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.       

family, gratitude, health and wellness

That Was Fun

It’s a real gift to access any bit of information that you need on demand. I could have just done the math, but the answer to my question was a tap away, so I just looked it up. 

It’s been exactly four months and 23 days since I lost my dad. 146 days. I know what this length of time has felt like, but I wasn’t aware of the exact number. It’s already felt like at least a year. 

So much has happened, including vacations, the transition back to work, and the celebration of birthdays, family milestones and gatherings. I’ve been blessed to have my family with me, direct household and extended; at least one member close by at all times, even at work. 

It’s a rare occurrence when I am completely alone with the time and space to just be involved in my own thoughts with no other tasks or to do’s. These times often occur in the car on solo drives from here to there, 10-15 minutes at most. When I’m behind the wheel, especially on sunny cloudless blue-sky days, I reminisce. I remember the days that he would drive us back home from San Francisco from my grandma’s house. We never said much on those drives, but I still felt safe and connected to him. Other memories include road trips up to the lake for a camping trip, or back down from the mountains, heading home from a ski weekend in Tahoe. 

Sunny day windshield memories live on in my mind, and the most recent ones hurt the most. The day of his funeral and burial was one of the most beautiful days I’d ever seen in the Bay Area. The convoy from Vallejo to San Francisco was a bittersweet tribute to his life, and I had no choice but to catalog a new memory in my mind. The way the sunlight hit the hearse and that little back window with the weird curtains to shade his casket was a new memory of saying goodbye to Dad. 

I said goodbye yet again a month or so ago, and it caught me off guard. Mom and I spent the morning preparing Dad’s truck to be officially handed down to a dear family member. We made sure it started and we cleaned it up a bit. We decided to bring it back to my house. She drove the truck, and I followed her and drove behind for the 12 minute journey back home. There wasn’t one cloud to be found in the sky.

Once the tears came, I decided to make it a full on emotional release. I cued up my Bob Marley playlist, and watched dad’s truck lead the way back home. Every turn and stop gave me glimpses and memories of him picking me up from school, and towing the family boat. I wasn’t able to see him through the window or in the side view mirror driving this time.  

Mom and I arrived safely and parked the vehicles in the driveway. I wiped away the remaining sun-blinding tears so I could ask her how the truck was running. She was happy and excited that it was running well.   

“That was fun!”, she said.

I was so thankful for that little moment and those three words. The simple statement reminded me that the memories that I invite back into my mind are fun memories. The outer layer of sadness from loss is real, but the fun times that I’ll always know are still there, just like those cloudless blue sky days.

https://howlongagogo.com/

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, 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, health, mindful, working mom

Red Light Realization

I received an early birthday gift this weekend. On Saturday afternoon while my daughter and I were running errands, we were in the middle of a classic, long-winded, captive audience car conversation. The long winded one was me of course, and the captive one in the backseat had to listen to mommy instead of Spotify for this ride. We were discussing the age differences between various members of our immediate and extended family. I proceeded to tell her that I’m turning 39 in
4 weeks.

Then by some coincidental timing on the roadway, and a wonderful opportunity to be silly, my daughter decided to make the most out of reading the “SPEED LIMIT 40” sign in the most dramatic voice possible. We both cracked up.

I slowed to a stop at the next red light and then I realized something. I’m not turning 39. I’m turning 38. YES. HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY TO ME.

bday wish
We caught some “wishes” during our family walk later on that evening. 

My slight miscalculation brought on some relief, excitement, and a little bit of embarrassment. Am I obsessing over turning the big 4-0 in a couple of years? Maybe. And maybe I should download an app for an accurate countdown.

The truth is, I have encountered a few “reality check” moments and close-to-home realizations over the last week or so that have been exciting, humbling, sad, and scary. Health, wellness, and the opportunity to travel and achieve life goals translates differently in your late 30’s as compared to living life in your early 20’s. At least it has for me. I feel like I finally “get it” with a lot of things in life. But then again, I probably don’t. Either way, all I can do is choose how I react to upcoming events, whether I’m ready for them or not. It’s a good thing I’m not ready to be 39 yet.

Until then,

T minus 3 and a half weeks-ish until the big 3-8. How should I celebrate? What does turning 40 mean to you?

classroom, mindful, working mom

That’s The Real Question

The excitement of Back-to-School is making a slow transition back to reality.The reality is that I’m a working mom again. I like to think that I’m a “pretend” stay at home mommy for about 3 months out of the year. I have two kids of my own, but this week I met 25 new ones who will also be under my care until June. Oh yes, I have to teach them a whole lot of things by then too. I think we’re in good shape so far. It was a good week.

Oh the exhaustion. My almost 8-year old and I were enjoying a chill moment on the couch after the first day of school.

“We did it. The first day of school is done”, I said, offering her a high-five.

“I can’t believe it! I can’t believe I’m in second grade! And good job today, Mommy.”

“So how are we going to do this everyday for the rest of the school year?” I was really asking her for some insight on this one. I was tired, and the day was catching up with me.

“Now that’s the real question, isn’t it?”, she responded. Her tone was so even, so calm, and so composed.

Good answer. Really good answer. I’ll take it.

I asked my daughter a silly question at a moment of stress and exhaustion, but her response was real. It was Mommy-like. It was teacher-like. And yes, she may have heard my husband say that a time or two. I have no idea how the year will go, but it started off well. There’s no way of knowing what is to come, and I only have control over what’s happening to me in the moment when it happens. Reflecting back is helpful to some degree. However, I know it’s not healthy to dwell. For now, my brain sees a couple of lists. 


My 14th  First Week of School

Motivations:

  • The custodian told me again that I have the cleanest and best smelling classroom in the school. He thanked me.
  • I implemented meditation in my classroom. 5 minutes of being mindful after recess is powerful. 
  • I heard some healthy gossip at work. A couple of people want to clone me. I do to. I can get more housework done that way.

Meh:

  • I had McDonald’s once this week for dinner. Exhaustion won that round.
  • At Target, I wiped my toddler’s nose with his own sweater in front of someone I ran into. I hadn’t seen her since high school. It was an awkward reunion. Meanwhile, there are 60 boxes of tissue living in my classroom.

Motivation and Mehs are the driving force of life. Compliments and affirmations can really make someone’s day too. I plan on stopping more often to enjoy the moments, even if they’re “meh”.


Until then,

I will tuck a few tissues away somewhere, just in case.

mindful

Just One Thing

I did something yesterday afternoon that I haven’t done in a while. I sat down with my daughter and we played together, uninterrupted for about half an hour. Sadly, this rarely happens anymore. When I play with her, she usually doesn’t receive my full attention. The other portion is given to her baby brother, cleaning and chores, school work, and the one that I feel most guilty about: my phone or laptop.

We enjoyed our time together. We played with her Calico Critters toys out on the backyard deck of the family’s home away from home in the Truckee Tahoe area. We were surrounded by nature, peaceful weather, and quiet. I forced myself to not think about anything else. I lived in the moment (ish) and let go of all of the surrounding thoughts that I usually can’t turn off. I snapped some pictures, and tried to get right back to what we were doing, since my phone can easily take over during these times If I let it.

The next day, I was able to enjoy some rare quality time with my own mom. It was just us. I realized it had been so long since we had done this. It was brief, only a few hours. We went to the gym together and then to the grocery store. We caught up on the latest updates of family and friends. We did some people watching, debriefed about it, and laughed. She does so much as the primary caregiver for my kids while I’m at work, and we are so blessed to have her. I see her everyday, but the times that we just get to hang out anymore are few and far between. The gym and grocery store just turned into amazing memories for my paperless mental scrapbook.  

Spending exclusive time with my daughter and my mom individually reminded me again about how important it is to value people rather than things. Sometimes things do need to be a part of it. I can’t play Calico Critters without the actual Calico Critters. However,  I can give up the other items that aren’t as important at the moment. Time to set aside the phone, papers, and the Swiffer for a bit.

So here I go with a very risky new habit shift. I used to be proud of how well I can multitask. Things get done so efficiently when Jenn is in the house. Or classroom. I realize now that it comes with a small cost that can add up over time. My brain gets strained a bit each time I try to do more than 2 things at once. Maybe that’s why I feel less focused and more disorganized lately. The people who really need my undivided attention such as my kids, my husband, and my students may also feel the effects in the long run.

I think it is time for me to outgrow my multi-tasking mentality, because soon, my daughter will outgrow her toys and her tolerance for her mom.

Calico
The epitome of happiness. 

Until then,

We will see if my home and classroom completely fall apart if I try not to multitask for at least some part of the day. I have a feeling life will go either way.