature way possible, they were just cranky

SHUTTUP! YOUR PHONE TIME ENDED 3 MINUTES AGO!

SHUTUP! YOUR PHONE TIME ENDED 3 MINUTES AGO!

They were hungry, over-tired, stubborn, getting into fights over whether someone had been on the phone too long, picking at each other over really dumb things, etc. I walked around campus watching these teenagers refuse to go to bed, I couldn’t help thinking: You just need a freaking nap.

Only, I couldn’t tell them that. I just had to watch them drive themselves nuts for a few hours. Next day, (LO AND BEHOLD!) after breakfast they were the brilliant students I had come to know.

Which brings me to…

ME!

I made all of these brilliant observations about how teenagers are just like babies. Then, on a 12 hour driving day on a road trip with my parents, I just about threw a temper tantrum.

Let me get my excuses out of the way: I hadn’t slept well the night before because I was too tired (yes, I mean that), the room was too warm, and my muscles were too sore. My legs hurt from sitting behind my 6’7” father. My stomach hurt from vitamins. I had a toothache. I had a headache. I couldn’t drive or be helpful because I had too many incidents on my record for my parents’ insurance. I was tired of my dad’s music choices. I needed a shower. I needed to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t write blog posts because my brain wasn’t working. I am a bad person. I sucked at praying. Why couldn’t I offer up this pain? I was hungry. I wasn’t hungry for that food. I hate road food.

Basically. I was cranky and needed a freaking nap.

How do I know this? Because the next morning, when I woke up after a long night of climate controlled sleep, ate a breakfast containing both carbs and protein, which also tasted delicious, and sat in exactly the same place I was in a fabulous mood. I LOVE road trips. Kentucky and Tennessee are gorgeous. I love classical music. I get to talk to my parents who I won’t see for a month or so. Praying is so easy! I can see God at work in the hills we are driving past!

All of this is to say: I am a baby. Or more specifically, I am incarnate.

woohoo

I am not supposed to be a pure spirit or mind. I have a body, and sometimes that means that I have bodily needs that I cannot ignore. Babies have it so good because they have parents to make sure that their incarnational needs are met. Whether they like it or not.

But we are all babies. On one side, that means we get cranky when we are hungry or tired. On the other, we have a super convenient way to start fixing “existential crises”. And these I borrow from Reesa (who I believe was quoting her mother when she first told me this):

1. Eat something.

2. Go for a walk.

3. Take a nap.

Then think again. Then pray again. Because we an incarnate people with a God who became not only incarnate, but an incarnate baby to remind us that the needs of our incarnate bodies are not something to be purely shunned for the sake of higher spiritual pursuits. We are not angels. We are men! … who occasionally need to take a freaking nap.

SONG THOUGHTS: Sara Bareilles’ “Chasing the Sun” on MORTALITY!

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BY RACHEL

For the past few weeks I have seriously wanted to do a quick post on the new Sara Bareilles album – specifically the song “Chasing the Sun.” First order of business: I think you need to listen to the song as you read this post. So. Go ahead.

You are listening , right?
Good.

I may be over reading this song, but I don’t think so. In the tradition of Homer’s Iliad, Sara Bareilles joyfully reminds us that both that human excellence and human community are based on the knowledge that we will die.

I actually started talking to someone about… well not exactly this song, but bear with me. He said something to the effect of “Western tradition of literature is built on the shoulders of Achilles.” As UD English major, I was thrilled to agree (provided that we also acknowledge that we need an Odysseus… and possibly an Aeneas) and will now probably start saying this to my students ad nauseam. Nonetheless, because agreeing immediately is rarely entertainment enough for either literature teachers or UD grads, we then embarked on a long debate about what exactly Achilles does that grounds a Western Tradition concerned with excellence, free will, philosophy, poetry, and eventually Christianity.

He held that Achilles is crucial because of his mēnis – his god-like wrath – that takes him to a plane of thought, even philosophy, previously unknown. (My father, the UD classics and literature professor, interjects that we could just have easily be founded for this principle on Odysseus’ “mind like Zeus”.) Achilles, not only in his physical and martial excellence but in his god-like thought – thanks to the Shield made for him by Hephaestos – is able to see the on a plane unhampered by death and its sorrows. My counterpart in the conversation emphasized not the wrath, but the godliness of it. His claim (so far as I understood it) was that in order to really have a tradition concerned with universals (ala Plato), we needed a hero who ascended to a god-like state, seeing the cyclical nature of mortal reality. Yes, men die; but they are replaced by much the same sort of men. Which is to say, that when Achilles looks at the shield of Book XVIII, he is founding Western Thought. (Apologies if I am oversimplifying a very long debate. I am trying to be as accurate to his argument as possible, but any abridgment will have its bias. Mine is that I think I am right.)

I could and can acknowledge the necessity of moving beyond grief and the limitations of a human life in order to achieve excellence of thought. Those who are focused on the day to day of life to the exclusion of the larger patterns in which they participate are probably much less likely to think philosophical thoughts. (By the way, I’m pretty sure that this is not a bad thing. It is just a thing.)
Our argument arose from my conviction that the real foundation for Western thought is not located ONLY in Achilles eccentric movement into mēnis, but also in his return to his mortality, when he is finally able to eat, sleep, and mourn for Patroklos alongside Priam who mourns for Hektor in Book XXIV. I think that the uniquely western emphasis not only on free will and excellence, but also a community not withstanding those virtues requires a hero who is excellent because of his mortality.

A god’s eye view that sees primarily the cyclical nature of life and death does allow for philosophical thoughts concerning the universals that are true and beautiful and important all humans; yet, we are also a tradition that revels in individual achievement (be it artistic, athletic, philosophical etc.) and a god-like vision, I would argue, does not result in the pressure to be excellent, but the pressure to be at one with everything else. That is not particularly western.

If death and life don’t really mean anythingeither through  in their suffering or their grandeur, then a real community and communion of excellent individuals becomes at least irrelevant and and possibly non-existent.

To achieve excellence and participate in the community of the excellent dead that have gone before, we must first embrace the fact that we die. Then the achievements of the past become more than history, but rather a call that lends urgency and weight to our individual actions.  Homer, in Achilles but also in every single foot soldier we see die in the Iliad, founds our notion that the manner of our death (and really, we could describe our entire life as as slow death) gives us identity, memory, and meaning. Even athletic achievement in Homer’s universe is located in the funeral games. The message becomes: because we die, you must strive to excel.

All of which brings me back to this song. I’m not saying that Sara Bareilles is talking about the Iliad, but I think that her bouncy song about “a Cemetary in the center of Queens” perfectly falls into a Western Tradition of striving for excellence (Chasing the Sun, if you will) because of death.

Those of you who have heard me talk about poems, my Junior poet, or my Senior Novel know that I am a little pronoun obsessed. Bear with me.

I love what Bareilles does with pronouns in this song! The refrain – “We should always be chasing the sun” – has the communal “we.” She emphasizes the common bonds of the 3 million dead in the cemetery; yet, she also emphasizes from the first verse the singularity of each – a different story, a different name, different dates, etc.  Further more, the introduction of the refrain – “You said, remember that life is not meant to be wasted.” Each of these individuals enters into an “I-Thou” relationship with Bareilles, and by extension with us, the listeners. Because we (the dead and the living) die, each individual you can relate to, chastise, and encourage.

I would say that Bareilles particularly understands this community of the dead and its call to excellence by the two artistic forms she discusses: the city of Manhattan itself and her own song.

Manhattan: Basically, my favorite line in the whole song sums it up: “the Skyscrapers’ little tombstone brothers.” The Skyscrapers exist because of the eventuality of the tombstones, and the tombstones are little skyscrapers in and of themselves: little imperative reminders that life is finite and not meant to be wasted.

Music: This awareness of her community of mortality demands a participation. Bareilles’ needs to do it through her music and  must figure out how to rise to the challenge. We see this in her series of questions? How do we really participate in mortality?

So how do you do it?
With just words and just music, capture the feeling
That my earth is somebody’s ceiling?
Can I deliver in sound, the weight of the ground
Of a cemetery in the center of Queens?

We strive to be excellent. 


Blog posts I’ve almost written

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I remember now why I wasn’t blogging as much.  Because when I blog frequently, I get this annoying little voice in my head (do you guys get this?) that starts narrating things as blog posts as soon as they are happening.  It’s really annoying… and makes you not want to write blog posts.

For lack of a better subject-matter and because HONESTLY THIS is what has been on my mind of late, I give you: Blogs I’ve almost written.

1. STUFF my Mom says

In this imagined post, I was going to write down five favorite phrases that my Mom says along with a cute “translation” or unpacking of what they’ve come to mean in our family.  Really, I just wanted to talk about her saying, “It’s okay to have baggage [emotional baggage].  Just as long as it fits in your overhead compartment.” I’m pretty sure that’s an Ellyn-original.

2. Why Soulmates Do Like FOR SURE Exist

I have not figured this one out yet (which is why I didn’t write it).  Also because the only evidence I’ve got here is either a) experiential (And I have cold hard proof for this one guys. Signed and dated. IN WRITING.) or b) a gut feeling: these articles that I keep reading against the idea of soul mates? There’s something missing there. I don’t think you can marry just ANYONE and have it work out.

That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.

3. “On Failure”

Pretty sure I’m still going to write this one.  This was one of those completely weird, providential moments when a personal failure that had been bothering me for a really long time spontaneously came up in conversation and was the precise catalyst for a moment of intimacy with a complete stranger…. and that’s all I have to say about that.

4. Book Review: “Freeing Your Child from Anxiety”

Which I still am going to review, because I’m pretty sure there’s a high likelihood that at least ONE of my future children will have some form of anxiety issues.  And this book is darn good at giving practical advice on that subject.

5. The Most Influential Event of My Childhood

Jennifer Fulwiller did a post on this a few months back, talking about how often her family moved when she was a kid.  I wanted to write about breaking my leg when I was three years old, which I still remember very vividly.

Ya see, for most of my life, I’ve been a very cautious person.  However, I happen to know that a few seconds before I let go of the monkey bars and broke my femur (FEEEE-MURRRRR) in half, I thought to myself pretty deliberately, “I wonder what will happen… if I let go?”

Oh. Eons of unpacking to do on that one my friends.

6. On growing up in a single-sex family (all sisters).  The other day I was talking with an acquaintance about siblings.  She told me she was the oldest of four.  I replied, “Oh yeah?! Me too!! Wait no I forgot — my mom had two more.”

And I really did forget for a sec.  I’m the oldest of six for sure (count em) but by the time Joseph came around, I’m pretty sure my psyche or whatever was already pretty well-formed (See #5).

7. On our vacation in Seattle and how it was the most amazing experience of my life ever. 

8. On how Dan and I are house-hunting and it’s the most fun thing ever ever ever.

9. On what I want to be when I grow up — oddly this is something that was inspired by my arch-nemesis.  My arch-nemesis is a 60 something lady who comes into my life unexpectedly every few months and really annoys me.  If that sounds vague, it’s supposed to, but trust me she’s out there.  Anyway, so this lady and I were having a conversation about the future and she started asking all these questions about where I wanted to be in two years, five years, ten…. really got me thinking.  Then after that, we got into this whole talk about NFP! (She’s not really my arch-nemesis).

10. On NFP.

(What Should We Call NFP)

Friends (by which I mean, Rachel, Meredith, and anyone else who read to the end): cast your votes. Which blog post shall I write? TELL ME PLEASE.

xo

Reesa