This is Halloween!


By Ally Chan, sophomore writing coach

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter and cooler, and everywhere you walk, colorful leaves crunch under your feet. The air smells sweet. You and your friends might’ve visited a pumpkin patch or walked through a corn maze. Maybe you and your family have been picking honeycrisp apples to make an apple cinnamon pie at home. It’s the time of year to stay inside when the days get chilly, so you can stay under that fuzzy blanket with a pumpkin spice latte and your favorite book. Maybe your plans are to go shopping for woodsy-scented candles at White Barn. You might be marking off your calendar as the days go past, grinning when you know Halloween is just around the corner.


Halloween. Who couldn’t be more excited for such a fun and unique holiday like Halloween? It’s fun to go shopping for bags of candy at Target, setting up your Halloween decorations in your home, and picking out the perfect costume to go trick-or-treating in. And when the day comes, you and your friends get together and go around gathering generous handfuls of candy, collecting all of it in a big bag and watching all that candy pile up. When you’ve gone through the whole neighborhood, you and your friends go home to trade for your favorite candies and stuff yourself with everything you can eat. Who doesn’t want that?


According to Forbes, in 2017, more than 179 million people celebrated Halloween. The average person spent $25 buying bags of candy to hand out and another $30 to stock up on Halloween decor. Not only that, but people are willing spend the big bucks on costumes that could range from a cheap $10 up to a shockingly expensive $100. The top 5 costumes of 2017 were: superheroes, animals, Star Wars characters, witches, and vampires. Halloween spending has reached a record of $9.1 billion last year, which surpassed 2016’s Halloween spending by $700 million. So, let the statistics speak for themselves: Americans really love Halloween, so much so that they’d spend so much money to get into the holiday spirit. But who can blame them?


So whether you’ll be dressing up as Spider-Man or Princess Peach this year and go trick-or-treating with your friends, handing out king-sized candy bars to the neighborhood kids who ring your doorbell at night, carving pumpkins with family, or just sitting at home to eat those decadent Dove chocolate candies while watching a horror movie, I encourage all to celebrate the exciting holiday of Halloween!

Not that kind of “doctor”…

by Dr. Shannon Puechner, Minnetonka Writing Center Co-Director


My shoulders started to shudder, my breath caught in my throat and my eyes started to water. I collapsed on the couch sobbing and blubbering incomprehensibly… again. My spouse, Nic, and my middle-school-aged son, Braeden, rushed to my side, sat with me on the couch saying it will be okay. You can do this. In the final months of dissertation writing, when I was writing for literally 11 hours a day, this scene repeated a few times a week. We burned through boxes of kleenexes like nobody’s business.




When I started my Ph.D. program in literacy education at the University of Minnesota, I figured I was already a great writer, and that writing a dissertation would be just a more complex and much longer version of the same five-paragraph-essay type-writing I’d been doing since high school. This was definitely not the case.


Dissertations vary depending on the field of study, but they always involve doing “original research” meaning you have to ask a question no one else has asked, and conduct some kind of study to answer it. I did an ethnographic study which meant I observed a teacher in his class for a year, taking notes and audio-recording what I observed. This ended up being MUCH harder than I thought. It was really exhausting to paying attention to every little thing that happened in the class when I had already passed 9th grade English a 20 years ago.


It also produces sooooo muuuuuch data. Hundreds of pages of notes, hundreds of hours of tape. And when it’s time to write…. I had to re-read and re-listen to all of it, somehow deciding what tiny bits of it I want to write about. It was really really hard to narrow my topic with so much data to choose from. You sort of fall in love with your data and get really attached to all the hard work you’ve done, not wanting to leave anything out.




Once I was finished conducting research I had to write the actual dissertation. The weirdest and most difficult part was the lack of direction and structure in the dissertation process. There is no class, no teacher, it’s completely independent work. It was really weird to have no assignment, no rubric, no rules, no deadlines – it was all up to me – I could do basically anything I wanted.




Even more strange, although a dissertation is the biggest, baddest, hardest piece of writing you might ever do, it’s not really expected to be very good! Everyone knows a dissertation is the first time you’ve ever done writing like this, and maybe the first time you’ve ever done original research. In fact a dissertation is pass/fail! And in reality I don’t think anyone “fails,” if you managed to get it “finished” enough, and “good” enough, you pass. If it’s not good enough yet, you keep trying.


It took me five years, from proposing the project, to conducting the research, to writing the actual document and finishing my dissertation. On August 30th, 2018 I finally emailed my advisors the 293 page, 72,958 word document.




Honestly, I hated it. I was embarrassed and thought it was surely the worst thing ever, but no time to have too many feelings about it because on September 13 at 10am, I had to “defend” the dissertation which is also called the oral exam.


It isn’t really a test though. Your advisor won’t let you get to this part if it isn’t already good enough to pass. So really, it was just 40 minute presentation to friends and family, and then another 40 minutes of chatting with my 4 advisors who had (theoretically) read the dissertation. All of my practice sessions were horrible, though. I was stuttering, skipping important stuff and spending too long on unimportant things. Even the night before it was pretty bad. But the morning of my defense I woke up confident. When I started my defense it was really easy. I found I knew what to say, I was smiling, I didn’t even get sweaty hands or feel like my throat was closing up and my heart was pounding. It went really well. During my “exam,” my committee said really nice things and made me feel really great about my work. When it was all over they said, “Congratulations, Dr. Puechner!” and it felt absolutely fantastic. Somehow, even though I hated my dissertation just weeks before, I now really like it and I feel proud.




Since this is the Writing Center blog I do want to share a few things I learned about writing along the way.


  • Parking Downhill: Because it was such a big project it (obviously) couldn’t be finished in one sitting. This meant it was easy to “lose my place” and have to spend a bunch of time trying to remind myself what to do next. A teacher at the UMN Writing Center taught me about “parking downhill.” This means at the end of a work session, before you leave your desk, you write yourself a quick note about what you did that day and, most importantly, what you will do next when you sit down. This was a LIFESAVER.
  • The importance of having an audience: Because I could do basically whatever I want, and because I had about 100 times more ideas than I could possibly fit in my dissertation, sometimes it was hard to write anything coherent. I would blabber on with no clear point. Plus my voice was weird and artificial. But when I knew someone was going to read it, I could write like I was talking to them and it was so much easier.
  • GET FEEDBACK!  I used the UMN writing center almost weekly. It REALLY helped to talk about an actual human about what I was doing rather than keeping it all inside my head never knowing if I was making sense. I also met up with friends to read each other’s work as often as I could. I definitely couldn’t have finished it without these helps!
  • Write behind yourself: I don’t remember where I got this advice, but it really helped. I found that whenever I wrote something I thought it was terrible because it never captured what I was thinking. But when you’re writing about really complex stuff, you can’t really write about what you’re thinking – it’s not fully cooked yet! You can’t produced “finished” writing unless you write about what you’ve “finished” thinking!

Something to Do Over MEA


by Isabella Milacnik, junior writing coach

MEA is finally here! With all of the homework done and tests taken, we can sit back and relax during this long weekend. The only problem is that we are always used to doing something! What is there to do now? The sad thing is that we are bored because now we have a short break from being swamped with school and sports. Don’t worry, I have some great ideas that will help you to have a fun MEA break. These ideas will also help you to enjoy fall one last time before winter swoops in (even though it already snowed and it’s only OCTOBER). Some ideas for MEA are:

  • Visit the arboretum!! It is so beautiful there, and it is a great place for pictures
  • Go stargazing somewhere interesting (like a new city you’ve never been to)
  • Go to the Midtown Global Market! Here, you can experience many different types of foods from various cultures
  • Visit an apple orchard for some pretty scenery and picking apples48A4FB7B-E3B7-4610-BF3C-335C3A23BA90
  • Go to Valleyfair (or Valleyscare) before it gets too cold
  • If you want something more indoors, go to the Mall of America for some shopping
  • Visit colleges. This could be something out-of-state or in-state, but it all depends on what you’re interested in!!
  • Go to a pumpkin patch to pick out a perfect pumpkin for Halloween and make a jack-o-lanternC2FA1A62-A115-4015-87B7-3B420130AF34.jpeg
  • Visit nearby family
  • Road trip to somewhere new, like Minnesota’s biggest candy store in Jordan
  • Watch scary movies with friends to get a jump start on Halloween scares
  • Bake some of your favorite fall foodsB56855F5-9E41-4595-9105-A52180C7EB60.jpeg
  • Jump in leaves and enjoy the pretty colors on the trees

If you don’t like any of these ideas, you could always start preparing for the holidays by making music playlists or baking cookies for you and your friends. I hope you all have a great MEA break and come back feeling refreshed!

Movies to Snuggle Up to This Fall

By Molly Smerillo, senior writing coach

It’s October! October in Minnesota is known for its gray skies and gusty winds. While it can be rather chilly here in the autumnal months, I, along with many other Minnesotans, persevere and embrace outdoor fall activities not matter the weather. From apple picking to pumpkin carving, we are all for it!

Going outside and braving the blustery weather can be great, but sometimes all I want to do is cuddle up in a cozy sweater and fuzzy socks with some hot apple cider. On days when you would rather stay in, I highly recommend snuggling in for an all day movie marathon. Here are a few movies that are perfect for your movie day:

You’ve Got Mail


You’ve got mail is a romantic comedy from the late 90s that takes place in New York City. The movie focuses on a woman who owns a small bookshop and a man who owns a large chain of bookstores. The two characters meet online and fall in love, but when they finally come face to face the romance is hindered by their competing businesses. The bustling city and the autumnal setting in this film make it a must-watch in the fall.

Halloween Town


Halloween Town is a funfamily-friendly movie that is a must watch this October. The movie focuses on three kids who have never been allowed to celebrate Halloween. Their grandma comes to visit one day from a mysterious town that the children are kept from visiting. When their grandma heads back home, they decide to secretly follow her. They then find themselves in a mysterious place called “Halloween Town.”

Harry Potter


When in doubt, Harry Potter always gets me in the fall spirit. This series is set in the spooky halls of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Harry Potter and his best friends, Ron and Hermione, use their knowledge of spells in order to save their world from the evil Voldemort. From goblings to ghosts, these movies will make you want a cozy blanket to hide under!

Gilmore Girls

TCDGIGI WB018Yes, Gilmore Girls is a TV show, but it always gets me in the fall spirit so I simply had to include it as a must-watch. Set in Stars Hollow,Connecticut, the show follows Lorelai and Rory Gilmore’s hectic life, from boy drama to family emergencies to managing Ivy League courses. It’s never a dull day in the Gilmore house. Stars Hollow in October, with its falling leaves and blustery winds, is sure to make you want to cuddle up with a blanket and a cup of tea.


It’s Only a Game…

Image result for caraval

By Alexa Vos, senior writing coach


My first thought when I looked at the cover of this book was that Caraval was carnival spelled wrong. After reading the novel, I realize that I wasn’t fully amise in my original assessment, but don’t get me wrong, there is so much more to Caraval than meets the eye.

While Caraval embodies some traits that you think of in relation to a carnival–fantastic clothing and over-the-top performances–the book creates a world, specifically an island, that surpasses every party, production, and carnival combined. The majority of the book is set on an island owned by the Master of Caraval. Caraval itself is a special event to which only a select few are invited but remains well-known since the “game” is said to be full of magic. Those who attend Caraval have the option to be a spectator, experiencing the more entertaining side, or a player, participating in the opportunity to solve all the clues and win the prize (which this year is a wish).

Caraval only takes place during the night. The magic and people’s actions experienced at Caraval are not meant to be seen in daylight since beauty and deception work together best in the dark. And don’t be mistaken, magic does exist in Caraval, which is seen in the imaginative forms of currency, the folds of dresses, and the curious abilities some characters possess.

Caraval is intended to make everyone believe that what they see, hear, and experience is real even though all are warned twice not to get too carried away and to “remember, it’s only a game…” On numerous occasions this warning surfaces in the main character’s mind, not only as her thoughts but as repetitive warnings to the reader. While all books take readers in and show them a new world, only Caraval can take them into a magical world and deceive the reader into believing all aspects of it while also warning them to think for themselves. Caraval masterfully keeps the reader thinking and reading between the lines of what’s really going on in the crazy world.

Furthermore, the author’s unique descriptions bring in feelings and thoughts more than authentic adjectives. For example, one of my favorite quotes involves the main character, Scarlett, describing something as “[tasting] like exquisite nightmares and stolen dreams, like the wings of fallen angels, and bottles of fresh moonlight.” Another thing I love about this book is how Scarlett mostly follows readers’ thoughts and promptings (you know, if readers could actually control characters) and therefore is really relatable. However, do remember then if you find yourself fusing with her that Caraval’s warnings are for both her and you as mind games are exquisitely twisted in.

Moreover, Caraval artfully combines magic, mind-games, entertainment, beauty, and deception into one amazing book that’s sure to leave you wanting more. Therefore, I encourage you to read this novel and enter a new world, the world of Caraval.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game.” — Stephanie Garber, Caraval

Help! My Rats Have Eloped!


By Kaya Gendreau, senior writing coach

Help! My rats have eloped!


Ok, you got me. I have neither rats (let alone eloping ones), nor the desire to ever own those scabby rodents (sorry to all the rat lovers out there). But now that I have your attention, I would like to expose myself for a few moments and share a revelation that I just recently had.

While procrastinating on my AP Psych reading a few weeks ago, I was doing some free drawing, per usual. Five minutes later, I came up with this icon.


I am not exactly sure as to why this idea popped up into my head. It probably something to do with the constant nautical theme that is ingrained into every Minnetonka student’s mind (not that I hate it, I do not mind the idea, actually). Anyways, I did not think much of the drawing at first. It was not until about a week later that I realized its significance. It represented something oh-so-vital to everybody’s lives: an anchor.

Just as a boat needs something to hold it in place, it occurred to me that people, similarly, need at least one person, event, or place in their life that keeps them from floating away. It is in my belief that everyone has a safe haven, where they can escape whatever curveballs life has thrown at them, somewhere where they can decompress, and find themselves.

Personally, the anchor in my life is my mom. She is the one who I go to for all types of struggles, the one who will be true to me, and whose opinion I value the most. She knows me the best and never fails to tell me what I need to hear. I know I can always rely on her to pull me back in when I am drifting away from who I am. Without her, I am not exactly sure where I may have drifted to.

It is in my firm belief that it is important to take some time and reflect on what your anchor is. What keeps you sane? What keeps you happy? Who is that person you can always trust?

What keeps you, you?

Whether your anchor is your dad, dog, or that quiet room in the house that no one else ever uses, take time to appreciate it. If it is a person, do not forget to thank them for whatever it is they do that keeps you stable.

And for all of you that just skipped ahead to the last line, remember to never let your neighbor watch your rats again. EVER!


Yours truly,