Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Good, The Bad, The Balanced


"My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad. 
The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada." ~Ellen DeGeneres

This week, I've been contemplating the all-too ubiquitous idea of finding BALANCE. You know, eat a balanced diet, find your work-life balance, balance your checkbook, etc, etc. Seems like I've been searching my entire life for the elusive "balance" everyone's been talking about.

When I was young, my dad constructed a balance beam in our back yard. And no, I don't think my parents had any grand ideas of turning me into a gymnast. I was just clumsy! I've LITERALLY never been quite "balanced!" What you will find if you attempt to walk across a balance beam is that you don't FIND balance. If you're good, you can KEEP balance. But even the best gymnasts don't always complete their beam routines without a misstep or a fall every now and then.

A lot of bruises resulted from my time on the balance beam. Many people use the metaphor of running a marathon for various life experiences, and even for life itself. While I find this a useful image and can definitely relate to running out of steam at mile 23, I think a better metaphor for me is of the balance beam. Sometimes we lean completely to one side, flailing our arms in an attempt to right ourselves. A sick child. A fight with a spouse. Stress at work. Lean and correct. Lean and correct. Sometimes, we fall completely off. Sometimes it leaves a bruise, and on rare occasions a more serious injury. But, like the faithful gymnast, we brush ourselves off and jump back on. 

Keeping balance in my life lately has meant making tough decisions and having tough conversations. It's meant being flexible and understanding, but also unflinching when I need to be. Every tough decision, every sacrifice I make helps me stand up straighter, step more carefully, and stick closer to the center of the beam. I'm not expecting to stay on the beam every minute of every day. I just want to minimize the number of times I fall.

4.22.15: Food For Thought

I have stayed within my allotted WW points consistently. I had a great time Friday getting together with good friends and one I hadn't seen in awhile. I ate and I drank. But the next day, I went back to making good choices. 

Speaking of balance, I really enjoy the "new" Weight Watchers program. It helps me choose foods that are better for my health. In the past, a 100 calorie pack of cookies was the same number of points as a banana. Now, a banana is zero points. And I don't think anyone ever became overweight solely from eating too many bananas! Choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy keeps me full, and that's something I don't remember feeling the last few go-arounds. I have more energy, and I feel better emotionally.

One new-to-me find: My friend Becky has been eating sprouted grain bread. I was curious, but hadn't really gotten around to asking her more about it or trying it for myself. At Costco last week, they had samples of sprouted grain bread. I really thought this bread was way too yummy to be point-friendly, but two slices equal only three WW points, and it actually has some substance to it. It's called Alpine Valley, and it comes in a two-pack for right around $6, which is almost half of what my friend was paying at the grocery store.

About this week: there were a couple of days when I didn't even EAT all my points. Seems impossible, I know. I am making a concerted effort to avoid this in the future. Stress played a role, as did caring for Luci while she was sick this past week. I actually think that I won't see much weight loss because of it.

4.22.15: The Stats

3.23.15: 37 lbs to lose
3.29.15: -4 (33 lbs to lose)
4.4.15: +1 (34 lbs to lose)
4.12.15: -2.5 (31.5 lbs to lose)
4.19.15: -2 (29.5 lbs to lose)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Love What You Do; Share What You Love


"Poetry is, above all, an approach to the truth of feeling . . .. A fine poem will seize your imagination intellectually—that is, when you reach it, you will reach it intellectually too— but the way is through emotion, through what we call feeling." ~Muriel Rukeyser

It's April. In my world, that means it's time to hit the test prep--hard. In case you don't know me, or haven't read my bio, I teach AP Lit and IB English 12, both of which require high stakes testing at the beginning of May. Every year I re-evaluate the effectiveness of my instruction and my ability to adequately prepare my students to succeed on these exams. But I also try not to get too carried away. Are my students taking the highest level literature courses to learn how to take a test? Frankly, I hope not. But, I know that I have been, and continue to be, guilty of test-prep overload.

Facing my last unit before the AP Lit exam, I cringed as I pulled up my PowerPoint instructing students how to read a poem:

1. Read it out loud. 
2. Try to get a general idea about the meaning. 
3. Look for patterns. 
4. Scour that thing for every literary, sound, and structural technique the poet uses to create meaning. 5. In short, "tie the poem to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it" (Billy Collins, "Introduction to Poetry"). 

(There are 20 instructions. No joke).

Every year my students have entered the room on the first day of the poetry unit with trepidation, eye-rolling, and often downright defiance. They are literature students who do not like poetry. How is this possible? (Please see above list on how to read a poem).

I love what I do. My passion lies in working with my students and with my curriculum. But I don't love poetry because I've been taught to dissect it word by word, syllable by syllable. I don't love it because I know the definition of anapestic tetrameter (the meter utilized in the popular by "Twas the Night Before Christmas"). I love poetry because it speaks to me on a deep level--a level beyond my intellect. When my brain cannot accommodate paradox and ambiguity in words, I can understand poetic truth on an emotional level. Poetry touches me in the core of my humanity. It welcomes me into the beauty, fear, uncertainty, and even the ugliness of what it is to be human. It connects me to people and places far away, and it assures me that I'm not alone. And what do all teenagers need to know more than anything? That they're not alone. 

Poet Billy Collins says teachers install "poetry deflector shields" in high school. My PowerPoint is just such a shield. But this year, it remains in its folder, unopened. I'll share what I love. I'll give them the opportunity to understand for themselves what there is to love. I'll stand back while their eyes light up with understanding and connection. I'll celebrate the songs and poems they share with me--the very things that speak to them. Somewhere along the way, I'm certain we will discuss the sonnet form and iambic pentameter, and maybe that will get them a few more questions correct on the exam. But, ultimately, I hope they take with them the humanity expressed in good poetry, and not the idea that only the English teachers know what it means.

If you are interested in delving into poetry, here are the two pieces I selected for my introduction to poetry: "In a Week"--lyrics by Andrew Hozier Byrne (Hozier), and "Ghost House" by Robert Frost. Both consider what happens to us when we die. I recommend listening to "In a Week" while you read the lyrics. Drop me a note to let me know what you think. This generated so much discussion that by the third time I taught it, I had guests. Really...students not in my class who wanted to see what it was all about. 

4.12.15: Food For Thought

I learned something important last Sunday. I always knew that I had trigger foods, but I did not know how quickly and severely I would react. On Easter Sunday, I ate candy and dessert. Not nearly as much candy and dessert as I could have (or would have in the past), but enough. It made me irritable, tired, and HUNGRY when I shouldn't have been. Monday was a little rough, too, because I was still feeling that unnatural hunger. Luckily, I was back to normal on Tuesday, and I haven't felt that way since. It was a great wake-up call for me. I don't even want to start eating those trigger foods, because I know what they will do to me now. I ended the week well within my allotted Weight Watcher Points and had a good loss. 

4.12.15: The Stats

3.23.15: 37 lbs to lose
3.29.15: -4
4.4.15: +1 (34 lbs to lose)
4.12.14 -2.5 (31.5 lbs to lose)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Magic Moments


"How we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives." ~Annie Dillard

Scene: The nightly dinner struggle, when the 2.5 year old monster love of my life rejects even the idea of supper. Never mind that she ate three plates of spaghetti just the night before. Tonight she doesn't like spaghetti. So, she embarks. Destination: distraction. First up, "Let's play bubbles, Mommy!" Hmm. It is a beautiful day. And I am so, so exhausted from this mealtime game. Bubbles. Yes, bubbles. She really is brilliant, that little Tazmanian Devil sweetheart of mine. So, we leave the spaghetti on the table, grab our bubbles, and head outside into one of the first beautiful days of spring.

Isn't this what life is all about? Taking a moment to have fun, to connect, to engage in something other than another battle of the wills? Just as the bubbles are peaceful, beautiful, and fleeting, so is the moment. Blink, and the bubble is gone. Blink, and the moment is gone. What choice do we have but to embrace even the simplest of our moments? Life is not waiting around the corner. Life is NOW. My moments, like everyone's, will float away. But they can turn into magical memories if I stay tuned to the present and open to the possibilities.

Food for Thought:

The salads were good this week. I was a little worried that I would be sick of salad, and by Thursday, I was. This week, I plan to mix in some low calorie sandwiches. Tuna and chicken salad with chunks of fruits and veggies are on the list.

I feel I have re-set my body and am no longer craving junk food. I've been deliberate about choosing nutrient-rich foods that provide plenty of protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. And, of course it helps that I am getting in more than my recommended daily amounts of fruits and veggies. I've avoided eating even one bite of trigger foods (Snickers minis, I'm lookin' at you!) and may need to do this for awhile.

The Stats:

A word about the first week of my healthy eating plan. I lost 4 lbs in 4 days. That is not reasonable for me, and the weight loss I saw did not stick around. I attribute this to the comprehensive overhaul of my diet, and the fact that I ate chia seeds every day (they are little body scrubbers, you know). So, I am up 1 lb this week, but not feeling down about it AT ALL. Last weekend was my birthday weekend, and though I counted my WW points, I went over by almost 60 for the week. Still a success in my mind, because I did not give up on tracking. So, two weeks in, and I am down 3 lbs. Considering that to meet my goal, I need to average 3 lbs a month, I'll take it. 

3.23.15: 37 lbs to lose
3.29.15: -4
4.4.15: +1 (34 lbs to lose)

Have you tried Yoplait Greek 100 Whips? AH-MA-ZING. Two WW points, and eating them feels almost like eating a decadent dessert. Worth a try.

Let’s talk about this busy business

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ~Socrates
How many times this week have you said, “I’m busy” when a person asked how you were? How do we define BUSY? More importantly, how many times do we use “I’m busy” as an excuse? For instance, this week, I was apparently too busy to a) do my laundry, b) get my papers graded, and c) finish some other paperwork that needed to be completed. But, was I really?
We ARE busy. But why? I feel busiest when I neglect to prioritize, plan, and execute my plans. I let the events in my life control me without a plan in place to meet obstacles and everyday nuisances head-on. I’m busy in the mornings when I have neglected to prepare clothes and lunch the night before. I’m busy during the day when I allow myself to be distracted instead of being productive. I’m busy at night when I haven’t planned a healthy dinner. All this “busy”-ness wears on me, but it’s not truly me being busy. In fact, it’s me being lazy.
This week I will not be too busy to plan and execute healthy meals and snacks, because I tend to use my failure to grocery shop or failure to prepare meals ahead of time as excuses to eat junk. And junk makes me tired, hungrier, and eventually, depressed. This week, I will begin to re-define “busy.” I’ll be busy laying the groundwork for a positive, healthy change.

Food for Thought, 3.29.2015

This week is all about salads. Cabbage and broccoli slaw mixes are the bases. Toppings will include tuna, chicken, avocado, black beans, raspberries, apples, and mandarin oranges (not all on the same salad! A girl’s gotta have some variety!) I’ve discovered Bolthouse dressings—1 weight watcher point for 2 TBSP. The cilantro avocado is delish! I’m also adding chia seeds to these lovely salads to up the healthy fats and protein. I have a very short lunch, but these guys will keep me busy chewing throughout—no time for junk!

The Stats, 3.29.2015

To Lose: 37; Today: -4