Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunset SB

Last weekend, Jason and I had two days off together and so we made last-minute plans to camp at Sunset State Beach.  We were in Space 88.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

I Just Had To Let It Go

So I’m going to just jump in and start blogging again. No fresh start, no fanfare. This is a continuation on a long journey that began nearly a decade ago. This is just the most recent permutation of my complicated relationship to writing.

Rather than try to write for a specific audience, or use my facebook account to promote my posts, I’m going to just try writing what I know, on a regular basis, using my own voice and having no expectations as to how it will be received.

At some point, perhaps, I will develop a regular posting schedule with themes and articles and all that, but for now I just want to get in the habit of writing and posting regularly again. I also have a new story to tell, a new chapter in my personal narrative.

Eight years ago, when I first started blogging, I wanted to incorporate writing more fully into my daily life.  I still have aspirations of becoming a published writer, but in this day and age that looks completely different than it did when I was a UCSC undergraduate in 1995, wondering if my portfolio was good enough to get into the Creative Writing program.  If I remember correctly, I lacked the confidence at the time to even apply. Instead, I went with the safer Literature major and later added Cultural Anthropology as a second major. After graduation, I just stayed on in the job I’d had all through college - managing the Ticket Office selling tickets for music and theater events on campus.

In 2004 I decided to leave this relatively stable job, with decent pay and benefits, to become a teacher.  Looking back, I feel like I was a completely different person at the time. I struggled with my weight and living a healthy lifestyle. I was often depressed and frequently anxious, significantly more than I am now! I drank a lot, ate whatever I wanted, and worked out only 2-3 times a week.

I was also in a major life transition in terms of my relationship. Jason and I were in the middle of an 18 month engagement, and I had a lot of anticipation about the wedding. I felt dissatisfied with something in my life yet was not sure what to do to change it.  In retrospect, I needed to go within, do some self-exploration, and really listen to my intuition as to what I wanted from life.  

Over the past few years and in the last year especially, I have been able to see many of my past decisions as being “fear-based” instead of “hope-based”. I’ve written about this realization in past blog posts. Deciding to become a teacher was, in many regards, a fear-based decision.  I never really wanted to be a teacher. I just thought that I would be good at it, could make more money, and would be able to immerse myself in something I desperately wanted to have prominence in my life: literature and writing. I was 26 years old, and I was afraid of the future. I applied to grad school pretty much on a whim. I was accepted, and a short 6 weeks after our wedding in 2004 I entered the 15 month teacher training and masters program at UCSC. I graduated in summer of 2005, and entered teaching that fall. From that day forward, I’m not sure I was ever really happy in my job. I was an excellent teacher, and in fact won my district’s Teacher of the Year award in only my third year.  I quickly rose to leadership positions and eventually became highly successful teaching one of the most challenging populations in the public school system: delivering special education services to high school students with emotional disabilities.

If you read back through my blog, which I started in the spring of 2007 toward the end of my second year of teaching, you can see glimpses of both my personal growth and of my professional struggles during my nine years as a public educator.  There were times when I liked my job, even loved aspects of it, and I certainly enjoyed working with my students, as challenging as it was.  Above all I learned an immense amount about myself and about the amazing diversity of the human experience.

In my first years teaching, when I was still finishing my second credential (in Special Education), joining committees, trying to effect systemic change and really on fire with enthusiasm and ideas, I was warned by veteran teachers to pace myself or I would burn out. My perfectionist tendencies made it extremely difficult for me to move forward with tasks being just “good enough”, and unfortunately the nature of public school teaching today is that, indeed, “good enough” is the best you can hope for due to time and budgetary restraints. There just aren’t enough resources available to do the job correctly or, in many instances, to even maintain professional integrity. Compromise is the name of the game, and what gets compromised is different in every situation and for every teacher. Some teachers focus on the highest achieving students, pushing them to achieve faster and further and inadvertently leaving the struggling learners behind. Some focus more on those who need extra help just to learn basic skills, while “gifted and talented” kids languish in boredom. A few teachers do a mediocre job with everyone, choosing instead to focus on themselves, their health, or their families. Some superstars manage to tend to the academic needs of all of their students and even the emotional need of a few, but at the cost of their own health, relationships, and mental well being. Some meet the emotional needs of their students but can’t get them to progress on standardized tests, so they appear to be “poor teachers” on paper. No matter what, something must give, because the situation is indeed an impossible one as it is currently structured, funded, and measured for success.

In my case, performing at such a high level in such a difficult assignment for the length of time I did eventually forced me to compromise my mental health. I did, indeed, burn out and could not continue in the profession if I were to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Instead of giving energy to my own emotional needs, I was giving 100% of my emotional and intellectual energy to my students, who would take all I could give and still needed and demanded more. Toward the end of my last year teaching, I was surrounded by a chronically toxic environment that I could do little to nothing to change. There was no joy, very little hope, and my job consisted of triage attempts to stop the seemingly incessant flow of sorrow, anger, anguish and self-destruction that flowed from my students.

Last June, I made the life-changing decision to leave teaching and completely change my profession.  Doing so has cost me immensely in many ways, the most significant of which is financially.  I now make about a third of what I was earning as a teacher.  At the same time, I am happier, healthier, and more satisfied with my life than I have ever been.

John Lennon, in his single “Watching the Wheels”, talks about his decision to leave his life of fame, touring, and recording for a life of domesticity.  He writes:
I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go.

I just had to let it go.  As hard as it was to leave behind a decade of hard work in the teaching profession, I was clearly ready for a different life, a simpler life, a life focused on myself, my family, my hopes, dreams, and passions. I was ready to effect change in the world in a way that I had yet to discover and define.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

West Ridge Loop Hike

Today I had an extra day off of work so I decided to take advantage of the great weather and go on a long hike. I headed to Nicene Marks State Park and parked at the entrance station.  I hiked up to the trailhead which is about a mile and a half from the parking lot. The West Ridge Trail is a little under seven miles and has a steep ascent of over 1000 feet over 4 miles. The mild downhill joins up with the Loma Prieta Grade trail and eventually with Aptos Creek Road about 2 miles from the entrance station. Altogether I covered about 10 miles in a little over four hours.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Favorite Nature Photos of 2014

This year, I had a number of awe-inspiring encounters with wild creatures during my photo walks and hikes.  Here are my top 10 nature captures of 2014:

Monday, September 22, 2014

365 Days Project

In mid-August, I started a new creative project with the goal of taking at least one photo a day and posting it on instagram and flickr.  I wanted to try using my phone camera more frequently and in a more creative way to document the beautiful bits and pieces of daily life.  I have successfully documented the first 30 days of my challenge, from August 23 - September 21, 2014.  While some days I nearly forgot to snap an image and ended up with a photo of either our dinner or one of the pets, overall I'm happy with this month's results and am looking forward to continuing through the next month.  You can view the whole album on flickr here, but these are my shots from the first 30 days!

Project 365 Days 1-30

Monday, September 1, 2014

Uh Oh!

Hello blog readers.  Something has gone wrong with all the photos on my blog.  I made it private for a few days as I was tweaking the settings and when I made it public again all of the photos were gone!  I've yet to decide how I'm going to handle this, but my apologies in the meantime as it appears that years worth of work has been erased.  Bear with me as I figure out how to move forward.

ETA: So, I figured out what happened.  Apparently all pictures that are uploaded to blogger are stored in Picasa web albums.  As part of cleaning up my online photos I accidentally went overboard and deleted crucial Picasa albums, not realizing they hosted my blog photos.  So I'm slowly replacing the more current and popular blog photos from my archive, but unfortunately some of the originals were not stored on my hard drive and I may not have them backed up.  Lesson learned, and a head's up for all you other bloggers out there... Picasa=blogger!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Project 333: Year 2 / Phase 3

Courtney Carver's challenge to join the Project 333 Capsule Wardrobe Blog Tour has inspired me to finally write an updated post about living with only 33 items in my wardrobe.  This post has been in my thoughts for a while but I have lacked the motivation to write it out.  There have been many changes in my personal life over the past few months, and my clothing and wardrobe choices have mirrored the chaos around me.  Since June I have been living with roughly 33 things, but I hadn't really been keeping track of my clothing and jewelry and I hadn't yet "officially" made the switch from phase 2 to phase 3 of the project.  Today I finally sat down, sorted through my stuff, and refined things down to 33 items.

I have been practicing a modified version of Project 333 since February of 2013, and I have blogged about my journey during each phase.  Every season has brought new insights and challenges.  My lifestyle has changed, my body has changed, and my relationship to clothing has changed over the past 18 months.  I have let the project be fluid, changing the rules to meet the evolving needs of real life.  Today, as I prepared my 33 items to last until the end of September, I struggled with the following dilemmas:
  • I am currently between jobs.  For the past decade I have been a public high school teacher, but I recently decided to make a radical life change and search for a new career.  I have no idea what my new job will be or what wardrobe it will require.  Until the right job comes along, I am working as a substitute teacher, so I chose my clothing accordingly.  When I do find the right job, I may have to switch up my wardrobe.
  • I rarely buy new clothes anymore, but I did go to a clothing swap for the first time last month.  It was awesome, and I found some great "new to me" clothes, but it resulted in me having more than 33 things in my closet.  I decided to put a good number of things away for the next phase, to be rediscovered when I open my clothing storage box in September.
  • I am probably going to return to working at at least one job site where the average temperature can be 20-30 degrees hotter than where I live.  I chose clothing that can be easily layered and included lots of dresses (which I can add some leggings to if I'm cold at home) and cardigans (for the early morning chill before I get to work).
These are just a few of the factors that go into developing a functional capsule wardrobe.  Since I have been living this way for a while, I'm not concerned about making the project work for me.  I have blogged about the benefits of the project before, but I think that there are some key factors that can help to promote the spirit of the project, which is to have fun and be free of a burdensome relationship to too much stuff, including clothing.  Here are some things I have learned that help to make the project a success in my life:
  • Be flexible!  If something doesn't work, swap it out for something that does.  If an item wears out, replace it.  If you change jobs, or move, or have another major life event don't be afraid to reevaluate your closet along with everything else that is bound to be changing in your life during a time of transition.  
  • Be surprised!  If you are afraid of releasing seasonal clothing that you won't include in this year's wardrobe, and you have the space, just tuck it away until next time.  You might find, as I did, that you don't need to buy new clothing when you open your storage bin next spring, or fall, and delightedly find several items that you literally forgot you owned.
  • Be creative!  Having only 33 items means that you wear EVERYTHING.  You won't get stuck in a rut, but you will find out what works for you, your body type, and your personal style.  If you find yourself avoiding that same sweater or pair of pants each time you get dressed, that piece of clothing is not your friend and should probably be passed on to a better home.
  • Change the rules!  I have made modifications to the project that make it work for me.  For example, I no longer count my sunglasses or purse in my 33 items.  I don't count layering pieces such as leggings, tights, or tank tops.  I don't include outerwear like sun hats or rain gear in the total, either.  And I have about 6-8 pieces of decent "loungewear" (yoga pants, tank dresses, older T-shirts) that I can throw on to run to the store or wear around the house during the weekend or after work.  You can even modify the dates of each phase to meet your needs: when I was teaching full time I changed my clothes more with the changing school year than with the quarterly seasonal change.
Doing Project 333 has been a cornerstone in the continuing process of transformation for me as I release clutter from all corners of my existence and move toward a simpler life.  Realizing that I am happier with less clothing has led me to understand that I can be happier with less in other areas as well: fewer items in my home, fewer commitments and obligations, a better work life balance, a simpler diet... the list goes on. Living with less allows me to focus on the things that are important to me, without the stress of extra distraction and mental and physical clutter.

Thank you Courtney for inviting all of us to join you on this journey!  

Now, on to the details for this phase of the project.  Here is my list and photos for Year 2, Phase 3 (July 1 - September 30, 2014).  I have used the same coding system for the list below.  Items in bold on the list are ones that I kept in my wardrobe from the previous phase (April-June). An asterisk (*) indicates items that were purchased or that I plan to purchase during this phase, as opposed to taken from my off-season storage box. Most of the new stuff this time came from the clothing swap I attended last monthEnjoy!

1silver hoops
2blue dangle earrings
3turquoise and coral earrings
4coral beaded earrings
5silver bracelet (*gift from mom)
6abalone necklace
7leopard print scarf
8flower scarf
9light blue scarf (*swap)
10white ss tee
11grey ss tee
12black tank
13blue jeans (*swap)
14black dockers pants (*new)
15long black skirt
16denim skirt
17tan skirt (*swap)
18red sailboat skirt
19black dress
20pink dress
21brown and white dress
22denim dress
23blue and white dress
24blue long tank dress
25tan loose knit shrug
26black tie front shrug
27denim crop jacket
28coral crop sweater
29blue long loose cardigan
30tan cardigan
31black cardigan
32cork mary janes
33blue converse

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July Adventures

As July comes to a close, I thought I'd share photos from a couple of fun events this month.

First, Jason and I celebrated the actual date of our 10 year anniversary (July 3) with our traditional picnic at the site of our wedding, Quail Hollow Ranch.  We hiked the vista point trail, had an amazing picnic, and took what I think is probably one of our best anniversary photos ever!  We certainly have come a long way in terms of health and fitness, especially in the last few years!

Then, last week, I got the unexpected opportunity to go to LA for a couple of days with my friend Christy.  We stayed in a hotel downtown, and managed to get over to 3rd Street to visit my brother Kyle at The Proper Barbershop where he works.  He took us on a mini tour of the area, including the LA Farmer's Market and The Grove, both of which are scenic retail districts where you're likely to spot a movie being filmed or sight a celebrity while shopping.

Also this month, I started a new job working the front desk at a local fitness club, to compliment my Zumba teaching and create an opportunity for growth as a group exercise instructor.  I got to see my nephews again this week as they visited with my brother George who is racing at Laguna Seca this weekend.  Summer, as usual, continues to fly by and I hope to continue taking advantage of the long beautiful days as we round the corner into August.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vacation Recap Day 4: Balboa Park & Seaport Village

Last month, my husband and I took a long-awaited vacation to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. I've slowly been recapping the trip and you can read about our time at Disneyland Resort and Ocean Beach.

On the last full day of our trip, we enjoyed the last hours at the Inn at Sunset Cliffs with coffee and yoga on the lower terrace.  It was amazing to do sun salutations right at the water's edge.  You can see Ocean Beach Pier on the horizon, about a mile away.

After a lovely morning, we packed up the car and headed back to People's Organic Food Market, where we got pre-made salads, crackers and hummus, and cookies for a picnic in Balboa Park.  I have to say that this health food store, which is actually a neighborhood coop, was one of the highlights of the trip!  As I've mentioned, Jason and I are gluten-free and (while Jason eats meat occasionally) I'm vegan, and we are both foodies who love to eat.  This store was loaded with inexpensive, delicious offerings and we had no trouble finding a wide selection of treats for lunch.  

We said goodbye to OB and cruised a few miles east to Balboa Park, another site that we wanted to revisit from our honeymoon.  The main reason we wanted to visit, however, was to see the Real Pirates exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum.  In 1984, a sunken pirate ship, the Whydah, was discovered off the coast of Cape Cod.  This exhibit is a collection of artifacts from this shipwreck, recovered over the last 20 years.  It was AMAZING and I highly recommend it if you are in the area.  The highlight for us was seeing the pirate's actual treasure, which included pieces of gold and silver dating from the ship's passage in 1717. Also included in the tour are clothing, tools, and weapons used by the pirates and parts of the ship such as the bell, rigging and cannons.  There is also a room that explains how the artifacts were discovered, recovered, and restored for display.  No photos were allowed, unfortunately, or else I would have taken tons!

There were a few other exhibits at the museum while we were there, but the other one that I completely loved was SKULLS, which displayed a selection of 200 of the museum's most unusual animal skulls from its vast archive.  There were skulls from the tiniest mouse all the way up to an elephant.  My favorites were the bighorn sheep (of course, I'm an Aries!), the flamingo and the anteater.  The dolphin was also interesting because it was surprising how large the brain cavity is in comparison to the rest of the animal's skull.

After our tour we found a nice shady spot under a tree for our picnic.  There's not a bad spot in that park for picnicking... it's full of gorgeous old trees and lush, perfectly manicured lawns.  We enjoyed our food and people watching for about an hour.  The final place we wanted to visit was the Botanical Building, but we discovered that it was closed on Thursdays.  Oh well!  Since it was close to check-in time we decided to head downtown where we would spend out last night at the Embassy Suites on the Embarcadero.

Since we stayed at this same hotel on our honeymoon, we wanted to visit it again 10 years later.  Last time we were here, however, we didn't have a car with us and instead relied on public transportation.  This time, arriving at the hotel was probably the biggest logistical difficulty we had during the whole trip.  I had been pretty calm and going with the flow, but I was not expecting to have to valet park the car when we arrived! We were not prepared, and I had a mini freak-out about having to get everything out of the car on the spur of the moment, and about the $40 nightly valet parking fee. We are total "country mice" when it comes to how things are done in the city!  We had two coolers of food, bedding, yoga mats, unwieldy baggage, you name it that we were expecting to be able to carry in ourselves.  So we decided to prioritize, and left the coolers since we would be getting the car to go out again later that evening.  We grabbed what we could carry, checked in, and headed up to the room.  I was still upset about the parking cost but quickly relaxed since the view from our room was spectacular.

We had plans that evening to meet my brother George and his youngest son Alex, as well as George's fiancee Danielle and her daughter Lauren for mini golf in Belmont Park.  We had time to kill before meeting up, so we grabbed some coffee and walked around Seaport Village, which is right across from the Embassy Suites.  Jason picked out a new hat from the Village Hat Shop, a store we remembered from our honeymoon trip.

Later that evening we met my brother for a round of mini-golf in Mission Bay.  It was great to see my nephew Alex (and shout out to his older brother, Ryan, for house-sitting for us while we were on the trip! You did a great job!). After saying goodbye to the family we stopped by the Whole Foods in Hillcrest for dinner and then headed back to the hotel, where we enjoyed the city lights before turning in for the last night of the trip.

Overall, this vacation was more than we ever expected.  We have changed so much in the decade that we have been married.  We have weathered the ups and downs of marriage and of life in general, and we are all the stronger for it.  We are healthier and happier than ever before, and throughout the trip we kept reflecting on how much calmer, more centered, more present in the moment and more joyful we are now than our younger selves were a decade ago.  We both hope that it won't be another 10 years before we are able to go on vacation again, but I know that the memories from this trip are as spectacular as, and perhaps even better than, our honeymoon adventure.

Here's to many more years and memories, and may our love continue to deepen and grow as we continue this crazy journey together!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Vacation Recap Day 3: Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach

After an amazing two days at California Adventure and Disneyland, we headed south toward San Diego and the cute, funky town of Ocean Beach.  We spent out honeymoon 10 years ago in San Diego, and OB was one of the memorable places we visited: one afternoon we rode the bus from downtown to OB on the spur of the moment to get tattooed!  Oh, how times have changed.

We were able to arrange for an early check in so we arrived at our hotel around noon.  We opted for a boutique hotel with a kitchen so that we could do some additional food prep and restock our stash of gluten-free vegan eats.  We stayed at the Inn at Sunset Cliffs, which proved to be even better in person than in the pictures!  The gardens, pool and terraces were amazing.  It is one of the few hotels in the area that is actually "waterfront" meaning that waves wash right up onto the lower terrace.  I imagine that they probably have to close part of the deck off in the winter months.  Our room was just as nice, with a fully-stocked kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and elegant bathroom with a large shower.

The first thing we did was get in the pool, spend some time soaking in the sun and the gorgeous view, and relax after spending 16 hours at Disneyland!  Jason, of course, got in a few rounds of poolside golf.

After relaxing for a while, we walked about a mile to downtown OB where the weekly Farmer's Market was in full swing. We paid a visit to A.C.E. Tattoo, where we got inked a decade ago, and picked up some tasty gluten free vegan desserts that were really a highlight of the trip.  I wish I has written down the name of the bakery that made them because we would have totally ventured there to get more before heading back to Santa Cruz but, alas, it was just a lucky find that will have to live on in our dreams of delicious desserts.

We also walked to People's Organic Food Market, which we had tagged on the map as a destination for getting groceries for the second part of our trip.  We decided to get stuff for dinner and then come back the next day for any other supplies.  We got fixings for tacos and headed back to the hotel, where we made dinner in our room and ate al fresco on the terrace overlooking the sunset.

Check out day 4: downtown San Diego and Balboa Park