Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday's Back in Town

Yahoo! I'm as excited as my little second graders that today is Friday. We've put in some hard work, and we're all ready for a weekend. 

During my one year retirement, the days of the week lost all meaning in my life. Every day was mine to do with what I wanted. I woke up, wrote, walked the dog, played on the internet, went out to eat; basically, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I rarely looked at a calendar or a clock. And I loved it.

This school year started on a Wednesday, and let me tell you, after only two days back at work, I was pretty darn excited when that first Friday showed up because I was EXHAUSTED. 

Imagine my excitement this morning, after sleeping all night, and for once, being woken by the alarm clock (that NEVER happens), only to realize it's FRIDAY!
I'm still trying to get used to my new schedule, and am very hopeful that after a couple of weeks, I will figure out how to return to blogging with some regularity, and get back on top of my workouts. For now, my focus is school. Well, TODAY, my focus is on the weekend! Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Day Jitters

"It's today! It's today! It's today!" I feel just like George in Stuart Little. Today is my first day back at teaching after a brief, one-year retirement. And I am so excited.

So...what is wrong with this picture? Well, I'll tell you. There are no children milling about the room, and that is what has been bothering me ever since I've gone back to work. I don't do well in an empty classroom. I suppose teachers are like entertainers, in a way, and we enjoy performing for the crowd. Playing to an empty room...there's no fun in that!

Last night was Back to School Night at Monroe Elementary. True to form, I talked too fast, and I was a little nervous, but just meeting my children put my mind at ease. They are darling. They are so beautiful. And some of them are just like me, a little nervous about this day.  I'm looking forward to settling into my rocking chair for our morning meeting. That is my time of day to assure them they belong here, and for them to tell me what is on their minds. We will work through our problems, and discover things about each other during our class gathering.
This will be our theme this school year.

To let them know they're not alone, I'll be reading First Day Jitters by Julie Danneburg. I think it will help us all relax to know we're not alone. Kids aren't the only ones with a case of nerves; most teachers admit to dealing with that, too.
My prayer today is that I will not rush. I will remember that it is not the curriculum I'm teaching...I teach children. When I remember that, my school days fall into place in all the right ways. I will take deep breaths, and slow down, and savor every moment that I can. I want my kids to know that Room 26 is where they belong. They don't have to try to fit in; they are wonderful human beings just the way they are. We'll all be learning together this year. I want school to feel like a home away from home for all of us.

I was wide awake at 4 this morning, which, while better than 3, is still pretty early. This August hasn't been any different than the thirty before when I was teaching elementary school. I just get so excited about school starting, I can't sleep. Like I said before, this is like Christmas morning for me. I have the next year to unwrap these gifts their parents have given me for this second grade year, and I want to help my kids discover how uniquely special each one of them is.

Wish me luck! I'm heading in early, just to go over our schedule one more time to make sure I haven't forgotten everything. Then I can relax, and enjoy getting to know my little ones. And I will put these jitters to rest, once and for all. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Best Summer Ever

My bucket list keeps getting longer. It seems the more I check off, the more I add to the list. 53 years old, and I'm still amazed at the things I haven't done, and the places I've yet to see. Another summer is quickly winding down, and I've still never been on a cruise. I have yet to see the Grand Canyon. I have still never been to Zion's National Park to hike the Narrows, Angels' Landing or the Subway. And yet...
Let the road trip to Denver begin!

As Bridger and I were driving toward Denver recently, he remarked to me, "I have to say, I think this has been the best summer ever." I had been thinking the same thing, but wanted to know what made that true for him.

"What sets this summer apart from others? Why is it the best for you?"

"I've spent a lot of time hanging with my friends. We've gone to Jeb's Hole (a local swimming hole in the canal system). We've played night games."

"And the road trip to California was awesome," I added.

"And the road trip to California WAS awesome," he agreed.

We were on our way to Denver, our annual summer road trip to see his sister Sierra, and we were grateful to have this little vacation time to ourselves.

I have teased that Bridger is my baby hummingbird, coming in to the feeder only briefly, and then flitting away as soon as he has eaten. On the rare occasion he turns into my song bird, our house is filled with the sound of his guitar. I haven't minded my living room looking like a musician's paradise...full of guitars and amplifiers. Music is that boy's life.

For me, it has been the best summer for different reasons. While our adventures were highlights for me, as well, there has been an emotional and mental shift that is almost imperceptible, until I look back at how far I've come. There is finally room for play in my life.

In today's meditation, the centering thought was "I am playful." Playfulness in our lives invites creativity, receptivity, and revitalization. We all know the old adage, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Our lives seem to have more positive energy when we take the time to play. 

Deepak Chopra says, "Being too serious or heavy takes us away from our playful, joyful self. It also keeps your spirit from expanding. No matter how old you are, you will be young at heart if you know that play renews the spirit...[Play] embraces joy, spontaneity, and fun."

The spontaneous moments of the summer are what have set this one apart from all of the others in recent history. Concerts, road trips, meeting new friends for breakfast or lunch on actual dates (!),  parades, fireworks, community dinners and work nights at the potato patch, solo bike rides, shopping in thrift stores (and of course, showing off our more ridiculous finds), tubing down the river, hiking...all of these moments have added a spice to this summer, making it the most flavorful, so far.

Today, I go back to work. My summer officially "ends" today, but I am determined to keep a summer state of mind. My August Mary Engelbreit calendar has this awesome quote:

"'Why not?' is a slogan for an interesting life." - Mason Cooley
Whenever possible, I plan to answer each opportunity to do something fun with the "Why not?" response. Today may be my first day back to school, but the summer will resume as soon as I get off work. We're taking off for Bryce Canyon with a great group of friends to attend the Utah Symphony concert.  

When my friend invited me, my initial thought was, "What if a man asks me out, and I already have plans with my friends?" AWESOME, was the answer to that question. The old Denise would have chosen to spend time on a date over time with friends. The new Denise knows there will always be time for dates, but how many chances will I have to hear the Utah Symphony under the canopy of the night sky in Bryce Canyon? EXACTLY.

What will you do for fun this weekend? If you haven't already made plans, I'd like to suggest you figure out at least one fun thing you've been meaning to do, and go do it! 

Some of my favorite memories of playing this summer...
Hiking the Flatirons with my Colorado kids.

I take every opportunity to make my daughter nervous. Pose with
a statue in the middle of downtown Boulder? Why not?

My hero...

If there are hats, we WILL be trying them on!

My hummingbird is also a song bird.

We went to the hot springs for the first time!

Dye his hair blue? Why not?

Can't remember the last time I went to the fireworks in July. So glad I went!

My silly hiking buddy.

Family picture day

Charlie's Angels...yeah, right...

Sometimes we like to pretend we are "Mall Cops" just to make
Sierra nervous.

Thrift store finds. Yep, she bought the one on the right.

What's a summer without shaved ice?

Solo bike ride through the canyon? Why not?

Bridger will always be our Boo.

Spontaneous trip to the big city with Kimberly? Why not?

Have an awkward moment with a stranger at the shore? Why not? She was a little drunk, I was a little nervous, and somehow I ended up wearing her sweatshirt before the evening ended. 

Spend a long weekend with virtual friends I had never met? Why not?

Run a 5K Color Run? But I'm not a runner. Why not, indeed?

Memories of a great day hiking with my most  favorite people in the world.

My happy hikers, all five of them together at once!

For a good time HIKING, call...

Get out there, and have some fun!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Smack-Dab in the Middle of an Awesome Life

This summer has been the best summer ever. Yes, there have been some adventures, some trips, and some experiences that have been enjoyable, but that's not the best part.

It's not just the things I've done, it's the things I've thought, and the way I've felt. There has been a nearly imperceptible shift in my attitude, but when I look at where I was, and see how far I've come, I cannot deny the changes that have been taking place.

I remember that I was trying an imagery exercise about a year ago, picturing what I thought my ideal life would look like. The problem was, I was adding in so many variables that were beyond my control that my ideal life was not even in the realm of possibility.

The image in my head was a picture of certain people, doing certain things, in a certain place. The overall concept of this imaginary picture was peace and happiness, but I was missing the point. Peace and happiness can be mine without certain people, places or things. My dream was so specific, that I was constantly disappointed with where I was in life, not realizing that it's never the variables (people-places-things) that make us happy, it's the constants (attitude and mindset).

Control is simply an illusion, isn't it? I don't get to control how someone else feels, or thinks, or acts, and no one gets to control those things about me, either. If I'm not happy or at peace, I have no one to blame but myself.

No longer do I say to myself, "I'll be happy when So & So does this. I'll feel peaceful when I live in Such & Such a place. Happiness will be mine when So & So and I do Such & Such. Peace will be a part of my life when I have done Such & Such." Nope. Now I just say to myself, "Today I'll be happy. Today I will be at peace with my life." 

A magical thing happened when I RELEASED MY EXPECTATIONS, when I was no longer attached to the outcome. The very things I was seeking, happiness and peace, became part of my daily life. I let go of my limiting view of what that would look like, who would be there, and where I would be, and now I find myself smack-dab in the middle of an awesome life. 

I've always had an awesome life, but I forgot that. I've always been an awesome person, but I forgot that. We forget some pretty important things when we operate under the illusion that we have any control over the events and people in our lives.

What's holding you back? What lies have you been telling yourself that you would be willing to release, if you knew you would be happier? It's scary to let go of tightly held beliefs, but it's worth it. You just might find yourself smack-dab in the middle of your own awesome life, for the price of letting go of your expectations. Go ahead; try it. What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

This Bout of Insomnia Brought to You by...

Just like clockwork, my insomnia is back. I find myself checking my phone for the time throughout the night. The glaring numbers cause my eyes to squint in the darkness: 12:30...1:10...2:00...2:15...2:45... By the time 3:00 arrives, I figure I might as well roll with it, and get this day started. 

Clockwork, you say? Yes, every August, and every May, except when I was retired, have been the biggest months of insomnia for me. The culprit? School. 

Last August was delightful. It was the first August in 30 years that I didn't have a classroom to organize, lessons to plan, children's names to learn. My sleeping pattern was not disturbed by a brain running at full tilt at odd hours of the night. I still awoke early each day, but not in the middle of the night kind of early. 

Now when I go to school, I wander around my classroom like a lost ghost. The desks and chairs are so tiny. Nothing seems familiar. I open cupboards and drawers to discover things the previous teacher left behind. Will I need all of this stuff, I wonder? What am I forgetting to do?

It's only been a year without teaching, but it's been 28 years since I've taught second grade, so I'm a little nervous about that. Until I meet with my team, I will be lost, so in the meantime, I fill my time with mindless activities like writing dates in my plan book, filling playground balls with air, and sharpening pencils. (My master's degree seems to mock me at times like this.)

My own teacher paraphernalia was donated to other teachers last year. I gave away everything. Hundreds of story books, thousands of dollars' worth of teaching supplies. I threw away all of my plan books, my documentation, and copious notes. 

Now I find myself sitting in a bare classroom, back at square one, knowing I don't have another full career left in me, but wanting very much to offer my best to the children in my class this year. At times I am overwhelmed with inadequacy, and a desire to make a difference. 

Friends laugh at me when I mention the butterflies I'm experiencing. "You? You're a pro. You could do this in your sleep." Oh, and I do. I even teach in my sleep. The dreams...they are more like nightmares, really. The crazy things I dream about make it difficult to sleep; missed meetings, children out of control, school days full of madness and mayhem.

Until my little second graders start filling up my classroom that first day, I will be haunted by fears and doubts, and yes, more than just a little bit of excitement. 

The night before school starts is always the hardest for me. I'm like a child on Christmas Eve. I can hardly wait to see what the morning will bring. All of those beautiful gifts, just waiting to be discovered after a sleepless night of tossing and turning. I will have nine months to unwrap these gifts given to me, to discover their strengths, and to share my love of learning with them. Teaching is my calling; in my heart, I know that. It will be good to be back at school, doing what I do best. 

Now if I can just figure out how to get a little more shut-eye...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Play's the Thing

Is my life like a play? Is there a plot riddled with conflict to keep the story line interesting? Is there a cast of characters who come and go as one scene changes to the next? And the biggest question is... Am I some diva on the stage trying to tell the director how to do his job?

I am discovering that to be truly happy, sometimes we have to let go of our attachment to a specific outcome. I thought I was so smart; I thought I knew what was best for me, but when life took some unexpected twists and turns this last year, I realized that sometimes we just have to release our expectations, and just enjoy the unexpected plot twists that come our way.

I shared this quote from on Facebook this last week:

Since last winter, I had struggled with one setback after another. It seemed my life was not going according to my plan, in any way, shape, or form. I was so discouraged as I watched my life seemingly fall apart as I tried to deliver the old lines I had rehearsed, but it just wasn't working.

Once I let go of the way I thought this drama should be played out, there was room for new actors, new plot developments, new scenes, and frankly, I never could have predicted how delightful those changes would be. 

If you would have told me that this summer I would meet some of the most extraordinary people of my life...that I was going to come out of retirement to teach second graders...that I would be happily dating and having wonderful adventures with my "girls" and my kids, I probably would have scoffed at you. My life went from melodrama to comedy when I released my expectations, and I decided to accept this new way of normal.

Living in the now, perfecting my improv skills, has allowed so much more happiness into my life. If all the world's a stage, I would like to thank those of you who have been the best supporting actors and actresses I could have asked for in this epic adventure of life. 

The show must go on...and while I know the part I play is a small one on the Broadway stage of life, in my particular scenes, I will play my part wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm. It's time for me to scrap the script. I've been ad-libbing for months now, and I have to say, I'm happier and have more peace in my life without that old script to which I was clinging. One of the biggest changes I've had to make is relinquishing my perceived role as director. I am not in charge at all; I see that now. I am part of something so much bigger than myself, and I'm as excited as any audience member to see how this thing's going to end. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Randomocity Spaghetti Bake (A Healthier Version of Million Dollar Spaghetti)

"Should we go out to dinner when we come down Friday night, or is there something special you'd like me to make?" I asked my older, married son.

"OOH! Would you make Million Dollar Spaghetti again? That is my favorite thing ever!" And yes, he uses the word "ooh." He's nothing, if not enthusiastic. Love that about my boy.

When I visit my married kids, I like to make something they'd enjoy eating, if it's feasible. Lately, I've been making two recipes' worth of whatever it is; one to eat, and one to freeze for later. 

We're heading down to Saint George for our first time this summer. It's not that I haven't wanted to see the kids, it's just hot as fried hell down there, and our schedules have been out of sync these last few weeks.

Last night, I decided to healthify Dylan's favorite Million Dollar Spaghetti recipe. The basic recipe combines all of these ingredients in one casserole: cooked spaghetti (broken into smaller pieces), spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, cooked hamburger and a stick of BUTTER. My intention was to make it a healthier, meatless dish with extra veggies, and I eliminated the butter entirely. By using veggie noodles, this dish is low in carbs, too.

During the summer, when there is an abundance of zucchini, I like to take advantage of that with my SPIRAL SLICER. It cuts the zucchini into spaghetti noodles, and it's so simple to use. Peeling the zucchini first seems to make the noodles a little less crunchy, and more pasta-like.

If the idea of zucchini noodles makes you nervous, just substitute whole grain spaghetti noodles or your favorite pasta, and cook according to directions on the package.

Last night's concoction got rave reviews. It was tasty, and microwaving the noodles first eliminated the crunchiness. When I make it for the kids tonight, we'll be using moose meat because we can. I like utilizing wild game when it's available because it's lower in fat, and, you have to admit,  it's just fun to say "moose meat."


Serves 6


4 medium zucchini, peeled and spiral sliced into noodles OR a box of whole wheat spaghetti noodles, if you prefer
1 medium onion
1 c. mushrooms
1 t. garlic, minced
1 (16 oz.) jar of spaghetti sauce (I love the chunky garden-style, either Ragu or Great Value)
8 oz. cottage cheese (I use nonfat, but don't tell my family!)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (Neufchâtel works great)
1/4 c. Greek yogurt, plain, nonfat
8 oz. mozzarella

While sautéing onion, mushrooms and garlic in a small amount of olive oil, spiralize the peeled zucchini. I like the noodles to be tender, so I microwave them for several minutes before assembling the casserole.

In a medium bowl, combine the cottage cheese, cream cheese, and yogurt. Stir in half of the mozzarella cheese. Set aside.

Spray non-stick coating on casserole dish (9x9), and line the bottom of the pan with half of the microwaved zucchini noodles. Add the layer of sautéed vegetables, and then spread the cheese and yogurt mixture. Top with the remaining zucchini, and then pour the spaghetti sauce over all. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, topping casserole with remaining mozzarella during the last five minutes. (I browned the cheese under the broiler.)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

"Let's do lunch," girlfriends will say to each other. Not mine, though. My girls say, "Adventure awaits. Be ready in an hour." I love that about my friends. Our plans are not "maybe, someday, we ought-a" plans. We won't be living with regrets of the coulda, shoulda, woulda variety. These women make right here-right now-let's do something-even if it's wrong-kind of plans.
Red Hat Society, Nelson County High School Chapter, Summer of 2013

My high school girlfriends mostly stayed close to home in Virginia. Since I moved the farthest away, when I go back to visit, those of us who can, get together. I love the camaraderie, the friendship, and the warm feelings I have whenever I am with them. The miles may separate us, but through Facebook, we are able to stay in touch with each other, celebrating our milestones, and mourning our losses together.
My Daring Greatly Friends from My 500 Words writing group on Facebook, Ros and Tonia

My virtual friendships formed through a writers' group on Facebook took things to the next level when we had a meet-up via the Randomocity Road Trip. We didn't sit around bemoaning the fact that we were each more than a dozen hours' drive away from each other. One of us said, "Come stay at my ranch," and the other two jumped at the opportunity. Ya gotta love women who make things happen.

This summer as a single girl, I've done some fun things with my female friends, singles and married. I joined the gym and cycled the canyon and went tubing down the river with Laura. Sharmel and I met for lunch at Pepperbellys. My college roommates and I took advantage of all three of us being in the same state at the same time, and enjoyed a leisurely Vietnamese lunch of Pho. 

And then there's Kimberly. She is my hero. I'm taking notes on how to live my life as spontaneously as possible from that girl. 
Kimberly took me to the Whiskey Street Pub and Grill before the Train concert. It's been awhile since I've been carded. ;-)
Because of her, I've been to the Kayenta Street Painting Festival near Saint George, and I've learned not to eat edamame pods at the Happy Sumo restaurant, and how to eat artichokes at the Whiskey Street Pub and Grill in Salt Lake City. We went to the Train concert in downtown Salt Lake, and I watched her handle the drunk guys behind us with class and style. 

Pam and me
Even though I moved away from Marysvale, I still visit my friends there each month at the Ladies' Luncheon at Marysvale Diner. Our photography group still gets together, and I love every chance I get to see my girlfriends in Bullion Canyon.

Sporting our Brain Buckets before Cycling the Bike Trail down the Canyon
My girlfriends push me to live my life outside my comfort zone. They ask the hard questions, and they listen with their hearts. They encourage me to live my life to the fullest. Where would I be without my girls? Life would not be near as much fun, and we all know, girls just want to have fun.

The BYU Cougars Gather in Provo

My Workout Partner, Biking Partner, and River Floating Partner Laura
When was the last time you thought, "My friends and I should get together?" Do it. Do it now. You won't regret it! Make a plan, follow through, and have fun with your girls!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Happy? No, Not Yesterday

Our writing prompt for yesterday was "HAPPY." Here's what I wrote on my laptop, but was unable to publish because of technical difficulties:

“Happy. Happy. Happy.”

Nope, not feeling it. Today I’m experiencing vacation hangover. 

Too much food. 

Too much gelato.

Not enough training before hiking in the Rockies.
Even stretching during the hike didn't help much.

Too much silliness.

 Too much junk food.

Too many issues upon our arrival home.

To begin with: no internet connection. Are you kidding me? And the technicians were already booked through today, so no tech support can make a service call until TOMORROW. 

Ants have invaded my home in my absence. I had tossed an empty cookie tin on the floor that had been in my suitcase. When I picked it up, it was covered in ants, inside and out. We had a funeral at sea, of sorts, at the kitchen sink. There were no survivors. Of that particular crew. I have a feeling there are plenty of reinforcements still undetected.

My legs are still screaming with pain from our hike on Saturday. It was fun. It was beautiful. It was worth it. "Hiking" our flat bike trail by my house in no way prepared me for the gains in elevation in Boulder, Colorado.

Communication breakdowns seemed to be a theme yesterday. Still sorting through those issues. If a woman finds her voice, but no one comprehends her message, do her words still count? 

Exercise, for me, cures a variety of ills, so I took off for my walk before the day got away from me. The air was cool; the sky was partly cloudy. Perfect. Except. Mother nature "called" at the worst possible moment. Seriously? The nearest portapotty was two and a half miles away. My schedule is so off. 

Luckily, I flagged a friend down on her way to work, and she whisked me home speedily.  I promised myself to try to make it to Zumba later. My mojo is messed up, and I’m just going to sit here and sip coffee for awhile.

My day was full of lethargy and slothfulness. I pushed myself to go to Zumba at 7:00, but was feeling poorly with cramps and a headache. I barely broke a sweat; I was pushing myself to the limit just to be there. I made a quick dinner for Bridger when I got home, and headed to bed with a heating pad. 

Maybe I can write about the HAPPY prompt another day. This one just wasn't one of those days.