A personal initiative to live more appreciatively

Monday, April 30, 2012

#153: My Favorite Poet

Billy Collins...


Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday,

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

#152: My Favorite Poem

As National Poetry Month draws to a close...

(Poem #36) the lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an eletric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


- Don Marquis

Sunday, April 29, 2012

#151: Muscle Memory

This past week my running was completely derailed by the untimely synchronicity of a vigilante spring cold and the exhaustion of state test proctoring. My weekday runs were replaced by weekday naps. While the naps were lovely in and of themselves, I worried about the lack of training with only two weeks to go until my next half marathon. But yesterday Erinn and I headed out together for a 7 miler, and I felt totally fine. One of the definite benefits of being a long distance runner for as long as I have been is muscle memory; my legs are accustomed to milage, and I can hit the road after a decently long time off and my body is none the wiser.

#150: My Nook

Don't get me wrong, an e-reader will never replace the experience of holding a physical book in my hands, I will always be a supporter and patron of bookstores, and one of the places I feel most at home is at a good library. But today I am feeling thankful for my Nook.

Kegan bought me my Nook for Christmas 2010. I was undecided whether or not I wanted to own one, for fear it would somehow make me less a supporter of my aforementioned reading preferences. Once I  realized those were tenets I will faithfully abide by and always hold in reverence over the e-reader, I started to have a little love affair with my tablet. We downloaded a subscription to Newsweek on it; it's really affordable, is the only way I'd regularly read that publication, and is eco-friendly: win-win-win. An e-reader is great for travel. And today I experienced another reason I love the Nook: on-demand books. I finished the library-borrowed book I was reading and became in need of something to fill a few more hours of my afternoon: moments later I had a new book downloaded, and I never had to leave the couch.

As a child and teenager I did not have home access to modern technology. Growing up without it has made me, as an adult, quite appreciative of the many ways in which technology has become a constant fixture in my life. There are of course drawbacks to this, but they fall to the wayside when I can cozy up with a Nook book. My lazy, literate self celebrates!

#149: Erin

Some of the most wonderful people, in my view, are those you can refer to as "old souls". My four-year-old niece Erin might be the person I know who best embodies that quality, and it is one of the multitude of reasons why I love her so much.

I babysat for Erin and her little sister Megan, my brother John's daughters, last night. While most of the fun came from our viewing of Lady and the Tramp, rounds of Candy Land and playing with their dollhouse, I was fully entertained by the wisdom that exudes in my niece. Erin and Kegan had a lively conversation about their favorite fruits (Erin's is watermelon, because it's especially enjoyable on a hot summer day. Her words). She also instructed him how to properly deal with his allergies (don't rub your eyes, that only makes it worse; just blink them rapidly) and presented me with nail clippers after I helped her brush her teeth. I was a bit taken back by that (little kids' nails are so short!) and clarified that she wanted me to cut her nails. "No, I think you should cut yours." And she's right...mine are due for a trim!

This is not a case so much of "kids say the darndest things", but an example of how my niece is an old soul. I remember holding her in the hospital when she was born, and turning to my brother and sister-in-law and saying, "She looks like she has a lot to say." Erin has proven that prescient insight to be true. Although she's actually reserved and initially shy, and in that sense totally reminds me of myself as a child, when she speaks, she commands you listen. Last night I laid with her as she and Megan were falling asleep. They share a trundle bed, with Megan on the top and Erin on the bottom. Megan's hand kept hanging off the side of the bed, and Erin could tell she was reaching out for her big sister. Erin, in her tiny, delicate voice, whispered, "I can hold your hand, Megan," and held her sister's hand as she drifted off to sleep. I smiled in the darkness, overwhelmed by the wisdom and warmth of my wonderful niece. She reminds me a lot of my mom. I see a lot of my mom in Erin, physically and spiritually. I've seen pictures of my mom from her childhood, and Erin looks a lot like her. But she also has my mom's spirit-- quiet, kind, gentle and smart. I am so thankful for Erin, and thankful for my brother John and sister-in-law Stacie who are nurturing the development of this dynamic little person. She may already have an old soul, but I love watching her grow up.

My favorite picture of my ever-classy niece

Thursday, April 26, 2012

#148: 30 Rock

30 Rock just aired its live show. I think I'll be laughing about it for days. A 'Zou Bisou Bisou' allusion? Incredible.

With an inordinate amount of television stations now in existence, it seems like so much of what airs is insipid, especially in regards to what qualifies as comedy these days. And then there's 30 Rock.

Aside from the fact that Tina Fey might be my favorite celebrity (yes, even more than Tori Spelling), there is so much to appreciate about 30 Rock. Liz Lemon is the 21st century Everywoman. The writing is hysterically smart, clearly valued and held to a high standard, and caters to a smart audience. The actors, as they proved tonight, are incredibly talented. And the best aspect, it never fails to make me laugh, hard and loud.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

#147: Biggest Loser Nights

My sister and I make an effort to watch one of our favorite tv shows, The Biggest Loser, together. We've done this for the past two seasons of the show. Aside from enjoying the show itself, I am so appreciative that my sister and I get this time together. It can be a challenge to catch up amidst our busy work week, so it's wonderful to know that we're going to be able to see each other during it. I love having the time to talk to her and she's usually guaranteed to make me laugh at some point. I'm so thankful that we have the opportunity to do this regularly; it's become one of the highlights of my week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

#146: Greg Laswell

The first song I ever heard by Greg Laswell was his haunting cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun".  Any man who can turn one of the peppiest songs of all time into a miserable ballad is a man after my own heart! The day after hearing that cover I downloaded all of his albums and have seen him live many times.

Whenever I hear Greg's music I think to myself, "How is this man not more famous?" And yet, sometimes I selfishly want to keep him my little secret. John Green wrote in his novel The Fault In Our Stars about how passionately you can feel about certain books, and if you alter his quote to be about music, that is how I feel about Greg Laswell: "Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together until and unless all humans read this book. And then there are books...which you can't tell people about. Books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal." For me, Greg's music is so special and rare and mine that advertising him does feel like a betrayal in some ways....unlike any other musician I listen to, his music reaches me on such a personal level that sharing it is like giving away a piece of myself.

That being said, Greg's newest album, Landline, was released today, and I wish him the best of luck and success with it. I've downloaded it and am listening to it as I write this. It's a different vibe than his other albums, and with any new music it will take time to grow on me. But it inevitably will, because at his core Laswell is a masterful singer and songwriter. He's one of those people about whom I think, "Thank you for being."

"How The Day Sounds" (Live), My favorite Laswell song...and it's surprisingly a happy one!

Greg Laswell! And me!

Monday, April 23, 2012

#145: Conscientious Students

My students are in standardized test phase. On Friday I reminded my students that my room pencil sharpeners are not top quality, so they should plan to bring sharpened pencils or a handheld sharpener. Many of my students came in proudly with their handheld sharpeners, and one had a stockpile of 24 sharpened pencils (because you know, 23 backups). But one really sweet kid brought his electric sharpener for our testing room to use! Gestures like that by my students (especially in light of us beginning to read Lord of the Flies) are always uplifting.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

#144: Earth Day

There was nothing particularly eco-friendly about my day today, and I'm regretting it. Next year I plan to observe Earth Day, because the idea of Earth Day is admirable. I am an environmentalist at heart; although after watching No Impact Man this past summer I realize I will never be extreme, I do believe in lessening our individual footprints and going green to the best of our ability. Earth Day reminds us all that we should celebrate and make efforts to conserve the natural world, and as someone who wants to leave as good of a planet, if not better, for future generations, for that I am thankful.

#143: Rainy Day

I realized midday that I was complaining a lot about the rain. In my mind I was imagining all that I could be doing with a sunny Sunday, and was very Debbie Downer when I ran the only errand I had to do-- a quick in and out of Target-- and was uncomfortable getting even the least bit rained upon. But when my negative attitude started to wear on me, I realized I needed to garner the power of this project and look to what I could be thankful for about this rainy day. So here it is: since we've been in a drought, this rain is desperately needed. In honor of Earth Day, I'm glad plant life is getting much needed precipitation. While I would've loved all of my imagined outdoor hours, I enjoyed being able to lay around in sweatpants and catch up on my DVR (without the guilt of wasting sunshine). My car is getting a much-needed washing, free of charge. And, as cliche as it may be, I'm thankful that rainy days make me more appreciative of the sunny ones.

Friday, April 20, 2012

#142: Pedicures

A definite perk of being a girl: pedicures. I love when I get to go to a nail salon for a pedicure. They're so relaxing (except when I fear I will kick my pedicurist in the face when I'm ticklish) and I appreciate having time to sit in solitude and read gossip magazines. Malorie and I were just talking about investing in happiness, and how money spent on oneself to that end is worthwhile. Pedicures would fall in that category for me; I'm thankful to be able to get them regularly...especially as it's officially flip flop season which for me will last for the next six months.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

#141: Sweet Brown Video

I wish I had seen this weeks ago when I, myself, had bronchitis. Regardless, this is damn funny.

No Time For Bronchitis

#140: Conversations with Malorie

Malorie and I had a lot of time in the car together yesterday. It was wonderful because we hadn't talked in a while, so it was nice to catch up. As usual we covered a myriad of random topics & laughed pretty hard at ourselves. I always love talking to Malorie. When we were assigned to be roommates freshman year we spent hours on the phone the summer before moving to TCNJ and actually meeting one another. She's insightful, an amazing listener, tells a great story and we entertain our shared penchant for self analysis.  Our friendship began through late night conversations, and to this day I am grateful for each and every one of our talks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

#139: Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

So.Good. I wanted a quick dinner tonight, but I took my time once I started eating this because it was delicious. Love a good meal!

Monday, April 16, 2012

#138: Wegmen's

Monday is my standard grocery shopping day. The idea of grocery shopping always annoys me: it's just another chore, a roadblock between work and settling in at home. But then I get to Wegmen's and my whole attitude changes. There's something about that store that relaxes me in a way no other grocery store can. Who are we kidding? We know I've analyzed this. It's the smell of freshly baked bread, the subtle, calm lighting, their extensive whole foods and organic aisles...which I browse in more than I shop in, visualizing my ideal self who would patron that section of the store only... until I head off to get a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Wegmen's is everything a grocery store should be. I always enjoy my time there, despite the dread I tend to feel having to go there.

And beyond Wegmen's being a straight up-awesome grocery store, I also factor in the recognition that I should be grateful to live in a society where that is all I have to do in order to fill my fridge and cabinets with food. Although I often take for granted the many luxuries and privileges of living where and when I live, I do regularly remind myself to be thankful of them. Due to the aforementioned "dreading" of having to go grocery shopping this reminder is usually accompanied by guilt and self rebuke, but hey-- that's what the Ben & Jerry's is for!

Friday, April 13, 2012

#137: The Hunger Games

I read The Hunger Games years ago, before it was a phenomenon, after the fabulous librarian at my school, Kim, book talked it to my kids. It is easily one of the most engaging Young Adult novels I have ever read; I know a book is memorable when I have distinct memories of my reading experience. When I read The Hunger Games I would stay up much later than intended, unable to put the book down with Collins' cliffhanger chapter endings. When the book ended and I learned there was to be a sequel I was thrilled. The wait to Catching Fire was tough; the wait for Mockingjay was excruciating. In fact, the day Mockingjay was released I was vacationing in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I left the timeshare to drive to the nearest bookstore to make sure that I had my copy as soon as I could, and read most of it on the beach that week.

I'm thankful for this trilogy personally, because it provided me with so much entertainment. Professionally, it's a series I know I can rely on to put in kids' hands, and they are usually just as hooked as I was. Today my team took our kids to see the movie, and it's just another added reason why I appreciate this franchise. Many kids were excited to read it, and I think a lot of adults are reading it because of the movie, as well. The more well-read of a society we are, the better.

I am also thankful Josh Hutcherson looks like a ten-year-younger version of Kegan. I didn't exactly notice this until the end of the movie, and then my friend and coworker Jackie confirmed it. I might need to go see the movie a 3rd time...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

#136: Papers Graded

Grading is the most time intensive aspect of my job. On an individual basis I do enjoy grading. It's fulfilling to see the finished products of my students' work, to see how far they've advanced. However, when you're faced with hours upon hours of grading, it's easy to stop seeing the forest for the trees.

Today each of my classes were working independently producing writing pieces. I knew at the end of the day I would have 135 to grade, as well as about 30 student memoirs carried over from before spring break. Rather than hem and haw over how and when I would get all of it done, I threw myself into the process. While my students were occupied with their work I dove into the prior block's stack of papers, and kept grading through my students' lunch and my prep period. When the bell rang I was tired, but with only a set of compositions left, I stayed until each one was read and graded.

As I put on my coat to come home I looked at the five neat stacks of graded papers, ready to be returned to my students. It often feels good to tackle a project and see it all the way through in a single sitting. I'm grateful to now have a grading-free weekend and to have avoided the mental stress that comes with an unfinished project. I am so thankful to have the work completed, to bask in the accomplished feeling of success and productivity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

#135: My Local Track

In order to begin the transition process to Vibrams (yes, I drank the Kool Aid) I ran today at my local track.  I am thankful I live close enough to a nice, well maintained track. For a runner, this is key. Although it hasn't been a focus during this particular training program, I still aspire to do speed work; the track is where all of that work will happen. Running there today inspired me to dream of the future progress my running will make. Since this is the track of the high school I attended, it also reminded me of my running past. As I  jogged I could almost see the ghost of my younger self, running the same laps in practices and meets. In my running history, this track is a crossroads of my past, present and future; a place where dreams are made of, one 1600 at a time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

#134: A Day To Myself

This has been a lovely Spring Break filled with lots of plans and activities. But, on my last day off, I took a day for myself. I didn't really do anything special: ran errands, spent some time reading, worked on school work and reviewed books for readology. And yet it was a great day. It was a reminder how important it is to schedule time for oneself, just to be by oneself. Knowing what my week was going to be like, I knew I wanted my last day to be free of plans so that I could fully recharge before getting back to the grind. I am so thankful I kept that promise to myself, and fully intend to schedule these days every so often.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

#133: Easter

As the priest said during today's homily, "Because one of us made it, we all make it."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

#132: Lululemon Manifesto

The mall that my sister and I shopped at yesterday had a Lululemon store, which sells athletic wear. They have very nice running clothes and I was excited to get a new track jacket. However, I am equally excited to now own a Lululemon bag with the company "manifesto" printed on it. I saw these reusable bags behind the counter before I found the jacket, read a few of the statements, and said aloud, "I want that bag!" My sister scanned it over herself and said, "That is a very 'you' bag."

The manifesto is a number of positive statements about health and well-being, and I personally believe in most of them (although some are oddly worded- such as 'children are the orgasm of life'. Awkward.)
Some of my favorite are:
-Your outlook in life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.
-That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least.
-Sweat once a day to regenerate your skin.

I straight-up-love reusable bags. But this one is especially appreciated, as every time I use it I will internalize these inspirational truths.

Lululemon Manifesto

Friday, April 6, 2012

#131: Getaways

My sister and I went away last night for a quick getaway. We stayed overnight at a hotel and then spent a day shopping. When both of us mentioned our plans to a few friends they thought it was unnecessary, and arguably excessive, that we were staying in a hotel just to go to a mall. But I am so thankful that we did it-- and thankful for getaways, in general. Overall I think it's important to take time for yourself, and while full vacations can be a challenge to orchestrate and fund, it's very easy to break away for a mini-trip. I'm grateful for this getaway, specifically, because it was very nice to have quality time with my sister.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

#130: Katelynn

Katelynn and I met at the start of freshman year of college. In a story I recounted just last night, she made a snap judgement about me based on that first meeting: "You were wearing a green striped polo, orange zip-up track jacket, and those beat-up khaki colored flip flops with the little holes...being a social butterfly. I just figured there was no way we'd be friends." I am so thankful that judgement was a complete fallacy, as Katelynn is now, in reality, one of my best friends.

We actually became fast friends, despite my questionable clothing choices (and looking back on it, really, what was that outfit?) She was virtually my third roommate, as she spent lots of time in my freshman dorm room with Malorie and me. I would regularly come back and find her napping on our floor or watching Trading Spaces, and I always loved finding her in 310. We joined forces as an impressive beer pong team, running the tables at parties and clenching victories with prayers, adopting the name 'Team Jesus' (blasphemous, maybe...but I am pretty sure Jesus is down with beer pong). She was my partner in crime that year, climbing over fences and posting strange magazine clippings we photocopied throughout the ten floors of our dorm building. I learned very early on in our friendship a reality that remains true to this day: any time spent with Katelynn is a guaranteed good time.

We lived together for the rest of college with the rest of our best friends. Like those girls Katelynn became a staple in my life, and in many ways, a force in it as well. We've been through a lot together. We've seen each other each through the loss of a parent and personal struggles, cheered each other on through marathons and discovered the absolute wonderfulness that is hot sauce beer together. One of her qualities I most admire is that she tells it like it is: I know Katelynn will always be truthful and give me her honest opinion, which is why I turn to her for advice regularly. She is fiercely loyal, unbelievably intelligent, beautiful on the inside and out, kind, and a friend who would be there for you in any capacity, at any time. It's been nearly ten years since we've become friends, and sometimes I still catch myself thinking back to that first meeting. I wonder, "What if we hadn't become friends?"I cannot even imagine that, because my life has been defined in so many ways by my friendship with Katelynn. She has added so much strength and levity to it, and I am a better person because I know her.

As we recounted our college shenanigans last night, Katelynn said one of her favorite stories about me was how I saved up snapple caps for her over winter break our freshman year. I was so excited to give them to her, I barreled down our hall with all of them in my hands, and naturally tripped and face planted. Snapple caps went everywhere, and Kate came out to find me sprawled on the floor laughing hysterically, the sight of which naturally caused her to break up, as well. In a lot of ways, I think that is a metaphor for our friendship: I would give and do anything for her happiness, as I know she would for me; when I fall flat on my face (which I often do), she's always there to pick me up; and no matter what, we'll always be laughing together, obnoxiously and loud.

We may never know who knocked over the eggs, but I will always know that in Katelynn, I have a buffa for life.

Buffa Love

#129: Born to Run

In light of the passing of Micah True I decided to reread Born to Run. Author Christopher McDougall's previous work had a common theme: endurance. As a war correspondent and sports journalist, McDougall witnessed men and women in the throes of feats of greatness, and yet had a nagging Achilles' heel (pun intended) of his own perpetually on his mind: why did his foot hurt?

McDougall proclaimed himself "unbreakable" throughout his career: paricipating in the semi-extreme sports he was covering, surviving in three war zones and a stint in the African badlands. And yet training for a marathon left him beaten and broken. It didn't add up-- and McDougall began investigating the secrets to ultramarathoners who could run insane distances without injury. This investigation leads him to the Tarahumaras-- the Running People-- a tribe of Mexican Indians who run far, fast and injury-free, and Micah True, more intimately known as Caballo Blanco, the American ultrarunner who followed them into the Copper Canyons to run and live amongst them.  McDougall's work reads as fiction, introducing these seemingly larger-than-life athletes, and weaving the science and philosophy of running within a narrative. It's a story of trial and triumph, pursuit and passion, running and redemption.

I am so thankful for this book. It glorifies running, and reiterates how lucky I am to be a part of this sport. It's inspired me with its message, about both running and life at large. The best books are the ones that make us look within ourselves for univeral truths, reminds us of our values, motivate and change us at our core-- and Born to Run does just that. I recommend it to anyone and everyone-- runner or not-- as a testament of what it is we are capable, and what it is we are living for.

#128: Reservoir Run

With the luxury of time this Spring Break, I was able to drive to a local reservoir for my run rather than prattle around town as I usually do. There is a five mile trail loop that is amongst my favorite places to run; I am so thankful that it exists and that I was able to spend some time there again this week.

Trail running is rejuvenating. Your legs feel better pounding out miles on dirt rather than concrete, and it's peaceful to leave behind the cacophony of suburbia as you head into the woods. I'm not the most adventurous of people-- so this reservoir is a great medium. It provides the serene atmosphere of forest running, but it's a flat, well-maintained path with water fountains and bathrooms just off the course--- and I can't get lost! All wonderful attributes of a great place to run. I looped this reservoir many times when training for my marathon on both a 20 and a 22 mile run, and I am so thankful for all tracks I've laid there.

Reservoir Radiance
(photo courtesy of Beckie)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

#127: Spring Break

One of the major perks of teaching is the built-in vacations. Tomorrow is the official first day of my Spring Break, and I have been looking forward to it for quite some time. I am always disheartened by the often cited fact that many Americans do not take all of their vacation days off of work. Even if you aren't going away on a literal vacation, I still think it is so important to take time off from your job. Our lives can be so dominated by our work, it's valuable to make an effort to not work. We deserve the break; we deserve the chance to make time for the other facets of our lives. And, ironically, I often find I am a better teacher for taking breaks from my teaching life-- as most people are probably also rejuvenated for their jobs once they get some time away from it. So, on a Sunday evening when I would normally be winding up for my work week ahead, I am appreciative that I am, instead, beginning to wind down for a well-deserved, much anticipated week off.

#126: Beer Fest

This weekend my friends and I went to Beer Fest- an exhibition of both independent and commercial breweries. It was a blast. We sampled numerous new beers, had a chance to try yet-to-be-released brews from Blue Moon and Sam Adams, and even partook in a silent dance party! Beyond my enjoyment of the festival, itself, I love that it presented a reason to spend a day and night with my friends Beckie and Katelynn. It felt like a total throwback to college. It's always nice to spend a carefree day, sharing a beer (or multiple 2 oz samplings of beer!) with your best friends.