New Year, Same Ever Evolving Me

I am not really one for New Year’s resolutions. It seems like a really fantastic way to set yourself up for failure. Have you ever met someone who made a really fantastic change to their life and credits it to starting something on January 1? Yeah, me neither. (I’m really hoping you all said nope to that or you completely disproved this post.) Why would we decide to change our lives after a week of overeating, the day after staying up too late with a full day of football watching ahead of us? That just sounds like we are setting ourselves up for failure.

If anything, I believe in new school year resolutions. At the beginning of each school year, I make my advisory students do an activity where they make a resolution for each class, a professional resolution, their profession being a student, and a personal resolution. I do the same thing. This year, my professional resolution was to do every assignment that I assign to my students. I have no idea why they complain about homework because I think it is so much fun. I’m not even kidding. It’s what I do to de-stress. If anyone wants me to send some math assignments their way, I would be happy to do so. I’ve been doing a great job, and while a lot of my students are a month behind on homework, I’m about a month ahead. It’s been fun, it has helped me anticipate where students might struggle, and I think it puts more value on the work I assign if I say it’s so important that I’m going to do it too (even the word problems). My personal resolution was to cook at least three new recipes a month. After I ran out of new ways to make tacos, that one has kind of fallen apart. There’s always next year? (PS please send me all of your easy taco recipes.)

There are also a few things that I am famous for ranting about. Those things include (but are not limited to) people who use the snooze button (SET THE ALARM FOR THE LATEST TIME YOU NEED TO WAKE UP AND THEN GET UP YOU ARE JUST MAKING IT WORSE FOR YOURSELF), Wisconsin drivers (THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING. IF YOU ARE NOT ACTIVELY PASSING SOMEONE, PLEASE SCOOTCH YOUR 68 MPH GOING BOOTY OUT OF MY WAY AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, LEARN HOW TO USE A TURN SIGNAL), and people who go to the gym the first two weeks of January and are so busy getting endorphins that they forget how to be a decent human being. Now, I think fitness is great and that every single person should add it to their routine. It has been great for my physical health, my mental health, and my daily donut habit. If New Year’s resolutions are what help you find a love of fitness, great! But please, for the love of all things good, wipe down your machine when you are done, stop talking on your cell phone, don’t change the TV that someone is clearly watching, AND BRING HEADPHONES. NO ONE WANTS TO LISTEN TO YOUR MEDIOCRE TOP 40 JAMS.

The thing that gets me about New Year’s resolutions is the thought that we need to wait until a ball drops to change something in our lives. I would hope that I am continually evolving to become the best me that I can be. New year, same ever evolving me. As much as I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I do believe in taking the time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go, and I think a new year is a really great time to do that. So here are some of the things on my ever evolving list.

1.) I want to work on becoming a more consistent writer. Now I never want to feel like I need to churn out a certain amount of blog posts every month. That sounds counterproductive for all of us. However, I would like to be better about designating time to write, whether it is blog posts or just personal journaling. Now because I’m a firm believer in full disclosure, I think it is important that I inform you that this blog post has been in my drafts since last January. On the bright side, the bar is very low, so I feel like I can only improve!

2.) I want to deepen my yoga practice. I thought about committing to a certain number of classes each week or month, doing some sort of challenge, or finally signing up for a yoga teacher training. I don’t think yoga is at all about the quantity, but rather the quality. I want to make sure that whether I’m attending one class a week or seven, I am making sure my whole self is present and honoring where my mind and body are on my mat on that day.

3.)  I want to make sure I am always putting myself in life’s way. The best things happen when you put yourself in life’s way, both in the big and small ways. When the option comes to pull back or push forward, I hope I push forward. I hope this also eventually evolves into me being a way less picky eater, but that might be taking it to the extreme.

4.) I want to embrace my humanness. I often feel the need to try to be some sort of superhuman in all things I do and I hold myself to some ridiculous standards. Although I think it is important to always do my best and put my whole self into all that I do, I also hope to be better at honoring where I am at, even when where I am at is not perfect. To mean, this means recognizing the things that are really great about me and celebrating them. It also means embracing my flaws and respecting that I will always have them. Whether I’m happy, overjoyed, sad, frustrated, exhausted, confused, lost, hurt, or anything in between, I’m allowed to feel that way and it is okay to feel that way.

5.) I want to be better at embracing others in their humanness. Yes, this includes snooze button users, Wisconsin drivers, and New Year’s resolutioners at the gym. I think this goes hand in hand with allowing myself to be more human. When I remember that I am flawed it will allow me to embrace other people’s flaws. We are all just walking along this journey of life, no one knowing more than the next. We can always be learning for each other, and ideally always evolving into our best selves.

We are all works in progress, 365 days a year, all of the days of our lives. Every day is an opportunity to work towards becoming the person we want to be and living the life we want to live. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in the span of 365. Heck, it won’t happen in our lifespan. But that’s no reason not to always be working towards living our best lives, whatever that looks like wherever we are in life.

Why I Write

When people find out that I write a blog, they always ask me what I write about. My response is a little something like, “Uhhh life, my dead mom, teaching, grief, travel, you know, those kinds of things.” People also seem especially shocked when they find out that I am a high school math teacher, like the only thing I could possibly write would be geometry proofs. Actually, my math degree was considered a writing intensive degree because of the amount of writing required when it came to theoretical proofs THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Those made me not love writing so much because my professors did not seem to appreciate me trying to add my “voice” to my writing. I write a lot of letters of recommendation for students, and they always seem a little bit surprised when they read what I wrote, like maybe they thought I would exclusively use math symbols.

My earliest memory of writing was my Kindergarten entry in my school’s Young Authors competition. I took first place with my entry, a true story entitled “Me and My Apple Tree.” Apparently the judges looked past my grammatical error because they awarded me 1st place for my grade level. I remember sitting in our living room and dictating the story I wanted to tell to my mom, because you know, my actual writing skills in Kindergarten were subpar. She then typed the story about the apple tree that I was gifted for my birthday (because what 5 year old doesn’t beg for an apple tree for her birthday?) and I completed the illustrations (also subpar). The next year, I made a valiant effort to defend my title with the fictional “My Dog Spot.” One year, I partnered with my best friend to create a chapter book about aliens invading the school, and I still feel like we were cheated out of an award. In fifth grade, I won the coveted 1st place school award with my compilation of stories of my favorite memories with family memories. I followed that win up with a 1st place D.A.R.E. essay. You could say I peaked in 5th grade.

Through high school and college I was told what I had to write about by teachers and professors and like most teenagers, I didn’t like being told what I had to do. The one exception was my junior english class where we had to write for the first 5-10 minutes of class every single day, but we could write about whatever our hearts desired. I also kept a lyric diary, which was essentially whatever Dashboard Confessional lyrics summarized my teenage angst that day.

For a long time, I forgot how much I loved to write. Then my mom got sick and was willing to let me use my writing to keep family and friends updated. Writing those posts made me realize how therapeutic writing was, how it made me feel grounded and centered and a little less alone. After my mom died, a dear friend encouraged me to keep writing in some form or another. And from that came this blog.

Step one to setting up a blog is coming up with a name. My first year of teaching, I contemplated a teaching blog (because lol like I would have time to write on the regular) and I took to Facebook to get suggestions. Out of that came a tagline that I just loved: The exponential problems of growing up and other tangents on life. If I ever write a book about teaching, that’s golden. Please don’t steal it. I knew I wanted this blog to be more than just about teaching. I wanted it to be about wherever I happened to be in life, whatever happened to be on my mind. A piece of my mind. Writing gave me peace of mind. alittlepieceofmynd.

I’ve started a lot of things in my life that I didn’t stick with for very long. Dance classes, saxophone playing, speech performing, healthy eating, etc. So I had no idea if this would be just a phase. However, the internet has been letting me write the words that bubble up from deep inside of me for almost two years now. This spring, I decided to purchase my blog domain. Which really means next to nothing except that no one else can have it. Also, I get paid ad revenue. So with my current earnings of $0.45, I am officially a paid writer. I will not, however, be quitting my day job anytime soon.  I also have a family member who tells people I’m a writer anytime she talks about me, which I think is the absolute coolest and it hasn’t gone to my head in the least.

I am continually amazed when I find out that friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers read the words that I write. I might love writing, but I also love numbers, data, and statistics. I am repeatedly amazed when I see how many people have read my words, sometimes in different countries. Sometimes I think that it is completely absurd that I publish my thoughts and feelings on the internet for the world to read, but then I find out that someone relates to my writing, was moved by my writing, laughed at my writing, cried at my writing, or felt something because of my writing, and I realize how wonderful it is that people let me share this piece of me. So thank you for allowing me to share a piece of my mind while finding a little peace of mind.

27 Thoughts, Feelings, Musings, and Questions on 27 Years

I have always really loved birthdays. However, in recent years, birthdays have started to feel strange. I don’t know if it is because I am getting older or because of the loss of my mom. It’s probably a combination of both. But at the end of the day, I still love birthdays. How wonderful is it that we celebrate the day someone came into the world? Although I have the occasional mixed feelings on getting older, how truly wonderful is it that it is a thing I get to do? And how wonderful is it that one day a year, people call, text, post, and spend time with you to celebrate the fact that you exist in this world?

My earliest birthday memories are filled with my mom. I remember her telling me that they celebrated my existence when I was six months in the womb. Her birthday was a week before mine, but she always focused her time and attention on mine. She would start planning my birthday party with me as soon as school got out in the summer and planned it down to every last detail. When I was in college and celebrating my birthday for the first time with her far away, she decided to call a local bakery and convince them to deliver a cake to my dorm room. Now this bakery didn’t actually have a delivery service, but she told them it was my birthday and I had just moved 3.5 hours away from home. My mom had a way of getting what she wanted. She was so excited that she didn’t even wait for the cake to surprise me and called me to tell me it was coming and that I could share it with all of my new college friends. Well I had just started college and hadn’t made any friends when a cake that could feed 50 people showed up at my door. I may or may not have cried and ate a lot of cake myself before realizing that I had the secret to making friends in college in my hands: free food. September is so bittersweet without her.

In honor of my 27 trips around the sun, here are 27 thoughts, feelings, musings, and questions on my 27 years, in no particular order:

1.) Should I have my life together more at 27?

2.) But also, I have my life more together than some people, so maybe I’m doing alright.

3.) By 27, I should be better at remembering that there is no timeline or competition when it comes to living your life. We are all where we are and that’s where we are supposed to be.

4.) At what age will I start getting gray hair? Should I be using more expensive facial products to avoid wrinkles? Would my mom inform me of these things if she could?

5.) Speaking of my mom, will I ever get over the fact that she will never know me past 24 year old me?

6.) Would she be proud of 25, 26, and 27 year old me?

7.) I have gotten to see and do so many wonderful and exciting things over the past 27 years, but there are still so many more things I want to see and do.

8.) The first 27 went pretty darn fast. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to get another 27 more. And not to be greedy or anything, but I think I would like another 27 after that.

9.) In my 27 years, I’ve been so fortunate to have so many great people in my life. I sure do hope I get to keep those people and keep on adding to my collection.

10.) I think 7 and 17 year old me would think 27 year old me is pretty cool, but I don’t think I am who they would have predicted I would be.

11.) I am so glad I live in a world with dogs, chicken tacos, donuts, and iced coffees with mocha and cream (among other things).

12.) It’s super cool that I get paid to spend my days teaching some incredible young adults. There is something really special about getting paid to do something you are passionate about, while also getting three months off to pursue other things you are really passionate about.

13.) People read things I write on the internet and connect, laugh, and cry with me. It makes the world seem so big and small all at once, and it’s nice that people let me share pieces of me this way.

14.) Families will always be a bit messy and complicated, but mine is no different. But I am so fortunate to have the family I have, whether they are family by blood or family by life, they are family for life.

15.) At what age was I supposed to learn to stop eating like an unsupervised 5 year old at a birthday party? Is it too late?

16.) If life had always given me what I wanted when I wanted it, I wouldn’t have a lot of the things I have that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I should remember that often.

17.) At what age will I become someone who thinks waking up at 5:30am to become a contributing member of society is a thing I want to do on the regular?

18.) Will Taylor Swift please include a song about being 27 on her next album? I’m still singing “22,” but it’s way less applicable these days.

19.) I wholeheartedly believe that there is more good than bad in this world, you just have to look a little harder for it.

20.) How long will it take for me to stop writing “26” for my age? Will I be able to figure it out before I hit 28?

21.) I don’t really like odd numbers, but I guess 27 is my number for the next 365 days.

22.) How old were the characters in Friends? A little google search has informed me that they were between 24-27 when the show first started and 34-37 when the show ended.

23.) How many times will I watch Friends all the way through in my life?

24.) I sure hope I get to make this list when I’m 80. I think that 80 years would give me lots and lots of things to write here.

25.) At what point will people stop confusing me for a high schooler? Will I be offended when this happens?

26.) With this post as my witness, it seems that as I get older, life has more questions than answers. I think that that is okay.

27.) I am looking forward to all that 27 and beyond will bring. Being able to live this life is pretty nifty, and I should remember that always all of my days.

Papa G

I have a pretty strong dislike of greeting cards. Why on earth would I pay $5 for Hallmark to generically say what I want to stay to someone? Now please don’t take this to mean you shouldn’t send me cards anymore. I very much love getting mail that is not bills, and the occasional card in the mail has been known to brighten my whole week. My only request is that you write something slightly personal in it. I also learned how great card sending is recently in the wake of my grandma’s death at 95 years old. I always knew she never missed marking a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion with a card. What I didn’t know was that every month, she sat down and prepared her cards for every special event coming up. In fact, we had to warn a few people that my grandma had put their card in the mail as she went to the hospital, so don’t be too surprised when you get a gift from beyond. And thank you cards. I LOVE WRITING THANK YOU CARDS. I always have to refrain from sending a thank you card after receiving a thank you card to thank them for their thankfulness. It could lead to a vicious cycle. Just like this tangent I’ve found myself on here.

Anyways, I didn’t get my dad a Father’s Day card. In fact, I don’t even have a gift to give him when I head home for the summer today. Granted, I did buy him a wallpaper steamer and redid his home office for him. I also plan on doing more wallpaper removal this summer, you know, while eating all of his food, using his air conditioning, and making him drive me to airports. I’ll also buy him dinner, you know, to outweigh all of the meals he feeds me. I also made him a bomb Instagram post, filled with pictures reminding him of the days when he had more hair. But what better way to pay tribute to my dad than with a blog post?

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If you are reading this blog at all, there is a pretty good chance that the only reason you are reading it is because he emailed it to you saying he might be biased, but you really ought to read what his daughter, the writer (actually I’m a math teacher but I appreciate the vote of confidence), wrote. If you aren’t all that impressed, I’m really okay, but please tell my dad you are because it’s pretty cool to see him beam with pride. I’m waiting for the day when he prints my URL on business cards and starts handing it out to strangers. After all, this is the same man who once pulled up a picture of a dinner my brother had prepared all by himself and showed it off to a waitress at The Melting Pot, beaming “My son made this!” He also LOVES to force people to sit through tales of my teaching. The man is proud of his kiddos, as he should be. We would not be the people we are if it were not for him.

My dad always worked so hard to give me the whole wide world, while instilling in me that I was entirely capable of going out there an conquering it myself. There was never a passion or a pursuit that he did not stand behind me 100% on (although when I decided I wanted an archery set because that was how I was going to achieve my Olympic dreams, he stood VERY far behind me). One day in grade school, I came home and told him that me (and my crooked femurs, another post for another time) had decided to become a basketball player, and in order to do that, I needed a basketball hoop pronto. The next day, there was a beautiful hoop cemented into our driveway. Now my basketball days were short lived, but every time I see that hoop, I’m reminded that my dad truly believes I can do anything.

Since college, my dad has called me every Wednesday night. Granted, in college, I always took a Wednesday night class, and I would always walk out to a voicemail that went something like, “Hi Laura, sorry I missed you! You must be working or studying hard. Just calling to catch up, no need to call back. Your mom told me about (insert recent event here). Hope you are well. Love you!” Every week I would text him that I was sorry I missed his call, I was in class (again). We always counted on my mom to fill him in, or our annual spring break trip, or summer adventures to catch up. When my mom was sick, I was contemplating some big life changes. Usually it would have been my mom who I would talk through my thoughts with, but she was so weak and her voice so strained that talking on the phone was hard. So I called my dad. I actually think it was probably on a Wednesday. He passed his first parenting test. And I must say, he did much better than the time I called home mid panic attack as I was overwhelmed right before I started my first real job. I believe it went a little something like “Umm, hi, are you okay? No? I don’t know what to do for you. Here’s your mom.”

Now he calls every Wednesday, and I always answer. It’s definitely way more me talking and him listening, but he’ll listen to tales of whatever shenanigans I’ve gotten myself into the past week, the rants and raves about my students, my frustrations and hopes, and whatever plan I’m working on. He’s become quite the expert at giving me personal and professional advice, all while making me feel empowered to make my own decisions. He even answers my occasional hysterical phone calls without being like, “New phone, who dis?” On that note, I’m also grateful that he attempts to keep up with all of the “hip” lingo I learn from my students and has finally stopped telling people that I invented the phrase YOLO.

When we aren’t catching up over phone calls, we are chatting over dinner or on long walks or hikes. He never says no to trying a new vacation destination, dinner spot, or adventure. He’s also finally accepted that when we are traveling and I find something that I want to eat and say that it’s not a very far walk, it’s actually a very far walk and “not too much longer!” means that we have at least a half hour of walking left ahead of us. He thinks Uber is the neatest, and I have to believe it has a little something to do with these adventures.

My dad and I had always had a special bond, but the loss of my mom completely evolved our relationship. I would not have survived the past two years without his strength and support. I look for silver linings in all things, and the bond we have built through some of life’s toughest moments is so special.

My dad gave me his broad shoulders that will never fit properly into a jean jacket, his love of naps, a passion for quality music, his appreciation of a good meal and a glass of red wine, his patience, his unrelenting kind heart, and his pursuit of a job well done. He gives me strength and wisdom and independence. He gives me a place to always come home to and keeps our landline exclusively because I’m not ready to give up my childhood phone number. He gives me laundry detergent, toilet paper, a bottle of wine, and a crisp $20 when being an adult is a bit tough.

When my dad thinks proudly of my accomplishments, big and small, I hope that he realizes it is a mirror reflecting directly back at him. I would not be who I am or able to do the things I do if it were not for him. You da real MVP, Papa G. They don’t make them any better than you.

As someone who lost a parent and has also witnessed strained relationships in a family, I know that Parent’s Days can be oh so bittersweet. It can be hard to open your email inbox, walk through the store, or scroll through social media without being reminded of the void that is in your life. Teaching taught me how blessed I was to grow the relationship with my parents that I have. Losing my mom taught me how hard these days are when it seems like everyone else has their mom or dad to celebrate with and you do not. So if today is hard for you, I’m thinking of you. If your dad wasn’t the man he should have been, I hope you learn from his mistakes and realize he missed out on knowing an incredible human. If you lost your dad, old or young, my heart hurts for you. I hope you are filled with fond memories. If nothing else, I hope there is a man in this world who helped make you who you are today. Make sure he knows it.

Seasons

A few years ago, I saw a map of the United States that indicated where people were considered the happiest. The Midwest was indicated as the happiest, while just about anywhere with a warmer climate was considered the least happy. I thought this was strange because I am definitely at my happiest when I am warm, but maybe that is because I’m a teacher, which generally means if I am warm, I am also not spending my days with a bunch of teenage goobers.

So I came up with a completely unscientific theory that is backed with zero data outside of my own observations. That theory is that people who experience seasons where they live are able to apply the knowledge that seasons come and go to the seasons of their life, which makes them more resilient when things are hard. However, when I recently explained this theory to a friend who is from New Jersey and lived in Miami before making his way to Wisconsin, he informed me that he is pretty sure that people in the Midwest are happiest because of their proximity to cheese. If you are pretty sure that is the queso (see what I did there?), you should maybe stop reading here.

I suppose we first have to examine what happiness even is, and I don’t believe that anyone can actually summarize that and tie it up with a nice, pretty bow. To me, happiness is not having everything be perfect. In fact, it is far from it. My happiest moments, more often than not, stem from my hardest moments and most certainly, my hardest moments make me soak in my happiest moments when they happen.

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” Kurt Vonnegut

The past few days, there have been record breaking temperatures in Wisconsin. After living here for eight years, I’m used to record breaking cold temperatures in the winter, but never anticipate busting out my emergency picnic blanket (yep, that’s a thing I have) before the annual nationwide ACT test day snowstorm (also a thing). I knew that the warm sun on my skin was fleeting so I made sure to soak up every possible second of it all and attempted to do all of my favorite warm weather activities. Morning cups of coffee on my balcony, long walks and talks (on the phone) with my best friend and my dad, and laying in the sun with a good book. Unfortunately, a winter’s worth of melted snow makes hiking trails a bit messy and no one puts their outdoor seating out when it’s going to snow in a few days, but it was a nice reminder that beautiful spring days aren’t far off.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” Hal Borland

During the dark and cold days of winter, I think of this quote often. My opinion on winter? The first snow is magical. Snow on Christmas is mandatory (although Mother Nature often disagrees). I love a well-timed snow day. This year I used one to get my taxes done, like the real adult that I am. My closet is well stocked with boots, sweaters, and scarves. As soon as the novelty of all of those things wear off, though, the long, cold, dark days of winter weigh heavy on my heart, especially in recent years. There are times where it feels like maybe the warmth and sunshine might not come back, but it always does.

I have learned that this is how life goes as well. There will be dark days, days where you feel like the sun might not return and you might have to trudge through the murky snow with your heavy heart for the rest of your days, but just like clockwork, the days start getting longer, and you start feeling the warmth of the world again. During those beautiful, wonderful moments, you remember that the warmth won’t last forever and there will be hard days ahead, but there is a special comfort in knowing that those won’t last either.

I am glad to have been born and raised in the Midwest, where I’ve learned all about how to weather all sorts of storms, how magical the rebirth of spring is, the feeling of a hot summer day, and the clarity that the changing leaves in the fall always brings. I am also glad to have lived a life that has had heartache, loss, and personal storms. Because I have experienced those, I know just how very sweet the sunshine is.

Thankful

Timing has never been one of my strengths, so it only makes sense that I write my Thanksgiving post five days after everyone has finished off their turkey. If I’m still eating leftovers, it still falls into the proper time frame, right? Don’t answer that.

Thanksgiving is maybe my favorite holiday. I absolutely love that there is a day completely devoted to eating and spending quality time with the people we care about in the middle of the week. Seriously, how cool is that? No pressure to find that perfect present or Clark Griswold your house. It doesn’t matter what your views on religion are. Pretty much everyone in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving in some capacity (unless you are Chandler Bing of course). Thanksgiving foods are some of my absolute favorites, especially my dad’s mashed potatoes. I think afternoon naps should be a staple of everyday, but I like that Thursday afternoon naps are expected on Thanksgiving. I also love taking time to think of all the things that I have to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for my family and friends, who know me and love me on my best and worst days. I’m thankful for a job that challenges, fulfills, and inspires me every day (and includes three months of summer vacation). I’m thankful for St. Louis Cardinal baseball and that Cubs fans were pretty darn kind to me this year. I’m thankful for live music and the feelings it gives me deep in my soul. I’m thankful for writers that give my feelings words when I have none. I’m thankful for opportunities to travel and realize how insignificant I am to the world. I’m thankful for a yoga, a practice that has taught both my body and my mind to be more flexible.

As I thought of all of the things I was thankful for, I realized how easy it is to list the good things. But then I started thinking that true gratitude comes from being thankful for for the tough stuff. I’m a firm believer in positive thinking, and the ultimate positive thinking is looking for the good in the bad. So that got me thinking about the tough stuff that I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my grief, because it means that I had something so special that the loss is felt so deeply. I am thankful for a former job that quite often threatened my sanity, because I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without the experiences I had in that position. I am thankful for the people in life who have been unkind to me because it serves are a reminder that words and actions hurt, and I should always be careful with mine. I’m thankful for bad days because  they remind me to appreciate the good ones. I am thankful for the times I didn’t get what I thought I wanted, because it always led me to somewhere better and helped shape me into a better person.

Yes, this post is a few days late. However, Thanksgiving should not just be a day. It should be a way of life, copious amounts of feasting included.

You Are Here

Last week I was in a bit of a funk and was desperate to get out of it. I decided to check out a trail I have never been to before. I knew next to nothing about it, other than it was considered a “Hidden Gem of Dane County” and that dogs were allowed, so there was a pretty good possibility I could make some pup friends. I grabbed a water bottle, some snacks, and set off for an unknown adventure. I was hoping the fresh air and open trails would give me a chance to clear my head and get some perspective.

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I set off on the trailhead without much of an idea of what to expect. There was no map. I had no idea if it would be an easy trail or a difficult trail. Not a clue if it would be a long or a short hike. I didn’t know how many people I would encounter along the way. But off I went, optimistic about what I might find.

About an hour into the hike, I came across a literal fork in the road. It reminded me of that one time in the required speech class in high school that I had to memorize Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” If I could clear out the space that apparently still holds in my brain, I probably wouldn’t have a note on my counter that says, “I KNOW YOU’RE AN ADULT BUT DON’T FORGET YOUR LUNCH!”

Anyways, at this fork, there was a laminated map of the trail. Excellent! Except it had no indication of where I was. None. Nada. Zero. There was no landmark to point me in the right direction. No way of knowing how far I had come or how far I had left to go. There was no indication of what was ahead. In the corner, someone had scribbled “YOU ARE HERE” with absolutely no indication as to where here was. Apparently someone before me had the same feelings on the usefulness of this map, and I appreciated their sense of humor.

I chose a path and continued on. I couldn’t help but think about how that map was exactly how I feel about life. You are here. Wherever here might be. Try as we might, we don’t know what it looks like in the grand scheme of things. No one has a perfectly drawn out, detailed map for life. Not a single one of us knows how long our own path might be. We don’t know what kind of obstacles might be ahead of us. When we are climbing uphill, we don’t know if the hill will continue around the bend. No one knows what kind of view we might have. There is no telling whose path will cross with our own, or when they might veer apart (or cross again). There might be times where we fall and find it really hard to get up and continue onward. We might feel inadequate or unprepared for what the path brings us. Sometimes we feel like we should be in a different place on the trail after all of the work we’ve put in so far, and feel disappointed that we haven’t made more progress. WE will compare ourselves to the people traveling along similar paths. There will be time where we question if we chose the correct path. There may even be times where we feel like we’ve lost the trail entirely.

There will also be times where the view is so spectacular that it takes our breath away. There will be times where we look back and realize how far we have come from where we started. There will be times where the path ahead is clear and obvious. There will be times where it all makes sense. We will realize how important the people who have chosen to walk along beside you are. You are making the journey, and that in itself is quite the accomplishment. In the end, we’ll be able to look back and see just how proud of our journey we should be. We will be able to look back and see how it was all connected.

In the meantime, you are here. And here is a pretty spectacular place to be.

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For Better or Worse, In Sickness and in Health

Author’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the CaringBridge journal I wrote for my mom. It has been added to, updated, and revised.

My parents were married on September 1, 1979 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Washington, IL. They would be celebrating 37 years of for better or worse, in sickness and in health tomorrow. They met at Western Illinois University and my dad proposed at a Dairy Queen a few years later. He’s lucky social media didn’t exist back then or his proposal would have looked lame compared to the elaborate gestures people make these days! I justify my ice cream obsession as a “family tradition.”

I’m sure two 23-year-olds couldn’t imagine the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that life’s journey would bring them through. They went through the good, the bad, and the ugly in life hand in hand with each other, and it doesn’t get much uglier than cancer. Cancer can have a way of reminding you of all of the many blessings in your life, and in my case, my parents showed me a beautiful example of what marriage looks like long after the celebration of a wedding.11949367_10206239211356601_3637275680288201530_n

Love is sharing the dessert you wanted to eat all by yourself. Love is tracking down wherever my mom happened to forget her purse (which sometimes involved multi-hour drives). Love is sitting through yet another Nicholas Sparks movie, even though it is no different from the one your wife dragged you to a year ago. Love is my mom plucking my dad’s nose hairs for him. Ever since I was a young child, I thought this was the greatest testament of true love. (Sorry dad, had to leave that one in). Love is weathering the storms of disagreements, moves, job changes, and all of the uncertainty and confusion life throws your way.

In sickness and in health is not just something you include in your vows because everyone does it or it sounds good. Love is sitting in waiting room after waiting room, testing room after testing room, doctor’s office after doctor’s office. Love was working long hours to ensure you can be at appointments. Love was jumping into action without hesitation when the nausea kicks in. Love is assuring someone they wouldn’t have to face this ugly monster alone. Love is putting someone else’s needs in front of your own without thinking twice. Love is making each other laugh in the mist of this chaos. Love is mustering up every ounce of strength because sometimes you have to be strong when the other person is weak. A band named Death Cab for Cutie has lyrics that say “love is watching someone die.” Death Cab for Cutie has never been known for their upbeat and uplifting lyrics, but this one hits so close to home. Early in our hospital stay, my dad and I would take turns spending the night on a cot in my mom’s room. As the hospital stay grew longer and we transitioned to hospice, my dad stayed by her side every night, up until her last breath.

I have had the privilege of being the daughter of two incredible, kind, patient, forgiving, and selfless individuals who worked hard to create such a special bond with each other and live their vows day in and day out through all of the seasons of life. It was an honor to be able to witness that love for almost 25 years of my life. For the past year, I have been able to watch my dad carry the love he shared with my mom in a special place in his heart.

There truly is not a moment that goes by that I don’t wish my mom was a phone call away. I wish I could call her up and tell her my thoughts and fears and worries. I wish I could tell her when I had a great day or confide in her when things get hard. I wish she could remind me to laugh at really terrible dates, get me through break-ups, and remind me that nothing good gets away. I wish I could tell her about a really fantastic date. It overwhelms my heart to know that someday, way down the road, she won’t be able to be the first person I call when I decide to face the good and the bad in life with someone. I wish she was around to help guide me through that decision. What I do take comfort in is that I got to witness a beautiful example of what a lasting relationship looks like. I remember a late night conversation with her a few years ago. I was convinced that I loved my independence too much to ever truly allow someone in. I wanted to make sure I never needed anyone but myself. I asked my mom, who raised me to be so independent by example, how she made it work with my dad. She told me that love works best when each person puts the other’s needs and happiness ahead of their own. Then each person is taken care of by the other and everyone’s needs are met. She said when it’s with the right person, I’ll be able to do it. Those words have always stuck with me.

Although their time together was cut too short, they shared more love and laughter in their time together than most people could ever dream of. I am forever grateful that Mama and Papa G are the ones who showed me what love is, and it all happened because two people said “I do” to putting someone else first on the First of September, 37 years ago.

Beginnings and Endings

The other day, I was sitting on the porch, drinking a cup of coffee, basking in the beauty of lazy summer mornings, just minding my own business when a browning leaf landed in my coffee mug. How rude. If that isn’t a sure sign that summer days are dwindling, I’m not sure what is. As Semisonic would sing, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Don’t get me wrong, I know how very fortunate I am to have some built-in time off of work. However, one of my friends started volunteering with teenagers this week and after I asked her how her first night went, she responded, “I know why you always need a nap now.” No matter how much I love my job, absence (or summer break) will always make my heart grow fonder and well rested.

It seems like just yesterday I said goodbye to my seniors, put the final grades in the gradebook, miraculously got my inbox to zero, and hightailed it right out of that building. The beginning of summer was filled with excitement and anticipation. It would be filled with time with family and friends, travel and adventure, and ideally, tackling that really ambitious work to-do list I created.

I had decided to move home for the summer. 10/10 I would do it again. Huge shoutout to Papa G for making it the place to be, letting me sleep in as long as I wanted, leaving the AC on all day, sharing his beautiful back porch with me, eating whatever I wanted for dinner, and always having a good bottle of wine around. I learned in the most brutal of ways that our time with those we love will never be as long as we want, so I am so grateful for the meals, walks, and conversations I got to share with him over the past few months. I also got to spend countless evenings with my best friend Katie. For those of you who live near your best friends, I hope you never take for granted that “come over and eat pizza and do nothing in particular with me” text. My days at home were lazy and filled with good coffee, good books, good music, a bit of yoga, and lots of love and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

My summer was also filled with travels. Soon after school let out, I left for New Orleans with my dear friend Jackie, who is also a teacher. We joked that we were trying to get as far away from our students as possible (another reason I move home for the summer). Then I went straight from NOLA to Boston with my dad and my Aunt Lea. I got home, unpacked, did some laundry, said Happy Birthday, America, and then jumped on a plane to Spain. We also fit in an annual trip to St. Louis to cheer on my Cardinals, a weekend in Kentucky to visit my mom’s family, and we will cap of summer with a long lake weekend up north. I joked that my goal was to be in a different place every two weeks, and I think I truly accomplished that this summer. Which also led to a lot of napping when I did happen to be home.

By the end of the school year, I was averaging eight (large) cups of coffee a day. If I didn’t have enough coffee in my system, I turned into a real monster. In fact, one morning I was particularly coffee deprived, and my students could tell. They were talking about it in their next class and their teacher ended up delivering a cup of coffee to my classroom. The first step is admitting you have a problem. I knew attempting to cut down on coffee during the school year would be disastrous for everyone, so I held off until summer. I made a training plan to cut back my coffee consumption the way most people make a marathon training plan. I know, pathetic. I wanted to remember what a coffee buzz felt like again. After I got through the first few weeks of insane headaches, mood swings, super early bedtimes and multiple naps, I started to see improvements. The biggest was the drop in my average resting heart rate. Like 15 BPM changes in my average resting heart rate (thanks FitBit data). I’m down to one(ish) (large) cup of coffee every day. With school starting back up again next week, I don’t foresee that lasting long for the sake of my own sanity and the sanity of everyone around me, but hey, I’m proud it lasted as long as it did.

How about that super ambitious work to-do list? If picking out what I plan to wear on the first day of school counts as school prep, then I was very successful. To be honest, I sat down at this coffee shop today with the best of intentions of getting some work done, but hey, this blog isn’t going to write itself. I have had a few very productive spurts this summer. I attended some professional development this month and spent a few days setting up Ms. G’s Mathematical Wonderland (also known as my classroom). What I have done is a lot of reflecting on my work. It might not have been lesson planning or professional development, but it’s an important part of the work to do. It is what got me thinking about beginnings and endings.

Last year I began and ended my first year at my current school. Summer has come and gone. I’m about to begin a new year, and it is impossible to know what it will bring. I think back on my teaching last year and the relationships I formed with students and the ways I grew as a person and a teacher. I think about the things I did and what I would like to do differently. I wonder about the students who will be walking into my classroom next week and the yearlong journey we will embark on. I think of all of the students I’ve encountered in my three years of teaching. I can’t help but selfishly hope I cross their minds every once in awhile (for good reasons, not because they saw someone trip and it reminded them of that one time I fell on my face while teaching). I think about the hard days I got through and the lessons I learned.

One thing I really value as a teacher is the fact I get two new years. I’m more likely to make a “resolution” at the beginning of a new school year than I am on January 1. An activity I like to do with my advisory students is goal setting. I make them set goals for specific classes, the school year, their high school career, and beyond. As I’ve been reflecting and preparing for a new beginning, I’ve started to think about the goals I would like to set for this year. There will be more to come, but I have a few so far. Professionally, I want to be better at handing out the darn chapter outlines that I always forget about until a student inevitably asks for it the last week of the chapter. Personally, I want to work on immersing myself into my (now not so) new community and making friends. The introvert in me finds it really easy to not seek out socialization and often turns down social invitations. However, I think it is possible to honor the introvert in me while still building relationships in a new city. I have to remind myself that my current wonderful friendships started as strangers and took time and energy to blossom. The only action plan I have for this so far is to make the foreign language department at my school be my friends, mainly because they seem cultured and worldly and I have to believe they have delicious snacks at their gatherings.

So it is sad to see summer go. All good things must come to an end, including a daily wardrobe of athleisure wear. But I also look forward to returning to a job I love, a bit of a routine, and the new adventures this school year is sure to bring.

 

 

Side note: I mentioned enjoying some books this summer. My favorite thing about not working is reading. I would truly recommend all of them depending on what you are looking for. Here is a list if you are interested.

“It’s Okay to Laugh, Crying is Cool Too” by Nora McInerny Purmort

“Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Cheryl Sandberg

“Going Om: Real Life Stories On and Off the Yoga Mat” edited by Melissa Carroll

“Sick in the Head” by Judd Apatow

“This is a Book” by Demitri Martin

“For One More Day” by Mitch Albom

“Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom (seriously everyone should be required to read this once a year)

 

Patience

When I first started practicing yoga regularly back in December, my teachers would mention something about setting an intention for the day’s practice. I learned that this was a word or a phrase that you would focus on during practice. The teacher would often give suggestions, such as gratitude, presence, or patience. I usually set my intention on what I would eat post shavasana. Then I stopped one day to think about what I really needed to focus on. Post yoga fro-yo wasn’t it. The word that kept coming to mind? Patience. Was it also a coincidence that one of my favorite bands, The Lumineers, also released a new album with an instrumental song named “Patience” on it that my favorite yoga teacher proceeded to include in a class playlist? I think not.

My job requires an obnoxious amount of patience. Take just a moment to think back to yourself as a 14-18 year old. You probably owe your parents, your teachers, and really anyone who ever had to interact with you an apology. When people hear stories about what I do, their response is usually a little something along the lines of, “Wow, I hated math. Teenagers. Tough. You must have a lot of patience.” Students, colleagues, and parents have all complimented how patient I am with students. I’m starting to think that I use so much patience in my job that I don’t have any left for any other aspect of my life.

So back to yoga. One of the many things about yoga is how much I can take what I do on the mat off of the mat with me into my day-to-day life. So my thoughts on patience first began on the mat. Patience with my body in the progress I was making. Yoga can really shine a very bright light on my Type A personality. I want to balance longer and bend farther, and I want to do it right now, not after years of dedicated practice. When I focus on patience, it allows me to remember how far I have come. Yoga is called a practice for a reason. I must have patience with my body as it makes progress towards binds and balances. I need to appreciate where I am at, while looking forward to all of the places I could possibly go. As I’ve focused on being patient with my body, I have learned to love it more.

Moving off the mat, I could apply my “patience” mantra to all aspects of my life.

Grieving is such a complicated process, one that is never truly done. When I think of my journey through grief after losing my mom, I realize that I often lose patience with myself. I think that I should be further along than I am. I want to rush ahead to where the grieving gets easier, which lets be honest, probably will never happen. I am focusing on allowing myself to feel all I feel at any given moment, reminding myself that wherever I am in the grieving process is right where I am supposed to be, which often involves crying when Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” comes on the radio. For real, the number of places I have cried or ordinary things that have made me sob (usually in public) is comical. If you ever need a really good public cry, I strongly recommend Kohl’s or the car dealership while getting your oil changed. There is no true timeline or paint-by-numbers method to grieving. We do it all in our own way, at our own pace. Patience for the process.

In this world of social media, it can be nearly impossible to not compare your life with others. It can be hard not to feel jealous of other people’s success, happiness, accomplishments, etc. Personally, I get particularly jealous when people get puppies. I want a puppy and I want one right now, but my living situation, work schedule, and love of travel are not particularly conducive to dog ownership at this point of my life. So whether it is dogs, success, a level of happiness, or accomplishments, I am working on patience. I have lots of really wonderful things in my life that I am so thankful for. I know other good things will come my way in the future. Patience.

Sometimes (always) the big things require patience, but so do the small things, like wanting my hair to grow long faster or dinner to be ready sooner. Maybe that’s why I don’t cook. I’m not patient enough. Maybe being hangry (hungery + angry) is actually just a lack of patience. I suppose if I really want to work in the patience thing on and off the mat, I’ll have to add a culinary component. If you’ve ever traveled with me, you know I am a delight to travel with until suddenly I’m not because I have decided that I am over the traveling process and I want to be there NOW. Those people will be grateful that patience is something I’ve decided to work on. I think it is cruel that Netflix makes me wait a whole year for the next season of Orange is the New Black. This Gilmore Girls revival? Don’t tell me it’s happening until it is released because I do not have the patience to wait around for it. I hate the idea of surprises, mainly because if I know a surprise is coming, I’m not patient enough to wait for it.

Clearly I have a lot of work to do when it comes to being patient. The irony of the whole thing is that learning to become patient is a process that requires patience. So I will continue to set my intentions on patience. In the meantime, if anyone has any “get patient fast” schemes they would like to share with me, I’m all ears. Just kidding. Kind of.