What I’m into: New job edition

Well, that went fast. I’ve been in my new position for a full month, and am finally emerging into a better sense of how everything fits together. It is a bit dizzying transitioning from a small campus to big corporate environment, but I set out to learn and have a pretty great team to coach me.

I thought the new job might be a good time to freshen up my professional headshot and jumped at the chance to participate in the recent Ivory House Photography buy-one-give-one session benefiting the nonprofit Dress for Success.


Whitney is crazy talented and made me feel so at ease. Looking at these photos, you would never guess it was a time in my life when I was still trying to figure out how to use my new phone/Skype for Business and getting hopelessly lost in the headquarters. She makes everyone look like a boss. I feel like I need to write a book just so this photo could be on the jacket:


(While waiting for my shoot, I also had fun talking with her team member Lucy, who co-hosts a popular Wine & Crime podcastWine & Crime podcast, if you’re into that kind of thing!)

I’ve written before about my love of personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs (total ENFP in the house!) and recently learned about the Birkman Method, which gives you insights into your needs and usual behaviors, as well as your stress behaviors if your needs aren’t being met. We’re taking it and analyzing our scores as a team, which should be a really great tool for helping us gel and appreciate our differences.

I also love that Principal provides financial wellness advice to employees. I went to a lunch and learn that highlighted the 50-20-30 rule, which seems like a much less daunting strategy for spending and saving than some of the other budgeting tools I’ve seen. Getting a better handle on our family finances is one of my personal goals for my mid-30s, so I’m trying to take advantage of work perk type tools.

Lastly, a little bit of my writing elsewhere. I had a story about local artists in the March issue of “DSM” magazine (p. 115), and just contributed a little LIFT Iowa piece on why to keep a ‘kudos’ file at work. 


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What I’m Into: February ’18

I felt all of the feelings this past week, the final at my DMU job. It’s so crazy to me how, over the past four years, the campus just a few blocks south of my house went from a place I’d barely noticed when driving down Grand Avenue to a community that’s shaped more than a thousand of my days. Some of those days were frustrating and others super rewarding. I think I grew a lot professionally, and met so many wonderful people along the way.


It was a tough decision to leave, and when the emails of thanks and well-wishes and the drop-by goodbyes started, it felt bittersweet. I’m glad that I seem to have been a positive presence for many of our students. The path to becoming a physician or other healthcare provider is steep, and my goal was to be a support. The job is posted, if you know someone looking for a great gig!

I’m so excited for my next step at Principal Foundation and am wrapping up my transition weekend finishing The First 90 Days so I can more effectively jump into a new role. It’s a good read, and offers tactical advice helpful for assessing an organization, your own strengths/blind spots and overcoming the impostor syndrome I might also be feeling.



To celebrate the transition, My DMU coworkers and I went out to lunch at Alba on Friday, and we were practically the only people there. The lunch menu is on point, it’s very reasonable and I have no idea why I forget that it’s such a great spot except for once every two years, it seems!

I also popped into East Village Spa where I got their signature massage for the first time. It was such a great blend of hot stones and towels and yummy smelling products. My friend Cassie is the spa owner and I always run into someone awesome in the waiting area. I met Cassie when she was a solo LMT and now she employs 25 people in her business. I don’t get massages often but love to see that as she’s grown she’s kept the same vibe and values for her business.

Then I headed over to see if the thrift shop across the street had any good work wear, because I’m shopping resale as much as possible for clothing. I found some great Calvin Klein never-worn shoes for $5 and a few other basics. I’ve been loving Worn for stylish consignment pieces, too, and pop into the Junior League Bargain Basket on Ingersoll for their monthly pop-ups, too. Plus, Goodwill, which hosted an event for the last DSM unveiling. I had a piece in the magazine that month, and scored a Von Maur pearl necklace that was originally $175 (tag still on) for like $8.

Speaking of re-using clothes, I did Rent the Runway for the first time last weekend, for the Bravo gala. I got a last-minute invite to join my soon-to-be-new colleagues, and the ordering, delivery, quality and return process all worked out great for getting a lovely dress on a deadline. You can get $30 off your first order using my code!


I’ve also been doing some pleasure-reading and finished “The Interpreter of Maladies” (finally jumping on the Jhumpa Lahiri fan club) and Louise Erdrich’s new book “Future Home of the Living God” which was beautiful but another one of those mom-in-a-dystopian-situation books I’ve been torturing myself with the past few years.

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Kitchen refresh – Part 1

Something about being cooped up indoors all winter makes my painting elbow itch. Last year, we refreshed our downstairs bathroom and this December I painted giant swatches on our kitchen walls to keep me accountable.


I thought we would get everything done while I was home over the holiday, but in reality I think I slept in my bed like 3 of the 12 nights I was off work and that didn’t happen. Instead, we lived with swatches for a month and finally tackled it over MLK weekend while the kids were at home, before hosting a little political house party.

We chose Behr Fresh Olive for the walls because I wanted a more toned down green than the Shamrock Surprise (just imagining that’s what it was called!) that has been on the walls since we’ve moved in. My friend Katy has such a cool, relaxed and earthy style so I basically copied her.

Can I just say that climbing on counter tops is one of my favorite things? Hoisting myself up on top of the fridge to get to hard-to-reach spots was a weird thrill that made me feel like I was eight years old and breaking all of the rules.

Our goal is to swap out our Very Green laminate countertops this year for a white/gray quartz, but we haven’t raided the piggy bank for that yet. I was hoping the walls would cool my intense desire to rip the kitchen out, but now I just want counters more.

We added some new art, too! The folks at the Swedish brand Photowall approached me about a blog feature and I was drooling over their made-to-fit wall murals but that wouldn’t work on our mostly textured plaster walls. So we thought a custom canvas would be a cool option for a big blank space over the basement stairs.


You can choose from stock images or upload your own art, and I definitely was into personalizing. We did a big (about 4′ x 2.5′) wrapped canvas of an image Joe took when we were on our babymoon in Decorah, Iowa. We got up and watched the sun rise over the prairie at Heritage Valley, where INHF is preserving land and it was magical.Now we get to look at it every time we’re cooking!

The Photowall canvas ships super fast via DHL (like, we ordered it Sunday night and got it that Thursday afternoon), but there’s some assembly required. Joe and Eileen teamed up to put it together and he said it was even easier than IKEA furniture.


Good news, dear readers! YOU can get 20% off your Photowall.com order using the code BSITMWCampaign2018 at checkout through Feb, 2018. Go forth and re-decorate.

Phase 2? We mostly enter the house through the back door, so we’re thinking about trying to DIY a beadboard drop zone with some hooks over where we keep our trash and recycling. We’ll see if we get to that and the counters done when summer hits (plus swap out our hardware for something darker), so we can grill out while our kitchen is crazy and be ready for life with a Kindergartener this fall!

Disclosure: The team at Photowall provided me with the canvas. Views are my own! 

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What I’m into: December ’17

I’m halfway through my holiday break and am wondering if staying at home while sending my kids to daycare is an option for like, ever. I mean, I love working, but I might love baking banana bread in my pajamas while watching Netflix slightly more right now.

I finished “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and “History of Wolves” from my holiday book stack. Neither is particularly uplifting (understatement) but both are beautifully written. And, they’re short so I knocked out 20+ books this year! I’m flipping through David Sedaris’ “Theft by Finding” and it’s fun.


He’s a great example of someone whose 20s were a hot mess, but now he’s an internationally celebrated author. They’re all edited diary entries from 1977-2002. I recently came across some of my old diaries from my early 20s, and I’ve been thinking about starting an analog one up again. It’s fascinating to hop back to what was consuming my mind back then, and I have the worst memory, so it helped me recall that time period. I feel like I’m in such a fun phase of life right now, and I’ve just mostly been storing things on this blog for the past seven years.

I haven’t had a show of my own (one I don’t watch with Joe) in forever and have hardly watched any TV in the past several months. So when I read about Alias Grace, a Netflix miniseries based on a Margaret Atwood novel, I was intrigued. If you love period dramas (costumes!), feminism, and aren’t super squeamish (it’s not appropriate for kids at all), this is your next bingewatch! Joe and I are also digging into Season II of The Crown.

My goal was to clean the basement while I was off, but instead I got out my sewing machine for the first time in forever to make a Christmas gift, and whipped up a few of these slobber monkey pattern bibs and caught up on podcasts while I was at it. It’s such a fun and satisfying little project, and you can get two out of two fat quarters.

I’ve had gray hairs since college, and a few years ago decided to start dying on the regular. (I wish I could be one of those confident gray-at-30 ladies, but it’s not for me!) If I stay on top of things, I would be dying it every five or six weeks, which is not sustainable at salon prices/my budget. I was using drugstore box color, but it felt really one-dimensional. I started using Madison Reed for mail-order color, and I’m totally in love.


It’s free of nasty stuff like ammonia, parabens and Phthalates  and includes nourishing ingredients that make my hair feel shiny and awesome. Plus, I get it delivered to my door every seven weeks, and the kit is simple enough that someone like myself who has an otherwise low-maintenance beauty routine can figure it out. Use this referral code for $15 off your first Madison Reed order (disclosure: I also get a $15 credit, so thanks!) and let me know what you think: http://give.madison-reed.com/j6VQp 

All of you Okoboji people already knew about this place, but I had my first Spudnutz donuts when we were up there for a wedding over Christmas and they were life-changing.


I got a sample donut hole while waiting in line and increased my order from 20 holes to 30 and then got two big donuts, too, because I couldn’t believe my mouth. It was excessive, but we drove around and looked at the frozen lake houses and ate them and then they came in handy the next morning as a hangover cure. So. Good. It seems like a lot of work to attempt to make them at home.

I hope everyone is having a safe and cozy holiday! I feel so fortunate to have this time off to rest and reset!

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Scotland suggestions?

I just put my out of office reply on and temporarily deleted outlook from my phone. Vacation mode activated! We’re just bopping around the midwest this winter, so I’m using my time off to dream about a summer adventure.

One of my favorite college friends (and former roomies) is having a wedding in Dundee, Scotland this coming August, and a few of us are seizing the invitation as an opportunity to create an overdue, overseas 10-year reunion.

I haven’t been back to the UK since I studied abroad in London in 2006, and I am so excited for Joe and I to have a kid-free adventure on the horizon. I’m starting to follow all of the Scottish instagram accounts, so now my feed is 70% kids and 30% coos:

This photo of The Hairy Coo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I’m also scouting some Airbnb options and of course there’s a castle that sleeps 14!

We’re looking at nine days in the beginning of August. We’ll probably fly into London and spend a few days in the city and maybe get a rail pass to explore the countryside? I’d love to do a mini bike trip for a couple of days.

Have you been to Scotland? I’m taking all sorts of suggestions!

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Books I read in 2017

After becoming a mother, even more than reclaiming my body, I have longed to get back into my reading groove. The past few months, it’s definitely felt like that’s started to happen and I’m feeling more at home in myself than I have for a long time.

Maybe it’s the fact that my kids are finally at a point where they can play semi-independently. I feel much better about lounging on the couch with a book than I do scrolling through my phone while they fight over magnets.

Last month when Joe was out of town for the week and I was solo parenting, I actually took a half vacation day to finish a book club book while getting a pedicure and drinking coffee. It was glorious. Self-care, for me, is making room to read.

Getting an alumni card to the Drake University library has also been a game-changer. They have all of the new literary fiction out in a special “leisure reading” section and it seems like the college students are too slammed with studying to check anything out. Plus, it’s open super late and just down the street, so it’s super easy to bike or walk over.

My book club also continues to be a source of joy and sisterly connection. Even if we don’t love, love the book, the meeting is something I always look forward to because those women are the most genuine, funny, smart – I could go on.

Following my ‘Books I read in 2016‘ list, I thought I’d make one for this year!

Brianne’s books of 2017

This year, I tried to focus more on works from voices that are typically more marginalized. I’m probably forgetting a few that I read, too.

Book Club kicked off 2017 with “Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I think we collectively didn’t love the plot, but did love some of the snippets because Zadie Smith.

Then we read Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, which was fantastic but also kicked a bunch of young moms in the ribs repeatedly because it follows two women dealing with infertility and adoption and immigration and deportation. It’s fictional, but it’s also very real.

I listened to “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid which is a great book to experience in audio form. I had a free trial of scribd, a reading subscription service. I got it out of the library for Joe later, too. It’s a magical realist take on mass-migration and is quick and compelling.

I breezed through Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different” which is a comedy that packs some existential punches, too. (This didn’t really adhere to my marginalized voices goal, and I read it on my phone.)

Over my birthday week, I dove into  “Commonwealth” by Ann Pachett, who is one of my favorite authors.  Reading her books is like knitting with a luxurious, expensive wool that makes you want to pull our your stitches just so you can feel it roll around in your fingers a little longer.

I read “The Mothers,” by Britt Bennett, which was a good story and I cared about the characters when I was reading it, but didn’t stick with me like some of the others I read this year.

On vacation, I read “The Hate You Give,” by Angie Thomas. It’s technically a YA book, but a powerful Black Lives Matter coming of age story.

I also read “Do Not Become Alarmed” by Maile Maloy, which I think I liked much more than anyone else in book club. It’s a harrowing story, though (fictional) about a family vacation gone terribly wrong, so maybe I was just in the mindset. I liked her description of parenthood.

Trials of the Earth,” a recently re-issued memoir of pioneer woman Mary Mann Hamilton. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods the firs time and being freaked out by the girls blowing up pig intestines to play with. Well, adult me was losing my mind at the matter-of-fact recounting of so much hardship and death Mary experienced.

I cried through “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. It was haunting and beautiful and disorienting. I loved it even when I really didn’t like it.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, was a book club pick. We all loved her book “The History of Love” but this one wasn’t universally appreciated by the squad. It’s a divorce book and the Kafka and Israel references were outside of my scope of familiarity. There were some really beautiful passages, though.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong was such a quick, warm read. It’s about a breakup and Alzheimer’s and I’m pretty sure I read it in one sitting. It starts out around Christmas and would be a good one to pack on a family trip.

I read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan because book club was super pumped to pick her new book “Manhattan Beach” for December’s club and that wasn’t available at the library yet. I had to check the publish date (2010) because it felt both really current and slightly dated. I liked it a lot although I didn’t attach as much to the characters as I think I was supposed to. Maybe I read it too quickly?

All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda was a page-turner/thriller/bestseller. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll probably like this. (I stayed up really late over Thanksgiving to finish it while everyone was sleeping!)

You’ll Grow Out of It” by Jessi Klein had me laughing out loud. Her confessional essays about taking baths and Anthropologie were so spot-on. I thought the first half of the book was better than the second, but it was a quick read. She has this great section about realizing there are two main types of women: wolves & poodles (based on their innate femininity) and I was like YES! I’ve always felt like a ‘wolf’ and her description is so perfect and hilarious.

Here’s my book stack that’s due Jan. 7:

I think I’ll let Joe read the Sedaris and I started “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward tonight. (I heard “Made for Love” was totally crazy but good.) It’s a little ambitious, but I have 12 days off around the holidays, and lots of miles to travel, so I’m hoping to make it through most.

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What I’m into: October 2017

Drinking a cup of coffee right before putting the kids to bed (or, rather, letting one’s husband put the kids to bed because he’s going to be at a work thing the following night) is a totally good idea, right? Checking in on the old blog to get myself focused for an evening of productivity.


I got an alumni library card for the Drake University Cowles Library (thanks, MPA degree!) and it is so awesome. College students don’t read for fun, and so their selection is well-stocked. Plus, it’s a quick bike ride from my house.

Leave it to “Trials of the Earth,” a recently re-issued memoir of pioneer woman Mary Mann Hamilton, to give me a little perspective in life. I’ve always been drawn to pioneer stories (team Laura Ingalls Wilder forever) but this is such a blunt, raw, moving account. Pioneer life was hard work, and as this NPR review puts it :

Beyond everything else, this memoir impresses on readers just how easy it was to vanish in an earlier America. Fevers and accidents carry off loved ones, sometimes in a matter of hours; in other instances, it’s simply the promise of a better life in the next county that lures Hamilton’s friends and relatives away, never to be seen again.

I also skimmed “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated” on our trip back to Chicago for a wedding. It breaks things down into 10 pretty simple rules. We’re doing most of the things listed, but I’m hoping to be much more proactive/knowledgeable about our finances and there were some chapters that covered new ground for me. It’s also funny and approachable, if you’re looking for smart advice in this department.


Our veggie drawer hath overfloweth this fall, between our own little garden, produce from neighbors and a half share of the Blue Gate Farm CSA. I just defrosted some grated zucchini from last month and made up another batch of Smitten Kitchen zucchini fritters tonight. So. Good.

You seriously can’t go wrong with any of Deb’s recipes (and I’m not a huge cook) so I got Joe a copy of her new cookbook for his birthday, with the promise I’d make him whatever he wanted from it.


I post kind of a lot about places we visit as a family, and I have been loving the blog Des Moines Outdoor Fun since discovering Stephanie via Instagram. She seems like a total kindred spirit. We checked out Margo Frankel State Park on Sunday morning (north Des Moines – almost Ankeny) after seeing one of her posts, and it was a great little spot to spend a couple of hours with the kids.

I also recently joined the Polk County Conservation Advisory Board (don’t be too impressed, I basically just e-mailed to ask to be on it!) and attended my first meeting out at Yellow Banks State Park (Runnells/Pleasant Hill area).

It was neat to see a new-to-me nature spot, and we got a sneak peek at some plans for cabins there, and saw how the little lake had been re-done. There’s a backpacking camp area just an eighth of a mile from the parking lot/dock, so I think we might be able to try that out with the kiddos next summer.

Dressing up with my husband

Joe and I got fancy for a reception in Chicago at Lacuna Lofts, where my little brother will have his wedding next fall. It’s a funky site with a great view of the skyline. I’m so excited for him! I get to be a groomswoman.

We brainstormed our Halloween costumes on the way home and decided to go as protected bike lanes and the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge!

I used to love coming up with the Iowa/Des Moines themed costumes when I worked for the YP weekly, and it felt good to get creative, even if it was kind of last minute.

I can’t believe tomorrow is November! Even though this year has been generally awful (in my opinion) on a macro scale, and I’ve had my first panic attack about the state of the globe, I am so, so thankful for my family, my community and the happiness in my life.


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