My Happiness List: January 2015 Edition

My last post was a little bit down, I think, so I decided that it was time to share another happiness list. I blogged my last personal happiness list almost ten months ago, so I’m clearly long overdue. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

massage therapy happiness list

My Happy List

  1. Rooibos chai tea. All the goodness of chai, none of the caffeine to make me jumpy.
  2. Comfortable new pants I bought on clearance.
  3. Really good chocolate. Always.
  4. Finishing my prerequisites for teaching school and earning a GPA of 4.06. Hooray!
  5. Massage therapy.
  6. My new seed order has arrived. Let the garden dreams begin!
  7. The teacher I’m volunteering with, who is a fabulous mentor.
  8. The students I’m volunteering with, who are more awesome than a hot fudge sundae.
  9. Living in Vancouver in January. As we like to say, you don’t have to shovel the rain.
  10. My son’s love for his new loft bed – which we scored for free from someone who outgrew it, so double extra bonus points.
  11. My daughter’s newfound love of fantasy novels. I really enjoy watching her sink her teeth into a book.
  12. My children’s teachers. Both my kids are really enjoying school this year.
  13. Singing in the kitchen in the morning.
  14. Podcasts. I do love podcasts.
  15. My husband’s piano is out of storage and I get to listen to him play.
  16. New books to read.
  17. Getting back to blogging again. This space floats my boat.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

A Word for 2015: Strength

For the past few years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. And for 2014 my word was forgiveness. This year, possibly for the first time, settling on a word was easy. For 2015 I have chosen strength.

strength*Photo credit – Colleen McMahon on Flickr

Choosing a word is about setting an intention for the year. This year, rather than choose an aspirational intention, I’ve decided to go another way. In past years I’ve chosen a word that represented something I wanted to bring into my life, but thought I might be lacking. In 2015 I’m opting for something I think I already have, but may not always see. That is, I’m already strong. I think maybe we are all strong. For me, this is about acknowledging and owning my strength. This quote from Marianne Williamson speaks to what I’m getting at by choosing the word strength:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

The past couple of months have been hard for me. It has been all too easy for me to fall into a place where I feel overwhelmed by all that is happening around me. Because you know what? Sometimes life is just too much. I was having a bit of a moment one day when my husband said, “You can do this.” And you know what? I thought to myself, He’s right, I totally can. This year I want to spend less time worrying about my shortcomings, and more time facing up to the challenges in front me. Curve balls will come my way no matter what. Running from them won’t change that, so I may as well step up to bat.

Here’s to claiming our strength, wherever it lies!

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2015!

Confirmation

Okay, okay. It’s been two and a half months since I posted. A lot has happened. Right now I’d like to tell you about one of the big things that’s been going on in my world.

A couple of days after I last wrote here, I met with a teacher at a local middle school who was willing to have me volunteer in her grade six/seven classroom. I have to do this in order to apply for teacher training. However, I was looking at this as more than a hurdle to clear. For me, it was about really, really, REALLY making sure that my plan to be a math teacher is solid. I wanted to spend enough time in a classroom for the bloom to wear off the rose, so to say.

I’ve already spent a year pursuing my goal of becoming a math teacher. However, there’s going to be a lot more time and money before any of this work starts to pay off. I am, quite frankly, too old to get another degree in a field that isn’t a good fit. So, I spent almost 160 hours at the middle school over 10 weeks. I photocopied and stapled. I observed and assisted. I helped kids do their work and planned projects. I even taught the three week unit on integers to the grade seven math class. And I did this while I was also working part-time for VancouverMom.ca, taking two university classes, and parenting two children.

middle school volunteer math teacher student teacher

I stapled this display to the wall!


 
It was busy. In fact, it was so busy it wasn’t even funny. But you know what? I loved it. I loved the kids. I really like the teachers I’ve worked with. And I enjoyed learning, first-hand, what my day might look like as a teacher.

On the last day of school before winter break, I was eating lunch in the staff room. Around me, everyone was comparing notes on their holiday plans, and how much work they would have to do over the break. Unsurprisingly, everyone was looking forward to a couple of weeks off. But what I also heard, loud and clear, was a note of sadness. I have kids of my own, so I understand this note of sadness. Yes, you’re thrilled when you get some time away. Sleeping in is pretty sweet. Having time to yourself is pretty sweet. But I also know that when you care about someone, you miss seeing them. Those teachers care about their students, and I can see that clearly.

student teacher math teacher

The teachers dressed as mad scientists for Halloween and I joined in

I’ve seen first-hand that teaching can be a very challenging profession. There’s bureaucracy and serious financial constraints. Here in my district there have been extensive lay-offs after a major budget shortfall last spring. On top of all that, the teachers were on strike for the last two weeks of the 2013/2014 school year, and the first two weeks of the 2014/2015 school year. I wouldn’t claim that I understand all of the challenges that teachers face, but hearing their stories and being in a classroom I understand them much better than I did. I know that being a teacher isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

However, I also know that this is the right choice for me. I know that the world needs more good math teachers, and I know that I want to be one of them. I met my goal of putting myself through the wringer and making sure that the good outweighs the bad for me. And like those teachers who were looking forward to winter break, but already missing their students a little, I know that the equation works out for me. I’m submitting my application right now to start teacher training in September, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s been a meandering journey, from engineer to writer to editor to student teacher. It feels good to know that it’s led me to where I’m supposed to be.

On Winging Life and Winging Forgiveness

It’s been ages, but today I felt compelled to write a Forgiveness Friday post. Today, specifically, I’m thinking about forgiving is something we have to just wing it in life, which includes forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I volunteer as a peer breastfeeding support person, so I occasionally field calls from new moms who need a listening ear and a little information. What I’m best at, in these situations, is pointing out what is and isn’t normal for a breastfeeding infant. If you’ve never had a baby before – or even if you had a different sort of baby every other time – it can be hard to tell what is perfectly okay and what is cause for alarm. Add in the pressure of being utterly and completely responsible for another person’s well-being when that person can’t actually communicate with you in a truly meaningful way and it really is a recipe for total panic.

Well, at least, I remember being totally panicked myself. Fortunately my kids aren’t any the worse for wear.

As I was speaking with a mom last week I thought about how much of life is spent flying blind. Seriously. Of course parenting is an extreme example, but how much do I really know about gardening or investing or choosing the best melon? And even if I master these topics, there’s always something else to know. The universe is amazingly vast, and I am actually rather small. And so, sooner or later, you just have to kind of wing it and get on with things so that you don’t spend your whole life agonizing. You won’t always get it right, but at least you’ll do something.

14828832674_252fb985b6_kAs I considered how much time I spend flying blind and winging things, I also thought about how little patience I have with myself when I make a mistake. Somehow, I expect myself to do everything well, even when I couldn’t possibly be expected to have mastered a specific task. I constantly tell my children that mistakes are okay, because they’re just learning. The important thing isn’t to do everything perfectly, but to avoid the same pitfall the next time. Mistakes are just learning opportunities, and all that jazz. However, in order to actually learn from something you have to stop self-flagellating long enough to see the lesson. Just feeling bad doesn’t actually lead to growth.

My point, once again, is that I need to forgive myself. However, there’s more to it than that.

When I started out on this forgiveness journey I was focused on defining forgiveness and then executing it perfectly. Of course, this isn’t how life works. You don’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book, you learn to ride a bicycle by falling off and getting back on. Forgiveness is sort of the same thing. You decide to forgive, you do forgiveness as best you can, and you figure out what does and doesn’t work. This is true whether you’re forgiving others or forgiving yourself. And if you’re not good at it right out of the gate, well, that’s to be expected. You’re learning as you go, which is how so much learning happens.

The good thing about forgiveness is that, unlike parenting, you don’t have a helpless infant’s well-being in your hands. This means that it really is all about what works for you. And if the question is whether or not your feelings are normal, or okay, the answer is pretty much always yes. Feelings are just feelings. Anger is just anger. Letting go of it is hard. You will feel that hardness. It is okay. You might not let go of it right away. It is okay. You are okay. You are normal. The key isn’t to be perfect. The key is to avoid this same pitfall the next time. And if not the next time, the time after that. Or the time after that.

Sometimes you have to fall in the same hole a bunch of times before you can actually see it. This is also normal. Unfortunately.

So, while I haven’t been writing about forgiveness, I have been thinking about it, and working at it. Am I good at forgiving yet? I’m not sure. I only know I’m getting better. It’s happening more slowly than I’d like, but it’s enough all the same.

Run Mama Run

I am not what you would call the athletic type. My mother loves to tell the story of how, during the first grade race at my elementary school track and field day, I came in dead last. It wasn’t because I was slow, so much as that I didn’t care to exert myself. I meandered my way across the field, even stopping at one point to pull up my socks. When asked why I didn’t run, I apparently replied, “You don’t have to run, everyone gets a ribbon anyway.”

While you could view this as a cautionary tale exposing the evils of participation ribbons, I don’t see it that way. The truth is, given my shortness I likely never would have placed in the top three amongst dozens of students. I think I likely knew that, so I accepted my fate and decided there was no point in breaking a sweat. And that last part – the breaking a sweat part – is what I mean when I say I’m not athletic. Why run when you can walk, since walking is so much easier and less sweaty?

A few years ago my perspective shifted slightly when I signed up to participate in Run for the Cure. For the first time since my high school gym classes I was running, and this time it was by choice. I found that it wasn’t so bad when I set the parameters for running, choosing my own time and place, and listening to my own music. It was almost liberating, in fact. Nonetheless, once Run for the Cure was over, I stopped. The next spring I considered starting up again, but then I didn’t.

Red and sweaty, post-run

Red and sweaty, post-run

This summer, between work and my school and a teachers’ strike that ended my kids’ school early, I’ve been stressed out. So stressed out, in fact, that I overcame my natural inertia and laced up my running shoes. I started my running app back at week one on June 21, and I’ve been running regularly since. I’m now on week six and going strong. It’s been good. I’ve found it helpful. I even surprised myself when I was at my wits’ end one evening and my first impulse wasn’t to eat ice cream or drink wine but to go running. It’s like I don’t even know myself.

The reason that running works for me is that it’s flexible, and I can fit it around my family’s schedule. All I need is 30 minutes and another adult in the house, and I can go for a run. I don’t need to fit a class that’s happening on someone else’s timetable into my day. I don’t need to get up early if I don’t want to. I don’t even need to have change on hand to pay for gym admission or a locker. I just need my shoes and my music and I’m golden.

Will it stick this time? Will this be the time that I keep on running when the days get colder and shorter? Will I be writing another post like this in another three years about how I’m running again? I don’t know. For now, though, I’m doing this thing for myself, and it makes me feel good. It gives my anxiety a productive outlet, and reminds me that I’m important and my well-being matters. Those are all good things, so for now I’ll keep on lacing up as often as I can.

I Tried Wakeboarding!

Last week was a pretty sweet week to be me. My family and I were hosted by Destination Osoyoos, promoting family-friendly getaways to a beautiful part of British Columbia. It took us about four and a half hours to get there by car, but it’s a very different place than Vancouver. While I live in a rainforest, Osoyoos is Canada’s only true desert, with a dry and sunny landscape. And there’s a lake, too, and some totally fabulous wineries. What’s not to love?

While we were planning the trip, the organizers presented me with a number of things my family and I could do during our visit. Wakeboarding was on the list, and on a whim I thought, “Okay, sure, why not?” This is how, last Thursday at 2:00pm, my nine-year-old daughter and I found ourselves on the dock in front of our hotel shaking hands with Rob Rausch, owner and manager of Wakepilot. (PS – It looks like he’s not just an amazing wakeboarding coach, but he also flies Boeing 777s for Air Canada. So, you know, not too shabby.)

osoyoos walnut beach

My daughter was super-pumped to try, so she put on her life jacket and jumped in the water first. Rob took her through exactly what would happen, and had her practice her stance and holding the rope. She had a helmet with speakers in the ears, not for safety but so he could communicate with her. When she was finally ready (and she was So. Ready.) she actually stood up on her first try. Then she had another go, and she stood up for even longer. After that she was done, though – she was not a big fan of the water that she got up her nose when she fell.

I was intimidated when it was my turn, I have to admit. I’ve never tried wakeboarding or snowboarding. I’m not exactly what you would call super-athletic, and I’m not as young as I once was. I wanted to give wakeboarding a go, but I didn’t expect to succeed. My first two tries I wiped out spectacularly before I was even able to stand up. Rob told me to let the boat do the work, and I think I did that too well because I let the boat pull me right over.

After two epic wipeouts in a row Rob decided to pull me a little slower (actually, at exactly the same pace he’d pulled my daughter, as it turns out) and I did it! I stood up … for about one and a half seconds. Then the fourth time I stood up for a little longer. And finally, I gave it one last go, and I did it! I actually managed to wakeboard for a few minutes, as Rob coached me through the speakers in my helmet. It felt pretty good, skimming over the surface of the water, sunshine all around me, looking at the beautiful scenery. It made the eventual wipeout when I flushed out my sinus cavities with about half of Lake Osoyoos totally worth it.

osoyoos

After my last ride I was done. My arms were really aching, and I needed a rest. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the rope any longer, so I got back on the boat.

My wakeboarding adventure was three days ago now, and I’m still feeling it, especially in my forearms. I’m not used to holding on to something as tightly as I held on to that rope. I’m also really glad I did it, though. As a suburban mom of two who’s in my late 30s I don’t push my physical limits or try adventure sports on a regular basis. This was a chance to step beyond my boundaries, do something totally new, and remind myself that I am capable of more than I think. And you know what? We probably all are.

Thank you so much to Rob and Wakepilot for a wonderful introduction to wakeboarding. If you want to see actual wakeboarders in action, check out this video. It’s shot at Walnut Beach Resort, which is where I stayed in Osoyoos. You can also see Rob at the end – he’s the one in blue handing out the prizes.

What I Will do This Year

Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, shall we? Home renovations are progressing (at long last), and they’ve preoccupied me. Also, I’ve been preparing to head back to school for another semester, which just started today. At the moment I’m signed up for geography and an English course on drama. In case you were wondering how last semester went, I took three classes and got two A’s and one A-, which I am very happy with. But enough with the housekeeping.

birthday year ahead navel gazing

Birthday extreme close-up

Today is my 38th birthday. For the past few years my birthdays have triggered something of an existential crisis. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that surely I should be wiser, more grounded and more accomplished at this point in my life. To help myself overcome this intense birthday navel-gazing, I like to set some personal intentions. It’s a way to give myself that direction I’m craving. It’s also a way to honour the fact that I have a whole new year stretched out before me, and I can use it however I see fit. Instead of lamenting what I haven’t done in the past year (or the past 38 years), I’m going to think about what I want to do.

For the past few years I’ve made birthday resolutions. I’ve had about a 50/50 success rate. I think that’s to be expected, especially given that things change over the course of a year. Still, even at a 50/50 success rate, I’m bringing a whole lot of things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. I believe it’s still a worthwhile exercise regardless of how it turns out, because it gives me a chance to focus on reflect, and think about what I want more of in my life. So without further ado, here’s my list for this year.


What I Will do at 38

  • Finish up the renovations that have taken almost a year, and then resist the urge to make even more home improvements.
  • Go running.
  • Spend more time with my hands in the dirt.
  • Buy a bicycle.
  • Volunteer in a middle school.
  • Sing.
  • Learn how to use my camera.
  • Write.
  • Finish my prerequisites so that I can apply for teacher training.
  • Nap more often.
  • Laugh more.
  • Apply for teacher training.
  • Try kayaking.
  • Practice forgiveness of myself and others.
  • Drink even more herbal tea.
  • Eat more leafy greens.
  • Take some mini vacations with my family.
  • Not beat myself up if I don’t do everything on this list.

What do you want to do with your next year on earth? I love it if you’d play along in honour of my birthday!

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