Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Goals

Guys, 2017 is TOMORROW! In case you haven't looked at a calendar lately. And I'm just like most people who like to look at a new year as a clean slate, and a chance to start fresh on some of the things we may not have done the previous year. I'm not big on resolutions - I'm not going to start doing yoga, I'm not going to suddenly have every part of my life together, and I'm not going to become a completely different me. But it's always good to want to be a better version of ourselves, and I figured my 2017 goals would not only make a good blog post, but that blogging about it would also hold me accountable. So, without further ado, here's what I hope to do more of in this new calendar year.

Floss my teeth
In 2015, I was a flossing machine. I flossed morning and night, and then about a week into 2016, I fell off the flossing train. So here's to getting back on it in 2017.

Write at least one blog post a week

I already know that this one is going to be the toughest goal to accomplish. Sometimes my weeks just get crazy busy, and when I get a moment of free time, the last thing I want to do is write. But I can definitely minimize the time spent taking BuzzFeed quizzes, because how important is it really to know what flavor PopTart I am - and dedicate that time to fitnessandfroyo.

Read at least 25 (new!) books
Re-reading the Harry Potter series for the 17th time does not count. I lost count of how many books I read in 2016, though I would venture to say that it was right around the 25 mark. Reading is so good for the soul, and I've got to make more time for it. And I will take any recommendations you guys have got!

Discover a new place
You guys know me, and you have to know that this one is already in the works! Instead of one big trip like I did this past summer, I have a couple of smaller trips that are slowly but surely coming together. At least, that's my plan at this very moment. It could be something completely different come tomorrow.

Church at the top of Tibidabo in Barcelona

Get outside my comfort zone in the classroom
This one will definitely come in the form of technology. I was having lunch with two of my closest friends just the other day, and we were talking about how, while we learned a lot and did well in high school, we didn't really get to try much outside of the standard curriculum. And technology certainly wasn't as prevalent. It was the pen and paper, teacher-at-the-front kind of thing, and that's what was most comfortable to me as I stepped into the teacher role. But these kids are 21st-century learners, and I'm working really hard to embrace that. And I'm lucky that I've got people around me who encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and take those risks.

Creating digital portfolios

Write at least one letter, postcard, encouraging note, etc. a week
This one is probably my favorite goal. There is not a lot that I love more than a handwritten letter or note. I promise you I keep every single one. So, whether it's sending a birthday card, writing a note of encouragement to a coworker, sending a postcard in the mail to a student's parents to brag on him/her, I hope to write at least one a week. It can be admittedly difficult to stay in touch with some of my out of town friends, so I'm hoping this will make that a little easier. Plus, it gives me an excuse to buy cute stationary.

Walk the halls at school without scrolling through my phone
This one seems so small and insignificant. But I hate it when I'm walking through the halls and someone says, "Hi, Ms. Tomlinson", and I look up, absolutely startled, because I've been catching up on my Twitter feed, or scrolling through Instagram. Or checking my email. From here on out, I'm going to be the one who says hi to a student or colleague when I see him or her, because I'm determined to not have my face buried in my phone.

Among other things, I hope to have more meaningful conversations and focus on people over my to-do list, 

don't reach for my cell phone when I'm out to dinner with family or friends, volunteer more, really try and stick to a budget (adult eye roll), be in the moment, keep my car organized, say no to things when I'm feeling overwhelmed, as opposed to just continuing my people-pleasing ways, focus on the positives and practice daily gratitude,

take more pictures, even if it annoys my friends, reach out to friends on a more regular basis, 

love extravagantly, practice patience, watch more sunrises and sunsets,

and don't sweat the small stuff. 2017 is my quarter-life crisis year, and I'm determined to "live a great story" and make it the best year yet. FEARLESS is my 2017 word, and I plan to wear it well.

Here's to all of us keeping our 2017 goals! And here's to a safe and fun New Year's Eve!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Things I'm Loving Friday LI

Happy LAST Friday of 2016! I know it's said at the end of every calendar year, but how are we at the end of another year? We're finally getting some cooler temperatures here in Houston, and I am loving it. It's nice to be able to wear yoga pants and a Nike dri-fit while running errands, and it's nice to not have to turn on the air conditioner in December, and it's especially nice to be able to run outside and actually enjoy it. Even if I did nearly blow over in the 30mph winds. 

But, it is Friday, so I'm going to end this year on our normal Friday note. With some Things I'm Loving!

Books by Jennifer Mathieu
Okay, I might be a little biased because not only do I get to work with this fabulous woman, I actually get to share my room with her. And she's got a little routine down - she'll come into my room before school and write her objectives on a small part of my board, and I love that part of the routine because it means I get to chat with her if I'm in my room at that time. And she doesn't just teach. She writes, too. She's a young adult novelist, and our English 1 PLC contemplated changing up our summer reading novel, so we decided to check out her first novel, The Truth About Alice. I tore through it in a day. I told her how much I loved her writing, and the next morning, I had a signed copy of her second novel, Devoted, sitting on my desk. I had finished it by the next morning. Her characters are so real, and she captures their thoughts and personalities so well that it's easy to understand why I couldn't stop reading.

Under Armour "Rule Yourself" Campaign
We all know that I'm borderline obsessed with the Olympics. Okay, maybe not borderline, but it's fine. I love this video for a couple of reasons. One, it takes away the idea that females are not as dedicated or strong when it comes to athletics (is that even still an idea?), and two, it shows how much work goes into just a couple minutes of fame on the biggest stage in sports. All elite athletes put in so much work, and make so many sacrifices in order to be the very best they can be. They'll be the first to tell you that it's not all smiles and sparkles, but I have no doubt that it's worth it. After all, "it's what you do in the dark that puts you in the light."

Hydro Flask 40 oz. Water Bottle
This water bottle was the best $40 I ever spent. I purchased this water bottle in the summer of 2015, and it has been by my side ever since then. Seriously. If any one of my students or coworkers saw this water bottle around the school, I'm fairly certain they would know it belongs to me. First of all, it's 40 oz, so it lasts me through a couple of class periods. Second, it keeps cold beverages cold, and though I can't personally attest to this, it also keeps hot beverages hot. It's easy to clean, they come in tons of fun colors, and it never sweats nor leaks. My Hydro Flask is my right-hand man, and I wouldn't make it through the school day without it.

HelloGoodbye Doormat
It only took me eight months to get a doormat, but hey, I finally did it. Better late than never, right? I found this gem of a doormat at Target for only $10. It's cute, it's sturdy, and gets the mud off of my feet and Mack's paws before we step foot inside my apartment. We won't talk about how I went to Target with the goal of picking this up, told myself I would pick it up from Guest Services on my way out, and made it to my next destination before realizing that I did not pick up the doormat. Whoops.

Running as the Thinking Person's Sport
If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a runner. You may think I'm crazy, but I fell in love with the sport six years ago and have never looked back. It keeps me in crazy good shape, it gets me outside, it challenges, and it gives me time to think. So I wasn't too surprised when I saw this article from the New York Times claiming running requires more higher-level thinking than many people may have thought. Researchers at the University of Arizona acted on their suspicions and found that running seems to be a "mobile math puzzle." It's not to say that runners are smarter than any other human beings, rather, runners have to play a lot of mental mind games to get to that finish line. Many have scoffed at this article and study because of the small number of subjects, but ask any runner about the concentration and discipline running requires.

Have a fabulous Friday! And here's a PSA - it's Harry Potter Weekend on FreeForm (formerly ABC Family). You can thank me later.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Look Back on 2016

Well, well, well. 2016 is almost in the books. And I think many of us are breathing a huge sigh of relief. 2016 has been ... an interesting year. Politics held most of 2016's headlines, and I don't know about you, but I'm 120% over it. I guess this is the first election that I've ever really been invested in or paid much attention to, but it just got nasty. I feel as though it truly brought out the worst in people, and I will not be sad to see it go. 

Which is the lesser of two evils, here?
We lost a lot of good people - David Bowie, Alan Rickman (always), 

Florence Henderson, Pat Summitt, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher - to name just a few, the senseless violence that seemed to happen every day, and I think it was just a rough year for many. It was disheartening at times, it was scary, it was nasty, and it often made me think that while we've made so much progress, perhaps we're taking ten steps in the wrong direction. It was a weird year, but there was also so much good that happened this year. And I'm thankful for the tough and the challenging, because it makes me appreciate the successes and the breakthroughs all the more. So, here's my look back on 2016. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The day before Mack left for obedience school. A lot of good that did!
1. What did you do this year that you’re proud of?
Oh man, I guess it's a good thing that I've got a couple of answers to this question. I'm proud of the fact that I ran my first marathon. And that I did it in under four hours. I'm proud of the improvement I made from year one of teaching to year two. I'm proud of the fact that I traveled solo to a completely new-to-me place. And did it without crying. I'm proud that I have tried new things in the classroom, and that I have done them well, and I have also done them poorly. I am proud of the way I have stuck with this running program I'm on, and what it has taught me beyond the miles that I've logged. It's been a good year.

2. Who did you meet this year that inspired you?

I met so many cool people while making my way through Argentina. People who had been traveling solo for months, and who were doing it with a suitcase much smaller than mine. And each and every one of them had such a unique story that brought them to that particular part of the world. And each one of the people I met reminded me just how big this world really is, and how much of it is still out there for me to see and experience. And they inspired me to keep my eyes open and to always keep exploring.

3. What did you read that you think bettered you?

Ah, I read some absolutely fantastic books this calendar year. I read two books by Brene Brown - Rising Strong and Daring Greatly, and they really resonated with me. Vulnerability is hard, and Brown knows that. But it has had such an impact on how I approach my students and what I do in my classroom. Present over Perfect also rocked me. I'm such a people-pleaser in that I don't want to let anyone down. I often say "yes" to the point of major overwhelment, and then I end up having a major breakdown. I don't have to look like I've got it all together. And for that I'm really grateful. 

4. What are songs that you will always hear and think of this year even when you’re listening on some contraption that hasn’t even been invented yet?

What a fun question! There are definitely songs that remind me of specific years of my life, and I think I'll appreciate having this written down. In Your Arms was a song I listened to on repeat while traveling through Argentina. Work from Home and Rise Up are also two of my 2016 jams. 

5. What were some times that you laughed so hard you could barely breathe?

Gosh, nearly every single day at school. When you teach freshmen, you're never short on laughter. There are times when I have to pretend to type an email so that I can write down some of the hilarious things they say. Also, ask Sarah or myself about the fruit prank we pulled in Spain in 2012. Every time one of us brings it up, we're immediately in stitches.

6. What were your favorite movies? 

I'm admittedly a horrible movie-watcher. I think I saw two movies in theater this entire year. TWO. And there were so many movies that I really wanted to see. But then something else took precedence. So maybe I should look into seeing more movies in 2017? But I did watch 13th - a documentary on Netflix that focuses on racial inequality and the prison system, and it was extremely moving. We start off the spring semester reading Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, and we contemplated showing this documentary along with it. We're not going to, because it might be a little too much for 15-year-olds to take in, but I highly recommend every adult watch it.

7. What are some fears that you had at the beginning of the year that you overcame?
Hmm, I don't necessarily know that I had a conscious fear of traveling through a foreign country alone, but when departure day creeped up on me, I definitely started getting a little nervous. Now, I'm all about traveling solo and meeting people along the way.

8. What were quotes that you loved this year?

I LOVE quotes. Absolutely love them. I'm such a sucker for a motivational quote, and one that really resonated with me is one that was shared with me by a coach at school, and it's the one that has inspired my 2017 word - FEARLESS.

9. What are ways that you exercised self care?
Well, I exercise regularly, which is not only good for my body, it's also good for my mind and my sanity. Exercise, specifically running, is my "me" time, and my time to think, to process, and to shut off from the outside world. I walk Mack a couple of times a day, so not only is that good for the both of us physically, it gets me outside to take in some much-needed Vitamin D. I treat myself to massages and pedicures - at least a couple of times a year. I make a pretty concerted effort to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, if not more. And I eat a little bit of dark chocolate every single day. Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures.

10. What are things you want to see more of next year?

I would love to see more stories of triumph. I don't even want to turn on the news anymore because it's almost guaranteed that I'll see something tragic. And of course the bad things deserve to be reported. But I would love for the not-so-good stories to take the back road to the good ones in 2017.

Simone Manuel at the 2016 Olympics in Rio (Source)
11. What was your most embarrassing moment of 2016?
Typically I don't know how to answer the "most embarrassing" question, but this time, I'm armed and ready. Hands down my most embarrassing moment of 2016 - and maybe my life - is when I threw up at school ... IN THE HALLWAY. It was during my class of 37, and all of a sudden I ran out of the room and really tried to make it to the bathroom, but I didn't quite make it. My students were super sweet about it, and two of them even ran to get an assistant principal to make sure that I was okay, but I was pretty bummed that I broke my 11-year streak of not throwing up.

12. What were your favorite things this year?

That's a very open-ended question. My absolute favorite thing of 2016 has to be the Rio Olympics. Guys, I LOVE the Olympics, as I know we have discussed before. I scheduled my life around the Olympics (okay, and inservice and volleyball), but I love the success stories. The rags-to-riches stories. The dreams coming true. Seeing years and years and years of hard work come to fruition. And of course, I loved watching the USA dominate the field.

Final Five (Source)
13. What are the most important things you learned this year?
I learned that small acts are often the ones that mean the most. That sometimes, people just need someone who will sit and listen. I've learned that it's okay to not be okay. That it's more than okay to ask for help. Vulnerability is important, as is constructive criticism. And I've learned that an encouraging word can go a long, long way.

And naps are not just for little kids
14. What is your favorite photo from this year?
As someone who absolutely loves taking (and being in) photos, this is a tough question. But this picture means a lot to me because one, obviously you guys know that I am a HUGE Texas fan. Two, it meant so much to me that the people I work with know how much I love Texas, and that our football coach knew it would absolutely make my day to meet them. Third, the fact that these coaches made their way to the third floor to hook 'em with me. That was pretty darn cool.

15. What are five things you want to say to people you love?

  • Thank you for listening to and being there for me.
  • Thank you for your endless support and encouragement.
  • You make me want to be a better version of myself.
  • I'm so thankful for you.
  • I'm always happy to sit and listen to your story.

16. What are some places where you feel true joy in your life?
This sounds cheesy, but I've got joy in every aspect of my life. I have the most wonderful and supportive family, I've got some really fantastic forever friends, I've got a job where I don't dread Mondays, and the list could go on forever. I really don't have much to complain about, and I hope to carry this joy into 2017.

17. Where do you feel most yourself?

When I'm running. When I'm in my classroom (PTL I've got one of my own). When I'm lounging on my couch in yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt with my precious pup by my side.

18. What were your favorite meals?

This question was written just for me, I know it. Food is my love language, and I ate some good meals this year. However, two meals will stand out for me as my very favorite -

  • Quinoa salad with either salmon or kabob from Hungry's
  • Garden Sammie (or Garden Sammie Salad) from Local Foods

Local Foods goodness
Fortunately for me (or unfortunately, if we're talking about my bank account), they're both less than a mile away from where I live.

19. How did you calm yourself in times of stress?

If only I had an answer to this question. I wish I didn't let myself get so stressed out, and that's one of my major 2017 goals, but typically a familiar, easy run through the neighborhood or a lengthy walk with Mack will do the trick. Basically, whatever is stressing me out is best dealt with when I'm moving.

20. What are some compliments that you received that deeply affected you?

Words of affirmation is my top love language, so compliments - big or small - often go a very long way with me. I may not always know how to react when given a compliment, but I promise I'm internalizing it and keeping it forever. And any compliments that I receive from the people I work with - students, teachers, counselors, and administrators - mean the absolute world to me. I truly, truly love my job, and if I can have even half the impact that some of my teachers and coaches had on me, I'll know I'm doing just fine.

21. Who are people that you believe are bringing out the best in you?

Most definitely people that I work with. This is a complete 180 from year one, when I shut myself off from everyone around me. But I work with some of the coolest, most fascinating, most dedicated and passionate people, who care so much about the students with whom we work. And that makes me want to be the best version of myself every single day. They consistently get outside of their comfort zones so that they can make the content and material relatable to our students, and I have learned so much from each and every one of them.

22. What items of clothing did you buy that felt the most you?
These Piko tops and/or dresses. I have so many of them in so many different colors because one, they are extremely comfortable. Two, they are loose and flattering. And three, they are so versatile. Dress them up or dress them down. Wear them as is or add accessories galore. 

23. What are you excited about leaving behind in 2016? 

Oh man. I'm hoping to leave behind any negative feelings and emotions - jealousy, anger, anxiety - etc. I know this has been blogged to death, but social media is such a blessing and a curse. It was the last weekend in September, when, in the back of my mind I knew four of my very best friends would be taking a trip to Mexico to celebrate our "quarter-life crisis year", but that I wouldn't be able to attend because of volleyball. But it didn't soften the blow that came from a long weekend of seeing picture after picture after picture of the four of them having the time of their lives, knowing that I wasn't with them. I was jealous, and I was upset, and I harbored these feelings inside of me that were totally unnecessary, and that were really destructive, whether any of us realized it or not. It's not the first thing I've missed out on, and it certainly won't be the last. So I'm hoping to be content in whatever situation and season I'm currently in.

24. What is something that you were hard on yourself about but would never have been hard on a friend if he or she was experiencing it?

Man, I have been told over and over again that I am my own toughest critic. And I'm willing to go along with that. I'm tough on myself when I don't live up to my own expectations, but I'm often the first to offer sympathy to a friend who doesn't meet his or her expectations, telling that person that tomorrow is a new day, and that this "failure" doesn't have to define him or her. I can dish it out, but taking my own advice is a whole other story. 

25. What are the best pieces of advice you heard this year?

I got some good advice this year. And I need to start writing down the wise things that other people tell me, because I get it on a pretty regular basis. I think some of the best advice I received is to take time to recharge. Educators, especially, but it's true in nearly any profession, give so much of themselves to other people, and it's important to take time to do things that bring me joy and bring me rest and bring me peace. It's okay to be selfish every once in awhile. 

26. What are the best pieces of advice you gave this year?
I like to think I give good advice, but I don't always know that I do. I tend to listen really well, though. I tend to tell people to "Go for it!" because I really like to see people get outside their comfort zones and do the things that scare them, or that isn't what they normally do. I try to give logical and realistic advice while still considering who it is that I'm talking to.

27. What things have you been putting off doing because you didn’t have time?

This may seem insignificant, but it had been over ten months since I had lost gotten my haircut. It was getting long, but it was also getting ratty. I just kept putting it off in favor of other "more important" things. My one request? Keep it long enough so that I can still pull it back into a braid when I run. 

28. What are some things you’d like to focus and work on in the next year?

I don't know that I would like to focus on it, but I know that I need to work on really sticking to a budget. I've never really had to worry about money before, or maybe I've just chosen not to pay attention to money, but I know that's going to bite me in the butt in a couple of years if I ever want to put a down payment on a house, or if I want to go back to grad school. Or if I want to continue to travel. I want to focus on spending money on moments instead of things, which sounds cheesy, but it's true. I also want to focus on not sweating the small stuff. I can't tell you how worked up I find myself getting over the most insignificant things.

29. What are the best parts of you that you feel really showed through this year?

I get laughed at for this on a regular basis, but I think my enthusiasm really showed through this year. There were times when I was told that it's just too early for such enthusiasm, but it was always said in a (somewhat) endearing way. I have this (maybe sometimes annoying?) tendency to remain positive in less-than-positive situations, but in the word of my students, it's hard to find me without a smile on my face. 

30. What are your biggest hopes for 2017?

I hope that this is a year full of adventure and growth and learning and joy. I hope that I continue to surround myself with people who build me up, and that I continue to invest my time in the things that fill me up. I hope I stay focused, but that I never take myself too seriously. I hope that I can live simply and love extravagantly. I hope to have a positive impact on the people around me, I hope to stay motivated through the challenging times, humble in times of triumph, and I hope to find the great in every single day. No matter how small it may be.

Whew. I love looking back on each calendar year, and this year was no exception. Some of these questions really made me dig deep, and some of them made me shake my head, and some of them just made me laugh. It was a strange year, but like I said, I'm going to acknowledge the negatives while focusing on the positives. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have a fabulous rest of your evening!