Goals · Simplicity

bag cleaning

So, the Hubs and I are taking a vacation in a few days, and I snagged some great deal tickets. The caveat? No overhead-bin-sized carry-on. So that means we’re paying for one checked bag and splitting it. It also means I had to find something that could hold my computer, a notebook, novel, water bottle, and wallet, and still fit under the seat.

So, I did a little research (read: a three minute search of Google followed by a 90 second search on Amazon), and found a bag that fits the bill. It is immensely exciting to me, in part because it is a fabulous mustard color and can work as a backpack OR a handbag, and in part because I love that it can fit all the things I need so neatly. It requires me to edit where I may be inclined to go with the “Bring ALL The Things” strategy. And once I’ve gone through the trouble, I’m always happier for it. I guarantee I will not miss whatever I didn’t pack. And I will not hold up the TSA line trying to find my ID, which will make my fellow travelers grateful.

Bags are like life, I reckon. How often in life do we carry around extra things we might need? How often do we stuff things into because it might be helpful? If there is one thing I am learning, it is this: If you don’t fiercely edit your life, you will find it has turned into your overstuffed carry-on–crammed with old receipts you can’t read, bandages without the wrappers, empty lipstick tubes, a pulverized package of fruit snacks, and a vintage edition of Scrabble (because that sounded like a good idea at two in the morning…)

I am challenging myself to prune down the bag of my expectations and commitments so that I am free to do the things I want to do and be fully present with the people I love. I find myself asking…

Am I holding on to my (usually bad) past? This is not strongly me, but I have known so many amazing people who are trapped by this that I can’t not say it. We are not life experts, and yes, sometimes we do stupid stuff. Sometimes, we do really stupid stuff. But me lamenting my old stupid stuff is not helping me move past my stupid stuff. My obsession with how awful it is/was is chaining me to my stupid stuff. Let it go. Seek forgiveness if you need to seek it. Acknowledge it happened with yourself. Forgive yourself. Commit to being better. Change what you can change, then turn your eyes to the eastern horizon!

Am I filling my life too full of good things? Hear me out on this one before you freak out and close this tab. There are lots of glorious things to do in the world. Things that are genuinely wonderful and do enormous good. Now listen to these next words very carefully: YOU CANNOT DO ALL OF THEM. You do not have all the gifts. You do not have all the resources (of money or time.) Last time I checked, I wasn’t Jesus. It is not my job to save the world. It is my job to find the little corner of the world where I CAN help and do some good and do it well. Saying no to something is not a crime.

Do I get to the end of my day and realize I literally cannot remember a single thing I did, person I talked to, or event that happened? I get it. Life happens. We all have seasons where life is frantic and frazzled. This month has been like this for me. However, as a general rule, I am a big believer in quality over quantity. Do a little less. Invest a little more time/effort in a few fewer things so you can really experience and enjoy them. I am working really hard of this one right now and I really think it makes a difference!

Have you ever “cleaned out your bag?” Do you have any tricks or tips that have helped you? If you haven’t, you CAN! I believe in you–just take a baby-step!

Goals

a single step

BY nature, I fall into the “highly creative and equally disorganized” category. I was the child who was never reading any fewer than five books at a time–allowing me to leave a book in all my usual ports of call and thereby never be caught without. This trait has followed me into adulthood. Left to my own devices, I would happily exist in a spinning vortex of dozens of craft projects, novels, and recipes at various stages of “done-ness,” awaiting me to return to them at my leisure.

This is not a trait that is smiled upon in modern American culture. And so, to combat this societal expectation (and to make sure I remember to do things like make dinner and drink enough water), I have become a huge fan of the list. I have lived most of my adult life followed by a trail of little Post-It notes and scraps of paper to keep me from forgetting important things (like when it’s time to pay the electric bill and what I need to pack for vacation.) My lists get the job done, but they don’t exactly embrace the streamlined simplicity I aspire to (being a big one for lists makes me, by proxy, a big fan of goals.)

And then, I discovered the Mountain Journal.

The Mountain Journal, which came to me via my friend’s husband who has been doing them for years (because he’s one of those people who likes math and numbers and other scary things like that…), is designed to break down the big goals that all of us have (Example: I want to lose twenty pounds) into smaller steps (I am going watch what I eat this week) and even smaller steps (I am not going to snack after dinner today), with the idea that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Thanks, Lao Tzu, for that little spark of genius.)

After a few stuttering starts, I started using this Mountain Journal, and let me tell you, this little baby is the best thing…possibly ever. I am a big picture dreamer, which enables me to imagine great, sweeping changes in my life, my classroom, my everything. I struggle with breaking these giant goals into things that I can accomplish today. My Mountain Journal lets me harness my sweeping War and Peace-style dreams into actual writing-paragraph-and-sentence-accomplishments. And then I can see my progress. The little to-do boxes get checked off, and once a week I get to reflect on how things went last week, what I’m thankful for, and what my goals are for next week.

It. Is. Amazing. And you know what? It actually works! The fact I’m writing this post is proof of it! For the past 18 months, I kept thinking, “You know, I really should start my blog up again.” But it never happened. But then I made writing more one of my New Year’s Resolutions. I broke it down in my Mountain Journal to actually writing a first draft of a novel this year and restarting my blog. So then I saved up and bought a new (working!) computer. Then I reworked my blog format. Then I wrote a post. And here I am.

To, for all my fellow big picture folks out there, don’t be disheartened! That big goal you’ve been dreaming CAN be accomplished. But you have to start the road with a little baby goal. You can do it! Take a single step!

Do you have mountains you’ve scaled with baby steps? I would love to hear about your inspirations!

Simplicity

Simplicity and Kindness

So…let’s just say it’s been a while and leave it at that.  Short version, I took two years off from “Life as Usual” to meet a guy, fall in love, plan a wedding, get married, and get used to living with someone who literally never goes away and with whom you do not share any DNA which requires you to care about them. So, yeah…2018 was kind of a busy year for me.

2019 as a year has also started off with a lot of changes, but different than last year. Last year was full of changes because, well, God and life happened. I was just sort of along for the ride. But this year has been full of changes because I decided to make them.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions as a general rule. In part, because I’m a teacher–my “new year” starts in September every year, and by the time January rolls around, whatever I’ve done, good or bad, I’m committed until June.  But recently I’ve been getting on the bandwagon of making sure I’m taking care of myself (physically, spiritually, emotionally) so that I can do all the things, all the jobs and roles I have in life–teacher, daughter, wife (wow, that still is weird to write!), Christian, friend.

So, this year, for the first time every in my entire life, I sat down in the first week of January and made New Year’s Resolutions.  And as I read back over them, I realized that most of my resolutions centered around two things: simplifying and kindness. Start using non-toxic cleaning products. Prioritize my quiet time. Be polite and helpful even when other people aren’t. Stay away from artificial dyes and ingredients. Reach out to friends who are hard to get a hold of.

And over two months in, I can tell you, that they go together a great deal more than I would have ever guessed! Do all of these “simplifying” things has left me with the emotional time and energy to be kind. I am willing to help because I don’t deeply resent this further drain on my resources.  It’s crazy!

So, as I finally come back to this blog after…hm…a bit, that is my goal. To document this process and journey (and some of the neat-o stuff I learn and do along the way!) Because life is too precious to waste in the swamplands of cluttered existence.  In all its ways.

Are you on this journey, too? Do you have any great insights or dreams for a life like this? I would love to hear about them below in the comments!

Life generally...

Packing list for a writer’s weekend

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be washing the last of my dishes, packing up my battered purple carry-on, and heading off into the wild blue yonder for a spring break “gift to me,” a three-day “write-in” retreat.  I’ve rented a cute little cottage with a comfy bed, a fireplace, a little kitchen, and a table that looks out of a big bay window.  (In case you don’t follow the line of thought here, this will be my writing command center for the weekend.)

I cannot wait.  Writing is something I really enjoy, but unlike music (a passion as fundamental to my spirit as breathing,) it is something that often gets put on the back-burner.  Other things–laundry, errands, rehearsal, friends, exhaustion–take precedent over my fictional endeavors.  So those rare times I manage to carve out a few hours to work, I spend the time daydreaming, or paying bills, or whatever.

But not this weekend! I’m going to a place where mobile reception is spotty at best, and there is no one I know for several hundred miles, armed with several projects at different stages and a determination to make progress in something. 

So, because really I am thinking about this, and my mind is a thousand miles from this blog tonight, I thought I’d take you through a little “greatest hits” version of my packing list–it really embodies the essence of what I hope this weekend to be.

  1. Slummy clothes.  I am taking nothing but leggings and old sweatshirts and oversized, old sweaters.  It is all the essence of comfort.  I aspire to change from pajamas into (essentially) other pajamas.
  2. Fuzzy socks.  As I have very few plans to venture into the cruel outside world (save maybe a walk to get the creative juices going, as it were,) socks that are basically slippers are a must.  My poor feet suffer through “work shoes” for most of their existence.  They will be free for these next few days!
  3. My computer.  Obviously.  I have this rocking writer’s program called Scrivener.  If you are a writer and you have not downloaded it, DO IT NOW.  It is such a slick program. It is worth every penny of the $40 or whatever I paid for it!
  4. Pink pocket notebook with gold embossed “Awesome Ideas” on the cover.  This may seem a bit more out there, but I subscribe strongly to pen-and-ink lists.  This little baby has got the running record of different writing projects I can work on if I get frustrated with what I’m on.  Sick of trying to get through that one dialogue? Do a plot map of that new idea!  Totally over trying to think yourself out of that corner you wrote yourself into?  Brainstorm landscapes for that fantasy you’ve been “meaning to get back to!” And so on.  You get the idea.
  5. “The Writer’s Journey,” by Christopher Vogler.  This book was recommended to me by a great writer, and it is the single best thing I have read about how to structure fiction writing.  It is genius.  I love it.  I need it to reference.
  6. Other reading. And by that, I mean real reading.  During the school year, I read, but it’s largely the kind of fluff one reads on a plane when you don’t really have to focus. I want to read other authors who really knew how to write–to inspire and feed the writer’s soul.  There’s no place better to learn than at the foot of the masters.
  7. Walking shoes (and I guess I’d include my puffy vest here, too).  Sometimes, you just need to take a good walk and let yourself think without distraction. (Isn’t that an odd thought?)
  8. Coffee.  Do I even need to explain this one?
  9. A heart that’s ready to write.  This has not been me for ten months, but it is finally me now.  I am hungry to write.  I am hungry to start trying to get things down on paper (er…on the screen?) I want to be creative in the way that writing so uniquely is.

I am so ready for this! I can’t wait to get there and get started and get frustrated and get over it! There is no way to write a novel, I have heard, except to make yourself write.  Well, chalk that one up for me, anyway!

 

 

 

Life generally... · Teaching

One Day More

Tomorrow is the last day of school before we begin our (well-deserved, in my mind) spring break.  Only one more day of waking up, one more day of kiddos climbing the walls because they, too, know that break is almost here.  Only one day more!

After the kids got on the buses and the hallways were clear, I treated (tormented?) my colleagues with a chorus of One Day More, the Act I finale of the musical Les Misérables, because I am a choir teacher, so this is what I do.

I love the night before the Last Day Before Break.  I love it because I feel like I can stay up later than I should because I’ll have time to catch up on missing sleep.  And even though things come up and it always ends too quickly, the night before, the whole glorious nine days of sweet freedom stretch before you like a pristine, snowy morning.  There is time for everything to get done on the night before.  It’s magical.

On Saturday, I head off for three days in a cabin for my “Light A Fire Under It, Already, Girl” write-in.  I am going incommunicado and it’s going to be marvelous.  Time to focus on things that I’m always “too busy” for.  I am excited for the chance to breath and step away–something I don’t do often enough.  Excited for time to reflect and thing.  Excited for the change of pace.

Half of the joy of things like vacations and breaks and mini-vacays is the anticipation of it.  The final countdown until you board the flight, get in the car, or turn off the alarm.  I love to revel in it, and sometimes I feel like my instant-gratification life robs me of the chance.  But nothing can take away the excitement surrounding a day like tomorrow–

One more dawn! One more day! One Day More! (It’s not exactly the French Revolution, but I teach middle school so it very well could be!  Haha!)

Life generally...

A picture is worth a thousand words

I am not much of a picture-taker, which I guess makes me kind of an oddity as a card-carrying Millenial.  As a generation, we are obsessed with oversharing our lives with family, friends, and That One Guy I Met At That Party Ten Years Ago–and pictures, so much faster than explaining everything in a story, feature strongly into that world.

But even before those days…back, “Once upon a time…” when you still had to shoot pictures on actual film in an actual camera, and you had to wait until you got everything developed (which took actual time) before you could find out if your picture actually came out, I still was not a picture taker.  Time has not changed me much.

I don’t know, I guess I’ve always been too busy being in the moment to remember to record it.  In high school, I was involved in our drama program, and by my senior year, I was playing main roles in most of our shows.  My parents came to every performance (only after I told that was what parents of the leads were supposed to do…) but they just came and watched the show.  No camcorders (remember those!?), no cameras.  Just my mom and dad.  Sitting in the audience.

Somebody once told my father, “Your daughter is so talented and does all these things!  Why don’t you record them?” And my dad said something very wise that I have taken to heart, “I would rather watch it once, and really experience her performance, and have the memory of that to carry with me, than to only ever see it through the lens of a camera.”  So that has been my life–I have lived my experiences, but never through a camera lens.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I think people who take pictures are awesome.  I love the cool photo montages they hang up on their walls and the great moments they capture, but truth be told, I just never remember.  If I’m lucky, I get out my phone for five minutes, snap a few pictures, and figure I’m off the hook.  Usually, I just mooch pictures from the collections of my photo-taking friends who plan and are mindful of things like that.

Nevertheless, as I’m getting older, I’m growing more fond of pictures.  But not the million-pictures-on-my-phone kind, or the Snapchat story kind, but the actual, ink-to-special-paper, hang-on-your-wall kind.  I don’t need a lot of pictures, just a few that remind me of really important seasons and people.  I think I love the history of pictures.  I have a picture collage on my dining room wall.  I have pictures of Baby Me with my parents.  I have pictures of the first time I talked my whole family into running a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving with me.  I have a picture of Lily, the gentle mutt who helped my grandpa babysit me when I was tiny, and one of Gracie, the even kinder dog who I really consider “mine.”  There is a picture of my grandmother when she was young. My story is there, in birthdays, and Christmases, and my baby brother’s graduation.

To me, photos (like so many things) are more about quality than quantity.  I don’t need a DropBox with fifteen million photos I’ll never look at.  I need fifteen I can look at when I’m eating breakfast and remember those happy times, those important people and places and times.  My wall isn’t the fanciest or chicest photo collection, but it’s mine.  There is history on that wall.  My history.  Evidence of where I come from.  Evidence that I am here. And anchor to the past, and one I can tie the kite of my dreams to so it can soar.

Maybe that’s why pictures are starting to matter–I’m getting older and am starting to feel like I have a history.  (For instance, I clearly remember things that happened twenty-five years ago.  TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO!!!  This is NOT supposed to be a thing!) There is more to me and my story now that you might guess if I don’t tell you.  Maybe the pictures are as much for me–to remind me of that history when I get weighted down in daily grind.  It’s a good way to be.  It’s good to have those memories.

And this is why I know people who like to take pictures when things happen to us…it gives me someone to mooch off of…

Teaching

Calling in

So, today, I called in.  If you have a traditional corporate-type job, this probably doesn’t strike you as anything worth sharing, but I am a teacher.  And my fellow teachers can attest, calling in as a teacher is a big deal.  First off, sub plans are such a pain to write , and second, we feel this sort of moral obligation to never be sick–to never miss a day because our students need to learn, and I, for one, will drag myself into work on death’s door because I feel guilty if I’m not there.  There’s always something coming up–a concert, an assessment, a meeting I can’t miss, etc. etc. etc.

But I called in today.  And I didn’t do it because I was sick (of body, anyway,) but because emotionally and mentally, I have nothing left in me.  My house was in desperate need of a good cleaning.  I have laundry that needs to be done before I go out of town this weekend. I have to get my oil changed. I needed to actually cook something, because a girl cannot live on tortilla chips alone.  And I was so frustrated by the end of work yesterday, I just didn’t really like anyone or anything.  So that’s what I’m doing today.  All these chores.  Little dumb errands.  Not talking to anyone.  Having my faith in my profession and humanity in general restored.  De-stressing.

If you had told 19 year-old me that I would ever consider doing laundry and cleaning a bathroom “de-stressing,” I would have told you that you were insane.

And that got me thinking.  We are all like this.  My colleagues.  Friends in other districts.  Friends who teach in other states.  Friends who teach in other countries.  We are all, always, stressed.  Every teacher I know seems to function in this constant cloud of stress and pressure.  Some of it’s external, put on us by districts and parents and society.  We are required, now, to teach more content at a faster pace to more children while additionally teaching the character and ethics and social behavior that was once the realm of families and homes.  We are under pressure to get our test scores up (or keep them up.)  We are pushed to be a part of more committees and teams and collaborations and professional learning communities.  There are learning plans and development models and new curricula and a thousand other things.

But it’s not just “them.”  It’s also “us.”  Speaking for myself (but a pattern that I’ve seen time and time again from my fellow educators), I feel like I need to constantly prove myself to the society around me that doesn’t know what happens everyday in my classroom and believes that my job is “easy” and that I “don’t really work.”  I am always working to prove them wrong.  (Our district extended the teacher work day to 8.5 hours because the superintendent didn’t want parents to see us leaving the building, because they would think we “don’t work.”  No joke.)  But that’s just part of it.  I believe in what I’m doing.  I believe education matters.  I love my subject area and I want to help my kids love it as much as I do.  I believe that for many kids, I and other teachers are the only adult connection they have–we are the only adults that are not playing on our smart phones while we talk to them.  I want to be a better teacher.  I want to help them grow as people and students.  I want them to succeed.

And all of this stress is exhausting.

There is something wrong with my life if, at the end of the week, all I’m up to by the time I get to Saturday is binge watching something on Netflix while I obsessively crochet a blanket, rather than doing the usual Saturday chores and errands.  There is something seriously wrong with me when I don’t want to see people or do anything social ever because I have given every single atom of people-skill to my students.    Something is wrong here.

And we can all talk about how it’s society’s fault, or our administration’s fault, or whatever, and I agree, that’s a huge part of it.  But I can’t control that.  I can control me.  As I’ve been cleaning this morning, I thought about that.

I need to accept my humanity.  I can only teach the best I can.  I cannot do everything–even if something is good for kids, I cannot do all of the good things for kids. I am not God.  I cannot save these kids.  I have to do a little bit less if I am going to survive in a career in education.  I have to do what I can do, but also be okay with knowing when it’s time to stop.  Because when I don’t stop, when I am everything to everybody, I lose myself.  I don’t have the energy for being “Emily,” because it gets lost in the sea of “Miss D.”  I am not the only person in these lives that walk through my door.  I can’t be.  All these kiddos have families, parents, churches, clubs, and other people who are also have a hand in raising them. I admit, this is a hard pill to swallow.  I know a lot of you teachers reading this are thinking how wrong I am.  And maybe you can do it.  You can teach and be the perfect made-for-T.V. movie teacher and still go home at the end of the night and have a spouse and children and dog, and volunteer at church and run twelve miles a night…and if that’s you, I’m impressed.  I wish I could be you.  But I’m learning that I can’t.  I have to “make cuts” to be a better teacher, to make sure I don’t end up here repeatedly–taking sick days to clean my bathroom.

And for all of you in my boat, I’d encourage you to take a step.  Leave something less-than-perfect.  Go home.  Make dinner.  Breathe.