Monday, July 31, 2017

2017 Summer Reads

Hello, all! I'm just popping in for a quick post today -- a round-up of the books I've read (so far) this summer. I'm going to try and squeeze in one or two more before school starts, but you just never know with volleyball and inservice. At any rate, I've got a solid number of books on my to-read list, so I'll never be bored in line at the grocery store!

One of my favorite things about summer (and let's be honest, I have many favorite things about summer) is that I finally have an excuse to read, read, read. I definitely read during the school year, but I maybe finish one book every couple of weeks. Maybe. And I hate to admit that weeks go by where I don't read even one page. But summer allows me the time to dive deep into the books that have been gathering dust on my bedside table, and this year I decided to put together what I'm going to call a reading roundup. Hopefully this post inspires you to pick up one or two of these books -- they're pretty much all over the place -- or at the very least, inspires you to pick up any book at all. 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
GoodReads Rating: 4.8/5
My Rating: 4.6/5
What I Loved: If I could teach this book, I would. Actually, I'm trying to work it into my curriculum for this year because it's so incredibly relatable. The characters are resilient, funny, authentic, sassy, broken, and at the heart of this book is a reality that so many in our country are unfortunately facing each day. It tackles racism and police brutality in a way that's not preachy, and it's a YA book that truly educates while still reading like a story. There's a great family and community dynamic running throughout this book and I believe it's an incredibly important read for everyone.

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
GoodReads Rating: 4.0/5
My Rating: 4.7/5
What I Loved: First of all, Shonda Rhimes is an incredible human being. There's no denying that. Shonda was incredibly vulnerable in her anecdotes while still being undeniably funny. This book really had an upbeat, feel-good "you-can-do-it" vibe to it, which is right up my alley. As someone who is so quick to say no to things that are outside my comfort zone, much like Shonda, this book opened my eyes to setting aside any instant fears and take a chance every now and then. It reiterated the importance of taking care of myself and that it's more than okay to ask for help. And that saying "YES!" can be as simple as sitting at home playing dolls with your kids. A quick and enjoyable read.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
GoodReads Rating: 4.3/5
My Rating: 5/5
What I Loved: This is not my usual read. But this is also not Stephen King's usual genre. I'm not a big history buff, but I am incredibly fascinated by all things Kennedy. Ultimately, an English teacher by the name of Jake Epping is coerced into going back in time to try and stop the JFK assassination. But in the half decade that he spends in the past, he finds other occurrences to alter along the way. This book is incredibly suspenseful and I found myself sitting for hours flipping page after page. It's historically accurate, it's engaging, it's got a sweet little love story woven in, and it had me longing for the simplicity of a time period I never even experienced in the first place. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and cannot stop singing its praises.

Jackie's Girl by Kathy McKeon
GoodReads Rating: 4.1/5
My Rating: 4.3/5
What I Loved: As I mentioned above, I am incredibly fascinated by all things Kennedy. And I actually read this book before I read King's. It's a coming-of-age memoir by the woman who became Jackie's go-to gal, as you might call her, and I really enjoyed the more private look into Jackie O's seemingly glamorous life. Kathy provided Jackie and the kids with a very sweet and loyal friendship, and all the while Kathy gleaned quite a few valuable life lessons from Jackie. A sweet and charming read.

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry
GoodReads Rating: 3.5/5
My Rating: 3.7/5
What I Loved: When I picked this book up at Blue Willow Bookshop, I had no idea that this book would be set not only in my city, but in the very area of Houston in which I grew up. So that was fun. This book was full of twists and turns, which normally, I love. This one was just a little bit too unrealistic for me, though, and while I really enjoyed the chapters told from the point of view of the kidnapped daughter's mother, the chapters told by the various faces of Julie were a bit hard to follow. It's a very real look into the relationship between a mother and a teenage daughter, and that may have been what kept me reading to the end.

Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliott
GoodReads Rating: 3.8/5
My Rating: 4.2/5
What I Loved: This book deals with some incredibly difficult topics. A teenage girl who is fighting an eating disorder - AFRID, one I had never heard of - dealing with anxiety and depression, and has a fairly dysfunctional family to boot. I love that Elliott decided to tackle these topics because they're real and raw and it's important to bring them to light. And while this book definitely takes on a more serious tone, the romance between Pea and Ben is cute enough to induce a few "aww" moments, and make you wish that every Pea had a Ben. What's most interesting is that this book is told - very well - in the second person.

The End of Average by Todd Rose
GoodReads Rating: 4.0/5
My Rating: 4.6/5
What I Loved: The teacher in me loved this book. But I think those in virtually any profession would enjoy it. Without using such strong words, it's essentially about how ridiculous it is to use the average when talking about anything. And it's crazy to really sit and think about how often we use the "average" measurement -- when talking about height, weight, GPA, performance, salary, IQ, everything. It got me thinking about how much my students miss out on because they are given this label - how far above or below this average they are - because so much of what we do is geared to fit the "average" student. As it typically is with clothes that come with a one-size-fits-all label (they never fit all), a one-size-fits-all is about the worst thing we could do in the education world. I enjoyed how Rose brought in examples from all areas - history, science, education, business - to support his claim that it's about time we do something about this flawed system. 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
GoodReads Rating: 3.7/5
My Rating: 4.7/5
What I Loved: This book was SUCH a page-turner. This author's debut novel had me hooked from the get-go, and I devoured it while riding Chicago's CTA. Not everything is as it seems for Anne and Marco Conti, who seemingly have it all when they leave their six-month-old baby as they go next door for a fancy dinner party. Though they have the baby monitor, somehow baby Cora is snatched from her crib. But what I really loved is that both Anne and Marco have their own secrets that they couldn't possibly have the other find out, which just goes to show that no relationship is as picture perfect as it looks. The ending was pretty crazy and unexpected, but it's a psychological thriller I'd definitely recommend. 

Peak Performance by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg
GoodReads Rating: 4.3/5
My Rating: 5/5
What I Loved: Honestly, this was probably my favorite book of the summer. I could relate to it on so many levels. I will admit that I picked it up for running purposes, but it's truly applicable to so many aspects of life and I guarantee you'll get something out of it. I could probably write an entire blog post about this book alone, so I'll keep it short and sweet here. If you want to get better at anything, you have to push your mind and/or body past their comfort zones. But you also have to give your mind and/or body rest. It again preaches the idea that growth comes from a struggle, and it forces you to really take a hard look at yourself and what drives you. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What works best for your personality? An excellent book with easy-to-apply information.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
GoodReads Rating: 3.9/5
My Rating: 4.5/5
What I Loved: If this book doesn't make you think twice about getting married, I don't know what will. Jack and Grace are another example of the picture-perfect couple, but you learn very quickly that Jack is out of his mind. He is an absolute control freak and won't let Grace out of his sight. Essentially, he's holding her captive while still forcing her to portray the role of the perfect housewife. And honestly, what got me was that this situation could happen all too easily to anyone. All it takes is a handsome man with a charming smile to make a woman fall hard. I didn't feel as though there were any plot holes, and my heart was racing as I read on to find out what would happen next. 

Grit by Gillian French
GoodReads Rating: 3.4/5
My Rating: 3.6/5
What I Loved: Okay, just being real here. This was probably my least favorite book of the summer. I didn't hate it, but it didn't captivate me the way other books I read did. I enjoyed the very real relationship that between Darcy, Mags, and their cousin Nell. As well as their mothers who live right next door to one another. Darcy, our main character, is kind of a rebellious teenager who doesn't have a great reputation around town. Of course, this is set in a small town in Maine where everybody knows everybody's business. The pain each character experiences and the way this pain is dealt with felt very real to me, and I appreciated how French tackled some of the more difficult subjects - rape and complex relationships and rumors and slut-shaming. 

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
GoodReads Rating: 4.0/5
My Rating: 4.6/5
What I Loved: I loved going to Chicago and knowing a good chunk of the city's history thanks to my reading of this book. I didn't know I was as into architecture as I apparently am, but I think what really hooked me was the drama running through the construction of the 1893 Chicago World Fair with the serial killer H.H. Holmes posing as a pharmacist and used his charming personality to lure young women into his trap. Daniel Burnham is a name I heard many times throughout my time in Chicago and it is evident that he is an absolute genius and I loved how the city's history was only enhanced by the description of how difficult a task pulling off the construction of this World Fair was. But it still read like a (terrifying) story when you have the absolute chaos precipitated by Holmes.

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff
GoodReads Rating: 4.5/5
My Rating: 4.8/5
What I Loved: Maria Goff is Bob Goff's husband, and you guys, I am obsessed with all things Bob Goff. They live their lives with such whimsy and while Bob is all things spontaneous and energetic, Maria errs on the side of quiet and intentional. Maria talks all about remaining focused on what's important when the world is busy throwing all these distractions at us. This book reads like an encouraging and honest conversation that made me want to start living a more full and present life where I love and care for others extravagantly and purposefully. 

Bob and Maria Goff (Source)
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
GoodReads Rating: 4.4/5
My Rating: 5/5
What I Loved: Wow. All I have to say about this book is that it's beautiful, heartbreaking, filled with joy and sadness both, funny, real, raw, honest, and makes you appreciate the life you're living right now. The good days as well as the bad. Nina was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37 and while at first it seemed like just "one small spot", it quickly turned into a cancer that would never really get better. Nina is actually the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson (yes, that one) and his work, and the importance and beauty of literature in general, is threaded all throughout this memoir. Nina truly had a bright outlook on life and her diagnosis, and she found the beauty in the midst of suffering that will hit all of us in one way or another. A book that touched me far more than I anticipated, I would highly recommend this book for everyone.

Okay, clearly you can see that I'm a huge fan of psychological thrillers. What that says about me, I'm not entirely sure. My friend told me it means I have a pretty boring life, which may be true, but I'll take that over leading a life like any of the ladies in these books! I am all over the genre spectrum, though, and I am always in the market for new book recommendations, so if you have any favorite reads, PLEASE send them my way. Happy reading!

Things I'm Loving Friday LVII

Happy FriYAY! It has been a crazy week of volleyball tryouts and two-a-days, and now we head out to Cypress to compete day one of the pre-season scrimmages. It's kind of a whirlwind trying to get freshman ready to compete in this fast-paced introduction to the world high school volleyball, but I'm excited to see what today brings. And while I'm doing that, enjoy some of the things I'm loving this week!

Run Fast, Eat Slow
When a four-time Olympian and American record holder (Shalene Flanagan) joins forces with a chef and nutrition coach (Elyse Kopecky) to create a beautiful cookbook full of healthy recipes for athletes, you know you have to check it out. This cookbook features step-by-step recipes that really squash the idea that eating healthy has to be boring and bland, or that you have to follow some strict, joyless diet. There are so many misconceptions out there when it comes to fueling your body, especially for females, and this cookbook is full of recipes that show you that it's okay to indulge while giving your body the right nutrients. The photos are fantastic, these two women looked like they had the time of their lives writing this book, and each recipe is Shalene-tested and approved.

Cult of Pedagogy Podcast
Okay, maybe only my teachers will be interested in this one, but honestly I think there are episodes that any parent or businessperson can also relate to. I've mentioned before on the blog that I'm not a huge podcast listener. Like it really has to engage me for me to continue listening. And this one absolutely does. I know people love podcasts because they can listen to them while they're driving, but with this podcast all I want to do is write down everything I hear, so it works best for me when I listen to it while walking my dog. Anyway, this podcast series has so many fantastic ideas - from classroom management to teaching strategies to personal wellness to the use of technology - and each episode I have listened to has left me feeling nothing but energized for the upcoming school year. Jennifer Gonzalez is upbeat, gives practical ideas and advice, and keeps me coming back for more. Definitely worth a listen, even if you're someone who claims to not be a "podcast person".

I only just started listening a couple of days ago, but here are a couple episodes I loved:
   Episode 33: Five Powerful Ways to Save Time as a Teacher
   Episode 57: Nine Simple Solutions for Common Teaching Problems
   Episode 60: Six Ed Tech Tools to Try in 2017
   Episode 67: What to Do on Lame Duck School Days
   Episode 71: Why It's So Hard for Teachers to Take Care of Themselves

Gatorade Commercial: The Secret to Victory
I'm not sure how I missed this commercial when it first came out, but ever since I saw it on TV a couple of weeks ago, I have been all about it. It features star athletes such as Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, and Serena Williams, among others. The whole message is if you want to find success, you first have to experience failure. MJ not making his varsity team. Manning going 3-13 in his rookie season. Williams being on the wrong side of the biggest upset in her sport. But aren't these names some of the biggest in sports? Using failure to fuel growth has kind of been my mantra lately, and this commercial did nothing but get me pumped for volleyball season, the new school year, and marathon training.

Russ Rose: Commitment
Russ Rose is a legend in the college volleyball world. And rightfully so. He has coached his Penn State team to seven national championships and has earned the respect of so many across the country. And when Russ Rose was asked to pick one word for "The Word on Coaching" series, his word of choice was COMMITMENT. He talks about being all-in, about being focused on the end goal and distancing yourself from distractions. Of course, he's talking about the work his athletes put in on the volleyball court, but it applies to so many areas of life. If you want to be the best you can be, you've got to commit. I think the best compliment I have received as of late is someone telling me he has always been impressed by my commitment to my training. Maybe I'm not the best runner out there, but I'm going to do whatever it takes to reach my goal. Whether that's with running, teaching, coaching, being a dog mom, whatever. If you want to be the best, get out there and work hard. It's not supposed to be easy.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition
It is no secret that I am a Harry Potter junkie. Like I have to tell myself that there are so many books out there that I want to read and while I will most definitely get something new out of re-reading the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time, it's probably not the best use of my time. BUT then I was introduced to the illustrated editions of each Harry Potter book and you guys, they are absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I am trying to be good and only purchase one of them at a time (as of today, only Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets have been released), but these are going to make a most excellent addition to my coffee table. And I might even bring them up to school for some of my more reluctant readers. Obviously these books are wonderful for any age (because 25 is not too old to read a picture book), but these would be perfect if you are looking to open up the magical world of reading to a young one. Bravo, Jim Kay, for so beautifully bringing the wizarding world to life.

Have a fabulous Friday!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sunday Q&A

Happy SUNDAY! Guys, how in the world is it the last Sunday of August already? I'm headed up to school in a bit to do our annual clean-up of "The Nest" and get it ready for the 2017 Volleyball Season. I feel like it was just Memorial Day Weekend, but it's fine. While I'm over here scratching my head trying to figure out how we got to this point, here's a fun Q&A for your reading pleasure.

The best thing about your job is …
That it’s something new every single day. That there is never a dull moment. That there are endless opportunities to learn, grow, and get outside my comfort zone. And best of all, that it affords me the opportunity to (hopefully) have as large of a positive impact on my students as my teachers did on me. High schoolers are the greatest, and I learn so much from them every day.

And I finally replaced my ID. #winning
Reason for tweeting?
In terms of my personal twitter account, it’s a fun way to connect and share with friends. I’m not much of a Facebook status updater, so tweeting is my way of sharing the funny one-liners about my day. When it comes to my professional account, it is an incredible way to share out and take in resources to use in my classroom. I have learned so much and gotten so many great ideas just from the people I follow – some of whom I know personally, and many I don’t know at all. But I think that makes it even cooler. I got to talk on the phone with a teacher in New York about a virtual reality project to pair with Romeo and Juliet. All because of Twitter. How cool is that?

Favorite piece of clothing and/or accessory right now?
I mentioned this in Friday’s post, but cold shoulder tops are my current jam.

Best spot for cocktails?
Simone on Sunset. It’s such a hidden gem, but when you know, you know.

Favorite drink?
Like drink, drink? I tend to keep it simple with just a glass of wine.

Last purchase?
Groceries. Fun adult things. Back to meal prepping, I go!

Your friends and/or co-workers would describe you as …
You would have to ask them, but I would hope they would describe me as someone who is hard-working, reliable, and full of energy and enthusiasm!

Five things that are always in your purse or bag?
Book or Kindle (you don't read in line at the grocery store?)
Toothbrush and toothpaste (just in case!)

If you could be inside one person’s head for a day, whose would it be?
What a question! Probably J.K. Rowling’s head because I would give a whole heck of a lot to have that kind of creativity.

Do you have a secret talent?
I can bake? That’s not really a secret, though. I can recite almost every single line from She’s the Man. Seriously.

What’s your favorite song right now?
Hey Lady by The New Velvet. I can’t stop listening to it! Shout out to Spotify Discover Weekly for putting me onto that one.

Who inspires you the most?
It’s about as cliché as they come, but really and truly my students. They inspire me to get up in the morning and be the best that I can be so that they can be the best versions of themselves. They’re all so incredibly smart and talented in so many different ways and I love getting to know them as their English teacher.

Your most glamorous night out consisted of …
My most glamorous night? Probably Sweet Sixteen my sophomore year of high school. I had my absolute dream dress on, and had everything from my hair to my nails to my make-up done. It was truly a magical evening with all of my very best friends.

The fact that I'm even sharing this photo ... circa 2008
On your day off, or in your free time, you’re most likely …
Reading or writing.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Either superhuman endurance or superhuman speed. Superhuman endurance would mean I could knock everything off of my never-ending to-do list without getting tired, and superhuman speed would get me that Boston Qualifying time!

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Dark chocolate. Always.

Where’s your favorite place to travel/vacation?
I fell in love with South America when I went to Argentina last summer, and I’m hoping to make Peru (Machu Picchu!!) my next international destination.

Who’s your celebrity crush?
Probably Ryan Reynolds. Or Kyle Chandler. Texas Forever, man.

Coach Taylor is coach goals (Source)
The one trend that you think should never, EVER come back is …
Oh man, there are so many trends from my childhood that make me cringe. But I’m going to go with gaucho pants. 

See y'all next go around!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Things I'm Loving Friday LVI

I'm really glad I picked the last week of (my) summer to start writing again. I'm not sure what has gotten into me, but maybe I'll pop in a time or two over these next couple of months when inspiration hits me. Or when I have a free moment and something I want to share. But let's just focus on the fact that I'm getting a post out today. Another roundup of some Things I'm Loving lately, so without further ado, enjoy!

I Skeptically Tried Practicing Gratitude
If you have been around for awhile, then you know how much of a sucker I am for articles like this. If you start losing yourself on Instagram, you'll see a lot of posts with captions that include the word "grateful". And I totally understand that that word can elicit eye rolls from many. But I totally believe in the gratitude thing. There's a lot of negativity around us. And it's really easy to find things to complain about. But by consciously focusing on just five specific things to be grateful for each day, that's a game changer in my opinion. When I'm having "one of those days", I have to remind myself that every day may not be great, but that there's something great in every day. A little gratitude can go a long, long way, and I'm hoping to pick the habit back up at the start of the new school year.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
And with my 11th book of the summer, I present to you this monster written by Stephen King. This book had been on my list forever, but I was a little intimidated by the sheer length of it. I was an English major in college, and I am an English teacher, but I avoided reading a book because I thought it was too long. So, okay. Anyway, I borrowed this book from a friend and let it sit on my bedside table for a week or so before grabbing it as I was heading out the door for the airport on my way to Chicago. And guys, if you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and READ IT! I'm incredibly fascinated by the Kennedy family, and this book ultimately deals with trying to travel back in time to try and stop the JFK assassination. But more than that it deals with the idea of love and the butterfly effect and history and dancing and sappiness and do-overs and what ifs and some truly extraordinary characters. Once I really got into it I absolutely could not put it down, and though it is only my second Stephen King book, I see there being more in my future. 

Off-the-Shoulder/Cold Shoulder Tops
Sometimes I'm super on board with the big summer trend. Other times I'm not. This summer I'm 100% on board and then some. I absolutely love the off the shoulder trend that is taking over the Instagram world. Living in Houston (and honestly anywhere), summer months call for as little clothing as possible. But is still appropriate. Tank tops are always a go-to, but I'll be the first to admit that my arms are not my favorite part of my body. I'll rock shorts in the middle of December, but this off-the-shoulder and/or cold shoulder trend allows me to stay cool while not having to feel self-conscious about my upper body. It's a win-win! My favorite OTS top is this one -- only $35 from Nordstrom and it comes in so many fun summer colors! And I recently purchased a couple of OTS dresses from Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale and I can't wait for them to come in.

Dairy-Free Cupcakes
This really only helps my Chicago readers (do I even have any of you guys?), but this cupcake tasted so good that I think it's worth posting about. While on the Signature Dishes tour through Bobby's Bike Hike (which, if you are ever in Chicago, I highly recommend you do this tour -- we had a blast), we stopped for deep dish pizza, cupcakes, Chicago dogs, and beer. I was thrilled when we walked into this cute little bakery – Swirlz – and saw that there were multiple dairy-free options. For those who have a gluten intolerance, there are also gluten-free options available! I opted for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and even after telling myself I would only eat half, I ate every last crumb. And I think that's more important than the fact that the cupcake tasted delicious is the fact that I allowed myself to eat it. The entire thing. I honestly couldn't tell you the last time I let myself eat an actual dessert that wasn't a cop-out like one scoop of sorbet or a bowl of fruit or something. And you would think I would understand this by age 25, but as it turns out, I didn't gain five pounds, it didn't affect how I performed during my half marathon, and while it's not something I am going to indulge in every single day, it was a sweet reminder that I can allow myself a treat every now and again.

I know I'm incredibly behind the times here. But to be fair, I knew about Bitmoji as it was becoming popular, I just never acted on it. And the reason I finally created my Lizzie McGuire voice is because I saw other educators using Bitmoji in various Google forms, and I wanted to do the same. I'm definitely thinking of having my students create theirs so it can be used throughout the school year, but for now I'm enjoying communicating with my friends solely through Bitmoji expressions. 

Maze Dog Bowl
This one was an absolute game changer for Mack. And I actually learned about while on one of my dog-sitting assignments this summer. One of the dogs I stayed with was a Doberman, and they tend to scarf down their food in about four seconds flat. That's typically not very good for a pup's digestion, so his owner showed me her way of slowing the giant down - a Maze Bowl. My beagle is also one to just scarf down his food, cleaning his bowl in less than 30 seconds, but this particular bowl causes him to to take minutes to eat his mere half a cup of food (he's also on a slight diet, so I'm pretty sure he's always hungry). He has to actually work for his food, so I like to think that he's enjoying it a little bit more this way. These bowls come in different sizes depending on the size of your dog, and it is probably the best $9 I've spent in a while.

Have a great Friday, everyone! Make sure and do something fun and summery this weekend -- fingers crossed for sunshine here in Houston so I can get some last-minute work on my summer tan. Priorities!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Busy Season

My senior year of college I had quite a few friends who were off doing an internship at one of the "Big Four" Accounting firms as part of a five-year Master's program. And I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase "busy season". Long days and late nights and a to-do list that never ends. And I will admit that I rolled my eyes every time I heard that phrase, but then I realized I’ve got a busy season of my own. And it goes from the beginning of August until the beginning of November.

On August 1st, I will say adios to my summer vacation. I’m used to my summer ending that first week of August because hello, volleyball season. And I am so grateful to have the opportunity to remain involved with the sport that gave me so much growing up. But every year, in the middle of juggling PLC meetings with volleyball practice with a pretty focused training plan, I make a hysterical phone call to my dad about how I just can’t do it. Complaining about how there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and how there’s absolutely no way I’m going to get it all done. And every year, believe it or not, I end up getting it all done. Sometimes my sanity is compromised, but my little pink notebook helps me keep my life in check.

Anyway, in true Kelli fashion, this year I approach this upcoming "busy season" with a list. A list of big picture goals I’ve got for myself so that I can not only remain focused, but so that I can also find enjoyment in the things that really do bring me so much joy.

Be present. I know I’ve touched on this before, but this is an area of my life that I can most definitely improve upon. There are so many distractions all around us, and more often than not I find myself giving into them. I spend so much of my time thinking about what’s coming next that I either don’t give all that I’ve got to the task at hand, or I don’t enjoy or get anything out of what it is that I’m doing. So, when grading papers, when reading a book, when having a lunchtime conversation with a student, when catching up with friends over dinner, when running a drill on the volleyball court, when engaging in a Twitter chat, when logging miles on the treadmill or at Hermann Park, I want to focus on being present in that particular moment, on that particular task. Something tells me I’ll not only be more productive, but that I’ll also be much happier.

Never be too consumed with my own stress to lend a smile or a good morning or a thank you. I’m an introvert to my core and when I’m stressed, my first instinct is to turn inward. I’m not one to ask for help or tell people how I’m really doing when asked, when sometimes a quick conversation is all I need to help shift my attitude or perspective. I’m lucky to be surrounded by some truly incredible people each and every day – my family, my friends, and the people I work with. And I’d be crazy not to tell each one of them how much they mean to me, and how much I appreciate their encouragement and support. Because let's face it, we're all busy, and we've all got a lot on our plates. 

Say yes, don’t fear failure, but also be sure and find balance. For so many years the thought of failure absolutely paralyzed me. It still scares me a little bit, but I’ve failed enough times along the way to know that there are always side roads on the path to success. I hope to never find myself choosing what’s easy and convenient, but instead saying “YES” when presented with something new and exciting. With that being said, I also don’t want to let all that’s out there overwhelm me. That goes for teaching, coaching, running, lifing (I think I just made up a word, but I did it for the parallelism) – it’s so easy to play the comparison game, to think that you don’t measure up to the teacher across the hall, to the coach on the other side of the net, to the fit and fast runner flying past you on the Rice Jogging Trail, to the girl with the punny and perfect Instagram post of her hipster Houston dinner that leaves you realizing you’ve eaten leftovers for the past week and a half. It can be super tempting to try and tackle every big, new, sexy idea that is presented to me, and that’s also a direct path to crushing feelings of stress. Instead of playing the big, showy comparison game (because as cheesy as it sounds comparison truly is the thief of joy), I am going to focus on picking a couple of things and putting my energy into doing those things well.

Escape the negativity. You know when you’re surrounded by people who are complaining about this and that, and suddenly you’re complaining about something that you didn’t even know bothered you just so you could join in on the pity party? Yeah. This happens in the teachers’ lounge, at brunch with my friends  (and for the record, brunch has to be my least favorite meal of all time), and so on and so forth. It’s well known that negativity breeds more negativity, and I really don’t have a lot to complain about. So I’m just not going to anymore. Because nine times out of ten, in the time I spent whining about something, I could probably do something productive about it.

Learn how to say NO. And not feel bad about it. This one is going to be really hard for me, but I also think it’s going to be super necessary. Because not only am I not one to ask for help, I tend to be one to try and find a way to help other people out when asked. I truly love it when people ask me for help because I like to think that people find me reliable. But more than that, I hate to think that I'm letting other people down. I'm an absolute people-pleaser, and I love giving the gift of my time and effort to try and help make someone else’s day run a little bit smoother. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to lend someone a helping hand, but doing it to the point of feeling stressed and overwhelmed is no longer doing it out of a place of joy. It turns into resentment. And this certainly won’t turn into my “Year of NO!”, but I am also going to be more deliberate about who and what I give my time to.

Making lists like this totally help me organize the crazy mess of thoughts that are all jumbled up in my mind. And obviously these are pretty open-ended goals that can apply to so many areas of life – and okay, they’re pretty geared toward teaching, coaching, and running if we’re talking about my life – but just putting fingers to keyboard is so therapeutic for me as I plan out how I am going to use my last week of freedom. I think about August 1st with a mix of both fear and excitement. Nervous about how I’m going to make it all work; excited about a new crop of players, students, and goals to chase. It’s a given that I’m going to be tired. It’s a given that there are going to be hard days, but it’s also a given that I’m going to learn a lot.

Bring it on, year four. I’m ready for ya. Nothing worth having is easy, but that’s what makes it all a little bit more fun.