Thursday, December 22, 2011

The shortest day of the year

For those of you who know me, you know that I really love Christmas. I try to restrain myself (well, maybe not really), but as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I dive right into Christmas - the tree, the decorations, the peppermint flavored things, the music! Part of it is because I find that December is a super busy month, especially in grad school, and especially in the mental health field. So if I don't get into the holiday spirit early, it feels like the whole season just blows past me, and I miss the whole thing! And what can be sadder than "missing" Christmas, and having to wait a whole year for it to come back?

Well, ok, there are a lot of things that are sadder. But that's part of the reason I love Christmas...It tends to be a very "giving" time of year - people are more likely to make donations and do charitable activities. How can you not love a holiday that inspires people to be more generous? (Of course, I know that many people have really valid reasons for not being excited about the holidays. The Christmas season tends to magnify everything, good or bad. And when you've lost someone, or are generally not feeling cheery, the holidays can seem like a personal attack.) But I just really love to hear stories about people acting in kindness to make someone else's life better.

I read this really heart-warming story about "layaway angels" - people who donated money to pay off layaway accounts for kids' toys and clothing on layaway at K-Mart. One man came in to make a payment, and was told that everything was paid for. He started to cry, because he knew that he wasn't going to be able to pay off his kids' presents before Christmas. Some people made big donations, and others were small, but seemed to be extremely meaningful no matter the size of the donation. What a wonderful holiday story!

In a story that's more close to home for me...I've been working with a kiddo whose family doesn't have a lot of financial resources. She's been having a rough year, and all this girl really wants for Christmas is an American Girl doll...but we all know that there is no way her mom is going to get one for her. Our nurse at school took it upon herself to order one, and a lot of the teachers have pitched in to pay for it. The nurse told us that she "accidentally ordered the wrong one for her niece," but I'm pretty certain she just ordered it out of the goodness of her heart. To avoid the complication of knowing that a teacher bought her a pricey gift, our school resource officer is going to deliver it to the girl's house as a mystery gift from "Santa." I can just see her face light up when she gets it! I think, for her, this is really going to feel like a "Christmas miracle," and I can't help but feeling pretty warm and fuzzy inside. :)

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy Solstice! Whether you feel like celebrating or not this year, I send my love and wishes to you for peace this season!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A hiatus, apparently, but I'm back now!

Oh, hello there!

I know we are all surprised, but it turns out that when you are in grad school, doing a practicum, working part-time, AND trying to have a life, it can be pretty tough to keep up with writing in a blog. I know, I know - crazy talk, right?!

Well! Tomorrow is my last day at the Middle School until I come back from break in January, and it is the only thing standing between me and VACATION! It's been a weird, slow, unwinding process as my schedule has dwindled from approximately 60 hours of work a week to 20-ish. It has been a relief to not be worried about papers and projects, but when you're a crazy person like me, it can feel weird to not be worrying about something! So that's when I start making things up in my head to worry about, and that's when Alex has to hand me a glass of wine and tell me to stop being a fool.

So, I don't really have a topic for this post, but I wanted to jump back in the saddle and get the momentum going again. Hopefully after a few days of relaxation and Christmas bliss, I will have the brain juices flowing enough to write a coherent, interesting post!

Until then, here is a beautiful picture that is completely unrelated to anything I just wrote, but I happen to like it, so it's going in! Thank you, Yoga Journal!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"No child left...without a big behind."

In the car this morning, I was listening to Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me on NPR, and they made a crack about how apparently now pizza counts as a vegetable in school lunches. vegetable?

I'm not sure I can name anybody who doesn't like pizza. And made a certain way (i.e. with actual vegetables as a topping, lots of tomato sauce, a small amount of cheese, and a whole grain crust) pizza can actually be relatively healthy. But I've seen the pizza they serve in school lunches...It's not exactly vegetable-like.

For the record, I'm not even sure that pizza should be removed from the menu entirely. I've got a kiddo in the middle school who is on the spectrum, and that is the ONLY thing he will eat. Plus, half the time, he picks the fatty cheese off it anyway. I feel disinclined to take away the only thing he will eat for lunch. (But then the other part of me has a little bit of the tough love attitude...If it's not a choice, eventually the kids will get hungry enough to make another choice!)

I've been in meetings with the principal and vice principal at my school where they scoffed at all the new regulations about school lunches and how it's ridiculous what they can and can't offer kids at lunch, or how they can't have vending machines anymore. Again, I'm not sure that legislation and policy changes are the best way to tackle the problem of childhood obesity. (Plus, I recently saw a study that said kids drink about as much soda whether their schools have vending machines or not). But something has to be done. A major argument of the principal was that it doesn't matter what the schools do, because the parents will just give the kids junk at home, or send them into school with junk food. The message he was delivering was that it doesn't matter what the school does, the parents have all the power. Well...That's a little defeatist for me! How can we sit around the table and say that what we do in schools doesn't matter? If we are honest with kids, and really teach them about food and about balance and moderation, there's a good chance that they will bring that information home to their parents. Most kids have a decent amount of sway over their parents...If the kids are home begging for swiss chard, then I think there's a chance their parents will make some kind of change at home.

This also makes me think of the bit in Supersize Me, when they talk about an alternative school for kids with behavior issues in Wisconsin, and what a dramatic change they saw when they changed the food program in the school. I am skeptical that the food program was the ONLY thing that brought about these dramatic changes. I am pretty much never willing to believe that one thing can be a total remedy for any problem. It's likely that they also have a very strong positive behavior support plan, and other behavioral supports. But, I do think that what you eat has a strong effect on how you feel and how you act. Trust me, you don't want to be around me when I've come down off a sugar high.

Plus, after working with adolescents who struggled with obesity, I have a much greater appreciation for just how difficult it is to lose weight once you have gained it. I think the goal should always be prevention-focused. Let's serve kids healthy foods now, so they can feel better and learn better, and be able to enjoy all kinds of foods in moderation, without feeling guilty.

And seriously, guys? Pizza does not count as a vegetable!

Friday, October 7, 2011

A quick update

I'm a sucker for cute animal photos, and of course bullying is a hot topic in the education world these days. A more substantial post to come, but for now...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

An average of 4.5 years

A wonderful friend of mine, who works as a special education teacher in Brooklyn, wrote in her blog, that when she finishes this year (her fifth year teaching), she will have outlasted 50% of her peers in the field. I thought...can that be right? And then another good friend who works as a para-professional in a special ed school, posted this article from CNN. New teachers only remain in the field for an average of 4.5 years?

It seems to me that it might take about that long just to get to a point of being well-established and not feeling like a "new teacher" anymore. In the ethics books I'm reading for my School Psych seminar, it says that it takes about 10 years to reach "expert" status, so I'd think it takes about the first 4 or 5 years to leave "novice" and enter a sort of intermediate stage.

These statistics are incomplete in the sense that I don't know if teachers are leaving and entering a related field, or how much they invested in their training to become a teacher in the first place - I don't think every state requires teachers to have a masters degree, or you have a certain amount of time to get it after beginning teaching. It just seems sad to me, as I am investing so much time and money to become a School Psychologist, that after all that, I would leave the field after only 4.5 years? There must be something pretty darn extreme going on there to drive people out so quickly.

The CNN article said that many teachers cited parents as the reason for leaving the profession. First, this freaked me out, because as a School Psychologist, I will be expected to have more than the usual amount of contact with parents. But second, I wondered...why? Why are parents not respecting their kids' teachers? And why are teachers not prepared for dealing with parents? In theory, we should all be partners. We all are advocates for children, and we all want these kids to succeed. We really are on the same team. So why can't we all get along?

One suspicion I have, is that after a few crazy people go off on us, we will start to expect all parents to be crazy. (This happens a lot with arguments between me and Alex. He will *expect* me to be mad about something, so he gets defensive in advance. Then, I get annoyed because he is acting defensive, and then his prediction of my anger becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Are we being defensive with parents from the beginning, thus *causing* them to act crazy towards us?

As there are crazy people in the world, I am sure that I will have to deal with many crazy parents. (Case and point: the messages left on my supervisor's voice mail, SCREAMING at her about how terrible she is at her job.) However, my main goal is to remember that people who act "crazy" often have a reason for doing so, and dealing with large bureaucratic systems (like schools) can be really stressful. I want to attempt to put a positive spin on everything. (Eg. "Wow, I'm so happy you brought an advocate to this meeting. It's great that you are so invested in your child's education." Rather than thinking, Oh god. An advocate. This is going to be a fight.)

I also just hope that I get to work with teachers and be able to contribute to a more positive climate at whatever school I work at. This is why I am starting an "after school yoga club" for the teachers at my practicum site! I'm hoping it'll help people to feel a little more calm and a little less stressed, and maybe then we'll all be able to stay in our chosen careers in education for more than 4.5 years! Here's hoping!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A note on suprises

Life is always full of little surprises. (And NO, I am not pregnant. That's not what I mean at all.) I mean that time and time again, in small ways, and occasionally in bigger ways, Life reminds us that we insignificant humans are not really in control of everything. Of course for those of us that are (semi?) control freaks, that can be hard. But on the other hand, what I am learning, is that it can also be quite the relief. Since we *can't* control everything, we are relieved of the burden of *trying* to control everything. It just won't work. Sometimes, we just need to surrender to what IS.

I have been listening to this yoga podcast, which has completely been the jackpot of all internet finds for me. This amazing woman Kelly posts podcasts of yoga classes that she records, and she wonderfully posts images of the sequence of postures, so you can scan through and see if it's a class that sounds good to you at that moment or not. Plus there are so many to choose from, one that is only 23 minutes when you are crunched for time, 40 min, 60 min, or a full 90 minute class. Plus, she is a FANTASTIC teacher. I love her. She doesn't annoy me at all, and I like her sequences most of the time. I have never had this dedicated of a home practice and it feels so wonderful. (Find her blog here.)

One of her classes is dedicated to that whole idea of surrendering to what is. When you get a flat tire, there's no use to moaning, Why did this happen to me? You need to just accept that the tire is flat, and it needs to get fixed. I was pleasantly surprised when I had this reaction on Monday...I came home to find that when Alex took Gatsby out, he got sprayed by a skunk!!!! Alex was expecting me to be mad that he "let" it happen...but all I could think was, Wow, I am so lucky this happened while I was at class and you already bathed him!!!! (But seriously, it SMELLED SO BAD....I can only imagine how the poor dog felt, having just been sprayed straight in the face.) Anyway..sometimes stuff happens. What can you do but just deal with it?

We had a *happy* surprise on Sunday. On our adventures out and about in the Miata, we happened across a farmstand. We pulled over to see what kind of goodies they had, and it turned out to be a TOMATO TASTING. We seriously got to taste 15+ varieties of tomatoes for free, on a gorgeous, warm, late summer day, after driving around in a convertible. Does life get any better?

Sometimes it is so much harder than it seems to roll with the punches, but sometimes, it's the easiest (and only) option!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An A+ teacher

Boston's NPR station (WBUR) ran a series back in May on what makes a "good" teacher. I did not get to hear it on the radio at that time, but I'm slowly sifting through the articles they have on their website and they are certainly very interesting. (Check 'em out here.) Now that most teachers and kiddos are back in school, including me! (Am I a teacher, or a kiddo? - well, both and neither. I'm an adult in the school system as a School Pyschology practicum student, and a student in the classroom at NEU....and hopefully a yoga teacher in the schools, if everything works out - fingers crossed!) One way or another I am "back to school." (This is where I emit a longing sigh for summer, and then move on sadly.)

So the whole reason the discussion of what makes a Good Teacher began in the first place is because studies show that teacher quality is more important to student learning than other things, such as school size, or student-to-teacher ratio. This is good, because even in schools where classrooms are overflowing, we can be hopeful that the students are not automatically doomed to failure from being stuck in a large class. But how do we define "good" or "quality" teaching?

One proposed method to determine if a teacher is "effective" is to rate them based on their students' test scores on standardized state tests, such as the MCAS in Massachusetts. In accordance with the No Child Left Behind act, schools should be striving to "proficiency" in subjects like Language Arts and Math anyway. Other states, like Massachusetts, require passing scores on these tests in order to receive a high school diploma. So everyone is under a lot of pressure to do well on these tests anyway, and now we are going to stake a teacher's job on them, too?

I have to say, as a budding School Psychologist, I am very interested in making data-based decisions and monitoring progress. However, putting such VERY high stakes on a One-Shot-Test situation is really a terrible idea. Obviously, teachers need to be evaluated via multiple methods, just as students do before big decisions are made. I don't think that anyone is proposing that test scores be the ONLY method of assessing a teacher, but something about it makes me a little uneasy. In one of the articles, a teacher asks, "How do you put a number on how much you love the kids?" You don't, and yet it is something that may be the magic ingredient to the kids feeling respected and valued as people: Love. My dad, who was a public school teacher for over 30 years, always says that the way to reach any kid, especially the ones who people think are "un-reachable," is just to love them. So simple.

And yet, is that asking too much? I'm not sure we ask more of any other profession than we ask of teachers, as far as giving so much of themselves personally to their job. We want them to go above and beyond always...but isn't that what makes people exceptional? Going above and beyond? If everyone was going above and beyond, that would become the average, the expectation. And yet, we ask for it.

I sat in on a class today with a *phenomenal* teacher. She teaches in a small classroom with 7th and 8th grade students who have language based learning disabilities. She has a standing offer with each student in the class to take them to Barnes and Noble and help them pick out a book right then and there, to encourage them to read. Out of her own pocket. She really is amazing, and she clearly LOVES her kids. But can we really ask that of EVERY teacher?

What do you think? Do you have any stories of a teacher who went above and beyond for you?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A photo essay

There is a very sweet and beautiful photo essay about orphaned baby elephants in Kenya on National Geographic. Check it out here!

Friday, August 19, 2011

A willingness to ask for what you want

When it came to dinner tonight, on my evening home alone, I knew exactly what I wanted: Greasy chinese food, delivered to my door, cheap & easy. (Oh, and it was such a delicious indulgence. Thank you Hong Kong King in Salem, for your perfectly fatty crab rangoun and veggie lo mein.)

When it comes to what I want in life...well, that's a lot more difficult to pinpoint, now isn't it?

I came across this lovely article in August's Yoga Journal about having a more playful spirit. As someone who (just recently, hooray!) graduated from a 200-hour yoga teacher training specifically for teaching yoga to children, I completely believe it how important it is to play! Kids need it, and quite frankly, adults need it, too. We teachers-in-training were ALL too willing to play along with the games, crafts, and creativity involved in our practice-teaches to each other. We don't get many opportunities in grown-up life to be silly, to be creative, to giggle. For one reason, or 100 reasons, we've lost some of that child-like wonder that many of us enjoyed as children.

The article gave a few suggestions to bring wonder back into your life, like spending time with a child or an animal - watch how they play and discover the world again through their eyes. But another one really struck a chord with me. It said, "Instead of thinking about negative "what ifs," play the positive "What if" game. Ask yourself, "What if I get my dream job?" "What if I open deeply to love?" Let your dreams become reality by asking, "How could this get any better?" And live the answer!"

I find it so easy to spiral down a path of negative worry about the future...In thinking about becoming a School Psychologist in 2 short years, it is so easy for me to worry...What if I fail? What if I make a grave mistake? What if I am not successful? What if I end up hurting someone I am supposed to help?

I don't think I'm alone in this worry, especially after a few useful activities from our recent counseling class. But I find that it is easy for me to worry about other things too...Alex isn't home yet? And he didn't call? Oh my god, what if he got into a car accident?

Thankfully, yoga has taught me to nip that last one in the bud, so I usually tell myself- it's unlikely that he was in a car accident, and very likely that he forgot to charge his cell phone. Don't worry about it, until there is really something to worry about!

But I haven't quite been able to shut up all my fears just yet. And why is it that we don't often play the positive What If game? I think, as I've reached my mid-twenties, that we really, officially are not even close to being kids anymore. And when we were kids, we could say, I want to do X, Y, or Z "when I grow up," and no one said, "Well, gee, you're not real close to achieving that goal, are ya?" or "Wow, that's going to cost a lot of money" or "That's ambitious." Not that most people would actually say that to us now, I just feel like there is more of a deadline now. Before college, it was like all you had was time ahead of you. And now it's like, well, better get to "successful" before 30, because aren't you planning on having kids? I think it's mostly internal judgment, but there's also less obviously external judgment, in looks and eyebrow raises.

I think now, too, it's hard to play the positive what-if game for two reasons. 1) It takes real, hard work to achieve ambitious goals. And man, wouldn't I like to watch Gilmore Girls and knit all day? and 2) is that ever-persistent fear of failure. If I announce these dreams of mine, say them out loud, type them in black and white....then you and I will both know if I don't achieve them.

But this is so preposterous! I need to know what I want in order to get it! I need to ASK the universe, please, could I have some chinese food? before it will be delivered on my doorstep!

So what do I want? Lord knows, I'm still not sure. But I think I really would like to be a School Psychologist, and just maybe help some kids and parents and teachers. I'd really like to teach yoga to some kids, and give them a space where they can be safe and relaxed and maybe let go of all the craziness for a little while. I'd like to be happy. Next Saturday, when I teach a kids class at the Holistic Health Festival, I'd really like some people to take my business cards, look up my website, and maybe hire me for some paying teaching jobs! (Links to my in-progress website, coming soon!)

What do YOU want out of life? What's your positive What If question?

Friday, August 12, 2011

An overview of the chakras

When my teacher said we would be spending a day talking about chakras in our yoga teacher training, I anticipated that it was a topic I would feel somewhat skeptical about. I was just a little resistant to it before we began, because...well. Isn't this just some hippie hoo-ha? Chakra energy bodies don't show up on CAT scans, or in an autopsy. I didn't think they were "real."

But I was surprised at how much they resonated with me, after all.

The basic idea is that the body has 7 energy centers, or chakras, with the word "chakra" translating to "wheel," running in a line from our tailbones to the top of our heads along the spine. Each one is associated with an area of the body, a gland in the endocrine system, a color, and a more esoteric function that it represents.

Putting it very simply, they are:

1. Root - Red, Grounded-ness and security
2. Spleen - Orange, Emotions and desires
3. Stomach - Yellow, Personal power
4. Heart - Green, Love and compassion
5. Throat - Blue, Communication, speaking your truth while listening
6. Brow - Indigo, Intuition and creativity
7. Crown - Violet, Spirituality and higher self

(This chart is useful if you're interested in more info.)

I really like the concept of spinning energy, because really, we are made up of bundles of nerves and electrical activity in our bodies. Plus, everything seems to boil down to the concept of "balance" and "variety" for me. People are not simple creatures. We are complex beings with many interests and many parts of our personalities that, combined, make us who we are. And when one part of ourselves becomes too small or too large, it sort of throws us out of whack. We can't be ALL love and compassion, because otherwise we may not also be creating or speaking our own truths, or tapping into our spiritual selves. We can't be ALL spiritual, because otherwise we would be floating off in la-la land and forgetting to keep our feet grounded in the real world.

I also like that the chakras are usually associated with an affirmation, or a mantra. For example, for the root chakra, "I am safe and secure." This is another place where elephants come in for me! The elephant is associated with the root chakra typically, because it is such a heavy and grounded animal. It can be a good one for people like me to meditate on, because it can be so easy for my mind to spin out of control with anxious feelings. Thinking, I am as firmly grounded as an elephant, I am here, I am present, I am securely tethered to the earth - this can help calm down my tendency to worry about the future.

To reference Eat, Pray, Love again, the author mentions that Saint Teresa of Avila, a catholic in the 1500's, wrote of "union with god as a physical ascension of light through seven inner mansions of being." For some reason, the fact that other people, in other places, of other religions, also wrote about the concept of 7 places in the body that lead to an enlightenment of some kind, solidifies it for me. We can all have our own interpretation, our own metaphors, but there is something there. I believe there is, anyway.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A follow-up to self care

Okay. Don't judge me. But, I am currently reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I saw the movie and didn't love it, because there seemed to be a lot missing, a lot that didn't make sense - much of which is perfectly clear in the book. Stop laughing Alex, because I am actually enjoying reading it.

After writing my post about the line between self-care and indulgence, I read this passage in the book that I thought was really interesting:

"For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too -- the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat. This Bud's for You! You Deserve a Break Today! Because You're Worth It! You've Come a Long Way, Baby! And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I AM gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge. Followed by the remorse. Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life. The reply in Italy to "You Deserve a Break Today" would probably be, Yeah, no duh. That's why I'm planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife."

I think there are a few interesting points here...First of all, restriction with a subsequent binge. We hear about this in reference to eating disorders and yo-yo diets...Skip lunch, then eat a massive dinner. This is the very reason we encouraged the overweight teens we worked with as part of the adolescent weight loss study to never skip a meal. When you skip, you tend to be hungrier and overeat at your next meal for a net of more calories than if you had eaten two small-ish meals. So then you've eaten more calories, but you feel like you've had less, because you restricted, and so then you think - well, then I deserve some dessert, too. And before you know it, whatever reasonable calorie goal you had set for yourself is blown. And then comes the guilt. (Oh guilt. How you have haunted my life.)

But all this clearly applies not just to how we eat, but the way we shop, or sleep, or the way we relax. (Well, the way I "relax.") - For example - during the week, I feel "far too busy" to watch a TV show, most of the time. But then I end up squandering the entirety of my first day off watching 5 hours of TV in a row, and then I feel guilty for "wasting" a whole day. Or, I don't get enough sleep and then feel hazy when I sleep in on Saturday.

I also find it interesting that other cultures do not exist this way. Maybe this is why Europe doesn't have the obesity problem America has - because they have a more consistent confidence that they do deserve breaks and do deserve some pleasures in life. There isn't the same need for a reactionary binge, and with no binge, there's no need for the guilt that brings the cycle back around to restricting again as penance.

Essentially, I think we need more balance. Over-eating, or over-sleeping, or over-TV-watching might all just be a quest for achieving balance that was lacking elsewhere. By budgeting time in our day-to-day lives for a variety of pursuits (including something pleasurable!), then we may just find that we don't need to binge (on whatever it is we are binging on) come the weekend. And we may find that there is time for those real self-care activities - such as sleeping well, eating well, and exercising - after all.

(However, I make no promises that I will be able to follow this philosophy myself once the hectic school year begins again...)

A bad dream

It is only July 27th, and I am already feeling that the summer is "nearly over." Because it is almost August. And once we are in August, it is almost September. And once it is September, things will get busy again. And once things are busy again, I will go bananas. And....However, the only really crazy thing is my thinking.

I had a terribly stressful dream last night that it was suddenly September, and I was fired from my Research Assistantship (meaning loss of tuition credits and stipend!) "because of the economy." (Which is weird, because once you already have a grant, "the economy" isn't going to take it away. Plus, my advisor was the one firing me, even though she is not related to this research project in any way....My brain is playing tricks on me!)

Then, today, September issues of magazines were already delivered. Even Yoga Journal can't resist the industry's strange standard of sending out magazines WAY before it is actually the issue's month. (I don't understand this at all...)

I had to stop and say WAIT! There is no use getting all panicked and frittering away an entire month worrying about things to come! What am I doing right NOW? And I realized...Oh yes. I am at the beach. I am swimming in the (very cold) ocean and it feels delicious. Oh, what is that I see? Beautiful blue skies and shimmering water? Ahh yes, for so many reasons, right now is better than whatever is coming in the future and whatever happened in the past, because it is right now. And it is beautiful!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A snippet of a phone conversation

Me: I'm excited to see you! I'm about to go food shopping, so I hope you're ready to eat delicious food all weekend!

Brother: Wait, am I going to have to eat beets and dandelions all weekend? Did you know dandelions are a weed?

Le sigh. Let's see what the dear brother has to say AFTER he eats all the yummy things I make! :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

A reflection on self-care

"Self-care" is a catch phrase I have heard a lot since beginning to work in the mental health field a few years ago. Going to workshops as a Case Manager, wise people said, "Make sure you are taking care of yourself. At the end of the day, make sure you do whatever it takes to relax yourself - a hot shower to wash the days concerns away, a run in the park with your dog, a yoga class - because you cannot care for someone else if you have not cared for yourself first." While I completely agree with the necessity and importance of self-care, what I kept hearing was, Make sure you exercise, make sure you eat well, make sure you get enough sleep. Make sure...

The trouble is, "self-care," which initially sounds like something pleasant, starts to feel like yet another thing to put on the to-do list - a task, a job. (Which means I am even less likely to want to do it.) And somehow, taking care of oneself is often the last thing checked off the to-do list (a.k.a. the one that never gets checked off, but continues to get transferred to the next day's list of tasks.)

But why is this the case? There are plenty of people who are convinced that Americans are really narcissists, so shouldn't we all love spending time on ourselves?

When I was a case manager, I often translated "self-care" to self-indulgence, which is a fairly easy mistake to make, as noted in this Psychology Today article. We are bombarded constantly with marketing messages that tell us we are "worth it," and that everyone "deserves a little 'me time.'" While I didn't do anything as problematic as going into massive credit card debt, I was so emotionally exhausted that I would often over-sleep and spend hours watching TV or movies on the couch. I didn't exercise enough (or at all) and I ate a so-so diet at weird times because my schedule was so erratic. Surprise, surprise - the time I spent "relaxing" did not rejuvenate me and I quit my job as a case manager after only a year and two months. Granted, there were other issues involved beyond my minimal self-care - such as it being my first job out of college, lack of experience and relevant education, and being a little too emotionally invested. I never got the hang of the schedule, and overall it wasn't a good match for my personality. (I need a lot more structure!) But as my professor noted in our last counseling class, self-care doesn't work when you are already burned out. I didn't start attending yoga classes regularly or investing more time in creating a healthy schedule until it was already too late. I felt a lot of guilt about not being able to "handle it" when I decided to leave the job, and I shed a lot of tears over feeling like I failed myself and the children I worked with. But all was not lost: I learned a lot about what I need in a work environment, ways to be organized, and different things I can do to advocate for myself.

As a full-time Research Coordinator, I had different kinds of job stress, but was overall able to maintain a healthier lifestyle. I got the right amount of sleep, exercised fairly regularly, and took yoga breaks in my office. Also, since I was working on a weight loss study, I started paying more attention to what I ate. (Alex described this time in our life as when we "started eating a lot of baby carrots.")

Now, as a graduate student, the self-care subject has come up in many classes again, yet has been difficult to maintain, but for different reasons. A dominant factor for me is definitely Time. During the Spring semester, I was taking five classes, working part-time as a research assistant, and doing a practicum simultaneously. This meant that I would sometimes leave the house at 7:00 AM and not return home until 10:30 PM. When exactly was I supposed to maintain a relationship with my spouse, friends, and family, let alone fit in some self-care? I'll say during this time, the two greatest decisions I ever made were these: 1) Deciding it was worth it to schlep all my extra stuff into the city to go to the gym in between work and class and 2) Marrying a man who was willing to pack me a lunch and cook me dinner every day.

The second dominant factor is a little more elusive, I think. For some of us, a very strong desire to succeed can mean pushing ourselves to do more, be better, be able to "handle" it all. In some ways, society rewards people who can somehow "do it all" and instills guilty feelings in those who live a more balanced life. If you are not doing this, that, and the other just like Mrs. So-and-So, are you as successful?

I'm going to say, Yes! Especially over the long term. While it might seem impressive now that that person can juggle all those things, the likelihood of maintaining that kind of insane schedule is low. Having balance in one's life is potentially the only way to not get burned out, and for me, the only way to really feel happy.

Too much spinach can give you gout, by which I mean, too much of *anything* is not good for you. So roll out your yoga mat, put on your sneakers, or turn up the music for a private dance party in your living room. It might not be easy, but taking care of yourself is really the best way to prepare yourself to care for somebody else.

Also, be honest with yourself. Chances are, a little less time on Facebook might be the only change that has to be made to squeeze in 20 minutes of restorative yoga before bedtime (she says to herself with a sigh.)

What do you guys do to practice self-care? Do you have any time-management tips or tricks you use to squeeze everything into a day? How can we support and encourage each other to keep up with our self-care practices?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A burning desire

Also, how much do I want this dress?!
If you go to and zoom in, you'll see that the print is elephants and polka dots! How adorable!

An ode to elephants, part I

So, what's with the elephants?

I am certain it is a burning question in all of your minds, so I am going to write a few posts over the next few days (or weeks) about elephants, why they are awesome, and why I love them.

It all began with Tufts University. A place that is near and dear to my heart....The place where I met my soul mate (is that too cheesy to say?) The place where I got a college education. The place where I made multiple dear friendships. The place that allowed me to study in Paris. I could go on, but I really love Tufts. I drank the Koolaid, and I believe that my fancy education was worth it. I also believe that Tufts, especially, is an amazing institution that teaches its students the importance of making "a world of difference." We each have a civic duty to give back to our communities.

And who other to inspire in us this spirit of cooperation and selflessness than Jumbo the elephant? Jumbo is the mascot of Tufts. He began his life in Ethiopia, and was captured as a baby in 1861. Named potentially as a misspelling of "Jumbe," the Swahili word for "chief," the name of Jumbo the elephant was what introduced the word "jumbo" to our language. He lived the early part of his life in Paris, at the Jardin des Plantes, but then was traded to the Regent Park zoo in London. There he met his keeper "Scotty," who would be with him for the rest of his life. In London, Jumbo lived a relatively happy life, giving rides to children, including the children and grandchildren of Queen Victoria, and even to Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Phineas T. Barnum!

Finally, Jumbo made his way to America in 1882, purchased by P.T. Barnum for $10,000 to become the main act in the Barnum and Bailey circus. (While thinking of circus animals makes me sad, Jumbo actually did not have to do any "tricks" beyond walking in a circle around the ring next to a baby elephant, so that the crowd could be impressed by his massive size.) Another $20,000 was spent on the logistics of transporting Jumbo to the states, but Barnum made his money back within the first 10 days of Jumbo being a part of the circus menagerie. In the first year, he made $1.5 million!

However, the reason I am proud to have Jumbo as a mascot lies in the story of his tragic death. While it may not actually be true, Barnum's account of Jumbo's death takes place in 1885, when Jumbo was 24 years old. The menagerie was being loaded onto the trains to leave St. Thomas, Ontario, when an unscheduled express freight train came barreling past. Jumbo, who was accompanying the baby elephant Tom Thumb, gave his life to protect the baby elephant by pushing him onto the bank and being struck by the train himself. However it happened, multiple accounts confirm the final moments of his life, when Jumbo curled his trunk around his trainer Scotty, drawing him to his head as Scotty sobbed.

In 1889, after a world tour, Jumbo's stuffed body was donated to Tufts and he became our mascot. Sadly, in 1975, a fire destroyed the body, but the ashes are still kept in a peanut butter jar in the athletic director's office today.

True or not, this is the story of Jumbo's death that is told at Tufts, because we want to be inspired to be as giving and selfless as Jumbo!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A battle between Ennui and Gratitude

I am having one of those days when I have a very long to-do list, but I cannot seem to make myself do anything that actually *needs* to get done. Of course I can manage to play Words with Friends, troll on the internet for blogs and recipes, and watch episode of "Mercy" on Netflix, but forget about mopping the floor or doing my Yoga Teacher Training homework. It's sort of a mix of the blah's and the I-don't-want-to-work-I-want-to-bang-on-the-drum-all-day's. If I was going to be this unproductive, I wish I would have just gone to the beach!

One thing I can say for myself is that I have been letting some ideas marinate in my head for the practice yoga class I am supposed to plan and teach at this weekend's penultimate training. It would be better if I was farther along in my actual "lesson plan," but I will get there eventually, I'm sure.

I've been ruminating on the concept of Gratitude, which in yoga philosophy is called Aparigraha. One of the 5 yamas, Aparigraha is also translated as "awareness of abundance, fulfillment," or "non-greed, non-possessiveness." It's one of the main tenets of yoga philosophy that encourages us to reflect our true nature by living in peace with ourselves and each other.

Gratitude is also a topic that came up in an article I read for our pre-practicum class last session in school, and how important it is as part of Positive Psychology. The article was about how to be an "authentically happy School Psychologist." Research done in the field of positive psychology found that people who kept "gratitude journals," where they wrote down things, events, or people for which or whom they felt grateful, experienced greater SWB, or subjective well-being. Essentially, people who make an active effort to feel and express gratitude are happier. Research suggests these people enjoy their work more, are more energetic and optimistic, and are more likely to offer help and support to others (If anyone wants the citations for these articles, just let me know!) So why don't we all do this every day?

As a society, we have Thanksgiving Day as one day a year when we pause to give thanks for the blessings in our lives, but the irony is that we eat like gluttons on that day! I'm not necessarily saying that we shouldn't -- I love green bean casserole and turkey with fresh cranberry sauce! -- but a part of Aparigraha is feeling grateful for the abundance we *already* have in our lives and not needing to grasp onto all these other things.

Amazingly, Gratitude can also be a powerful antidote to angry or frustrated feelings. I know that when feeling upset, it can be extremely difficult to access logic or opposite positive emotions. (Trust me, I definitely don't manage to do this all the time.) But on the occasions when I have been able to stop, breathe, and think about something I am thankful for, it is easier to let the frustration or anger go. If Anger is a block of ice, Gratitude melts it into water so you can no longer hold onto it. One example from this past winter: I was waiting on the train platform, early in the morning. I was tired, it was cold and raining, I had a long day ahead of me, and to top it off, the train was late for the gazillionth day in a row. I could feel the frustration rising up inside, like this day was already doomed... but I was able to stop and think...Well, at least I have a warm coat on, I remembered to bring my umbrella, and I have a mug full of hot coffee. It could be worse. And by concentrating on those things I was grateful for, I just couldn't hold on to that frustration anymore, and the day went on OK.

So today, even though I haven't been as productive as I should have, I am still grateful for many things: For the beautiful summer weather, for the wonderful Farmer's Market in town where I got these scrumptious raspberries and this stunning dahlia, and for coming home to a cool air-conditioned apartment.

(In the background of the photo, you can see Gatsby being grateful that I let him lick the empty peanut butter jar! And here's hoping the husband is grateful I didn't go ahead and eat all the raspberries myself :P )

A CSA update

I am really loving being a part of the Farm Direct Co-op. Every week is like a surprise and a puzzle to come up with creative and delicious ways to use our fresh produce. (Not that I am actually coming up with recipes myself, I'm not at all a talented chef. But I enjoy scouring the internet for recipes that sound good!)

I mentioned I was excited about the Dandelion Greens last week, and I have to say they were very yummy, mostly because of this crack-tastic hot dressing. I used the peas to make this light and summery pasta dish from Cooking Light, which I've made before (but it is clearly worth repeating!)

On Tuesday, I made a healthy and delicious quinoa dish that the FDC blog posted, using the kale from the FDC, plus a head of broccoli, basil, and 2 tomatoes from the Salem Farmer's Market.

This week, we received: 3 more cucumbers (I'm still looking to perfect an easy cucumber salad.) 2 summer squash and 1 zucchini, 1 tomato, a bunch of swiss chard, and a bunch of beets.

Last night, I made this soup with the summer squash, zucchini, and half of the swiss chard. It was delicious! Plus, a side salad with last week's lettuce, some of the cucumber, tomato, and an orange bell pepper we had kicking around. Definitely worth repeating.

Tonight I'm planning to make this with the beets. I've never used the beet greens before, but I'm trying my best to not be wasteful. Plus, the beets are sort of small, so they wouldn't amount to much on their own. However, I think I'm going to boil the beets instead of roast them, because I just don't think I can stand to turn my oven on today!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A foot is not always a foot

Here we are in July already, and I have not written a single post about my pre-practicum experience, which has been over for weeks. It went by remarkably quickly, and I don't think I ever lost the feeling of being an over-stimulated puppy dressed up in a skirt and heels. I went around trying to remember all those people's names, but all I really wanted to do was curl up into a ball and take a nap!

The "pre-" practicum is actually a really great idea. We spend 75 hours in a school, shadowing and observing, before we begin our "real" practicum in the Fall, when we can be put to work. The purpose is to get one's feet wet, to be exposed to the school ecology, to get acclimated. Even though I obviously attended Middle School myself, and visited many schools as a Case Manager, it is amazing how different each school can be, and how much we miss as self-absorbed adolescents. There is a whole buzzing hive of activity that goes on beyond the classroom, a whole network of relationships and conversations behind what we see as children, as students. I don't think I am quite "acclimated," but the initial shock has worn off. I do think when I return in September, there will be more of a feeling of "coming back," rather than the feeling of Beginning.

I also can't say that there were too many humorous moments, mostly because my brain was racing to keep up with learning the map of the school and remembering who was who, rather than noticing the funny parts. But here is one little parting tidbit, from a lesson about units of measurement:

5th grade boy: This ruler is a foot? (Holds up to his own foot) But my foot isn't as big as this, to tell you the truth!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Alex complained that the other background was too hard to read. Do others agree? Is this background better?

A delightful day

It's strange that doing things that are both enjoyable and good for me can be so difficult sometimes. Initiating an activity, even something I really want to do, can require an absurd amount of effort. (I guess my executive functioning skill of "task initiation" is somewhat...less developed than other abilities.) Yesterday was a day when I couldn't motivate myself to do much. Today, however, was delightful and productive (for a vacation day, anyway.)

I went to the Baptiste Yoga Studio in Cambridge this morning for a power yoga class. Unfortunately, traffic was horrible and I was 15 minutes late to the class (even though I had allowed an hour and twenty minutes to get there. Can Boston traffic please give me a break soon?) So I felt terrible for being "that girl" who shows up late and disrupts everyone. Still, I had driven all the way there...I'm glad I had the balls to walk in anyway and swallow my shame, because it felt SO GOOD. Someone please remind me - WHY do I not do yoga every day? (Oh yeah...because this yoga excursion, round trip, took about 4 hours. Of course it was silly of me to try to go to a class before rush hour was over and I don't regularly go to this particular studio that is so far away...but still. It can be kind of a time-suck.) It felt really excellent, though. I needed the physical class and all the sweat and work. It reminded me that I would like to build some strength (gosh, my arms get tired fast) and loosen up my hamstrings (wide-angle forward bend is impossible) and that even with these "difficulties" of mine...I can still do yoga. And I really do love it.

The rest of the day was spent: reading on the beach for a couple hours (first beach excursion of the year!), picking up this week's CSA produce, and cooking a yummy dinner. This week's veggies were much better than last week. Last week was sort of a bust for a few reasons...One, I wasn't much excited by what we got, and then two, I didn't properly store it. Last week we got: a head of kale, a head of lettuce, 4 garlic scabes, scallions, a bunch of radishes, and a bunch of bok choy. I used the lettuce over the week for a salad with peppers and goat cheese. Happily, I'm not sick of the lettuce. It's really fresh and delicious, and I always enjoy salads. The kale I used for kale chips (again); happily, I'm not sick of those either. The scallions and scabes got chopped up with some soy sauce and tofu for dinner last night, which was pretty tasty. But unfortunately, the radishes and the bok choy wilted almost right away in our humid fridge and I had to toss them. I'm not terribly sad at the loss, but I hate wasting food and I should have stored them in the crisper drawer.

Today, our bounty included: a head of lettuce, a bunch of kale, a pound of peas, a pound of pickling cucumbers, a bunch of salad turnips, 4 garlic scabes, and a bunch of dandelion greens. For dinner tonight, I whipped up some pasta and sauteéd the sliced turnips in some leftover bacon grease (after frying the bacon), and then added the turnip greens, too. Turns out sliced turnips + turnip greens + bacon grease + bacon crumbles + shredded parmesan, all over pasta, is super yummy. I'm excited to try the dandelion greens next...I've never eaten those before! Oh the excitement of the CSA and convincing Alex that he actually DOES enjoy fresh vegetables! (I think what he enjoys most, though, is me being on vacation and being willing to cook for him every day :) I can't say I blame him! I love being on vacation, too.)

"Life is a joy filled with delightful surprises."

An evening with Ann Patchett

"'Write about what you know' is good advice...if what you know is interesting!" - Ann Patchett.

Two + weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go to a talk given by Ann Patchett, as part of the "Writers on a New England Stage" series in Portsmouth, NH. It was vaguely funny and also appropriate that I went by myself, and the average age of the rest of the audience was about 60 years old. (I am mentally at least 83.) It was great fun, though. I've loved Ann Patchett ever since my sister-in-law got me to read Bel Canto way back in my freshman year of college! (It also surprises me to realize that was a pretty long time ago. Another sign of age.)

Anyway, Ms. Patchett gave a reading from her new book, State of Wonder, which is set in the Amazon. The basic premise is that a pharmaceutical company has a scientist deep in the Amazon in Brazil researching this bark that makes the native women able to remain fertile throughout their entire lives. They want to figure out why it works so they can create a drug to market to American women. But somebody dies, and the main character, Marina, a scientist with the company is sent down to see what happened, and adventures ensue. I haven't started reading my (super cool autographed) copy yet, but I'm excited to dig in this week. I'm sure I will have philosophical musings to report here once I finish it.

Ann Patchett was cool, calm, poised...and a funny, regular person. Because of my inflated sense of self, I believe we could be friends if we happened to meet in a more normal sort of way and she didn't happen to be famous. I really enjoyed the talk, and highly recommend listening to the podcast they have posted on New Hampshire Public Radio: (Amazingly enough, I wrote down that quote before this was posted. I guess I wasn't the only one to think it was the quote of the evening!)

It made me toy with the idea of being an author again someday. I know right now I am pursuing other things, but that doesn't mean it is crossed off the list! Frank McCourt didn't write Angela's Ashes until he was 66, so I figure I still have time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A diversion

So I have a queue of post ideas waiting to be fleshed out "when I have more time" (which actually should be over this next week.) But I have to take a moment to say something really important today...

Holy Moly! So You Think You Can Dance is AMAZING this season!!!

I'm slowly catching up on the episodes I missed while I was in class, and I'm just sitting on the couch smiling to myself because it's so gosh darn good.

My favorite couple: Melanie and Marko. I think they should date.

Anyway, now that I've got that off my chest....I had a really fantastic birthday today. My lovely Beth was able to come over and spend the day with me, which was sooo nice! We went shopping and found a bunch of great deals, then we did a little mini photo shoot (Beth is sooo good), and then part of an episode of the Bachelorette!! Then I went to SixtyTwo on the wharf with Alex, courtesy of a gift certificate from the lovely Julie Holbrook, which was PHENOMENAL! (If you want some really amazing food in Salem, you must go there. The pasta is to-die-for.)

Plus, lots of love from phone calls and facebook that made me feel pretty darn special. I freaking love my birthday. Thanks to everyone for making it awesome! Now...time to play with my new KINDLE! and head to bed :D

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A review of our first two weeks in a CSA!

So, I finally broke Alex down and convinced him that we ARE hippy-dippy enough to be like the rest of our friends and join a CSA this year. Now, my wonderful Brooklyn friends Maria and Willie didn't have a lot of luck with theirs last year, I went ahead and crossed my fingers that we would have a better experience up here in Nouvelle-Angleterre. Plus, the one we joined came recommended by my friend and classmate, Amanda, so I figured it was worth a shot.

We're two weeks in, and here's what we got so far...

Week 1 - A head of broccoli, a head of lettuce, a bunch of swiss chard, and a bunch of white turnips
Week 2 - A head of lettuce, a bunch of kale, scallions, and a giant head of cabbage

The first week was pretty exciting. I used the broccoli in a salad one day, and then steamed it as a side with some frozen dumplings on a day when I needed something really quick. I used the turnips + some sweet potatoes I had already to make a delicious fatty-fat full of cheese turnip gratin, based off of this recipe. And then with the swiss chard, I made this yummy goat cheese soup and a gratin with the stalks. Our week was full of Swiss cheese (gruyère) and swiss chard, so you can't really go wrong. Plus, I got so jealous of people who bought the fruit share (which we didn't) that I made Alex buy strawberries and rhubarb from the regular grocery store, so I could make a pie :) YUM.

This second week was slightly less awesome. Kale is always a hit, because we are hooked on kale chips. I whipped up the whole bunch of it with some olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and baked it on a cookie sheet, for a super yummy snack/side. Not sure if I'll get to the scallions, because I just never know what to do with those. Lettuce is always good for a salad and on sandwiches, but we probably won't get through it before we get another head of it on Tuesday (most likely). The cabbage...I was a little mystified. So I tried a new recipe that I thought would be awesome. I then forced people to eat them at my birthday party yesterday, and the reviews were good. They were a ton of work though, and I think I just don't like cabbage.

We shall see what comes this week!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Salem Birthday Party

Pretty much, I am just a super lucky girl. I have the best husband and the best friends. We had such a nice gathering today, and I can't believe it didn't rain on us! Turned out to be a gorgeous day, despite the threatening forecast, and I am just so grateful.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An interactive post

I've been considering getting a tattoo to mark the moment when I officially become a yoga teacher at the end of the summer. The problem is I have no artistic talent, and while I have something in mind, I can't find the perfect image anywhere outside the strange world of my brain. There are two additional problems. One, needles are creepy. Two, I can't decide where to put it that would be mostly private, but not stretch and do crazy things when I have babies. So for now, my mind remains unmade up, and my skin remains untainted.

Then I saw this neat photo essay in the Times about yoga and tattoos, and I am curious, readers, what do you think about tattoos? Do yoga and tattoos go together?

A new blog

I tried my hand at blog-writing last summer (for the first time since my angst-filled high school deadjournal)...and it didn't go so well. Mostly, I didn't write often, and what I did write was depressing. So let's approach this summer as a fresh start.

I have to say, I'm sure this blog will still be a "medley," because I guarantee I will not be able to stick to one theme. Yet, I think there will be just a handful of dominant topics.

For one, in the last month, I have begun my pre-practicum hours in a middle school as a School Psychology student. I do think this is an especially important time to reflect, before I get wrapped up in the bureaucracy of it all. Schools are immensely fascinating ecological systems, and I'd really love to spend some time thinking about the school community before I truly become a part of it. Right now I'm still in grad school, fresh and detached. Even next year, when I start to spend some more time and get more involved, it will be different. So I'm hoping to write down some enlightening insights to look back on when I am old and jaded. Plus, middle schools are ripe fodder for hilarious pubescent anecdotes.

Two, I'm going to begin assistant-teaching a yoga summer camp for kids in a month or so. I anticipate there will be stories galore from this experience. Plus, I'd like to begin writing more about yoga and philosophy in general.

Essentially, I fancy myself a sort of School Psychologist-Yogi-Superhero Hybrid. I'd really like to just save crazy kids from their craziness, one yoga mat at a time! (Modesty, of course, is another strength of mine). I do think this design from CurlyGurl says it all...