It Is The Journey That Matters

I am currently sitting on a train that is not moving at the moment. We’re waiting for another train to pass by before we head into the next station. I won’t be getting off there though. I have another ten hours to go before my stop and I’m one hour in already. I’ll be on and off of this train, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, several times over the next three weeks as I tour a few places on the West Coast with my good friend.

A few months ago I was telling another friend about our travel plans which included a flight to Los Angeles and then this 11 hour train ride into the San Francisco area and she said, “Wait. Why don’t you just fly right into San Francisco?” “Because we want to take the train,” was my reply. Yes, we actually chose to be on this train for the whole entire first day of our trip. Why? To enjoy the journey. To see the coast, the land, the sights at a slower pace.

When I first thought about this, I thought about train travel as a better way to enjoy my surroundings while getting from one place to another as opposed to traveling by plane. But last night as we flew across the country, I found myself practically glued to the window and thoroughly enjoying my surroundings and the journey through the sky. I had brought a book, (Well, a few books, because that’s what I do) and several other ways to spend my time on the pane, but I couldn’t get through more than a page or two without the sky catching my eye again. I spent almost the entire flight gazing out the window.

To view the world from above is such an amazing thing to contemplate. I thought about being so high above the earth and then to see a river and think about the lowest point under that water. It reminded me of a section in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. In this children’s story by Kate DiCamillo, a china rabbit who believes he is real and loves to look at the stars, gets thrown overboard while traveling on the Queen Mary, and as he lies on the bottom of the sea, he thinks about how he has never been so far away from the stars he loves so much. It also reminded me of this comedy skit by Louis CK. (Watch it!) I wanted to get everyone to put their devices down, wake up, open up the window shades, and look out. It’s amazing out there! The innumerable shades of blue in the sky, the varied types of clouds looking like snowy landscapes, how the rays of the sun as we chased its setting across the country hit the clouds in front of us differently than those behind us, mountains below, and that part of the country where the land seems to be divided into perfect squares. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

I thought it would be fun to bring the blog back once again to record and share my thoughts and our experiences as we journey the coast. But now we have reached the point in today’s journey where we are rolling along the coast so close that if these windows were open, I think we might be able to feel the spray of the ocean. The train is stopping for a “fresh air” break soon so, I’m off to soak up the views and this part of the journey…

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Our first view of the Pacific Ocean from the Coast Starlight

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Spring List

Also Included: A Brief Summary of Some of Gretchen Rubin’s Work

When I first started this blog, it was about making and completing a list of things to do before I turned 35.  I never completed that original list and I’m okay with that, but I do like to make lists and/or set some goals from time to time.  When I brought the blog back last year, I made some seasonal lists which seemed a bit more doable on top of all the things I just normally do, but still kind of fun to create and accomplish.  I thought now that it is officially spring, it might be fun to make of list of things I’d like to do this season.

Before I get to the list though, let’s talk about procrastination.  Do you?  I do. I procrastinate.  I go back and forth between trying to change that about myself and just accepting myself as is.  Gretchen Rubin, an author I really like who studies and writes about habits and happiness calls this a “Happiness Paradox.”  I mean, things that really need to be done, I get done.  But I let some things wait until the deadline is looming near and some things that don’t have a definitive deadline and aren’t majorly inconveniencing me might wait a very long time until I get around to them. Gretchen might suggest I institute a “Power Hour” (NOT like back in the college drinking days!) to accomplish some of those tasks.  Gretchen would also probably suggest that if I really want to change my procrastination  habit, I take her quiz about the four tendencies.* (Can you tell I like Gretchen’s work?) The Four Tendencies Framework is a tool that Gretchen created to describe how we respond to both inner and outer expectations.  I’m not so sure I want to completely change all of my procrastination ways though, because sometimes I have a good reason for putting off a task. For instance,  I’d rather go for a bike ride than paint the kitchen ceiling or I’d rather visit my adorable baby nephew than fix the laundry room door.  I’d rather do the enjoyable living life kinds of things than the chore-y things.  Wouldn’t we all? Probably not.  I know some of you really enjoy the chores and/or just have a different sense of urgency for getting them done.  It takes all kinds. But still,  I firmly believe that  those living life choices are the right ones to make (for me!), they’re the ones I want to fill my days with because I rarely regret a bike ride and I almost always enjoy time spent with my family and friends. Always, always enjoy time with my sweet nephew!  But at some point I just gotta fix that door! Which brings me to item #1 on my spring to do list:

  1. Do the house chores I’ve been putting off
  2. Go for more bike rides
  3. Spring clean my house
  4. Do more yoga
  5. Keep writing
  6. Get outside

I want to make spring a mix of taking care of business and some things I’ve been procrastinating on and slacked off about, and I also want to fill spring with more fun and lightheartedness.  My school year has been kind of stressful and I probably let it get to me more than was good for me.  I’m ready to let the spring air into my house  and heart! Here goes…

*OK – I actually did take the Four Tendencies quiz and it says I’m a questioner.  However, I question whether I also have a tendency to be an obliger. I know I do.  The blog comes in handy sometimes to hold me accountable for my obliger ways.   Care to share your tendency or spring plans?

 

About Not Writing

I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for a while not writing.  I’m here at my new writing spot with my writing pal but I’ve been not writing.  All week I’ve been trying to think of what I would write and I came up with a few tidbits of ideas here and there, but nothing that felt really quite right or just what I wanted. So I sat down and I read some other blog posts and I looked out the window and I drank some expensive, bubbly water and I checked my phone, I watched a rainstorm pass through, I chatted with my writing pal, and I was just not writing.  I kept thinking that I can’t not write.  Because I was not writing for seven months and I didn’t like that and I said I wasn’t going to not write any more.  So I decided to write about not writing.

Once I decided to write about not writing…we chatted some more.  And then, as I was looking out the window, it occurred to me to just write something.  It doesn’t have to be earth shattering (not that I think I’ve ever really written an earth shattering post here, nor am I trying to). It doesn’t have to be a wonderful post. It doesn’t have to be the most read post of my blogging career/hobby (It’s just a hobby).  It doesn’t even have to be good.  It just has to be writing.  Sometimes you just have to go through the motions.  Or not.  I don’t HAVE to write, but I want to write, I like writing.  I reminded myself that not everything we like or want to do comes really easily all of the time.  Nor does it turn out really well all of the time.  But a surefire way to fail and/or to not get better and/or to get or stay in a slump, is to not even try.

I tried to think of some examples from other realms of life or jobs or hobbies to sort of explain how I was feeling and how the writing just wasn’t quite happening the way I wanted, but it wasn’t quite happening the way I wanted.  I guess in all areas that happens though, things don’t go quite the way we want them to. (It doesn’t help when I’m mid struggle to write and my writing pal just claps her hands and says, “Ha!” As in, “I’m done!”)

That’s just how it goes sometimes though.  It’s hard and it doesn’t go the way you want at the very same exact moment that other people seem to be sailing along and winning trophies. It’s not going to be perfect or easy or the best or good or the way you thought all of the time.  But if you* want to do it, you just do it, you keep on doing it. You do your thing, whatever your thing happens to be.  If you want to be a runner, you run.  If you want to be a yogi, you go to yoga.  If you want to be a writer, you write.

So there it is.  I’m not not writing. I wrote. (Claps hands and shouts “HA!”)

*When I say you, I really mean me.  I mostly write to remind myself.

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And the trophy for not writing goes to…Seems to me that when I’m struggling to get something done, there are always plenty of distractions pulling my attention away from the task at hand.  As I was trying to write this week the distractions were aplenty, including this trophy that the Starbucks barista carried out and placed on the counter.  So we had some fun making up stories about our acceptance speeches and who and what the trophy could be for.  Turns out our Starbucks team won the Peak All Star honor for their district, whatever that means. They obviously weren’t not doing their thing. Good job, guys!

 

 

 

Close or Open the Books, Any Day

Soooo…it’s been 7 months since my last confession. I mean blog post.  Twelve years of Catholic school just makes that confession phrase pop right out.  I wasn’t keeping a tally count of the months of no blogging.  Word Press kindly tells you exactly how long you’ve been slacking when you log back in after a brief hiatus.  Thanks for that, Word Press People.

I wasn’t exactly counting the months of no blogging, but I sure have felt them.  A few of my wonderful friends who so kindly follow my blog and read my writing have asked when I’ll write again.  My writing pal has offered to meet up a bunch of times.  I’ve thought of things I’d like to write about.  But I just haven’t written.  The truth is I’ve kind of been in a bit of a slump for a while with writing. And with a few other things.  And the slump has lasted longer than I’d like to admit, much longer than comfortable. I thought about bringing back my blog lots of times, but I just did not do it. I even taught my first graders how to blog and they do it every week, but still, I did not do it myself.

One time that I thought a lot about getting back to writing was around the new year. (Is March too late for a New Year’s Resolution?) I took a walk back in December, on New Year’s Eve and, looking for a little inspiration with which to start the new year, I listened to an episode of the “Good Life Project” podcast called “Close the Books.”  In that message, Jonathan Fields, the founder of the Good Life Project described a process that business owners would do at the end of each year called “closing the books”. They would note debits and contributions to their financial accounts and try to make sense and balance of their money situation. Where does it make sense to continue spending? What revenue sources filled our accounts? Are we wasting money or resources in any areas? How can we plan to either continue doing what fills the accounts and stop doing what drains the accounts in the year to come? And then, close the old book and open a new one.   Jonathan explained how we might apply the same ideas to our everyday lives – work lives, personal lives, habits, activities, relationships.  He talked of looking back on the year and thinking about things that were deposits in your life. What added to your account, your life?  When I did that, I quickly thought about writing.  When I was writing on a regular basis last year (and the year before that when I first started this blog), I felt this positive addition to my days.  I got a good energy from creating something.  Even if no one else were to ever even read it, I liked the act of creating something.  I also liked how writing changed my outlook on things, my attention to my days.  Because I was looking for something to write about, I often paid attention to what was happening around me in a different way.  If something touched me or was bothering me, I could share it or work it out in my writing.  Sometimes writing helped me find a new perspective on something.  I liked the days when I was writing on a regular basis, so I thought back in December that I would really start writing again.  But I didn’t.

I slumped on through January and February. I mean, who really wants to do anything in January and February?  We’re supposed to be hibernating, right?  Except hibernating and slumping didn’t feel so good for very long and the friends kept asking and I wanted to write and I kept remembering that I told myself I would write again. But I didn’t. And then one day I just said, “Yes.”  I said yes to my writing pal. I said yes, I would do something to try to un-slump myself. I said I would show up and write and so here I am…writing.

I got a new book last week.  I buy a lot of books when I’m in a slump.  Truth be told, I buy a lot of books all the time, but still, this book helped in my un-slumping.  The book is called “The Endless Practice” by Mark Nepo. In the first several pages he tells about how zooplankton make a daily journey from the depths of their water habitat to the surface.  It’s a matter of feeding themselves and protecting themselves, and in the process of this, they also filter the water they inhabit and so contribute to the health of the larger world around them.  Nepo makes the point that in life we humans do something similar as we go back and forth between nourishing ourselves, filling, gaining energy and being drained, or needing to protect ourselves.  It kind of made me feel a little better about drifting away from some things that I know are good for me.  That it’s sort of the natural course of things to go back and forth, to hibernate and then wake up, to be down and then get up. Maybe I could drift and return a bit more frequently, like the zooplankton, but still.

So I might not have made that New Year’s Resolution happen, but any time really can be a time to close or open a new or old book, to swim up to the surface,  I think. My plan is to try to continue to write on a regular basis again, because it’s one of the things that makes me feel good, that fills me up and helps me filter the world.   Here goes again…

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I didn’t make the New Year’s resolution, but I did make it to see the New Year sunrise. “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I Believe That Kindness Wins

Wanna hear a fun story? I haven’t written much since summer began, but I’ve been wanting to tell this one since it happened. It involves a few good staples of any summer vacation and a big dose of kindness.

I’m assuming by now you’ve all heard about the US Women’s soccer team winning that World Cup. Well, before they did that, a few of my friends and I made a last minute plan to go see the gals play the ladies from Germany in a semifinal game in Montreal.  We considered flying there, but plane tickets were a wee bit expensive with only a few days notice, sooooo…

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…ROAD TRIP!! Isn’t a road trip one of the best parts of summer?

There was head up...

Car games…

...fellow fans driving by...

…fellow fans driving by…

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…and RoadTrip Radio! Even though they wouldn’t let me play this one loud in the border crossing line.

Speaking of lines, let me cut to the best part of this story.  The whole trip was awesome…we walked out of our hotel on the way to the game just in time to see the team leaving their hotel across the street (Heeyyyy, Pinoe!), some nice Canadian bartender made us custom red, white and blue cocktails, we went on a little hike and especially the win, but I think we all agreed on our favorite moment.

We were feeling so excited as we walked to the metro station on our way to the stadium!  It might have had a bit to do with those America inspired drinks or else the Canadian beer, but mostly it was the hype of the game.  Lots of people were walking the streets in Montreal all decked out in their USA fan gear. It almost looked like the 4th of July.  What I guess we hadn’t thought so much about, was that all those people were going to the same place we were, so that when we walked into the metro station our pre-game bubbles deflated.  There was a crazy long line to buy tickets.  Super long.  All the way back to the back wall of the station long. Our hearts sank as we tried to squeeze into line.  I think we were all thinking the same thing, that we would miss the beginning of the game now. But we didn’t have a chance to say it or even really let the disappointment sink in, because the second we stepped into line, a man walked up to us and asked, “Are there four of you?” We all nodded, not sure what he wanted.  And then…he made our night!!  “Here you go!” he said and he fanned out four metro tickets in front of us. “Wait. What? For us?”  And then he explained, “Yeah, we just waited in that line and wanted to let someone else not have to.  Here you go! Have fun!”  OOOH! MY! GOOOOSH!!  Wasn’t that just a sweet and kind and super fun thing to do?! He just bought extra tickets to give away.  And he gave them to us!  Can you imagine our excitement?  It went a little something like this:  THANK YOU!  THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! And then we ran!  We fumbled with how to work the tickets at the turnstile, and then we ran some more.  Straight down the wrong set of stairs to the wrong track.  That’s when another nice man said, “Uh…ladies.  Do you want to be on the other side?”  We darted a look across the tracks and saw our people, all red, white and blue on the other side. YES! Yes, we definitely want to be on the other side!  We yelled out some more thank yous and took off running again.  We were smiling and laughing the whole way to the stadium.  We made it with just minutes to spare before the gals took the field and the whole night we kept saying, “Remember when that guy just gave us metro tickets?!”

And we vowed to pay it forward.  Because making it to the start of the game wouldn’t have been nearly as great if we hadn’t almost not made it to the start of the game. It was the kindness of a total stranger that fixed that.  He made us so happy!  Thanks again, metro man!

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And to all the people we cut in front of, I’m sorry. But not really.  I am a little bit sorry for taking a picture of you, Backwards Hat Girl, while you were looking kinda miserable and I was looking and being so happy. I’ll try to make it up by being kind to some other stranger sometime soon.

 

Ready or Not, It’s Summer!

So here I am, at the beginning of summer vacation.  I’ve been waiting and longing for this moment for the past several weeks.  I usually try hard to stay present and not really count down the days, but the ramped-up pace of the last few weeks of school did have me keeping my eye on this prize.  Something caught me a bit off guard over the weekend though.  I was suddenly hit with this feeling of not being ready for summer.  I was pretty much ready for school to be over.  Though it’s always a little tough and bittersweet to say goodbye to my students, that part I don’t really look forward to, most of the time, I was definitely ready for the busy-ness of the busy season to end.  I certainly don’t want to stretch school out any longer, but all of a sudden I had this mixture of sadness and maybe a little worry because I feel like I’m not quite ready for the clock of summer to start ticking away.  I need to make some plans!  I need a new swim suit! Seriously! How can all the swim suits I want be sold out already?!

OK, I really don’t care all that much about the swim suit, but I was having this weird anxious sort of feeling about summer starting. I was expecting to feel all jumping-in-the-air-clicking-my-heels-together excited like I do at the start of most summers, but that kind of wasn’t the case this year.  I’m quite sure it has to do with a whole host of factors.  A few of which I thought might be worth mentioning here.

One thing is that, endings are hard, even when you’re looking forward to what’s on the other side of the end. This year the end of school brought a few more goodbyes than usual as several close colleagues retired.  I’m often asked, as school is about to finish, about how to handle a child’s sadness and tears about the ending.  A few years ago, I started sharing Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto and directing parents to the part about teaching kids to feel their sadness instead of trying to take it away or brush it under the carpet. It’s hard to end something that was good.  It’s hard to adjust to the fact that you won’t be seeing the same people every day who you are used to seeing.  So I tell the kids that it’s ok to be sad about this. I am.  It’s ok to cry about this.  I did.  And then I remind them of an R-word (we’re big on R-words at our school). I tell them that they are resilient.  They will recover from this sadness and fairly quickly too.  I tell them that their heart can be sad and happy all at the same time, even if it feels very weird, it’s ok.  They’ll learn that this is the way of school (and life) and soon, before they know it,  they’ll be focused on pools and popsicles.  And so I’m telling myself the same thing.  (except I might focus on these grown up pops!  Scroll down for the boozy section.)

Another thing about the start of this summer that brought on some weird feelings for me, is the shift in schedule and that I don’t have all my plans all set. I don’t have a giant trip planned. I don’t even know what I’m doing for the rest of today. It feels like a little bit of a transition to go from the super scheduled and jam-packed days of June to the wide open days of summer.  Now, I know this is not an actual problem. There are people who are sick or hurt and there are huge injustices in the world, those are problems. I know plenty of people really deserve the wide-open days of rest and summer and some people never get them. I am so very grateful for mine.  I’m also very positive that I’ll come up with plenty of things to do and those wide-open days will soon be fun-filled.  I’m just saying, I felt a little uneasy about how my time would play out. I want my time to be well spent. I want this to be a really good summer.  But sometimes I fall into that whole trap of thinking that if I’m not being productive, I’m not spending my time well. And sometimes I get too caught up in planning and being “ready.” But only sometimes. I’m reminding myself of what I really know in my heart, that some of my most well-spent time and treasured memories have been those spent doing what seems like nothing with my family and friends, spontaneous happenings, unexpected meetings and unplanned moments.

I’m at that age where time seems to be going a lot faster.  I just kind of want a little buffer zone right now in between when school ends and summer begins.  Like a pre-summer, for deep breathing and dreaming and plan making. But we don’t get that.  So today I’m using a little lesson that my dear friend Regina taught me.  I can’t stop the clock from ticking, but I can notice this moment, this end sliding into this beginning.  And right here, the whole summer is stretched out before me.  Who knows what wonderful things will happen?!  I’m hoping it’s a season full of family and friends, lots of time outside, wonder and big newness.   As much as I can, I’m going to make sure it is.  I’ll keep you posted.

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I really love this line from the book I’m reading right now. It’s called “Phenomenal” and it was written by Leigh Ann Henion about her explorations of some of the world’s most extraordinary natural places. Her life and my life are quite different, but still…I love being wondrously astounded! I hope you also can’t believe your life in a good way this summer and ten years from now. I wish us all many moments of being wondrously astounded. Happy summer!

Just Pretend

I think I may have mentioned once or twice that this is my busy season.  There are so many work things to do before the school year is over! And lots of fun events happening too.  The wonderful thing is that just over the horizon of this busy season is my most restful season–summer!  I am so grateful that not only do I get to do a job that I love, am passionate about and from which I feel overwhelming fulfillment, but I also get the summertime…to rest, to play and to recharge for another school year.

The little problem I’m having right now is that there is so much work to do, but I don’t really want to do very much of it.  I’m pretty sure the kids don’t want to do all that much more work anymore either.  With summer so close, it’s very hard to concentrate on work.  I just want to make a list of a million and five summer fun things to do and then start doing them.  But I can’t.  I have a million and five work tasks that need to happen first. So today I thought I’d share a little trick I pull on myself when I have to do something I don’t want to do.

I play pretend.  I fake it.  Let’s say, for example, that I really don’t feel like teaching spelling.  I might really want to be going for a walk or reading a book or even making a dent in the mountain of paperwork I have to do.  But, I must continue to teach spelling, even if it is June.  So I take a deep breath.  And then maybe a few more.  And then I pretend that I just LOVE spelling!!  (In reality, I do love spelling, but not as much as my usual when it’s warm out and sunny and…June!)  So I smile.  I use my happiest teacher voice.  I take my time.  I don’t skip any of the parts or rush through the lesson.  I pretend that I’m the teacher I always dreamed of being and then… usually, just a few minutes into this little act, something shifts and it’s not an act anymore.  I get in my groove. I’m doing my thing and the thing I didn’t want to do is getting done and I am actually, genuinely, being the teacher I always dreamed of being.

I use this trick for all kinds of things. Often at school. In June.  Did I mention June? When a kid drops his pencil box for the millionth time that day and all the contents splatter across the floor and I do not feel like cleaning up a hundred tiny bits of crayon.  I take a deep breath (try not to let it sound like a sigh) and say, “I’ll help you.”  Then, even though I didn’t feel like it, the mess is soon cleaned up and the child is happy to have had my help.  Or when kids start arguing and maybe I’m pretty sure one of them is lying and another one starts crying and I don’t really feel like being a playground detective and conducting friendship therapy.  I breathe deeply, and say, “I’ll help you.”  I ask a few questions, try to smile with my eyes (not roll them) and soon, the truth is coming out, apologies are being offered and everyone is friends again.

Now, I don’t want this to sound like I don’t like my job and the things I have to do there, like teaching spelling and helping children.  I like my job.  I LOVE my job!  I love my job genuinely and deeply.  It’s just that some days… I don’t feel like it. Some Junes I REALLY don’t feel like it!  And this little trick gives me a jump start when I need it.  I imagine everyone has these days when they don’t feel like it, no matter what their profession, and even in our home lives.  Don’t feel like washing the dishes?  Pretend washing dishes is the best thing ever, then start doing it and next thing you know, they’re done.  Don’t want to workout?  Pretend working out is the most fun ever, then start doing it and soon it’s over.  And usually having these types of things done, gives me an added little boost of happiness.

I tried really hard to find this quote/research about happiness that I read or saw somewhere.  I thought maybe it was by Shawn Achor in his book called, “Before Happiness,”  but I couldn’t find it. And I have too much to do to look anymore.  So I’ll paraphrase as best I can, and if it wasn’t him who wrote this, I’m pretty sure somebody who’s very smart and does research did.  Also, his book is a good read anyway, also his TedTalk. It makes sense to me so…what someone said is, that we often think we act because of how we feel.  Like, I have a case of the blahs, so I can’t go for a run.  But in reality, it more often goes in the reverse order, we actually feel because of how we act.  So I go for a run, and then I don’t feel so blah.  What do you think?  I think it works for me…when I remember to do it.

Only 6 more school days until summer vacation!  I’m gonna pretend I can do it!

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Today’s photo is kind of unrelated, but we had some caterpillars as class pets and then they went and changed into butterflies. Little miracles that they are! This day I wasn’t so good at pretending to be calm when the children were pushing and shoving to get a good look and almost killed our dear pets. It’s ok, though, everyone survived. Aren’t butterflies amazing?!