Sunday, December 1, 2019

Giving Gifts to Both of Me

My mom says people generally have two versions of themselves: their ideal selves and their real selves. When it comes to cleaning out stuff, it's an important distinction. Take my cheeseboard, for example. No, really, take it. I don't want it anymore.

Because Ideal Self is quite the hostess. She entertains effortlessly and always has a wheel of brie in the fridge for an impromptu happy hour.  She even has a little cheese knife with a mouse shaped handle. Adorable! However Real Self has never once used this appetizer platter. Not that I don't like cheese. I love cheese. My friend Chrissy and I went to Milwaukee last summer and ate so much cheese. We also laughed like idiots trying to capture the perfect cheesy picture. Instead, it's the entertaining that's intimidating. Real Self would rather order pizzas than fashion a cheese platter. Real Self is usually in her pajamas watching Netflix on Friday nights.

I'm getting better at realizing the difference between Ideal Self and Real Self and it makes it easier to part with things that don't align with my lifestyle.  Last year I hosted a White Elephant gift exchange.  Traditionally, every guest brings an unwanted item but I had enough stuff to supply all the gifts myself. Some of these were probably teacher gifts. Others were from my dad, who is a notoriously interesting gift giver. (He once gave me a shower head for no apparent reason. Another time he gave me placemats with tractors on them. I actually kept those because they make me laugh.)

Adventure gift to a concert
Once Paul gave me a banjo for Christmas.  I took lessons for about a year hoping to live out the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "My baby plays a guitar, I pick a banjo now." Alas, Real Self discovered playing the banjo is really hard. Maybe Old Crow Medicine Show could change the lyrics to more accurately say, "My baby plays a guitar, I dust my banjo now."  

I recognize that this makes it a challenge to give me presents. Paul has jokingly lamented that other husbands have it easy buying their wives jewelry, while I prefer a handmade coupon book of adventures. Real Self would much rather spend time WITH you than get a sweater FROM you. I struggle with gift giving too. While Ideal Self is a fantastic gift giver and wraps presents like Martha Stewart, Real Self hates shopping and usually relies on recycled gift bags to wrap everything. 

Speaking of music, 'tis the season for hearing holiday music on every radio sation. I've never been much of a Mariah Carey fan--I don't like glitter either but that's a different story--yet I find myself humming this song when I think about gift giving: 

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

Here's where Ideal Self and Real Self agree. Neither of us want a lot of stuff for Christmas. We don't need the perfectly wrapped presents under the tree or a gourmet cheese platter. We both want to spend quality time with our family and our friends.  All we want for Christmas is YOU. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

PSA: Wear Sunscreen!

Three weeks ago, I had surgery to remove skin cancer from my face. So, that was fun. 

Just kidding, it wasn't fun at all. 

But I'm here to tell you about it because skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of it by the time they are 70. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma, which is what I've had three times so far. 

To be honest, I tried to downplay this surgery in the weeks leading up to the procedure. Many people have to deal with a lot more difficult things than outpatient appointment and a few stitches.  Whenever I face a challenge, I try to remember James 1:2. "Consider it pure joy, my bothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."  I mean, I can't say I was feeling joyous about the whole thing, but I definitely feel lucky to have access to early detection and good medical care. I joked that having stitches around Halloween was perfect timing. 

On the day of my Mohs surgery, Paul drove me to my appointment. Even though it was outpatient, I was a little nervous and was thankful to have the company and a hand to hold in the waiting room. The surgeon numbed the area and then removed the cancerous tissue from the edge of my nose down towards my lip. He cauterized the area (nothing like the smell of burning flesh to remind you to wear sunscreen!) and then examined it in the lab to ensure the margins were cancer free. Then he returned to stitch up the incision and send me home with instructions to wear the bandage for 7 days and avoid exercise, stooping, lifting and alcohol. 

I thought that would be the worst part but I was wrong. I think that's because I was prepared for the surgery but I didn't realize what the recovery would be like. I didn't realize it would hurt to laugh, talk or chew because of where the stitches were located.  I didn't realize how prominent the bandage would look, and that it would start to curl up around the edges and smell funny. I didn't think about how self conscious I would be about returning to work with a giant bandage on my face. Or that not exercising/lifting/stooping for a week would make me feel pretty useless. I didn't think I would start obsessing about every age spot, freckle or mole on my body wondering, "Is this normal?" Or that I would worry about the scar and how prevalent it would look on my face. Did you ever bite the inside of your cheek? And then it sticks out a little so you end up biting it again and again? It started to make me feel depressed. And then I felt guilty for being depressed over some stupid, small cancer on my face that wasn't even there anymore. "Come on, Allison. What about James 1:2? Get it together!"

There's actually a name for this. BrenĂ© Brown says "unwanted identity" is when we take on characteristics that undermine our vision of our ideal selves. So if you think of yourself as healthy and independent, being sick and dependent on others is really frustrating.  

Intermingled with my feeling sorry for myself was a renewed appreciation for my life. I felt like Emily Webb in Our Town, " Oh, earth you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!" Friends gave me a get well gift and I cried with gratitude at their generosity.  Family called to check on me. Paul was my rock, and loved me through every step of the emotional roller coaster.  

And so, the days passed and the bandage came off. If I wear a little concealer now, you can barely see the scar. It's a part of who I am and what I survived. I don't mind seeing it in the mirror in the mornings because its a visual reminder that we are all less than perfect and that we all have some scars. And I have a new quote hanging next to James 1:2. It says, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Freshman 15

George and Susan sit either side of a table, with coffee. 
There's a definite lack of sparkling conversation. 
George forces a smile at Susan. There's a long pause, broken only by Susan sighing. 
George finally thinks of something to say.

GEORGE: I, uh, oh, broke a shoelace today.

SUSAN: Oh, I can get you shoelaces tomorrow.


SUSAN: So, what color?

GEORGE: Brown.

Susan nods her comprehension, as George muses for a moment.

GEORGE: Maybe a black.

It’s been about 6 weeks since our kids left for college.  While some things are definitely different, other aspects of my life remain unchanged.  I’m slowly learning to navigate this new stage of life and I’ve come up with a list of 15 things I’ve noticed about being an empty nester.

1. We’ve got our Friday nights back.

2. And our Saturday mornings.

3. And Wednesday afternoons. After years of filling them with football games, Cross Country meets, plays, and little league games, it seems weird to look at the calendar and see nothing on the schedule so…

4. We’re making plans together. Last month we took some long bike rides. We went to a book signing and saw a show at the theatre. This month we are signed up for a cooking class. Data shows a slight increase in the number of days I was voluntarily NOT in my pajamas by 8pm.  

5. We’re making plans apart. Paul’s playing tennis a few times a week and I’m taking a class on Tuesday nights. Paul sings in the choir and I love my Friday morning cycle workout.

6. We’re talking. but now it’s less about parenting logistics and more about tennis and class and choir and cycle workouts. One of Paul’s favorite quotes from Seinfeld is when George Costanza is having a mundane conversation with his fiancĂ© and says, “I broke a shoelace today.” We don’t want to be that old couple you see in the restaurant staring at each other or their phones because they have nothing to say.

7. We are cooking less... Without the structure of family dinners, our eating patterns are less regular. It’s easier to spontaneously go out when there’s fewer schedules to coordinate. So, we’ve spent less on groceries and more on restaurants and that brings me to my next point:

8. …And eating more. No, I haven’t gained the “Freshman 15” since Katherine left for college, but I’ve put on a few.  The good news: When you squeeze into too tight pants, it smooths out all the wrinkles. No ironing!

9. Tackling home projects. Katherine told me that college freshmen worry that they will come home to find their rooms have been repurposed. The bedrooms are untouched, but we did replace an old vanity and toilet in our hall bathroom. Today I’m going to pick up tile for a backsplash and we have plans to replace the 20 year old wallpaper in our kitchen.

10. Traveling. I’ve got good kids. And yet, leaving them alone for a weekend wasn’t easy.  Remember all those funny stories of the stuff we did in high school? It’s funny until you have teenagers and then it’s a little nerve wracking.  After a weekend away with friends, it was good to come home and not feel like I was playing detective looking for evidence of foul play.

11. I have clothes! And shoes. And jewelry. And it is all in my closet right where it is supposed to be because no one has borrowed anything.

12. I’m wearing sunscreen.  Being old enough to have two kids in college means being old enough to see the aging effects of my own teenage years. The Hawaiian Tropic SPF 4 was replaced with Neutrogena SPF 50 years ago, but the damage was done. Next week, I’ll have a small surgery to remove a skin cancer from my nose.  Luckily it is October and I’m sure I can work the stitches into some sort of Halloween costume.

13. I’m still parenting.  I’m glad they still call and text for advice. I’m proud of their growing independence but it’s still nice to feel needed. And when Jack wants to know how to make tuna noodle casserole (cook the noodles first!) he could google it but I’m glad he chose to call his momma.

14. I’m still worrying. There’s an expression—If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. But I think that’s backwards. If Jack or Katherine is having a tough time or a bad day, my heart hurts for them. And I worry.  I’m hoping it will be a funny family story someday.  “Remember the time you were sick and you called mom and told her you were dying and then she couldn’t get in touch with you so she called campus security to check on you?”

15. I still wake up every morning determined to be the best me I can be. And I still screw up. I still take time to thank God for this new stage of my life and I’m still living with a grin, some grit, and a bit of grace.

Cheers to being an empty nester!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Sober Curious

The Sober Curious Movement
Being sober on a bus is, like, totally different than being drunk on a bus.” -Ozzy Ozbourne. 
When I first heard the term “sober curious,” I was confused. I mean, we all know what it feels like to be sober…what is there to be curious about?  In case you are not familiar with the expression, someone who is sober curious is choosing to abstain from alcohol for an undetermined amount of time. The idea has been gaining traction on social media and has recently been featured in several news stories such as NPR and The Washington Post
At first, I admit I was a tad bit judgey and I rolled my eyes a little.  I’m thinking, “If you don’t want to drink alcohol at a bar, order a soda water with lime and be done with it. Sheesh. You don’t need to post a picture of your drink on social media with a hashtag announcing this decision to the world.”  But after reading more, my thinking has shifted.
A Sense of Belonging
Wanna find out who your true friends are? Get sober.
In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow rates love and belonging right after food, water, and shelter. As humans, we need to feel a sense of deeper, more meaningful relationships. Identifying as sober curious is gaining traction because it fulfills our need of belonging. We may not realize how prevalent alcohol is in our social lives until we make a conscious decision to not to partake.  It’s easy to fit in when you drink. While we all have experience with sobriety, what might be harder to envision is a social life without alcohol. I have a friend who recently completed an amazing weight loss and fitness challenge. Later, she remarked that she was often lonely—choosing to avoid temptation and stay home when her friends were out eating and drinking. I’m not so fond of being stone cold sober in a bar full of drunk people either. I just don’t feel like I fit in. So, the challenge is to find other activities where alcohol isn’t the focus.  One function of #sobercurious is to provide a platform for like-minded people who share a common interest. 
Breaking the Stigma
Avoid using cigarettes, alcohol and drugs as alternatives to being an interesting person. -Marilyn vos Savant
Let’s face it. Sober people don’t have the best reputation. Society thinks sober people are boring. Even the dictionary definition of sober includes the terms restrained, serious, and sedate. Are you not drinking because you are a teetotaler, an alcoholic or a Sober Sally? Often people who choose not to drink pair the decision with some kind of excuse. 
Reasons I have used not to drink:
·         I’m not old enough.
·         I’m driving.
·         I can’t mix alcohol with my medication.
·         I don’t want the extra calories.
·         I don’t sleep well after a few drinks.
·         I’ve been drinking for the wrong reasons.
·         I’m pregnant.
·         I have too much to do tomorrow to feel sluggish or hungover in the morning.
·         I want to be a good role model for my kids.
·         I’m trying to save money.

The #sobercurious movement is a PR team coming in to revamp the image of sobriety. It is breaking the stigma that being sober is no fun. #sobercurious lets people choose not to drink without having to offer up some excuse.  Sometimes I love a glass of wine and sometimes I don’t. Lately I’ve been choosing not to have one more often. Do I have to have a reason why? Or justify my choice to explore the physical and mental effects of abstaining from alcohol? I hope not. Whether I’m holding a cocktail or a mocktail, I’m still me.
So, if you are ever interested in hanging out sober, text me. I’d love to be sober curious together. We can even post it on Instagram. #sobercurious #partofthemovement

Enjoying our mocktails

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fargo? You betcha!

To be honest, I was a little worried about creating the itinerary for three days in Fargo. 

Whenever I mentioned my trip, people would say, "Oh, you have to go see the woodchipper," referring to the infamous movie prop. Well, OK, but we couldn't spend three days staring at a woodchipper. Was there anything else to do in a small town in North Dakota?  You betcha!

First stop, the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor's Center for a photo op with a movie prop.

Fuel up with a delicious latte at Youngblood Coffee or a bagel at Bernbaums...or a donut at Sandy's donuts.

Shop along Broadway and Main Street

Keep an eye out for the painted bison 

scattered around Fargo.

Go on a mural hunt. How many can you find?

We found them all!

Catch a movie at the iconic Fargo Theatre.

Check out regional art at The Plains Museum 

and The Rourke Art Gallery & Museum

Sample a beer at one of the three local breweries...

...or sip a local cider at Wild Terra. 

Be sure to save room for cocktails and dinner at the Toasted Frog.

Walk or bike on the trails along the Red River.

Cross the bridge into Moorhead, MN

Tour Hopperstad Stave Church

See a replica of a Viking Ship

Cheers to a fun adventure in Fargo!

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Big 4-0!

It's not my birthday...although if any of you think I'm only 40, thank you, I'm flattered. No, I'm talking about visiting my 40th state: Nebraska. Nebraska was tricky to visit. I mean, logistically, it's easy--about a two hour direct flight on Southwest. It's just that no one I know actually wanted to visit Nebraska. No one. So when Paul announced that he had a business meeting in Omaha, I figured this might be my best and only chance.

I flew in to meet Paul after his meetings on a rainy Friday night and downtown Omaha is a short 10 minute ride from the airport. Our first stop was dinner at The Grey Plume, which is a "Farm to Fork" restaurant featuring seasonal cuisine using produce and livestock from local farmers.  In hindsight, we ordered way too much food but it was all so colorful and beautifully presented that we couldn't help it.
The rainy weather continued into Saturday morning so we bundled up into the misty dark in search of a local coffee shop and the Farmer's market. We didn't rent a car because everything was walkable and our Hilton Garden Inn offered a complimentary shuttle if we didn't feel like walking.  We walked along cobblestone streets in the Old Market district where we ducked into the 13th St. Coffee company. The walls were lined with shelves sagging with books and old-timers sat around the tables paying bills and sharing stories. Warmed by our coffee, we wandered over to the Farmer's Market to browse the local produce and products. I met a young welder who, when he wasn't busy in kindergarten, helped his dad recycle old horseshoes into pumpkins. I definitely would have bought one except they weighed a ton and I didn't think it would fit in my carry-on for the return flight.

We left the farmer's market with plans to stroll around Heartland of America Park but the drizzle turned into a steady rain so after a quick look at the fountain, we aborted the plan and opted for the indoor option of the Durham Museum instead.
The Durham Museum is housed in Omaha's former Union Station and one exhibit focuses on the impact of railroads in the area. We also enjoyed exhibits on the history of the region, 100 years of Omaha Steaks, and a temporary exhibit called "Zoom into Nano" about the growing science of nanotechnology.

Scout the Buffalo

Now I'm craving steak for dinner...

By the time we left the museum, the sun was shining! It was time to meet a bridge named Bob. The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge connects two states, so of course we had to take a picture with one foot in each state. (This is called "Bobbing" according to Bob.)

After completing our 0.9K, we celebrated with a little souvenir shopping. My two favorite shops: 1)Hollywood Candy, a warehouse of every type of candy you can imagine, including an impressive collection of PEZ dispensers and wax lips. I even found Zero bars, the candy my grandfather used to buy for me.

2)True Blue Goods and Gifts, which featured the work of local artisans. We were intrigued by the cigarette machine refurbished to sell art instead of smokes. Who could resist pulling the knob to release "Random Funsville?" I won't tell you what I got. But it was random. And fun.

By now we had worked up an appetite for dinner, which HAD to be steak, of course. The portions listed on the menu were huge, and thankfully our server at Spencer's suggested splitting the meal. So, between the two of us, we devoured a mouthwatering 20 oz. bone-in ribeye, truffle mac-n-cheese, and maple-bacon roasted Brussel sprouts.
Our last stop of the day was The Blue Barn Theatre to see Every Brilliant Thing. For those of you who know me, it was a play about writing a list. Of course I had to go! Reading the theatre's synopsis, the play was about more than that: You’re seven years old. Mom’s in the hospital. Dad says she’s done something stupid. To cheer her up, you start to make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for. You leave it on her pillow. You know she’s read it because she’s corrected your spelling. Soon, the list will take on a life of its own.  We weren't sure what to expect, but it was a sweet, funny and sad play about depression. The audience was invited to participate, so Paul and I both received lines from the play to call out. 

Did I just arrive in Nebraska yesterday? 24 hours and 20,000 steps later, we had experienced our own list of brilliant things that Omaha has to offer that make it a city worth visiting. And Nebraska becomes #40 on my list of states.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Superheroes don't cry

I didn't cry when I found out I'd be outside in one of the trailers (or the Quad as we call our set of four) this year because I know from experience about all the benefits. Being out in the Quad is a bit of a paradox because it both brings people together and keeps people away at the same time. Living in the quad is like having roommates again--you can keep the doors open and talk across the classrooms without much effort. Because of this, it's pretty impossible not to become close with your quadmates--And it's good to have close friends (your Quad Squad) because no one else will venture outside the main building to come visit you ever. Which, honestly, is also kind of nice because no one is going to bother you with a tour of the school or a pop in-visit when you are in the middle of a lesson.

As long as I'm imagining the superhero headquarters of the Quad Squad, here are some other amazing features: I'm able to staple anything and everything directly to the walls. I imagine myself with a holster slung around my hip and one stapler drawn in each hand.  Mrs. Kelly, fastest draw in the Quad! Also, I have control over my own thermostat! In the main building, we are subjected to the temperature of the day that can vary from freezing to sweltering and I used to keep an extra layer slung over the back of my chair for options. Mrs. Kelly, who wears a sweater only when she wants to! Yes, proximity to the bathroom and inclement weather means planning ahead, but I was already scrolling online for new pair of Hunter boots. Mrs. Kelly and her stylish wellies!

I didn't cry when I learned that the map changed and I would be sharing my classroom with another resource teacher. I get it--after being a classroom teacher for 13 years, I'm switching to a new role and I'm prepared to be flexible. I didn't cry--but I do admit to being surprised and slightly irritated when I learned of the new map via the summer update email. Lucky for me, my new roomie is also a superhero bundle of energy and fun and we worked hard all day Monday to unpack.  ESOL and AART, able to transform a massive pile of furniture, boxes and crates into a shared learning community in a single afternoon!

I didn't cry when I learned on Wednesday evening that the map changed again and my roomie and I were moving out of our spacious digs into a smaller, windowless workroom in our Pod. I mean, at least Pod still rhymes with Squad, right? And being back in the main building, think of all the money I'll save not shopping for new rain boots! So Thursday afternoon we spent packing our boxes, rolling up our rug, and debating about furniture as we prepared to downsize. If I did shed a tear, it would have been for our incredible custodial staff with superpower strength and extra thick back braces who moved an endless supply of furniture throughout the week. And Friday we spent the morning unpacking again, making our space happy again. AART and ESOL, able to unpack twice in one week and still be prepared to welcome students on Monday!

I didn't cry on Friday afternoon when the dust settled and the boxes were broken down and I could finally turned my attention to my week ahead. I printed out my list of ESOL students. I picked up my calendar and made the rounds to teachers, scheduling times to meet with individual students, join team planning meetings, visit classrooms. I have a total of 91 students to meet--seven different grade levels, 22 different classroom teachers--and I'm smiling! I can't wait to meet all these beautiful faces next week and begin to build relationships with them. I can't wait to learn more about them and learn how I can most effectively meet their needs. I'm thrilled to work with so many amazing teachers and hope I can be helpful to them.  At our opening kickoff, our new superintendent shared a favorite quote, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," and my main thing is our students. Mrs. Kelly, able to say "main thing" four times in a single sentence!

So, when I returned to my new happy place with my new roommate and my new schedule, I was unprepared for an email from my principal. "Currently we do not have a teacher for the fourth grade classroom...we will need you teaching in the fourth grade classroom until we find a teacher or a substitute..." 

I get it. And don't get me wrong, I don't mind. After all, the main thing is our students. One of the things I love about the staff at our school is our sense of collective responsibility--they aren't your students or my students but we all have a stake. I'm happy to help. But after overcoming so many challenges to be prepared for next week, I suddenly felt completely unprepared for next week. On Friday afternoon at 2:30. I didn't feel like a superhero, able to transform from an ESOL teacher into a 4th grade teacher in a single bound. And I cried. Then I blew my nose in a tissue, and went down to visit the 4th grade classroom teachers who had already prepped everything for me.  I sat with the instructional coach and she helped me map out a plan for team teaching.  Everyone was helpful and thoughtful and kind and patient while my totally unspontaneous mind processed the change. "I'm sorry I cried," I told my superhero roomie. "That's OK, I cried earlier when we were packing up for the second time," she told me. "I'm sorry I cried," I told the teacher across the hall. "Hey, don't worry. I cry all the time," she responded.

And that's when I realize superheroes do cry. Because we're super humans and we care about ourselves and others, and just because we're super doesn't mean we're not sometimes disappointed or angry or grieving. Sometimes we use our capes to dry our eyes and sometimes we use our capes to fly and sometimes we put our capes in the laundry and have a glass of wine. 

So cheers to all the teachers starting school this year! I know you will take on more than humanly possible and still get it all done. Most important, you will make a difference in the lives of our students. Cape or no cape, cry or no cry, that's the main thing.
My superhero roomie