Monday, November 19, 2018

The Art of Kindness

When my children were young, every morning as they would leave for school the last thing I would tell them is to make good choices. While I still want my now teenage children to make good choices, I have recently started telling them, instead, to be kind. For kindness seems to be a scarce commodity in today's world.

Webster's defines the word kind as being "of a sympathetic or helpful nature." Some of the synonyms it lists are: gentle, softhearted, sympathetic, and warmhearted. Some of the word's antonyms are: atrocious, cruelunfeeling, and vicious.

As someone who is in the classroom on a regular basis, I see high schoolers act in cruel ways every day. And I do call them on it when I see it.  While it is painful for me to see these teens acting in such atrocious ways, I know, to their target that pain is amplified.

Why is it so easy for these young people to choose to act in such heartless ways? The same way it is easy for anyone else to act that way. They don't think about the consequences of their actions and/or they don't care about those consequences. They think kindness equates with weakness. We hear our leaders telling us to be unkind to those who follow the opposite political party. We see our president calling those who disagree with him hurtful names.

How are we to expect our children and teenagers to behave with respect and kindness, when our leaders are telling them to behave in ways that are the exact opposite? It is up to us to model it for them. To teach them. It is up to the adults to be adults.

As parents, we must be kind to our children. While there are times we must be stern with our children, it is unnecessary and hurtful to call our children names or to drudge up past wrongs.  It is cruel to dish out excessive punishment. Instead of offering our children hurtful words and extreme punishments, we need to offer them grace and discipline. We need to allow our children to suffer from the natural consequences of their decisions, yet offer them love and support at the same time.

As educators, we must be kind to our students. Personally, I make it a habit to meet students at the door with a smile on my face and a fist-bump. Sure, many of them probably think it is corny to have a substitute teacher giving them fist-bumps, but most of them reciprocate and some of them even seek me out for a fist-bump even when they aren't in my class that day.

As a substitute teacher who has been in various classrooms for eight years, I used to feel that I couldn't make a difference in a child's life by being in a classroom with them for just one day here and one day there. However, I have come to realize that my smile may be the only smile a student receives that day. My "good morning, how are you?" may be the only kind words a student hears that day. I may be the only person all day who takes the time to look that student in the eyes and acknowledge their existence.

What would happen if every adult in every child's life treated them with respect and kindness? What kind of world would our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have if we start right now and treat everyone - man, woman, or child; Republican or Democrat; Christian, Muslim or atheist; white, black, or brown - everyone with respect and kindness?

Remember, it does not have to be some grandiose act. Look a person in the eyes, smile and speak to him or her. Let the person standing behind you in line at the grocery store holding three items go in front of you. Let that car into line in front of you.  Take the time to notice people and speak to them. That's all it takes. Really.

As adults it is up to us to be kind to each other and to our youth.

Be kind.

Do you have any traditions that focus on kindness or helping others? Please share them with me in the comments!

Friday, October 19, 2018


Have you ever been faced with a decision and just felt paralyzed because a) you didn't know what to do or b) you had too many choices and didn't know where to even begin? I know this feeling. Sometimes a simple trip to the grocery store turns into five minutes of paralysis in the pickle aisle because I am unable to decide between the kosher dills or the spicy bread-and-butters. Eventually, I'll choose one and stick it in my cart.

Pickles are easy. What about the more life-changing decisions? Where to go to college? IF to go to college? What major to choose? What job to take? What career to begin? Should I marry this guy? Should I marry at all? Do I want to have children? On and on and on it goes.

Recently, my daughter who just graduated from high school has been struggling with some of these questions. She wants to go to college, but she has so many varied interests she doesn't know what field of study she wants to focus on. 

I have asked a friend of mine, J.E., to give my daughter some advice. J.E. has gone from getting both her bachelor's and master's degrees in Art History and working a few years in that field to now working toward her law degree.

Here, in her own words, is J.E.'s advice to an 18 year old:

All the feedback detailed below is based on nearly 10 years of post-high school exploration, excitement, stress, anxiety, experimentation, and observation. I’ve changed career paths a few times, gone back to school, dated all types of guys, changed friend groups (a LOT), and consumed metric tons of chocolate while trying to figure out the hell I wanted to do.

Always remember that you’re not alone. You have a support network that wants you to succeed, and always surround yourself with people that support your health and happiness. 

1.     You’re only 18 – calm down.
            Let’s just get this one out of the way, shall we? 18-year-olds think they need to have their life plan ironed out and ready to go once they graduate high school. It makes sense, since everything in your world is telling you, “you’re an adult now, and adults know what they want.”

Here is a secret that adults don’t tell you: most of the time, we are just as confused as you. Sometimes we’re confused about the same things, and sometimes we’re confused about different things (examples include how to raise happy children, balance a job and with a personal life, dating, marriage, taxes).

            Onto some other points!

To be honest, Meg Jay’s TedTalk scared the crap out of me when I first saw it. I was 22, and I felt like time was passing very quickly. She was saying your twenties are vital, and I wasn’t sure I was using my time effectively (in hindsight, I was). Her TedTalk prompted me to think more critically about how I was making decisions, using my time, and planning my life. Her points mesh well with the points I will give you, because they are all based on similar facts, observations, experiences, and phenomena. Luckily for you, you’re hearing a message targeted toward 20-somethigs before you’re even twenty, so you get the luxury we all dream of: MORE TIME!

3.     It is okay if you don’t know what you want to do – but be effective with your time.
There is nothing wrong with admitting you don't know what you want to do with your life when you’re only 18 years old. Even in your twenties, it’s okay to say you’re not sure what you want to do. You’re young, you don’t really understand how the world works, and you don’t fully understand yourself either.

            However, the reality is that time won’t stop because you’re confused, and outside parties will look at what you’re doing after high school. Therefore, use the time effectively.

            One great idea is doing charity work or the military. Take a year to do something beneficial for the community, learn a skill set, and have some time to think. You will meet professionals who can provide career planning experience. You will meet humans who might show you issues in the world you care about. You will discover things you like to do, and things you really don’t want to do.

I have a friend who has not finished his college degree because he pursued a career in the military instead. He is a sergeant and served two tours, and has had a successful military career so far. Now he is going back for his degree because it will make a very big difference in his pay, and professional prospects. Time in the army helped him develop a very clear path for what he wants to pursue, including an undergraduate degree in business, and afterwards he wants to go to law school to focus on constitutional law.

4.     Figure out what you love to do!

Generally speaking, you should always make sure you are finding things that you enjoy doing. Always. Granted, there will always be stuff that isn’t fun, but that’s life (ex. certain tasks at work, homework assignments, exams, etc).

If you find yourself doing something you don’t truly enjoy, you will eventually burn out (the nurse example in #7). This applies to every aspect of your life. A great way to learn more about what you enjoy is through volunteering, traveling, and doing something productive and explorational. (see #3!)

            Figuring out what you love to do and what you want takes time and creative thinking. For example, last summer I traveled to Israel for 6 weeks and worked on a farm for 3 weeks. I realized I loved working with animals, and living a simpler lifestyle than one usually finds in the US. I loved growing my own herbs, tending to a garden, and eating very clean food from the backyard (meat included – there were sheep on the farm that were butchered for us, and we ate on the barbeque).

Now, you might wonder how knowing I love these things helps me figure out my life plan. If I love taking care of animals, then I want a job that provides a stable income so that I can own land and animals (see #5). If I want a higher paying career, then I need to use my time in school to build a foundation for me to get the jobs I want (see #3). If I want a husband who will help me build a simple life with animals, then I want to date someone who also enjoys these things (and I am currently dating this type of person!) (see #8). If I want a life with lots of nature and quiet time, then the city life I thought I wanted might not be the best fit for me anymore (see #7).

5.     Whether or not you go to college right now, make sure you do something that will establish a viable career path later on.

There is a lot of debate about whether going to college is actually worth it. Short answer, yes, it is. The statistics overwhelmingly show that going to college will set you up for a more successful career than not going to college at all.

However, some people really don’t want to go to college, and that is fine. But whatever you decide to do, pursue some sort of education or training that will establish a viable career path. (This relates a lot to long term planning that I discuss next)

            For me, there was no question that I would go to college, or pursue higher degrees. I wanted it and my family wanted it for me. At any point along the way, any conceivable career I wanted required at least that I went to college (most required higher education). I went to large schools because the fields where I wanted to work highly valued name recognition, and I can personally say having recognizable schools on my transcript has opened doors for me in my particular fields of study. However, deciding where to go/what to do is different for everyone, and you need to talk with your family to figure out what is best for you.

            Let’s use a hypothetical to understand how to use college effectively, without imploring you to pursue a 4-year degree in – for example – philosophy and basket weaving at the most expensive school in the world. Imagine you wanted to open a tattoo parlor and become a tattoo artist. How does going to college apply to you? You can go to a small school and get a business and accounting degree, and on the weekends, you learn how to tattoo, pierce, and run a business by asking your boss a million questions. Do you need to go to Harvard for $60,000 a year in order to open a small tattoo parlor? No, you need to know the basics about business, and accounting, and not be saddled with so much debt that you’re financially crippled at the age of 22, and can’t get a loan in a few years when you’re ready to open a business. You get some scholarships, and go to school for a fraction of the cost. You’ve learned a skill set, and have set yourself up to establish a career path.

6.     There are always two types of questions/issues: short term, and long term.

            A lot of high school students get caught in the long-term thinking. “I need to have a good respectable job that pays me well and allows me to have all the things I want to have for myself and [should you want it] my family.”

            This is great long-term thinking, but you also need to think about short term too. Always think of what you want to do within the next 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, and 3-5 years. Breaking things down makes the overwhelming task of “figuring out your life” feel much less daunting.

7.     Don’t be afraid to say, “I changed my mind.”

            People are terrified of saying this, and it’s really unfortunate because it can set you free. People’s inability to admit they don’t want to do something, or they really want to do something other than what they’re currently doing is a big mistake I see a lot of people make all the time.

I will readily admit that changing your mind can be terrifying. But the sooner you admit whether or not you like something, the faster you will bring things into your life that make you happy. I had a friend who went to nursing school because he wanted to make money, and it was a safe career path. However, he hates being a nurse. Don’t get stuck in that situation. It takes a lot of time, and this situation can definitely be avoided.

Alternatively, my cousin decided to go to law school when she was in her twenties. She realized she didn’t have a passion for it, and left after her first year to pursue a career in hospitality. Since then she has pursued this career path, and absolutely loves it more than twenty years later! She is married with a happy family, and loves her life.

8.     Take your relationships seriously!
This does not mean you put a relationship before a career, your schooling, friends, or personal well-being. It means that your relationships will affect who you are, how you grow, and what you decide to do in your life.  There are relationships between the education you pursue, the lifestyle you choose, and the people you date. Let’s look at it from a few angles using men from my life!

When I was 19, I dated a guy from college. We were surrounded by people who had particular lifestyles, political views, and personalities. He was an exceptionally talented and driven artist, and I was really inspired by him. Likewise, he thought I was smart and talented, and saw the same things in me. Being with him, encouraged me to be more driven, explore different opportunities, and work harder than I had ever worked before on my art. When I decided to switch careers, a relationship like this one wouldn’t have fit nearly as well with my goals (see #5, #6). He now works in New York as a freelance artist/designer for clients like Dior and Luis Vuitton.

When I was 20, I dated a guy who lived at home and dropped out of college where he was studying kinesiology. When I was with him, I remained driven, but it was a battle. I was more ambitious than many of his friends or family, he wasn’t pushing me to be more mature and professionally accomplished. He dropped out because he wanted to save money for school (very valid reason), but didn’t get a job for a while afterwards (see #2). He talked about becoming a nutritionist or personal trainer, but never applied himself to any of these goals, or used his time well.  He is 29, still lives with his parents, and works as a mechanic at a bike shop a block away from home.
When I was 21, I dated someone I met in the Jewish community. He was extremely talented, ambitious, and very well educated. He was an engineer educated in Boston, and had a completely different personality and life plan than my other ex-boyfriends. When I was in this relationship, we had friends with different lifestyles (highly educated and very athletic), and personalities than I had with other boyfriends. Our relationship showed me what type of lifestyle I wanted (stable jobs like his), and the type of friends I wanted. I also began wondering what you needed in a spouse to have a happy marriage and family, because we both knew we wanted to get married someday, but we had no idea how to decide if we wanted to marry each other (see #5). He now works for Google as a mechanical engineer.

Now I’m 27, and am in a relationship with an Israeli man I met while traveling through Israel. He’s extremely smart, talented, supportive, mature, and professionally successful. We talk about what we would need to do in order to have the lives we want for ourselves, and each other and that impacts the classes I take, and the jobs I would want to have (salary, benefits, work/life balance, etc.) (see #5). He absolutely loves that I want to become a lawyer, and is the most supportive person I could imagine dating. He is very proud of his own professional success, and wants me to see the same successes in my own life, so he pushes me and supports me through the muck and mire of law school. Find people like him!

I’m not telling you these stories to provide a litany of my personal dating life – it is to explain how dating different types of people affected me, my outlook, and my career path. The people you surround yourself with, and the people you date, reflect you and your decisions. Take this seriously while you’re planning your next steps, and be aware of the influences your friends, family and love interests have on you.

6. Mom Sponsored Q: If you could go back, what, if anything, would you do differently?

            It is hard for me to answer this question, because I try not to lament on past decisions. I accept my past-self for who I was at the time I decided to do something, and don’t blame myself for missed opportunities. I know a lot of people who regret not doing one thing or another, and it eats them from the inside. Understand why you’re making your decisions in the moment, and find a way to forgive and accept yourself later on.

7. Mom Sponsored Q: What is the biggest mistake you have seen young people just entering college/the work force make?

I see people take on careers and jobs they hate, because they want to make money. People think they have lots of time because they’re young, so they don’t apply themselves now. People pursue relationships that they really shouldn’t pursue.

There are SO many more that I could list, but they all relate to the steps I’ve given you already. 

J.E. is an amazing person and I am so thankful she was willing to share these personal examples from her life. She's the bomb!
If you have any advice you feel would be beneficial to an 18 year old, feel free to leave it in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, October 4, 2018


It only takes a few days of sitting in front of the computer and searching through jobs to begin feeling disheartened. I get up in the morning and go to Indeed to search for jobs posted in the metro area in the past 24 hours. Apparently, there have been 5,806 new jobs posted. How am I supposed to cull through 5,806 job postings?! Okay, so I narrow my search. . . let’s see. . . how about I look for jobs with the word “communication” in them? Alright! That brings it down to 1,931 postings. Not exactly manageable, but it’s a start. 

My next filter is to choose everything except “Retail.” It’s not that I don’t like working retail, I really enjoyed most aspects of it when that was my job, but I’d really like something with more mainstream hours. Pulling out the retail jobs got the listings down to 858. Now what? How am I supposed to sort through over 800 jobs to find ones that truly interest me?

Are you tired yet? Imagine doing this every single day. Search. Narrow. Refine. Search some more. Until your search results are only 240. Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome that the job market is booming. Theoretically, that means fewer people are unemployed. However, for someone who is looking for employment it is quite wearisome. 

Currently, I am working as a substitute teacher. While it is something I (mostly) enjoy, it is far from steady work. When the school is closed (holidays, breaks, teacher work days, etc.) there is no work. And, I would really like to put my creativity to use. However, do you have any idea how difficult it is to get an interview for a creative job when you have no work history in the field? It may not be impossible, but it’s right next door to it.

After spending days of searching, applying, hoping maybe somebody would be willing to give me a chance, my husband reminded me of a podcast we had both heard earlier this summer. Tim Ferriss was interviewing Adam Robinson, who is a fascinating and highly intelligent man. About five minutes into this interview Adam says,

“ ‘If you’re not getting the results you want, change what you’re doing.’ You’d think that would be obvious. You’d think people, of course, would change. They would pivot, but they don’t. They do more of the same. They double down on what they’ve already done. They try harder.”

After going back and listening to this podcast again, this morning I decided to pivot. As a matter of fact, I made an acronym out of it and then I put it into action:

P- Project your desired outcome
I- Inventory what you have been doing
V- Voice the change you are going to make
O- Outline your change
T- Take action

After coming up with this acronym, I followed my own (and Adam’s) advice. 

P- I want a job utilizing my skills in communication — writing, speaking, listening, and learning — and my experience in management, teaching, and customer service. I want to be able to sit in front of an interviewer and ask them to just give me a chance. I have so much to offer!
I- see the above post for all the details of what I’d been doing
V- I told my husband what I am doing (voicing it gives me accountability)
O- I wrote down what I am doing (writing it makes it real)
T- The action I took was to research what companies I would like to work for (what do they do? what is their mission? what are their values?) then I applied for jobs. I also let the HR director know that, "even though I’m applying for Job X, I really want to work for your organization and if there is a different job you feel is better suited to me, please consider me for that."

Maybe this still won’t get me an interview, but at least I am doing something different. I am not scrolling through endless lists of jobs and hoping I can find a job I would like to do at a company I would like to work for. 

Stay tuned. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 24, 2018

We Created This

Photo from Wikipedia
This is a blog I wrote months ago, right after the Santa Fe shootings. I was in a classroom in a neighboring school district that day and it was scary not knowing what was going on.

This morning I read about three teenage boys who have been arrested for talking in detail about shooting up their school and placing explosives. I do not know anything about any of these boys. Maybe they were being serious or maybe they were being smart alec teenagers. Either way, even having these type of discussions is a stupid thing to do. 

Here are some of my thoughts about gun violence in our schools:
In the past I have stayed away from talking about things that could be construed as polarizing. However, today I feel the need to talk about gun control, school shootings, and why our children have become fair exchange for political favor.

Most people who know me would not describe me as a liberal. I tend to vote conservatively and support the conservative political agenda.  I cannot, in good conscience, however defend the lack of response and urgency that is coming from Washington. As a gun owner, I fully believe in our second amendment rights. As a parent, I fully believe that something has to give. Schools should be a safe haven for our children, instead they have been turned into killing fields for anyone who has a grudge and can access a gun.

In order to be granted a driver’s license, teens in Texas must first take over 30 hours of training, watch a series of videos on the dangers of texting while driving and pass both a written test and a driving test.  But, what if a person wants to buy a gun?  According to this article in the Dallas News written September 2017, Texas law "does not require universal background checks on all gun purchases, including private sales and purchases at gun shows." Why make getting a driver's license so incredibly challenging and buying a gun so incredibly easy?

While I know gun laws need to be overhauled, I do not believe it is necessary for the government to take all the guns in order to make our schools, communities, churches, and neighborhoods safe.  As a matter of fact, actual guns are the least of our problems when it comes to school shootings.  The problem is much more insidious and ugly than the sleek, cold, steel barrel of a gun.

Our society is one which embraces the glorification and sexiness of guns. Many celebrities who speak out so critically against the use of guns are the very ones who depict guns as a solution in the movies for which these same celebrities earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sylvester Stallone, whose movie repertoire includes the gun-toting Rambo, has spoken out against guns.  And Hollywood producer, Quentin Tarantino, refuses to admit there could be a link between the violence portrayed in many of his films (Kill Bill, Natural Born Killers, and Django Unchained, to name a few) and the rise in mass shootings.  Until the public stops giving their dollars to these movies, Hollywood will continue making them. WE are the ones who decide the kinds of movies that are made. The big-time production companies are not going to continue to fund movies that don't make money. If the American public stops going to these types of movies Hollywood will stop making them.

So, it's Hollywood's fault. Right? No, that is not where this story ends. Whenever a mass shooting occurs the media is quick to get the news out, with good reason.  These things are breaking news and the public should know about them.  However, why does the media insist on, not only publicizing the killer's name, but plastering the killer's name and picture all over? These killers become famous and everybody knows who they are and what they look like.  The news media will post an article sharing this information about the killer, then those of us on social media seem happy to run with it. We repost, share, like, sad-face, and comment on these posts until they become viral.  Because news and social media sites are paid based on the number of hits they receive, they will continue posting this information for as long as we keep clicking on their articles. It is up to us to stop sharing and talking about the killer. This infamy could be exactly what the killer was hoping to receive.

A few months ago I wrote a blog regarding the entitlement many of our teens are feeling. I feel that we (parents and society) have given our kids such a sense of entitlement that many of them feel they are entitled to: have friends, be on the team, have all A's, be happy, etc.  It is our duty as parents, teachers, and friends of these children to teach them how to handle disappointment, how to accept responsibility for their actions,  how to work for the things they want.  These kids need to learn the feeling of accomplishment they will feel when they work hard for something they really want.  Do you want friends? Learn how to interact with others in an acceptable way and to be a friend yourself. Do you want to be on the team? Practice for hours every single day. Do you want to have all A's? Spend your time studying, do all your school work to the very best of your ability,  and turn in all your work on time. Do you want to be happy? Stop believing everything is about you, give of yourself to others, and learn that happiness is in the journey not an end destination.

We can stop school shootings, but it is going to take so much more than simply taking away all the guns.  It is going to take parents willing to parent and not trying to be friends with their children.  It is going to take teachers and school administrators not backing down to parents who insist their child should have an A for shoddy work or who insist that their child be placed on the team even though the child did not earn the position. We can stop the shootings by not allowing Hollywood dictate to us how we are supposed to behave. Nor can we allow the high-rollers of Hollywood off the hook for choosing to produce movies which glorify guns, but not take responsibility for these movies' effects on society. We can stop this violence by refusing to name the name of these killers, but instead, insist the media focus on those affected by the violence.

It is time WE take responsibility for our actions.  In doing so, we will set a life-lesson for our children they can learn.  We can no longer preach, "Do as I say, not as I do."  We must act in the way we want our children to act. We can no longer afford to take the "moral high ground" with our words, only to act horrified because our children do not know how to accept disappointment. It is time we realize that we have created this problem, and only we can fix it. 

Do you agree? Disagree? Have implementable suggestions? Please comment and let me know.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Ties That Bind

Photo cred: J.Hartman
Being the youngest of eight children, I have no memories of a time when any of my oldest three siblings lived at home.  My oldest brother was in college when I was born, so the two of us never even lived in the same house. My oldest sister stayed in California when the family moved away when I was three, so I have no memories of her living at home.  My brother immediately younger than her did move with us and I have vague memories of him living at home, but no concrete memories that I share with him.

It isn't until we get to sibling number four, a brother, that I have specific memories of him.  When this brother was a teenager (14 or 15, the same as age as my son is now) he was diagnosed with polyneuritis.  Polyneuritis is a crippling disease which caused my brother to be hospitalized for weeks? months?  Honestly, I am not sure how long he was in the hospital*.  I was four years old at the time and it seemed like he was hospitalized for a very long time. Anyway, I remember after he came back home he had to wear weights around his wrists and ankles in order to build back his strength.  He also had to keep Silly Putty to work his hands and fingers and help rebuild his dexterity.

Don't worry, this is not a post that has me reminiscing about each one of my brothers and sisters. However, I do want to talk family for a bit.  Family is on my mind right now because I just got home from a family reunion.  Ever since 2008 (I think), all my siblings and I have tried to get together with my mom every two years.  As many of our children that can make it come as well.  This was our first reunion since Mom passed away and that made it a bit more emotional for all of us.  However, it was good to see everyone.  All the siblings were there and many of our children and their children were there as well.

It amazes me that we all get along so well and are always genuinely happy to see each other, especially when there seems to be so many families out there who never even speak to each other.  What makes us truly enjoy each other's company?  I don't know, but I can hazard a guess.

Our parents were from a time when children worked in order to help their families buy food. My mom's family were itinerant farmers.  They would move, within northern and northeastern Arkansas, to where the work was.  Family was not just an abstract idea of blood relatives, but they were people to be relied upon. At the age of nine, my mother worked in the fields picking cotton, not because it was fun (it wasn't), but because the money she made went directly toward helping her parents and her siblings.  She was proud to pick cotton because she knew it mattered to the welfare of her family, and Mom passed this idea down to her children.

My brothers, sisters, and I all know that we can rely on each other.  Despite any philosophical, theological, or political differences, I know that if I need help I can turn to my family and they will each be there for me in whatever capacity they are able.  If the zombie apocalypse hits, I know my siblings and I would watch out for each other and we would reach out to each other, making sure everyone was okay.

The cool thing is, this has now been passed down to the next generation.  My children and their cousins, while not close to each other, know they are family.  When push comes to shove, we all know that the nieces, nephews, and their spouses are available for back-up now as well. My grown nephews and nieces (and their spouses) have been gifted with a large family who loves them and who they love right back.

There is a hymn, Blest Be the Tie That Binds, I grew up singing which speaks to the special connection between Christians.  However, my mother and father helped each of us to see how strong a tie there is that binds us as an earthly family as well.

*I have since been informed that my brother was in the hospital for two and a half months.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lessons From Peru

    Cusco, Peru June 2018. Photo credit: Teresa Eccles

My husband and I just returned from a trip to Peru. This was a bucket-list trip which got us off of North America for the first time and also took us to Machu Picchu.  We were in Peru for 8 days, and while we were there I learned a few things I'd like to share with you.

Having a knowledgeable guide is invaluable.
My brother and his wife have friends in Cusco who own and run a Peruvian travel business, Peruvian Wonders.  My brother shared the contact information for his friends with me and I contacted them via email.  Maria and Raul were very accommodating and friendly.  They sent us two proposed itineraries and we asked some questions and advised of our hopes for the trip.  After this, Maria sent us another itinerary which suited us perfectly - and was very reasonably priced as well!

Maria took us to most of the Incan ruins in and around Cusco. We saw and climbed at Saqsayhuaman, Pisaq, Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and the amazing salt ponds of Maras.  She took us to a little place where we could feed the llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas.  She had us stop at a little market where the women shared how they clean, dye, spin, and weave the wool into beautiful sweaters, scarfs, hats, blankets, table runners, etc. We saw the most amazing views of the Andes along the way and Maria was always accommodating in allowing us to stop to take pictures.

On the road to Maras Salt Ponds. Photo credit: Teresa Eccles

Maria also made all the arrangements for us to catch the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes to see the incomparable Machu Picchu with another English-speaking guide.  We had no worries about how to find our hostel or the bus station because our guide, Ronaldo,  met us at the train station, walked us to the hostel, then picked us up there early the morning we caught the bus to Machu Picchu. He took us on a two-hour tour of the remains of Machu Picchu, after which, my husband and I went back into the park and climbed to the Sun Gate.  Which brings me to my next lesson:

Machu Picchu, taken from the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate. 
Photo Credit: Richard Eccles

What goes down must come up.
Yeah, yeah. I know the saying is reversed, but when hiking through the mountains it is important to not allow yourself to get too excited about a "down."  Because every down will eventually be followed by a steeper and more impressive up.  That being said, do not allow the ups to keep you from going.  The views are spectacular from on high!

The Incan Trail, to the Sun Gate. Photo credit: Richard Eccles

They don't drive the same as we do in the US.
Maria and Raul had arranged one driver for all our days of touring. Percy took excellent care of us, but we learned early on that sometimes it is better to look anywhere other than straight ahead.  And don't get me wrong, this driving was not limited to Percy, ALL the drivers drove by the same rules (or lack thereof).  It appeared to us that the lines dividing the lanes were merely suggestions. A four-lane road magically has six lanes of traffic! The drivers squeeze in wherever they see an opening *almost* wide enough.  And stop signs?  Stop signs are apparently solely for decorative purposes. Maybe, if we had been there longer, we would have gotten used to looking up to see trucks bearing down on us with inches to spare, however, one week was not enough to time to get used to that!

Kindness and a smile are understood in any language.
Even though I took Spanish classes both in high school and in college, I have managed to forget most of what I had learned.  If the speaker will speak slowly enough I am usually able to pick out enough words to piece together the gist of what they are saying. However, I still lack the vocabulary to answer most of the time.  And my husband speaks and understands even less Spanish than I do!  This made for some interesting interchanges with locals. This really was not an issue until we got to Lima because we had our English-speaking guide with us most of the time we were in Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the surrounding areas.  In Lima, we were on our own.

We were able to show the taxi drivers the address of our AirBnB, but even then they sometimes had difficulty finding it.  On two separate occasions, we found ourselves circling within two blocks of the address only to blurt out, "Aquí! Aquí!" so the taxi driver could let us out and we could walk the rest of the way.  However, no matter the language barrier, we found that as long as we used a smile and a kind tone, we were able to work through most communication issues.  It also doesn't hurt to have a translator app, like SayHi or Google Translate, downloaded to your phone either.

The Pacific can be deceiving.
Just because the name means peaceful, that does not mean the Pacific Ocean is always calm.  And sometimes it will sneak up on you.  During our brief two days in Lima we stayed in Miraflores, which has some beautiful ocean views.  However, the coast there is gravel, not sand. Also, June is the beginning of winter in Peru and it is pretty cool. Even so, I really wanted to just dip my toes in the Pacific Ocean. So, the hubs and I wound our way down and down (and down some more) to the shoreline and I took off one shoe and one sock and held onto to Hubs' hand as I inched my way toward the gently lapping waves.  I would take a little step and the waves would lap, still several inches away, and I would inch some more.  Finally, I inched my way down to the tip of where the waves were lapping, only to have this big wave come up almost to both my knees and well up my husband's calves!  Keep in mind, this was the last thing we did prior to leaving for the airport.  We had to get on the plane with wet shoes.  Well, wet shoe, for me.

Miraflores coastline. Picture credit: Teresa Eccles

It is possible to be in a foreign country for 8 days and pack only a backpack.
And not one of those crazy-big 70-litre things, either.  I am talking about packing the same backpack I carry back and forth to school every day while I'm teaching - a school backpack.  I packed everything I needed (and a few items I ended up not needing) into my school backpack, and my husband packed his backpack as well.  This gave us the freedom to not have to check any bags and we were able to just walk off the plane and on to our destination. No waiting!  Packing light really made me carefully consider each item I packed. Do I really need to pack makeup? No, I rarely wear it, anyway. How many pairs of underwear and socks should I pack? What is the weather going to be like? Do I need shorts AND a warm jacket? (The answer to this was no, I could have left the shorts at home as it was too cold to wear them, even in Lima).
Me with my backpack, boarding the train to Aguas Calientes.
Photo credit: Richard Eccles

Always go.
Admittedly, this is not a lesson I learned while in Peru.  It is, however, a lesson that helped get me to Peru.  At the beginning of this year, my husband and I sat down and made out a list of goals for ourselves.  Some of these goals are personal ones and some of them are for us as a couple. One of those goals was for us to finally get off the continent of North America this year. When given the chance, and it is within your means, go.  So, when Spirit Airlines had a big sale and we were able to score reasonably priced tickets to Lima, we jumped on it.

I have realized that, as I look back over my life the things I regret are those opportunities not taken.  So, when given the chance, I go. When we had a five-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale on the way to Peru, we got ourselves out of the airport and to the beach.  This is not something "normal" people do, apparently.  But why spend five hours cooped up in an airport if you have the chance to spend at least part of that time enjoying lunch on the beach and your toes in the sand?

Hollywood Beach, Fort Lauderdale FL. 
Photo credit: Richard Eccles

When we were climbing the ruins at Pisaq and they kept going higher, our guide asked us if we wanted to stop, but (thanks to my husband) we kept going. We climbed to the top and were treated to a view we would have missed out on, otherwise.

Coming down from the climb at Ollantaytambo, Maria offered us the easy way down.  However, the difficult way down looked a bit challenging, with a path that hugged the side of the mountain and a whole lot of stairs down. When else are we going to get the chance to walk a path carved into the side of a mountain? Like we tend to do in the flow of our lives, we followed the difficult path.  And we do not regret it.
Stairs. Photo by Teresa Eccles

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Path of Least Resistance

For the past few months I have again been working as a substitute teacher.  Last time I worked as a substitute was a few years ago and I spent most of my time substituting in elementary school classrooms. This time, while I can choose to work with any/all age groups, I have been choosing to spend most of my time substituting in the local high school.  Every day I deal with teenagers acting disrespectfully, using foul language, making sexual innuendos with each other, and generally choosing actions and attitudes that are the exact opposite of what I have asked of them.  Teenagers stay plugged in all. the. time.  They constantly have their headphones/earbuds on and their phones either playing music, playing games, or playing videos.  I worry about them.

There have been times in the past several months that I have asked the question: What have we done to our kids? 

Is it too late to set them on a new path?  If not, how do we go about changing that path?

These are complex questions with complex answers, which I really do not have, but maybe this will be the beginning of some discussions regarding possible answers.

How did these kids get here? What have we done to our children to make them this way? I believe that kids behave in this manner for a few reasons: 1) U.S society's insistence that all participants in an event (sports, clubs, etc.) be rewarded regardless of their effort or achievement,  2) Parents who give in to their child's every desire because it is easier to give in than to tell them no and follow through on that, and 3) Teenagers are allowed to be plugged in nearly 24/7.

As my children were growing up and participating in various sports: soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball.  At the end of the season they would hand out trophies. No matter how a team performed, everyone got a trophy. Even the team that came in last got trophies. Yay! Fourth place out of four teams! You deserve a trophy!

In my opinion this attitude promotes feelings of entitlement. These kids are growing up feeling that no matter their effort, they deserve to be rewarded. They show up to class, they may or may not do the work they have been assigned, and they don't understand why the teacher does not "give" them an A. They don't seem to understand the concept of working for things. It appears many of this generation expect to be rewarded for simply doing the least they can get away with.  High school athletes expect to be granted a college scholarship simply because they play. They don't even have to be the star athletes, if they are on the team they expect to get a scholarship.

Then there is the issue of parents who would rather take the path of least resistance than to stand up to their child and stick with a "no." Parents (I've been guilty of this at times, too) are able to rationalize giving in to their child with, "but it's only . . . (a piece of gum, a cheap toy, one evening with his/her friend,  a pair of shoes,  etc.) The problem here lies in the fact that if this is the parent's go-to for handling their child, it trains the child to believe he/she will always get what they want.  Parents then perpetuate this attitude in sports when they confront the coach about why their child did not get to play.  They perpetuate this in school when they confront the teacher about why their child did not get an A.  Not only do the students feel entitled, the parents often feel their child should be entitled.

Part of this entitlement is the fact that parents feel their child should always carry the most recently released smart phone available. These teenagers (including my own) spend nearly all of their waking hours plugged in. There is a constant barrage of noise flowing into their heads. 

Researcher, Jean Twenge, was recently interviewed on NPR.  According to NPR:  "Twenge researched the effect of screen-time on teenage depression and suicide.  Twenge's research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. And that's regardless of the content consumed. Whether teens are watching cat videos or looking at something more serious, the amount of screen time — not the specific content — goes hand in hand with the higher instances of depression."

This is a scary statistic. I honestly know of few teens who spend less than five hours a day on their phones.  I am currently sitting in a classroom and took a quick, informal poll.  Out of 19 students in the class, 9 of them are wearing their headphones/earbuds. As a substitute teacher there is very little I am able to do to get students off their phones during the school day. I can ask them to remove their earbuds or headphones, and I can ask them to turn off their music, videos, and games, but if they decide not to there is little I am able to do about it.  As long as the school system allows students use of their phones in the school this is going to be a problem.  

In her book Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, author Manoush Zomorodi speaks of the importance of giving our brains time to be bored.  She states, "being bored gives us the space to ask 'what if.'" If our brains are constantly blasted with noise they have no down time to process the input and to be creative.  Our most creative moments stem from moments of boredom.

While our kids may not deserve that trophy or that A, they do deserve better than they have been receiving. They deserve to learn in a mutually respectful classroom. They deserve time away from their telephones. They deserve to feel the accomplishment that comes with earning. They deserve more than the everything they are being given.

If you have thoughts or ideas about how we can change the course these kids are traveling, please comment and let me know. I'd love to have a discussion about this!

Until next time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Outside the Box

Sometimes it is easy to stay in my box. I like my box. It's cozy. And warm. While I am tucked away all snuggly in my box, I only have to do the things I want to do. The things that I am used to doing.  I do not have to stretch myself or do anything that makes me uncomfortable.  My box really is quite comfy.

While my box is familiar and safe, it can also get boring and confining. I really don't expect too much of myself while I reside inside my box. I don't grow while I'm in there all snuggly-buggly. I don't do anything interesting or meet new people while I'm tucked away inside my box.

So, Friday night I was browsing my social media pages and saw a post about a group meeting in my local subdivision the next morning for a 3-mile walk around the loop. Hmmm . . . they're not running, they're walking. I can walk three miles. I may even make a friend. With that, I decided to get out of my box, get up and walk to the meeting place Saturday morning and do this group-walk thing.  It was fun. And I did meet a new woman with whom I immediately hit it off.

Also, one of the other walkers is a neighbor who lives just one street over from me.  After walking 1 1/2 miles to the meeting area and then walking another 3 miles with the group, I was more than happy to accept the offer of a ride home from our neighbor.  On the way home, the neighbor invited my husband and I over to his house for a wine-tasting that same evening.

Wait. What? That's two out-of-my-box things in one day. What should I do? I know! I'll tell this neighbor I will discuss the invite with my husband and let him know.  Since, in the past, my husband has not been big on going to a party with people whom he has never met, at the house of someone he has never met, I felt I would be able to crawl back into my box and enjoy my comfort for the rest of the day.  Funny thing, though, Hubs said, "that sounds like fun."

Bye-bye box. Just when I thought it was safe to climb back inside, I get hit with, "that sounds like fun." What in the world??

So, I let the neighbor know we will be joining the party at his house that evening. When the time comes, I get ready (what does one wear to a wine-tasting at the neighbor's house?) and we walk to the neighbor's house. It's a couple of minutes after the designated time, but there are NO EXTRA CARS parked at the house. Are we the first ones there? What if nobody else shows up? Should we go to the door now or should we walk around the block once and give someone else the chance to be the first one there?  Wait! Here comes a car.

We walk up and ring the doorbell, immediately followed by the people who had just pulled up.  We went in and introduced ourselves and eventually, we met another couple with whom we both hit it off. The wife of this couple and I sat and visited most of the evening.  I hit her up to join my team for a trail relay race coming up in 9 months and she said yes. And, AND, we made plans to start training together.

She and I met up yesterday afternoon and completed Week 1, Day 1 of Couch to 5K training.  After we finished up, we made plans to meet Wednesday afternoon for Day 2.  We plan on meeting three times a week to train. Hopefully, we will run some 5K's together before the relay, maybe even a 10K or two.

Let this be a lesson to me to climb out of my box more often. Life inside my box may be predictable, comfortable, and safe, but it is also boring.  It is not until I climb out of my box and allow myself to experience unpredictability, discomfort, and a little insecurity that life starts to get interesting!

What have you done lately to get out of your box? Was it worth the effort?  Please comment and let me know!

'Til next time . . .