balance, favorite things, gratitude

Turning 10 During the 2020 Pandemic

There’s something both highly obsessive and therapeutic about packaging up my daughter’s birthday favors and treats every year. For the 9th time, I stayed up late on one of the last days of September long after she and everyone else in the house had gone to bed. Even in  the state of the world in the year 2020, with no in-person birthday parties and no pressure to make a class set of 25 (non-edible) treats, the tradition lived on, just in a slightly different way. I still found myself at the annual 11:38 p.m. Friday Night Crafting Party for One.

In my opinion, a 10th birthday during a global pandemic was all the more reason to NOT break tradition. We went with mask-friendly headbands and teeny tiny stuffed animal heads, both items Amazon purchases. I also sprung for pre-packaged international snacks from Cost Plus World Market.  

The motherly micromanagement of putting together birthday swag is most definitely why I do this every year. The placement of the little presents on a bed of multi-colored decorative shredded gift wrap paper really makes me happy. Simply folding down the tops of flowery paper bags with a satisfyingly crisp crease and sealing it with a sticker brings special meaning to my life.  My daughter has over 5 years of legible handwriting under her belt and although I always intend on having her hand write most of the tags and little messages, I ended up taking over. In her preschool and primary grade years, it was a great opportunity for her to practice fine motor, counting, and 1:1 correspondence skills by letting her fill the bags. Now that she is a decade old, I officially reclaimed  that job too, because she had other things to tend to (sleeping?) and I needed the feeling of having control over SOMETHING, especially in these times. 

The favor bags held a little more purpose this year, as the birthday celebration itself was obviously super different. We opted to drive around the neighborhood and hand deliver the packages so she could have quick socially distant visits with friends. No big production of a drive thru birthday parade (our street is way too busy for that anyway), and no awkward invitations for anything that resembled a party or gathering.

It was the most low key and controlled birthday celebration we had ever experienced in the history of her 10 birthday parties. We enjoyed it. We had mother daughter time, she had friend time, and there was no post-party mess to clean up or any disappointment of a big celebration being over. She claims that she never wants to have another party again. Sounds a bit extreme, but it will definitely work for now.  

You would think that by now I would have realized that birthday goodie bags and handmade party decor aren’t the most important part of the celebration. This year however, they served as one small reason to reconnect with other humans  in person, even just for a few minutes since it had been such a long time.

Therefore, the decision is final. I will continue this crafty birthday bag ritual until she’s 50.  

balance, declutter, family, gratitude, health and wellness, live in the now

Keep the Original

December brought on a big wave of house reorganization and another much needed reminder of the People Not Things philosophy. The story remains pretty much the same since I started this blog. 

I still have too much stuff. 

I have more than enough. I went “shopping” in cabinets, closets, and the garage. I rearranged and recreated new living spaces all around the house. I transformed my living room with less than 3 simple furniture moves and now I have a new and noticeably better open space that also sometimes doubles as a behind-the-scenes home gym. 

The inventory is constant. I just hadn’t stopped and evaluated it since the summer. My kids discovered new old toys; awkward additions to their brand new Christmas gifts. I was reminded of how much blank paper I have in the house. Unopened printer ink cartridges that I forgot about sweetened the deal.

I still believe that I have enough craft supplies to entertain the most bored child who ever walks through the front door. I came up ahead and “made money” with gift cards that were freed from the junk drawer. Free crafts and caffeine might make for an epic rainy day experience. If it happens to be a high UV day, the family and I will be thoroughly protected from the sun AND from germs for many years with the amount of sunblock and hand sanitizer that I found.

The rediscovery of all this great stuff came with a price, even though I didn’t make any new purchases. I easily spent hours sorting through piles, bags, and papers. My kids had their share of screen time sessions (when they weren’t playing with their old new toys)  as I wrangled clothing, shoes, and USB charging cords. 

I learned the same lesson all over again. Every item or group of items in my house requires varying amounts of time and attention. Reusable grocery bags sometimes delay the departure to the store by about two minutes due to the trip back inside the house or to the other car to get them. On a cold day, three to four warm winter coat options are nice to have, but storage and maintenance, along with the decision-making process could easily add up to the equivalent of total coat-wearing minutes altogether. 

The one item that holds the most value after this recent decluttering session is one of the new board games that my daughter got for Christmas. She asked me to learn and play the game with her at the height of the “stuff shuffle”, and I was a bit stressed. Initially, I didn’t have enough patience to focus because I was devoting my time and my thoughts to the things that needed to be put away. It was a poor showing of being present.

Luckily, my board gamer husband and YouTube stepped in, and we all learned to play and enjoy it around the family table. I then realized that the neatly stacked pile of other board games (new and vintage), that are rarely played deserve time and attention. Playing Plastic Bin Tetris for an hour in the garage to either put something away or apprehend an item isn’t as fun. 

A reminder.

I’m once again trying to slow down the stream of incoming items that arrive here. I am aware of the inventory. I have a lot of stuff. I have the people. The amount of time and energy however, are unknown and limited. Some of the clutter will outlive some of the people. It’s a morbid thought, but it’s real. 

So instead of cleaning the cleaning supplies tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy all the things that will never fit into a basket or a box on a shelf in the cabinet: Eye contact. Hugs. Holding tight and laughing. Sending a genuine text to say thank you. Tastes and smells, and certain sounds that keep me grounded. Letting go and breathing.

I’ll never be able to store these things away and rediscover them later in their original form. But there’s time for all of it now. I’m sure of it.

I’ve cleared the space.       

balance, family, gratitude

Ten Day Hero

Recently I learned that a lot can happen in the span of nine or ten days. In March, I traveled to the other side of the world. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but it taught me that I can take on challenges and gain some life changing perspectives in less than two weeks. 

On Memorial Day, my father died unexpectedly. The initial stage of raw grief went on for over a week until the final formal farewell. It just so happened that his funeral and burial fell on the ninth day after his death. The nine days that led up to it were the toughest days of my life, just waiting to say that final goodbye, ready to transition to the gone but not forgotten state of mind. It was more proof that you can do anything in nine or ten days.

Since then, I’ve been living life nine days at a time. Mentally, it’s a manageable increment. I can set goals and appreciate the good in life. I can do what needs to be done while acknowledging that the new void isn’t going to go away or ever be filled. Living in the now is ideal, but in the current circumstances, looking forward and looking back in nines and tens seems like a good approach at this time. 

Throughout this journey, there’s been one true hero who has helped me power through this new life without dad. 

Mom. 


She has helped me organize and reorganize my thoughts and my things. She’s been there for my kids and my husband, helping us with what we may need day to day. She gives the kids daily doses of spontaneous laughter and silly sessions that only grandma can provide. She’s taught me how to enjoy going to the gym.

Similar to our adventure back in March, she decided to embrace a travel opportunity that was bittersweet. She decided to still go on an Alaskan cruise that she and my dad had booked last year. The decision was a challenging one to make, but she did it. She left home for a bit and saw the sights. She enjoyed the time with other family members, all in the spirit of my dad. Ten days later, she came back, even stronger and more positive than ever.  

Everyday, she shows me and reminds me that I am brave, just like she is, even as we stand at the edge of the deepest type of sorrow, when the tears just flow during those odd spontaneous moments. 

I told her I was proud of her, and I admire her for how strong she is. She responded by saying it’s because of me. I’m not sure if she knows my secret. I’ve just been following her lead.

She’s the true ten day hero.

Grandma returns home after ten days at sea.


balance, gratitude, travel

Moving Walkways

In September, we made the purchase. I clicked confirm for round trip tickets for one adult, one senior, and one child from San Francisco to Bangkok and back. Fast forward to mid March, and there we were: three travelers, two carry on roller bags, and one backpack each between the three of us, standing curbside on the passenger unloading zone. My mom, my daughter and I walked through the automatic glass doors of the International Terminal at SFO. I felt strange and hopeful. I felt calm and collected, but I already felt like I had stepped into a time-warp portal that didn’t quite feel real yet. The need for the restroom was real, however. We had already started our preemptive hydration efforts before we left the house, so that was the first order of business.

A few hundred steps later, we checked into the flight, checked our bags, and met up with our other extended family members. My aunt and uncle, cousins, and nieces joined us for step one of the adventure, and they would be with us for the remainder of the trip. The reunion was sweet, and we became a team of 10.

We completed the non-negotiables as a group. We went through security. Personal items were re-organized, and shoes were put back on. We purchased light snacks in addition to having lunch. Two more family members me us; my cousin and his girlfriend found us as we were finishing up our meal, and it became the ultimate family gathering in the airport. Any travel anxiety, or “hurry up and wait” feelings seemed to fade at a regular rate because we were enjoying each other’s company, especially the kids. My daughter and her 3 younger girl cousins were about to begin their own unforgettable childhood travel memories.

However, our Waiting To Board the Plane Celebration resulted in almost missing the final boarding call.  In this particular part of San Francisco International Airport, the stores, restaurants, and amenities are located at the upper level, (quite comfortable and fun for hanging out), and the actual gates, boarding area, and jet ways are located downstairs. We had a substantial route cut out for us to actually get to our gate.

The young world travelers

Luckily, we hustled down to where we needed to be. Scooping up my four-year-old niece just before setting foot on the down escalator will always be a moment that I’ll be proud of.  It required balance and maneuvering on my part to prevent us from both toppling all the way down to the bottom, backpacks, snacks, and all. The two of us and the rest of our party arrived safely just in time to the entrance of the jet way, and with the turn of events actually in our favor, we found ourselves immediately on the plane. I think we could all safely say that this was an exciting way to start our adventure, and it was even beneficial to be able to board the aircraft ‘right away”. The positive outlook that my family had on particular travel moments during this trip will forever be ranked high in my memory banks. The fun definitely continued, and I’m hoping to continue watching the replay through my writing (and photos the that are on my phone).

Until Then,

What are your most memorable family travel experiences?

balance, gratitude, health and wellness

The Furthest Point Away from FOMO

My mom casually apologized to me after we settled back into our beach view villa for a mid afternoon break from the day’s activities.

“I’m sorry we never really traveled like this before”.

Before meaning perhaps during my childhood, early adulthood, or anytime before this current situation of approaching  40. She had somewhat of an upbeat tone as we both enjoyed fruity cocktails and the feeling of true vacation relaxation, 4 days into our Thailand adventure. It just clicked at some point. International travel is a life changer. It’s amazing and incredibly fun. It is especially fun and life changing when you witness your own young child taking it all in while learning, enjoying, and melting down (only once during the whole trip) every step of the way. I didn’t follow up my mom’s apology by asking why we never traveled like this back in the day, because now as an adult, of course I get it.

Taking a journey to the other side of the world was expensive. Between transportation, accommodations, and in my case, unpaid time off of work, this was definitely a big financial chunk of my year. The fear of the unknown and the fear of missing out took my anxiety levels and emotions on a crazy roller coaster ride. I also left other family members at home for 10 days, including my husband, my toddler son, and my dad. However, in some circumstances, and for this particular opportunity, it was worth it.

The lead up to the trip dates back to almost a year before our departure when my cousin, (my mom’s brother’s daughter, who is like a sister to me), called me and informed me of her destination wedding plans. Thailand. Not just mainland Thailand, but for the big event, a remote island in the gulf of Thailand by the name of Koh Kood (known to the locals as Ko Kut). One of the least populated places in the country. I’m pretty sure that she strategically chose her wedding date and made these plans about  the same time that FOMO officially became a thing and was at the peak of trending on social media.

After a few think alouds and productive conversations with the family members who would be directly affected by the endeavor, (and on that note, SO supportive), we decided to go for it.  My mom, my daughter and I traveled to Thailand for 10 days with the company of our other extended family members, and had the experience of a lifetime. As stated before, it was all worth it. I can’t wait to officially write about the amazing experiences and small moment stories that support this claim.

Thailand is about to takeover the blog for a bit. And for the record mom, no apologies needed. Ever.

On The Tuk Tuk:
The Faces of FOMO no More

Until Then,

Where was your first and/or favorite international travel destination?

balance, favorite things, gratitude, health and wellness, mindful

Morning Routine

During the school year, the first 53 minutes of my morning are filled to the max with a whirlwind of must dos that begin right from the moment I exit the bed.

  • I must make myself look presentable so that everyone who I interact with at work today, including my 26 students take me seriously, but also appreciate the elements of a good outfit of the day.
  • I must make sure my own two children are awake and allow time for that process in itself.
  • I must load up the lunch bags, nuke the veggie bacon, and toast the waffles.
  • I must haul the daily “baggage claim” collection of items out the car, which feels like we are taking a week long road trip to somewhere.
  • Above all, I MUST get the hot coffee into the vessel, then it has to be safely placed in the vehicle with the same care that I give to the children when they get buckled in.

The continuous action of opening and closing doors, drawers, containers, and bags puts me in a bit of a tizzy. I also have to factor in the additional flights up and down the stairs well after shoes have been put on for those forgotten items that are either game-changers for the day or completely unnecessary. The scarf that I went back up to get which ended up making me overheat and literally start sweating during Writer’s Workshop probably wasn’t worth the extra minutes.

My brain is already working overtime well before 6:50 a.m. That is the target goal time in which the kids and I bid my husband farewell and get into the car to drive 10 miles in the opposite direction to drop off my two-year-old son to my mom and dad’s house for the day.

Upon arrival to my childhood home, both of my kids in tow, the morning mental reset begins. I get to breathe for a bit, about 15-20 minutes to be exact. Mom and Dad’s house is familiar and comforting. I enjoy the sights and sounds and reminders of my upbringing. The kids get to play together for a few minutes. I get to sit and chat with my parents and catch up on breaking news regarding family or other topics. I sit and sip my beloved coffee. Sometimes I find treasures that are perfect for a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post.

I cherish this window of time each morning despite the angst and grumpiness that may have occurred an hour or so before. I’m truly grateful for my parents taking on the full time job of watching my little one, (again for a second time), but also for the blessing of a few moments to just enjoy the company, the moment, the Now.

The morning rush inevitably starts up again, when I usher my daughter out the door so we can head back toward school. We say our goodbyes and hit the road. Even though the angst of the day starts creeping back, I feel good knowing that my favorite morning must do always helps me to recallibrate the stress to gratitude ratios of the daily grind. I have a lot to pack, plan, and do every morning, but I have a lot more to be happy about and to be thankful for.

Until then,

What are your favorite or least favorite parts of your morning routine?

Thanks for reading!

Jenn


balance, health, health and wellness, mindful, working mom

Sunday Scaries: Holiday Edition

I feel like I have successfully achieved the ultimate level of fun on the weekends during this holiday season so far. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy time with the family, have a couple nights out on the town, and find time to catch-up sessions with old friends and other mommies. I’m truly grateful for everyone in my life, and the fun experiences I get to share with all of them, weather it be time at the movies, or an evening at a super packed dive bar that smells like a porta potty.   

So of course, I’m completely exhausted. At times, I become stressed beyond words when I stop and really think about the behind-the-scenes coordinating, problem solving, and decision making that is necessary to enjoy the holidays. Outfit planning, Amazon Prime purchases, and Uber coordination are time consuming. The journey across town into Vallejo to pick up lumpia for the staff  holiday party was a multistep process, but it was definitely worth it.

So this morning I woke up anxious and irritable. I’m sure it’s because experiencing the Sunday Scaries is a real thing, but I finally owned up to it and I was honest with myself. I’m completely overwhelmed. There is so much going on all the time, and I’m even finding myself only “half listening” to people more often than I prefer. Sorry guys!

There are 5 school days left before break. They’re going to be challenging. Then, as soon as that’s over, the family and I are packing up our vehicle the next day to enjoy Christmas in Lake Tahoe for an undetermined amount of time. I actually woke up feeling very stressed about the logistics of it all.

After a full acknowledgement of the stress levels and remembering the mental terms and agreements checkbox that I said yes to at the start of the holiday season, I finally put myself in check. I get to experience all of this. Figuring out how to transport an Elf on The Shelf in a plastic jar (with breathing holes) up to Tahoe is a first world problem. Gathering snow gear and coordinating ski lessons for my daughter? Same. Any angst related to my job and my workplace is just that. I have a job. I have the opportunity to work, learn, and yes, pay those darn bills.

Remembering to be grateful  saved me again. It’s easy to lose site of it all when stopping to look at the big picture is put on the backburner. The game plan for this week is to fire up the Yule Log of thanks whenever things get sketchy and stressful. I should probably also set another goal and make sure that I fully listen to whoever is talking to me at the moment. Inner thoughts about Elf on the Shelf can wait.


Until then,

How do you maintain balance during the chaos of the holidays? What are you thankful for?

 

 

balance, health, mindful

Small Business Hero

I returned to my old neighborhood yesterday. Todos Santos Plaza is located in Downtown Concord, California. It is always an interesting place to spend your time. You can hear BART whiz by. You can experience real metropolitan traffic complete with one way streets and the thrill of the hunt for suitable parking. It offers a nice mix of fun little restaurants, a huge Farmer’s Market twice a week, and yes, sketchy characters and transients. The bums are top notch, and they are wanderers who flail around and stop to yell and speak their minds.  

It was so perfect that the belligerent bum who was yelling obscenities into the street was yards away from me after I pulled out a bunch of cash from the ATM for my hair appointment. I went into stealth mode and entered my car through the passenger side just to keep things exciting. If the kids were with me, the choreography wouldn’t have been as smooth.

I decided to go back to the hole-in-the-wall hair salon and visit Tammy again after almost three years. Tammy is an amazing lady. I feel ashamed that I even attempted to get a haircut or color service by anyone else. I tried my mom’s hair salon (also another hole in the wall), but the owner of that establishment is known to leave customers alone, stranded with the foils in their hair while she goes to “Pick up her daughter real quick”. Mom enjoyed that.

I’ve gone to the high-end pretentious salons that have fancy vacuum systems to get rid of fallen hair very soon after they are detached from the client’s head and are not really anything to write home about when it’s all said and done. Tammy doesn’t pretend. Tammy doesn’t leave her customers alone in the shop. Tammy tells me, “I’ll take care of you, Hon. It’s been long time. But I remember you”.

Shortly after my arrival, she wrestled with the overgrown potted plant that took up a corner of the salon and also blocked part of her price list. She made this effort  just so I could be comfortable in the chair. After a brief consultation, she set me up, and she went to work with the color. I cozied up with my book and occasional wandering eyes.

KB Hair and Nail Salon is Small Business LEGIT. The random 50 gallon fish tank. The Holy Mother Mary. The other two clients in the salon getting a perm and debriefing about Thanksgiving. They were Golden Girls-esque. The gossip. The concrete brick walls that lacked any color and the exposed pipe. Haphazard wires connected a flat screen TV to the wall. A college football game was on, but no one was really paying attention.

To add to the amazing ambiance, the same belligerent bum that I’d encountered earlier even came by! The door was wide open due to the perm fumes, so we got to experience belligerent bum full force at maximum volume. Tammy just responded with, “He knows not to go into people’s shops”. Again, she took care of me. She made me feel safe. Later on, she told me a story about her son that melted my heart and made me think about my future 14-year old son who is now currently 20 months old.  

My hair turned out fabulous (by my standards), and I only paid $75 for cut and color. She made my hair soft and pretty again. After I squared up my payment, she asked me to write my name down on an index card so she can start a file for me about my future color treatments. I appreciated this low-tech method of getting to know her clients.      

Now I truly know the meaning behind Small Business Saturday. The proud owners of small businesses put their heart and their lives into their jobs. They do what it takes to make real connections to customers and clients. Tammy is my Un-Fancy hero. She is the reason that I will go back and visit downtown Concord every 8-10 weeks. Thank you Tammy. Thank you, Small Businesses. The world is full of expectation, comparison, and suffering about it all. The magic of a small business can help keep it all balanced.

Now, as a consumer I have #smallbusiness goals in mind. 


Until then…

What are your favorite small businesses? 


KB Hair and Nail Salon 

Todos Santos Plaza 

balance, classroom, health and wellness, mindful

The Questions You May Not Ask

Teaching 4th grade will always hold a special place in my heart. California history, particularly the Gold Rush Era, was one of my favorite units to teach. During the first 5 or so years of my career, my grade level colleagues and I would devote endless hours of coordination, fundraising,  and planning to send our students to a 3 night camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Gold Camp. It’s what you did when you got to 4th grade. History was learned. Forever memories were made.

The journey to get there however, was EXHAUSTING. Every year, through tireless fundraising efforts, we scraped together enough money to finance transportation for the 2 hour drive up to Sonora, California. What was the mode of transportation? The big blue school bus that could. It wasn’t the most updated vehicle. I remember feeling the engine straining as we traveled up the winding mountain roads (with million dollar views, mind you), while the kiddos with motion sick tummies expelled their queasiness into gallon Ziploc bags. I remember feeling so “done” with the trip even before we got off the bus.

All of the stress and exhaustion always took a dramatic turn for the better when we unloaded the bus, stood on solid ground, and inhaled the crisp mountain air. Things continued to improve when the camp staff and parent chaperones took charge of the program and activities. The teachers could get back to their regularly scheduled breathing.

gold camp
Teacher BFFs 9 years ago. Stuck on the big blue bus.

The ground rules were set, including the most important one. Our fearless camp leader made it known right away.  

“There will be NO What are we gonna…? or When are we gonna?… questions. Ever. Don’t even try to re-frame your questions to not sound like those kinds of questions.”

Best educational rule ever. I sometimes forget how powerful and simple the concept is. Let people (and little ones) enjoy their time as it happens. A schedule is set in place as a guide, but it is not meant to be a spoiler.

I too, followed the advice over the duration of camp and I was able to enjoy it so much more. I learned something new along with the kids every year. The scenery kept my calm levels in check even though I was in the midst of the most stressful field trip of the year. I will never forget the amazing sights and sounds, even during the muddy and rainy years. Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen? YES. Keep in mind though, another ground rule was to not buy the baseball sized jawbreakers as your Gold Camp souvenir. The vistas and feeling of accomplishment after the ditch hike will be a forever memory in mental teacher file. Columbia State Park Cemetery walk? My favorite.

Maintaining the delicate balance of anticipation of what’s to come, and suffering over what you can’t control is a hard thing to do. I struggle with it all the time, through milestones and small moments. Then I remember Gold Country. I remember living in the now, even back then, because that was all I could do in the moment. 

I’ll remember this happy place as a fun, yet stressful memory in my career. I’ll also remember that sometimes I can’t allow myself to ask, “What are we gonna?….” or “When are we gonna?”.

I’ll find out. Everyone will.

Until then…

Maybe I’ll plan a family trip up to The Queen of The Southern Mines sometime soon.


 

http://www.sonoraca.com/

 

https://www.columbiacandykitchen.com/

 

https://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/columbia-state-historic-park

 

https://www.gocalaveras.com/location/california/gold-country/murphys-california/

 

balance, declutter, health, health and wellness, mindful, working mom

I Remembered. I forgot.

I Remembered:

to schedule the county health dental presentation

8:15 morning yard duty

to clean the house for the birthday party

to eat breakfast (in the car)

to turn in the time sheet

to make the copies

to buy the milk

the day my daughter was born 8 years ago

to drink water at recess

to say, “Thank You”


I Forgot:

to wash the swimsuits for swim team day

to sign the reading log

to throw away the pee pee diaper

to say,  “Happy Birthday” to a colleague

to go to the bathroom at recess

to gas up the car

to send the email

to speak up

the laptop charger

deodorant for the weekend getaway

to stop and take a breath



I’ll remember more things this week, and I’ll forget a lot too. I’ll receive kudos, and I’ll receive naughty note reminders.

 

Until then,

All that matters is right now. Sometimes that is the hardest thing for me to remember.