Friday, February 28, 2014

Sugar is My Ultimate Frenemy

Photo via

Guys, I have to confess something---

I have probably eaten my weight in sugar (mostly chocolate) since Christmas. Literally.

It all started innocently enough--I gave myself the old "It's the holidays" excuse back in November, which got me right back into the bad habits I've had with sugar pretty much my whole adult life.

I don't know exactly why my addiction with sugar started, really---I mean, I always loved sugar and chocolate growing up (who doesn't?), but my mom always made sure we ate healthy, balanced meals growing up and limited treats like ice cream or cake to special occasions like birthdays or once a week on family night.

As a young adult/teenager, I knew I ate a LOT of sugar, but because I didn't eat that much other junk food and because I always stayed pretty fit and slender I never worried about my habits. When I entered college, I was excited to be on my own and do my own grocery shopping, but I wasn't stupid---my mom had taught me how to eat well and cook for myself, so I planned on applying what I'd grown up with to my adult life.

What I hadn't factored in was my slowing metabolism and the fact that all of a sudden, I had easy access to sweets all the time because my roommates and I all loved to bake treats, my then-boyfriend was constantly buying DQ shakes and ice cream bars and bringing them over to share, and I had begun keeping a large bag of Tootsie Roll midgees on hand for when I had nothing else sweet to eat after meals.

Predictably, I gained the infamous "Freshman 15," and thus began my history of feeling like I was fighting against food all the time. Although I never took my diet to the extremes, I tried it all---amping up my exercise to lose the weight, going off of sugar entirely for long periods of time, cutting out carbs and increasing my protein, only eating twice a day...

Because everyone else's eating patterns around me basically mirrored mine, I always felt like my diet was pretty good (mostly just because I didn't normally get fast food and I always tried to eat at least some fruits and vegetables every day). And maybe by comparison, my diet wasn't as bad as it could have been--

But it definitely wasn't ideal.

After gaining 25 pounds on my mission (and striving to lose most of it for good), I felt like my diet shifted significantly---I finally understood that a diet that cut out certain food groups forever would never really work for me, but I also knew that the nonchalant attitude I'd had towards certain aspects of my diet (esp. towards sugar) would have to be modified as well.

And for awhile the past couple years, I felt like I'd been doing pretty well.

Until lately.

For the past two months, I feel like my college freshman self again---rationalizing that since I'm cooking healthy meals (some of the time) and not eating out much (or at least not every day), I was justified in my habits of buying family bags of Hershey's kisses and baking cakes and cookies every Saturday night.

Since I've conveniently been avoiding a scale, I've been pretty good at ignoring the problem (because if I ignore it, it will go away. That's how problems work, right?).  However, the truth is in the running---when I trained for my marathon two years ago, I was about 8-9 pounds lighter and eating pretty healthily all the time. I was a speed machine, and I was able to pump out most of my long runs with minimal problems.

Lately, I've felt myself slowing down rather than speeding up, and lethargy is starting to set in around 4 miles every time I go out.

Something must be done.

So, although chocolate often acts like my dearest friend in weeks such as this when I've buried myself alive with papers to grade and burned the candle at both ends, I know it's not doing me any favors in the long runs. Like the worst frenemy (friend/enemy, in case you didn't get the reference), it's good at leading to more drama and stress than comfort, and it doesn't seem to just want to go away on its own. I know going off sugar long-term is just not in the cards for me, but I know I have to cut myself off it cold turkey and then gradually re-introduce it back so I'm not so habituated to eating sweets every single day, multiple times a day.

I *think* I'm going to try and start Monday and go through the next workweek and see how things go.

Wish me luck. (And maybe don't get too close--as any addict can tell you, the withdrawal period is not exactly the friendliest of times...)

Do you feel like you have a sugar addiction? What do you do to wean yourself off?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Okay, I Have to Talk Teaching. . .(Bear With Me)

I know I talk about teaching basically all the time.

I keep telling myself that I really should learn to digress regularly on other topics that don't have to do with education, but I kind of can't help it---apparently when you spend 10-12 hours every single workday doing something that asks so dang much of you, you kind of start behaving like a two-track cassette tape where one track is 47 minutes of the tape and is filled with ranting and comparing and soapboxing, and the other track is 5.5 minutes long and is more pleasant but then cuts out in the middle because the other track starts kicking back in.

I'm not sure if that made any sense out of my head, but there you have it.

Today (and by today I mean yesterday, when I actually wrote this post) I was positively furious with my Spanish class---I had warned them that the last week of the tri is no time to be ticking your teacher off and that they better watch themselves. Then I proceeded to attempt to do a more fun review activity, and everything unraveled right before my eyes: there were pencils and markers being thrown regularly (despite warnings), pieces of paper being ripped up into small pieces and surreptitiously slipped into the hoods of the people in front, random wanderings around the classroom even though the rules of the game definitely did not include anything of the sort, etc. etc.

I was polite and patient and kind and forbearing until about 27 minutes had passed.

And then I said things like,
"You guys are acting like kindergartners, which is making me want to treat you like kindergartners."
"Sit down, be quiet. Sit DOWN, be QUIET" (complete with a finger snap and me pointing at the desk).
"Don't make me kick you out again!"

I'm sure you can imagine. I will freely admit that it was not one of those shining moments I hope to watch over and over again in heaven when I have a perfect remembrance of all things.

In fact, I was so angry that I stomped straight to my principal after school got out and asked her point blank if there were any job openings at any high school in the district, because I had HAD it. (At which point she calmly talked me down by apologizing that the administration somehow overlooked that they truly had given me the "class from hell"---her words in this case, although I have used the phrase on occasion myself---and made me feel better by reassuring me that she is sure that I am indeed making a difference in my students' lives although I probably can't see it today. Heaven be thanked for understanding principals and vice principals that I can go to like this whenever I am so inclined.)

And then a couple things happened that were a little bit too perfect to be passed off as coincidences---

I got a visit from a student I haven't seen in months who was one of my favorites from last year, and it reminded me that I love being a teacher because it gives me the chance to connect with and potentially influence the lives of so many people (and have them influence mine in return).

A fellow teacher stopped by to talk to me after school and sympathized with me and reassured me that I am, in fact, an excellent teacher.

The tech specialist at my school happened to be passing by and actually managed to fix my projector so that I FINALLY have one working again, which means that I will no longer have to make crazily creative lesson plans that don't involve the use of a board or any kind of video or doing notes from the front (which is HARD to do for a month, I'll have you know).

And then, the clincher----

I had made my Spanish class (before things went to hell in a handbasket) write out class evaluations so that I can improve the class for next tri (since this is still my first year teaching the subject). I was pretty terrified to read the responses honestly---I mean, I've regularly been getting mad at several of the students for weeks now (and often the class as a whole), and I feel like I've been more grouchy with that class than I am with my other classes, and I was worried that they would complain about how much the class sucked (a word I hate, btw) or how boring it was or how bad of a teacher I was.

I was SHOCKED to read their responses--every last evaluation had positive things to say, and even the ones that mentioned that the class was sometimes boring or that I needed to smile more (or that I needed to let them go to the bathroom during class more than twice a trimester, lol) still gave the class a rating of at least a 7.5 or 8 and said they would "highly recommend" this class to anyone considering it. I had numerous students tell me how great of a teacher I was, how much they were actually able to learn, and how enjoyable every day was.

They said responses like,
"She [the teacher] is the best and funnest teacher ever. She has a way of making learning so fun. I'm looking forward to continuing with Spanish next year."
"This class was awesome. Learning a new language feels like going to another world."
"I really liked it! I thought it was my best class yet."

You may not win them all, but when you do win some . . .

It gives you enough courage to get up and try again for another.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's Coming! It's Coming!

Now that it seems that our plans to stay here in Logan for another year have basically solidified (or pretty well near so), I have been taking stock of what's to come---the changes coming at work, the things that will remain the same, and the exciting curve balls that may lie ahead.

But although I'm looking forward with some trepidation to the next year since it could bring just about anything, there is one thing I'm sure of---

I am SO ready to get going in our vegetable garden again.

On Sunday, Matt and I took a little walk around the plots, noting the dried stalks and deer-eaten leftover tomatoes and growing weeds. As we planned for the immediate work coming up, we also started planning out our plan of attack based on our successes and failures from last year.

The funny thing is, our successes last year are largely what will determine what we plant LESS of this year since we just couldn't keep up with the massive amount of produce at the end of last summer.

We'll plant all the usual of course---tomatoes (although far fewer than before), peppers (all kinds), corn, and carrots. We'll do the watermelons again since we were delighted with their fruits last year, and we are excited that our strawberries are already showing great promise as the temperatures have been heating up to the 40's on a regular basis.

We also want to try out cantaloupe again (which the frost killed off last year) and for sure find some seedling potatoes. We'll see if we can actually get a decent amount of radishes this time around before all the earwigs eat them.

I'm a little nervous because the people who were over the community garden moved away halfway through the summer last year, and I don't know their plans for the property this year.

I sure am praying that we'll be able to go forward as we hope with our big plans (possibly because---let's be honest---I don't think I'm feeling up for another big disappointment anytime soon).

Are you thinking of doing a vegetable garden this year? If so, what will you plant? I'm still looking for ideas on how to fill about half a row...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Just So You Know What to Expect

I'm still hoping to get a few posts up on the blog this next week, but just so you know, I STILL have over 500 pages of writing left to grade by Thursday night, and I can't make any promises when it comes to my blog this week.

However, lest you fear that I did no grading over the weekend like an irresponsible adult, I DID in fact manage to grade the 150 tests I mentioned in last week's post.

So, progress.

From the beginning of my teaching career, I made a resolution that I would never bring my work home with me unless I absolutely had to--I knew that with my disposition, it would suit me far better to keep my work and home sphere as separate as possible.

However, desperate times come for desperate measures, which is why you'll notice that these pictures were taken in my very own kitchen (on a SATURDAY, no less).

Many other teachers think I'm crazy for staying at the school until all hours of the evening on most days finishing up my work and planning for the next day's lesson and grading papers, but there's something to be said about knowing that when I'm home, I'm there to really be HOME (and not working still).

Therefore, if you come by my apartment this week, good luck finding me there (because you almost surely won't).

Do you try and keep your work and home life separate?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Playing Photographer

On Monday, my friend Liz told me about a great opportunity to "shadow" a professional photographer on a shoot (at which Liz was the model). Although much of the shoot was spent observing the photographer and helping her out with her light reflector, I still learned a ton (and had a few chances to get some shots myself). 

 Even though at the end of the day, I left pretty intimidated by the other photographer (Elizabeth Taylor Frandsen---check her out on Facebook!), I also left feeling rather heartened:

Sure my shots weren't going to be as amazing as hers, but I was encouraged to discover that I already DO a lot of the things that she did, like checking my lighting, directing my subject(s), and taking some risks.

Even though the shoot was her shoot and not mine, I still had fun getting some shots from the sidelines, and I was grateful for an opportunity to grow in this hobby of mine that's quickly becoming a passion.

Thank you to Liz and Elizabeth for letting me tag along!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bloom Where You're Planted

Yesterday, while trying to attack the mountains of grading at work, I decided to check my email really quick. As my inbox came up, the first thing I noticed was a forward from my husband that was from the last PT school we were really hoping he'd get into. As I opened it to find yet another rejection letter, my heart sank, and I tried to fight back tears as I forced myself to get back to the tasks at hand, mind swimming with disappointment.

At home last night, both Matt and I were a bit morose---we were trying to do the usual routine (dinner, play a movie in the background, catch up on our days), but we were both admittedly feeling down about the rejection, and we didn't really know what else to say about it.

I went upstairs to write in my journal, hoping to give voice to some of the tangled emotions I was feeling. About three lines in, Matt came into the bedroom and just enveloped me in a hug, and though I was trying not to break down (because after all, it was him getting the letter, not me), I couldn't help myself---I started into one of those inevitable meltdowns I mentioned in yesterday's post.

The truth is that I'm feeling a bit crushed that he didn't get in this first year---he's worked so hard and we've prayed so much and I felt sure that everything would work out (which of course gave me the hope that we'd get exactly what we wanted).

After the news came, it just kind of all hit me:

I'm still going to be here for another year.
I'm coming back to this exact same job again.
I still have a stressful church calling to stay on top of.
We're still going to be living in this dingy apartment that we wanted to move out of after having lived there only about a week.

And I lost it right then----tears, snot, and all the hidden worries, fears, disappointments, and anxieties just came flooding out, and Matt just sat there and smoothed my hair and listened and gave me assurance that we would be just fine.

Deep down, I knew that it would all work out.
Deep down, I knew that everything happens for a reason.

But it still hurt because I wanted something else.

When I went to bed last night, I was feeling a bit better after the hard cry, and I had a somewhat odd dream:

I dreamed that I was in a shabby apartment (much shabbier than ours) with a woman who was about my same age, who had a young child that was probably 6 or 7. I'd never met the woman before, but she was telling me how excited she was about the teaching position she'd just gotten. Wanting to make connections, I eagerly put in, "Hey! I'm a teacher too! Unfortunately, I don't really love where I'm at right now, but at least it puts food on the table..."

When she found out that I taught at an American public school, she was in awe---"I've always dreamed of being good enough to get hired on by one of those schools," she said. "The school I'm at is just a local thing, and it doesn't pay much. But I'm so relieved to have a job. After my husband died last year, things have been really hard..."

I got a massive lump in my throat, feeling horrible that I'd been wanting to divulge all my petty problems to this woman in my attempt to make a connection.

Then I woke up.

The dream has lingered with me all day, and I don't think I dreamed it by accident---

The truth is that I'm disappointed that our life plan is not going as planned for at least the next year (possibly more).

The truth also is that I'm incredibly lucky to have a husband who's willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to support me, and to have a job that allows me to grow while providing for all of our basic needs.

As I've quietly thought over the things that Matt and I talked over last night, one phrase keeps coming back to my mind over and over again:

Bloom where you're planted.

Sure, this might not be where I'd imagined myself staying. But I feel confident that there's a reason we're still here.

Matt put it beautifully when he said it this way:

"Think about it---because Jon [our friend] didn't get into grad school when he'd planned, we were able to form that friendship with the Shipleys. We never would have had that chance otherwise. Maybe we need to be like the Shipleys but for somebody else."

I thank my Heavenly Father every day for sending me a husband who is usually much wiser and much more faithful than I am.

It may not be what I wanted, but I will bloom where I'm planted---

Or at least I'll sure try.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Life in Numbers This Week

Number of new ankle boots bought in the past week: 2 (I was hesitant about jumping on that particular trend, but I decided I really love the pairs I got, esp. the ones in these pics)
Number of miles run over my long 4-day weekend: 14.65 (woo hoo!)
Number of papers graded over that 4-day weekend: 0
Number of papers I have to grade over the next two weeks before final grades come due: 510, with an additional 150 tests (I'm not even kidding)
Number of inevitable meltdowns due to said paper load: at least 2
Number of chocolate kisses/nuggets eaten over the weekend: approximately 60
Number of minutes spent doing my hair this morning: 1
Number of times I hit the snooze button this morning: 1
Number of 7-11 hot chocolates consumed in last week: 3
Number of hours spent as an assistant (of sorts) in a real, live photo shoot yesterday: 3.5
Approximate percentage of my 3rd hour class driving me nuts today: 80
Number of students who fell while I tried teaching a more complicated lift during country swing today: 5
Number of students who brought me chocolate for Valentine's Day: 1 (but it was a giant Hershey's bar, so it should really count for like 3)
(Number of students who brought me chocolate or candy for  V-day last year: about 12)
Number of items on my to-do list this week: 47
Number of items I absolutely HAVE to get done on said list this week: 32

It's going to be a busy one ahead, people. Pray for me and my 500+ pages of grading. . .

Monday, February 17, 2014

This is What Mental Health Days Should Look Like

Here is a great Truth I've learned:

Mental health days are utterly necessary every now and then to prevent sickness, to get yourself back on track, and to fend off a lingering case of the blues.

Here's another great Truth I've learned:

To truly have the fullest potential for restoring mental sanity, mental health days CANNOT just be spent lounging around doing absolutely nothing productive or worthwhile (even though sometimes that's what we think we need).

A true "mental health day" needs the waking hours to be spent approximately in the following ratios (more or less):

1/3 day = work on "productive" activities that may or may not be naturally fulfilling (cleaning the house, putting a load of laundry in, exercising, cooking)

1/3 day = worthwhile activities that are, by their very nature, fulfilling and enjoyable (spending time with loved ones, reading, working on hobbies, going out in nature)

1/3 day = so-called "time wasters" (watching t.v. and/or movies, surfing the Internet, playing Candy Crush)

I have found that the only way to truly give my inner self the breath of fresh air it craves, I need to spend time working (in order to enjoy the leisure time), in worthwhile activities (that remind me that these kinds of things are what life is all about), and wasting time (to assure myself that I don't have to be all-productive, all the time).

Do you agree with my ratio?

As for what actually happened on the mental health day I took off of work last Friday, I think I did a pretty decent job finding a balance among the 3 components:

*I woke up early (but not too early) and went on an 8-mile run

*I took a long, hot shower and relished in the fact that I was in  no hurry to get ready

*I had a leisurely breakfast of Greek yogurt and pears by a sunny window

*I did the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, and hung up stray clothes that were lying around the bedroom (after making the bed first)

*Since it was Valentine's Day that I took off of work, I got a little V-day gift ready for Matt (a new sci-fi novel and a "man movie")

*I enjoyed the Valentine's Day gift Matt had bought for me (pictured above) by eating about 20 chocolates throughout the day

*I completed Friday's blog post and read through my blog feed that I'd been neglecting for weeks

*I played Candy Crush for a non-shameless amount of time (that will still remain undisclosed because honestly, I don't even know)

*I caught up on some reading, including the latest newspaper (I just subscribed to the Deseret News's new weekly publication that focuses on trends in education, religion, community, and the nation at large) and two other books that I'm reading (one on running, the other is off of one of my book lists)

*I prepared the no-bake cheesecake trifles pictured above for a little Valentine's Day treat (recipe found here)

*I got ready to go out on a hot date with Matt

*I picked Matt up from school and we went on that hot date (which included an early dinner at The Coppermill restaurant in Logan to beat the crowds, which coincidentally put us out with every senior citizen in the county, seeing as it was only 4 PM)

And that friends, is a pretty perfect mental health day--it made me feel *almost* ready to go back to work tomorrow.

Gotta love four day weekends.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Financial Friday: 11 Ways to Treat Yourself (for $5 or less!)

Happy Day of Love, people! In honor of the holiday, I put together a list of 11 ways to put a little more "happy" and "love" into your life, whether or not you have a special someone around.

Since my job lately has been a little less-than-fulfilling, I have started having to come up with ways to treat myself after work to give myself a bit of extra love for sticking with a challenging job. Happiness research shows that one of the quickest ways to feel a little happier is to give yourself a little treat and really take the time to savor and enjoy it.

So, without further elaboration, here are 15 little treats (all costing $5 or less) to put a little more spring in your step:

1.Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers from the local grocery store (I know for a fact that Smith's always has little bouquets that are only $3-5 apiece). As I've mentioned before, having fresh flowers in the house is such a little thing, but it really brightens my mood every time I walk in the front door and see some.

2. On cold days that are almost destined to be miserable due to the low temps, drive yourself on over to the nearest 7-11 and get yourself a large cup of their hot chocolate. It's amazing how quickly a $1.65 treat can make my mood go right through the roof. (I personally LOVE putting the mix-ins in the cocoa as well---my favorite combo is to fill the glass until about an inch and half is left in the cup, then fill the rest with their steamed milk mix. Then I add in either two little flavor cups of hazelnut or French Vanilla and one of half-and-half). If you've never tried their hot chocolate, do yourself a favor and change your life today by trying it out.

3. When time is strapped and you're feeling particularly stressed, treat yourself to a few deep, calming breaths. It seems so simple, but whenever I remember to do this (like I did yesterday during my 3rd hour class), I instantly feel calmer and my mood usually perks right up.

4. Buy yourself a silly magazine that you don't normally indulge yourself with (like People or In Style) for just $3-5 and give yourself permission to flip through the pages lazily as you sit in your car listening to music (or in your bed, in your sweats).

5. Hop online and watch an inspiring TED Talk or a Mormon Message on YouTube. Stepping back and reflecting on the important things in life is usually a quick way to put your problems and stress in perspective.

6. Buy a deliciously scented bottle of bubble bath and tell everyone who lives with you not to bother you for 30 minutes while you luxuriate in the feel of hot, sudsy water as it turns your skin to prunes. (This would also be an excellent place to indulge in said magazine as well.)

7. If you have any motivation whatsoever, go to a local Zumba or Pilates class at a nearby rec center or gym. I know at the Logan Rec Center, you can go to their adult aerobics classes for just $2, and I know for a fact that I always feel about a zillion times better after doing yoga for an hour or two.

8. One of the greatest luxuries for me is reading in bed in the morning. If you can, plan your schedule one day to allow you to read a book or a magazine in bed for the first half hour (or hour) upon waking. BEST way to start a day, hands down.

9. Spend 99 cents and buy a favorite song from iTunes, or better yet, just find it for free on YouTube and blast it loud. Give yourself permission to bust whatever crazy moves that come to mind, be they ballet, hip-hop, or Elaine-from-Seinfeld inspired.

10. As anyone who's anyone knows, there are few things in life better than new socks. During this winter season, do yourself a favor and buy a pair of brightly colored knee-highs that will keep your feet warm AND bring a smile to your face.

11. Studies have shown that reflecting on happy times can help us to feel happier now, so pull up those vacation pictures and have a look-through (that's one reason I love blogging---it's a great way for me to look back and reflect on all the things I've been blessed with). If you're wanting to go one step further, go ahead and order an enlargement of one of your favorite vacation shots. It only costs about $5 (or less, depending on the size you want). Put the picture somewhere where you'll see it often.

How do you treat yourself for less than $5?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Would You Describe Your Style If You Had 3 Words?

Occasionally when I'm in the midst of about 500-pages worth of grading (no joke), I allow myself a five-minute break to think of "fluff" (not literally of course). /Lately, one of the "fluff" items on my mental agenda has been my style.

I've gone through a lot of style changes in my life, from the stretch pants of the 80's that had the elastic bands that went under your feet to the oversized flannel sweaters and washed-out denim of the 90's to the puffy vests of the millenial years, I feel like I've done it all.

In high school and early college, I got into a groove where I would mostly wear t-shirts (or very plain, basic solids--mostly v-necks--from places like Old Navy), along with a collection of about fifteen "date" shirts that I would wear when I wanted to dress up, most of which were somewhat floaty and empire-waisted and bedazzled with random bits of glitz.

And then, about three years ago, I feel like my style really started to evolve into something I could be a little more proud of---perhaps it was due to the fact that I now had a "real" job I had to dress up for every day, but I slowly started to develop a simple (but appropriately dressy) look that has become all my own. It involves a lot of dresses and skirts (which I wear 3-4 days every week), several pairs of dark skinny jeans, and a few on-constant-rotation heels and boots.

I've been thinking all week (during my "fluff" time, of course) about what words I would use to describe my evolving style. At first, it was a lot easier to come up with words that I was sure DIDN'T describe it. The following are words that will probably never be used to talk about my style ever:

*lazy (unless you catch me at home, in leggings and a t-shirt)

I'm sure there are a lot more, but I think you get the gist. The funny thing is, a part of me wouldn't necessarily mind some of these words being associated with my style (like playful or bright), but as my fashion sense has begun to evolve, I just don't find myself attracted to pieces that are super flashy, colorful, or cutting-edge.

I've come far enough along though that I've gotten to be okay with that.

After deciding what my style wasn't, I had to start thinking about what it was, and I think I came up with three words that describe it well (or at least they're the words I aspire to):


Or, if you'd rather that I sum it up in a sentence, you could say it's a little "professional, working woman" combined with "What Not to Wear junkie."

The end.

If you had to describe your style in three words, which ones would you pick?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

5 Things -- And Only Five

In lieu of a Tuesday Tell-All (because really, who has the energy?), I will tell you exactly five things:

1. We have now heard back from three of the five PT schools Matt applied to, all in the negative (cue sad face and chocolates and cards being sent our way).  While this is disappointing, we are still holding out hope for the school here in Utah, and if nothing else, my school will be happy that I'll be back next year and Matt will be happy that he can get a break from his schooling for the first time in 7 years.

2. Every day since Friday, we have been getting "Extreme Winter Storm Warning" alerts for Cache County and Box Elder County. It has been 40 degrees and basically blue skies ever since.

3. Today, I told my scandalized coworkers that I was going to go home, go on a run, and then promptly go eat a large slice of cake. Honestly, judging by their reactions to half of what I say, I think I shock them more often than not with my "bizarre" behavior and out-of-the-box viewpoints.

4. I am taking a "mental health day" on Friday, partly so that I can avoid the craziness that will ensue from the 7th graders on Valentine's Day, and partly so that I can finally get caught up on the dishes, laundry, and long runs that I've been putting off for weeks at a great cost to my sanity. I cannot wait.

5. Today when I went out for that run I was mentioning earlier, I did it in short sleeves and with a constant stitch in my side. I somehow realized in the past week and a half that training for this half marathon is going to be a heck of a lot harder than training for the full because apparently I forgot that while I was indeed student teaching while I was training last time, I had no fewer than four prep periods to get all my work done in (and only 3 periods to teach). I now teach six periods and have one prep.  Sometimes I wonder if I've gone officially insane to have signed up for that race in April. But dang it, I will finish that race if it's the last thing I do (knock on wood).

And that's it, folks. I told you you'd only get five!

Have a perfectly lovely day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

How Do You Stop Hating Your Job?

Back in November, I posed the question: "How do you know if you've chosen the right job?" That post came in response to a particularly difficult start to the new school year, in which I felt like I was an optional entity up in front of the room that students could ignore on and off at will.

Fast forward three months, and I'm in much the same position, except now I've started to throw words out like "hate" and "job" in the same sentence on a regular basis. To make myself feel better, I've been trying to commiserate with other (more experienced) teachers, who can only basically tell me that they love their job and that it gets better with time (and that each year and each group of kids brings vastly different problems and challenges to the forefront.)

Sometimes I feel like I've tried it all---I've tried being consistent, tried getting to know the kids personally, tried working with parents, tried focusing on kids who actually want my help instead of cramming it down the throats of the kids who don't . . .

And on days like today, it's easy to convince myself that nothing is coming out of it all but the onset of an ulcer for me and another school day over with for my students.

Then I start thinking that the problem maybe lies within my own mind, so I start trying to reframe the issue--maybe I just need to focus more on the positive, maybe I need to work on my relationship with the students rather than worry so much about the teaching part for now, or maybe I need to follow the advice of this fabulous blog post and reframe my thinking using the power of three examples (which I've been trying to do all morning only to be stymied by three kids who I had to haul off to the principal's office before I did something crazy.

And then today, in the quiet of a lunchtime half hour, while I could hear hundreds of students shrieking down the halls and gabbing with their friends, I thought about how my life lately has looked: I have found myself feeling very unlike myself after long, stressful days at work, and it's coming out in all sorts of unhealthy ways: an overreliance on sugar and starchy foods to comfort me when I'm feeling down, a tendency to be just too exhausted to fit in the miles I should be running to prepare myself for my upcoming half-marathon, and a solid lack of desire to do anything that normally brings me pleasure, like reading books, blogging, or taking pictures.

And in that moment, an article I read this week in the February issue of the Oprah magazine and a quote in it by psychologist Martha Beck came to mind:

"If you cease to betray yourself in fundamental ways, the self-sabotage on the surface simply stops."

Perhaps teaching 7th graders in this particular setting is not me being fundamentally true to those things within myself that bring my satisfaction and joy. Anyone that knows me knows that I love a challenge, so it must not be that the job is too challenging. Perhaps just the nature of the age group or the nature of this particular school environment does not coincide well with the particular nature that is in me.

I started looking at other possible teaching jobs right then and there.

Now, I'm not saying that I'll be going ahead and switching schools for this next year (especially since we still don't know for sure where we'll be next year until we hear back from all of the PT schools that Matt applied to).

But I'm quite sure---and becoming more sure every day---that I haven't found a teaching job yet that's the right "fit" for me.

Although that thought is actually a little comforting to me, it does pose a problem:

Now what do I do until that future point when I'm no longer in this particular job? How do I stop hating where I'm at now?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Financial Friday: 6 Things Worth Splurging On

Now I love a bargain as much as the next person, but a lesson I think I've really been learning lately is that there are some things in life that are worth spending a little bit of extra money on.
Mind you, I'm not talking hundreds of dollars of extra money here (I AM a teacher after all), but maybe an extra $10-100 that I wouldn't think of spending usually.
So here, from my own experience, are 6 things that I think are worth splurging a little on:

1. Original Art
Maybe it's because I grew up with my dad being an artist and maybe it's because I married someone whose mom is also an artist, but I REALLY value original art. I don't have the hundreds and thousands (yet) to spend on all the fabulous pieces I possibly could want, but I have made it a point to start up our own little art collection.

Luckily for us, with those two artists in our families, we have a pretty awesome connection (and have some lovely pieces done by our own family members in our home). But I also have bought original artwork in El Salvador, and I've been eying some fabulous wood pieces by a local artisan for years.

To me, art's worth the splurge because not only does it brighten your home, but it also makes you appreciate the finer things in life (and the people who are willing to devote thousands upon thousands of hours to perfect an art form).

If your budget, like ours, is limited, try looking for original pieces on Etsy or in a local art show (like Summerfest). Often, you'll be able to find fabulous works of art at significantly lower costs than you would find at a bigger gallery or a similar venue.

2. Well-Made Antiques
Since becoming a Country Living fanatic, I've started really looking into incorporating more antiques into our home. Lucky for me, antique-store shopping is the ONLY shopping besides going to a bookstore that my husband enjoys, so we've passed many a happy Saturday browsing through the treasures at the local antiques dealers.

Something I've realized since getting married (and starting our own little home) is that many of the furniture and pieces found at chain stores are of a TERRIBLE quality. I can't tell you how many cheap bookcases or tables I've bought from Walmart or Shopko that have quickly fallen apart, gotten scuffed up, or gotten warped.

Most antiques are better-made than many modern pieces, and many times you'll get lucky with the price as well. The beautiful jewelry box above was found at an antiques place for only $35, and it's built to last quite awhile.

3. Tights
Unless you only wear tights about once or twice a year, trust me when I say that tights are worth splurging on. From my experience as a missionary (where I had to wear tights or nylons every day) and my dress code as a teacher (where I wear tights probably 2-3 times a week in the winter), I know for a fact that cheap tights are not worth it--they get a run or hole after a few wears or a wash, and then you're forced to spend another $3-7 to get more. Well-made tights usually cost $15-20 retail price, but if they're high quality, they last FOREVER (just about anyway).

I've had good luck getting nice tights from places like Kohl's and JCPenney, both of which frequently offer discounts to shoppers who are on their email lists.

4. Skincare

When I was younger, I had terrible luck with my skin---I broke out all the time (especially on my cheeks and forehead), my skin got really dry in the winter, and my skin almost always lacked the natural "glow" and "flush" I desired.

Of course, if you looked at the products I was using, it might not come as a surprise---I was buying the cheapest name-brand face wash I could find at the grocery store for $4-5, and I hated the feeling of the cheap facial moisturizer and sunscreen I was using (so I was sporadic in my application of it).

When I hit my mid-20's, my skin took a turn for the worse, and I felt like it looked dull all the time because it was so dry in the winter and caked with powder in the summer because it got so oily. I'm not normally one to spend a lot on beauty products, but when I went to a Mary Kay party and tried out some of their facial products, I was hooked---my skin finally felt hydrated, and after about 4-5 weeks of consistent use, my skin had never looked better. (In fact, I even considered becoming a Mary Kay rep for awhile about two years ago.)

I really love the TimeWise set by Mary Kay that includes the daily face wash, moisturizer, sunscreen, and night solution. Even though it's a bit expensive, it's worth it to me to spend the extra $40-50 (plus I'm good at getting discounts---my MK rep usually does deep discounts 2-3 times a year, and I always wait until those times to order).

5. Classic Coat
Six or seven years ago, I was out shopping with my dad, and we happened to stop in a Banana Republic, where I saw the most beautiful classic black peacoat. Winter was almost over, so the coat was heavily discounted, but even then, it was over $100 (which is WAY more than a cheap-o like me would usually spend on a coat). Lucky for me, my dad loves to spoil me a bit, and he made me try it on and then bought it for me.

I don't think any other item of clothing I have has gotten even close to the use that that coat has gotten---in the winter, I wear it about 90% of the time, and I think it makes every outfit look instantly more polished.

If you think over the long-term, classic, well-made pieces like this are a better deal than cheaper ones because they won't wear out or get ruined as quickly, and they will always be in style. I am solidly convinced that every wardrobe needs staples like this.

If you're worried about the cost (as I always am), look for coats to be deeply discounted starting in about March (or in some stores, even as early as now). If it's at a store that offers a rewards or loyalty program, you can save even more if you're a member.

6. "Elegant" Leather Gloves
If you live in a place where it consistently gets below freezing in the winter, you really should invest in a nice pair of gloves. For a long time, I relied on the cheap 99-cent mittens that you can pick up at any drugstore. However, as anyone who wears those mittens knows, they hardly are enough to keep the cold out.

About 5 years ago, I was dating a guy who insisted on buying me some of these beautiful leather gloves as a gift. Even though gloves such as these probably run $25-60 at most department stores, I wear them every day, and they are fantastic because the fingers are skinny enough that I can still do almost everything I can do without gloves on.

They are definitely an item that if you counted up the cost per wear, the cost for me right now is probably at about 1/10th of a cent per wear.

Did I miss anything? What are other things worth splurging a little on?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Can reading ever be as good as it was when you were a kid?

Photo taken in 2005

One positive thing that I'll occasionally have the pleasure of seeing as a teacher is a kid who finally "gets" that reading can be enjoyable---there is something truly magical about matching up the right book with the right kid, and in that lucky moment, that child's reading life is [hopefully] changed forever.

"Mrs. Meidell, reading's just not really my thing," confided one of my male students to me.
"I'm sorry to hear that. You know, all the other boys are talking about how totally awesome the Michael Vey series is---maybe you should check those out. If nothing else, you'll at least know what they're talking about."

One week later...

I am telling the kid that he absolutely has to put the book away when I'm giving instruction from the front, and he audibly lets out a sigh as he closes the book up. (And I also get a little note written on his reading log from his mom that says, "Thank you SO much for recommending that series to my son---this is the first time ever that he's loved reading something!"

I'm not saying these moments happen nearly as often as I'd like them to, but I have to remind myself that it's so great that they're happening at all--in a world filled with endless entertainment that requires no energy or work on the part of the consumer, it's amazing that I can get ANY kid to "switch over" to reading who wasn't already in that zone to begin with.

When those moments happen though, I'll admit that I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy---there is nothing that can match discovering a truly great book as a kid: I mean, as a kid, you still have the imagination to fully appreciate the fictional world an author has created, and you are eagerly searching for characters that you can relate to, which are two things I'm not as adept at (or as interested in) as an adult.

It is only now that I'm older (and wiser!) that I appreciate how much the reading I did as a child influenced me. Reading books like the Boxcar Children and The Secret Garden and The Giver taught me that it's important to take care of other people, that it's important to make the best of the situation you have, and that some decisions will change your life forever. As I entered my teenage years, books like the Alice series (by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) and Harry Potter let me know that I wasn't alone when it came to feeling awkward sometimes about growing up and everything that included.

Another thing I didn't appreciate until I realized it was basically almost nonexistent was the ability I had as a child to truly get "lost" in a book---to tune out whatever was around me and place myself wholeheartedly into a story. Sure, I still love to read, and sure, I can still use my imagination (in a somewhat limited way) to "see" the world as the author wants me to.

But it's not the same.

The smell of new books and the rows of novels filling my bookshelves now still brings me great pleasure, but it's nothing to how it felt as a child to see that the Scholastic box had arrived at the classroom and that that day--that very day!--I was going to get the new books my parents had bought for me. (Note: One thing I will eternally be grateful for is that no matter how tight things were financially for my parents, they somehow always found ways to get us new books. Thank you, Mom and Dad!)

Perhaps this is all on my mind because we've been reading the poem "On Turning Ten" by Billy Collins and talking about the bittersweet nature of growing up. Maybe it's because I've recently realized that few young adult novels hold the same thrill that they used to for me even four or five years ago.

Whatever it is, I hope that those of you in positions to influence children make it a part of your life's mission to help them experience the magic of childhood reading while they still can.

How has reading changed for you over the years?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

February Goals

New month, new goals. However, I can't very well go on with the new until I've made myself accountable for the old, so here's how I did on January's goals:
*Sign up for a half marathon. I signed up to do Thanksgiving Point's "Tulip Run" Half-Marathon, and I'm stoked. Of course, signing up was the easy it will be a lot harder to convince myself that I can afford to slack on a run (or two) a week...

*Take photos of at least two families/people to practice my portrait skills. I did half of this goal--I took portraits of my nephew before his baptism. Even though I love photography, this one was difficult for me---I guess a part of me still feels silly asking people to be my subjects so I can practice a skill. I'm sure most people would love having free pictures of their family (even if I'm not a professional yet), but I had a hard time mustering up the courage to ask. Maybe I'll have to try this goal again sometime soon.

*Read through Deuteronomy. This goal required me to up the ante on my reading---I usually only read a chapter on most days (or half a chapter, if one of them is really long), but I had to read two chapters every night to make sure I finished on time. The good news was that this simple change convinced me that I needed to set the bar higher on my scripture-reading goals for February.

*Read two books on my lists. In case you  haven't been reading my blog regularly, I totally bombed on this one. I can't even talk about it anymore--it kind of just breaks my little bookworm heart.

*Learn one new piece in my Piano Classics book. Although the Beethoven piece I chose isn't "performance-worthy," I'm still counting this goal as having been met. So there.

*Lower our monthly bills. For the past week, I have been on the phone daily with Verizon and CenturyLink, trying to negotiate for a better deal. It seems that I keep hitting obstacle after obstacle on this one, and I am SO frustrated with both companies at this point that I'm ready to switch providers entirely for both Internet and phone. I'll give it one more week, but if I still can't cut a deal with them (and actually get a rep that will work with me instead of trying to sell me something I don't want), I'm switching to Comcast and a different phone provider.

Now for the February goals:

*Decide on name for photography business. One of my "big-picture" goals for myself is to open up my own little photography business over this year. I don't want to start anything too big (until I feel like I'm really "good enough"), but I think a lot of people in our area will respond to a photographer willing to offer pretty cheap prices for decent family shots. To get to the goal though, I'm starting small, hence the reason why I'm just choosing to pick a name this month instead of doing anything else.

*Visit a new temple. One of my bucket list goals is to visit at least 50 LDS temples (and do work in them). Luckily for me, there's lots of temples here in Utah I haven't visited and/or done work in, so I have a lot to choose from.

*Spend at least two different days in the family history center. I really want to keep working on my dad's line, which I've had some really awesome breakthroughs with in the last year and a half. The family history center is just a mile from our apartment, so I have no excuse to not go frequently.

*Read two books on my lists. Second time's gonna be the charm, just you wait.

*Learn one new piece in Piano Classics book.

*Read through Joshua and Judges in Old Testament.

*And for my homemaking goal: Make weekly menu plans. In the past two months, I feel like I've been seriously slacking on my cooking duties; I used to cook pretty much every night, but lately I've been cooking on Sunday afternoons and one other night during the week. So, to prevent my diet getting any more out-of-whack than it already is, I decided to tackle this one, and NOW.

Now, here's where you can help me:

1. If you get Internet through CenturyLink, how much do you pay a month for just Internet? I want to see if I'm getting swindled...

2. Do you do weekly menu plans? How do you go about it? I'm thinking about doing it by grocery list or maybe by meal-type (Mondays - Mexican night, Fridays - pizza night, etc.). Any ideas?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

January Reading

Although I started last month with such high hopes for what kind of reading I'd get done, I pretty much failed miserably on my January goal to read two books off my lists (mostly because I totally read the wrong book, which kind of killed the motivation I would have needed to finish up the second one I'd started from my book lists).

However, I DID still read two books during January---they just weren't on any of my lists.

Oh well.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Even though this was the book that I thought was on one of my book lists (1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die) and wasn't, I still was pleasantly surprised by this book and rather liked it.

The most interesting thing about the story is that it switches between two different decades, and you don't know how all the characters are connected until you're almost at the end. The book is set near the mid-1900's in Hong Kong, where the British expatriates mingle with the local Hong Kong Chinese. While there is a little bit of tension between the races, the bulk of the story is focused on how WWII turned Trudy Liang, the vivacious love interest of a British expatriate, into a top-level spy, which changed the country and the lives around her forever.

I'm pretty picky with writing style, so it says a lot that I was pretty pleased with how this book was put together. There were some parts at the end that were a little confusing or that seemed a little out of place, but altogether, I thought it thrilling how the two stories eventually collided in the final few chapters.

Even though I wasn't really meant to pick this book up, I'm glad I did. It was one of the more "fun" reads I've had in awhile.

My Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: Although the book is centered around inherently immoral topics (adultery, affairs, rape), it does not get very specific with the details, which I appreciated. You definitely still know what's going on, but I was glad that the author didn't get too explicit with the descriptions. Overall, it's a reasonably clean book considering the content.

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Last year, I read Rubin's The Happiness Project, which was the sole inspiration behind the "mini happiness project" I had my students do in December while reading A Christmas Carol. So, when I found out that Rubin had written a follow-up book that was all about her second happiness project (which focused solely on how to increase happiness at home), I knew I had to try it.

In case you're unfamiliar with the idea of her happiness projects, Rubin basically just sets a few specific resolutions each month that have to do with applying the latest research on happiness, and then she tries to live all the past months' resolutions as she goes throughout the rest of the year.

While I'll always enjoy the insight her books bring (and especially the quotes and sources she uses), I'll admit that this book was only so-so for me. It felt very much like a repeat of her first happiness project, and many of her resolutions this time around didn't resonate with me quite as much (perhaps because many of them were things I felt I already did).

I think people who have never read The Happiness Project would really like this book, especially if they were looking for daily strategies they could employ to bring a greater sense of wellbeing to their home. If you've already read her other book though, this one might seem like it gets a bit repetitive.

My Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: This book (as far as I remember) does not have any questionable material in it whatsoever.

I'm currently looking for a book to read off of this reading list. If you have a chance, check the list out, and let me know if there's anything you highly recommend off of it.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Supporting Family: Isn't It About . . . Time?

In my Language Arts classes, I've been teaching my students weekly out of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. In the book, the author (Sean Covey) talks about how we can liken our relationships with other people to a bank account---each action that builds and strengthens the relationship is like putting a deposit into the account, and each action that weakens or undermines the relationship is like taking out a withdrawal.

Last week, we were discussing what the students thought were "withdrawals" and what were "deposits," and I required the students to explain WHY something added to or broke down a relationship. We started talking about  how each action towards another person always comes attached with an unspoken message that can be either strengthening or demeaning. (For example, when someone is on their phone texting or playing a game when you're trying to talk to them, they're unconsciously sending the message that A) you're not important and/or interesting enough to hold their full attention, or B) that particular game or text message is much more important and/or engaging than anything you might be saying.)

Now, there's a lot I need to work on when it comes to making deposits into my most important relationships (including learning how to just say no to playing Candy Crush when there are any other people around), but here's something I've been thinking about for a couple years now:

I want to be the kind of person that "shows up" to support the people I care about.

Let me elaborate---

Growing up, my extended family almost always "showed up" for all our major events: baptisms, birthdays, championship games, graduations, etc. I honestly didn't realize how much that support meant to me until I was much older and could appreciate how impressive (and rare) it really was to be surrounded by family (immediate and extended) and friends at events like my mission farewell or at my wedding.

Even if a family member or friend doesn't get the chance to say a lot to me at one of these types of events, it means a lot that they just showed up.

The unspoken message of showing up?

"You're worth taking time out of my life for. I want to show you that I care by making time to support you in your milestones and triumphs, in your sorrows and in your times of need. I want to be a part of your life."

It wasn't until recently how much I realized that this HAS to be a conscious, continuous decision for me---because we live at a bit of a distance from many family things, it's unrealistic that we make it to absolutely everything. However, I've realized lately that it's SO important that we show up whenever we can.

In addition to creating lasting memories, "showing up" continues to send that message to loved ones that we care enough to make time.

I know I'm far from perfect on this, but I've decided that from this year on, I'm going to try and "show up" a lot more for my loved ones, whether it's through making a weekly phone call or coming to important events. I know that distance and other commitments might make it difficult sometimes to always follow through on that resolution, but it's something I'm willing to really work on.

(Pictures taken at my cousin's wife's baby shower and my nephew's baptism & birthday celebration)
How do you keep relationships with family members and other loved ones strong,
especially when you live some distance apart?
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