Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Word for 2015: Rhythm

Normally, I take this opportunity to check in with this past year's resolutions, but, as I acknowledged when I wrote them, I made some changes in 2014 that threw me off.

I set out in 2014 to focus on my daily habits, the process of doing whatever I put my mind to. The idea was that whatever came my way--a new job, a move, or neither of those things--little moments of joy, progress, or accomplishment would see me through. But in reality, I was just keeping my head above water. The first 4-5 months of the year, I was job hunting and depressed and anxious about that. The summer was a whirlwind of preparing to move, saying goodbye to friends, and wondering what was in store. And these past few months have just been exhausting. I don't feel like I had many opportunities to sit back and enjoy my own life this year.

I don't want a repeat of a year like that. Inspired by Susannah Conway and One Word 365, my word for 2015 is rhythm.

Rhythm, to me, is primarily about the senses and what feels right. I want to pay more attention to how I'm feeling and act on whatever I believe will help me feel better. Rhythm is also about consistency, patterns, and measures. In other words, I want to develop a better sense of timing and stick to the routines and habits that work best. I want my days and weeks to have a rhythm to them, and I want to measure out my time better so I can fit everything in without being a train wreck.

In addition to planning ahead better (something I always need work on), I have some ideas for developing a better rhythm to get me started early in the year:
  • grade 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • go to the gym 3 times a week
  • 15-minute yoga sessions
  • read/write before bed
  • early morning productivity
My needs very well might change throughout the year; I just hope to adapt to those rhythms instead of falling apart (which is what I usually do when my routines change). 

I also have some ideas for new approaches to old things like keeping a journal and lesson planning for my classes. If I want to know what works best and what feels right for me, I have to try something new once in a while, right? Plus, it's fun. 

Here's to feeling good and accomplishing a ton in 2015. Happy New Year, all. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall Back

I keep starting posts and not finishing them. Eventually, I just delete them. I'm still here, you might say, but invisible.

The new job has taken quite a toll on me these past months. I'm trying to be gentle and forgiving with myself, but the transition has not been smooth. We're just a few weeks away from the end of the semester, and I feel like I never got into a rhythm. It's not that I'm unhappy with this new position; it's just come as a surprise how difficult the adjustment has been. In fact, I think the problem is that I've been trying to adjust and to do what's expected when I should just trust my experience. Next semester will be better.

Among this already trying time, last month, I lost my grandmother, my last living grandparent. My husband and I drove up to Washington for the funeral service this past weekend. The trip was exhausting. It too was not exactly smooth either, but at least I got to spend some time with family and visit my home state again. I'm homesick and wishing I knew my grandmother better. I don't believe in an afterlife (or, I don't expect one anyway), but when I saw a photo one of my cousins posted online of my grandparents together at their 70th wedding anniversary, somehow I knew they were together again, if only because that's what she believed. It gave me some comfort knowing that.

In happier news, the husband and I celebrated our first year of marriage last month. Time has flown by. Also, recently, some friends invited us to go with them to Yosemite. It was our first time going, and we were able to snap some shots of the beautiful fall weather. Actually, the weather has finally cooled off here in Turlock, and we've even gotten some rain. The leaves on the trees here are turning colors and it's nice being able to note the passage of time.

I hope you're all staying warm out there (or enjoying cooling off like I am). Be good, everyone. I'll be back soon.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Growing Pains + Culture Shock

A few weeks ago, I wrote an email to a friend and expressed that I was feeling frustrated at my new job because I couldn't do what I normally do with my classes. It occurred to me then that I was experiencing a kind of culture shock. 

Culture shock is usually categorized into three basic phases: excitement, frustration, and acceptance. Commonly, being in a new place is exciting at first, and you want to experience everything. Then, as you try to live your normal life, you feel frustrated because you can't do the things you're accustomed to doing. Everything is a challenge. At some point, though, you develop new routines and accept the new environment. 

I'm somewhere between frustration and acceptance. 

Things aren't so different, really, but I haven't been successful in the areas I can usually count on, which is killing my confidence and not making me want to do my job. The students are different. My coworkers are different. The physical environment is different. It's like being in an alternate universe where everything looks basically the same, but at every turn, I'm confronted with something new I have to adapt to.

What's puzzling is how effortless my previous transitions seem by comparison. But that's the problem; enough time has passed that I don't remember how difficult it was. At every college where I've worked, my first semester was pretty awkward and filled with lots of failed attempts. I got better the more I taught and learned who the students were and what they needed from me. 

Another friend who also just started a new teaching job has reported to me that she's not having a good time with her position either. Although our situations are different, when I heard us both expressing uncertainty about our futures, I saw that we both probably needed to give ourselves more time to adjust.

In other words, I've experienced similar growing pains in the past. And they are growing pains. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. The stakes are higher now because the expectations are higher, but that's a good thing. When I've found myself waxing poetic about my last job (you know, the part-time teaching job with no benefits that left me scrounging for additional work), I just have to remember that this will pass with time, and I have to believe in myself.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Quads of Steel: Biking to Work

Since moving to Turlock, I've noticed a distinct difference in culture compared to what you see on the coast. It's probably always that way. Coasts have traditionally been the first to encounter new products, industries, people, and ideas. It's just surprising what a noticeable difference a 2-hour drive still makes today.

For example, in Monterey, there's no styrofoam or plastic bags (with some exceptions). Here, almost every single restaurant we've tried uses styrofoam for their to-go boxes, and we've had to specify multiple times to cashiers not to use plastic bags (we bring our own bags, but they're trigger-happy).

I was beginning to think that I was going to have to lead a one-woman charge into 21st century environmentalism in this town, but since I've started work, I've found some like-minded folks and feel better. I learned, for example, that the head librarian doesn't own a car and bikes everywhere, and two other faculty members I've met are bike enthusiasts. When I heard all of this, I felt validated because I too wanted to bike to work or at least give it a good try. 

I've biked twice so far (classes started Thursday last week), and I think it's something I can keep up at least until I start losing daylight and warmth in the mornings. However, it hasn't been a totally smooth ride.

First, my biggest concern beforehand was the sweat and bad hair factor. Remember the episode of The Office where Jim rides his bike to work? That was a very real concern for me. I bring a change of shirt, and I get to work at least 25 minutes before I have to see anybody, so I can cool down, catch my breath, and freshen up. People overestimate how much they sweat, how stinky they are, and how much other people notice. A few feet of distance usually makes a little body odor go unnoticed, but I really haven't felt gross or unclean. My hair gets a little disheveled from the helmet, but I'm not the first faculty member to be slightly disheveled; at least I have a good reason for it. 

My bigger concern has turned out to be my route. Here's a Google map of the area I'm traveling in with the bike routes highlighted in green (the solid lines are dedicated bike lanes and the dotted green lines are "recommended" roads for cyclists even if they don't have lanes).

There's a lot of green here, which looks promising, but let's look a little closer:

In trying to figure out a safe, smooth, and efficient ride for myself, I've had to get creative. Would I rather travel on a low-traffic but bumpy road with no bike lane or a smoother, wide road that takes me out of my way? Should I risk riding on a high-traffic main street with a gap in the bike lane or snake my way through residential streets with lots of turns, traffic lights, and four-way stops? I'm going to try a new route next time, one that includes fewer turns than my residential route but busier streets with fragmented bike lanes. 

The easier answer? Drive.

Of course I'm choosing to ride my bike. It's not a necessity. But having my car just sit in a parking lot all day isn't a good exercise in utility. If I drive it to work, my husband goes without a car for the day. If he drops me off and picks me up, then it ends up being more driving, and it's less convenient for both of us.

If I choose to bike, it gives us more freedom. There are very real inconveniences and safety concerns, but the tradeoff for my creative planning is that I never have to worry about parking, I don't feel like I need additional exercise for the day, I arrive feeling energized, I get fresh air, and I have some me time while riding.* 

We've been talking about getting a second car so that we both can come and go, but obviously buying, insuring, and maintaining two vehicles is a big expense. Even if we can afford it, there's a freedom in saying no to that and a unity in discussing our schedules and options. By refusing to believe that every person who can drive needs to drive, I'm exercising a powerful component to living my life on my terms. That's freedom.

All right, so cycling to work is pretty great. But here's a little secret: I don't actually enjoy riding my bike very much. I'm not a very competent cyclist, and bike riding makes me nervous. If given the choice, I'd rather walk. But my commute is a little far to walk considering how early my classes start. I say this because I want others to know that it's normal to be scared, especially if you're riding with traffic and relying on humans to not run you over or abruptly open their car door while parked on the street. 

In the end, though, I do it despite my fear because it's something I believe in. If I want to see more solid green lines on that Google map, I have to use the lanes that are there. I have to support other cyclists and future cyclists. I have to be a good role model to my students and not only tell them to push past their own boundaries but also show them what that looks like. I have to not only dream of a greener community but also participate in making that happen. It's not a one-woman charge, but one woman can certainly do her part. 

*The Energy Project has researched the effects of having a transitional activity after work. For example, someone coming home from a stressful day of work benefits from a walk around the neighborhood before jumping into family duties at home. I find that transitions are good before work as well, and having a walking or biking commute helps me transition between work and personal life.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Project 333 and Smart Shopping

"Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes." - Henry David Thoreau

For my entire adult life, I've had a slight obsession with my clothing. I'm on a never ending quest for the perfect wardrobe: If only I could buy that one perfect thing, my life will be complete!

It's strange because when I was a kid, my mom would buy me exactly four pairs of pants and four shirts during our annual back-to-school clothes shopping. I'd sometimes get clothes for Christmas and then I'd get shorts for summer, but that was it. I had outgrown the clothes from the year before, so my wardrobe was literally four pants and four shirts, and I was quite content. When I was older, I started buying my own clothes and succumbing to the pressures of fitting in.

Since then, I've had colleagues and professors who've worn the same two or three outfits every day. Although I noticed it, I never thought it was weird. In fact, it just seemed practical and, well, very professor-like. In other words, I think I've always admired people who could adopt a signature style and keep their wardrobe minimal, but I haven't been able to do it for myself.

Cue Project 333.

Project 333 works like this: Pare down your everyday wardrobe to 33 items and wear only those 33 items for 3 months. Mostly, this project is about de-cluttering closet space and simplifying the morning routine. It's also helpful with saving money on clothes shopping.

I tried starting this project way back in March. I quickly saw my biggest problem was that my favorite items didn't go together, and I had very few favorite items. If I got rid of everything but my favorites, I wouldn't be able to get dressed. As it was, if my favorite shirt was in the laundry, it would throw everything off. Frankly, I don't feel comfortable giving a t-shirt that kind of control over my life.

You think I'm joking, but I had to contend with the fact that I'm quite a bit heavier now than I'd like to be. That by itself isn't a crisis, but when I have to see a pair of pants I really like that I used to wear all the time that don't fit me anymore, I feel like crap. I've worked really hard over the years to accept the various shapes and sizes I come in. Giving pants the power to deconstruct all of that is unacceptable. Those pants had to get out of my face.

Obviously, this was going to be more difficult than I had anticipated, so I put the project on hold for a while. My wardrobe was already pretty small, but it wasn't functional. I needed more versatile, good quality clothing. Since I'm moving to a different climate and starting a new job, I figure now is a good time to start fresh. So much for Thoreau.

I did it in a planned way. I made a list of the items I definitely wanted to keep in the daily rotation and what went with what. Basically, for every top, I wanted to have two bottoms that would match, and for every bottom, I wanted to have two tops, so I wrote down, what if anything I needed to buy. I stuck to the list, and everything I bought served a purpose in the wardrobe.

At first it was frustrating to shop with a list because I couldn't just buy whatever looked pretty and was on sale. In the end, though, it was supremely gratifying. I only bought about six new pieces, and I knew I had found the right items because I had such a clear picture in my mind of what I needed and how I would wear it. It just required patience. 

My favorite outfit (left) and what I happen to be wearing today (right). 
I did stash away a few winter items and those stupid pants that don't fit. When October rolls around, I can revisit both the weather and waistline situation and adjust accordingly. Everything else was donated.

Exceptions: I didn't count underwear, workout clothes, loungewear/pajamas, leggings, shoes, and accessories. These are not things that have much effect on my daily clothing choices, and I don't have a habit of collecting a lot of them. I also freely give myself permission to replace items that I truly can't wear anymore such as my favorite jeans that now have a hole in them (yes, I can patch them, but I still need a decent pair of jeans that I can wear to work and a patched hole on the inner thigh means I won't be wearing them in front of students).

At last count, I had around 27 items (it's hard to know if I should count this or that item because it's something I wear so rarely), which gives me some wiggle room if I feel I need a couple more seasonal items. 

At some point I realized it wasn't about having exactly 33 items. Eventually, I'd like to get down to about 15 really great, everyday items and a handful of accessories that make me feel like I can play. You know, old school: 4 pants and 4 shirts (plus 3-4 dresses and 3-4 cardigans because I'm a grownup).

So it's not a magic number, but it's a structure to work with. I don't even know if I would still call what I'm doing Project 333, but it was a starting point to smarter shopping habits and a healthier relationship with my self-image.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about my time living in Owego, New York, in the rural, southern tier of the state, where I lived before moving to Monterey. I'm romanticizing it, as we're all prone to do when our memories get fuzzy, but it's on my mind so much because it's the kind of place that people make their home.

Not a temporary stop on the way. A home.

For the past five years, I've been living in a transient place fueled by students, military, second-home vacationers, and tourists. I started writing this post a day before we moved, surrounded by boxes, wondering what's in store for us this next leg of our journey. It's no wonder that I'm feeling nostalgic for an "in it for the long haul" kind of place. 

One of my friends from New York posted pictures of a front porch he finished building on his home. It was beautiful, but more importantly, I thought, That's the kind of place where you take the time to build a porch on your house. I'm remembering the locally made soaps and preserves, small farms, home gardens, summer barbecues, and fairs. Then there was my old neighbor, Herman, who would snow-blow my driveway without asking for anything in return. And my first teaching job, fall leaves, and spring blooms.

I never wanted Owego to be my permanent home (mostly because winter lasts far too long there), but it was the kind of place where people settled in for generations. That could be bad, of course, with some people not realizing there's a world outside to be explored. It was also bad because the area was economically depressed, meth production was high, and there wasn't much room for growth.

Still, though, that sense of longevity appeals to me. My students would talk about leaving the area to finish college or have some adventures but then returning to raise their families. Although some people did want improvements (to themselves and to the area), no one seemed to be chasing the next big thing. Trends were drowned out by the necessities.

By contrast, most people I met in the Monterey area were either just arriving or just leaving, comparing it to the place we had just left or where we were headed next. It never felt like we were just there, committed to our surroundings. It's hard to make friends or be invested in anything. It's like writing in the sand: cute and fun while it lasts, but what are you really going to say when you know it's just going to disappear soon? 

I want to settle in. And I want to feel like the people around me aren't just counting the days until they leave. 

I don't know if we'll find that in our new place, or if we'll even want to call this place home, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway (the old college try?).

Only time will tell. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

'Round Here

You know when there's so much to do and say that you're just paralyzed with what to do next? That's where I am. 

I want to tell you all about the move, how I'm feeling about it, and what's going on with the new job, but I just can't focus on any of it. I thought maybe my reluctance to post (coupled with the fact that I am OVER Facebook, which is how most of my readers get here) was a sign that I needed to retire my blog, but I think that's an overreaction. I don't want to give this up! I'm just stressed and being pulled in too many directions. 

So, I'm taking a little break. I hope to be back in the fall when the dust has settled. Maybe sooner. 

In the meantime, I'll say this: I'm really excited about what's in store for me and for us. I keep telling people that, and I'm sure they don't believe me because I say it without any trace of enthusiasm, but that's just the nerves. I really am excited about having a manageable, predictable schedule. I'm excited about our tiny apartment that will allow us to save money and live in a great location. I'm excited about maybe being able to eat dinner with my husband every night and have an occasional weekend getaway. I'm excited because we'll have affordable healthcare. 

Basically, I'm excited because I believe this move will help us lead a more fulfilling life together. We're going to miss Monterey like crazy, but I think we'll enjoy having a more peaceful day-to-day lifestyle. That's the kind of thing I want to document here on this blog. 

Thanks, as always, for reading. Take care of yourself out there. Be good. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

8 Good Things

1. What do you hate not doing? I've always liked the suggestion that instead of trying to force being good at everything, you should go in the direction of the things you already do really well and enjoy, and use that aptitude and interest to create more great stuff in your life.

2. Giving things away! The move is now less than two months away, and I'm excited about the fresh start. I gave away almost my entire CD collection to my students (I still have the music on my computer, just not the discs). I gave away a yoga book and my Gigantor Laptop Bag, and I've started setting aside some other things to give away.

3. And speaking of bags, after a long search, I finally found  a purse I'm crazy about. Since I no longer need a huge bag that serves as a mobile office (because MY OWN OFFICE), I wanted a kind of chic bag that I can take with me to classes without looking like I'm headed to the grocery store. But I also want to use it when I'm headed to the grocery store. I wanted handles and a cross-body strap, an outside pocket, and one large open area inside. And I wanted it to go with everything. Picky much? Yep. It's pretty much the best bag ever.

4. Knitting a shawl. I also recently finished a hat in a minty blue color that my husband claimed for himself (it's inside out in the photo above--oops), a monster cozy for my Sony Reader, and a set of fingerless mitts (okay, those aren't finished because I need to seam them--boo). 

5. A swimsuit that fits AND covers that area no one wants to shave AND is made in the USA. It's going to be triple-digit weather when we move in August, and I foresee lots of pool visits. I got it on Zulily.

6. Black beans. Pictured above is black beans, sweet potato, and avocado served over spinach. Another favorite lately is black beans and mango salsa served over rice or spinach. 

7. Low-sodium V8. Yes, I'm aware that I'm 100 years old. 

8. The Artichoke Festival last weekend. We were underwhelmed until some of the kids from Samz School of Music performed. I was blown away by an 8-year-old girl singing "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and a 12-year-old singing a soulful, "Give Me a Reason." Then, just when we were thinking of leaving, we found an exhibit of artichoke sculptures. It turned out to be a good day after all.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

8 Good Things

1. What's it like to be a writer? Glamorous to say the least. With a generous helping of the f-word.

3. Making dishwashing detergent for the first time with this recipe without borax. I have yet to try it, but it seems legit. I'm also switching to a borax-free laundry detergent recipe. It's pretty painless to make these detergents. I appreciate the cost savings, and there's something fun about being like, "Well, we're low on detergent. Guess I'd better make some."  

4. Finishing my two-tone cotton cowl. I'm now in the process of making a monster cozy for my digital reader. Also, the woman in my knitting group who lives in Pebble Beach invited us to meet at her place again last week, which was a real treat anyway, but she also had tons of yarn to give away and sell, so no one left empty-handed (because more yarn is exactly what I need a couple months before I move). For a total of $25, I walked away with all the yarn in the photo above. 

5. Peaches! Oh, how I've missed peaches. I got to see my friend who works at the fruit stand, whom I haven't seen since October. I also went to a vegetable stand and saw heads of cauliflower that were probably bigger than a human head. On a related note, even though I don't really think of myself as a Californian (yet), I'm happy that my move won't take me out of the state. I was kind of sad thinking about leaving peach country. 

6. La Guelaguetza in Santa Cruz. It's a festival from Oaxaca, Mexico. I got to see the baile folkl√≥rico in person for the first time. It was a beautiful, but kind of hot, day (read: sunburn). I bought overpriced things, including the red shirt above (the woman in black behind me wanted to know where I got it). 

7. Cooking more and trying harder to use up what we already have. I made some asparagus soup from the Happy Herbivore meal plan (I signed up for a short time last year). Asparagus soup sounded bitter and gross, but it turned out pretty mild and tasty. I've also rediscovered how much I like spinach. 

8. Finding a book at the public library that I thought I was going to have to pay full price for to get on my reader. It's Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. The only thing better than discounted books is free books!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Name Game: Couples Edition

Why did you keep your name when you got married?

The short answer I give is that I like my last name and I'm too lazy to deal with the hassle of changing my name. It's 2014. I think that answer should suffice, but I get the feeling it doesn't.

A friend in Georgia told me that everybody there loves monogramming things. It has to be the monogram with the last initial made big in the middle. She said her friends there short circuit when they find out she and her husband don't share a last initial. Whatever will we do if we can't monogram!

The bigger answer is this: All the reasons I could think of to change my name were about other people. Other people will assume I have my husband's last name. Other people will mistakenly call me by his last name. Other people will think I'm making a feminist statement. Other people will wonder what to call us (Mr. and Mrs. ____?). Other people will wonder how on earth they can monogram something for us. 

I'm the one who has to go to the DMV and Social Security office. I'm the one who has to change my name on my bank accounts and all my online accounts. I'm the one who has to inform my colleagues and students and to have my work email account changed. I'm the one who has to correct my resumes and my syllabi. I'm the one who has to update my W-2s for my various jobs. And I'm the one who has to change my name in my own head and think of myself differently. Since it's up to me to make the change, then it's also up to me to say no if I want to. 

I'm speaking from experience. I changed my name once before, and I always regretted it. I never felt like the name belonged to me, and I have no desire to repeat that experience. 

I do like my name, but mostly, it's that I'm used to it. It's how I think of myself. I haven't changed who I am just because I got married. 

At the start of one semester in an ESL class, I was taking attendance. As I read some of their names, they would say, "I go by Jessie," or, "You can call me Vincent." Students from other countries often change or shorten their names to make them easier for English speakers to pronounce. Not everyone changes their name, though. They are content to wrestle with the English alphabet and let English speakers deal with their names as best as they can. I got to one student who said, "And I go by Ji Young because I like my name," and shrugged her shoulders. So, what's better: changing your name or not changing your name? Neither. Both. It's not my question to answer. 

If a woman wants to change her name when she gets married because she likes the idea of sharing a name, great. It's none of my business. If someone wants to change their name to distance themselves from their family, because they've never felt confident about their name, or because their name is hard to pronounce, great. Again, it's not my name, so I don't get a say in this. 

Everybody should have a name they feel comfortable with. I hope people take some time to weigh their options, but other than that, I'll call you by whatever name you want me to and I won't think much about it.


How should people refer to our titles? Refer to us separately. Hint: We know we're together! Mr. ___ and Ms. ___. Or just forget the titles altogether. We're not living in Elizabethan England.  

What are we going to call our kids? We'll probably follow the Mexican tradition and give our kids one family name from each of us. Since we don't have kids, I'm not worrying about it, so neither should you.

What should people call our family? The ___ ___ family. In Spanish, la familia ___ ___ or los ___ ___.  I don't care which name you put first or if you hyphenate it. See how easy that was?

Was my husband okay with my decision? Before we were talking about marriage, I made it clear that I was happy with my name and intended to keep it if I ever got married again. If you're really asking if my husband allowed me to keep my name, picture me searching my neck for a collar and leash and finding none. 

What should you do or say if someone tells you s/he wants to keep/change their name? The correct response is, "I'll support whatever you decide." 

If you're still feeling dissatisfied with my explanation, it's probably because you already had a strong opinion on the matter and you weren't actually curious in the first place. In that case, check yourself. Otherwise, I hope this clears the air and empowers you to own your name, whatever you decide it's going to be. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One-Bedroom Living

Almost two years ago, my then-boyfriend/now-husband moved in with me, and we've been sharing a one-bedroom apartment ever since.  

A couple years ago, I was searching for a cheaper place, and I found a really cute apartment, but it was even smaller than our current place. I ended up telling an acquaintance about the cute place, and I mentioned it wasn't right for me because there would likely be two of us living there in the near future. She said, "Oh no, you can't live in a one-bedroom. You'll kill each other."

She misunderstood, of course, and didn't realize that we would in fact still be living in a one-bedroom--just one with a few more square feet. It got me thinking, though, Would we kill each other? 

I'm happy to report we're still alive, still together, and still in good spirits, so I guess not.

When we move in a couple months, we'll probably get a two-bedroom apartment because, well, we can, and I'm definitely looking forward to having a bit more space. Even though I don't think we have tons of stuff, we have enough that it's hard to keep everything neat, clean, and organized. 

However, even though our place isn't big enough for our stuff, I can't think of a time when I felt that our physical space was too small for our personalities. We have a living area, a dining area, and a bedroom. When we've had arguments, or even when one person just wants to watch TV while the other person wants to grade papers (ahem), we do have places we can go off to. And there's a whole world outside. I feel like we have plenty of time to do things on our own, and whenever I've felt like I wanted space, I've found it.  

I was thinking a townhouse would be nice, and certainly it's still a far cry from a McMansion, but it's a little odd when I imagine us both being home and not knowing what the other one's doing. As I write this from the living room, I can hear my husband moving around in bed as he takes a nap. I always know where the cat is. Even though I've always been someone who liked having a lot of alone time, I've gotten used to my life as it is, and I do think the physical closeness has made us a cooperative and forgiving couple.

There's no hiding. There's no retreating away from each other, and there's no disguising the unpleasant bits. 

I don't need to tell you that we could all probably live with a little less, and that includes square footage. Sharing this little apartment has probably been the most minimalist thing I've done in the past several years, and I don't even think twice about it anymore. It's just our home. Sometimes I wish it were a little different, but when you just commit to something, it's surprising how quickly you can redefine normal and do things you never imagined you could. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Convenience Foods

Every couple of months or so, I say, "I gotta stop eating out so much!" The fact that I have to say it every couple of months or so should indicate just how seriously committed I am to it. 

As you know, I enjoy making stuff in the kitchen, and often times I'm even good at it, so it's not that I don't know how to cook. It's not even that I don't have time. It's more that I'm not so good at planning. I'm Suzy Homemaker when I make a list of meals for the week and get to the grocery store, but since I don't have a solid routine that includes grocery shopping, I often miss my opportunity to go and find that we have nothing in the house to make a complete meal right at the time that we're busy and need to eat. 

Occasionally, I buy instant soup from Trader Joe's. I bought their carrot-ginger soup recently in fact, and I found that in addition to being tasty, it helped elevate an otherwise unremarkable and unfulfilling lunch I had put together. Of course, it would have been great to make my own carrot-ginger soup, but I didn't make my own carrot-ginger soup, and I had to eat. 

Just last night, knowing we'd get home later than our regular dinner time, I decided that I'd just make spaghetti with our usual, store-bought sauce, but I made a big salad with lots of stuff in it (shame on you if you didn't get that reference) to go with it. It was a nutritious, filling meal, and I feel no guilt about that. 

I don't really get down on myself about such things, but I do have a false sense of what I'm really going to accomplish. I'll see instant soups or canned beans, and I think, "I can do that myself! Why would I pay for someone else to do it for me?" Then instead of buying it, I go home without it and wonder why I keep going to restaurants. Believing in "always DIY" causes me to spend more. 

I know other people do beat themselves up over convenience foods. Pinterest, anyone? There's a pressure to make everything from scratch--no preservatives, all-organic, gluten-free, kale, and the whole nine yards. I'm all for people making things on their own, but at some point, we have to look at our realities and prioritize. You probably have enough time to buy groceries and cook simple, nutritious meals most days, but you might not have enough time or energy to cook lavish, eye-pleasing, taste-bud-tantalizing masterpieces every day. 

With the exception of Kraft macaroni and cheese and any meat that doesn't need to be refrigerated (because gross), give yourself a break. For what it's worth, I give you all my blessing to buy convenience foods sometimes. 

In other words, sometimes you eat the beans and sometimes the beans eat you. And that's okay. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

8 Good Things

1. Not looking at job boards. I finally feel like I can do other things!

2. Amanda Palmer's TED Talk, "The Art of Asking." I showed it to my class a little while back when we were talking about the way getting paid for something influences creativity.

3. Continuing to soak up the beautiful scenery. Every time I go for a walk, I feel like I'm saying goodbye in a way. The birds are going crazy right now, so I've taken some shots of them.

5. Showing my class Whose Line Is It Anyway? to discuss the importance of writing style and how to distinguish between different styles. 

6. Getting glasses! I didn't realize what a big difference they'd make. I actually want to read things now. For example, I zoomed right through Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk last weekend. It makes me wonder if my lack of motivation to read has largely been about my eyesight. 

7. Spinach salad with strawberries and dried apricots. I can't imagine eating a salad without fruit in it anymore. Oddly enough, I've managed to misplace my snow peas twice in the past week. 

8. Another waffle-knit cowl on the needles with some pretty cotton yarn. The photo above doesn't do it justice. Also knitting related: Someone finally volunteered to take over the organizer responsibilities for my knitting group since I'll be leaving soon. That's a relief.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

You Control the Narrative

I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Twitter (even though I absolutely have mixed feelings about her), and she recently said something that resonated with me:

"Keep buying into (and defending) your own garbage storyline, though, and the change can never come."

We tell ourselves all kinds of things, but they're never really the absolute truth; they're just the narrative we choose to tell about ourselves. It's unavoidable, but the real question is whether we're gaining anything from the narrative we're writing. 

For example, there are people who will always tell the story of being a victim. They're always innocent. Everyone screws them over. Of course there will be truth to that, but if they believe this narrative and tell the victim story to themselves over and over again, they'll only ever be the victim. They'll never take responsibility. 

What a lame protagonist, right? 

The point is that the narrative shapes our reality. When you say things like, "I'm not someone who ___," or "I always ___," are you filling in those blanks with a self-defeating characteristics? Are you labeling yourself in a way that limits your actions or goes against what you value? 

I'm not talking about "The Secret" where you're supposed to positive-think your way into the life you want. It doesn't work like that. Sometimes we just get lucky or unlucky. Life isn't fair after all. You shouldn't blame yourself or take credit for things you truly didn't have control over.

I'm talking about telling your story in a way that allows you recognize behavior patterns, admit mistakes, and acknowledge accomplishments, so that you can better decide your next step. 

For me, I have to reframe stories that deal with my ego. Oh, how I love an ego boost. But I can be tempted by the spotlight and lose focus on what's important. In other words, I get self-absorbed, and I can't see the bigger picture. In the end, it hurts me. I've done some dumb things just to gain and retain others' favor. While it's good to accept compliments of course, I try to turn that positivity into something productive. Instead of a story about how great I am, it's a story about what I've accomplished with hard work and help from others or what I've done to help others accomplish their goals. 

We can't go back in time, but we can change our past, present, and future by taking control of the narrative. Tell your story in a way that empowers you moving forward.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Just One Really Good Thing

Normally, I'd be giving you all a list of good things in my life right now, but I'm going to skip the list this time because I got some great news Friday night.

Starting this fall, I'll be a full-time lecturer at CSU Stanislaus.

It's funny because really, this job is a very reasonable next step in my career. It's not a huge step. But it is. And I'm kind of freaking out about it.

For one, I'm surprised and thrilled at the opportunity. Full-time teaching jobs are hard to come by. Even though I've worked hard, I also know I got lucky. 

Two, it's a university! Since teaching at community colleges, I've come to value them and the students there. I pictured myself always working at one. This university is still quite small, but they have graduate students! And dorms! I'm a little bit intimidated, which makes me realize that I'm too comfortable where I am. 

Three, we're moving! This is the first time I've moved for my job. It'll be the first time, despite all the moves I've made, that I haven't found myself in a brand new city being totally disoriented, saying, "Now what?" For most people, what I'm doing is probably pretty normal (moving a couple hours away for a job), but this is a novelty for me.

I think we're going to enjoy it out there. It'll give my husband the opportunity to go to school if he wants to, and I'm looking forward to a much lower cost of living. It'll be a lot of work, but in reality, it's not more than what I've been putting myself through the last couple years, and this time, I hope we'll be building something instead of just staying afloat. 

As always, thanks for reading, you guys. I've had tunnel vision the past several months. Job hunting does that. Maybe now I can think about knitting and cooking again. I'm also feeling such gratitude right now for all the people who've inspired and challenged me along the way. Just thank you. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Dream of Overalls

Statements I've made publicly:

"If I could wear overalls to work every day, I could die happy."

"I know I've made a call for this before, but seriously, if side ponytails and grunge can make a comeback, why can't overalls be cool again?"

When I was in high school, overalls were the thing. They were perfect for so many reasons. For one, they were warm, and my high school was inexplicably cold even during warm months. Two, they went with everything. Three, they were comfortable to wear while sitting for six hours a day.

Alas, the trend died, but I never gave up hope that I would one day get to wear them again. I can't really justify wearing them for any particular reason at the moment, but I have this fantasy of wearing overalls while working in my garden. I figure if I ever have a proper garden again, the lure of being able to wear overalls might ensure that I'll spend a good amount time out there.

It goes to show that I associate items with a certain lifestyle. For me, long past my high school days now, overalls signify work, utility, being sweaty, and getting dirty. They send the message that I won't be spending the day at the mall. I have real work to do today. I've had a similar attraction to tool belts.

The point is that overalls are a specific object that represents a lifestyle I like. Some people think if they own a house or a certain kind of car, they'll know they're where they want to be in life. For me, it's having a reason to wear overalls. I'll know I'm living right when overalls seem like the most appropriate thing to wear. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

8 Good Things

1. Walking 10,000 steps per day (or trying to). I dusted off the pedometer, and I've been pushing myself to walk a little more than usual to get to 10,000. In part, I've just been curious to see how much walking it really is. It's quite a bit if you don't count steps walked at home (I usually don't unless I'm doing something fairly active like cleaning). It's gotten me outdoors enjoying the lovely spring weather (photos above).

2. The interview! I'll say more about this in a later post I'm sure, but it went well. After the phone interview, they asked me to visit the campus. It seemed like a great college and a nice area. The day after, I got a call about another job out of state and set up a phone interview with them too. I'm on fire!

3. Sleep. The interviews were exciting but nerve-wracking, and I haven't been sleeping well. I'm grateful for the times when I've actually been able to get a good night's sleep and catch up.

4. Twitter. I'm using Twitter more and more to learn and write about education-related topics. It feels really good to be part of that conversation and to see my words being passed along to others.

5. The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy. During our trip to Colorado, I had wanted to download and start reading The People's History of the United States, but I don't think I could get it on my Sony Reader, so I settled for this anthology. It's nice, though. I enjoy reading Zinn's commentary on his own words, and I have a better sense of how his ideas developed.

6. A new haircut. No one's really noticed, and I take that as a good sign that I really did just get a trim. I'm happy with it.

7. Grading papers in the college library. As you know, I tend to work in cafes, but the college is a little closer, and the view is amazing. How many community colleges in this country have an ocean view? It's also quiet and the big tables are great for spreading out all my crap.

8. Fun students this semester. It's been a strange semester because I have fewer students than usual, but I seem to have a good rapport with one group in particular. I've especially enjoyed seeing two 30-something men in class develop a friendship and support each other. It's great to be a part of someone else's journey toward reaching a goal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

8 Good Things

1. Spring break! I didn't do anything exciting, but I had lots of time to sleep in and relax. I couldn't ask for more.

2. An interview scheduled! I have mixed feelings about this particular position, but I'm curious about what they have to say, and I needed some good news. Searching and searching with no result is depressing. After I got the phone call, I took myself out to Myo to celebrate (because nothing says "celebrate" like frozen yogurt), and they were having a 1/2 off deal. It was my day.

3. Taking walks. I sometimes walk from my apartment to one of the cafes downtown (about 2 miles) to combine a little fresh air and exercise with grading. I'm thinking of dusting off the pedometer and seeing if I can do 10,000 steps per day. I'm partly just curious to see how much walking I do on days when I teach.

5. A finished object made with my thrifted yarn from Goodwill. I estimate that I made this huge, squishy cowl for about $2.75--$3.00 + all the time I spent unraveling and knitting. Good deal financially but really time consuming. 

6. Speaking of, for the first time, a man came to my knitting group. For some reason, that made me ridiculously happy. And, and! He's kind of a local celebrity.

7. House of Cards on Netflix. I caved in to the hype, but only because it's Kevin Spacey. And he is definitely the Kevin Spaciest I've ever seen him in this series. I've only watched a few episodes, so no spoilers please! 

8. Eggs and rice. Sometimes eggs make me want to barf. I suspect I have a mild allergy, but they're quick and easy, so it's a bummer when I can't stomach them. I saw an image online recently that showed a couple fried eggs atop some brown or white rice with a few slices of avocado, and I thought, "I have to eat this right now." I've eaten this probably four times in the last week. I can't get enough, and so far, I haven't had any barfy feelings. I think the rice somehow balances things out. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

8 Good Things

1. Taking a walk down near Point Lobos. Point Lobos is a beautiful park off Highway 1, but you have to pay to get in or you have to park outside and walk in, so it's a little inconvenient. A few years ago, a friend showed me these trails, and they're great because you get some of the same view as Point Lobos without the hassle. By the way, this is what March looks like right now. I think you can understand why I've been reluctant to leave!

2. Supta baddha konasana. And shoulder stands! I'm a yoga junkie. 

3. Teaching Zumba Toning. My supervisor and I decided to try this format to offer something a little different. I got licensed years ago but never taught it. It's turning out to be really fun to teach. It's a gentler, less intense class but still really good exercise.

4. Rain. We've finally gotten rain this month. It comes in waves followed by unseasonably warm weather, but we'll take what we can get.

5. A surprise exam at the doctor's office! After having some hassles with my health insurance and finally finding a doctor who'd take my plan, I was disappointed to find that the doctor wouldn't do my annual pelvic/pap without a meet-and-greet appointment first. That's nice and all, but the $60 copay isn't, and I can't stand going to the doctor. But she deemed me healthy and decided to do the exam on the spot. I've never been so excited to be poked and prodded in private places. 

6. The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook. I checked this out of the library recently. In all fairness, I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, but I will in the coming week. I'm pretty good at predicting what I'll like. In fact, I already had half the ingredients of the recipes I wanted to try first. 

8. A new blog! It's about my experiences with teaching. I just have a couple posts up right now, but I plan to have more very soon. I have some ideas on putting together some workbooks/guides for students and teachers, so stay tuned! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Discipline

In my mid-20s, I had a pretty stellar schedule. I worked full time during the day and went to grad school at night. I'd start work at 7 a.m. and finish at 3:30 p.m. I'd either go straight to a late afternoon class, or more often, I'd go to the gym for a bit, then shower, have a snack, and head to an evening class. I'd do homework and chores on Saturday or Sunday.

A coworker, a friend of mine, asked how I did it all. She had a more demanding job than I did, but she felt that her one full-time job gave her a pretty full plate. She said she couldn't imagine getting a master's degree on top of that, and she also struggled to find the time and energy to make it to the gym regularly while still maintaining relationships and a social life.

Now, I won't glorify this time period. There were plenty of times I didn't do the reading for a class. In fact, I have a lot of regrets about my education experiences because I didn't focus enough on school. And I didn't exactly have a healthy relationship with my gym habits either. It wasn't a perfect situation.

But I wish I could bottle the discipline I had back then. Basically, to answer my friend's question, I got it done day by day. My primary responsibilities were scheduled for me (work + school), and I pretty much stuck to a schedule for everything else too. I looked at a day as an opportunity to accomplish something, and I looked at down time as a space that could be filled with something useful. I never felt burned out, nor did I feel that I wasn't getting enough time to relax. In those days, I spent my fair share of time lounging around at the beach, shopping, seeing movies, and having drinks with friends.

Now? If I have one appointment outside my normal schedule, it's like my world comes crashing down. Nothing is clean, and I put off silly little tasks for months when I could finish them in a few minutes. I avoid my responsibilities.

In part, it's a backlash against the bad habit I had of feeling like I didn't deserve the joys I had in my life or that I needed to work off every privilege I had. But the pendulum has swung, and now I just feel indulgent. I'm trying to develop better habits now and get back into the day-as-opportunity mindset.

For example, I'm trying to grade papers a little a time, so I don't end up with grading marathons. I'm trying to hit the gym to lift weights or swim at least once a week. I tidy up around the apartment when I have a spare minute. 

I remind myself: Small increments, daily routines. That's what it's all about.

Photo: Daily Routine - Making the Bed by Chiew Pang, Flickr

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Do What You Love Cult

Pretty much every good idea I've had lately has come from Austin Kleon on Twitter. Let's be real about that. 

This time it's: 

Do What You Love cult sucks for 2 reasons:

1) makes folks w/ bill-paying day jobs feel like shit

2) guilts the self-employed into overwork

I'd also add a third reason: It makes people who don't know what they love feel like shit for not pursuing it (Hint: That's me). 

I actually do believe people should do things they love and pursue their passions, but that's different than the common interpretation that people should do for a living that one thing they love.

Doing things you love might mean taking walks, playing with your kids, painting, or watching your favorite TV show. There are lots of things that can bring people joy. It doesn't mean you're going to do it every second of the day or that you're going to make money doing it. 

So, yes, do what you love--as often as possible for as long as it brings you joy. If you can do it for a living, great. If not, that's also great because it can be your outlet when you come home from work for the day. 

But don't confuse love with integrity and purpose.  

For example, I feel like I'm supposed to say that I love teaching. Some days I love teaching; some days I don't like it very much. But whether I love it or not doesn't matter. I know I'm doing good work, so I go back to it day after day.

I believe any activity, paid or otherwise, should be done with integrity and purpose. People shouldn't sell their values, and there should be a reason behind their actions. When you can look at what you've done and know that you contributed something meaningful--even if the process wasn't very glamorous or emotionally fulfilling--then you've done good work.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Taking the Wind Outta My Sails

It's finally and unrelentingly raining now, which is compounding my already downer mood. I've been ignoring my blog lately because I wasn't feeling very inspired. I feel scattered. But here's what's up:

1. Job hunting: Applying to jobs is exhausting. Before I commit to applying somewhere, I check out the housing prices in the area and what people say about living there. I've applied to about 15 full-time teaching positions in the past six weeks, and for now anyway, I don't have anything to show for it except 15 cover letters that all say roughly the same thing. If I'm going to hear anything, I imagine I'll hear something this month or next. I keep wondering what my odds are. I really don't know. I'm likely up against hundreds of applicants for each position.

2. Other job plans: If I don't get any good news this month or next, I need to have a plan for the rest of the year. I wish I didn't have to plan in two different directions. Focus!

3. Knitting: Again, I'm not feeling terribly inspired. I'm restarting a headband I thought I finished last night but ended up being too big. Still wondering what I'm going to do with all the yarn I'm getting from my thrifted sweaters. I have more stuff I need to put up in my Etsy shop. 

4. Yoga: I'm taking six classes every week now (two 50-minute classes MWF). I never thought I'd ever be one of those people who does yoga, but now I am. It's funny how I always imagined "those people" to be. They must really have their shit together. No, we don't. We just take yoga classes. 

5. Half-heartedly working towards Project 333. More on this later. 

I hope to check in again soon. Take care, everyone.

Friday, January 31, 2014

CEOs of Nothing + The Next Big Thing

Since our road trip, and my realization that the break did me a world of good, I've felt myself saying, "I need a break from this," whenever I'm doing just about anything. It's definitely time for some changes.

For some years, I've been following people online who've left their more socially acceptable lives in pursuit of a back-to-basics life.

I was attracted to their freedom, but I've noticed one group who I might call CEOs of Nothing. I'm sorry to say it, but they don't really do anything. Their stories are all kind of similar: they left their cushy life in a big move and are now living unconventionally, and boy oh boy, are they happy.

They survive by writing e-books about their big move or becoming life coaches. Their big move was their big contribution; it wasn't a jumping off point for something even greater. Others' previous experiences have allowed them to become consultants or freelancers. 

They seem to be not just resting on their laurels but building empires on them, and I'm over it. I don't fault them for making a buck, but ultimately, their lives aren't models for how I can live. We can't all write e-books for a living.

And I'm not saying people shouldn't try different lifestyles for their own sake, but how much can we celebrate living in voluntary poverty when that's the norm for much of this world? 

On the brighter side, the message still holds true: Less is more. There are people living basically socially acceptable lives out there who manage to live by that message. Some of them work full time, some work freelance; some of them live in small spaces, some live in larger homes. It's a spectrum.

I need a break from my unfocused life. My quest for freedom hasn't been particularly liberating after all. 

I'm going to focus on the one thing I do best and the one thing I actually get recognition for, and that's teaching. I'm applying to full-time teaching jobs, and I'm going to put all my effort into being the best teacher I can be. No more side jobs unless they'll help me further this professional goal. The good news is that my job entails a lot of dabbling, so I don't think I'll be getting dull anytime soon.

As always, thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

8 Good Things

1. Jarritos mugs. I'm still kind of obsessed with them, but I don't own any yet. I almost bought one at the Indian Market in Denver, but they only had one, and that seemed a little unfair for a household with two adults. Anyway, I stole the photo above from a Facebook post because when I saw it, I immediately loved everything about it.

2. Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe's. It's surprisingly filling. Pictured above is the grains mix with sauteed leeks, celery, and pears, topped with some dried cranberries. I believe I added in some rosemary and sage too.

3. My husband's guacamole. I had no idea he could make guacamole, let alone the world's best guacamole. Now I guess I have to stay married to him.

4. Celery with hummus (or guacamole). I've never been much of a celery stick person, but recently I found myself with hummus to finish up and nothing to dip in it except celery. It was magical combination.

5. Vacation! Before our trip, I hadn't left California for 3 years, and I hadn't had complete time off for a long time either. I realized how much I needed to take time off and see different things. My plan for the trip was to sleep, read, and knit, and I'm happy to report that I did all of those things in abundance.

6. My favorite cafe (to work in). It's a strange place--it's adjacent to and shares a lobby with an indie movie theater, so it smells like popcorn in there, but their wifi passwords are amusing.

7. Swimming. I got back into the pool today for the first time in a long time. It felt great (despite people saying that my gym's pool is gross--whatever--I don't think about it).

8. Finishing Star Trek: Voyager on Netflix. That makes it the fourth Star Trek series I've watched in its entirety. And I'm officially a huge nerd. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Office Hours

I kind of hate home offices. Am I the only one?

Oh, sure, they look cute.

I could get so much done here. And mason jars!
A chair with wheels!
Seriously, I love crap like this. The problem, though, is that if I ever had a room like these ones, the following would happen:

1. I'd never use it.
2. I'd use it, but I'd sit on the floor, spreading all my papers out everywhere, disregarding my nice desk and storage compartments.
3. I'd force myself to sit in the god damned chair, but I'd be so distracted by my own daydreaming that I wouldn't get anything done.

In the last year, I've grown quite fond of working in cafes. For now that works, but it's not always convenient. There may come a time when I need a home office or when I have my own office at work (imagine!), and I'd like to figure out a way to be productive in a more traditional setting. So, my question is: what is it about the cafe experience that is conducive to getting work done?
  • A big, flat area for spreading out all my stuff so I can see it and reach for it easily.
  • An open room that doesn't make me feel isolated but where I won't be interrupted by others.
  • A space that's slightly uncomfortable (I do not work well while sitting on the couch. I think maybe the discomfort is like a built-in signal for a break). 
  • A space that isn't completely devoted to me where others are likely to come and go around me. 
  • A space where I can have a beverage of choice. 
I'm not sure I can duplicate these things elsewhere. Basically, I want a place that's both open and private where I can drink a coffee or a beer as the mood strikes me.

The thing about being at home is that I'm home. I'm not at work. I don't particularly want to have an office at home because home is where I do home things, not work things. I dislike deliberately separating myself from the other human and cat I share my home with because they are the reason I go home every day. It feels like I'm being sent to my room.

The thing about being at work in an office is that the spaces are made for nobody in particular. They're not made for all people; they're made for no one. What person actually prefers being surrounded by colleagues for hours on end and taupe? Cafes are made to attract people; office spaces assume that you have to go there. 

In the end, I don't think I'll ever want a home office. And if I must have an office at work (if it's on a college campus), I imagine I'll use it as storage mostly and do my real work elsewhere. A separate room labeled as "my office" or even "the library" is a beautiful concept, but it's not for me. I'm just not wired that way.

Tell me, am I alone in my disliking of offices? Where are you most productive?