Friday, March 27, 2015

What It Means To Be A Teacher

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, 
whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. 
As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks-
-we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” 
-Parker Palmer

During my senior year of college I worked part-time at the Boys and Girls Club in Rose Park. I remember being amazed by the children who went there. I could see a light in each and every face and I wanted with all my heart to always be able to see that.

I graduated with a double major in political science and economics and moved to Massachusetts to start working on my Ph.D. in economics. I was fascinated by the causes of poverty and I wanted to make a difference in the economic inequality of our world. Massachusetts was cold and isolating. While I made many good friends there, I felt like I was suddenly disconnected from the people I wanted to help. I felt trapped in an ivory tower.  I missed the faces of the little people in Rose Park.

In June 2007 I graduated with my master’s degree and moved back to Salt Lake. In July 2007 I started teaching second grade at a high-need Title One school. It was trial by fire. I worked 60 hours a week to teach and prepare. I took classes after work to get my teaching certificate. I was sick much more than I was healthy. I had many toxic coworkers who made my daily life harder instead of helping to ease the burden. I saw firsthand countless dysfunctional situations and people. It was much, much harder than I had bargained for.

This year I have changed schools and that has made a big difference.  I have also learned over the last few years to take excellent care of myself, to set boundaries, and to have relaxation at the forefront of everything I do. I still question my sanity on a daily basis (and the sanity of those I interact with). The following is a snapshot of what it is to teach elementary school in Utah.

  • We have a spontaneous vote on our favorite Ninja Turtle. When I forget Raphael’s weapon, one boy becomes adorably animated, jumps out of his chair and acts it out. I laugh out loud. (It is a sai in case you also forgot).
  • The kid with strep throat (who came to school anyway) won’t stop sucking on his fingers and touching things.
  • “What great things will you do with your life” is a daily topic of conversation. We delight in discovering our talents and cultivating big dreams for ourselves. We are already thinking about what we will be when we grow up.
  •  I ring a bell to get the children’s attention. Then I say “raise your hand if you can hear me.” No one raises their hand. One kid is crawling on the floor, another is barking like a dog. 
  • I enjoy the friendships of many children and their parents. One brings me a latte on a hard day. I witness the great love with which these parents raise their kids.
  • I am exhausted taking care of a generation of kids being raise by television and Nintendo. If one more person has a child they won’t take care of, I might scream.
  •  I draw strength and inspiration from my colleagues. They listen when I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They bring chocolate and flowers. They become part of my inner circle as our friendship extends beyond the bounds of our job.
  • I literally cannot get through three words without being interrupted. I begin to look forward to death.
  • Children live in a world of possibility and imagination. Every day at 11:11 we make a wish. I buy a bottle of glitter in December. I tell them it is fairy dust from the North Pole. They believe me.
  • After buying every child a folder for homework, copying homework, passing it out, explaining it in detail, and modeling how to pack it in my backpack, I see three folders left on the hallway floor after school.
  •  I thrive in a classroom where positivity is the norm. Everyday kids congratulate each other. We say things like “awesome job!” and “today is a great day!” Even little things like rain or a good book are causes for celebration and awe.
  • I feel invisible except for when I need the children to work. Then they come to me to blow their nose, tie their shoes, listen to their stories, look at their paper cuts, and hug them. This happens no less than thirty times a day.
  •  I see and facilitate amazing learning with reading, writing, and math. I am amazed by the problem solving and creative thinking abilities of my students. They grow and progress so much in such a short amount of time.
  • I attend mind-numbing, soul-crushing meetings before or after a busy workday. These are often put on by people who don’t actually teach kids. They try to dissect the process of teaching and learning into as many pieces as possible. They make the little things a priority and throw out the important things. I always leave the meetings feeling devalued and overwhelmed
  • We have a practice in my classroom of seeing each other with silent respect. I look every child in the eyes every day, often multiple times. Sometimes I have my students sit silently with a partner, just looking at each other for thirty seconds. We love being seen. We love having spotlights and really getting to know each other. We become a tight knit community by the end of the year.
  • My schedule, my pay, and my requirements are outside of my control. Five years into teaching they did away with the year-round schedule (which I loved). School started an hour earlier than it used to. One year they cut 5 days from my contract (and the pay that went with it). Another year they added 8 days (and took away a week of summer vacation). Sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of a chaotic society that values having children but does not value raising them once they are here. I feel invisible as a person.
  • And, just today, two little girls came in from lunch with blossoms in their hands. “Here, Teacher. We picked these for you. We love you. Thank you for teaching us.” And, as simple as that, I can keep going.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Beauty Uniform

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful;
for beauty is God's handwriting- a wayside sacrament. 
Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, 
and thank God for it as a cup of blessing."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before you judge me as a narcissist (and, by all means, feel free) let me explain this post.  I regularly read the blog Cup of Jo.  You can read her series by the same title here.  I find it so interesting to read about how other women view beauty, what things they do to feel and look their best, and what compromises they won't make for outward appearance.  In the back of my mind I thought it would be fun to write a similar post.  (For the record, the other beauty uniforms are full of photographs.  Pictures tell a wonderful story.)

This picture looks like me to me.  I am a healthy weight, 
my hair is natural, I am wearing workout clothes, 
and I've got Boo in my arms- the light of my life

I have always been a seeker of beauty.  I look for it everywhere- the splash of color when I slice open veggies for dinner, the delicate bloom of a garden rose, the look on my students' faces when I recognize who they are.  My friend Christina recently shared this video on her blog, showing how powerful it is for people to look each other in the eyes with silent respect.  There is so much power in being truly seen for who we are.
As I get older and spend more time alone, I am realizing the importance of taking the time to see myself.  I am learning to look past what I perceive as imperfections- the cellulite on my thighs, the beginnings of wrinkles across my forehead, my uncontrollable hair- and see the person underneath that.  Do I like her?  It is important that I do.  It is important to be proud of yourself.

This is me after completing the Porcupine Hill Climb.  I was so proud in that moment.
 I did the majority of my training alone and had two major oral surgeries and the flu
 in the months prior.  When I see this photo, I see courage and Grace.

This photo was taken on the same day as the bicycle climb. 
 I had showered and had a salon blow-out.

A funny thing about beauty is that it can't be your top priority.  It has to have some substance underneath in order to be real.  As my brother Joe wisely says, "if looking good is your top priority, then the highest spot that being a good person can have is number two."  If being a good person is your top priority, you're going to have a surprisingly beautiful life.  

Me and my mom.  This was the first time I filled in my brows.
Hello eyebrows!  Hello bold lipstick!
School pictures 2013-2014

So, that said, here is my beauty routine. I love make-up. It is transformational and fun. I had permanent eye liner done five years ago and it makes my routine so much easier. Doing my make-up in the morning takes about five minutes. I spend more time cooking and meditating. I use three basic products- Clinique superbalanced foundation in ivory, Maybelline mascara in brownish black, and MAC eyeshadow (which I use to fill in my brows) in omega. If I’m feeling special, I’ll add blush or lipstick or Clinique chubby sticks on my eyes.

My hair is naturally super curly. If I brushed it, I would have a fro. I have tried out different products, but right now I’m liking the Loreal Paris line for curly hair. I just scrunch in something at night when I shower and let it do its thing. I straighten my hair about once a month or so either at home or at the salon. When I do that, I try not to wash it for a few days.

My favorite moisturizer is coconut oil.  I believe in taking time each morning to sit still before the busyness of the day hits.  I believe in drinking lots of water and eating natural food.  I also have a serious addiction to sugar and caffeine.  I do the best I can.

As far as personal style, I love anything that looks classy, elegant, and simple. I love pink and flowers.  I love little necklaces or jewelry that is meaningful. I will never tire of my Chuck Taylor Converse all-stars. I also appreciate being able to get sweaty. Half my wardrobe is workout clothes.

Speaking of workouts, I exercise almost every day. I do a mix of cardio, Pilates, dance, and yoga. I love learning to move my body with strength and grace. I am not one for pushing around big weights (my body excluded). I love my bike and spending time outside. I just love the sense of freedom I get from being outdoors. I love the sights, sounds, and smells I experience. I love to clear my mind and connect on some level with nature. Nature is a phenomenal teacher.

Me and my grandmother.  She will be 88 this month.  
I would describe her as happy, sweet, industrious, and beautiful

Growing up, I watched my mother be herself. She is such a lover of truth that she doesn’t know any other way to be. She taught me to think for myself, to tell the truth, to work hard, and be kind. I watched my mother and father live lives that were directed by and deeply motivated from the heart. Superficial things have never been important to them. They are beautiful people.

I hope I never have an answer to the question “what is beauty?” It has a mysterious quality that keeps me seeking. I do know that beauty comes when there is presence, authenticity, courage, humor, and a genuine willingness to connect with another human being. Beauty is a reflection of its source- infinitely unknowable, infinitely kind.

Friday, March 13, 2015

All Private Goals Are Neurotic

If I have extra time after meditating in the morning, I like to draw an inspirational book from and open it to a random page.  It is remarkable how often the message is the perfect fit for my present reality.  Today I pulled the an Osho Zen card from a set my friend Carolyn gave me a couple years ago.  When I turned it over and read "STRESS," I laughed out loud.  Here is what it had to say:

"ALL PRIVATE GOALS ARE NEUROTIC.  The essential man comes to know, to feel, 'I am not separate from the whole, and there is no need to seek and search for any destiny on my own.  Things are happening of their own accord.  There is no need for me to make any struggle, any effort; there is no need for me to fight for anything.  I can relax and be."

It goes on...

"THE ESSENTIAL MAN IS NOT A DOER.  The accidental man is a doer.  The accidental man is, of course, then in anxiety, tension, stress, anguish, continuously sitting on a volcano.  It can erupt any moment, because he lives in a world of uncertainty and believes as if it is certain.  This creates tension in his being: he knows deep down that nothing is certain."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March Wellness

I strongly encourage you to focus on your internal journey this year.  
Choosing health and happiness doesn't make you any less hardcore or dedicated
 than those that refuse to give up a ripped midsection. 
 It takes a lot of courage to place more value on the things people can't see. 
[but]... when you feel whole on the inside, that is what you and everyone else will see on the outside.  -Brooke Erickson

I came down with a cold this week.  It isn't too bad, but it is enough to make me re-evaluate my habits to promote greater health in my body.  I've been paying too much attention to what other people claim is healthy and I ignored what I know is good for me.

I was very sickly as a child.  I caught every bug that went around and it took me forever to get better. I had my tonsils out at 12, sinus surgery at 14, was diagnosed with mono at 17, Epstein Barr at 18, and chronic fatigue syndrome at age 19.  I worked closely with two different doctors through my twenties.  One put me on antibiotics and steroids for 3-6 weeks at a time.   I had many medical tests, one of which resulted in my heart stopping completely for a time.  None of modern medicine's tools worked for me.  My sickest years were my first years of teaching school.

Finally, in 2010, I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired that I began to look for my own answers.  That is when my healing began.  It was a very long process and is not over.  I tried many different remedies including eating a strict vegan diet for six months (at the time it helped a lot), eating two cloves of raw garlic everyday (less helpful and quite gross), using a neti pot (still love it), turmeric tea (no thanks) and acupuncture.  I started doing yoga.  I stopped using a microwave and started cooking most of my own food.  Over the last five years I have found tremendous healing.  It is amazing to look at how far I have come.  Among my discoveries is a diet that works for me.

This wonderful "March Wellness" infogram is from The Yellow Table.  I know I'm a week late, but I am claiming the rest of March for my own wellness.  This means that I will be looking inside for what my body needs.  I might have to dial back my workouts.  I am taking a week-long break from my beloved coffee and avoiding dairy like the plague since it seems to trigger infection for me. 

There is so much to say about food.  It is so powerful.  It fuels us and keeps us going through everything we must accomplish.  I love it so, so much and hope to write much more about it.  For now, here's a look at a some of my favorite meals.

  • My favorite breakfast is a bowl of porridge with flaxseed.  It is so warm and nourishing and the fiber is awesome.

  • It is important to take the time to sit down for lunch and dinner and try to include proteins for muscle repair and veggies for fiber and vitamins.  My favorite proteins include eggs, chicken, lentils,black beans, tempeh, and fish.  I love to cook with lots of spices, garlic, onion, oils, lemon, and herbs.

  • I love to snack so I am going to continue to pack a fruit (usually an apple) and a vegetable (mix of celery, carrot, cucumber, and bell pepper) to work everyday.  I'll still eat a bunch of other processed snacks, but the fruits and veggies help cool, clear, mineralize, and alkalize the body.

  • I love herbal tea and also drink about a gallon of water a day.  I also love this supplement  which has honestly saved my life and helped with all the fevers I used to have.  I drink a scoop mixed with apple juice and water every morning.

  • I have a major sweet tooth so I try to focus on treats that have some nutritional value as well.  I love these chocolate chip banana cookies for example.  I also love homemade cookie dough bites made with almonds, oats, coconut oil, and honey.

I want to be clear that my diet is not perfect by any means.  I will still eat a bag of chips in a single sitting and some nights I am so tired that my dinner is a giant bowl of cold cereal.  But I am not aiming for perfection, I am aiming for wellness.  I know that when I take tiny steps, big shifts happen.  I am hoping for greater and greater well-being as I tune out the pressure to be "hardcore" and return to the simple practices that keep me going.  And, as my friend Shannon reminds me, that is its own kind of hardcore. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Power of a Daily Meditation Practice

For me, just sitting quietly is the most nourishing gift to and from my inner world.
 It is also a gift to the larger world.
-Russell Delman

Meditation is the best and also the most important thing I do each day.  It is the ground on which the rest of my life is built.  It has changed my life more than anything else.  I cannot put into words how grateful I am for my practice or for the people and events which have helped put my practice in place.  Everything I have wanted has come from that place of stillness and presence that meditation connects me with.  Everything.  If I could offer one tool to help people live a better life it would not be diet or exercise or even education.  It would be the power of a daily practice.

 I am not a meditation master by any means.  I have only been meditating for about two and a half years.  For almost the first three decades of my life I had no concept of meditation whatsoever.  It was completely foreign to the way in which I lived my life.  Making time and space for meditation has taught me to value being over doing.

Usually I meditate in the morning after I’ve had my coffee.  I use various recordings or just follow my breath in silence.  Mostly I sit in a traditional posture, but some days I lie down.  I meditate at night or in classes as I am able to.  I try to find moments of my work day where I can also sit still or teach my students to sit still.  I skip days here and there.  Some mornings I end up finishing my coffee on my cushion and petting Boo for the duration.  It counts.  It works.  After meditating I will set an intention for my day or offer a prayer or goodwill for those in my life.  My prayers usually involve letting go of my personal will and opening up to the ground of being (also known as reality).  Meditation has helped me trust that reality is infinitely kind, loving, and supportive of us.

I don’t know how or why meditation works, but I know without a doubt that it does.  It unravels the knots we have tied around ourselves.  Through sitting I have been able to cultivate kindness towards myself and an ability to welcome and inhabit more aspects of my life.  I have been able to cultivate kindness towards others and forgive grudges I was carrying.  Meditation has brought a peace, presence, and stability to my life that I deeply long for.  It helps me see more clearly what my priorities are and it helps manifest those priorities in my outer life.  It puts me in touch with our inherent nature which is noble, wise, and good.  It is the single best gift I have ever given or received.

I would like to close with a blessing taught to me by Erin Geesaman Rabke in her Embodied Women class which I offer you.

Through the power and the truth of our simple practice

May we and all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

May we and all beings be free from sorrow and any causes of sorrow.

May we and all beings live in equanimity without
 too much attachment or too much aversion

May we and all beings live recognizing and honoring the equality of all that lives.