Forgetting and Remembering: Gran's 89th Birthday

Today would have been my grandmother's 89th  birthday. A reminder is still set on my calendar but I didn't need it. Her death is too recent; I am still overly aware that she is gone. 

I've written so much about my grandmother through the years, about her influence on my life. Practically everyone who knows me knows how important she was to me. Through her dementia the past five years, I worked to honor her, who she was to her family and friends. I wanted to record as much as possible about her life while she was able to recall it. So I wrote essays and blog posts and half-finished snippets.  We had conversations (when we could) about places she'd seen, people she knew, food she'd cooked. She told me stories about my father as a boy, about my grandfather when they were dating. Sometimes she asked me about my friends, the ones she remembered hanging out in her kitchen, and on her carport late into the night. Through all of our time together, as a girl, a teenager, and especially a young adult, my grandmother always pushed the importance of listening and of being heard. I couldn't stop thinking whether she felt heard, whether she felt listened to, loved. 

As a lifelong health advocate and nurse, she tirelessly worked to be a voice for her patients, for those in need of care. Gran believed in saying exactly what you meant, and doing so quickly. In her line of work, minutes, seconds counted. She loathed a conversation where it took to long to get to the point. It was the same with books. If it took too long to get to a plot point, she would stop reading. Like her mother, she enjoyed a good story but as someone who never stopped moving, it better be worth her time. This seemingly contradictory trait was born from necessity. As an OR nurse, expectations, jargon, and being in charge eked into her life with us. She perfected the art of cooking while telling a story. She was a fan of doing two things at once, but only if you were good at it. 

A thousand little moments between us filter though mind on a daily basis: the way she sang in church, head slightly tipped up, how she sat in her recliner moisturizing her hands at the end of each day, the quiet hum when she folded clothes or searched the fridge for a meal. I appreciated the morning ritual of coffee and toast, morning devotional, going through her calendar, reading the paper. At her funeral, I talked about the way that living her (and her mother) made me appreciate the small details of life, the minutiae of our routines, how we lived together like a symphony, each of us knowing when to come in and exit.

It's impossible for me to imagine my girlhood without her. She was so present in my life, every milestone, every accomplishment, but also darker days of grief and tragedy and trauma. Though we often lived hours from her, she made every effort to spend quality time with my brother and I. She'd meet my parents halfway at a highway Stuckey's so we could spend months with her in the summers. She visited often. She helped us decorate birthday cakes. She let us eat ice cream on her front steps. She always listened to the radio, had some music in the house going while she cooked, or put on her makeup, or washed my hair. She would sing, and hum, and play records, and tapes, and eventually CDs though she told me she never liked them. 

In the house where my father grew up, we would open the windows and doors. Music filtered out into the night and a chorus of frogs and crickets would join in. I wonder if this is why I have to sleep to some kind of noise.  I slept in a twin bed on risers, wedged into the wall space between my grandfather's desk and the window. Though the room opened into the hallway, I felt secluded, safe. The small house of my father's youth was comforting. His history was there and my present. I felt connected to family both in the abstract and literal sense in ways that didn't always happen during the rush of a school year when other distractions were pressing. I read my father's childhood books, took tea in mason jars packed with ice to my grandfather in his outdoor shop/garage as he "tinkered away". The man could put away some iced tea. To this day, tea tastes better, colder out of a mason jar. 

Southern girls my age may have similar stories about their grandparents. I don't know that my experiences are unique but they are significant because they build an anchor for me, a way to root and tether myself particularly on difficult days. Days like today. 

I am so unbelievably grateful to have been loved so fiercely by a woman like my Grandmother and her mother and relatives. The women in my family have provided a lineage and a legacy of which I am both proud and also in awe. I want my niece to know these stories. I want to tell her about her own father as a boy and all the silly things we did together, often at Gran's house in the summer. I want her to see the influence of my grandmother in her own life because of the time we spent together. And I want her to know the importance of being heard, of using your voice on behalf of others. 

My grandmother was many things to many people. At her memorial service so many of them stopped to tell me stories of her influence on their lives. She was so dearly loved and respected. I hope she knew it. Because she never let a moment pass where she wasn't ensuring how deeply we knew of her affection, care, and love for us. 

As dementia was taking her from me, I felt like I was in a state of mourning. The woman I'd known my whole life was no longer the stable presence I'd come to depend on. She was some version of that person at times, but without the memory of the experiences that shaped her, she was left to invent someone else. I often felt discouraged; it was challenging to reconcile the person I knew with the person she was. So it felt like I mourned her frequently, the more she forgot. But today, to wake up on what would have been her birthday, and not be able to call her or send a silly video, I mourn her in the way she encouraged most; I write about her. I will always write about her. 

Other Gran-focused posts: Something Else About Kitchens, The Keeper of Stories, All We Do Not Know, If I Had a Time Machine

Life Backwards

I love school supplies, journals, and notebooks. So many journals of my girlhood start with a commitment to write and record my life but end prematurely after a few weeks, if I'm lucky. This is a consistent pattern for calendars, planners, and other life projects. Each time I commit to a journal or project, of course, I think, "yeah, this will be good." I have hosts of plans, ideas and then something happens where I lose focus or interest or get wrapped up in something else. My life is littered in the incomplete. 

Soren Kierkegaard writes,

"It is really true what philosophy tells us, that life must be understood backwards. But with this, one forgets the second proposition, that it must be lived forwards. A proposition which, the more it is subjected to careful thought, the more it ends up concluding precisely that life at any given moment cannot really ever be fully understood; exactly because there is no single moment where time stops completely in order for me to take position [to do this]: going backwards." 

One of the texts I assigned this Spring semester, a graphic novel by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba titled Daytripper  engages directly with this idea of understanding life backwards as it is a non-chronological glimpse into one man's life and death(s). As part of our class discussion, we talked about the idea that it's difficult to understand (deeply), life as you live it. Time to reflect, to look back is required. My reaction to Daytripper and its themes was significantly different from that of my students. I think it was probably different than it would have been a few years ago, as well. The idea of understanding backwards, of seeing what has come before, grappling with meaning felt like a very true process. I kept thinking about the stories I tell, the way I go over a moment trying to see it and make sense of it, the way I anchor it to myself or dismiss it. I thought about blogging, about the reasons I started the practice and why I continued. I realized that I've been trying to do what Kierkegaard writes about: understand the moments of my life. 

It's been over a year since I wrote in this space. I was in a different literal and figurative place then. To say things have changed would be an understatement. We moved in July of 2016 and much of my summer was focused on moving and getting settled. There didn't seem to be time, space, or energy to write the way I wanted to. I wouldn't say I was burned out exactly, but rather my attention was focused elsewhere--in the living of life forward. Besides, I wasn't sure what I would do with the blog (I wrote about this last April), a space, technically a variety of spaces where I've been writing for over a decade. There was a part of me that knew I did not want to give it up completely, but I also knew that I was busy and not always creating time necessary to writing the way I like--through multiple drafts, in response to current thoughts or prompts. Many forces converged, causing me to leave my previous blog host and I needed a new space. Instead of porting the old blog over completely, I wanted to make something new that (like life) carries things over from past iterations. I'm still working on broken links and images as well as creating a schedule of posts to be more consistently present here. I'm working on a project that will require space to work out ideas and pieces of essays and I hope that will push me to share more here. 

Summer is a good time for fresh starts and goals, for making plans and for secret road trips, spontaneous afternoons, good books, great music. For me, summer is a time for refueling, catching up on TV shows and movies, friends' lives and everything else that takes a back seat during the academic year. As a kid, summer used to be a time of less rules and in many ways, I've taken that spirit into my adulthood. Finally, some breathing room, thinking space, time to write and play. I'll do what I can to make sense of it all, here: forward and backwards.  

 

 

Teriyaki Chicken Burgers

It's grilling season! And even if I don't have a grill, I'm still inspired by all the burger recipes I've seen lately. I made these last week and knew I wanted to make them again. M really liked them, and they're super easy to put together. Here's what you'll need:

1 1/2-2 lbs of ground chicken (I've been using about 2 pounds because that's how it was packaged) 1 egg white 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese 2 tbsp of teriyaki sauce (I used Full Circle organic teriyaki sauce) 2 tbsp of light brown sugar 2 tsp of beef bullion or Better than Bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon) 1/4 tsp of pepper 1/4 cup of onion (I use diced peppers instead because we're not fans of onions) 1 small can of diced green chilies *optional 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed/flaxseed meal

Here's what you do:

In a mixing bowl, add ground chicken and egg white. Add cheese and Better than Bouillon Add teriyaki sauce Add onion or peppers, brown sugar, green chillies and pepper to the bowl. Mix all the ingredients together making sure the better than bouillon and brown sugar are spread throughout. Add flaxseed.

You don't want to make the patties too big. I measured out about 1/4 cup size burger.

You can grill these however you want for about 4-5 minutes each side. I baked mine in the oven at 400 for 11 minutes, flipped them and cooked them for 5 more minutes.

I use a half Fold-it for my bun. I make up this Chopped Dole Sunflower Chopped Salad with Kale and use it as a kind of slaw on top of the burgers. When I make it, I don't use all of the dressing or the sunflowers and I only make a portion at a time for whatever amount of burgers I'm going to eat. I will say that these tend to be on the sweet side because of the brown sugar and teriyaki, which is why I added the green chilies. You could also add jalepenos to add some heat.

Chicken Teryaki Burgers

With Slaw

empties project

Near the beginning of 2016, I noticed my friend, Julie was participating in a project empties hashtag and I wanted to know more about it. From what I understand, if one is in the beauty industry, they get a ton of samples to test out, write about and use. Because they have so much access and are constantly trying new products, it's probably rare for them to have any empties so when they do fully use a product, it's high praise. I think that many people use #projectempties or #emptiesproject, #empties were inspired by this idea and started recording (by taking Instagram photos) the samples, trials and other products they finish. I also think it gives many participants a reason to be more focused on using a product fully rather than just moving on to the next thing. And it's this focus that inspired me most to take on the challenge for myself. I'm just going to admit it. I'm a sucker for beauty products. I love a drugstore, could spend hours wandering the aisles, contemplating eye shadow shades. I'm also a lover of Bath and Body Works, and like many of its faithful consumers, I totally buy into the "new scents: must try" mentality that results in a lot of shower gels that are half full. When I undertook this project, I decided I wouldn't buy any new products until I finished the old ones. Do you know how hard that is? On an almost daily basis I delete emails from Bath and Body Works and work really hard at ignoring scents I want to try. I even refused to go into the outlet store when M and I were shopping one weekend.

I KNOW!

As I started the challenge, I wanted to become more aware and conscious of my habits. I wanted to enjoy the products I already have access to and unless I really hate something, or it breaks me out, I'm determined to use it up. Each month I take photos of my empties to show my progress. Now, unlike some participants, I'm including products that I finish at the end of each month, not necessarily only used in that month. Some like the perfume bottle in April's empties I've been working on for years while others like wallflowers or shaving cream I might actually begin and finish in one month. So far, I've been really happy with what I've been able to make use of, but also that I don't have extra beauty goods just taking up space. I've also noticed that I have a lot of certain kinds of products, which probably means that I bought more when I couldn't find what I wanted or was out of town and needed something like hairspray. I have an insane amount of hairspray.

April empties

I'm looking forward to seeing how much I can get through this summer. The more I use, the less I have to pack. :)

a warning

 

a warning devon fitzgerald ralston

Beneath the leaves, scattered like forgotten paper decay grows in silence, twisting away at strength knotted, ingrained, until the heartwood weakens

and becomes something else, entirely.

a reminder. a metaphor. a photograph. a poem.

a ghost.

No longer an escape route, a way for me to get from here to there;

I stand at the edge, arms open, head to the sky;

I am still. I am never still.

As a girl, my mother called me her bee, and as I watch one go from flower to flower taking in what is offered, before moving to the next I understand why

someone once told me I was like a slow burning fire.

I want to be light and sweet, spinning in circles in fresh cut grass, making shapes out of clouds the way I was

before

I began rotting under foliage tethered to darkness and poison, splintering

becoming something else.

a ghost. a poet. a reminder.

a warrior.

a bridge not to be crossed.

hello again

Hello, it's me. I've been wondering if after all this time you'd like to.. oh, wait those are Adele lyrics.  I've spent weeks wondering what I should with this blog. I have a dozen half-written posts from the past few months, and I've missed writing here. But something just kept interrupting my time. I didn't write very much during #reverb either, which is indicative of me putting my energies elsewhere, but also of just using other spaces like Instagram to tell daily stories.

I've been blogging for over decade. That's a lot of posts, images, music, recipes shared. So much of my life is represented, reflected, explored in this space, and I didn't want to completely give it up. I started blogging around the same time I moved to the Midwest for grad school. I also began researching blogging and as the genre of blogging evolved so did my own writing style. I think that's evident if you read old posts which sometimes feel like a public journal than the more essayistic, narrative style of more recent posts. I love that I have a record of my thoughts and feelings on so many topics. I like that my individual, personal, spiritual growth is as evident as my intellectual one. I started blogging because I wanted a space to share what I was thinking, and to use what I wrote to connect to others. And when I think about all of the people who have stumbled across my writing and commented over the years, it satisfies a need in me, one that has been making its way to the surface in a variety of ways over time. I care about people, even people I've yet to meet and I hope my experiences offer insight, or at the very least help them feel less alone. That's what reading blogs has done for me, anyway.

This is a year of big changes. We're moving to South Carolina where I'm taking a new teaching position. I'm incredibly excited. I'm also a little terrified. The past four years have not been ideal, but you get used to a routine nonetheless and despite my nomadic tendencies, change is difficult even when it's really good because it's unknown. However, I am lucky because I have so many people in my life supporting, encouraging and rooting us on.

With all of the changes about to happen, and with my need to get back to writing coupled with the desire to honor all the writing that's come before in this space, I decided to refresh my blog design, and re-commit to writing here. My goal is to post something once a week, which may be photographs, small snippets and observations or longer form writing. I'll also be re-publishing some of my favorite posts that you might have missed since you probably haven't been reading my ramblings for 10 plus years.

I hope you'll stick around, follow me on various social media, and see where this next adventure takes me. I've missed you, dear readers.

 

#reverb15:explorer

I'm writing along with Sarah & Kim for #reverb15. I'm still catching up because life, but I plan to keep responding as I can. Creature of habit or lover of change? This year were you a creature of habit? Or did you seek change? Or a combination of both?

As a kid who moved every few years, change was part of my life. I didn't mind not staying in one place or not having the same friends since grade school. My reality wasn't better or worse than that, just different. I spent a lot of time at other people's houses, lived summers with relatives, and later, a job where I spent the summer in the Alabama forest working as a camp counselor. Homesickness was foreign to me; being a nomad was its own kind of comfort, not feeling tied to anyone or anything, the knowledge you could always leave. Even in college, I thought the restlessness that would come over me was something everyone felt.

My very nature resists structure while the anxious side of me craves a bit of routine, of doing things by muscle memory, a kind of thoughts switched off, body on type progression. It's why I like working out, to be honest. When I'm pushing myself  to do more physically, my mind can't interrupt me with annoying thoughts and incessant worry.  On one hand, I crave new experiences and on the other I try to have a contingency plan for everything. Sometimes I feel like these facets of me war with one another, and it's exhausting.

I chose "explore" as my word for the year with the intention that I would consciously seek out new experiences. (And tell those anxiety gremlins to shut up). I wanted to invite a sense of adventure, of putting myself out of the familiar, of learning to enjoy the unplanned scenario. I wanted to approach the world with a sense of wonder, to be an explorer every day and take notice of the world around me.

Every month I tried to do something new or say yes to something that would typically scare me or cause me to worry or feel anxious.

Here are a few things I tried:

Zumba, Shockwave and Strength Training classes Tons of new recipes: These Mediterranean Turkey Loaves were a fave Setting an alarm for bedtime (and trying to set a nightly routine) 30/30 challenge (where I did some kind of physical activity for 1 mile a day in May) It was a fantastic experience and really helped to keep me motivated toward fitness. New writing projects Changed up some of my syllabus policies and first day of class routines Asking for advice more frequently New podcasts: Fell in love with Lore and Switched on Pop

I also know that my tendency as a rebel is to resist things I don't want to do, so finding ways to challenge myself while creating new habits in order to stick with it was probably the greatest change of the year. Creating internal motivation is really tough for me and I often have to trick myself in order to do things. I set timers for grading, timers for sitting on the couch, timers for reading, etc. And usually, before the timer went off I was doing whatever needed to be done. Not always, but sometimes.

While much of this year focused on changing habits for me, I do think I tried to stick with some strategies that I knew worked. I know how important comfort is to my psyche and pushing myself out of that zone was problematic at times while other times it was like "yeah, let's do this!" Having "explore" as my word for the year served as a significant motivation for me, and I'm really grateful for the way it helped me frame the year.

 

#reverb15:what's your type

Working through Sarah & Kim's prompts to catch up on #reverb. What’s your type? Tell us your personality type and/or enneagram type. Does your type resonate with you? What happened this year that clearly (or not clearly) illustrate your personality type?

I've always identified pretty strongly with my personality types, perhaps most strongly with my Aquarius leanings. As an Aquarius, I am creative, highly social, wisdom-seeker, independent, quick to react, observant, absent-minded, not really punctual, and can be detached and distracted. I have high standards in my choice of friends and acquaintances and often expect too much of people. I feel like all of these things are true about me. I can't tell you how many times I look for my wallet, keys, cell phone. Definitely absent-minded, narrowly focused on my world, my big ideas. If I let you inside my circle, I am fiercely and deeply loyal. I can be easily hurt because for all my perceived toughness, I'm a marshmallow.

I'd never taken the Enneagram test before Sarah suggested it. It turns out, according to the test, I'm a Enthusiast (7) with a side of the Challenger(8), which means I seek adventure and don't want to be controlled, often leading to taking on too much responsibility. In relationships, my defenses sometimes run high and emotional vulnerability can be challenging. I'm also future-oriented and a quick thinker.

After reading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before, which is out in paperback soon and I highly recommend it, I knew that out of the tendencies she talks about, that I was a Rebel. I knew this before, honestly, but to see it in black and white was striking. This is what Rubin says about those with Rebel tendencies: Rebels resist all expectations inner and outer alike. I'm not sure if anything has summed me up more than that sentence. Just ask my mom. Rebels can accomplish big things, though. It's just that we have to do it on our terms and in our own ways. Rebels place a high value on authenticity and self-determination, and bring an unshackled spirit to what they do. Rebels work toward their own goals, in their own way, and while they refuse to do what they’re “supposed” to do, they can accomplish their own aims. (Rubin). I just want to write these sentences on pieces of paper and hand them out to people I meet so they can better understand me. Rebels are frustrating to work with; we're frustrating to ourselves. We make no sense whatsoever to perfectionists, A-type personalities or anyone else but other Rebels. I don't know how responsible my Aquarian nature is for this tendency but it is a strong part of who I am and how I approach the world.

The Myers-Briggs test result: ENFP emphasizes my extroverted nature. I am also Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. Being Intuitive means I am all about ideas and I appreciate concepts for their own sake; I see the big picture, how everything is connected. As a Feeling personality, I look for the best in people and value harmony and forgiveness. Finally, Perceiving means I find rules are flexible, that I make things up as I go, and enjoy spontaneity.

I am an Extrovert through and through. I love people, making connections, sharing stories, talking. All of these personality types emphasize the social aspect of my personality. I can have introvert tendencies and have to recharge in meditative silence away from people. I do like my alone time, to read or write or watch sports but I can't be in that space for too long before I get restless. M is further extroverted than me and I think really dislikes down time or time alone while I need it in small doses to fuel my social needs.

What I appreciate about personality quizzes is that it makes me feel like less of a weirdo. When I meet other Aquarians, there's an acknowledgement of how we are as people, and understanding takes root in a way that may not otherwise happen. The same is true of these other markers as well. I feel like seeing these laid out like this is a really accurate representation of what remains at my core, and what I sometimes feel the need to fight against so that I'm not an asshole. I don't know that these types explain everything. And they certainly aren't an excuse to say, "well that's just how I am" because I find that living in the world with other people means that sometimes it's important to realize the influence you have on situations, experiences and other people. So just because Aquarians can be cold and distant doesn't mean that's how I want to live my life. I know that tendency is there. I know I can be selfish, but I also know I can be thoughtful, and maybe thoughtfulness isn't second nature to me like it is for M, but the effort can still be made. And it's still worth it every time.

Sometimes I think we could do a better job of articulating our needs, how we see the world, how we operate in relationships and work environments, if we talked more openly about the good and bad things in our personality types. If we were more honest with ourselves about why we say and do some of the things we do, we could connect more deeply without extraneous bullshit. I don't think everyone or every response fits neatly into a personality type; that would be boring. But I do think digging into how you tick makes you a little more aware of yourself, even if that awareness ends with being on the outside of a type or reflecting a combined type. At the very least, I feel like I have a better understanding of why certain things are difficult for me and others aren't.

What's your type(s)? Are they accurate?

#reverb15:traditions

Traditions. What traditions did you observe this year? Did you start any new ones? The concept of tradition is really interesting to me. Sometimes, as a culture, we get caught up in the tradition of doing something without questioning why or how it might evolve or change. For some people, traditions are really important, bordering on superstition. Historically, tradition as a concept was about passing on beliefs, objects, values, or customs from one generation to the next. And perhaps it still is, but I'm not sure everyone thinks about it in those terms.

There's a familiarity with traditions; they become embedded in societal rules and expectations, like brides wearing white dresses, which actually didn't become popular until the 19th century when Queen Victoria's wedding portrait of her white lace dress was widely circulated. The color white isn't meant to symbolize virginity or purity in any way, contrary to beliefs otherwise.

There's a pretty big part of me that enjoys bucking tradition. (I had a pirate-themed wedding at a bowling alley for goodness' sake). But I do understand the comfort it brings. I understand feeling as though you're continuing something that people long before you also did but I think there a ways to honor tradition while being yourself. The year my great-grandmother died, I was determined to make her chicken and dumplings for our family's Christmas gathering. Everyone, and especially my father, looked forward to dumplings and I didn't want to disappoint them. I remember in the months before she died, asking her to show me how to make them. She stood with her walker against the counter, shouting out instructions. She smiled at my horror when I was tasked with deboning a chicken. Being a part of the ritual of learning her recipes, of putting them into practice when she was no longer able to, was a sacred experience. So, I understand why meditation and prayer and similar rituals are powerful and comforting.

When I was in middle school, my mom started Christmas morning with Pillsbury orange danishes. Each year, we'd ask her if we could have the danishes for Christmas breakfast. We had them other times, too, but it was particularly part of our Christmas tradition. When my brother was in college and visiting for the holidays, he said something about looking forward to orange danishes. My mother had forgotten about it, so I went to the grocery store on Christmas Eve to get the orange danishes so we'd have them Christmas morning. My brother takes his traditions seriously, and many them seem to revolve around food.

After moving to the Midwest, I used my breaks between semesters to visit my family so there were some Thanksgivings and Christmases that I didn't spend with M. Although lately, we spend Christmas together because the times we didn't made me pretty miserable. But no matter what else is going on, we've always managed to spend July 4th together and watch fireworks. I love fireworks. I love how they make me feel like a little kid. When I worked at Disneyworld there was a firework show every night. And each night, (if I was working) I’d walk outside and stand with my fellow employees and watch the show. Disney fireworks were spectacular explosions of colors, unexpected combinations, designs. There seemed to be a stillness in me as I watched the fireworks. That time in my life was extremely tumultuous and chaotic. But during the firework show things quieted. One of my favorite Disney fireworks experience was during Christmas. The gang of people with whom I lived and worked went to Epcot. Our time together was ending; we were missing our family at the holidays and we had nothing else to do. We had dinner at an Italian place inside Epcot and then stuck around for the fireworks. They were amazing. They spelled Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays in the air. They lit up the night and seemed to fall into the water as they faded. I remember the vibrant colors, shades I never imagined fireworks could be. Deep blues and purples, bright tangerines, greens. I loved the patterns and tried naming each one, starburst, silly swirls, curling wonder, but they came too quickly into the sky and then disappeared.

M and I have watched many fireworks displays throughout the 11 years we've been together. Each year, I look forward to spending that time together, and ultimately no matter what the tradition is, I think the people you share it with are really what makes it.

Holidays seem to give us many traditions. There are Christmas traditions I especially like: watching Charlie Brown's Christmas and drinking hot chocolate, driving around looking at Christmas lights, getting new pajamas, but I've also allowed for holiday traditions (and others) to evolve because when you join someone else's family, you embrace their traditions, too, or create your own.

#reverb15: faves

Still doing some #reverb catch-up. I'm excited to share some of my favorite things of the year with you. I always learn from people's favorites lists whether it's books, movies, skincare products, t-shirts, music, whatever.

Columbia fleece in Blue Macaw: This wasn't new to me but I hadn't been able to wear it last year because it was too small and so I was able to rediscover it once I lost weight this year, which made me really happy. It's so warm and soft and in my favorite color, blue.

Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind: I played this album on repeat. Songs from it are littered throughout my monthly playlists, particularly this Summer.  Something about it just connected with me: the lines from Wilder Mind and the way that Marcus Mumford delivers the linesstill affect me, particularly that pause before "if you want": You can be every little thing you want nobody to know/And you can try to drown out the street below/And you can call it love/If you want

Laura Geller Color Drenched Lip Gloss in Milk Shake

Rich Argon Colour Protect Shampoo: I got a sample of this and really loved it. I've been using it as my travel shampoo and when it runs out I'll have to seek out a full sized bottle. It smells great and I like the consistency of it.

Alterna Bamboo Smooth Dry Oil Mist I read a ton of lists of the best Hair Care products and this seemed to be on every single one. I love how smooth it leaves my hair and that it helps to fight the static of the winter.

Amazon Fire Tablet: I only recently got this when it was on sale on Black Friday. I wanted something that I could use when I didn't want to take my iPad Mini with me. So far I like how easy it is to borrow and get Kindle books. The biggest drawback is how quickly the battery drains, though it does charge really quickly.

Lore Podcast with Aaron Mahnke: I discovered this while teaching podcasts this semester. I was instantly enamored. I love the way Mahnke paces the stories of folklore he covers and even when I know a lot about a subject he covers, I still find something worthwhile in each episode.

I can't find a link to this Coach wristlet. My sister-in-law gave it to me and though I used other purses and wallets this year, I always come back to this one. I love the color palette and it holds everything I need except my phone. However, I do have a tendency to forget it on tables and in bathrooms, so I have to be careful to remember it or keep it attached to my wrist.

Tek Gear capri workout leggings: The ones I have are sold out, but these are similar. I lived in these this summer, really comfortable, breathable, cute.

Words on a Coaster coaster by Raygun: I stumbled into this store when I was in Kansas City this summer, and I wanted to buy the whole store but I just found the coasters really funny so I snagged a couple that now sit on my side tables.

Expedition Unknown with Josh Gates: I'd watched a few episodes of this off and on before but this year, I watched whenever I could.

#reverb15: getting vulnerable

Playing some #reverb catch-up. This is Day 5 from Sarah & Kim. Vulnerability. It’s scary to share our true selves because it leaves us open and vulnerable. When were you vulnerable this year? What was the result?

In 2013, I chose "open" as the word to frame my intentions. I did so because I felt like I need to be unfolded. I'd spent a lot of the previous years in a really internal space, managing some difficult situations and I was finally in a place where I wanted to open up again. One of the definitions of "open" that I loved, and came back to again throughout the year, iss "to permit passage".

Imagine how differently vulnerability seems if you think of it this way. When you open yourself to people and experiences, you are permitting passage, letting things through, providing space.

Pema Chodron says about our capacity for openness:

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.

This year, on numerous occasions I found myself talking to students who were sharing very personal situations and challenges with me. I was probably the most open with them about my own life than I've been before simply because it was important to share something back, to empathize with their experiences. One student in particular who lost a parent this semester told me that she would never managed the end of the semester without my understanding. The amount of students who disclose their struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief staggers me. I'm constantly reminded how much the work I do exists outside of the classroom. Even within the classroom, I try to be open, vulnerable with my students. It's a tricky line to walk because I need them to trust that I've been thoughtful about the work I ask them to do and that the see me as a guide, a resource. I'm slowly realizing that when I share stories with my students, the connection grows between us rather than diminishes. And once you crack yourself open, it's tough to tamper yourself back down.

I used to be afraid that if I let myself feel vulnerable, I wouldn’t be able to control the flood of emotions that would come; I would be overwhelmed and unable to handle all I was feeling. I think this is why Brene Brown’s “The Price of Invulnerability” resonated with me when I first saw it five years ago: because that’s what I was doing then, numbing myself from feeling anything at all, especially joy. Because I was afraid.

I'm not sure exactly when we, as a culture, or even I as a person began to associate vulnerability with weakness. But what I know now is that being vulnerable is the bravest, most demanding think you can ask of yourself and other people.

One of my students asked me what advice I would give myself in college. I think I would probably want to tell her that she has a right to her feelings, whatever they may be, that her future is so much more than she could have imagined, so full of love and friendship and amazing experiences. I would tell her that she will be okay. And that one day, her voice will be stronger than all the other voices that tell her no, or that she can't or shouldn't do xyz. One day she will listen to that voice, and fall in love, and go on adventures and make connections and be fiercely and deeply loved in return. To do that, though, she has to be vulnerable, to permit passage.

 

#reverb15: noms recap

What was the best meal you had in 2015? Why? Did you make it or did someone make it for you? Growing up in the South, food is not merely about nourishment. It's an event, a spectacle. People will cook for days for things like crawfish boils, pig roasts, and almost any other occasion, at least that is how it worked in my family. The meal is an excuse to have conversations with friends, family, and to show off one's cooking/baking skills. This isn't to say that the food isn't important because it absolutely is. It's just equally important to share stories, to be generous with your time over food. Good conversation can cover a wealth of sins in my family. I've written innumerable times about the significance of kitchens in my life, and it's no surprise to me that when I think about what makes food great, it's never just about the taste of whatever is on the plate. I love meals with lots of courses, meals that give you time to spend with whoever is at the table with you.

I've eaten a lot of good food this year; I discovered sushi I like and enjoyed the experience of conveyer belt sushi plates with some of my closest friends.

Sushi Conveyer at Sushi Station

But when I look back at all my pictures of food, and let's face it, I take a ton of foodstagrams, what stands out most is how much amazing breakfast food I ate this year. I love brunch. Brunch is leisurely, indulgent. All descriptions of my perfect day include brunch. Plus you can drink before 2 in the afternoon and no one finds it strange. The title of this post should be: to  all the brunches I've loved before.

At Red Gravy in New Orleans, I had something called Sicilian egg pie that M ordered for me. She, my mom and I basically shared off one another's plates and everything was good. We also made my mom try fried green tomatoes and mimosas: achievement unlocked.

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In St. Louis, we ate delicious crepes and biscuits and gravy at Rooster downtown.

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And while I enjoyed almost everything we ate in Arizona, the breakfasts were a highlight, particularly the breakfast fry bread. Fry bread is this amazing Navajo traditional bread, that you could probably pile anything you want on and it would be amazing. It's like biscuits, a funnel cake and cornbread had a baby, a very tasty baby of bread.

Fry Bread! 

We also had this pastry with pistachios from Essence Bakery in Tempe that was gooey and good.

pistachio gooey bun

And finally this breakfast sandwich from the gods from ChopShop in Tempe, which is the coolest cafe. I am so jealous of everyone who gets to hang out there all the time but if I lived in Tempe, I'd spend all my money on their breakfast sandwiches and juices, so maybe it's good that it was a treat for me.

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My favorite meals are ones where there's no time limit, where the food is good and the company is great. I consider myself lucky to experience this pretty often. Just a few weeks ago at Destihl we had the most amazing chicken and biscuits. I can't recommend them enough if you allow yourself a cheat day or just don't think about how many calories is in something to have it taste so good. Forget I mentioned it.

#reverb15: good reads

This prompt comes from Sarah & Kim: Good reads. What was your favorite book or reading of 2015? Why? Was it a different genre from what you normally read?  My reading this year was sporadic. I would read nothing for a month and then read a crime thriller in a few days. Usually, my favorite book is the last one I finished reading. This year, I read Station Eleven, after much prompting from my bookish friends. I loved it.

It's a tough book to describe; it's a post-apocalyptic novel, yes, about humanity trying to survive and rebuild, but it's also more than that. It's a dark and quiet powerhouse, but what I love most about it is the way the various characters cross paths. It's a story you have to wait out as it moves back and forth in time: before and after the pandemic that wipes out most of the population. The strength is the way the stories are paced and intersected, so that you get close to the characters and the people in their lives. I was hooked right away.

I also really enjoyed The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which I read in two afternoons. Here's what I said about it in my Goodreads review:

I read this book quickly because it was so full of vibrant characters who I cared about almost instantly. The story unfolds in ways that are unexpected. There are small details that become important and secrets that are kept and shared that are not at the center of the novel, but all around the edges. In the hands of a lesser author, the stories, the characters, the plots themselves might feel inauthentic but through the strong writing off Ziven and the protagonist A.J. Fikry, all the pieces come together in a compelling and charming way. 

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. We are not quite novels. In the end, we are collected works.”

Both of these books are the kind of fiction I do like to read, though both were very different stories.

I'm going to try to read more consistently next year. I'll set a goal of 15 books, a little more than 1 a month and perhaps I can get bank some books in January when I'm on break. What did you read that was great this year? What should I put on my 2016 list?

#reverb15: surprises & photographs

Today, I'm combining Kat's prompt about surprises with a favorite photo prompt from Sarah and Kim because they blend together so nicely for me. I'm likely to do this throughout #reverb, choose prompts from multiple places or use one from the past that speaks to me. What surprised you this year? 

My body: I got on the scale in January this year with immense trepidation. In 2012-2013 I'd lost a significant amount of weight. I spent a good deal of 2014 having it slowly pile back on. This year, I wanted to get back not to the size I was in 2013 but to the healthy body I had, the one that could walk up stairs more easily, spend time walking, running, hiking, biking. I wanted to do a better job of honoring, appreciating and just doing better in terms of my health because I knew I could. I started slowly and used my word for the year, explore, to try classes, experiences, foods, I might not have otherwise tried. And while I know I shouldn't be surprised that all that effort made a difference, there are days I still am surprised at my own reflection, or the way clothes feel on my body, but moreso I'm surprised when I push my body and it carries me to the end of a Zumba class or rowing session, or treadmill/elliptical workouts. I'm surprised at the elation and sense of accomplishment I feel each time I'm able to move a little faster or increase resistance, or meet whatever small goal I have going on at the time. I don't want to ever be done with this work. I know that I can't be because I owe it to the people who love me and to myself to do the best I can to keep my body healthy and happy and strong.

Reconnecting: It's always surprising to be made aware of an impact you have on someone's life. This was a year when friends and exes reconnected with me in pretty brave ways, expressing how something I said or did made a difference. It's also interesting to see what people remember of you vs. your own recollections. I can tell you I feature much less favorably in my memories than in those of the ones who've been in touch with me this year.

My friends are awesome. Okay, this didn't really surprise me. But it's nice to see friends and colleagues get recognized for the work they do, to see them in a mode I don't often see: "pulled together professional person." Let's face it, if you're like me, you rarely feel like you have it worked out, and many of your friends are in that boat with you, so to see their brilliance in the world, to be reminded of how great and smart and talented your friends are gives you a little bit of hope that you might achieve some of that brightness one day. And it feels damn good to cheer on important people in my life.

The world doesn't end if you decide not to finish something. This didn't really surprise me either, but I have to say that I experienced a deep sense of relief when I stopped working on a project that felt a little like spinning my wheels to pursue something that felt a little indulgent. The only consequence was that I became passionate about some ideas I'd previously dismissed once I decided to see what would happen if I pursued them as a research project.

Ugh, I can be a snob. I guess this isn't totally surprising but it is something noticeable in certain situations. It's okay to like different things from your friends/loved ones. It's perfectly fine not to "get" something other people are into. I'm trying, however to be less snobby when I don't like something that everyone else does and less judgmental of myself when I like something everyone else does. Maybe it's also okay to be a little snobby. I'm trying, here.

A little kindness goes a long way. Again, not a surprise but something that I seemed to be reminded of this year whether it was someone showing me kindness or me doing something nice for others, being generous in time and spirit was a common theme of the year.

Share your favorite photo from this year. Why is it your favorite? What makes it so special?

This year, a little over a month ago, M and I drove across country to the Grand Canyon. It was a huge adventure for us. While we've driven on long road trips before, never one that far. One of my favorite parts of the journey was asking M "couples road-trip questions". I could have guessed some of the answers, but it was still fun to hear her responses. I think when you've been together a long time (11 years now) there's a comfort between you and an assumption that you know all there is to know. I also think that's sad because we should continue to evolve and grow as people and as a couple and that means regularly checking in, asking questions you think you know the answers. You might be surprised at what you discover about one another.

In the early stages of planning this trip out West (I had to go because of a conference) I wasn't particularly excited about the Grand Canyon. I thought, "I'll go. It will be cool. M is excited. I'll go for her." But the closer the trip got, the more interested in the canyon I became. Nothing I could have read or imagined prepared me for what I felt being there. The sense of awe I experienced; it's something sacred. I kept feeling like I shouldn't be there, that I was somehow out of time and space. It's just spectacular. My continuously awed reaction surprised me, though I suppose it shouldn't have. Each time we rounded a corner, I felt my breath hitch and was overwhelmed at the beauty and power of being in such a place.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip:

M and I at the Grand Canyon
M and I at the Grand Canyon

We never have photos of us that don't look like selfies. A nice guy took this one for us and did a good job of framing the area around us. It's really windy and our hair is out of place; we both have sunglasses on.But somehow it still perfectly captures the moment we first saw the Grand Canyon, and all those ridges and colors and rocks spread before us. The entire trip was a constant reminder to pay attention to the view around you. In the Grand Canyon, I couldn't help it. There was no other thing to do but to contemplate what was in front of you and appreciate it.

I couldn't imagine this trip at any other time in my life with anyone else. No surprise there.

#reverb15: lists of the season

Wow. Somehow it's already December 1st. Somehow, I took the entire month of November off from blogging. While this is one of the busiest times for me as the semester winds to a close/screeches to a halt/ends with holiday parties and overindulging, it's also a favorite time of year because I allow myself time to sit and reflect on the year that is ending and the one about to begin. *This is the seventh year (I think) that I’ve participated in #reverb, a yearly reflection, responding along with other bloggers to a variety of prompts which help put the year in perspective and head into a new year with a better appreciation for the year that is ending. In 2009, I participated in Gwen Bell’s #bestof2009, which evolved into #reverb10. In 2011, many bloggers contributed to their own reverb projects, providing prompts and community for  #reverb11 and repeated in #reverb12. In 2011 and 2012 I jumped around various reverb communities and chose prompts which provided the best opportunity for me to reflect and share. In 2013 I joined Project Reverb hosted by Kat, Sarah, and Meredith,. In 2014, I continued with Project Reverb, which also provided monthly prompts throughout 2015 once #reverb14 ended. This year, I will probably also respond to the prompts that feel most compelling but at the start, at least, I'm following along with Kat McNally's prompts. Reflective practice has been an incredible part of my life and I look forward to reverb every year because it gives me the opportunity to slow down and spend some major time writing and thinking and connecting through reflection. You can join in any time or create your own reflective prompts, and ways to look back and forward as the holiday season bears down on us and makes us a little crazy.

The prompt: In her seventh ever blog post, all the way back in March 2003(!), the inimitable Andrea Scher wrote: “Maybe lists are like prayers.”

What sorts of lists do you have on the go at the moment? What do they suggest you are praying for?

My great-grandmother never believed in coincidence; she always thought just the right things happened at just the right times. She was superstitious and affectionate with unbelievable wit and determination to live big and love bigger. As tough as she was, she was also soft, romantic, and kind. She remains a significant influence on my life, on my values and my desire to seek adventures, to be bold and ambitious. Her belief that moments converge when you need them carried her through difficult times, and she confided once, made it easier to laugh.

As I embark on #reverb15, I'm also participating in #30DaysofLists, a project I've completed once before but never in December. I'm interested to see how the two influence one another. So today, thanks to my #30list prompt the list most on my mind is one reflecting on December as a month, what I look forward to when it comes around, and the ways I use my time.

Writing that list got me thinking about what I like about the holidays. I love Christmas decorations, love driving around seeing lights on houses, love Christmas trees and wrapping paper, stockings, and garland. It makes the time feel special. I've always been a fan of twinkle lights, (I had them hanging in my room throughout college) and nowhere are there more lights to be found than during the Holidays.

I also do like the rituals that come with the Holidays: I always watch Charlie Brown's Christmas, with cocoa w/marshmallows in hand. I make cookies and chocolate covered pretzels. We buy new pajamas. We go to Christmas parties. We eat Italian beef at M's grandparents.... and on and on.

I have lists of Christmas gift ideas, things I need to finish, deadlines to meet, things to add to my calendar, but embedded in all of them is a nod to: relishing the moment, enjoying the special-ness of the season, of the time I have to watch twinkle lights, have conversations with my friends, eat food I normally don't eat, complain about the snow, you know all the traditions of Christmas in the Midwest.

Every year I think about what I want to do going forward, how I want to frame my new year, what intention do I most need to frame the new year, so I also have lists of words, words that rattle around my brain, knock on my heart, pull me and push me in one direction and another. The one word I've most responded to is pretty similar to explore, which was my word for 2015 so I'm not yet sure if that means I need to continue to focus in this area or not, if that word, that list of words are my most sacred prayers whispered to the universe just for me, just for now.

 

currently, October

Weather: It's been beautiful, lately, not too cool; the leaves have changed and are crunching under feet. Playing: Lifeline and Lifeline 2. These are text-based app games that are like choose your own adventure books. I like Lifeline, the original, better but I'm enjoying the 2nd chapter too. I became pretty attached to the character in Lifeline so it's hard for me to adjust to a new character even if her story is compelling.

Eating: my eating habits are so boring these days; I'm not doing a great job of preparing meals so I eat a lot of salads and black bean burgers.

Drinking: coffee!

Wearing: sweaters, light jackets, fleece; since we're in the in-between weather I need something more than the short sleeves I normally wear. I'm breaking out the quarter length sleeve shirts and you can't stop me.

Reading: student essays and crime novels, mostly but I just got Astonish Me from the library so I'll be reading it next and maybe we'll listen to an audio book as we drive cross country this week.

Watching:  I'm pretty enamored with John Oliver's show and I'm watching @midnight again on lunch breaks because they're both 30 minute shows. It's football season so I try to watch the games when I can.

Listening: Clearly, I love bands with "ghost" in the title. This summer I loved Handsome Ghost and now I'm into Ghost Loft, especially their song "Overflow."

Also Bishop's "Wild Horses" which is featured in a car commercial right now so you might recognize it.

I'm really digging Foals new stuff, "Mountain at My Gates" is my favorite right now and the video was shot solely on a GoPro which is kinda cool. (Mom, don't watch this; it will make you motion sick.)

Feeling: I need a new word for how overwhelmed I feel. Deadlines close in and I owe people emails. I'm behind on everything and trying to prioritize tasks makes me want to lay my body on a beach somewhere and watch the tide come in.

Loving: my new haircut and color; my hair hasn't been this short in a while and I am adjusting to the fact it's no longer ponytail easy. It's easy to curl and doesn't take as much time to style. And I love the Fall color of browns and reds and light blonde.

Anticipating: our week-long road trip to the Grand Canyon. Here's to road trips with people you love and exploring new places.

Trying: not to worry, overanalyze and freak out about all that needs to happen in preparation for travel, the conference and instead focus on how awesome it will be to travel

#reverb15: school's in session

I've essentially taken a break from blogging in September because I've been traveling, hanging with friends, reading and commenting on essays. I haven't had much time to sit and think and write for myself. This weekend, in fact, was the first weekend since the end of August that I haven't had plans. I spent it trying to get caught up on my life. Each semester, I think I know how hectic my life is going to be. But in reality, it always feels like I'm on a train that I can't stop and there's no choice but to hang on and make the best of it.

As a kid, I loved school. I loved getting ready for school, picking out pens and notebooks, choosing a first day outfit. I was good at school; I knew what was expected of me and did my best to live up to those expectations. And for the most part, school was good to me. I had my difficulties, of course. I was too smart for my own good. I wanted to shout the answers because I knew them. I was a terrible listener. I couldn't sit still. I was easily bored. Thankfully, I had instructors who recognized my behavior and designed additional tasks or assignments for me and helped me flourish despite my know-it all attitude.

During 5th grade, our math teacher went on maternity leave. I'm not sure if it was a new teaching style from her replacement or if math was just getting more difficult, but I feel like after 5th grade I could not get math, at all, like a switch flipped off. In high school, in particular, I had a difficult time with Geometry. I was studying, doing the homework, but things weren't clicking. I'm not good at spatial relationships; it's tough for me to see shapes and angles, to understand them in relation to one another. It's just not my thing. My math teacher who was a straightforward, no nonsense kind of teacher, stopped me one day after class. I'd not done well on a test, and I was clearly upset. She gave me the name of a student in a different section who tutored math outside of class and suggested I call him. She also sat with me and went over the test  I'd done so terribly on, trying to explain the steps I'd missed. All of this was during a significantly hard time for me in my life outside of math. Her interest, the fact that it mattered that I do well in her class, made me feel a little better. I was aware, in a conscious way, that I had people rooting for me. I did get tutoring and managed a B- in the course, but it was a hard-won victory. It wasn't until college, when I took Analytical Math that I really felt like I understood any math at all. I could finally apply something that made sense to me to a realm where things typically did not. It was an eye-opening experience, one that has influenced my teaching and learning, even now.

This is something I try to remember when my students struggle with someone that I know so completely that it's part of my being. I have a talent for words, for analysis, for reading and understanding. I've built on that talent throughout my schooling, and I've worked hard, but I also know that it's difficult to explain why things click a certain way for me, why I can read something (typically, I'm not talking super theoretical stuff, here) once and easily absorb it.

My school experiences weren't all amazing, and I had instructors who negatively impacted my learning, but when I look back, I am deeply grateful for the amazing teachers who encouraged me, or provided additional support. I try to be that kind of teacher, the one who wants my students to succeed. I don't take joy in failing students or making them suffer through readings, though many of them might disagree with that last part. I don't break them down, or make them feel small. I ask them to bring the things they DO understand into my class, the same way analysis helped me with math. I hope they see ways to make connections between the work we do and their lives outside of class. I want them to evolve their thinking, to leave my classroom saying, "I never thought of it that way." I know I can be idealistic about the process of teaching just as much as I can be cynical and discouraged by it. Ultimately, I remain hopeful that I'm challenging students in a good way, that they're taking something away from the work I ask them to do.

Lecture/Class notes
Lecture/Class notes

It's so easy to get bogged down in the work of the work we do. Right now, I have feedback on drafts to give, analyses to grade, memos to read and organize, pdfs to make and post, articles to read for class tomorrow,  midterms to write, and emails to which to respond. I have office hours and faculty meetings to attend. Sometimes I worry that I lose sight of why I do this in the first place. And then I'll meet with a student who, as she rushes out the door, says "thank you for caring," or I'll go into class feeling moody and annoyed with the world and discussion goes particularly well or things fall into place in a way they normally don't in other parts of my life and I'm cheered up. I love the work I do. It fulfills and fuels me. It also frustrates and confounds me. My grandmother once told me that the things you love most are the same things that shatter you easily. There's a lesson here in vulnerability, somewhere.

I joke that I loved school so much, I decided to never leave and there's probably some truth to that. I enjoy learning about subjects where I have no expertise. I'm interested in knowing as much as I can about the world. I've placed myself in spaces where knowledge is privileged, where I have access to resources to feed my passions. And even though I'm now in front of the class, and am responsible for providing the information students need, I'm still hungry to learn, to share what I know, to connect. When I teach, everything clicks into focus for me; my small piece of the universe becomes clear. And I work to make those pieces accessible and clear for my students.

I wish I were better at carving out time for all the things that need my attention. Maybe, it's a weakness of mine that my life often feels like a pendulum swing. But I also think that we, as a culture, and my students' comments reflect this, often act as though "if we can just get through this one week, this one project, this one year," then things will get easier, settle down, be better. I know that in my own life, that's rarely true. Something else comes along and worries me, or requires my attention, deadlines pile up, someone needs me. Yes, sometimes deadlines, parts of the semester, are particularly hellish, times I feel like I can't catch a breath or make a real dinner. (Thank goodness for bag salad and microwaveable meals). I've long believed that trying to focus on balance is a terrible idea. You always end up feeling guilty because balance is unattainable; something always has to give. I like to concentrate instead on being mindful, aware, appreciate the moments as I live them. I know that  I live in between extremes, most of the time. Sometimes I wish I could relax more, that I could live more focused, more slowly, and sometimes I still get grouchy about the pace at which I operate. However, I know myself. I have tried to give up feeling like I have to live a particular way, or by someone else's standards. I choose to see my life as full, and rich with experiences.Besides, sitting still never really appealed to me, at least not for long. I am a nomad, a wanderer, a seeker. I'm not lost; I'm not looking for the next best thing. I just live and breathe in spaces in between. And I think all I really have to do is hold on, revel in the company of those around me and enjoy the ride.

What's Making You Happy?

Happiness is contagious.

I listen to quite a few podcasts, though some more regularly than others. The Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast has a regular feature called "What's Making You Happy" where the panelists talk about what in pop culture (typically, sometimes it's personal) is making them happy during a given week. I was thinking about that today when a link to a blog post I wrote on happiness last year popped up in my TimeHop App. (Timehop is an app that reminds what you said on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and can also comb your past photos for photos you posted on social media sites.) Here's an excerpt of what I said then: WE OFTEN THINK ABOUT HAPPINESS AS A KIND OF GOAL, SOMETHING TO ATTAIN IF WE DO ENOUGH X OR Y OR Z AND THAT ONCE WE ACHIEVE IT, THAT’S SOMEHOW ENOUGH. BUT HAPPINESS IS A STATE OF BEING, A FEELING, AN ENERGY, ONE YOU CAN PROJECT OUT INTO THE WORLD. I OFTEN WEAR A BRACELET THAT HAS “HAPPINESS IS CONTAGIOUS” STAMPED ON IT AS A REMINDER THAT IT MATTERS HOW I BEGIN MY DAY. IT MATTERS THAT I WANT TO BE KIND, THAT I TREAT PEOPLE I MEET WITH POSITIVE ENERGY.

These weeks have been challenging as I readjust to the hectic pace of a new semester, as I try to get to know my students and let them know me. Today was humid. I was sticky with sweat from walking across campus. I gulped water like I was desperate for it. And even with that discomfort, I loved being in the classroom, loved offering students a piece of what I know, loved asking them to challenge their notions of what it means to compose. Not for the first time, I felt so incredibly lucky for the work I do.

Here are some other things making me happy lately:

Zumba. I am awkward. I sweat profusely, embarrassingly so. I have no rhythm to speak of and yet I'm drawn to the energy of Zumba classes. I  try to take a class at least 3 times a week if I can. It doesn't bother me that I don't always get the steps right, or that things move quickly and sometimes it takes me a few beats to catch on. I still love it.

My August Playlist. I keep wondering if I'm going to get tired of the same songs but instead they've become this great soundtrack to my days.

Trail Mix. I'm a little crazy over Salted Caramel Craze Trail Mix from Kroger right now. It's the perfect amount of sweetness when I'm craving it. Also, more than a handful or two and I feel a bit overwhelmed so it helps me from overindulging.

It's September!  I love Fall as a season, the crispness of the air, the way the leaves change around here. I have some awesome plans this month to hang out with friends. Also, it's football season! Finally. (Poor M, she doesn't enjoy football or the fact that I play fantasy so she has to watch more than one game). But I also love September because my shows come back on in a few weeks. I'm mostly excited for Elementary, despite the way last season's finale broke my heart. I want to know what's going to happen. I want to meet Sherlock's dad. I need things to get better.

My students asked me about my favorite books and then took notes as I talked about them. I hope some of them end up reading some of the work I mentioned.

Tejava. I just discovered this micro-brewed tea and it's incredible. I may have to go get a few more bottles while they are on sale.

What's making YOU happy this week?

Snippets

  Sometimes you miss the version of yourself that rocked personalized, well, everything. And you miss being in your twenties and writing poetry until dawn, eating gas station sandwiches and searching for typewriter ribbons because the words flow better when you press them onto paper.

Sometimes you look at photos from when you were 21 and all you can see are questions, covered by bravado but lurking in your eyes staring back at you. You think about what you'd say to yourself if you could, the kind of advice you'd offer and you imagine that your 21-year-old self would tell you to screw off because that's the kind of girl she is.

She is bold and laughs loudly when something is truly funny. She is prone to fits of serious overthinking. If she's drinking vodka it's going to be a long night. She is fiercely loyal. She guards her vulnerability diligently. There are times she feels like she has walked into a story that began without her and she's not quite sure how to play the role in which she has been cast.

So, instead I’d like to reach back in time and high-five myself, though she would probably roll her eyes and scoff before climbing into her Toyota Corolla, blaring Smashing Pumpkins through open windows. In the rearview mirror, however, there is a smile of acknowledgment, a secret we share, the tenderness at her sharp edges.

And in a blink she is gone.

 

a few more random things

I saw this on Lindsey's blog. Of course! We share a joy of the small details of life, of personalities, favorites. Inspired by her answers, I thought I'd share my own responses. (Slightly edited to reflect where I am right now). Go-to weeknight recipe?

Hmmm... right now Mediterranean Turkey Loaves because they're easy, tasty and great for leftovers. My go-to crockpot recipe is probably chicken tikka because it makes so much food and you can eat it for days until it gets too spicy and you have to add some yogurt to cool it down.

First job?

My first job ever (besides babysitting) was working the desk and cleaning at a tanning salon in a small town where I lived. I was paid under the table each week and one day my keys wouldn't open the door. After we moved from that town, I worked at a dancewear store fitting toe shoes, ballet, jazz and tap shoes as well as selling all dance and gymnastic-related clothing and gear. It was a great after-school job with a proper paycheck and everything. My first professional-in-my career type job was as a writing center tutor during my Master's program.

Inspiration?

I'm inspired by the women in my family who held jobs when many women didn't, who taught me to tell stories, to stand up for what I believed, who seemed larger than life, strong and funny, clever and warm.

Hometown?

That's an interesting question because I moved throughout my childhood. I consider Mobile, Alabama where I visited family, and where I went to undergrad and grad school my home.

What would you put on your neon sign?

Live fully. Love deeply.

Wouldn’t leave home without?

My phone. Lip balm. Headphones. A bottle of water. A sense of adventure.

Essential beauty products?

Lip balm.  Sunscreen. Sea salt spray.

Wouldn’t fly without?

Xanax. My ipad. Headphones. A protein bar.

Things you buy in bulk?

Black Bean burgers. Toilet paper. Quest bars.

Favorite book?

Novels: Frankenstein, The Hours, The Awakening, Never Let Me Go, The Unbearable Lightness of Being  Poetry: Last Night on Earth Poems (Bukowski), anything by Nikki Giovanni, Adrienne Rich, David Lehman, Philip Levine Non-fiction: The Prince of Frogtown (Rick Bragg), Object Lessons (Eavan Boland), anything by Susan Sontag or Joan Didion

First celebrity crush?

also my first girl crush, Alyssa Milano circa Who's the Boss

Favorite movie?

The Big Lewbowski 

People on speed dial?

I don't have a speed dial but I do have a favorites list on my phone, which means even if I'm in do not disturb mode, the call comes through. My wife, my mother, my brother and sister-in-law, are on this list

Preferred form of exercise?

Zumba. Rowing. Biking.

Drink of choice?

Iced tea

Best moment this year?

being at MythAirport with old and new friends

Perfect Sunday?

A bike ride on a day that isn't too hot, followed by brunch at our favorite spot, playing a board game with friends, getting fro-yo and enjoying each other's company