Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: How I did

I thought it was appropriate for me to end 2011 the way I spent 90% of the year. Right here:

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new quilt!

I love my heavy quilts.  And my flannel sheets.  And my memory foam mattress topper.  And my two different memory foam pillows (one in a flannel pillowcase).  God bless the magic that is my bed.

Yep, I'm spending New Year's Eve in my bed, writing. I'd like to thank my bed for being there for me this year. For being warm. For being squishy but supportive. For being the best bed anyone could ever have. And being a good office. And a good study room. And a good place to watch The Real Housewives of just about Anyplace.

But.

This post started out to be a 2012 version of Goal-setting, but as I read through my goals for last year I realized I had a few things to say about the goals I set.  I feel like 2011 was the best year of my life for actually tackling some goals.  Was it because of this post?  I'll never know.  But having to think about what I wanted out of 2011 definitely gave me some specific direction.

So.

2011 Goals
Original posts here and here

Personal growth: work at being more patient, sincere, brave

I don't know that I achieved anything in any of these three areas, but I definitely stopped to think about them more often.  I think when it comes to personal growth, just having the thought is half the battle.  Patience will always be hard for me, but I tried.  Applying to MFA programs was an exercise in forced patience.  God, I hate waiting for things.  Sincerity is important to me.  I really gave it thought this year and I tried to focus on quality relationships.  I'm sorry I can't think of a good concrete example, but I did give effort to that particular quality.  Courage is another hard one--I'm afraid of so many darned things.  But I can say that applying to school, driving to school, and being at school all felt like steps in the right direction.  I had to put on my big girl pants and deal.

Learning goal: apply to a creative writing low-residency MFA

Did it!  Not only did I apply, but I was accepted to several, I decided on UC Riverside, I started my first year, and I attended my first residency at in Palm Springs. Boom.

Reading goal: read Little Bee, Fifth Avenue, Five A.M., An Object of Beauty, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Skippy Dies, The Imperfectionists, and Fight Club

Eh, not great.  Out of those the only book I read was Little Bee.  I am about a third of the way through The Imperfectionists, though.  I'll finish it soon.  I don't really feel bad about not reading the others, though.  My to-read list changes all the time and I decided a while ago that trying to get through some arbitrary list I created just makes reading feel like a chore.  I have to give myself the freedom to read something that I'm excited about in a moment.  That's always more fun.  And heck, I read about 30 books.    Most of them were things I'd never heard of when 2011 started.  That doesn't suck.

Physical health goal: eat whole foods, cook at home, take lunch to work, exercise regularly, complete physical therapy for hip, run a marathon

I was probably better about eating whole foods in 2010 than 2011, but we continued to eat relatively well at home.  The way we cook is just different now, and I think most of what we make will continue to be some sort of lean meat with veggies, fruit and a whole grain.  There are just not a lot of processed dinner foods that taste good to us anymore.  BUT we have major snack issues around here.  Just sayin'.  I did moderately well taking my lunch to work; again, I think I was ore consistent in 2010.  But I made a good effort.

I didn't exercise regularly for the last two months of the year, but from January to October I did pretty well.  I ran 601 miles this year.  That's way more than ever in my life before.  Things went off the rails a bit as I got close to residency and the holidays.  Overall I'm proud of what I did do, and this was the best year of physical exercise I've had since I was dancing in college and my apprenticeship.  I finished my physical therapy for my hip and I think it made a big difference.  And I ran that damn marathon.  Ran it all over San Jose.  I feel good about what I did for my health this year, though I know I can definitely do better.

Marriage goals: spend more time together, get a plan to have some date nights

When I wrote that goal I wasn't thinking about spending more time together in just our daily routine, but that's actually what ended up happening.  We've gotten to this strange place since law school finished and I've been working the same relatively early schedule that we have a lot of night time together.  I think in 2011 we were still figuring out what that looked like, but we've settled into a routine when it comes to that, too.  And much more than when we first got married I can say that now it doesn't bother me that we keep different hours.  I like my peaceful alone time at night, and so does he.  But it's nice to be in the same house together, too.  E continues to be my favorite person to travel with, and I got to do a little of that this year, too.

We made major headway in the date department, thanks in full to K.  She started volunteering to babysit regularly for us so we could go out.  Seriously, how nice is that?  She calls us and sees if we want to go out.  Taking the guilt out of having to ask someone to babysit our kids has been the biggest gift.  (And they love her like family, so it's good all around.)  Regular, non-stressful alone time has been the best thing for our relationship in years.

Family goals: keep talking regularly to our kids, take them on trips and visit museums, get both kids involved in something physical

Our kids wouldn't let us stop communicating.  They're already these two great communicators who are not afraid to sit us down and say "listen, we don't think this is right."  So that part was easy.  We took them to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and Monterey this year.  I would have liked to do more traveling with them, but that can be a goal for another year.  They're easily impressed, too, so all it takes is a night at the Best Western to make them think they're living the high life.  Both of our kids tried a new sport this year.  Henry played baseball and Addie ran her first 5K after training with Girls on the Run.  E and I helped coach their respective sports.  All of that was wonderful and I'm glad they got active.

Money goals: use cash only for monthly expenses, pay down debt

I think I was about 80% here, too.  Most months I managed to do a cash-only system for our expenses, and it saved us a ton of money.  But there were also a few months where, for whatever reason, I just didn't go get the cash at the beginning of the month and put it in those envelopes.  And those months were not so great.  I just honestly need to remember to do it and then we're fine.  And instead of feeling repressive, having the cash to spend makes me feel a little bit more free.  I hate the debit card because I'm always worried I'll make a calculation error and there won't be money in the bank.  Having the cash in my hand is an easy reminder of what we do and don't have to spend.  As for our debt, it's basically the same.  We managed to get rid of our credit cards but it was by moving some stuff around rather than by being awesome and paying them down slowly.  I don't care, though.  That was a huge weight, lifted.  Of course I took out a school loan this year, but we're already swimming in law school debt, so what's another loan, right?  Yeah.  Right.

Relationship goals: be a better friend, encourage/support/notice my students more

I can't say if I was successful or not, but I tried.  That's about the best anybody can do, right?

One word resolution: peace

Last year I saw this idea of a one word resolution somewhere and I couldn't remember where, for the life of me.  I think it was on this blog, but it looks like she got it here.  Anyway.

My word or 2011 was peace.  Interesting, because 2010 was way more peaceful than 2011.  It wasn't that 2011 was really filled with discontent, but it was work.  I feel like I had to get up off my butt in 2011.  I had to write and apply and run and cook and clean and mail and read and reflect and talk and teach and run some more.  Was there a peace of mind that came with all of that?  Definitely.  But it wasn't very zen.  There were no palm trees or drinks with little umbrellas in them.  Just work.  Good work, but hard work.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Poof. Gone.

Today was. Poofety, poof. Over.

I am not really even sure what I did today, other than to find the floor in my living room.  And the couch. But somehow that, picking up the kids, driving through Starbucks, spending an hour in my classroom and _______? filled a whole day.

Henry didn't believe me when I told him that there was no such thing as Starbucks when I was a kid.

His drive-thru pose.

Someday I'll tell him how when a coffee shop opened on the other side of the freeway in high school, we thought we won the Teenage Freedom Lottery.

How we spent all our nights and our money sitting at Buckthorns pretending like we liked coffee just so we'd have somewhere to hang out.  How I discovered then that I can't sleep if I drink caffeine at night and how gelato turns my stomach.  How we'd make up stupid games like 20 questions and ask each other if we could meet anyone famous, dead or alive, who would it be.  How I never knew enough about anything to have a good answer and I always thought about it so long that the question passed me by.  How none of that mattered except for the time it wasted.  How we hoped Celeste was working, or Spencer.  How we thought Chris Farley was the funniest ninja, ever.  How we sat there, all night, complaining that there was nothing to do in this town.

How the afternoon I asked his (future) dad if he'd think about getting back together with me we sat at this little table by the window with rickety chairs and the sun blinded us through the window.

Maybe.



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Read this book.

Well. Wait a minute.

Has everyone else in the whole wide world already read it? I'm sorta embarrassed to come out and say OMG you have to read this book I just finished when it's over 20 years old.  The fear, here, is that everyone else on the planet already knows about it and read it back in 1990 when it came out and you all got together in your secret We're Grownups Club and discussed it over a couple of Zimas while I was still pegging my pants and stuffing my scrunch socks into penny loafers in 6th grade and I didn't know crap about anything.

I feel like I've spent the last ten years or so doing catch-up in the category of Things I Missed in the 1990s.  Okay, and '80s.  And '70's.  And all those decades before I was born, too.  You get it.

BUT YOU GUYS, THIS BOOK.

So excuse my extreme praise for this thing I just discovered, but the cool thing about a book is that it gets to be new to you whenever you find it.  If you read it in 1990, or since, then I'm glad you did.  And if you didn't read it yet, well... you might just try giving it a little look-see.  I really think you should read this one.



The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

If there is one book that's been discussed more than any other in my short stint as a UCRPDMFA student, it is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.  The book is fiction.  And it's nonfiction.  And it's a novel.  But it's kind of also a collection of stories.  So maybe it's a linked collection.  It's not really linear.  But it is.  It came up multiple times during my residency, in different contexts, but always with the agreement that it is such an amazing example of writing.  That it defines the very nature of storytelling, which is really something undefinable.  And everyone seems to agree that everyone should read it.  And honestly, I hadn't read it so I read it because I wanted to know what people were talking about.

The Things They Carried is about a character named Tim O'Brien and his experiences surrounding the Vietnam War.  Some of it is true.  Some of it is dramatized in order to portray a true emotion.  All of it is captivating.  Sometimes the author addresses the reader directly.  Other times he tells stories in a traditional narrative form.  He plays around with truth, but the novel itself feels more true than many things I've read.  It's not a direct telling of any one thing from the war--not necessarily a historical novel that tells one informational story.  But in its way it manages to tell the reader more about what the people felt than I imagine a straight telling could do.

I'm not doing this book justice.  There are so many different things going on in it that I happily let the academic side of my brain shut off because I just wanted to follow each story.  But at the same time, I can say that I am only able to do that if something is written well and I know I can trust the author not to lead me astray.  It was about so much, including writing itself.  Stories.  War.  Loss.  Fear.  Parts of this were really hard to read, but it was so moving.  I can't think of a better book, really.

My recommendation: Everyone should read this book.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Reflection Questions

I am continuing in my tradition of answering these annual reflection questions. I got them from Simple Mom. You can find the full original attribution information on my 2009 responses or read my 2010 responses by clicking here.

This is always the longest post I write all year, so get a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

The single best thing that happened this year was not a thing, it was an activity.  I got to travel.  Even though much of it was within my own state, it scratched the itch.  I got to stand in all of these places and see these things.  The world is amazing.

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Family Cabin at Silver Fork, CA
Bridalveil Meadow
Yosemite National Park, CA
Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach, CA
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Angora Lake, CA
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Brooklyn, NY
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National 9/11 Memorial, NY
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Times Square, NY
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Palm Springs, CA
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Joshua Tree National Park, CA
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Carmel, CA
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Monterey, CA
I got to see these gorgeous places and share them with some of the most important people in my life.  Sometimes I got to see these things alone, and that was good too.  All of them moved me.  All of them made my craving to travel even stronger.

And out of all of this year's trips, my favorite one was to Lake Tahoe with my mom's family to celebrate my grandpa's 80th birthday.  I've seen Tahoe plenty of times, but spending that much time with the family was just wonderful.

There we are... Everyone (minus Kayla and Beau, they had to leave early). What a wonderful weekend with family, celebrating Grandpa's 80th.
Lake Tahoe, CA

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

The single most challenging thing that happened was also not as much of a real event as it was just a trend.  Since I'm a public school teacher and E works for the state, it was a scary year to be dependent on the state economy.  Throw in a little bit of negative public opinion about schoolteachers and the threat I might have to move schools and teach PE to keep my job, and you've got a recipe for a tough couple of months at the end of the school year.  A big band-aid got applied over the summer, but I anticipate this May will be just as ugly and upsetting.  I love my job, but it's getting tougher and tougher to do so.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?


Photo on 2011-05-16 at 18.41


Cookie was an unexpected joy.  We had just adopted Twinkle and didn't plan on any more pets for a while.  I took her home after a woman at school rescued her.  She is a weird, wild, honeybadger of a joy.  All of the sudden, most of our pets are babies and it is insane around here.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

Well, I didn't expect to be in school, but that's going so well I can't call it an obstacle.  But a byproduct of my MFA program is that I need a lot of alone time to read and/or write, and I am realizing how much I need (to borrow a phrase) a room of my own.  I have so much of a better understanding of how hard it was for E when he was in law school and had to leave the house all the time to study.  So I've been planning all of my writing around when I can be at Starbucks, and that's not always easy.  (Delicious, but not always easy.)  Our house (which has felt fine, size-wise, for so long) now feels too small.

5. Pick three words to describe 2011.

Filling, short, cold.

(That last one might just be influenced slightly by what seems like a ridiculously cold, dry winter.)

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2011 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you).

Fun, new, expensive

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2011 (again, without asking).

Focused, hard-working, satisfying

8. What were the best books you read this year?

I read 30 books this year.  That's more than last year by three times.  Most of this is because of the MFA, but I can say I am so happy I can choose my own books for that program.  And really, this was the summer of rediscovering reading.  I went through books like water.  I let myself get absorbed in books and forget about other things.  It was awesome.

Here are my favorites from 2011:

Classic, rediscovered: Jane Eyre
Could not put it down: Unbroken
Beautiful story: The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle
Laugh out loud: Bossypants
Written so well: Winter's Bone
Currently vying for best book I've ever read: The Things They Carried

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?


In 2011, my most valuable relationship was with my daughter, Addie.  We started off the year doing Girls on the Run together, and she trained for her first 5K. She's 9 going on 16, and this feels like such an important time for her--and for our relationship.  Every once in a while the angry teenager pokes her head out and I see a glimpse of what's coming.  Overall Roo and I have a great relationship, but I can tell right now I need to keep talking to her, keep doing things with her, and keep encouraging her.  She's so hard on herself in exactly the same way that I remember being hard on myself.  I want to allow her room to grow and to figure out who she is but also I want her to know how much I like her, how proud I am of her, and how I would do anything for her.  I have a feeling this will be a lifelong goal for our relationship.

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

Two challenges, personally.

One: running a marathon.  I decided I was going to do this and I did it.  It wasn't hard in the way you'd think--the actual runs were just longer rather than more difficult.  But the hardest thing about it for me is exactly what it is about running, today: making the choice to step outside the door.  By far, that's the hardest part about training for a marathon.  I had to make that choice for a lot of days in a row.  Thankfully, I have a job that allows me summers off, so I was able to do the bulk of my training when I didn't have to worry about work or grading or being awesome in front of people for five hours a day.  But facing the challenge of running a marathon was incredibly satisfying.

Two: starting an MFA program in creative writing through UC Riverside.  First of all, applying to MFA programs was way harder than actually being in one.  All those deadlines and fees.  Ick.  But actually being in a program has brought a whole host of new opportunities and challenges--workload, time management, and confidence issues.  The wonderful thing is that I am so happy when I am doing the work for my program.  It's feeding a little piece of my soul to know I'm a writer and to devote so much time to that.  Again, deeply satisfying.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

A nice part of the MFA is that I have to crawl out from my dark hole twice a year and talk to other writers.  That tries my introversion much, much, more than you can imagine, but I have to think it's good for me.  I really had to push myself when I was at residency not to withdraw from people.  It was hard, but I know that hard work is where there is usually growth.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

I've really come to appreciate how important it is to take time to both create and be still.  I've stopped sweating the small stuff altogether.  I am convinced that God really doesn't care and that 99.9% of the time I've spent on guilt was wasted.  I've pursued happiness in the moment rather than happiness once all the hard stuff is over.  I've enjoyed the blessings that are right in my simple little life.  I grew vegetables, too.


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13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?


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I ran a MARATHON, people.  We should just stop talking about growth right there.  No, seriously.  Your grandma could run a marathon faster than I did.  But I did it.

And it was cool.  I'm still disappointed that more than half of it was on (unadvertised) loose gravel and my time sucked big time.  I want to run a real (read: paved) marathon sometime in the near future so I can see if it would be closer to my actual anticipated time.  I was doing so well with my training and pacing.  Oh well.  I also ran two half marathons and a 5K this year.  I tried to just accept my slowness and enjoy running.  I want it to be something that brings me peace now and something that I can continue to do through the rest of my life.  I put in a lot of hours this year toward that end.

Oh yeah, and I stretched.  I guess I needed to be doing that all along.

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

Last year I said I was working on accepting imperfection.  I suppose this year is an extension of that in that I am still trying to focus less on what I think should happen and just allow things and people to be as they are.  Something can be negative and I don't have to sit there and take it, but I don't have to try to change it, either.  Sometimes walking away is much more effective.

15. What was the most enjoyable area of managing your home?

I love cooking.  Particularly when I'm well rested and have time to think about what it is I want to cook in advance.

16. What was your most challenging area of home management?

I'm not going to go 3 for 3 and say laundry again, but it's related.  The most challenging area of home management for me is the couch in the front room.  Every time I get it cleaned off, it piles up again with laundry or assorted other goodies.  I hate the couch being cluttered, since it's the first thing you see when you walk into our house.  I don't feel like we can have people over if the couch is piled up.  And honestly, I'm not winning the battle.  So that's frustrating.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

Paperwork.

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

Reading and writing.

19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?

The biggest thing is a writing thing with some life application.  At residency, over and over again I heard that I needed to trust my writing more, not to sum it up at the end of a story or a vignette and tell the reader what to think.  Coming from an analytical writing background, this was completely new, but realizing it in the context of my creative writing gave me more confidence in what I was already producing.  And as far as life, I think that trusting myself to be enough is always going to be something I work on.  I feel like I got a little bit closer this year.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2011 for you.

Make a specific goal and then go for it one step at a time.  Even if you move slowly, you'll get there.

Henry touches the Pacific

After our visit to the Mission we had a hankering for some BBQ.  Henry to the rescue.



And then after BBQ, another hankering. Ice cream. Good thing Baskin Robbins was across the street.

And after that, my insistance that we touch the ocean, please.  We parked near Lover's Point in Pacific Grove.

What I didn't know was that my son has not ever done that.  He's been to the coast, but not up close since he was a wee tiny babe.  In San Francisco we never hit the beach.  He's never set foot in the waves and run up the shore.  He's never seen kelp.  Or sea shells.  Or cold, foamy salt waves rushing at him.  (He said no Mom, I've been to the Tahoe beach and I had to set him straight about Tahoe not being ocean.)  He's never gotten half his pants wet in winter from wading a little too deep.

I knew they'd love it.  Knew it, knew it.  Henry said this is the best part, Mom, we should do this more next time.  Addie found sea anemones in the tidepools and E peeked at hermit crabs.  Henry climbed the rocks and wrote his name in the sand.  It was ten kinds of awesome.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Carmel Mission

Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo is a special place for my family.  Since Addie is a fourth grader, and had to choose a mission for her California Mission report, she chose the family mission.  We took a trip to Carmel this weekend so she could tour it and learn more about it.

Before we left, she interviewed my grandpa about our family connection.  I videotaped her interview as well as her tour and we'll be working on the final product before she goes back to school next Tuesday.  My grandfather  told the same stories to me when I was a child, and it was incredibly special to hear him tell Addie.  When we shared the story with the woman collecting admissions fees, she refunded mine, saying that being a relative trumped being a parishioner.  I guess it pays to have connections.

We are direct descendants of a Spanish soldier, Manuel Butron, who was close to Father Junípero Serra.  He is the only non-clergy to be buried inside the chapel of a California mission; he was buried inside the chapel at Serra's request.  Serra is buried at the front of the Basilica.  Butron's burial is marked just inside the entrance by a plaque in the floor.  Manuel Butron, my many times great grandfather on my mother's side, was also the recipient of the first Spanish land grant in California in 1775.  He was married to a native American woman who is buried in the cemetery of the mission.

Addie said that the mission "was really old, but it was really interesting, too."  Henry said that he "was tired of just walking around looking at things."  E helped Addie do a rubbing of the burial marker inside the chapel.

I've visited the mission several times, but (I think) not yet as an adult.  As a kid I understood that it was important but I didn't really appreciate its beauty.  Maybe it was the crisp, bright day, or maybe it was just the mood I was in, but I was moved by the peacefulness and architecture of the mission.  The splendor of the reconstructed chapel contrasted so much with the simplicity of the living quarters.  The flowers were beautiful and the church was still and dark.  It was beautiful.

Today the Carmel Mission functions as a museum, a school, and an active parish church.