I recently ended a most beautifully fun-filled week with my niece, and am reflecting on her exuberant joie-de-vie. Every summer, my California-born and raised girl stays with me in Chicago for a taste of midwest summer living. This year’s adventures included Feed My Starving Children volunteer time, family get togethers, library visits, swimming, paddle boating, jumping for joy in a trampoline park (so fun!) and more. While my own daughter is now 26, that incredible breadth of experience one gains from
spending time with children in summer comes delightedly back when my niece visits.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post, A Six Year Old’s Simple Rules of Life, reflecting on Skylar’s stay back then. This year, Sky asked me to write an update with her own list of rules to live by. So on her last night in town, after dinner, we sat down. With no hesitation and impressive articulation, Sky sat tall and serious, turned to me and listed her rules as she thought of them.
Here they are . . . Skylar’s “8 Rules to ROCK!” as she titles them! They are hers, word-for-word, no prompting from Auntie T, in her order, from our little interview☺
- Always be happy and not care about what other people say about you.
- Don’t take a compliment too seriously. Just say thank you.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated even if they’ve been mean to you.
- Remember, lots of people may not look like you but we’re all kind and nice in the heart. (this one may be my favorite💕)
- If someone does not know what to do, help them.
- Never take advice from a stranger even if it’s very tempting.
- When clouds are grey and skies are dark, you still know that you can be happy.
- Don’t take beauty from the outside; take it from the inside.
Pretty profound and on point! At 8 years of age, a child’s language and literacy skills are developing rapidly, setting the groundwork for academic achievement ahead. My niece, Skylar May, amazes me with her mature integrity, and is well on her way to a beautiful life of learning and love.
Nutrition for Educators and Other Busy Professionals
Colleagues and friends often ask me how I have so much energy every day, teaching five preps, co-sponsoring the school newspaper, all while maintaining my paper grading load and still finding time to hit the gym five times a week.
A teacher’s day begins very early, and is dictated hourly by the bell. With barely enough time for bathroom breaks between classes, maintaining a healthy energy takes a little bit of planning along with a few prep steps each week. The steps may take a few minutes but will save on energy and precious time later in the week.
1. Prep food. On Sunday, wash fruit, cut and steam veggies, bake some chicken breasts, hard boil eggs, make a batch of oatmeal, bake sweet potatoes . . . the idea is to fill your fridge with as much grab-and-go healthy food that you most certainly won’t feel like preparing after a tiring day at work, when faced with those papers still waiting to be graded.
2. Snack. It’s just as important to prep the snacks. I love to prepare my own homemade trail mix. It’s much healthier, with no added salt or preservatives. I fill five small, snack size containers with raw pumpkin or sesame seeds, raw walnuts, raw almonds, dried cranberries, dried mulberries . . . whatever nuts and dried fruit I have. Here’s a post of mine telling more about mulberries. By the way, raw/no salt or added sugar is best for your nuts and dried fruit If you’re used to the salt, you will get unused to it, trust me. Give it time and you won’t miss it – either will your heart! If you don’t feel creative with mixing your own, here’s a tried and true recipe, TLC’s trail mix.
3. Eat breakfast. Here’s where preparing a batch of oatmeal comes in handy. Grabbing a cup of coffee is not enough to sustain you for that early morning class or PLC meeting. Even grabbing a banana and hard-boiled egg is much better than nothing at all, and will get you your important macros (protein, carbs and fat).
4. Drink water. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day. You’ll be a reminder to the students to drink more water. If you need your morning coffee, go for it – but that’s it. Too much caffeine will cause you to crash later. Check out my Reasons to Drink more water for more incentive!
5. Graze. Studies show it’s healthier to eat smaller meals throughout the day versus three big ones. Munch on some fruit or nuts that your brought in-between classes. Spread out meals so that you’re eating every few periods – don’t wait until your last free few moments of the day to gobble.
6. Avoid mindless munching. Bringing in birthday treats is a wonderful way to celebrate colleagues, and special occasions call for a little sweet cheat. If you’re eating healthfully on a regular basis, you deserve a treat, and allowing yourself to do so will avoid an overindulgence later on. Side note: Avoid food that’s been sitting out all day – it’s bound to be spoiled with bacteria. No one wants that! So step away from the table after, say, Period 6. 🙂
So there it is, six super ways to maintain a healthy diet within even the most busy of days during the school year. Stay tuned for more healthy recipes, workouts and lifestyle choices!!
A bonus, new recipe I just created – Protein Power Balls!
- 2 Tbsp organic hemp seeds
- 2 Tbsp organic chia seeds
- 1 cup raw gluten-free, slow-cooking oats (I like Bob’s Red Mills but be sure to soak them overnight)
- one mashed banana
- 1 Tbsp raw almond butter (I like Trader Joe’s)
Mix the above ingredients. Form into 1″ balls and refrigerate. Enjoy in a couple hours as a grab-and-go energy snack.
Each summer, I’m lucky to spend a week or two with my niece and I am always amazed. It’s a refreshing perspective to watch the world through a young one’s eyes. When Skylar is purposely focused, creating a detailed, drawn-out story around something as seemingly minuscule as a stick outside, for instance, I gain insight into what it means to truly live in the moment and experience life passionately.
Skylar likes to write poetry, she loves to make up stories and she relishes in make-believe. She even creates her own language complete with definitions. On one particular day of playing school this summer, “teacher” Sky told “student” Auntie T there are a few rules everyone must live by. Wow, she’s wise beyond her years. I was so intrigued that I felt compelled to write these down. I asked Sky if I could mark these on this blog. Of course, that brought up a whole new conversation on blogging. She couldn’t wait to tell mom and dad! 🙂
- Laugh every day. Skylar’s right – laughter is indeed the best medicine. We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and core, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster. It’s a mild workout, if you will, for your psyche. Come to think, I just looked this up and found a laughter researcher (what a happy job!), William Fry, who claimed it takes ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter. I’m not so sure that exact amount of time holds true for everyone – I know my own heart rate elevates more rapidly during exercise. In any case, there’s no argument to the claim that laughter does wonders for us.
2. Be happy. This one truly is a choice . . . Skylar gets it right again! According to Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart, whether we realize it or not, we choose the thoughts that run through our heads and, thus, can choose feelings of happiness. Thoughts turn to our reality. I always err on the happy side. How about you?!
3. Listen to mom and dad, not strangers. This one was music to her parent’s ears. Young or old, we should all listen more carefully to what our parents are saying or said, and be grateful for our time with them, shouldn’t we? As for the strangers, it’s important to make friends but take heed of those that don’t follow the rules on this page.
4. Don’t be mad or sad. I agree with Sky that we can choose to not be mad or sad. Recognize and ride out those feelings but don’t let them take over. Forgive, keep on keeping, and be grateful for what you have. Holding onto the smallest ounce of negativity toward the past can lead to losing precious people in our lives.
5. Always, always, always LOL. She actually used the acronym when she said this one. I love how she came full circle, back to laughter. She indeed recognizes its significance. So there you have it, life as it should be according to a six-year old. It really is this simple. Period. Sometimes we need a young one to remind us.
I’ve long since shown my students these photos but I’ve been horrible this school year with keeping up with my own personal blogging site. Maybe it’s the cold weather that makes me turn to nature. Maybe I just want to show off these pictures. Maybe I’m just a bit crazy and okay with sharing some of that craziness. Whatever the case, I devote my first of this new batch of blogs to Skychi, Gronda, Buente, Oka, Cincy, Gwtine, and Bwit!
Seven inhabitants welcomed themselves around my home this past late spring and early summer. Most folks would not take so kindly to these guests and my neighbors really hoped I evicted them stat.
I, on the other hand, err on the patient side of life so these creatures stayed with me for their needed nesting duration before moving on to greener pastures.
Long story short, these seven black and white furballs invaded uninvitedly but exited peacefully. My niece uniquely named them: Skychi (Mama Skunk) and her children Gronda, Buente, Oka, Cincy, Gwntine, and Bwit (she wanted to be sure I spelled them correctly here).
Apparently, Mama Skunk and her babies felt completely safe around my home during their residency because they did not spray once. They were quite quiet, actually. I refused to cage them . . . not only is that inhumane, that would guarantee a stubbornly stinky spray session. Rather, I waited for the six darling babies to grow and leave the burrow they called home under my home.
I looked at the situation more as an unexpected summer science research project and learned a bit about these creatures:
- Skunks are naturally docile and only spray when they feel threatened.
- They have MAD digging skills!!!
- Mothers take very good care of their young. Skychi took her young ones out faithfully each evening around 9:45 for a quick leg stretch. That duration became longer as they grew (and grew quickly they did!)
- They sleep all day.
- They are not disturbed by noise during the day. On some days, I’d have friends sitting next to the hole, talking but neither hide nor hair from the skunks. They were used to certain voices, I think!
- The little ones don’t seem to realize their spray capabilities until they leave the nest.
- Mama Skunk keeps them nested until three months old – she arrived late April, had her babies, and left with her clan in late July.
- Skunks hate cayenne paper and onions!
Today, all holes have been professionally inspected and re-sealed very carefully with cement; I don’t think I’ll be graced with a repeat visit nor do I want to take a chance. (I think I just got lucky with an extremely docile group). My neighbors now talk amusingly about my summer hosting! No one was sprayed so everyone’s content . . . and amused!!
I’m on the heels of a restful, soul-searching summer – mostly offline. I’m about to start a brand new, very exciting school year – mostly online (district-wide 1:1 happiness!). I’m sooooo excited about the new building, students, innovations, discoveries, classes, relationships, it goes on!!!!! BUT before I go back, I must write a few posts. Here’s the first pre-school post (truly, no pun intended):
Last week, I was lucky to fly home with my 4-year old niece, after visiting family in California, and host her for a few days of quality auntie/niece bonding!! For the record, this was her first trip without either parent and she was completely patient on the delayed red-eye we endured!! Watching and caring for her this past week reminded me of some valuable life lessons I first learned years ago raising my now 22-year old daughter.
Lesson #1: Children do everything with love. My niece, Skylar, lives love! Whether making a craft out of whatever artifact she can get their hands on, baking cookies with extra sparkle for mom and dad, building a block house for Froggie, singing at the top of her lungs to one of many songs she knows by heart or simply jumping up and down with glee, I see her doing it all with LOVE. Her love is pure, innocent and expressed whole-heartedly without worry over hurt or shame. Case in point, upon waking during her first morning at my home, my niece exclaimed in her bubbly articulate way, “Auntie T, I had a dream that I loved you so much that all around me was love, love love – SO much love I could hardly speak.” This is word-for-word from her . . . I know because I was so enthralled I instantly grabbed a pen and wrote down what she said!!! My niece expresses what she feels and is not afraid to do so. Imagine the wholesomely sincere relationships if we lived more genuinely.
Lesson #2: Children live in the moment. They are not ashamed of the past; they are not worried about the future. They enjoy what they are experiencing NOW for what it is. Very young children are completely present with what they are experiencing and feeling. They do not worry about what comes next, what others think, or what they look like – they just are. Caring for my niece was great practice in enjoying the moment and realizing the beauty and wonder in the seemingly small things. Shapes of clouds, words to songs, colors of forks become subjects of deep conversation. Imagine the dissonance dissipated if we lived more presently.
Lesson #3: Children play all the time. Play is how young ones learn and discover. They laugh all the time. They instinctively understand the concept of “You think, therefore you are.” In other words, their imaginations are very powerful. They are very creative individuals. I really see the wheels turning and the excitement forming when my niece states something like, “Okay, you be the student and I’ll be the teacher. Let’s pretend it’s show & tell . . . . . ” Imagine what we could accomplish as adults if we kept that powerfully confident creativity.
As I begin a new school year, I am going to try very hard to hold on to the value of genuine expression, the value of being fully present and the value of play to learn and discover!! While my students are a good ten years older or more than Sky, these are important life practices to model and practice as we venture on our educational journey. I’m so grateful and blessed to spend time with my young niece, watch my grown daughter bloom and share happiness with family and friends. Each special person teaches us something – whether it’s a lesson easy to swallow or hard to hold, we learn, grow and become better individuals through the trials and joys we experience with each other. Love, live, play . . . one step at a time!!
**For Sky MC ~ You’re a sky full of stars!! I love you very much!
It’s been a month and a half since my daughter graduated from USC!! Wow, it’s still sinking in that I’m the mom of a college graduate. As I type this, I just got off the phone with her, on the heels of her first business trip. It’d be unprofessional (and perhaps contradictory to some of the words below) to brag like I REALLY want about her dream job that she landed a week after graduation, so this overly zealous mom will try very hard to focus this post on a significant event celebrating her and her peers’ accomplishments.
Graduation weekend still replays in my mind and always will. Dare I say it’s an accomplishment, in an itty-bitty way, for parents who raised these accomplished graduates too. I still spot tweets about commencement addresses that continue to resonate so I don’t think I’m too tardy in posting about this now.
One of the amazing experiences was attending the USC 2014 Baccalaureate Ceremony, a non-denominational, inter-faith celebration, on Thursday, May 15th, evening before graduation. While we had the pleasure of listening to three commencement speeches before the weekend was over, Rainn Wilson’s keynote speech of the evening, “The New American Dream: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Service” is the one that resonates most with me. Listening to his speech was particularly poignant for my family as we’ve watched “The Office” religiously since Season 1; Dwight is one of my daughter’s favorite T.V. characters – she still has her Dwight bobble-head!! Sitting in the front row only added to the blessing of being able to attend! HERE’s the speech in its entirety. It is worth your eighteen minutes!
The following key points are as I digest them. I really did want to take notes, as Rainn jokingly tells the audience to do. But, articulating the major points of this speech now, after letting thoughts ruminate, is truly a cathartic experience in itself. So I thank you, Mr. Wilson!! You’ve helped my family through day-to-day stress years ago by providing truly fun entertainment on television; and now, you are providing thought-provoking philosophies to help us grow spiritually.
To open the presentation, Rainn Wilson candidly revealed that he came very close to canceling because he himself has been going through a rough month in his own life. This instantly gave him powerful sincerity in the words he shares, believes and strives to achieve himself. He is attempting to achieve these laws, admittedly with difficulty, within his own world. Powerful!!
Speaking of powerful, he referred to prayer as the most “powerful force in the universe” and I’ve since used that phrase aloud myself in a number of conversations with a couple folks who are also going through a rough time. I believe this is true.
Rainn outlines the majority of the speech with laws for happiness but quickly declares how much he actually despises the word, happiness. It seems to connote a fleeting choice that is outside of ourselves. He compares happiness with eating cotton candy (which I’ve been known to inhale, so I related well to the fleeting sensation). Like cotton candy, happiness gives us a high when we digest it but we almost immediately crash, wanting more fistfuls to keep us satisfied. Joy, contentment, serenity are all words he likes better that connote more permanence. These words more specifically refer to perspectives and beliefs within us. Bottom line, this man knows a thing or two more than just paper. His words are wise and real.
Rainn’s Laws of Happiness Contentment (as corrected by Mr. Wilson himself) ~ He pointed out that these laws have been proven by science, psychology, theology and he, in turn, quotes numerous scientists, psychologists, and theologists throughout his speech:
1. Happiness is not an if/then proposition. If/then equations never meet our ultimate needs or fulfill our true standards. Happiness is cotton candy – it’s sticky and dissatisfying. Real happiness is found inside of ourselves, a choice that we make from within. If/then decisions such as these only lead us wanting more: (If I make _____ amount of $$, then I will be happy; If I become a ________, then I will be happy; If I marry _______, then I will be happy.). Happiness is not outside of ourselves or even something to be pursued, Rainn goes on to say. Happiness is not defined by any thing or any person or any entity; it is a state-of-mind. I believe this is true. Choosing to view all life experiences as positive is a choice that leads to contentment, not necessarily the life experiences themselves (which eventually end) being the contentment.
2. “Desirelessness” can set us free. Rainn goes on sharing that desire leads to dissatisfaction whereas non-attachment leads to joy. Physical happiness is limited; spiritual happiness is eternal. According to the actor’s testimonials, spiritual beings have more human experience. Those who are spiritually engaged are far happier than those who are not because they are searching from the inside out rather than the outside in. In his explanation, Rain explains that we constantly long for permanence in a world that is impermanent in every way – we ourselves are not permanent pieces of this earth. Nothing remains the same. Suffering, therefore, lies within any outside attachment. When we detach from whatever is outside of us, we are free to be content. We are so much a part of this outside world and are constantly bombarded with commercialism, as Rainn refers to, with societal pressures, with getting ahead and with wanting more. Detachment from these things does not mean being uncaring, lazy or laissez-fair; it simply means not letting these things we can’t hold forever make us forget what we can hold on to – our beliefs and values.
3. Live in the spirit: Concentrate on the divine, spiritual part of who you are and you will find true satisfaction, according to the man previuosly known as Dwight. Live in your soul. To me, this means search for what inspires you, search for what makes you want to create, search for what you love – and you’ll never “work” a day in your life. I don’t!
4. Have an attitude of gratitude: For this law, Rainn referred to his digital media company, SoulPancake ,and an experiment they conducted titled “The Science of Happiness.” I’ve been following his channel for quite some time. There are numerous videos on this channel that are very useful supplementary material to share – – -hits-you-in-the-heart messages. Rainn goes on to say that complaint is easy and, similarly, cynicism is easy to fall back on. I personally know a couple souls who I believe truly feel more comfortable living within cynicism. They don’t take gratitude and good fortune with nearly as much grace as they deserve to. As Rainn stated, gratitude takes work – this I know firsthand but I also know firsthand that gratitude has the best payoff! I am genuinely grateful for all I’ve experienced, given and received – and I am trying very hard to openly express that gratitude much more often to more people. Rainn Wilson is correct: Think of something you are grateful for, share it and your heart will soar.
5. Be here now! Live in the moment . . . do not anticipate troubles, do not live in the past, do not be anxious over the future, do not live in your head or on your phone. We need to live in the moment!! I can’t tell you how depressing that too-familiar downward posture looks when I see a person peeled to his or her phone. He or she misses so much! Everything we need is right here, right now. The past and future are illusions . . one is a dream, the other hasn’t happened yet. I love this one!! It prompts us not to worry about that which we have no control.
6. The greatest meaning you will find in life, you will find in service to others. Ironically, the more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves. The more we search for God and our fellow man, on the other hand, the more we find ourselves. Self-esteem, life satisfaction, sense of community is brought to light by service to others! Show kindness, sacrifice time & energy – this is what life IS. The best way to combat a bad mood or even depression is to serve others – whether that means a full-out volunteer position at your local animal shelter or simply baking banana bread for your super wonderful, next door neighbor. “In this me-me-me culture,” Rainn Wilson warns, “focus on yourself and you will find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others and you will find joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia”—a reference to the ancient Greek concept of happiness, which, Wilson explained literally means “human flourishing.” Maybe this is why my
job career lifestyle as a teacher does not feel like work. We service some very special clients all day long – the students!
With every speech (and every piece of writing), we take what we can and want to out of it, what works and resonates with us. Each of the six “Laws of Contentment” speaks to me. And unlike the character he played on T.V., Rainn Wilson didn’t need to pound on the podium or wave his arms around to get his point across. Thank you, Rainn, for sharing your beliefs, your philosophies, your views, your care. I am genuinely grateful!
This is a rare, super personal post for me. I debated posting it but am so utterly proud of the daughter I’ve been blessed to raise. Below is the letter I presented her with (minus a few private details) on the day she graduated from college. Since posting this, my daughter continues to flourish. She’s enjoying her third year as a publicist in the film industry, and recently earned a major promotion. She travels all over the world for work and pleasure . . . she’s living the life she dreamed – and isn’t that every parent’s dream for his/her children?!
I loved you before I ever saw you but felt you growing inside. The moment I caught glimpse of you on the evening
you were born, I fell in love all over again – your head full of all that
beautiful dark hair and your tan skin. I knew you’d be a dancer because you held
your hands and legs in the air, flexed and watched them intently the second
the doctor laid you down. You always were an intent human. Your innate,
remarkable concentration and focus amazes me to this day! And, yes, while you shined in
many-a-recital growing up, you are truly dancing through life. You have a joie-
de-vie that people can’t help but like when they meet and get to know you. I’m
hearing that infectious giggle as I type this . . .
In you, I saw all hopes and dreams for the future begin to
blossom. The first words I said to you when you graced this world were, “We are
going to have the best life together.” And we are!! While you are farther in miles
now, you are never far in my mind or heart. Raising you, I
tried to teach you to believe in yourself and give you wings. I taught you how to
fly the best I could – and look where you’re landing; you are thriving as a young
lady fervently pursuing her dreams and goals in a major city in another state!!
I told you growing up and I’ll tell you now, you can achieve whatever
you want to. You have that indefinable it – and I’m not just saying that because
I’m your mom. Your achievements attest to your gifts. You are everything I
hoped a daughter to be when I was growing up myself dreaming about you.
Here is my wish for you: I wish that this life always brings you your wishes and
dreams coming true. I hope your worries stay small and you never have to carry
more than you can hold. This I wish for you today and always.
Congratulations on your graduation from USC. This marks the beginning of the next fruitful chapter of the blessed life you lead.
I love you very much, dear daughter, and am so very proud of you. Love, Mom
This time of year, I’m particularly discretionary in choosing articles from blog feeds because too many sound alike in reference to resolutions. It wasn’t until I came across Entrepreneur’s “Forget Setting Goals. Focus on this Instead.” that I stopped to read and take heed. It talks about the finality of goals – once we reach them, we tend to lose motivation. Case in point: after weeks of marathon training, motivation runs amuck once the finish line is crossed OR after studying hard for a test, the daunting details are forgotten. hmmmm
As the article states, “When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.” THIS is how I want to live my 2014 and beyond. THIS is how I will help my students live their 2014s and beyond. It’s about focusing on the journey not the finish line. Goals are not senseless; they are good for planning what we do and how we progress on the journey. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big advocate for lists (just take a glance at some of my previous posts under “Listing through Life”) . . . I just think that when we focus more intently, more inwardly, more presently, we progress more authentically.
2014 Life Resolutions**
**a sampling 🙂
1. I will invest in the daily habit of actively sharing, spreading and shining MORE L O V E. Look out blogging friends, that means you too!! You’ll see plenty of smiley faces and exclamation marks around this site! 🙂
2. Every day I’m with my students, I will continue to ensure EACH student KNOWS I appreciate him or her being present on that day (even a 30-second acknowledgement can make a difference). Each student brings something special to the classroom and the world, and there are too many who don’t believe that about themselves.
3. I will present and/or collaborate at as many conferences as I can. I will take and/or teach as many tech courses as my schedule allows. Technology offers wonder and discovery every day, and I look forward to sharing the exciting trials and tribulations!!
4. Every time I assign a blog post for my students, I will create a similar blog post. I’ve always proudly practiced this with my speech students – every time I assign speeches, I give a similar one myself. I’ve fallen too far behind in personal blogging and this process will keep the keys clicking.
5. I will read every book that I currently own but have not yet read. This includes YA books, professional development books, fitness and nutrition books, memoirs and picture books. I may not write reviews for all on my Goodreads page, but I will honestly rate them.
6. I will conquer the headstand . . . not just the against-the-wall headstand. I have a mental block on this that I’d like to conquer. Classes at my yoga studio will very much help this.
7. I will try an ariel yoga class. A trapeze class would be fun too! And how about a trampoline class?!!! My mini trampoline only gets so far.
8. I will run the Disneyland 10K with my daughter and enjoy the long-distance progress tracking we’ll be doing for each other along the way.
9. I will attend a yoga retreat to focus on balance and meditation . . . . preferably in a state, country or region in which I’ve never been.
10. I will dance it out somehow, some way, every day!! I used to – no reason not to now. We need more dancing!
And the list goes on . . . .
Today on Christmas, my family is reminiscing on yesterdays as we count our endless blessings. Rummaging through Christmas storage boxes, I found this old tattered book!!
Does anyone remember this CBS special with Jason Robards that used to air every holiday season?! I looked forward to it quite a few years in a row. The special, which won an Emmy in 1973, was based on the story of the same name by Addie Mills. My mother found this book for me one Christmas knowing how much I adored the show. It’s the story of a 10-year old girl’s struggle with communication with her father that comes to a head when he refuses to buy a tree for their home one Christmas. The message of empathy, generosity and growth in relationships still resonates with me today.
Hmmm . . . perhaps recounting this story so often as a young girl made me extra exuberant with holiday decorating. Hosting a cozy get together with cousins I haven’t seen in years may be another reason this special year. 🙂 My house holds three proudly standing soldiers this season: the white “Rudolph” themed tree, the main tall red/nutcracker/dance themed tree, and an extra tree this year for my visiting niece and baby cousins – the Disney character/Barbie tree.
Happy Holidays to all!!! May the new year hold dreams achieved, goals reached, and new blessings born.
I’m fresh from an exhilarating morning hill run with a dear friend who is also a teacher just as excited as I am with the approaching school year! I’m about to enter my school building, in fact, but felt the need to stop and reflect before charging through the rest of the day . . . .
While summer is flying away as briskly as it usually does, I reflect on life lessons learned or reinforced over the warm days. Reflecting on summer occurrences helps me mentally prep for the exciting new school year ahead. There were quite a few mini-lessons these past few weeks but the one that resonates louder than ever is make the most of this moment we have NOW. I’ve always believed living for today is essential: yesterday is gone and done, tomorrow is not guaranteed. My very first online post, Living in the Moment, illustrates such subject through a poem I wrote for my mother years ago.
The major reinforcer of this lesson is watching my daughter embark upon her senior year of college. Time flies more than we can foresee. — My advance apologies if I start to use a bit too many clichés. I tend to fall back on them when I philosophize. — I’ve told my colleagues who currently have little ones how much it seems like yesterday my girl was the same age even though it was two decades ago. Gretchen Rubin’s video illustrates how long days can feel as we trudge through daily responsibilities and routine; however, looking back, the years seem short. It’s a poignant video that reminds us to revel in the routine!!
As my students sometimes complain that Thanksgiving or Christmas or spring break can’t get here fast enough, I always, always tell them that they’ll look back fondly and school days won’t seem as long. Of course, they shake their heads disbelievingly but maybe someday they’ll understand. 🙂
Another reminder of what it means to enjoy our days stemmed from the recent loss of our pet of almost 16 years. Full disclosure: I am not a cat person by nature. I grew up with dogs and, until we rescued our Crystal cat from a shelter, I was very close-minded about those I viewed as “cat people.” Pet discrimination – guilty as charged. To this day, I would always pet Crystal much more roughly than she preferred. Anyhow, cats require lower maintenance and that’s exactly what I was seeking when I went back to work full time. Crystal charmed us with her tricks and companionship. She exemplified patience and unconditional, simple love. What better lesson is there to learn than that?! While I plan on getting a yellow Labrador or Golden Retriever in the future, Crystal will always hold a special place in the corner of our hearts.
Most negative incidents hold a very positive lesson within them. Perhaps we just have to be patient or look a little deeper. Case in point, my daughter sprained her foot badly at the very beginning of this summer. What was supposed to be her last summer running (sometimes, literally) around Chicagoland turned out to be many hours spent sitting. Flexibility is key in our minds even if our bodies aren’t always as flexible. What this created for us was an opportunity to spend more time talking, sharing writing, looking at old videos, reading recipes and relaxing like we should and usually don’t.
And so, as the new school year starts very soon, I’m grateful for the summer of reflection and the precious moments spent with the special people in my life. We truly learned how to revel in moments this summer – it was pretty awesome! The little downfalls we experience along the way are minor in the grand scheme of things. Looking forward, I’m grateful for new beginnings. I’m grateful for personal and professional possibilities. I’m grateful for the exciting unknowns.
I’ll be watching with a fresh viewpoint as I ask my students to reflect on their own work. I am anxious for the changes approaching at school: new iPad classes, remodeled building, new homeroom period . . . as these changes and more occur, I will remember that, however long a particular day may sometimes seem, the school year is indeed fast!! The end of the year approaches quickly; while there is work to be accomplished in between, it is the amazing students I teach that make the months fly by.
While spending spring break in London visiting my daughter studying abroad, we planned a day trip to Paris. Taking the earliest Eurostar train (bright and early @5:30am!), we arrived in Paris by 7:30am and stayed until the last train departed at 9:15 pm. What a pleasant excursion – clean, comfortable and delicious breakfast choices.
Thanks to my daughter’s advance planning and subway navigation, we were able to visit no less than five landmarks and still have time to shop boutiques and indulge at a couple authentic cafes. Needless to say, all four of us were exhausted upon return but I definitely wish to return and meander longer to truly experience the essence of this romantic city.
A sample picturial of what we saw during our day in Paris . . .
First stop was appropriate on this early Good Friday morning: Basillique du Sacre-Couer. I very much admire the history and architecture:
I found Parisians to be extremely polite. They seemed to appreciate my attempts to speak back to them en francais or, perhaps in my case, “franglais.” It was fun in cafes and shops to converse back and forth. Je parle un peu de francais, et vous?!
Since my daughter already stayed in Paris on a previous visit, she lead us to a destination she had yet to see – Moulin Rouge. Despite the lime green truck parked in front, this infamous theatre looks just like the pictures. We peeked in the windows but during the early morn hour, there wasn’t any can-can dancing going on.
Next stop, the Eiffel Tower. I expected to spot this famous landmark as soon as we stepped out of the subway stop. No such luck as the lattice design was nowhere in sight. But . . . . I will never forget turning that corner from the first building on that street near Champs de Mar – GASP! My breath was literally taken away. There she was in all her glory – the beautiful tower I’ve seen in so many pictures and drawings all my life. The sun was shining down on her, a dream come true to see with my own eyes. Words cannot truly describe my awe.
If not for the brisk weather and more to see, I could have easily stayed in that vicinity all day. Having the crepe vendors nearby (banana nutella, anyone?!) made it all the sweeter.
After taking many, many pictures, we finally transitioned to our next stop – the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. So many shops to stop into here . . . such incredible architecture to snap pictures of. One dismay, I was surprised of the many American stores here on this famous street.
Amusing case in point: We walked toward one large store front that was roped off with two men standing on either sides of the entrance. I look up and see that it’s Abercrombie & Fitch! ????? Arianna explained that apparently the chain is still VERY popular overseas. Interesting. . . not what I came to Paris to shop for but to each his own.
Here’s a shot of a random street I strolled down. I’d love to sit and read here in warmer weather . . .
Our last stop was the Louvre Musèe. We wandered through the museum and adjacent shopping area for quite some time. Mona Lisa and the Greek & Roman masterpieces were my favorite; however, the architecture of the museum itself is beautiful. I was tickled when my daughter recognized a few of the paintings from a memory card game we played years ago – those educational toys pay off.
Standing tall outside the museum:
Departure creeped upon us all too soon. I will be back. Until next time, au revoir.
This year, I ventured a few miles further than I normally do over spring break. My mom and I took a trip to London to visit my daughter who is studying abroad there this semester. Studying abroad is, quite simply, an unmatchable experience! For five months, my lucky daughter gets to call London home. Her field trips include ventures to the Globe or the British Museum or Oxford University; her weekend trips include jaunts to other countries – she’ll have visited no less than 20 destinations by semester’s end. I’ll never tire of tauting the benefits of abroad study to my students. It’s the one period in life – before grown-up responsibilities settle in – to experience so many cultures in so little time, on a little student budget.
Sharing in my daughter’s giddiness, I already have a list of must-dos when I go back some day in the not-so-distant future!! London is everything friends and colleagues said it would be and more. I have so much to share with my students, friends and family, and I’d like to share a sample of my experiences with readers here . .
Saturday – Greetings and catch-ups, walking around and getting to know the wit and wisdom of London 🙂
After 11 hours of travel (including a layover in Newark), I was surprisingly not fatigued upon arrival at London on 10:30am. I was too excited to see my daughter greet us from so many miles away:
I almost instantly noticed how much more user-friendly London’s public transportation, the Tube, is. With the infamous “Mind the Gap” auditory reminder along with easy-to-follow maps at every corner, even I felt fairly comfortable to travel independently. Impeccably clean, the Tube makes daily transport a rather pleasant experience.
Artwork is everywhere!! Check out what greeted my mom and I every time we stepped off of at the Charing Cross station to get back to our hotel, Citadines Prestige Trafalgar Square. . . . .
If only the Chicago train stations decorated the walls this way . . . if only . . .
My description of the Tube would not be complete without mention of the stairs!!!! I did not step into any gym for 10 days (shocking for me) but walking the stairs of the Tube kept me refreshed. I’m not just talking a few steps here and there; I’m talking at least two – three flights at a time followed by another set just around the corner. I wish I would have taken a picture to show here. U.S.A. take note – build MORE stairwells!! It’s no wonder the obesity rate is lower in this country. With no other option but these stairs, Londoners work hard for their fish and chips!!
Sunday – Tower of London, Big Ben and House of Parliament
I have so many pictures and new knowledge to share from this visit . . The Tower, the keeping of the ravens, the Crown Jewels, the Royal Beasts. Stay tuned for a SlideShare I’ll be sharing with students and posting publicly. Here’s one of the shots:
Monday – Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s, Sherlock Holmes Cafe
This may have been the very coldest day of them all. We consistently endured windy temps in the low 30’s all week – not typical, as many Londoners assured. While I was too excited to let the cold air stop us from following the itinerary that Arianna diligently planned, waiting for the 11:00am changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was particularly painful on this blustery day. My mom and I were lucky enough to arrive early and stand directly next to the gate; however, that meant enduring the cold longer. Once it became literally impossible to take anymore pictures because my fingers just would not fing and once it became apparent it would take an hour to leave the vicinity based on the growing crowd, we made a judgement call to take shelter in the Buckingham gift shop during the end of the changing. I was still enthralled by the Palace, by the guards, by the Royalty – cold or not! During a warmer climate, I look forward to return and walk through the Palace gardens.
Next stop – Harrod’s for afternoon retail therapy . . . London style!! Harrod’s is unlike any other department store. It is more expensive than Nordstrom’s and more theatrical than Nieman Marcus. Spanning 7 floors on over 4 acres of lavish space, I still don’t understand the layout even after visiting with my daughter and returning by myself. Wow!!!! That’s all I can say. Harrod’s makes shopping a true rich experience in itself. It is a must-see if only to gawk at the beautiful array or stop at one of its uniquely delicious restaurants or cafes . . . like the Milk Bar where we indulged in ice cream.
A visit to London would not be complete without fish and chips. My daughter, mother, my daughter’s roommate and I each had the fish & chips entree at The Sherlock Holmes Cafe only steps away from my hotel in Trafalgar Square. Yes, my eat clean diet was absolutely out the window for this trip! Thank goodness for those stairs. . . .
Cultural difference I had a hard time getting used to: At most restaurants, tipping is not customary. In fact, it may be frowned upon, regarded as insult. A few venues include gratuity on the check but, for the most part, it is not expected. Also, Londoners know the more healthful way to enjoy their meals – slowly. Servers do not bring the check until you ask for it nor do they seem to care how long you sit.
Tuesday – The National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, “Book of Mormom”
My mom and I spent this morning perusing the beautiful collections held at The National Gallery. Full disclosure: when I stood in front of Blue Dancers by impressionistic French painter, Edgar Degas, I cried. Studying the authentic brush lines in total awe, the realization I was standing before the original of one of my favorite pieces overcame me. Unfortunately, shooting photos is not allowed in the Gallery. I have pictures from the British Museum that I’ll share in a SlideShare later.
The afternoon was spent at Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Duchess Katherine wed. Simply put, it is beautiful!!! It is a must-see and walking through this sanctuary is humbling. All week I kept my eyes open for the Duchess or even perhaps the Beckhams – no such luck. 🙂
The night belonged to “Book of Mormom” at Prince of Wales Theatre. Oh my goodness – there was hardly a minute not filled with laughter. While I felt just a wee bit sacrilegious at points, I give it a definite A+!!! “Turn it Off” and other catchy tunes are still rolling in my head. Fun little tid bit – they serve ice cream inside British theatres during intermission. Best cookies & cream ever!
Wednesday – The Globe, St. Paul, Duck & Waffle
English Teacher’s Dream!!! I am most definitely creating a SlideShare for this. Stay tuned over the course of the next couple of weeks as I will share experiences here with students and readers before we begin our study of “Romeo & Juliet” in the classroom. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:
St. Paul’s Cathedral – My mom and I were very humbled to attend a full service here at St. Paul’s. I was one of those wide-eyed little girls who adored Princess Diana and glued to the television when Prince Charles and her wed. The cathedral was very familiar to me from that memory. It was haunting in many ways. No photos allowed here. . . . I have outdoor shots of the beautiful architecture only.
Duck and Waffle – Oh my, I would never even think of putting duck and waffle in the same sentence much less same plate!! Let me tell you, it is one heck of a combination . . . . a thick, warm waffle with a flaky duck leg on top garnished with a fried egg. Maple cinnamon syrup is served on the side to dip the dish. This entree can be found at Duck & Waffle, a two-year old fine dining restaurant found on the 40th floor of London’s Heron Tower. (take the Liverpool stop) A+ to this!! It’s a repeater.
Thursday – Borough Market
My daughter was here previously on her own and couldn’t wait to take us! The labyrinth of fruit and vegetable stalls and fine food purveyors collected under London Bridge is one of the oldest and largest food markets in the world .
What I ate along the market): Various cheese samples, grilled cheese, warmed brownies, softball-size meringues, prune tarts
Friday – PARIS!!! We took a 5am Eurostar train from London to Paris and spent the day in this romantic city. Paris is everything I imagined and more. This special day deserves its own post, From Paris with Love.
Saturday – Cafe in the Crypt, Notting Hill
Cafe in the Crypt is in the basement of the Church of St Martin in the Fields but don’t let the word “basement” fool you. The cafe is a gem of baroque architecture, a venue for breakfast, lunch and evening concerts. I’ve never been to a more elegant “cafeteria or basement, for that matter. This picture doesn’t do the architecture justice. Oh and yes, the food is delicious. I experienced my first authentic English breakfast here:
A trip to London would not be complete without a trip to Notting Hill. While the bookshop made famous in the movie by the same name with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts is no longer there, my daughter and I got more than a little excited when we stumbled upon a similar such shop. And no, they don’t have any Winnie the Pooh. 😉
Our day in Notting Hill consisted of walking around the neighborhoods, checking out the fashion and food markets, and trying on hats.
Sunday – Trip Home with one stop in Toronto
Not that I’ve frequented many airports yet, but London’s Heathrow is by far my favorite thus far. The good folks that planned this airport made waiting for a plane a rather pleasant experience. There are toys scattered for wee ones, there is a plethora of good eateries to choose from and one can certainly leave her last pounds and pence in England – sooo much shopping including small Harrod’s flagships. I was a particular fan of the comprehensive bookstore. Much to my mother’s dismay, I got lost in my own little world more than once in many a bookstore.
The depictions and pictures above comprise a portion of this trip-of-a-lifetime. It is so very true that life is richer through the collection of experiences rather than the collection of material goods. My daughter will forever remember and be forever changed from her experiences abroad. In turn, I am forever grateful for our special time together in this now not-so-foreign land.
To open each day, one of the first things I like to do in the morning is turn up the blinds in my home and let natural light shine through. Similarly, when I walk into my classroom in the morning and find the dark curtains closed, I immediately open them for a burst of energy to kickstart the day.
Once I have this natural light streaming in and the energy flowing, there’s one little trick I do to intensify those positive vibes. Almost considered old school with our iPad screens projecting these days, I scribble a handwritten note on the board. It can be a quotation or word of the day, a run-down of the day’s agenda, or a simple “Good Morning.” As messy as my handwriting can be, it’s a surprisingly effective way to lift the spirits.
The act of writing something down – and then reading it – forces our minds to focus on those words and the feelings they create. Try this: write a happy little note or quotation and put it in a place that you’ll see often: on the refrigerator, on a post-it note stuck onto your bathroom mirror, on a scrap paper tucked inside your wallet or purse… Every time your eyes gaze upon that note, make a point to take a moment and really READ the words. Think about what they mean, why you wrote them, and how they make you feel. Take a moment to try this little trick and I bet your lingering winter days will feel a bit warmer. By the same token, tuck a handwritten encouraging word into the belongings of someone you love to discover later in the day and, voilà, you’ve just made his or her day a little brighter.
That’s the power of writing . . .
Here’s something on one of my blackboards at home right now . . .