We have four weeks of school left. Four. Weeks. Personally I don’t think any learning happens in June. When standardized testing is over and the air conditioners aren’t working and everyone is just sweaty and sleepy and ready for summer. But, I have 19 more days with them. Nineteen more days where I am responsible for their safety, their happiness, their education. This year has been the hardest of my life (a note about vicarious trauma, grad school while working full time, burnout, newfound anxiety, self-care, understaffed schools, and mid-year promotions later). But teaching, like any profession (especially helping professions), is made possible by balancing difficult moments with beautiful ones. Those moments here and there that make it worth it.

Sometimes they are right in front of you – a hug, a kind word, a little victory, a surprise gift of chocolate covered espresso beans. Sometimes you have to look very hard to see them. Sometimes you go days without any moments and that is when the burnout hits you hardest and you feel endlessly tired and cry at your desk. But sometimes there are days composed of moments so bright, the whole thing is iridescent. Last Thursday was one.

I had been dropping hints that my birthday was coming for a while because I wanted to see if the kids would remember. Every morning I pick them up from the gym to bring them to homeroom and I expected that one kid would remember and then they would all join in with the ‘happy birthdays’ after being reminded.

Instead, I walked in and was immediately swarmed by eleven year olds. Eleven year olds with arms outstretched, screaming. Maybe they were actually that excited about my birthday. Maybe they just wanted to scream. Don’t we all? I got a card with several spelling variations of my name, a card that just said “Happy” from my little boy who doesn’t speak English, a beaded necklace, a stuffed octopus, and a bag of Hershey kisses that I was told explicitly not to share with anyone. You don’t have to tell me twice, Alicia.

I think they behaved a little better than normal during class. Maybe it was my imagination or rose-colored glasses from all the love that morning. Maybe it’s because there was a line in the book we are reading that says, “I pooped it out!” and I couldn’t help but scream it at the top of my lungs in the hopes that all the surrounding classes heard. The kids pretended to be embarrassed because they think they are too cool for poop jokes, but they secretly loved it. I know because later I got a card that said “have a very hapy poop….I mean birthday.” Thanks, Lizbeth.

And it didn’t even stop there. My co-workers and brothers in arms gave me the most thoughtful note and gift-card to Starbucks (which I was told one of my students approved because “Ms. Smogard only likes coffee, books, X-Men, and minions”. You’re not wrong, Carlos). The next morning I swapped classes for prep-periods with another teacher and I got to spend three uninterrupted fresh morning hours lesson planning with 16 ounces of coffee. I could not remember when I had last been happier. That night we celebrated with rum, games, stories, cakes, and a violently decapitated piñata.

PSA – don’t leave your phone unattended at a party. This is what happens.

The next morning we escaped to Portland, ME for some sunshine and lobster. It’s been a weekend full of moments and I’m ready for four more weeks.

Birthday Baking

Every year for my birthday my mom made me the exact same thing: simple yellow cake with chocolate icing. She’d make double deckers so there was always a layer of fudgy frosting in the middle. I’d eat a piece with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and for dessert–always accompanied with a tall glass of milk.

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I’m on the left (I wasn’t kidding when I said I have had this cake my entire life), my mom is on the right. Uncanny resemblance, huh?

She is a firm believer in the you-can-add-anything-to-a-boxed-recipe-and-make-it-special mentality, which I completely support. Making things from scratch is a very recent development for me and–while I really enjoy it–I’d say I fall into that same category of bakers. I love the novelty of strange recipes that you can only make by taking individual ingredients and mixing them together in a very specific way, but I’ve realized that this process is for me, the maker, more than it is for the eaters. Did the big boys I lived with senior year notice that the cakes I made them came from boxes (with a few extra ingredients added)? They certainly didn’t care–judging by the mumbly mouth-fulls of ‘thank you’ and ‘this is the best cake I’ve ever had’–and there are a few things I’d like to say to the people who would care (namely, get over yourself and give me back my cake).

Then I went away to school and experienced my first birthday where I wasn’t surrounded by the faces I’ve known my whole life. My parents sent me a box with candy and a new dress for spring. My freshman year roommate (who would become my every-year-of-college roommate and my best friend in the whole world) wrote me the best birthday song (I should probably ask her permission before I post that bad boy on here), made sure to tell everyone we passed on campus that it was my birthday, and tricked me into coming to the student center where there was cake and smiling friends waiting for me. Needless to say, it was a wonderful day.

Without any kind of formal agreement, my group of friends in college faithfully rallied together to make a cake for every single one of our birthdays. They weren’t fancy, slaving-away-with-a-mixer-getting-flour-in-your-hair affairs. Just a group of girls who liked to tell their friends that they loved them. And that really, really liked to eat cake.

It wasn’t yellow cake with chocolate frosting at my circular kitchen table, but it was 7 girls eating funfetti on the floor straight from the pan. It was everyone gathering in my tiny dorm room to surprise me with better-than-sex cake (good lord) on my 20th birthday and miraculously having enough for breakfast the next morning. And it was perfect.

I haven’t always loved birthdays this much and I have never been a baker, but college instilled in me the firm belief that people need two things on their birthday: to know that they are special and baked goods.

Birthdays are getting stranger now though. When you’re little, every year is a triumph and just one step closer to getting to that elusive point of ‘God I wish I could just be this age because then I would be taller and my life would be so much cooler because I can hang out with boys/watch R rated movies/drive/drink/whatever magical clarity and awesomeness you thought being older had’.

But now we are getting ‘older’ and when this happens birthdays become something to be feared. Several of my friends are reaching the ‘quarter of a century old’ age and are teetering on the balance of wanting to ‘live it up while you’re still young’ and accepting the fact that what they really want is to go to bed early and not be hungover. It seems like everywhere I turn there are lists of ’20 things you learn in 20s’ or ’30 reasons why being in your 30s is actually better than being in your 20s’. I understand why people are so obsessed with and somewhat fearful of ageing. It means endings, changes, and being faced with the reality that times just moves far too quickly.

In exactly one month I turn 23. On the one hand, it is really strange that I’m not a child anymore. Nor am I an adolescent. But am I really an adult when the thing I’m most sad about this birthday is that I won’t be able to sing Taylor Swift’s “22” anymore with the same conviction?

A devilishly charming Scottish man once told me that there was nothing more lovely than a 28 year old American woman–presumably because she has a grace about her that balances youth with wisdom, restlessness and contentedness, ambition and acceptance. I’m not sure where the American part plays in, but I am holding onto that image with an iron grip. Mostly because it comforts me to remember that the increments of five–25, 30, 35–are not the only years that matter. They are ones we think about because who fantasizes (or has nightmares) about being 28? That is just an in-between year where you are basically 30. But then I think about how quickly life throws changes at you, how drastically people can grow in such a short time, and just how much can happen in a year.

And, in the end, a birthday means just that: another year. Some years are disproportionately filled with heartbreak, some are ‘transition’ years, some are uneventful, and some are life changing. But every year is an accumulation of memories, skills, laughs, and moments. 365 days of being alive–that is something to celebrate. And I will never stop celebrating the day that the people I love came into the world and another year of them being in my life. No matter how many candles are on the cake, you are never too old to feel special.

And so why baking, you ask? Aside from the social custom of a birthday cake, I think food is special because it warms you from the inside and also makes people gather, which is the best way to ensure that the birthday girl or boy is surrounded by people who love them (or at least want a slice of cake). Making people food is already somewhat thoughtful because it requires time and more money than you always think it will, but I also like to think about what particular cupcake would make the birthday recipient’s mouth water the most. What recipe do you hear and think ‘Oh! Yes! They would love this!’.

Wyatt was the first one my D.C. friends to get really drunk around the rest of us (don’t worry–we’ve taken turns being the drunkest girl at the party, but he was the first). He loves Gin and Tonics, but I was told that G&T cakes are temperamental and can easily become gross if not made just so. I also heard that baking with guinness is the key to dense, heavenly cakes and know that Wyatt shares my love for rumchata. So was born:

Guinness Cupcakes with Rumchata Frosting

Boozy Cupcakes

The verdict? I am never making any chocolate baked good without guinness again and rumchata should be in everything. The recipe was slightly adapted from these Irish car bomb cupcakes. I nixed the whiskey ganache because I’m not that fancy yet and made the frosting with half as much butter and powdered sugar and twice as much cream liquor. It was boozy and wonderful.

A week later I had to make something where the recipe (or even the baking theme) was not so obvious. I want people to feel like their life is cherished regardless of how long I’ve known them and I had only met this particular birthday girl once (as it goes with your boyfriend’s roommate’s significant other). But she is a sweetheart and invited me to her birthday wine tasting that was to be followed by said roommate’s sister’s baby shower. So I knew I needed something that a lot of people could partake in–which meant lots of portions and a taste that was relatively generic. A certain cookie recipe had been on my to-make list for a while and, turns out, it worked perfectly.

Masala Chai Snickerdoodles

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These little dudes are versatile and easy as can be. I did bake them for too long–I never learn with cookies–so one of the batches was a little burnt. I also added toffee bits to give them a little something extra. Since they are so small, I also had the idea to dress up a few for the birthday girl. I’m not one of those people who thinks a of craft, whips out the markers and twine and produces something effortlessly cute on command so I was REALLY excited when this turned out the way I wanted it too. Just a quick pit-stop to World Market for some wrapping paper, twine, and an inexpensive mug makes for a better-than-average cookie carrier. In my opinion.

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Since I’ve made the majority of my work friends’ birthday baked goods (Kate is my cooking comrade and has made most of them with me and taken over when I haven’t been able to bake) they keep joking that when my birthday finally rolls around, I am going to have a buffet of baked goods to choose from. All I really want to do for my birthday is see the new X-Men movie, but being surrounded by friends and a smorgasbord of desserts also sounds like a dream. It won’t be yellow cake with chocolate frosting, but I’m sure it will be just as sweet.

I don’t know about you…

but yesterday I was feeling 22. Because it was my birthday! I can’t think too much about the fact that I am no longer a teenager. Being 20 wasn’t really that exciting and being 21 felt kind of grown up, but still more like a kid because you had this special newbie status of finally being able to drink legally. 22, however, is a whole new animal. The next monumental birthday after this one is 30 (maybe 25 is special?) and it is often considered monumental is a negative (old) way. I personally think I will be a great 30 year old, but it still really freaks me out. This is also my last birthday in college which makes me incredibly sad. I hope that I meet more amazing people who will surround me with love and friendship and that I will be fortunate enough to celebrate my birthday with them next year, but it will not be the same. This year my wonderful friends made me feel so loved and special that I can’t even describe how good and cared for I felt. Plus, the whole school celebrated with me because it was Carleton’s spring concert so you can’t really ask for much more than that.

My birthday celebrations started a few days earlier in the week when we lied and told the people at the local sushi restaurant it was my birthday so we could get the free dessert. Yum.

ImageOn the actual day of my birth, I wanted to have people over for brunch before our annual spring concert began. Here is what we set up.


We needed something versatile that could also easily feed a lot of people. Pancakes seemed optimal along with some festive toppings and some drinks. I was really happy with the way it all turned out.

ImageUnfortunately this delightful set up did not last for very long.


And everything made is this house usually ends up with beer in it…

ImageBut it’s ok. Everyone enjoyed their pancakes. I put lots of sprinkles on mine because sprinkles make it ‘birthday’. That’s what I told people when I put sprinkles in their coffee as well. Solid logic on my part (maybe a mimosa or two deep).

ImageThe most important part was that my favorite people came and I think everyone had a great time. Something about senior spring makes everyone appreciate the little moments like this more and I heard a lot of people express that small things with friends, like eating pancakes and listening to music, were the things that they wanted to do the most before leaving school.

ImageImageAnd what lovely friends they are. Chantal even got me a foot long tootsie roll (a pre-birthday present Friday night, which I enjoyed in bed watching a movie because I was exhausted) because she knows how much I love them. Again, it’s the little things.

ImageAfter some breakfast and some drinks (and some face paint) we headed over to the concert where we danced, played lawn games, drank more, and laughed for rest of the day and evening. And we devoured this amazing cake Chantal made me.

ImageI did a lot of damage to this baby before someone stepped in it. I figured it would happen because everyone was running around and a little intoxicated, but it was pretty much almost gone and I had had my fair share. Overall it was a wonderful day full of friends, food, and mud. Thanks to everyone, near and far, who made me feel so loved and special.

ImageAnd, thank you to my lovely 30 followers! It means so much that you are interested enough in my simple, silly life to pop in every once in a while to read what I write. This whole blogging thing has been fun and I’m excited to keep it up and see how this blog changes as I change. Because in a few months my whole world is going to get flipped upside down as I graduate and move to D.C. Stick around. Things might get interesting.

Birthday Marathon #5

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHANTAL LENE BOJKREVINK DONAHUE. I actually have no idea how to spell her second middle name, but it is pronounced boke (like ‘poke’) er (like ‘her’) vink (like ‘stink’). Ain’t she pretty?

Sexy lady

While she does have an aptitude for distorting her face in impressively ugly ways (maybe more of those later), her normal face is super cute. Here’s the birthday girl getting pied in the face (something most people might not appreciate, but she LOVES it).

Pie Face

Of course, I made another Mix&Match Mama cake. This time it was Salted Caramel Mocha. Typing it now still makes my mouth water because it was heavenly. Everything went according to the recipe except for the frosting. I don’t have an electric mixer and so despite Karlie’s impressive biceps, the frosting didn’t whip very well and ended up being more of a thick glaze. Not to worry. As it turns out, a caramely sugar glaze that seeps into the cake and makes it incredibly moist is a delicious baking failure. Everyone said this one was their favorite, but when I asked them if they liked it better than the banana one (which had elicited some very mind-blown responses) they all looked off into the distance, their eyes widened, their taste-buds traveled back in time, and they they couldn’t decide.

After birthday girl showered and got the whipped cream out of her hair, we went to Hogan Brothers for her free sandwich (and cake) and then the Reub for 2 for 1 drinks and wings.

Ho Bros


2 for 1


Our party ended up getting crashed by the intoxicated ex-Mayor of Northfield. The conversation went something like this:

Ex-Mayor Man: You kids from Carleton?

Us: Yes!

Him (as he sits down): I graduated in 1971 and I’m drunk!

We chatted with him, he rapped for us, and bought a round of drinks. Definitely not the company we were expecting, but pretty entertaining.

Wormy, thanks for being the best friend a girl could ask for. I can’t count the number of times you’ve made me cry from laughing so hard and I am so excited for our friendship-honeymoon this summer where we gaze into eachother’s eyes while eating and walk hand in hand while the sun sets.