Thursday, November 20, 2014

Poor, neglected blog...

Oh, dear.  February?!  February was the last time I posted here? Ugh.

I'm a person of habit, and when I fall out of one, I tend to fall big. And so it goes with writing.  And posting.  And actually taking time to focus in on the things most important to me.  For some people, a break from blogging or journaling gives them the peace that they need to get back on the track they want to be on.  For me, it almost does the opposite.  I lose focus, stop noticing the little important every-day things that mean so much to me.

Last winter was a tough one, and focusing on the positive was what I should have done.  But it's just not where my head was at the time. And forcing it felt fake and hard and not worth the effort or energy.  But then the spring brought great joy, and I still didn't stop to appreciate it.  It felt like if I held it too hard, cared too much, than it would all slip away.  And summer.  Oh, summer, season I love and season that sucks every bit of energy for reflection right out of me.  It's too sunny and busy for me to get back to writing, if I'm not already doing it. 

But now it's the end of fall.  The time of year when I'm naturally drawn inward, ready to do some examining.  And by now, my mother (Hi Mom!!) is the only one who checks here anymore to see if something might magically appear. But that's ok.  I'm writing for me, for my children.  For that push to stop and appreciate the great things that are so plentiful in my world. It's what I need.

SO, it might be time for a little catch-up.  Or maybe I'll just let it all go, those months past. We'll see.  But I'm dipping my toes back in the water. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The work/life balance right now...

Tsh of The Art of Simple has a new book coming out tomorrow focused on the importance of slowing down and living intentionally.  I look forward to reading it, and think that some of you may also be drawn to her message. 

But today she posted some writing/reflecting starters, and I thought that I might try and just take 15 minutes tonight to do a little "out loud" processing.  Come back soon for a little report on our weekend in Seattle if you would rather just hear about my amazing kids and fun adventures.  But stick around if you want...and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

So, here's the question I feel drawn to tonight:
  When it comes to your work, what is your definition of “enough”?

Oh boy.   That's a minefield right there.  Especially as I head into this week when our union will be taking a strike vote on a contract that diminishes my ability to do my job well.

I am a middle school language arts and social studies teacher.  Even after 15 years of doing this work, I could spend every waking moment lesson planning, grading, contacting families, supporting websites, researching latest methods, keeping up with literature, and generally thinking about the 32 students in my care. There are many times when I feel exactly like that is what I should be doing. Every child in my class is just as precious to their parents as my boys are to me, and that means they deserve my best every day we step foot into the classroom.

But there's the rub.  My boys.  If I give every bit of everything to my classroom, what do I have left for home?  Not much. But how can I be a good teacher if I don't do it all? And how can I be everything for everybody?  Because it seems like that is what all my fellow moms are asking themselves lately.  Even those who are "at home" - the balance feels impossible.

Very early on in this parenting gig, I learned that my personal work/home balance would have to shift.  A lot. I started by taking less work home.  It meant I had to give up a lot of the socializing with my colleagues so I could get more grading done during the work day.  There are MANY days now when the only people I speak to at work are my students, because the rest of the time I'm there, I'm grading or copying or planning or emailing.

I also learned that I couldn't read or research or try everything.  I had to find the methods that rang most true for me and my belief in the purpose of education.  And if that means I am not on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest technology or methodology, then so be it.   I still enjoy taking classes and trying new things, but not every bandwagon has me on it, and that saves me a lot of time.

But the biggest thing I have done to help find balance was switching to working halftime.  I work 5 mornings a week, and simply must leave at 11:30 in order to pick Luke up on time from kindergarten.  It puts an automatic limiter on the time I spend in the building and therefore, the time I spend working.  Because once we get home, I'm spending my afternoons working on the rest of our lives - soccer, gym time, errands, meal prep, house cleaning.  And when I am being mindful, I also get to "get a lesson on automobile building with magna-tiles" and hear all about the books the older one is reading in class. And the day goes by without the time to get back to the work of teaching.  Sure, I respond to parent emails after the boys are in bed, and quiet time is spent lesson planning.  But the simple factor of my schedule gives me greater balance than I ever could have asked for.

These limits mean that I am not the best teacher on the planet.  And there is definitely guilt that goes along with that.  Some days I'm not even sure that I am as good as I was a few years ago.  But I can say that I am a different teacher since becoming a mom.  I am more sympathetic to the pressures of homework on family time.  I understand that the children in my class don't always represent all the fabulous parenting they have had at home - but they are still so incredibly lovable.  I understand the vital importance of school and home working together.  Because I have a busy and rich life away from the classroom, I can bring those stories to my teaching.  And there's nothing more that my students love than the days when my boys come and spend  the morning in the classroom.  SO some days, the balance works.

And sometimes, with a lot of hard work, time management, and a few fingers crossed, it feels like enough.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A new year, a new word...

Welcome to 2014.  Glad you could make it!

Speaking of making it, I'm going to be trying to make it here more often this year.  It's not that our family hasn't been going ahead with living a full rich life when I'm not blogging - but the truth is that if I don't take the time to write and reflect on it, then I forget about it.  There's too much great stuff going on to let it all go...

That brings me to one of my favorite traditions.  Since 2009, I have followed the advice of Ali Edwards and chosen one little word to guide my goals for the year. This last year was peace. More times than I can count, I found myself glancing down at my stamped bracelet and the word peace emblazoned there, and remembered to breathe, step back, and try to approach things a little differently.  Peace is a word that sounds passive, but required a great deal of deliberate action to make true in my life. I will certainly be continuing to wear that bracelet this year, since peace is something we all need a little more.

This year, I have chosen the word nurture.  It's really not all that different from the word I started this project with (cultivate), but I still have many of the same needs and goals for my life. While the sound of the word itself does not draw me in, the meaning certainly does, and it aligns and guides many of the goals I have for myself in the next 12 months.

1. Something that nourishes; sustenance.
2. The act of bringing up.
3. The sum of environmental influences and conditions acting on an organism.
1. To nourish; feed.
2. To educate; train.
3. To help grow or develop; cultivate

And here are my goals/resolutions that are guided by my desire to nurture:

1. I will nurture my children's interests and passions through listening and taking them seriously.  It's too easy for me to blow them off as child's play, and I want to make sure to hear what they are saying and encourage their loves. 

2. I will nurture my students' love for learning.  Help them find what they are interested in, and find a way to fit that into all the required-ness of the classroom.  They are interesting people and I want to nurture that in them, rather than drive it out with the hastles of testing and rules.

3. I will better nourish myself and my family, with a re-focus on healthy, whole-food meals.  With the hustle of the evenings, it's too easy to fall into the processed food trap, and I want to be better about pre-planning my way out of that.  What we eat truly nurtures our bodies and minds, and I want to do this better.

4. I will nurture my own interests.  Instead of defaulting to the easy sit-in-the-chair-and-watch-tv-and-read-facebook, I will pursue those things that I am interested in.  I will make another quilt or two, knit some new patterns, take more pictures, and write more.  I will read, read, read, and stop feeling guilty about it. 

5. I will nurture my marriage.  Dan and I will have our 15th anniversary this year, and I will treat our relationship as the priority that it is.  This means scheduling date nights,  working on more puzzles, playing more games, and making sure our evenings aren't always spent just being in the same room.

6. I will nurture my relationships with the boys as individuals.  Once a month we will have a date time where they will have my full attention.  These are some of our best times, and I don't want to miss them by not making them a priority.

7. I will nurture my friendships and relationships with family.  Making contact with those I love beyond the confines of facebook is important to me.  This means spending the time and money to gather together for girls' weekends and nights out, and then being the listener and support that I want to be for these important people in my world.

8. I will nurture my body with continued exercise.  While I have maintained good cardio exercise habits over the last couple of years, I know that the strength training aspect of being healthy has fallen by the wayside.  I will lift weights at least twice a week, with a goal of 3 times a week.

9. I will nurture myself as a professional through taking at least one class or participating in one conference.  This is not something I always enjoy, but something I know that I need to do this year.

10. I will nurture my heart and soul by making time each day for some quiet reflection.  Whether in prayer or journaling or blogging or hiking or whatever, I will take time to find the quiet that I need to find peace.  Even if it's just 5 minutes.  That's often 5 minutes more than I give myself now.  

So, there you have it.  My public declaration of nurturing.  Honestly, I can't wait.  

What are your goals/plans/words for the new year?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Oh, Canada!

After our trip to Germany, most of our summer was spent close to home.  But in August, the boys and I got to head to one of our favorite places - Ottawa.  I know, I know - it isn't exactly tops on most people's vacation destination lists.  But it should be.  It is a beautiful city surrounded by gorgeous countryside.  But more importantly, several of my favorite people on the planet live there - my sister Erin and her family. We were there for 9 days, and each one was filled with lots of great moments together.

The day after we arrived, we visited an amazing Star Wars exhibit that contained tons of cool memorabilia from the movies and an interactive element of creating your own Star Wars character based on different elements that make up a person's personality.  Of course, Max and Luke thought it was the coolest thing ever and loved talking to their cousins about all the characters.  I kept wishing it was closer so I could take my students there

The kids and their Star Wars personalities
Several years ago, my sister and brother-in-law bought a cottage and small island a couple hours outside of Ottawa.  We've been hearing all about their adventures in getting things cleaned up and sorted out just to their liking, and in more recent years about the fun they have had with the kids there.  This year was the first time we had gotten to visit.  Just like they had said, it was a beautiful spot on the perfect lake - a retreat from city life and a haven for outdoor play.  We hiked around, we roasted marshmallows, we swam in the lake.  But the absolute highlight of the trip for the boys was fishing.  They spent every minute they could out on the point practicing their casting and reeling in - and were rewarded many times over with lots of fish willing to go for a ride on their hook.  One morning Max managed to catch (and release) 13 fish in just over an hour.  It was incredible.  Luke even managed to catch two fish at the same time on one lure.  I'm not sure they will ever have as much fun fishing again - but (forgive the pun), they were totally hooked!

Two fish on one lure

Luke's first fish

Max's first fish

My adorable parents

My funny sister

Eventually we had to leave the cottage and head back to Ottawa.  We had a very special day to celebrate - my nephew Cormac's baptism!  It was a beautiful sacrament and we were all so impressed by the welcoming nature of the parish that Erin and Alex belong to.  I'm so proud to be Mac's godmother and thankful that we could be there with them.

We finished up our trip in grand style with a trip to Calypso, a water park just outside of Ottawa.  Many, many amazing water slides and perfect weather were a great way to end our time together.  The boys and I even slid on the highest slide in North America!  It was an incredible afternoon, and made saying our goodbyes even harder.

Leaving my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews is always tough.  They are such generous hosts and the boys adore their time with their cousins.  Even just hanging out at their house is relaxing and fun.  The fact that my parents were there this time made it even better.  But after 9 days without Dan, we were ready to head home.  I'm afraid that if he had been able to come with us, we might never have come back.

Thanks, Erin and Alex, for an amazing time.  So many highlights of our summer happened this week.  We love you all, and can't wait to do it again!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ahhh, Summer...

Oh, dear summer, where did you go? 

I head back to work this week, officially ending our Summer 2013.  It's been a good one - lots of sun and water and time with family and friends. In fact, there simply was too much for one post.  But I am going to give a greatest hits list, just so I don't forget all the fabulous things that filled our days.

1. Lots of pool time.  This was the summer that both boys really took off with their swimming, and their favorite place to be was the water park at the athletic club. Dan and I certainly didn't mind the time poolside, either.

2. A daytrip to the beach - bumper cars in Seaside, sand play in Cannon Beach, dinner at Mo's.  Many of our weekends were preplanned, but this was a great spur-of-the-moment trip. 

3. Girls' weekend in San Fransisco - I got the chance to fly down and spend the weekend at a spa and winery celebrating the marriage of my amazing sister in law.  It was a beautiful weekend and some much needed me-time.

4. Rodeos - The boys continue to enjoy a good rodeo, so we hit a couple.  We went to St. Paul and the Deschutes County Fair.  I love seeing my boys enjoy a little of the country life.

5. Family Reunion - My mom's family got together for a great weekend in Central Oregon.  I finally got to meet my cousin's little one, and it is always wonderful to spend time with my aunts and uncles and cousins. We watched my dad ride in the fair parade and played on the party boat down at the lake.  But perhaps my favorite time was hanging out with my great aunt.

6. Max's 8th birthday - What a lucky boy - he got to go to Seattle with his grandparents to watch a Mariner's game, celebrate at the family reunion, and then have a party with 10 friends at the pool.  I can hardly believe he's 8 already, but taking the time to celebrate him is always fun.

7. Soccer - Max is now playing year-round soccer with TFA Barcelona.  On Tuesdays he had summer escola, Thursdays were practice.  They also played in a tournament in July. He is still loving it, and the time at practice gives me plenty of time for reading, and gives Luke and Dan some quality time together at home.

8. Berry picking - The boys and I spent time out at Sauvie Island picking berries and peaches.  Luke was a great helper this year, and we've all enjoyed the raspberry-marionberry and raspberry-peach jam.

9. Backyard camping and campfires - This was one of those things we didn't do nearly enough this summer, but the times we did were sure enjoyable.  Max and Luke even spent the night out alone!

10. Time together - One thing we had plenty of this summer was time together.  The boys and I were together nearly all day every day.  There were plenty of fights, but there was also a lot of lego and soccer and baseball and blocks and playmobil play that happened.  We shared trips to the zoo and OMSI, to parks and playdates with friends.  Dan and I saw John Prine at the zoo and we celebrated our 14th anniversary. The boys went to vacation bible school and we all celebrated the 4th of July with friends. We ate picnics and went to a Portland Thorns game.  And it was all better because we did it together.

It's been a good summer.  Lucky to have it.  Not quite ready to give it up. But for now, I am just remembering to be thankful.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer day at the beach...

Summer weekends are precious, and when one magically opens up with nothing on the agenda, you have to take advantage of it.

When Max's soccer tournament got canceled last weekend, we were bummed - for about half of a second. We do love watching him play - but it was going to be a minimum of three games on a weekend when the temperatures were going to be in the upper 90's (a rare occurrence around here).  And having two empty days before us was so exciting. We decided to fill Saturday with a day trip to the beach - slightly cooler temperatures, sand and surf, and maybe some yummy seafood.

We began by driving to Seaside to hit the bumper cars, first.  It had been a couple of years since we had been there, and Max had begged all last summer to go. After the first round, Luke decided he had enough, and he and I watched Max and Dan go another round of bumping and crashing and grinning. Then it was off to sushi and the book store. 

Our favorite place to play on the sand (that's within super close driving distance) is Cannon Beach - it's beautiful, there's lots of space, a bathroom is nearby, and we can always wrap up the day with dinner at Mo's. Even though there were a lot of people there, we had no problem finding a great space to set up camp and begin our afternoon of fun. There was a lot of digging, some sand castle work, some reading (for the parents), and lots of time in the ocean.  This was actually the first time that Luke has ever enjoyed playing in the ocean!  He loved running back and forth with Max and splashing in the waves.  Honestly, the water felt as warm as I ever remember the Oregon coast part of the Pacific feeling.  We got more wet than we expected, but it was nice to be able to play in the water without frozen feet!

Wrapping up with dinner at Mo's and fudge for the drive home, we were all more than a little blissed out.  A summer day at the beach is pretty tough to beat.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our trip to Germany...

{Warning: this is a looooooong one, but I couldn't help it!  Please forgive me and I understand if you don't make it all the way through!)

When my sister-in-law got engaged this past winter, we were all very excited.  We've never seen her so happy, and we adore her fiance. The news got an added element of fun when we found out that we would get to go to Karlsruhe, Germany for the wedding. Due to the timing (the end of the school year), the plans (lots of "adult stuff"), and the expense, it was decided that it would be a trip for just Dan and I, while the boys stayed home with my amazing parents.

Aside from buying plane tickets, Dan and I didn't do a lot of planning for our time until just a couple of days before we left town.  We wanted to be available if Carrie and Zouhair needed a hand with anything, so we didn't want to be to tied to other plans.  But on arrival we realized we had about 4 days to spend playing tourist, and 3 days of wedding/family stuff.  It was great.

Except for the weather.  This May/June, southern Germany has been experiencing a highly unusual amount of rain and cold temperatures, leading to lots of flooding.  As we arrived on Sunday in a torrential downpour, it looked like all of our possible ideas for sightseeing would need to be revamped for lots of museum-going. We were both a little bummed, but wanted to still take advantage of our time there. We decided to wait and see what the morning would bring and make plans then.

Well, someone was looking out for us, because Monday morning dawned with just some overcast skies, and potential for clearing later.  After meeting up with Carrie and Zouhair to say hello (and borrow a phone with a data plan), we went and rented a car for two days. Our cute little Ford Fiesta and a GPS all of a sudden make things seem much brighter.  At Zouhair's recommendation we headed off to Strasbourg, France, just across the border from Karlsruhe.  There we got to visit the Notre Dame de Strasbourg, am amazing cathedral with the types of windows and architectural features I had just spent a month teaching my students about.  It was incredible.  We also enjoyed crepes and wine, and wandering around the old city. It didn't rain a bit, and we spend several hours just checking out shops and oohing and ahhing over everything.

We left Strasbourg early enough to hit another destination recommended to us by both a waiter and our hotel desk clerk as a cute little German town in the Black Forest - Freudenstadt.  We got there about 5:00, and began our search for dinner.  After some sightseeing/restaurant checking-out, we ended up at a beer hall where I had the most amazing kasespaetzle  of my life.  But perhaps the best thing about Freudenstadt was the drive there and back.  Winding through the hills and forests and tiny towns that look like all the pictures in the storybooks was a perfect way to spend the evening.

Despite the potential for rain, we used our second day with the rental car to go to Rothenburg.  Rothenburg is a Medieval walled city about 2 hours away from Karlsruhe.  Everything about the old city is quaint and perfect.  One expected a character from a fairytale to come skipping down the lane at any moment.  The old castle gardens were blooming and the window displays of schneeballen (basically pie dough wadded up and covered in a variety of sweet coatings) and sausages were very alluring.  Perhaps my favorite thing there was the Medieval Crime and Punishment museum.  I loved learning about all the amazing/terrifying/humiliating ways that people could be punished. We even got lucky enough that despite the weather reports, it was a beautiful sunny day.  Again. 

Day three brought the return of the rain and the arrival of Dan's parents.  We stayed in Karlsruhe and went to the ZKM Museums of contemporary and media art.  There was so much to see - from very heavy and serious documentaries and photo collages to contemporary pieces I'm not sure I could explain if I tried.  We left feeling exhausted by it all, but found it really fascinating and well done.  For dinner, Carrie and Zouhair took us all to a flammenkuchen restaurant, for which I will now hate them forever.  It was so very delicious - and so hard to get in Portland. We were glad that Dan's parents had arrived safely, and were thrilled to be all together.

The whole family took the train to Heidelberg (yes, our third burg/berg/bourg) on day four.  Heidelberg is a short 45 minutes away and a very popular tourist town with a beautiful castle and gorgeous red-roofed city.  We all took the funicular up to the castle and wandered around, then rode back down into the city for lunch.  It felt great to all be joking and talking and spending time together in this beautiful city.  It felt strange without the boys there, but it was also nice to have adult time. We split up for a little after-lunch sightseeing, and Dan and I made sure to enjoy some ice cream (which Dan had been making sure to sample in every city). We met back up, took the train back home, and enjoyed picnic dinner at the hotel.

Friday began the wedding preparations - and in typical fashion, it rained like crazy all day.  (Take note - every day trip brought sun, all the in-town days brought rain.  We were so very lucky!) We went to the flat where Carrie and Zouhair were staying to help with a seating chart/map that they had created to show where all the guests were from.  It was amazing to see just how international this wedding was -  and lovely to see just how much the bride and groom were loved. Friday also brought the arrival of Uncle John, Aunt Linda, and Madhavi (Dan and Carrie's stepsister). Friday night also brought dinner with Zouhair's parents, sister, and brother-in-law.  The food was incredible, and the company was warm and kind.  The Belkoura family was so welcoming and genuine that it was easy to see how our Carrie had fallen in love with them also.

Saturday brought some much-needed souvenir shopping for the boys and a trip to the nail salon for pedicures and manicures for several of us.  While it took much longer than expected, the time to sit and talk was always appreciated.  We were then invited out to  Zouhair's family home to help celebrate his
grandmother's 85th birthday.  We got to meet many of his aunts and uncles and cousins, and they were so generous of spirit.  We felt very welcomed, and stayed much longer than planned enjoying great conversation and amazing food prepared by Z's mom. Did I forget to tell you about how it rained?  Buckets.  So much that even this Portland girl was amazed.  The possibility for an outdoor wedding ceremony was looking smaller and smaller by the moment.

So imagine our surprise when Sunday (the day of the wedding) dawned with the most beautiful blue skies we had seen all week.  It just fit.  The wedding would be outdoors, it would all go according to plan, and the day would be the perfect day that my amazing sister-in-law deserved. She kindly invited me over to the flat to get ready with her, her mom, and her good friend, and we spent the time talking and joking and being entertained by the hair/makeup people and the photographers.  She was a radiant bride, and it all went so smoothly.  At the appointed  time we all headed over to the schloss (like a palace), finished getting her ready, and the wedding began.  I could recount a million of  the perfect details of it all, but suffice it to say that it was an event that I will never forget.  And the best part of all was how blissful both the bride and groom looked.  The party went on into the wee hours, and when we all began the walk back to the hotel, we were giddily exhausted.

Monday brought our return home.  While we were sad to be leaving the magic and beauty (and chocolate croissants) around every corner, I couldn't wait to get home to my boys. I missed them terribly, and realized that 9 days away from them is simply too many for me. Our travels home (by tram, then train, then plane, then car) all went very smoothly, and Monday night we arrived home to great greetings of love and hugs.  My mother was amazing, and we were so very thankful for the caretaking she did - and all of hte cleaning we found she had done when we arrived home.

It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip.  Fabulous food, amazing sights, wonderful people, and a magical wedding.  I got to share it all with my favorite person in the world.  What more can I say?!