Pura Vida: Part 1

Two Weeks Too Fast!

In my previous blog, I mentioned how nervous I was to come to Costa Rica for the TEFL program. I am already laughing at that fear and have no intention of leaving early! I truly cannot believe I have already been here for two weeks. Most days it feels like I’ve been here for years because everyone is incredibly friendly. People make eye contact in the streets and at restaurants. People say buenos dias or pura vida when you walk by them. People SMILE here. And it’s not difficult to see why. Even though this time of year is considered the “low season/rainy season”, it is absolutely gorgeous!! Costa Rica only has two seasons per year: the rainy season and the dry season. Since I’ve been here, it has stormed every day, but usually not until after 5PM or much later, and only for an hour or two at most. We have been lucky in that it has only rained once during our school day, around 1PM in the afternoon. I wake up to sunshine and birds–PARROTS–singing in the trees, and ocean waves just a block away.

 

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Accommodations

I am staying at the Hotel Playa Samara, located in the center of Samara (Sam-uh-ruh). It is owned and run by an ex-pat named Daniel, who is always on property and is always ready to help or to just sit and chat. I upgraded to a room with A/C, cable, and breakfast every morning. The cable only has 3 English channels—CNN, HBO, and STARZ. My room costs $20 per day because we get a discount through the TEFL program. Without the discount, the rooms here range from $14-35 per day, depending on if you want A/C or not. In this part of Costa Rica, it is common to have your bathroom and showers outdoors, but the rooms have private bathrooms. The water is “heated” by solar panels, so even thought it’s not ice-cold water, it’s certainly not hot like showers are back in the States. However, after spending time at the beach or just walking around in the humidity, the water here feels fantastic!

 

TEFL School

I cannot say enough about the CostaRica TEFL instructors, campus, and students!! It’s an amazing program. The campus is located about a 5 minute walk away from the hotel and the beach, and has great A/C and WiFi, considering most businesses in Samara do not. Our instructors are incredibly humble and patient, and we have classes with them for 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday. We work on lesson planning a couple of hours a day in the afternoon, and then teach evening classes to local residents—Ticos—from 5:30PM-7:30PM.

We are learning methodologies, teaching strategies, activities, and games that I wish I had learned years ago. Only myself and one other student from Canada have previous classroom teaching experience, but my other classmates are catching on fast thanks to the support and encouragement of our TEFL instructors. My classmates are from Canada, California, Long Island, Kansas City, and Virginia, and range in ages from 45 to 21! It is a very cool group of people to learn with and I’m already so excited for what the future holds for each of us when we graduate in two weeks.

Our classes range from Beginner 1 to Advanced/Intermediate students, and the age range of our students is from 15-65+. It has been a refreshing experience to work with students who have a true desire to learn. We are required to create lessons that follow 7 Steps to Mastery and involve about 11 planned activities each!!! The activities include a lot of hand-made materials because the school does not use smart boards or computers for everything, since many foreign language schools do not offer these tools. I have no cut and pasted so many words and pictures as a teacher—EVER. It is tedious and time-consuming work, but the gratitude our students show after each and every lesson makes the planning process worth it! The students are absolutely the best part of CostaRica TEFL.

Another favorite part of this program is the opportunity to practice yoga together on the beach every Wednesday morning before school. I think this is something every school (on the beach or not!) should definitely offer to teachers!!

 

FUN IN THE SUN

Last weekend, my new friends from CRTEFL and I went hiking nearby to a secluded beach known as Izguerra, and we could see La Chorra island and the blue, BLUE ocean for miles.

Samara Beach has to be one of the best kept secrets of the travel world. It is located about 2 hours away from the Liberia airport and is surrounded by lush greenery for miles during the rainy season. There are heladarías and fruit stands on almost every corner. The ocean water is warm and welcoming, and the sunsets are spectacular. I have yet to catch a sunrise, but it’s on my to-do list for sure.

 

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What Did I Do? What Am I Doing?

What did I do?

I think most of you know by now that I taught high school English for 14 years, with 6 being served at John B. Connally High School in Austin, Texas. I made the decision to resign this past May after consulting my family, partner, closest friends and mentors numerous times. It was not an easy decision. My students and my colleagues are some of the best people I’ve ever known, and resigning from CHS felt like I was abandoning them. I get a little teary-eyed when I think about how much my students have taught me over the years. I’m so grateful for my time as a high school English teacher, but I knew it was time to listen to my heart and leave public education.

I decided I wanted to try working from home in order to have a more flexible schedule to earn my TEFL certification and to pursue teaching yoga and mindfulness. As much as this life-changing choice excited me, I was also completely terrified to leave my position at CHS.  However, on the last day of school, one of my students reminded me that I was only doing what I’ve taught so many others to do: follow your dreams, pursue your passion, and live life to the fullest.

So, now what? 

Almost 3 months have passed since I quit teaching. During this time, I have responded to at least 20-30 online postings for freelance writing jobs, and today I have 3 steady jobs with Asure Software, Tango Software, and PodcastBuddy. Each range in pay from $10-50 per hour, and range in how many hours I’m required to work per week. Some days I’m finished working by noon, others I choose to work late at night. I have deadlines I’m expected to meet, but for the most part, I have a very flexible schedule.

What’s that like?

First, and I think all teachers out there will totally understand why this is first: I cannot tell you how liberating it feels just to be able to go to the bathroom when I have to go!! I don’t have to wait for class to end, or find someone to watch my room, or make up an excuse to a room full of students that “Another teacher needs me right now, I’ll be right back”. Bathroom freedom is AMAZING!

The next best thing is not commuting to work or being expected to be anywhere by a certain time for a set period of time. I sold my car in July because I no longer have to drive 12 miles to and from work every day. My morning commute would range between 20-30 minutes on any given day, and average between 40-60 minutes in the afternoon thanks to Austin’s notorious traffic on I-35. I’ve gotten back 4-5 hours of my life every week, and I have been mindful to use that time for more yoga, reading, walking my dog, or just sitting outside.

What about teaching yoga and mindfulness?

I am newly certified as a 200 Hatha yoga instructor! I had the honor of leading a yoga session at a retreat held here in west Austin a couple of weeks ago, but that is the extent of my yoga teaching for the time being. I plan to enroll in courses to earn my 500 hour RYT certification this fall and recently applied for a mentorship program at Yoga Yoga Austin that begins in January.

I am currently enrolled in a Mindfulness Meditation Certification Program with Sean Fargo. I am in the depths of my required reading and am learning so much! I have a goal of completing this program by December, but I am not rushing this process. I am encouraged after speaking with Sean to keep pursuing my dream to become a full time consultant.

Are you productive working from home? Be honest!

I am super productive! I still get up before 7 every morning and try to stick to a morning routine of a morning walk with Jesse and Brick, and then try to read or listen to a podcast before I start working on anything. I check my calendar and schedule my most difficult tasks first to get them out of the way. I open the patio blinds and turn on some music and work. I get to take breaks as needed. Sometimes my breaks are quick and short, but sometimes I decide to go the trails for 20-30 minutes just to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.

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                                      My favorite tree on the trails near Lady Bird Lake.

I thought for sure I’d ride my bike around town more to local coffee shops or the beautiful downtown library to do my work, but mostly I’ve enjoyed just being in my home. I mean, I am paying for it, so why not actually be in it more? Have you ever thought about how much we pay for the houses/apartments/condos we live in but how little we actually get to use and enjoy them? I’m here every day now, and I absolutely love this space. I have access to fresh food and snacks, lots of natural light and a sweet sound system, and yes, my very own bathroom!

What’s next?

At the end of this week, Saturday, September 8th, I’ll be flying to Samara Beach, Costa Rica, to earn my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification. I will live at the Hotel Playa Samara for 5 weeks while attending school and teaching 5 days a week!! I am so so excited about this adventure but also very nervous. I have never lived completely alone where I know absolutely no one, much less in a foreign country! I know this is an amazing opportunity and I will probably look back at my fear and laugh. Or I will just fly home early and chalk it up to a learning experience!!!

I will update as this new endeavor unfolds next week, but figured I’d update on what I did and what I am doing.

Any regrets?

Nope. I’m only making half of my teaching salary but I truly believe that is only temporary, and have plans to double that income when I get back home. Basically, I do miss seeing my students and colleagues, but I don’t miss the very heavy stress of being a teacher. I know that I will always be a teacher in some capacity, and if it’s not in public education—especially in Texas public education—I’m learning to be okay with that and to not feel guilty for “living my best life”.

Because we only have one life, y’all, and I intend to love it.

xo

Month of Mindfulness: Part 4

Last week’s practice encouraged mindful thinking, and this week’s post is a continuation of thinking with positive intention.

October 20-27th

In order to be more connected to others at work, school, or even at home, try these exercises:

  1. Consider your emotional wake.  How do others feel during and after interacting with you?  How do you want them to feel?  Just like a boat on a lake, our actions leave ripples that stretch beyond what we see.  Be mindful of the words you choose to use throughout your conversations.
  2. Find a quiet place.  Close or soften your eyes and take a deep breath.
  3. Think about someone you see everyday for whom you care about (friend, family, teacher, student, pet).  See if you can imagine them doing things that bring them joy and make them smile—actually—imagine them doing things that make them grin or laugh out loud.  Keep this image in your mind.
  4. Repeat the following wishes to yourself and “send” the wishes to whoever you’re thinking about:I wish for you to be healthy.

    I wish for you to be happy.

    I wish for you to be peaceful.

    I wish for you to have joy in your life.

  5. Keep your eyes soften or closed, and imagine them receiving these wishes.  Imagine if they just got a text from you with these happy words.  How would that make them feel? Now notice your own heart and how you are feeling.
  6. Think specifically about a colleague or student that could use kind words this week. Challenge yourself to actually send them via email, text, phone call, or a face to face visit.

 

 

Month of Mindfulness: Part 3

Last week’s practices focused on mindful listening.  This week, the focus shifts to MINDFUL THINKING.  

OCTOBER 15th-21st

In order to be more present at work, school, or even at home or in daily conversations, try these exercises:

  1. When your mind begins to wander–which is totally natural and okay–try to label your thoughts past, present, or future.  A lot of times we allow ourselves to stress over things that are completely out of our control, and more often than not these stressors have either already happened or haven’t even happened yet.  For instance, while sitting in a meeting after work, you might begin thinking about an email you received earlier in the day that just got under your skin.  Maybe it was the subject or the tone, but whatever it is, you feel bothered by it.  Instead of being “present” at the meeting, your mind starts to wander to this email and maybe you begin to recall what you wrote back.  These thoughts would be considered past thoughts.  You can’t do anything to change the fact that you received the email, and there’s not much you can do about the response you sent (if you did send one) because each occurred in the past.  On the same note, if you didn’t send a response yet, thinking about the email you plan to send after you get out of the meeting is considered a future thought.  Again, there is nothing you can do about an email you haven’t even written yet, and letting your mind wander and worry about the future takes you away from the present moment.
  2. When you find yourself focusing on a thought labeled past or present, ask yourself what you can do to draw attention to what needs to be done right now.  What are you able to do in the present moment that actually is in your control?  It may be as simple as taking a couple of deep breaths and drawing attention to how your body is feeling in the current moment.  If you find a past or future thought upsetting, it might cause your body heat to rise or your heart rate to increase.  Instead of allowing yourself to remain upset, focusing on your breath and drawing attention back to the present can actually help decrease your heart rate and lessen your body heat; mindful thinking can help change how our body reacts to negative stimulus.

Obviously, just labeling your thoughts past, present, or future will not magically make you feel less stressed.  However, labeling your thoughts in this way can create the space to allow you to choose how you will respond when you do find yourself reacting to something from the past or the future.  Are you going to get upset and annoyed?  Or will you remember to focus only on your present self?

Month of Mindfulness: Part 2

Last week I posted a few strategies about noticing your body’s reaction to difficult emotions like anger, frustration, guilt, etc.

This week, the mindfulness strategy to practice is MINDFUL LISTENING.

October 8-14th:

Remember that mindfulness helps to create more awareness in the present moment. There are so many different ways to listen mindfully, but I am sharing two specific practices you can attempt throughout your week:

  1.  Take a walk outside or sit in your classroom (or bedroom, office, etc.).  Focus only on what you hear.  It might be the sound of your breath, cars passing by, people talking, or any number of things.  As you focus on sound only, try being mindful of how your body reacts. Do you feel your breath slowing down or speeding up? Do you feel relaxed or anxious?  If your thoughts start to wander, what sound(s) can you focus on instead to be more present?  Sometimes in order to feel present, we need to focus on only one thing at a time.  Mindful listening helps to focus our attention.
  2. When speaking with others throughout your week, practice not interrupting.  Be mindful of allowing the other person to completely finish talking before you respond.  Notice how it feels to focus only on the other person’s voice and what they are saying.  Do you notice any reactions in your own body?  Is what they are telling you easy or difficult to hear?  Do you feel your lungs constrict or your heartbeat start to quicken?  Or maybe your thoughts begin to wander?  Try to focus only on the sound of the other person’s voice and what they are telling you.  Pause before responding and be mindful of what you say.  Be aware that there is a significant difference between giving attention and giving advice.   Mindful listening involves giving attention

**Remember that mindfulness creates the space to allow you to think about how you will respond instead of impulsively reacting so that you can be more present and experience more peace.

**One literature resource to check out:  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

October: A Month of Mindfulness

A few months ago I began taking online mindfulness courses offered by Mindful Schools. These courses have positively influenced how I interact with others and how I manage my classroom. I feel noticeably less stressed and am better equipped to handle  challenges that normally would have ruined my day in the past. I feel more peace in my relationships with my partner, my colleagues, and my students. I really wish I knew about these courses years ago when I first began my teaching career!!

I was given the opportunity to lead a professional development session about mindfulness to about half of our teaching staff when school began in August. I received a lot of supportive feedback and have since received a lot of questions from colleagues asking for tips or tricks to better incorporate mindfulness in their classrooms.  So, to honor my own desire to be a more consistent blogger and to honor my colleagues’ requests for assistance, I am going to post one mindfulness strategy per week for the month of October.  October can be an especially difficult month for teachers because it is usually the longest month of the fall semester and not every school gets “Columbus Day” of “Fall Fair Day” off.

I hope these strategies prove to be beneficial, and I welcome any feedback you might have.

OCTOBER 1-7th:

Mindfulness helps to create more awareness to the present moment. In order to be more aware this week, practice the following strategies:

  1. Take a deep breath. Pay attention to where you draw your breath from and where you feel it the most. Is it your stomach? Your chest? Your nose? Your mouth? Wherever it is strongest for you, consider this place the anchor of your breath.
  2. As you go through your week, take time to just notice how your body physiologically reacts to difficult feelings like anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, and so on. Does your face get hot? Does your heart rate increase? Do your shoulders tense? Do your eyes start to water or begin to scowl? Do you have the urge to immediately lash out? Do you immediately begin to raise your voice? Consider writing how your body reacts down on a notepad or in a journal.
  3. As the week continues, when you notice these difficult feelings and reactions taking place, pause and focus on the anchor for your breath. Breathe. Then decide how you will respond to the difficult feeling instead of reacting to it. In your classroom, your response might look like deciding not to yell at a class that still hasn’t followed your instructions. Maybe you calmly talk to them and tell them what you are feeling (anger, frustration, impatience), and ask for them to try again. Outside of class, your response might look like deciding not to honk at every unskilled driver that cuts you off in traffic. Maybe you notice your body starting to tighten so you return to your breath, breathe, and just continue driving.                          **Please know mindfulness does not excuse inappropriate behavior or disrespectful actions. It simply creates the space to allow you to think about how you will respond instead of impulsively reacting (or overreacting) to difficult situations, so that you can be more present and experience more peace.

 

 

THE BEGINNINGS OF A MINDFUL CLASSROOM

My goodness this semester passed by in a blink of an eye!  I have so many notes that say MUST BLOG ABOUT THIS, but a lack of posts to show for it.

In an effort to catch up on what’s been going on in my teacher world, I decided to begin with my journey into creating a more mindful classroom for both my students and for myself.  I first experienced mindful practices at #SXSWEdu in March and I could not wait to get back to school to try out what I had learned.

Before we took our big state test in April, I tried an activity called 5-4-3-2-1.  I started this practice by inviting students to sit quietly in their chairs, with their feet planted on the ground and their hands on their knees.  I asked them if they were not going to participate to honor those that were by sitting quietly and to not distract others.  I asked everyone to be mindful of the silence we were creating together, and that their voices were not needed for this activity but their minds were.  First, I asked them to look for 5 colors within their field of vision.  Then, they tried to notice 4 different sensations, whether it’s the coolness in the air from the AC, their body temperature, or maybe their hands tingling.  For the third step, students listened for 3 different sounds.  Then I asked them to take 2 deep breaths, and finally think of 1 positive thought that makes them feel good.  At the end of this activity, I had students in every class tell me how calming yet energizing it was for them.  One student said it was “the most relaxed he had felt in days.”  I knew I was on to something.

After some research, I easily found a ton of online resources like CASEL and Mindful Schools.  These sites provide not only different strategies teachers can use, but they also provide the brain research associated with practicing mindfulness.  I’ve been teaching  high school for a while now, but the unpredictability of teenagers never ceases to amaze me.  I know reading more of the brain research will help me to better understand my students.  Likewise, just from the few mindfulness activities we have tried, I believe students will better understand themselves.  So far, my favorite practice is called a “body scan” that I took from this site.

After our daily reading time, I invited students to make the decision of whether or not they wanted to participate in another mindfulness activity.  If they did not want to participate, I asked them to return to their seat and sit quietly.  If they did want to join, I told them to find a space on the floor and sit down in a comfortable seated position, but to make sure there was enough room around them to lay down.  I followed the steps suggested on the site but added my own words as well.  I dimmed the lights and told students to slowly lay back in the space they chose.  The body scan begins by focusing on your head and then moving your focus to your feet, so I instructed them to squeeze their eyes shut, scrunch their nose, make fists, and finally, to tighten their legs and toes.  As they did this, I had students think of anything that was stressing them out:  major grades due this week for my class or others.  Upcoming AP tests.  Babysitting.  Having to work after school.  I said to keep holding everything that bothered them in this tension, and then to take a deep breath and let it all go.  I told them to actually let it go by relaxing their face and spreading their fingers as wide as possible.  Then I invited them to either place their hands by their side or to place one hand on their heart and one on their stomach.  I asked them to pay attention to their heartbeat and their breath, and to try to slow down each as we remained in silence.  I used an ocean-sounds playlist I found on Spotify to allow them about a minute and a half to concentrate on what they were feeling.  After a couple of minutes, I told them to wiggle their fingers and turn on their side in order to add energy back to their bodies.  Then I asked them to sit up slowly and take one more final breath, while thinking of something positive to focus on.

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Above: Taken at the end of the “body scan”.  Some students are still focusing on their breath.

After the activity, I asked students to give me feedback in order to show my administrators since I plan to incorporate more  mindful strategies next year.  But honestly, I didn’t need written feedback.  They were very vocal about how much they enjoyed it and I could feel the difference in the room.  Everything felt much more relaxed and my students told each other how much more ready they felt to do the work we had to do.

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Student feedback 

This summer I plan to take a course in Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development offered by the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools.  I am so excited to know more about how to help my students navigate the daily stress and anxiety they experience on top of the assignments I give them.  In order to better serve my students, I must understand how to help them understand what it is they’re feeling so they can find ways to manage the stress of being a teenager.   I’m currently reading a young adult novel called He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz and a line by one of the main characters validated having a mindful classroom:

“You are the adults.  I’m the kid.  And yet it’s my job to understand you. But it’s not your job to understand me.”

 

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Why I Am Showing the Inauguration.

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the election for the highest office in our country.

On November 9, 2016, my students had a lot of questions about the outcome of this election.  I allowed them to express their feelings, questions, fears, and hopes on a blank map of the United States.

Below are some examples of what my students felt that day.

 

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Today, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn into office.  I debated whether or not to show the ceremony in class, wanting to follow in the footsteps of a great leader like Representative John Lewis, who is protesting the election and inauguration by not attending today.

But after thinking about it and reading various commentaries about those refusing to attend, I do think there is a noticeable difference between witnessing an event and condoning an event.

I need my students to know it is important to witness history, but it does not mean that I or they condone what we are witnessing.  Many of my kids remember where they were for President Obama’s second inauguration, and I think it’s important that they at least receive the chance to watch this event today.

For my students that voiced concerns following the election, I need them to know that their voice matters.  I need them to know that in four years, in 2020, that they will be able to use their voice to help decide who the next president will be.

So yes, I witnessed the inauguration and swearing in of Donald Trump with my students today.  But I do not condone what I witnessed, and have provided them the choice to decide if they do or not.

Flexible Classroom: Updated, Courtesy of #DonorsChoose

For this fall semester project, we asked for additional portable tables, heavy duty folding chairs, video game chairs and a standing desk. Just like last year’s flexible seating project, these donated materials have significantly increased student engagement and our sense of community.

The durable folding chairs allow students to easily move from table to table, group to group. Because of the number of tables I now have in my room, I was able to get rid of the bulkier, heavier traditional student desks. The portable folding tables allow us to quickly rearrange the room as needed. Sometimes we clear the floor space for whole class circle discussions, sometimes we move it to make room for smaller groups, and of course, we can push them together for projects that require more table space.

From my experience last year and the past few months, I am convinced that having a flexible classroom is greatly beneficial to my students. They truly enjoy walking in the door knowing that they have a choice of where to sit and that at any given time they will either be working independently or collaboratively with their classmates.

Having a standing desk in class has been nice because I can see my students easier when I have to use my computer, I am not constantly getting up and down from a chair, and I have even noticed less neck and back pain. A couple of students have even used the area to draft papers and they really like the option of standing as well.

My largest class has 31 students, and having flexible space allows everyone to find their own space without being crammed into rows or sections of desks.  We are even able to have “gallery walks” where students walk around to view projects, and Socratic Seminars, which involves moving everyone into large circles.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a traditional classroom again.  I do know that my students and I are incredibly grateful for the donations we have received!

This I Believe: Hold On To Your Heart Song

The first time I assigned a “This I Believe” essay was two years ago.  I assigned it during the second week of school once I had my students set up in Google Classroom.  I planned for the essay to be a year long endeavor; something that we could work on as a distraction from writing other essays required to prepare for state testing.

This past school year, I did not assign the This I Believe essay until late April and planned for it to be my students’ last major writing assignment.  I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to write but held them to a firm deadline of having four weeks to work . This time, I crafted my writing guidelines according to those posted on the NPR site that hosts hundreds of This I Believe essays from around the world.  I made it a point to tell my students our end goal was to share this essay with their classmates by way of a gallery walk. Also, I made it very clear that they had a lot of choice regarding both content and format. The biggest restriction I gave them came directly from the This I Believe site, which was a 500-600 word limit. I know a lot of writing teachers are divided when it comes to word count, but I figured it was still better than giving a specific number of required paragraphs and sentences.  My department requires that we provide rubrics for major writing assignments so I adjusted mine to fit the new guidelines; it focused more on student voice than structure.  

Because the rubric was less specific than my original, I encouraged my students to visit the featured essays site and not only read, but listen to real examples of This I Believe essays. I wanted them to see that this wasn’t just another run of the mill writing assignment.  I wanted them to know that what they believe is important and writing is just one way to share their beliefs. 

My classes shared their essays the second to last week of school by a simple gallery walk.  I printed the essays (some with no names for my shy students) and allowed students to use post-it notes to give feedback.  In 12 years, I think it’s my favorite writing activity I’ve ever had students attempt.  Many students told me they plan to keep their essays for their college applications and show their families.

This past summer, I attended the Heart of Texas Writing Institute hosted by the University of Texas.  We were given the opportunity to work on our own piece of writing and after thinking about it, I realized I wanted to write my own “This I Believe Essay”.  I began collecting ideas in my writer’s notebook and bouncing ideas off of classmates.  And I realized that writing about what you believe is HARD WORK.  It made me cherish the essays my students wrote even more.

So, in honor of my parent’s 46th wedding anniversary, I’m sharing my essay entitled:  HOLD ON TO YOUR HEART SONG: 

I live in a 600 square foot condo with my boyfriend and our 80 pound pit bull. Ironically, space is very important when you don’t have very much of it. Over the past year, I’ve worked on downsizing my life by throwing away, donating, or repurposing just about anything I own. When I went through my closet, I discovered I had clothes I hadn’t worn in about five years and stumbled upon shoes still in their boxes, never worn. I don’t know why I kept things I knew I was not using; I guess I tricked myself into thinking I needed it all. Purging my closet was challenging but didn’t compare to when I forced myself to sit down with my cherished tub of compact discs that had traveled with me for about 15 years. I found mixed CDs with original art from friends I’ve lost touch with, rough recordings of me singing for a former boyfriend’s band, and autographed discs from shows I forgot I’d even attended. I started dancing down memory lane and wanted to listen to each track like I’d never heard them before, but the only CD player I have is in my car. Hauling the heap downstairs plus taking the time to listen to hundreds of CDs previously packed away for years didn’t seem practical. Ultimately, I wound up taking a deep breath and tossing 99% of my collection into an 18 gallon garbage bag, and gifting it to our art teacher who’s always on the hunt for objects her classes can use in their next creations.  

Giving away sentimental items was easier than I thought, but after recycling the empty tub I realized that there’s no way to really get rid of the thousands of songs I’ve accumulated over the years. I know all too well that songs tied to heartbreak and hurting can cause just as much clutter as a box full of old CDs; they can be heavy and swallow space, depleting your oxygen and suffocating you with sadness.  But songs also have the potential to provide a much needed sense of freedom or a fresh start, especially when played with the windows down and the volume turned all the way up.  Understanding the power a song retains is the reason I believe keeping a heart song (or two) is more valuable than holding on to material belongings.

I believe a heart song is different than a love song. Love songs are usually shared by two people and are for cheesy hashtags like #oursong or for first dances at weddings. I believe a heart song is a song that others may have created or that others may appreciate, but it absolutely remains in your heart for reasons only you understand.  I found my heart song when I was around 8 years old, and I have my mom and dad to thank for showing me “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King.  (click on the song title, play & listen!)     

Growing up we took a lot of road trips as a family, especially to see my relatives in Houston. Our visits almost always ended with a late night drive home after my dad finished playing chess or dominoes with my uncles.  We would leave Houston as late as 1AM and I enjoyed staying awake trying to find reflective deer eyes in the woods.  But mostly I enjoyed listening to my dad sing along to the radio, sometimes singing “Stand By Me” to my mom. On those drives, the land would be dark, and the moon was the only light we saw. I was scared of getting lost because it seemed like we were the only car around and sometimes we’d run into thick fog. But hearing my dad sing “No I won’t be afraid” was like being wrapped up in a warm blanket.  I felt safe because I had this peace of mind that my parents were always going to stand by and protect me and our family no matter what.  I clung to the words “No I won’t be afraid” even though I had no real experience of knowing how confusing and hurtful life could be since I was still pretty young.  As an adult, I continue to cling to these words and I cling to my parents as much as I can.  I know they’re only a text, phone call, or 3 hour drive away, but they seem to be right by my side when I think about my heart song, and I plan to hold on to it forever.  

When the night has come

And the land is dark

And the moon is the only light we’ll see

No I won’t be afraid

Oh, I won’t be afraid

Just as long as you stand, stand by me

So darling, darling

Stand by me, oh stand by me

Oh stand, stand by me

Stand by me

If the sky that we look upon

Should tumble and fall

Or the mountain should crumble to the sea

I won’t cry, I won’t cry

No, I won’t shed a tear

Just as long as you stand, stand by me

And darling, darling

Stand by me, oh stand by me

Oh stand now, stand by me

Stand by me

So darling, darling

Stand by me, oh stand by me

Oh stand now, stand by me, stand by me

Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me

Oh stand by me, won’t you stand now, oh, stand

Stand by me