Winter Review & Spring Hopes

I have a hard time deciding when is the best season for setting goals.  The winter has all the New Year’s resolutions hype, new calendars and year-in-review stuff.  But as a teacher,  I often find myself making new goals in the fall as I prep for a fresh new year of school.  Still the spring has all the blooming and things coming back to life and that feels like the perfect time for some new plans.  As soon as daylight savings time kicks in and I don’t feel like I need to go to bed immediately after work, I’m ready to come out of hibernation and I’m pumped to make some spring plans.

I think about setting goals fairly often. It was kind of the basis of how I started blogging the first time. I’m often dreaming of new things I want to try, new ways of being, acting thinking.  To grow and learn and improve.  Plans I want to make, places I want to go, things I want to do.  I’m kind of a dreamer like that.  The change of seasons feels like a good time to reflect on the past few months and look forward to the next few. Maybe every season is a good season for setting goals.

Back in January, I made a little list of goals for the winter and I didn’t do too badly in making them happen.  In that post I also wrote about when goals don’t happen, so I’m okay with the ones I haven’t accomplished yet. It’s the trying.  Here’s the list I made and a little update on how things went:

  • write – I’ve written a post every week so far this year.  Last weekend was my 50th post on this blog.  This make me very happy.  I really enjoy the process of writing.  I do it mostly for myself, but I’m very appreciative to my family and friends and even the strangers who read here.  I like hearing that you enjoy my writing and I’m glad when a lesson I’m trying to learn is something you’re working on too.  Makes us feel even more connected.  Thanks for reading, friends!
  • hike – I did not go hiking this winter.  I had envisioned the beauty of snow covered trees and trails, but I underestimated the lovely lure of warmth.
  • go to a few new (to me) restaurants – YUM!  I wrote about that here.
  • host some gatherings at my house – I didn’t host any parties or dinners this winter. That’s what I was picturing – gatherers around my dining room table.  I had visitors, but nothing like I’d planned.  I can’t wait to open the patio soon though.  Patio party anyone?
  • take a spin class – This didn’t happen either.  Some amazing friends of mine wake up before the sun and make it to spin class before work.  I’ve managed to be up and work out in the super early morn,  but not quite getting out of the house for it yet.  Some day friends, I will join you.  I think you are amazing!
  • log a few hundred miles on my bike trainer – Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling, pedaling, pedaling…I didn’t make it to Canada, but I’ve been spinning my wheels.  Can’t wait to move that bike outside!
  • continue learning yoga – I only missed one of my weekly classes this winter.  I continued learning along with my first graders and have dabbled a bit with practicing at home.  Yoga is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do. And it’s teaching me a lot.  See here.
  • do something that scares me – This.  This blog here scares me a bit.  Putting my thoughts and feelings out onto the interwebs and in front of my family and friends is a little scary.  I worry what people will think of me.  But I do it anyway, because I have to be me-er.
  • plant a terrarium – Ugh.  Why do I want a terrarium again?  Why can’t I just buy one already planted?  Did I ever tell you about the time I had my library privileges revoked on account of a book about terrariums?  I kept it for a year but still didn’t plant the dang thing. I’m a bit of a procrastinator.  And I’m busy.  You too?

I did and didn’t do a lot of other things besides those on the list and those I’ve written about here.  All in all, it was a very good season. I made a lot of changes this winter.  The spring gets a bit more full with commitments for me.  I coach a girls running group, I have to kick things into a higher gear with the bike riding and school gets a lot busier before it winds down into summer vacation.  Those things will fill up my days with happy outdoor time and work, but I’m still hoping to make time for some spring hopes to come true.  Here’s a little list for the season ahead:

  • keep writing
  • hike
  • learn to take better photos
  • break out the kayak
  • try some new yoga classes

It feels good to take some time to consciously think about how I’ve spent my time and how I want to spend it.  While I want to be open to where the flow of life will take me, I also want to live on purpose and make some things happen.  Here’s to spring happenings!

Thank you for reading!

Thank you for reading!

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Seasons

As I begin to type this post we are preparing for some more snow to fall here.  Also, it will be the first day of spring.  Are these two things really happening on the same day?  It’s got me thinking about seasons.  The literal season change from winter to spring of course, but also, the bigger seasons of our lives, which don’t change as predictably or on designated days.

I live in a location where we get to experience all four seasons.  And lately they’ve been a bit extreme, especially the winters – record low temperatures, like just one measly degree, and a parade of snow and ice storms.  One might ask why people would choose to live in such weather when there are plenty of places in the world where the sun shines and the air is warm most of the days.  In fact, I am that “one” asking the question to myself many a day as I strap on my glacier-grade coat for recess duty.  On those days, if I’m just considering the weather, it feels like there is no good answer.  I might nearly be tempted to start packing a U-Haul and head south.  But then…then…

…then comes this time of the year.  The light changes, the sun hangs out longer and one magical day…I don’t need a scarf!  I can see the grass again, it starts to turn green, the songbirds serenade the sunrise and little buds pop out on brown branches.  The winter seems utterly unbearable at times, but the spring always comes.  And after all, as John Steinbeck wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”

I’m sure that people who live on tropical islands do enjoy the warmth of their yearlong summers just fine without ever having to pull on their mittens, but there’s something to be said for coming through the cold and dark season.  It’s such a good lesson from Mother Nature to us about our own lives.  A few years ago I went through a pretty tough season which, (even though I do believe that nothing “just happens”) happened to coincide with winter, and a wonderful coworker-friend of mine gave me this beautiful book called, “Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered.” It’s filled with inspiring words and pictures by artist Nikki McClure. And to accompany the gift my friend wrote a heartfelt note to me in which she encouraged me to take comfort in the rhythm of the seasons.  She wrote, “just as the trees and the rest of nature, you don’t have to flower right now, you just need to survive.  Every day from now, the days are getting longer and you are heading out of the darkness.  Be guided by the healing power of nature which is always renewing itself.”  A little while later, she gave me another thoughtfully chosen card and it said, “Then, when it seems we will never smile again, life comes back.”

That was years ago. And she was right.  That season passed for me and life came back and seasons have come and gone in between. This winter was not at all like that one a few years ago.  Though the weather was a bit rough at times, my life actually had a good amount of growth, lots of good times and flowering.  But every spring since my friend gave those beautiful words to me, I have thought of them.  So if winter tries to linger on and keep us inside with one more day of dark and snow, or if life throws a storm of unwanted stuff our way,  we don’t have to worry,  the spring will come.  Even when it seems like it won’t, we can rest assured,  it will. It will.  Perhaps we just got a few extra dollops of sweetness for the warm days ahead.

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This morning– the sun shines, the trees are dotted with sweetness…”Be conscious and hold on as we spin around the sun one more time.” ~Nikki McClure

 

 

Being Youer

A few things have happened with my students at school recently that got me thinking even more than usual about how hard or easy it is to be yourself. I probably think about this on a daily basis as I try encourage my students through peer pressure situations, to do what they know is right or want to do no matter what anybody else says or does.  That last part about “no matter what anybody else says or does,” is from a wonderful program the kids went through from the Camp Fire organization, and we say it so often that the kids finish my sentence in a sing song-y kind of way.  But still, they struggle with it. And it breaks my heart sometimes.

It was recently Dr. Seuss’s birthday. In many schools, and in years past at our school, this is cause for celebration of the dress up like a cat in a hat variety.  Except that, this year, for I don’t know what reason or no real reason at all, we didn’t plan a dress up day.  One little girl did her own though. Picture cute painted on whiskers and a fluffy black tail pinned to her pants. Adorable, right?  Except she didn’t think so.  I imagine she loved it at home, but changed her mind when she walked into school and saw no one else dressed up.  She had washed the whiskers off before I even saw her.  In fact, I didn’t even notice the faint remnants of them on her cheeks when I greeted her at the classroom door.  What I did notice though, were her red eyes, though she was trying hard to look like she wasn’t crying. It took a bit of cajoling for her to tell me why she was upset and to reveal the tail that she was hiding under her jacket.  I offered all kinds of ideas and tried my best to pump her up to stay in costume and wear what she had planned, but she wasn’t having it.  She wanted the tail off and to wash her face even more.  I wished I could have encouraged her to celebrate and wear what she had planned even though no one else was, but I had to respect her feelings, so I took the tail off for her and I could see the relief flood through her.

On the flip side of this being yourself thing, a few days later we had a book fair at school and a family night when kids from all the grades and their parents came to school at night to shop for books.  I was there chatting and visiting with the kids and their families, when one of my students yelled my name across the very crowded room.  And as I started to walk over to him, he yelled some more, seeming no to care at all who heard, “None of my friends are getting historical books! I’m the only one!” I started to respond with what I thought was some good teacher cheer-leading, “That’s okay.  You can get whichever books YOU want.” But he didn’t need it.  He was already shouting again and smiling, “I don’t care if no one else gets these books! I LOVE history! I can’t wait to read these!”  High five, buddy!

What is it that makes it so easy sometimes and so hard other times?  So easy for some kids (and grown ups!) and so hard for others?  I feel like we’ve come so far as a whole society in what we know about how to help people build self esteem.  We teach kids so many coping skills now that I know I wasn’t taught in elementary school.  But still, that doesn’t take away the individual struggles and learning that each person must go through.  I wish I could take away the struggling times for my students (and family and friends and self), but I know I can’t and, as hard as it feels, I know that taking it away might not even be best, because it is often those times of struggle that build who we are, who we become.  I came across this sentence in my morning book by Mark Nepo the other day and it beautifully reminds me of this lesson,  “Too often we struggle stubbornly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the friction of being alive, when it is precisely that friction that works our spirit into a seeable gem.” So if I can’t take the struggle away, I’ll try to do what I can — love them (us) through it and bring attention to the shining gem that is always peeking through. Shine on, kids! Whiskers, history books and all!

Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true, there is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU! - Dr. Seuss

‘Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true, there is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU!’ – Dr. Seuss  Special thanks to my friend MC for making this pic of me!

 

 

Habits & Practice

Do you have any conscious habits or something that you’re practicing regularly?  Not the absentminded kind of habit, like biting your nails.  Something positive and purposeful, something you’re trying to cultivate.  I’ve been working on a few things recently and thinking about the word practice often.

For a while I had wanted to have a nicer start to my days, to be more intentional about how I begin my waking hours.  For years I had been a snoozer.  When my alarm went off, I’d hit the snooze button and steal ten more minutes, and ten more minutes, and ten more minutes, until sometimes nearly an hour would go by.  You know what I could have done in an hour?! And it’s not like I was even really sleeping restfully during that time. Actually sleeping for another hour might have been a good use of time.  And then when I finally did get up, I often felt discouraged because I had wanted to be up earlier and here was another morning that I didn’t do it. Feeling discouraged from the second I get out of bed isn’t the nice start I was imagining.  This year, I decided that enough was enough.  When I began this new year witnessing the sun rise, I decided to make that a regular occurrence.  I set my alarm for 5 am and at this point I have been up before the sun every day for more than two months.  It wasn’t very pleasant at first.  I was tired.  So I tried to make it a little more comfortable.  Before I go to bed, I put something warm to drink in a thermos on my nightstand.  I keep a cozy blanket on the chair in my bedroom.  I slip from bed to the chair and I start with something nice to read.  Right now I’m working my way through Mark Nepo’s ‘The Book of Awakening.‘ Now my early wake up call has become a habit and I often open my eyes a few minutes before the alarm sounds.  (Isn’t the human body amazing?!)  And on clear days, I get to peek out my window and witness some beauty.  Not as scenic as the beach, but still miraculous every time.

During my early mornings, I’m also beginning to practice meditation.  Oh my God! This is not an easy thing to do.  I’m trying not to use words like ‘struggle’ and ‘chore’ to describe this act because I don’t want to set it up in my mind as something that’s so hard, but just is what it is.  So the goal is to be present, concentrate on your breath or maybe a mantra.  But my mind, as minds do, strays.  Here are just a few of the thoughts that got me distracted one morning this week:  “Do they allow use of electronic devices during takeoff on all flights now?  Where’s the power button on the ipad again? Should I turn that thing off more often?  I need to charge that keyboard.  Who was that celebrity who got in trouble for refusing to turn his phone off because he was playing Words with Friends?  Why am I even thinking about this?  I’m not even flying any time soon.  Breathe.  Observe your body breathing all on its own.  Here and now, here and now, here and now.  Who did take my shovel off my porch last night?  TWICE!  At least they replaced it. But I don’t want a different shovel.  I want my shovel.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s just a shovel.  At least you have a shovel.  At least they replaced it.  That was kinda nice actually. For a thief!  I wonder if we’ll have school today. Breathe!  Breathe! Here and now, here and now, here and now……”  This is where thinking about the word practice is helpful to me.  I love that the word practice can be used as a noun and a verb.  It’s something we do repeatedly with a goal of improvement.  Not perfection.  I used to work for a wonderful principal who taught the kids at our school to rephrase that old saying, so they learned, “Practice makes improvement.”  Some days my practice is better than others. None of them are perfection. Yet maybe all of them are.

I think of my meditation time as a practice and I’m trying to think of other things I do as practice too.  Like this writing thing.  I committed to myself (and my writing buddy) that I would write one post a week.  But this week, I had trouble coming up with an idea to write about.  I faced a blank screen.  I came up with ideas and rejected them. I wondered who would care or even notice if I didn’t post this week.  And then I remembered the word practice.  All I have to do is show up and give it a good try.  It’s kind of strange, but framing something as practice takes the pressure off -AND- helps me be fully present and ‘all-in’, all at the same time. Does that make sense?  Since I’m not blowing it off, but I’m not expecting it to be perfect, I’m freed up to give it all I’ve got.  And if I practice enough, it starts to become a habit requiring less task-minded effort.  Does that make sense?

Anyway, I’m off to practice something else…

Sunrise from my chair.  Not as scenic as the beach, but still miraculous every time.

Sunrise from my chair. Not the best photo, not as scenic as the beach, but still, miraculous every time.