Thursday, November 23, 2017


Happy Thanksgiving to any of the readers that I might have left after yet another long hiatus from the f&f scene. But to say that this first semester has been crazy would be an understatement. I don’t know that I have ever been more ready for a break, and I know that I am not alone in that. Don’t get me wrong, this semester has been full of so many good things, but man, I feel like I have been running 100 miles per hour this entire first semester, yet I’m barely managing to stay half a step ahead of all that needs to get done. But I’m confident that this break – and the fact that I put school work aside after a full Monday of grading expository essays – is going to leave me feeling refreshed, refocused, and recharged to tackle the remaining four weeks of school with my freshmen.

Anyway, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday because it’s such a great reminder that I truly have so much to be thankful for. It comes at a time when I am tired and worn out and definitely not outwardly expressing my daily gratitude, and probably doing more complaining than anything, so Thanksgiving allows me to put my complaints to the side and reflect on just how much good there is in each day.

This year's thankful board

So, here goes another year of what I’m thankful for. I’ll try and encompass everything that’s been going on in my life since my last post, without giving a play-by-play of what’s been going on in my life since my last post.

It goes without saying that I am thankful for my parents. They are my rocks, and I’m not sure how I would have made it to this point without them. First, they so generously agree to watch my sweet pup throughout volleyball season, as my long hours away from home during those few months just wouldn’t be fair. They answer my every phone call, and they calm me down when I start losing my cool. Which, let’s be real, happened quite a few times this semester. In fact, when I called them feeling completely overwhelmed with everything I had on my plate, wondering how I was possibly going to cross everything off my never-ending to-do list without sacrificing too much sleep, they swooped in to help without even a moment’s hesitation. My dad did all my grocery shopping so that I would have a fully stocked fridge for the week ahead. He took a bulging basket of dirty laundry back home to my mom, who happily did all of it and delivered it back to me the very next day. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. And though they don’t necessarily understand what goes into all the running that I do, they always, always ask me how each run went.

Part of the reason I could never leave Houston is because I love having them just 20 minutes down the road. It’s always nice to know that I can always take the Westpark Tollway home, and probably be treated to dinner at Hungry’s.

I’m thankful for my incredible friends, who I haven’t seen as much as I maybe would have liked because right now, I’m hyper focused on this whole running thing. That they know my personality and that when I focus on some task or goal, I tend do whatever it takes to achieve it. That I’ve had to say “No” to a number of things along the way. And that’s hard for me, not because I particularly care about missing out on something, but because I don’t want my friends to think that I don’t care about them. But they still show up and they still call on me and they make sure to tell me I’m doing a good job. And I probably don’t tell them enough just how much they mean to me, but I’ll never stop being thankful for their listening ears and the endless laughter they provide.



This year, I am especially thankful for the city I call home. The city that I grew up in and that I share with millions of truly incredible people who were more than willing to lend a helping hand. A city that was absolutely devastated by 51 inches of rain, but that fought back with resilience and love, proving to the rest of the country and to the world that it is very possible to put aside any differences we may have and lend a helping hand. I wrote a lot about my thoughts on Harvey here, but I’ll always hold onto the fact that we are #HoustonStrong, and we showed everyone that you can never count out Houston, which brings me to my next point –

I am thankful for the unifying power of sports. I’m 100% talking about the Houston Astros, because this year, our hometown heroes absolutely #EarnedHistory. And it could not have happened at a better time. The Astros gave so many in this city something to hold onto; something to put their hope in. I know that I was brought to tears multiple times when interviews of the players after games focused very little on themselves, but instead harped on the idea that they were playing to bring happiness to the people of their city. I mean, they had photos of the devastation Harvey caused taped to the inside of their lockers so that they never lost sight of what was truly important. How can you not root for a team like that? And after living through the Lastros and the Diasastros era, this World Series victory was everything we could have hoped for and more. The games were purely fun to watch, though every minute was stressful, and it has been amazing to see the lifted spirits of my fellow Houstonians.

Throwback to 2010 and the red and black
I am thankful for pep talks and second chances and fall weather and surprise double rainbows and First Friday and harmless pranks and my fellow English teacher who stops by my room EVERY morning without fail with a “How’s it going, Pickles?” and stays for a few minutes just to chat. For group chats and the means to travel and opportunities to learn and grow each day.

I am thankful for meaningful conversations and handwritten notes and encouraging words and people who invest in me and who take the time to pull me aside and make sure that the smile I’m wearing is authentic, and not one that I’m simply hiding behind.

I am thankful for people who encourage me to dream big and chase goals and stretch myself in every area of my life. For library chats and donated pencils and Harry Potter marathons and dairy-free chocolate, because what would a day be like without it?
I couldn’t do a thankful post without talking about the fact that I definitely don’t take having a healthy body for granted. Most days these days are run days, and I can always be thankful for legs that continue to allow me to run. I cherish the well-executed runs that leave me feeling on top of the world and that all the hard work and sacrifice is so worth it, and I’m thankful for the failed runs that humble me and remind me that I can always work harder and smarter. Running has taught me discipline and focus and how to push myself and a whole lot about expectations and goals. I truly love this sport – the reminder to dig deep and the “me time” it provides, and I’m thankful for all that it has given me over the years – especially this last year and a half. I’m thankful for those who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself, and for a coach who shows absolutely no mercy when it comes to this seemingly crazy training plan, but also makes sure to tell me that I’m doing a good job every once in a while. I’ll continue to run as long as I love doing it, and I hope to never take it for granted that I can.
Chasing big goals, and being rewarded with an even bigger medal
I’m thankful for my job that, most of the time, doesn’t feel like a job. Whenever I tell people that I teach freshmen, they give me this look and say something along the lines of, “You’re so brave.” And that might be true, but I also know that I’ve got what I consider to be the best role anyone could have. I get to start out each day with a plan, never knowing what wrench is going to be thrown into it. Because there’s always going to be one. I get to stand among 128 students each day, talking about reading and writing and real-world issues, trying to help light the fire that’s already inside all of them. I get to listen to their stories, believe in, encourage, and challenge them, and hopefully be a bright spot in at least one of their days. Because they are definitely bright spots in mine. They make me laugh no matter what kind of day I’m having, and they truly mean the world to me. I get to stand outside my door each passing period and greet all of my current and former students, remembering that my crazy freshmen will one day mature. And though I’ll groan and grumble about having 128 essays to give feedback to, I’m thankful that they’re turning their work in.


And my job wouldn't be my job without the people I have around me. I work with some pretty stellar people who encourage me and push me and help me and ask the hard questions and want the best for our students. And I couldn't ask for much more than that.

I’m thankful that I get to wear multiple hats within Bellaire High School – that of a teacher and a coach. Volleyball has always meant so much to me, and I’ll never take for granted the sport that gives me infinitely more as a coach than it gave me as a player. And it gave me a lot as a player. Every year, when I get really overwhelmed with teaching and coaching and … adulting … I am reminded how much of a privilege coaching is. Sure, I get to help these girls improve their volleyball skills – and trust me, it’s amazing the progress each one of them makes from day one of freshmen camp to our final game – but even more than that I can help foster an environment of teamwork and hard work and inclusivity and positivity and focus and energy and determination and drive and encouragement. Every year I’m blown away by what these girls bring to the table, and my work day just wouldn’t be complete without them.

I’m thankful for neighbors, who, when you send out a post about desperately needing a bookshelf for your classroom (because this is the current situation),
more than come through. I’m thankful to be a Texas Longhorn (we’re going bowling, heck yeah!), for sunshine, for car insurance, that I can hold myself to a stand of grace and not perfection, for Wednesday phone calls with Gram, and that my brother nailed down a job in Houston post-graduation.
Finally, I’m thankful for who I consider to be the cutest dog in the world. My little Mack brings a tremendous amount of joy to my life, and I really don’t know what we did to deserve dogs. He has never met a dog or a person he doesn’t like, he brings a smile to the face of every person he passes on the street, and he is always down for a long walk through the neighborhood. He makes himself comfortable all up in my personal space, he begs for food like I don’t ever feed him, and he adds endless love and excitement to each day. He brings a smile to my face when I need it the most, and I’m a better person for being the owner of this floppy-eared nutcase.
And hopefully, I’ll continue to be thankful every other day of the year, too. I’ve found myself doing quite a bit of complaining lately, so I am determined to finish out this year with a “get to” mentality as opposed to a “have to” mentality. The mindset we bring to the table is half the battle, and expressing gratitude is such a little thing that can go such a long way.
I hope you and your loved ones have a fabulous Thanksgiving! I’m going to power down and enjoy time with my family and friends, and though this year we’re gathering around a table in a house hit by Harvey, I think I’ve got more to be thankful for than ever. And I can’t end this post without telling my readers how thankful I am that you guys still read my posts, as they tend to be few and far between these days. I love pressing pause on the chaos around me and sitting down to write, and the encouragement I get from the people who read f&f are the real MVPs.

Monday, October 30, 2017

This I Believe

Every year I tell myself I’m going to keep up with my blog during the chaos of volleyball season, and every year I fail to keep that promise. I tend to forget just how crazy my schedule is at the start of the school year, and blogging is without a doubt the first thing to go. And I wish I could say I was busy doing all these crazy exciting things, but I’m just trying to keep my head above water with all that I’ve got on my plate. I’m not sure what has prevented me from getting a firm grasp on my schedule this year, but I've definitely had a tougher time of it.

And I plan on – one day in the near future – writing a whole post that gives an update on how my fourth (my first year kiddos are seniors!!!) year of teaching is going,

the whole point of logging back into my blogger account is to share what is, without a doubt, my favorite essay of the year: This I Believe. I have posted about it before, but I think this year’s due date came at the perfect time. I love that this essay is our first big writing assignment of the year because it allows me to get a glimpse into my students’ writing skills, yes, but even more than that, it allows me to get to know them in such a way that I learn what matters to each one of them. It offers them the opportunity to share with me a story or an experience that has led to that belief. And man, do I get some incredible stories. They are real and raw and vulnerable and funny and passionate and every year I am truly humbled that they are so willing to share their stories with me. Because their stories matter. I was grumbling about the nearly 130 essays I wanted to finish grading before the weekend ended, but at the end of the day, I cherish the opportunity to provide feedback to every one of my students. And shout out to Google Classroom for making that back and forth conversation SO incredibly easy. 21st Century Learning, for the win!

Anyway, I told myself that I would write a new This I Believe essay each year to share with my students as we began this project. Last year I wrote about running in the rain as a means of conveying the belief that the magic happens outside of our comfort zones. This year, I took one look at my overflowing letter basket to know that handwritten letters would be my vehicle to talk about the idea that it’s not necessarily the words we say that mean the most, but the time given to physically writing them out.

I believe in handwritten letters.

In a world that is so laden with technology, the seemingly simple act of a handwritten thank-you note or birthday card tends to be replaced with a quick text message or a Facebook post. Sure, the ease with which we can type out a text is a definite convenience in our jam-packed, busy lives, but there is something about putting pen to paper that makes whatever is being communicated even more personal. It’s the loopy way she writes her L’s, or the way his handwriting is only legible if we close our left eye that forges a connection more special and long-lasting than opening a Snap.

Both of my grandmothers were (and are) big on the art of handwritten letters. My dad’s mom lives in Philadelphia, and at the start of each new month she sends me a simple note, often written on a piece of scrap paper, wishing me a happy month. She has never missed a birthday, nor a holiday. And I’ve got a whole basket overflowing with 25+ years’ worth of notes and cards scribbled in her thin cursive.

My mom’s mom passed away a few years ago, and she was without a doubt my favorite person on this planet. She lived just 10 minutes down the road and I saw her virtually every day, but she never overlooked the simple joy that came from looking through the pile of mail in the entryway and seeing a card personally addressed to me. Now that she is no longer with us, I cherish every word she ever wrote even more so than I did when I first read them.

Maybe it’s something about the older generation that has the insight that some of us “youngins” may be lacking. We grew up in a world of instant gratification, multitasking, and never-ending to-do lists. They grew up in a world that required patience and cursive and taking the time to do things right.

It’s not even what the letters say, as many of them are variations of the same message. It’s the time a person took to write me a tangible birthday card filled with sweet words as I celebrate another trip around the sun. The time a person took to encourage me through a tough season. The time a person took to congratulate me on a job well done. The time a person took away from doing something for his or her own benefit to do something that would make my day. I believe in handwritten letters, and I believe in taking the time to brighten someone else’s day by letting them know that they are more than worth a couple minutes of my precious time. It’s not the message that we remember; it’s the time and energy that went into it.

Many of my students’ essays unsurprisingly blew mine out of the water, and some of them have stories at 14 and 15 that I still can’t quite wrap my head around at 25, but I think if I expect my students to be vulnerable, I can do just that by modeling it for them. And I more than needed the reminder that came from reading these essays that teaching is such an absolute privilege, no matter how trying some of my days may be.

Oh, and how about those ASTROS! 27 outs to earning history. This World Series run has been nothing short of thrilling, and it could not have come at a better time for this city. Just like Jose Altuve, I literally love Justin Verlander, and here’s to hoping he can seal the deal tomorrow night!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

20-Minute Park Workout

Hello, and happy Tuesday! Whew, life has been a whirlwind ever since my last post. I feel like I've aged about ten years, and it has only been a little over a week. The good news is that Houston is continuing to recover and rebuild post-Harvey while at the same time watching Hurricane Irma wreak havoc on Florida and the Caribbean. It is both devastating and astounding to me that weather can do so much damage in such a short period of time, but if there's one thing I've learned after experiencing it firsthand here in Houston, it's that so many around the world will do whatever it takes to lend a helping hand. You guys were here for us in one of our darkest hours, and we will continue to be there for you.

A gem recovered on demo day
And building off of that hurricane talk, we had our FIRST day back on our campus as an entire faculty yesterday! Many of schools around the city had either their first day of school, or their first day back at school yesterday after a very long two weeks off. Bellaire High School, unfortunately, was not one of those schools, but we are all feeling very fortunate that we get to get this party started on the 18th, and that we get to remain on our campus. It's tough being up there without any kids, knowing that we should be well into the swing of things and embarking on week three of the 2017-2018 school year, but I continue to be so inspired by the spirit of the people with whom I get to work. We've got our work cut out for us moving forward, that is for sure, and I'm not even sure we fully comprehend just what it's going to look like as our 3500 students arrive on campus next Monday, but we're ready. We were ready three weeks ago, yes, but we've got a newfound sense of what the words "strong" and "community" mean, and our Bellaire community (really, you could call it a family) is as strong and united as ever. This year is certainly going to be significant, and we are more than ready to open our doors for our students. Well, our building isn't physically ready yet, but it will be. We have an amazing crew who is working so incredibly hard to get everything back to what it was pre-Harvey.

Friday before Harvey -- all was still calm
Well, calendar, it was nice knowing you
And to continue on with the positive thoughts trend, the weather in Houston has been FANTASTIC lately. Upper 60s in the mornings and staying in the 80s in the afternoons. And the best part is that there has been endless sunshine. I have been doing many of my runs outside as opposed to on the treadmill, and being humbled all the while, and been trying to spend as much time outside as possible. It's rare that we are treated to such weather this early in September, so I'm determined to enjoy it while it lasts. I have also really been trying to be "all-in" when it comes to marathon training, and that includes going the extra mile - pun intended - with my workouts. It's not just running that is going to get me ready to try for that elusive BQ, it's also building strength and watching my diet and being disciplined with recovery. I'm still working on the last two. But I have been getting better about the strength training aspect, and I have a quick workout to share with you guys. It honestly probably took less than 20 minutes, and I completed it at my neighborhood park.

There were a couple of pieces of equipment needed -- a resistance tube and a resistance band, but seriously, you can find these at Target or any sort of equivalent store. Also, Amazon, duh. I'm sure you have done or seen most or all of these exercises before, but I have provided links to video demonstrations to all of them below:
It will certainly get your heart rate up! Take advantage of the cooler weather and get your workout on -- I guarantee you won't regret it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Six Years

Guys, fitnessandfroyo became a thing SIX years ago. I had just started my sophomore year of college, and I distinctly remember sitting at the front desk of Scottish Rite Dormitory, working my two-and-a-half hour weekend shift when I decided to stop thinking about starting a blog and just do the dang thing. 

If you guys know me at all, or at least have been reading this blog for any number of years, you know that fitness is my thing. Or, at least it’s one of my things. I’m extremely passionate about living an active and healthy lifestyle, and after consuming a number of healthy living blogs, I decided to start my own as a way to share my passion with the four total readers I probably had when this blog made its way out into the Interwebs. Actually, fitnessandfroyo started out as a way for me to share workouts and recipes, and occasionally an update on the life of a college student living in Austin. Well, it has since transformed into more of a record of my life – and this blog has seen me through college and my college graduation, adventures abroad, living with nine girls, the beginning (and end) of a long-term relationship, the start of my career (adulting, am I right?), three volleyball seasons, a number of half marathons, my first full marathon, the sweetest puppy addition, life in Austin, life in Houston, victories, failures, and everything inbetween.

It may seem self-centered to some, and sure, I’ll give you that, but I have so enjoyed being able to look back at this seemingly transformative time in my life. It’s fun to see how I’ve changed, and also where I’ve stayed the same. And while blogging has never been number one on my priority list, and there was even a time when I thought I was done with it forever, I always seem to find my way back. Writing is often how I deal with and process major life happenings, and that’s exactly what I’m here to do.

ANYWAY, in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to post on the six-year anniversary of F&F. I missed celebrating five years because #volleyball, but I also have another reason for posting. A reason I would be very surprised to learn that you had heard nothing about: Hurricane Harvey. The storm that devastated quite a bit of our great state of Texas. And if I’m being honest, I’ve tried extremely hard to come up with the right words to express the impact this Hurricane has had, but I can’t. I’ll try my best, but I’m sure I’ll leave much to be desired.

(Source: ABC13 Houston)
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you have seen at least some coverage of Hurricane Harvey. You couldn’t turn on the television without seeing coverage, and you certainly couldn’t check social media without getting the latest update. I think I’ve stared at my phone more in the last week than I ever have, but social media was so incredibly helpful in keeping up-to-date with the storm. That being said, I’m not going to give you a play-by-play.

I will tell you that I initially brushed off the first mention of the storm when I was walking into a district training at an alternate campus. I was walking in with a teacher from Westbury High School, and we were talking about how ready we were for students to be back on campus. He then said something along the lines of, “Well, I doubt we’ll even have school on Monday.” To which I responded, “What?” And he proceeded to tell me about this storm that was brewing in the gulf. I didn’t think much of it, because typically when we make a big deal about the weather, nothing really happens. My dad later texted me and told me to make sure I didn’t park my car on my street this weekend, as we were supposed to experience some flooding. Later that night I was texting with a few friends and they convinced me to rush out of my apartment at 10:30pm (Yes, me, out of my apartment at 10:30pm. That’s when you know it’s real.) to the nearest grocery store to stock up on food and water for this storm. We didn’t yet know it was a hurricane.

Well, Harvey started picking up speed, going from a tropical storm to a category 4 hurricane seemingly overnight. The first day of school was canceled (okay, postponed), my volleyball tournament and all regular season games were canceled until what we originally thought would be Tuesday, and all HISD employees were forced out of the building by 10:30am Friday morning.

Well, the rain really picked up Saturday evening, and then it didn’t stop for the next four days. FOUR DAYS. Catastrophic flooding. 51.88 inches. More than 20 TRILLION gallons. 185,000 damaged or destroyed homes. And I could go on and on and on. The numbers are staggering. But I don’t want to talk about that. You have likely seen the stats, and you likely know that the country has never seen quite anything like this before.

I truly don’t have words for the devastation I have now seen firsthand. I feel a little bit guilty that my apartment was almost like nothing ever happened. Safe, dry, and I never even lost water or electricity. Other parts of my neighborhood weren’t quite as lucky, nor were my parents, but I honestly don’t think you could drive through any part of Houston without seeing remnants of the destruction Harvey brought. Homes, businesses, schools. Some homes are total losses, some schools and businesses are closed indefinitely, and many are facing months and months of repair. Neighborhoods that had never experienced flooding were underwater. Bayous were overflowing right and left and you simply couldn’t get anywhere in this city unless it was by boat. In fact, boats became the most common mode of transportation for a few days. My dad thinks it will take at least ten years for this city to go back to its pre-Harvey state, and I don’t doubt it.

My favorite running path
But what I think has been the most incredible thing of all – if anything positive has come out of this tragedy – is seeing the way people have come together to help, serve, and love one another. Seriously. I don’t think this country has ever faced more turmoil than it has in the last year or so – at least in my 25 years. Tensions were high, comments were nasty, and it seems as though we were more divided than ever. I say “were” because I really don’t think it’s like that anymore. Before the rain ever stopped, people were out there weathering the storm. Saving family members, neighbors, pets, complete strangers. Our first responders worked around the clock without so much as a break or a complaint. 

(Source: Steve Johnson)
Volunteers at some of the major shelters were TURNED AWAY because there are more than enough, which just speaks volumes to the spirit of this city. Donations have been pouring in from all over the country. 

(Source: J.J. Watt)
You can’t drive down a street in this city without seeing large groups of people helping friends and neighbors carry out furniture or tear out drywall. Meals are being cooked and delivered. Laundry is being done. And the best part of it all is that there’s no “us” or “them” here. We’re ALL in it together – regardless of race, religion, or political status. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in this country, and we have shown solidarity through it all.

(Source: ABC13 Houston)
(Source: ABC13 Houston)
My heart broke multiple times seeing what weather was able to do to my beloved city, but my heart also swelled knowing that I get to share this city with such incredible people who are more than willing to go the extra mile. My faith in humanity has been restored, and though Houston is down, we’re definitely not out. In fact, I think there’s more reason to have hope than there ever has been before.

We’ve got a L O N G road ahead of us in terms of recovery and rebuilding. It’s definitely going to be a marathon, not a sprint. But there’s not a doubt in my mind that we will rebuild even stronger than before. And while we’re at it, we’ll show the rest of the country how it’s done. I won’t lie and say that I’m not nervous to stand in front of my newest crop of students (hopefully) next week, many of whom have experienced three rounds of this devastation in three years. Quite a few of them had some sort of damage to their homes, and some of them lost everything. I don't know the right words to say. It’s going to take time, care, empathy, patience, gentleness, warmth, routine, positivity, and a whole lot more as we move forward from here. But the sun has shown its face and I have so much hope as we all move forward together.

(Source: Michael Ciaglo)
Whew! If you’ve made it this far, I salute you. And though I absolutely CRINGE at the thought of anyone reading My First Post, I have to reward you with the post that started it all. Unsurprisingly, not much has changed. I do, however, prefer football to baseball (but no one even mention the latest Longhorn loss), volleyball is obviously still a part of my life (coaching and a little bit of playing!), 

and while I may not be working at Stratford, I’m doing exactly what I thought I would be doing, precisely where I’m supposed to be. I’m still running, tardiness will always be my biggest pet peeve, and I’m watching Harry Potter as I type this post.

And if you are still reading, and feel compelled to give to one of the MANY relief efforts out there, here are a few that I personally would recommend:
Beltway 8 at Memorial as of Saturday evening (Source)
This list is just a few of the plethora of ways to help our beloved city, and I’m sure many of you have already helped in some way, shape, or form. But like I said earlier, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s going to require a lot more than just a week or two of volunteering and giving. Much love to you ALL! Thanks for reading this little blog of mine. Your sweet feedback truly means the world to me.