Wednesday, October 29, 2014

We're So Fancy

Sam called me up (and by that I mean texted me up, but "called" sounds cooler) a few weeks ago asking if I happened to be free. I happened to be. She said she had a Groupon for a cool salon downtown and wanted to do something classy. I said I was totally in. I vicariously live through Fancy Nancy half of my life, so may as well live it out for a change. We planned to get a blowout at this salon, then out to lunch at a cute champagne bar called Pops For Champagne where they charge you like 57 dollars for a glass of bubbly liquid (don't worry we found a cuter/more reasonable drink to consume).


So we first meet up at the salon, where we are led to the back room to get our hair washed. We of course begin talking about our kids and teaching and what we're going to dress up as for Halloween. Sam had plans to put together a Ms. Frizzle (it's a killer look, people) that day, and I was contemplating becoming a ninja turtle, obviously. The girl-with-perfectly-bold-eyebrows who was washing our hair heard me say "I think my boys would like the ninja turtle thing," and immediately decided that I was referring to my own biological children.

Anyway, she chirped in, saying "Wow! You look great for having boys of your own." I said "Thanks?" I'm...Ron Burgundy??? At first I felt a little lame, then I decided that dang it, I do look good for someone-who's-had-kids-but-actually-doesn't-have-kids. I informed her that, no ma'am, I will not look like this if I ever happen to have a kid, explaining that should that day ever come, I will be the frumpy hippo that comes back and asks for a blowout.


After getting our hurzz blown out (Okay confession: I've never had a blowout at a salon. I asked the hairdresser "What is it really, that you are doing today? Just washing my hair and drying it, like I do each morning?" And she replied in the affirmative. It wasn't until later that I realized she just is wayyyy better at doing those simple activities to my hair than I am. It was cool.) and styled we went down the road to get to our superclassychampagnebar. As it turns out, superclassychampagnebar is closed until later in the afternoon. We were hungry. Upon looking up, we saw none other than the sign for Chili's glaring at us like a signal from above. We decided to follow the signs and indulge in a super classy meal at...Chili's. Yikes. Could we get any more midwestern than getting all done up only just to walk into a Chili's in the loop? Nope. But we came, we saw, we ate fajitas. (The fact that chips and salsa were inhaled by a certain someone goes without saying. I still stand by the assertion that they are my favorite food ever.)

After that classy moment, we actually got to our intended destination, consumed bellinis, felt really fancy, and fulfilled the classy plans set forth for the day. Wouldn't want to class it up with anyone else. Just look at this girl's hair flip.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Story of the Purple Pants

I want to tell you a short little story. If you would like to smile, please read it. And guys, take notes.

Last week I went to the Dutch Megalopolis that is West Michigan. I was there with my whole school faculty for a conference, but I made a small detour to Hudsonville to hang out with the one and only Liz VanDrunen. We got dinner at a place called The Electric Cheetah (delish) and I wanted to change clothes before heading over there from Liz's house. I brought along my favorite miracle purple pants. These pants fit me so perfectly, they are like magic. No matter how the day feels in the fat/skinny department, the magic purple pants just happen to make whatever I have going on look good. These were purchased from H&M, on sale, for 13 bucks, and have lasted for over a year. Somehow I've worn them out to bars in a super cute way or with sweaters and boots for work in a teacher way. I can't explain it. It all just works. I meant it when I said magic pants, people!

So it was all the more tragic when, all of a sudden, as I zip up said pants, the zipper pull came off in my hand. I tried to reconnect it, but to no avail. The big bummer is they still fit like a dream, and it wouldn't really be worth it to repair the zipper because of how cheap they actually are. That 13 dollar price tag had to catch up to me at some point, and a cheap zipper is a cheap zipper. For some reason, I felt the need to inform Brian (who was back in Chicago) immediately of this occurrence. It went something like this, in text form: "Purple pants are broken :( :( :(" (See how that Advanced Writing course in college paid off? My texts are so eloquent!)

Brian responded with a text of sincere sympathy (which is the first sign of his sweetness, because he is the last person who would ever care about a pair of pants' shortened lifespan) and, after a compassionate message, another ":(" back. (Yeah, we both graduated college.) I thought that was the end of it, but was happy that I had a husband that actually cared how I felt about purple pants. I was satisfied. And kind of smitten all over again with this guy who cares about the stupid things I care about simply because I care about them.

But wait, there's more!

On the ride home from the conference, I hit a lot of traffic and ended up trudging into our apartment a tired and hot mess, listless and ready for a nap. Not only did Brian leave me half of his Kit Kat (major bonus points there) but when I went into my closet I found a neatly arranged little shopping bag. Since I've been doing the no-shopping-for-6-months-thing, this is an odd sight in my closet these days. It was from Zara, and neatly tucked inside of it was a cardigan sweater and, of course, a pair of plum-hued skinny pants. A replacement for the magic purple pants, compliments of my supercool man! He'd gone to 7 stores in the mall that afternoon trying to track down purple skinny pants and finally found ones at Zara because "wasn't that the place you said you always shopped at while you were in Spain" and because he is just that good.

And I needed to tell my blog about it, so that I remember.

Forget the purple pants. Brian, you're magic to me.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I was telling a veteran teacher the other day that I still totally ride the first-year-teacher-roller-coaster even though this is my third year of doing this gig. The beginning of the year is allllll jitters and nervous energy. Then, after the first fresh unit plans are over, the cold comes and I start to lose steam, get buried in the piles of grading, and feel the weariness of 5:00 alarm clocks. When stuff starts to feel like it's too much, I think it's a good time to take stock and remember all the good things. Because there are so many good things! Here we go...what I'm currently up to:

Loving: being married to a certain Brian Whartnaby. I got him a gift for Sweetest Day (and I take full responsibility for the obnoxious perpetuation of Hallmark holidays, but I found a great chambray shirt that would look great on Brian, so sue me) and included a Kit Kat bar in the gift bag. After being away in Michigan at a conference for two days, and spending 4 and a half hours in traffic in the effort to get home, I opened the door to our apartment to find a smiling guy, a big hug, and two of the four Kit Kat pieces saved in the wrapper for me. Ahhh. What a guy.


Reading: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. One of my biggest beefs with Veronica Roth (okay, so maybe she doesn't know that we have a fight going on, but I surely started one) was how she switched up the narrators, having Four and Tris alternate as the first person voice from chapter to chapter. In short, this was a terrible move. It sucked. I hate to even say this, but I didn't finish the book because I was so bored by it. So I find out that Gone Girl, while it's getting all of these great reviews, also does the whole switching voice thing, except this time it's awesome. The characters reveal little pieces of who they are, flawed and believable, and yet also unreliable, with their own versions of bias. I haven't finished it yet and am avoiding all talk of the movie and book on social media so I get to see for myself how these two actually turn out.

Watching: A lot of HBO. A perk of moving and signing up for a new subscription of cable and internet is that they throw free things at you. Like HBO! After a healthy stream of The Wire and Veep (I died every episode), and it's safe to say that Brian is absolutely addicted to The Sorpranos, I am currently watching Lena Dunham's show GIRLS. I'm somewhat wary of my admission of being its viewer. The inappropriateness is there, to say the least. I'm so drawn to it, and the characters in it, though, because it has so much to say about the hopes and talents and blind spots (oh the blind spots!) of my upcoming generation of millennials.

Anticipating: DO I EVEN HAVE TO SAY IT?! Taylor Swift's 1989 Album comes out on October 27 (THAT IS TOMORROW). It's a change in image for our girl Tay. No longer the country sweetheart, those curls have officially been straightened and the pop star look is embraced. But I have to have faith that deep down, it's our old favorite girl doing her happy, confident, truthful, thing. Did I just hear someone say "hella good hair?"

Listening To: Lin's Bin, every Monday and Friday morning at 7:15 a.m. (except sometimes I'm already in my classroom at that point and have to catch the rerun in the evening) on 93.1 WXRT. If you're in the Chicagoland, please give it a listen and laugh/cry along with me at the touching statements he makes answering the deep questions of life.

Planning: Little things to accomplish my 25 Before 26. (Go to September for that post, if you haven't seen it yet). I'm starting to wake up from the daze of beginning the school year at my new school, look at my life, and take stock of things. I'm taking suggestions for wineries, recipes, and good causes because I'm excited to roll up my sleeves and get started on it all!

Working On: Taking time to take care of myself. The past 10 weeks at my apartment have been all staring at laptops and 9:00 bedtimes for me. It's time to try new things and ideas and have a life outside of school. I've been thinking of the coming weeks and how I can get out of the doldrums of teaching in the post-beginning-of-year and pre-Thanksgiving fall. First step: yoga class :)

Wishing For: the Christmas season! I know that this holiday cheer is a little preemptive, but please let me explain the reason. My school's Bible curriculum actually aligns the birth of Jesus and all the stories leading up to it to be taught about eight weeks before Christmas arrives. I've already purchased a few Christmas gifts for my family and can't wait to pick out the others. It all makes me giddy for gold old fashioned family time, lazy snowy days spent giving presents, and attending advent services at our beautifully decorated church.  Advent season reminds me that God comes right into my messy life, the one in which I make no room for him, and changes me and remakes me and creates everything to be new again. Christmas reminds me that I am a believer in new beginnings, in hopeful horizons, and the shocking power of love to come down and change everything. That's the true story of Christmas and I love to hear it again and again.

What are you up to? What are you planning, wishing, and working for? It's hectic and hard over here, but it's all good.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pig Trauma

My second graders and I (and 5 brave parent chaperones) went to a farm on Friday for the first field trip of the year. It was awesome and they loved it. I loved it too.

At one point, we were in the pig barn, learning about how pigs are cared for differently during different stages of life. At the end, we got to the piglet barn where tiny pigs were clamoring over one another to nurse from their (exhausted) mama pigs. It's never a guarantee that you'll get to see a baby being born, but we were lucky enough to be present for one. And if you have idyllic visions of Americana in your head when you think of the birth of a new farm animal, please think again. This is kinda how it went:

"MRS. WHARTNABY!! Okay that lady just put on a humungous rubber glove, smeared this gross sticky stuff all over her hand, reached in the mama pig, and PULLED OUT A BABY. It's all bloody and I DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS!"

Sorry, kids. Makes you hungry for some bacon, mmm?

On another note, here is a picture of two of the sweetest boys you will ever, ever meet.


Saturday, October 18, 2014


I have a cool family. I think what makes them cool is the fact that they don't care at all if they are actually cool.

Last weekend, Brian and I drove two hours into the deep nowhere-ness of Indiana for a little family reunion out in the fresh air and wilderness. My VanDrunen (mom's) side all descended on a town of Morocco Indiana to a location that doesn't actually show up on a GPS or Google Maps app. Brian said he felt like Billy Crystal in City Slickers, and I kind of had to agree that he was right. At the end of a long gravel road, we turned the (now filthy) car into the driveway of my uncle Wayne's property where over 40 people gathered to shoot guns, drive four wheelers and gators, have barrel races, roast marshmallows, and catch up with people you love. Most people camped or slept in the barn. The Gesches (my parents) and Whartnabys (how do you spell the pluralized Whartnaby?! Whartnabies? Gahhh) preferred the Holiday Inn Express. I was happy with our choices.


I am not one to love the whole ATV/four-wheeler thing, as I am the child of an insurance agent and too many horror stories of broken necks, paralysis, and death are associated with the outdoor vehicle thing. My dad was with me on this one. My mom, on the other hand, LOVED it and was on an ATV within about 4.32 seconds of arriving on the premises. I think their stance on four-wheelers reveals a lot about the differences between my parents, but that must be unpacked at another time and place.

I got to see Karley and Liz and that just filled my heart with happiness. If I could create a world where they were my neighbors, available for morning walks to the coffee shop and bakery, on call to stop over after work for a beer, or accessible for a grocery-shopping buddy, I would do it in a heartbeat. I just can't figure out how to fold the map and meld the topography so that Hudsonville, Michigan, Dyer, Indiana, and Villa Park, Illinois are in the same cul-de-sac. Frustrating.

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend happened when, mysteriously, all of the aunts and uncles left the nieces and nephews alone in the barn. We were all hanging out, chatting and snacking, when we realized that our parents had all left us. When we tried to leave the barn, a grandma was set at her post to inform us that we weren't allowed to leave. It was a surprise.


A half hour later, my Uncle Dyke (Karley's dad) in his hilarious fashion took all of Yous Kids out in front of the bonfire with a flashlight in front of his face. He proceeded to tell the tale of Scarecrow Joe, who had his head lopped off by some hooligan teenagers. Ever since then, "around this time of year, and around this time of night" Scarecrow Joe would go around with a chainsaw, cutting people's heads off and trying them on to see if it fits. Legend has it, my uncle said, that Scarecrow Joe has not found a head that he likes the fit of yet, so he's still shopping around. Then we were told to follow him into the pitch black woods.

Along the path were demented Miss Piggies, Scream grim reapers, Zombie freaks, and others all leading to the finale of a crazed clown with a chainsaw. We knew it was our aunts and uncles, and it didn't matter. I was freaked out. My poor uncle Mike was just playing along with his skeletor costume and ended up getting a pretty hefty punch in the shoulder from me, after which I stole his weapon away from him and pointed it at him instead. It was a plastic glow-in-the-dark knife, but for some reason I felt the need to disarm this creature. Sorry, Mike. It was instinct. Must be the West Side part of me that still is on the alert at all times.

Either way, it was scary and hilarious and awesome. What kind of family am I a part of? I am not nearly as much fun as everyone else; it just makes me happy to sit back and watch the joy unfold around me when we're all together. Brian commented how he loved that "Everyone is on-board with everything in this family. There isn't anyone ruining it by saying this is a dumb idea." Nobody is "too cool" for anything. I think that was a very true thing to say, and I love the on-board-ness that runs in my family. Even if it means making me perilously close to peeing my pants in fear.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spiritual Amnesia

I've known many people who suffer from amnesia, dementia, Alzheimer's, or something of the sort throughout my life. The affliction of forgetfulness in the most cruel and confusing ways. It's affected my family and friends; how terrible for them, we all say, that this has happened. But I've come to believe over the past couple of years that I suffer from it too, in my own way. I have Spiritual Amnesia of the worst kind.
Let me begin by telling you some things I know to be true, deep down to the insides of my bones: God takes care of me. God helps me through the challenges of my life. God has never and will never let me down. These are the facts.

God proves these facts to me time and time again. He has put friends, people, circumstances, opportunities, blessings, and too-good-to-be-true-coincidences directly in my path time and time and time again.

 I was feeling lost and directionless during my senior year of college, wanting to do meaningful work but not knowing where to start. He put Teach for America on my radar and I sailed through the three-month application and interview process, disbelieving that I kept getting promoted to the next round time after time.

I was feeling lonely and weird when I lived in a new city in a new apartment. He put friends, roommates, an amazing church, and family right in my way to surround me with intelligent, talented, kind people. 

I was feeling sick of the dating game and so over the ups and downs of heartbreak after heartbreak. He put Brian Edward Whartnaby in my life, completely out of the blue, for the last first date of my life.

I felt defeated and burned out from teaching at a charter school in CPS. He put connections and last-minute Skype interviews right in my path to bring me to a fantastic community and the amazing group of 24 kids that are in my class at Calvin Christian School. 

All of this has happened to me in the last few years! And that's only the big stuff! What about the little stuff?

What about finding my thoughtful, wise, and caring mentor at church? What about generous donors who funded a technology project I started for my classroom? What about the joy I find in cooking for the first time in my life? What about the new brothers and parents and relatives I gained when I joined Brian's family, and the love and support I feel from them? What about awesome trips I've gotten to take? What about the love and friendship of friends that continues to grow through the different stages of life? What about the encouraging phone calls from my dad that come at just the right time? What about the proud sight of a second grade Reader's Theater performance? What about my newfound ability to wake up at 5:00 a.m. on a consistent basis? What about finally having a school day that goes exactly as you planned it? What about the simple joy of seeing Brian working at the kitchen table when I come home from work each day? What about a sunny day with blue skies making for a crisp and perfect October day? 

What about all those things? They didn't just happen. They weren't coincidence. They were carefully orchestrated, put in my path to prove to me, yet again, that I am not alone or without help.

And yet, in spite of all of those things, I forget. I forget God.

I get bogged down in my work at school. At the fact that I am on my third year in a row of teaching a new grade-level, a new curriculum, and a new school. At the fact that I'm tired and weary down to my toes at the end of every day. At the fact that I feel guilty for being a walking zombie when I'm supposed to be a supportive, attentive spouse. At the piles of ignored laundry and dishes. At the fact that I haven't had energy to go on a run since the school year started. I get bogged down in it all. Even in my silly first world problems and superficial insecurities, I get bogged deeply down in the midst of it all and I forget. I forget all of those things that happened and more. I look up and ask God: Why don't you ever help me? Why don't you look out for me? Why am I always fending for myself? Why am I alone in this? I forget that God has always helped me; God has always come through.

And then it hits me. I have a lucid moment of awakened understanding in the middle of my complaining, exhaustion, and piles of papers: I am with you. I love you. I always take care of you. Don't you remember, Anna? Have you already forgotten?

This weekend I was with my mom's side of the family for a wonderful and rambunctious reunion. One of the best things about this side of the family is the life and memory of my cousin Nikki. She passed away 5 years ago from brain cancer, but was a big influence on all of our lives in lots of different ways. Her motto, which I was reminded of this weekend, was this: Trust in God. He will help you. Our family loves those words and remember them when we think of her.

Those words are simple to say, but hard to live. Nikki was someone who didn't forget things, especially not any one of her cousin's birthdays or what they got for Christmas last year. She had her own struggles to face, but she definitely didn't have the forgetful problem I have. Her words are hope for sufferers of Spiritual Amnesia like myself. Trust in God, Anna. He will help you!

He always has. He always will.

And don't you forget it. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

White Chicken Chili (Thanks to our girl Shauna)


Let the recipe adventures of 2014 - 2015 begin! First things first, just look at that Dutch Oven. Isn't it the most beautiful orange? My mom bought this for me last Christmas, I think in a subliminal attempt to nudge me toward domestication. Well, people, it's worth it, because pretty things in the kitchen make me want to cook (note also the yellow teakettle in the background). I feel super culinary chic with this on my stove. 


Next, look what's inside! It's super easy and pretty much just involves opening a few cans, cutting up some chicken, and, the most important part of your job as the cook, snacking on chips and salsa for the duration of the wait for the chili to simmer. I got this meal from Shauna Niequist's book/cookbook Bread and Wine, the source of many other planned experiments in the kitchen. This recipe isn't too hearty - it's definitely the kind of thing you put in a bowl and slowly add shredded cheese, cilantro, and tortilla chips to as you discuss the happenings of your day. It's not too thick, such that Brian officially dubbed it not a chili, but a "hearty soup." Duly noted, husband. I strongly recommend these thin cantina chips I found because they really remind me of the best chips ever, of course the ones from Chili's (I am so midwest and uncool, but I love me some Chili's). Want to know how to make it? Here's how!

1 pound of chicken (I used cut up boneless skinless chicken breasts from CostCo) in the bottom of your dutch oven or large pot and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Then add in a 16-ounce container of salsa (you can probably tell from the pictures that I used a red salsa - next time I'm going to switch it up with a green variety). Throw in 4 cans of white beans (I used one can of chickpeas, simply because they reminded me of all of my meals in Spain, and it turned out well) and finish with 4 cups of chicken broth. Bring the whole shebang to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes (or more) after that. 

I loved that the day I planned to make this happened to be the first rainy, sleety day of fall where you really wanted something you could stir, sprinkle cheese on, and dip super thin tortilla chips into while it steamed up and cleared your sinuses. 

Meals like these make me excited for chilly days when I walk in after work to an apartment smelling of whatever has been simmering in the crock pot all day. Not to mention walking in after work to the hottie in the plaid sitting at my kitchen table. 





Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Mark this day. 

Tonight, Brian and I swore we would never again eat at a Buffalo Wild Wings together.

I agreed; it was time. 

This, coming from a girl who would happily join in the group of her friends on Thursday nights in college for cheap wings and friendship. It was a land flowing with ranch and Honey BBQ. Good times were had by all. Jokes were cracked. Memories were made. Passive voice was used by some. 

I'm not exactly sure what happened to the place between college and adulthood, but we stopped there for dinner tonight and let me say: it was bleak.

It all started when I got home from work. I was all set to begin dinner, but Brian (I love this guy) could detect that I was exhausted. Not really up for doing anything much after school tonight. He suggested I refrain from cooking and said we should go somewhere quick for dinner tonight, so I could take the night off from making us food. (Have I mentioned how much I love him?) 

So we're driving along, and there it is. B Dubs in all of its glory. There's a playoff baseball game tonight that Brian wanted to catch. So we kind of shrug at one another and say, "Let's give it a shot." 

First of all, is it just me, or does everyone look completely depressed in there?! We almost laugh out loud as we scan the room and see a dimly lit collection of people questioning their very purpose in this world. B Dubs was putting people through this kind of existential crisis: "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What meaning is there in this life if the highlight of my day is spent at this stale restaurant?" There are bored couples, blank-stare groups of buddies with mouths agape at television screens, and, the most heart-wrenching: the overwhelmed parents. There are kids everywhere screaming and crying with parents who look like all they need was a hug (and perhaps, more importantly, a cocktail). It's like one of those biblical "weeping and gnashing of teeth" scenarios everywhere you look. People with kids: I don't know how you do it. 

So we sit down. We are surrounded by SIXTEEN TELEVISIONS. On those televisions are preseason hockey, college women's volleyball, sports talk shows (with no audio, mind you), and soccer. Not one TV has the playoff baseball game. To make matters worse for Brian, the largest screen of them all, in the middle of the main dining room, is replaying Sunday's footage of the Philadelphia Eagle's loss. Guess what music is playing in the background. Creed. I'm not even joking you guys. This is rough. 

Then our food comes out, mainly microwaved and plastered to small little paper trays. Even our appetizer is prepared in this manner. Brian hypothesizes that there are no chefs at Buffalo Wild Wings, only Microwave Technicians. Perhaps this is cause for some investigatory journalism.

We finally get our food, eat, chat, watch a little baseball, and get out pretty quickly. Already on the ride home we feel all fuzzy in our brains and kind of sick to our stomachs. It was at this point when we make the vow: never again will this Whartnaby clan dine at B Dubs. 

B.W.W.  may you R.I.P.