Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022: Year in Review

I'm not really feeling ready to set big goals for this upcoming year, but I do feel like I want to pause and take stock of this past year. In many ways, this year felt stressful and rushed. However, it was also a year of blossoming children, substantial professional growth, deepening friendships, and caregiving for two adults. And while I may not have done all the things I hoped to do for myself, I feel that the life I'm living is pretty great.

Blossoming Children

I am in awe of my two kids, now 7 and 11. They have both become readers with confidence and passions--sharing books is a great joy (we all really loved discovering the Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland this year). For taekwondo, the oldest earned his black belt and the youngest her intermediate level purple belt in 2022. Their Destination Imagination team won first place in the Maryland state tournament, and I traveled (after a wild month of fundraising and travel planning to do so) with them to Global Finals in Kansas City--which was a really amazing, healing experience for my kids--whose school lives had been dominated by the Covid pandemic in the prior two years.

Celebrating their journey and learning with other Maryland DI Teams!

They also participated in summer swim team for the first time, and loved it. Each is growing into an interesting and unique young person. I enjoy spending time with both of them, especially with playing card and board games or going on nature walks. Raising children is not an easy task--it is relentless, unforgiving, and (often) unpleasant--especially during challenging phases, illnesses, or tough times. But I'm very lucky my kids are doing well overall.

Professional Growth

During 2022, I completed 21 of my 60 doctoral degree credits (gearing up to study for comprehensive exams in January and then moving into ABD territory during 2023). Even more amazing was how much I've grown as a leader, researcher, and educator along this journey. I have also developed some close relationships with the other students in my classes and cohort (our five-person writing group made time to meet up during break at the National Harbor & it was delightful to see people in person!). Going back to school to get my doctorate at age 40 was a wild decision, but I'm glad I'm on this journey.

My programs have seen massive growth and equity-focused expansion. I've also had the joy to work with some amazing students, teachers, counselors, leaders, and higher ed personnel who are committed to improving student experience of the high school to college transition. Finally, the education law in Maryland is going through a lot of changes and my involvement with state-level coordination and implementation of the change has been exhausting, but rewarding. I continue to be excited by my career and feel blessed to have the opportunity to work for children in this way.

Touring the (gorgeous!) University of Minnesota's engineering library while in St. Paul.

I also was fortunate to attend two conferences this year (one in Frederick and one in Minnesota) and met several national leaders in my field, as well as connecting with them in new ways through my doctoral work.

This year has seen a great deal of transition with the leadership above me, often creating anxiety and unanticipated challenges. We seem to have settled in a good place as this year draws to a close, but there were many times in 2022 where the action (or inaction) of a new, ineffective, or malicious senior leader threatened to impact the opportunities afforded students, and I felt extremely frustrated with myself for being unable to navigate all of it well. This has been a very, very challenging year for educators--and students--at every level (a sort-of normal year, but with all the traumas of a pandemic still lingering). I'm not at all surprised to see people leaving the field entirely.

I hope 2023 proves to be a better year for everyone in schools.

Deepening Friendships

I have friendships with several women who live locally that I feel have become chosen family. Our family networks are deeply intertwined--for the most part, the kids and adults all get along well with each other. We spend lots of time together--hanging out at each others' houses or going on adventures/outings together--without some of the pressure that can come with adult friendships. I am extremely grateful to have them in my life. (Note: One member of this group has moved away, but we still connect frequently thanks to chat and other distance communications. She's had a year of big transitions, and it's hard not to be able to surround her in the love, community, and support she deserves. But she is a survivor!)

Just one example, some of our kids, at the county fair, with friendship bracelets.

I was also able to visit a friend I had not seen in many years (who I met through this very blog--NOT KIDDING!!!--while we both lived in Korea) while I was traveling for a conference to Minnesota. This trip was very life-affirming and healing--especially connecting me back with my writing self (hopefully for us both). Recognizing how think I need to commit to in-person connections again with these long-time friends who still chat/text/phone/email, but haven't really been able to see for a few years. I felt this when I attended a high school program reunion this summer, too, and spent some time catching up with friends.

I'm also feeling more connected this year to communities than I have in a long time. Whether through volunteering at our kids' school, commiserating about graduate school coursework, collaborating on something professionally, discussing issues in social media, or dancing together in social dances or fitness classes, I feel rich again with a casual/acquaintance-level social network. I think this is the layer of relationships that suffered the most from Covid restrictions.


My mother had a stroke in August 2020, and while she lives independently in a condo a block away from our house, her recovery to independence is incomplete. It's been a bit of a rough year as we attempted to navigate her getting back to driving, but have not been able to do so yet. This journey was further complicated by the financial emergencies of my two adult siblings who my mother still feels the need to support. I'm not going to get into family dynamics here, but caregiving for a parent while being estranged from a sibling because he has past financial abuse of that parent while the parent continues to enable the abuse is... something. I continue to have to do really good boundary work and values clarity. I am grateful for the opportunity to have this relationship with my mother and help her live well, but it is NOT easy to balance it all.

Meanwhile, in early April, Mingi had surgery on his right foot to resolve several issues from a soccer injury two years ago. The recovery and the subsequent physical and emotional ups and downs from this have also triggered migraines and injured the left foot from overuse. He's not as reliant on others as my mother is, but our whole family has been impacted by his ongoing health challenges and recovery. Our network of friends and acquaintances has been invaluable through this recovery period, but it has been a struggle. We are definitely looking forward to a year where we can all do more together (hiking, traveling, silly fun), and Mingi feels more like himself.

Visiting the Inner Harbor in Baltimore this week felt a bit like maybe we are back to more normal ways of being for our family.

Overall, I'm proud of what I've been able to accomplish this year and grateful for the support in overcoming challenges we've faced. Having a stable financial situation and supportive network has made a major difference; at another time in my life, the challenges of 2022 would have broken me. Instead, I feel content that I was able to give the people I love so much care, love, and support. However, I have gained another 10 lbs in the last year (on top of the 20 I had put on in the prior years), and really need to put more focus into my own health so I'm able to continue to support others and do the things I want to do.

As such, I'm setting an intention this year of ensuring that I'm giving at least equal care and support to my own health and development that I give to my family.

How was your 2022? What are your New Year's intentions? Please share!

Monday, December 26, 2022

Christmas joys--meditation and writing

Another Christmas holiday. We enjoyed time with family, new board & card games, books, and many Lego sets & craft kits. Also, the weather stopped gale force winds enough for us to enjoy a family walk in the afternoon.

Discovering ice in the paths near our home--and smashing it!

All in all an enjoyable holiday. Now I have a lovely week with no official work to savor time with family, accomplish little domestic projects, exercise, and cook to my heart's delight.  I plan to indulge heartily in all the things that I enjoy without the guilt about what I "should" be doing right now. Whatever gets done, gets done. Whatever does not, does not. It's all ok!

I'm thinking about plans/goals for the new year. I think taking back up meditation and writing will be the most important. From these habits, all other good things flow. Maybe one goal of prepping meals for the week on Sundays (which helps me have time for meditation and writing as well as saving time, money, and improving my health).

For example, when I meditate, I am more likely to focus on being present, eating whole foods, and treating myself and others with kindness. When I write, I document my thoughts and process the negativity to feel more authentically connected to the directions and goals in my life. Both of these habits then allow my mind to organize best in alignment with the true values I hold in my heart and encourage me to live through these values rather than trying to distract myself from my own life.

Being home all week, I don't really need a meal plan, but I'd like to prepare for meal planning by using up my pantry/fridge/storage. Tonight, I will make a mushroom pilaf (maybe with couscous instead of rice), that I can use to stuff roast acorn squash. I will eat my (already) roasted beets for a snack and work to use up the veggies in my fridge and pantry. I also have a yummy kale-chickpea soup leftovers to eat over the next few days. I think I have to get back into cooking with what's in my home and then shopping to create a weekly plan.

I also really need to limit my sugar. I have been munching on candy thoughtlessly. I don't enjoy it, and it's not helping my life. I think I need to be more purposeful with my sugar intake and only have sweets when it's worth it--like homemade special treats. Maybe I can start munching on popcorn instead. I like that idea.

How was your holiday?

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Reflections about health on an unexpected day of weather cancellations

This morning, our area had some ice and rain storms with freezing temperatures overnight. Although the situation in our neighborhood is not bad at all, the North part of the county must have been terrible because they cancelled school. With offices on a two hour delay, I find myself with the gift of a bit of writing time on this last day of work before the winter break.

Getting the day off school was great for my kids, as both have been dragging themselves through various illnesses throughout most of the month. I think my oldest has attended a total of 2 days in December. Multiple doctor's office trips and Covid tests and no definitive diagnosis, but a collection of symptoms that could be from one of so many different viruses floating around this holiday season, wreaking havoc everywhere. The youngest has been feverish and complaining of ear pain this week, but the doctor's trip did not show infection--just fluid in the ears. They both need the day to fully rest instead of forcing themselves to gather all the work they've missed and check in with teachers before the official start of winter break tomorrow.

Coping with sick children is very stressful. I am extremely grateful that I have the resources in my life--both financial and social--to help manage all the challenges that come with caring for a sick child. I'm also grateful that so far, the illnesses have been mild and routine (colds, viruses, etc.). Right now, there are many parents who are coping with sick children without adequate health insurance or who cannot pay for the medications or equipment that help alleviate symptoms. There are parents with jobs that will punish them for taking time off to care for children and schools that are unsympathetic to the challenges of this season. I can't help but think about how our society could make things better and easier for all children, yet we choose to let them struggle instead.

I'm reading The Myth of Normal by Dr. 
Gabor Maté (written with his son, Daniel), which identifies some of the ways in which the systemic failures of our society to prevent childhood suffering contributes to the numerous health crises that have arisen in the past century. I'm not sure I agree with all of his arguments and writing, but it is an important critique of the way the field of medicine alone is inadequate to address illness and healing. This makes me very aware of the ways our society fails children and how that impacts generations of suffering.

I am also trying to address what this means for my own health journey. Becoming a caregiver to my aging mother has had a profound impact on the ways I view my own childhood, the formation of my self, and how I understand human relationships. Dr. Maté would urge me to lean into these learnings and find ways to connect my healing needs with addressing the complexities of health and social-familial environment. I'm not really sure how to turn that journey into a "resolution" yet, but I would like to prioritize healing and health as I move into the new year.

Not just for me, but for my family and community.

I will continue to reflect. In the meantime, I will enjoy this slow start to my morning, this opportunity for rest and reflection in the coming holiday, and what it might mean about my priorities in life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

How do I get back into blogging?

 I think I just start. We're moving into winter and life is very busy and always moves right along.

Goodbye, Fall

Some thoughts that have been on my mind this week:

1. Grad School: I finished this semester's courses for my doctoral program. I enjoyed the classes much more than I thought, and the final paper in my qualitative methods course allowed me to play around with a mixed methods design that I have been hoping to explore. The methodology, Trochim's concept mapping, is a really great blend of qualitative data collection, participatory research--it involves the participants analyzing the qualitative data they produce, abstract statistical models that I nerd out over, and visual representation of data. The methodology pairs well with my epistemological framework for research (intersectionality), my research question (identifying barriers to access and participation in advanced coursework), and my commitment to bringing the student perspective into empirical studies. I met with the instructor who taught my quantitative methods course who is currently serving as program coordinator until the regular program coordinator returns from sabbatical next semester to discuss the possibilities with her, and she did agree to be my quantitative methodologist on my dissertation committee if we need one! I'm looking forward to my Spring seminar coursework. However, first I must get through my comprehensive exams in late Jan/early Feb--whew.

Youngest takes a nature walk with her best friend.

2. Kids: Our oldest has been dealing with a cold/stomach flu that just won't quit. Poor thing has been out of school far too many days. Meanwhile, the youngest is exhausted and needs a mental break. I hope the holiday break can be our chance to reconnect as a family and relax a bit. This school year has been fun and busy, but rather stressful!

3. Health: I'm working to go for long walks most days of the week. I enjoy the connection with nature and it's all I can fit in my schedule right now. The shorter days make it hard to remember to go for a walk, but I do enjoy hanging out with the family of deer who share our neighborhood. I'm getting back into the habit of cooking, which has fallen by the wayside because of this busy life season.

Deer family in the marshlands.

So for now, that's my update. I hope this helps get me back into the writing flow!

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Raising Readers

I love reading. I've always known that I wanted to raise my children to be readers. It's a great frugal form of entertainment, and the most critical skill for success in school. In my career as a high school English teacher, I have helped convert hundreds of reluctant, phone-addicted high schoolers into teens who voluntarily read novels. I've convinced students that Will Shakespeare was a pretty cool dude. Yet, when it came to my own children, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to equip them to view reading in the way that Harper Lee once described in To Kill a Mockingbird:

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

In the library, pre-Covid; still one of our favorite places to hang out!

Luckily, I need not have feared. My son just finished a five book series of 500+ page novels he received as a Christmas present and my daughter is making her way through several different series. Their most recent test scores from school peg their reading levels at 3+ grades above their actual grades. They are readers! Helping my kids become readers was easier and more enjoyable than I could have possibly imagined. I come from an education background, so of course I advocate that families read to children early and often and model literacy. Turns out, that actually works!

Lazy summer deck reading.

As a parent (who feels like she's making it all up as she goes along...), I've also discovered that reading to your kids stops meltdowns in their tracks and provides instant family bonding.  Here are some specific ways to develop young children's literacy:

  1. Make the time. Before I had kids, I was understanding about how hard it was as a parent to make time for reading. After all, I love reading, and I don't always make the time to do it. Parents are even busier, right? Y'all--I timed it. Reading one of those little board books takes less than five (yes, FIVE) minutes. And often it's the five minutes during which my child is most cooperative, loving, and attentive. No one screams. Everyone cuddles. Five minutes. It's better than meditation--no lie. How do you not make time for that every, single day? If I hadn't read to my kids, none of us would have made it past age two.  My worst nightmare is a bedtime without books. *shudder*

  2. Make books accessible.*  Studies show that being surrounded by books in childhood promotes literacy.  We own a lot of children's books (way more than adult books, thanks to my decluttering efforts). Most of them were gifts or hand-me-downs, but books are the main "toys" we have purchased for our children. However, you don't have to own books to surround your children with books.  Our local library lets patrons check out unlimited items, doesn't charge fines, and allows you to renew materials online. We usually have at least 60 books checked out at any one time--and only like 3-5 of them are for the adults. You can also buy used books or source them through Buy Nothing and Freecycle.

  3. Make it a habit. Every time my kids beg for "one more poem" or to be allowed to choose one more picture book or read one more chapter in our novels, I feel like I've won the gold medal of parenting. However, that joy comes from many, many times of being willing to read the same book over again, or pause and read whenever one of my children asks. We treat nagging for books different than just about every other kind of nagging--we indulge it.

  4. Give kids choice and agency. Sometimes, I get lucky and my kids are interested in the books I enjoy reading, and we'll have great fun with the works of Roald Dahl, Narnia, and Mossflower. Other times, they want to read endless, technically-oriented volumes about Pokemon (J) or the terribly-written picture book re-telling of Disney princess movies (H).  When the kids are interested in something (be it Kung-fu Panda, or space, or unicorns), we ask the librarians if there are any books about that topic and use Goodreads to find similar recommendations.

  5. Model reading books. I think many adults read more on screens (Kindle, smartphones, etc.) than they did just a few years ago.  However, children don't know whether you are reading on your tablet or watching a video.  Be intentional about modeling your reading to your children. Min had to get some Korean books so that the kids could see him reading on paper, not just on the screen.

Snuggly winter couch reading.

Some other tips? Teach letters and sounds, but not to the point that you are sacrificing story and fluency. Readers read content, not phonics.  Don't freak out if your kid who loves listening to you read doesn't transition to reading independence right away. It will happen eventually. The boy who just tore through those 500+ page books didn't read anything but Dog Man independently well through second grade.

* Not every family can afford books. I encourage using the library to fill in the gaps, but that's not always enough.  While compiling this post, I did some research into charities that provide books to kids. I elected to make a donation to Reach Out and Read, an highly rated organization that encourages literacy by integrating books into pediatric care.

We also donate monthly to our local library. We get way more value from it than we do from any streaming media service.

Any other tips from parents out there? How do you foster a love of reading for your children at any age?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Food, Exercise, Nature, and Joy: Health in 2022

Last year work, household, caregiving, and grad school obligations became overwhelming. I found it difficult to make time for exercise and cook healthy foods; I also resorted to stress-eating late at night or picking up fast food. I gained about 20lbs before my brain cleared enough in late October to deal with this neglect of my physical state.

Neglected building along my walking route.

I will admit that there was a part of me that had surrendered--an inner voice that told me I would just "get healthy again" after my doctorate was finished. Then, I read the book Die With Zero by Bill Perkins. This personal finance book proposes that many super-saver ways of conceptualizing money for retirement (always "max out" accounts and optimize savings rates) are not the smartest way to approach finances because you could end up very wealthy, but without the time or health to enjoy what you've accumulated. Ultimately, Perkins advocates that money should be used to maximize fulfillment and experiences over time. Although much of his argument would only apply to those with privilege and comfort enough to be saving too much for retirement and there were some ableist tropes that have been called out on Twitter, I found the book shook me out of a money and health script that had me making bad tradeoffs. Perkins framed our mortality and the decline of our abilities and interests with age in a manner that made me realize how problematic it was for me to wait until some other part of my life is done to care for my health. I want to be able to enjoy my life--now and in the future--and neglecting health is probably the main guarantee that I'm stealing from my future enjoyment. (His book also made me relax a lot about retirement contributions and add life-fulfillment goals into my financial plan, which I really needed to do.)

Noticing a woodpecker on a nature walk.

I reckoned with the fact that I'd been "trying" to lose the weight I'd gained without success on my own; I rejoined WW, which has helped me lose weight in a healthy way in the past, I also recommitted to daily movement that I love--choosing to focus on all the ways I enjoy moving (dancing, walking, hiking, swimming, yoga...) instead of trying to force myself to do exercise I thought I "should" be doing (like jogging and weightlifting). I'm also conceptualizing wellness more broadly by paying attention to the quality of my relationships, prioritizing interactions with friends and family that bring me joy, and trying to spend time in nature really enjoying it.

J is very proud of learning how to solve Rubik's cubes after watching Youtube videos.

Even through the holidays and the stress of Omicron, I have been able to reconnect with the actions and habits that make me feel energized and strong. I have lost about 8 lbs., eaten less fast food and snacks, and exercise nearly daily. I feel much better! Right now, I am enjoying the 30 Day Yoga Journey MOVE from Adriene Mishler. On Twitter, a group of mostly women from my personal finance blogger friends keep me accountable as we cheer each other on with the hashtag #pfyogacrew (anyone is welcome to join in the fun!). I'm remembering not just how much yoga is lovely for meditation and stretching, but it really develops strength and stability. I think I would like to keep up with this as a daily practice beyond the 30 Day challenge.

How are you staying healthy through this difficult time?

Monday, January 17, 2022

Colonialism, Education, and Hope: Reflections on MLK Day 2022

"We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my doctoral program, we're learning about the different theoretical lenses that researchers use in educational research. One of the reasons to consider theoretical lenses is to understand that what we believe about the creation of knowledge impacts what kinds of knowledge we can explore as researchers. Since my program is committed to social justice and equity, we include critical theories in our study--including Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Queer Studies. While these concepts have taken some heat from the right, they are really interesting to study. One of the concepts that I've encountered in my studies is the extent to which the lens of settler colonialism permeates the thinking, research, and structures of education.

Although I had a vague understanding of colonialism from my studies of history in school, my understanding was always that the bad parts of colonialism was something that happened a long time ago or in far away lands. Sure, it was reawakened by the Monroe doctrine and then rhetorically evoked in science fiction I loved as a child (THE FINAL FRONTIER!), but weren't some concepts of exploration and discovery the very foundations of science--exploring the unknown?

But settler colonialism asks: "Unknown to whom?" "Explore for what?" "Who benefits from this interaction?" So many of my questions for educational research are simple questions students already know the answers to, but the academy has not included their perspectives in "empirical studies," and so the knowledge they possess about education is not acknowledged. But if every student knows and understands that the system of testing we have right now is torture, then it's fairly presumptuous of us to have to "prove" the harms.

In the last year, between my graduate studies and increased reading of Native American writers (including Angeline Boulley, Tommy Orange, and--my new favorite--Louise Erdrich), I'm starting to see that the harms of colonialism are ongoing and continuous. That many of the ideals I value in American culture--self-reliance, individualism, creative use of resources, thirst for knowledge--are predicated on the fact that my European ancestors saw the world as theirs for the taking and exploring (and exploiting). That my husband's country was shaped first by the forcible colonization of Korea by Japan and then the de-facto Cold War colonization of the American army. That the "adventure" I loved about traveling to different countries and experiencing other cultures came at a cost to the people and lands I visited.

The trouble of course is, I'm not entirely sure what to do with this knowledge. I love to travel, but the more I learn about the carbon footprint of commercial flights, the more unethical it feels. I want to visit Hawaii and Puerto Rico, but the problematic ways twentieth century U.S. annexed these lands without the support of the indigenous populations, in part because they represent a kind of fantastical, exotic travel for Americans, gives me pause. I can't even think about my own time in Korea as an English teacher without understanding the complex ways that was another kind of colonization project, albeit ones Koreans themselves submit to in order to gain global power.

More troubling perhaps still is the colonial project of public education that continues in 2022. Again, Covid has us asking: "What are schools--warehouses for children so their parents can be participants in the economy or places of academic instruction or social welfare programs for reducing inequity?" (HINT: They are all of these things, none of these, and more.) "Who benefits from schools closing? From staying "open"?" And so on. Some of these questions are public health questions, sure, but they have revealed to me a troubling narrative I believe that public education is capable of (and should) "save" children by helping them navigate the norms of our society successfully. And what is that but a demand for assimilation by another name?

I'm thinking about this today, on a great day for reflecting about injustice, because the first writer who helped me understand the deep connections between all kinds of injustice and harms in this world was Dr. King.  His ability to see how the evils of capitalism, racism, and militarism were interconnected to exploit and suppress others allowed me to understand that there is no single injustice more important than others. What I am most inspired by is his ability to not only see the evils in the world, but to continue to believe it could get better. Sometimes, I really wonder if it can.

I don't have any answers here. I try to do what I can, where I can, but times like these, it can seem overwhelming and that there are no good choices. So instead, I will lean into Dr. King's hope and advice for persistence:

"For all of us today, the battle is in our hands. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. We must keep going." --MLK

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Appreciation for the Calm

Starting 2022 amidst the most widespread outbreak of a 2+ year pandemic has ironically led to a slowing down and calm pace for my life. We've been lucky enough to avoid infection thus far, so now that the rates of Covid transmission and hospitalizations are higher than they've ever been, we've elected to reduce the number of activities we are engaging in at present as a mitigation strategy. The kids are still going to school and taekwondo (masked, thankfully), Min is doing whatever shopping we need, and I am going in person to work most days of the week and taking my Mom to doctor's appointments, but we've mostly curtailed other activities. Even though there is no government mandate to refrain, we find it prudent at this time.

Water always makes me feel peaceful. This is the Monocacy River near our home.

For me, this means no gym classes, no dining out, and no gatherings indoors. What's strange this time is that it seems as though very few other people are limiting some of their activities, despite the fact that our hospital is operating in crisis mode and our school staffs are dealing with absentee rates so high that we are discussing possible short-term contingency plans for in-person instruction. The local college I work with has already decided to stay fully remote with virtual instruction through February 6. There's no guidance to help the public in how to navigate what's happening now, and the CDC Director was describing it as "encouraging" that people like me with immune suppression and diabetes are the people that are dying from this round of infection. I digress...

The kids decided to prepare us breakfast for our anniversary (12 years--WOW). It was quite sweet.

Far from feeling deprived and adrift as I did in the early weeks of March and April 2020, I feel an ease of slipping back into the routines and joys we discovered when the whole world shut down. I find myself grateful for the beautiful nature in our neighborhood on my walks, for the free yoga challenge online, for a wonderful dance instructor still having Sunday Zoom workouts, for more time to play board games with my kids and cook healthy meals. I have enjoyed more time to rest and read, dig into my grad classes, write in this blog.

My little snow bunny.

I feel a kind of contented ease that I don't really recall enjoying in the past. Perhaps, I have just become more comfortable with existing in the present moment and enjoying the company of my family. Maybe I like the excuse to ruthlessly cut nonessentials from my life. Or maybe it was the first huge snowstorm of the year which always makes the world look brand new. Whatever it is, I like it. I'm going to try to cultivate this essentialist approach to my time and enjoyment.

Here's a little hope into the world that we can stay healthy and joyful, even if the world feels like it's conspiring to keep us from those things.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Random Reflections as 2021 Closes

We have come to the last day of a very stressful year--which, coincidentally was the first year of my 40s and another year of very strange world events--from an ongoing pandemic to political shenanigans to climate crises to the dehumanization from the patriarchy, white supremacy, global capitalism, and other injustice. There is much from this year that leaves me sad, anxious, and helpless. I try to focus on the positives--vaccines and books, for example. But I will admit that 2021 on a broad scale leaves even silver-lining optimist Diana feeling a bit stretched to come up with much to say about the positive.

Super grateful for my wonderful family.

On a personal scale, I can find a lot more victories and joys. Here are a few:

Financial: Thanks to the largesse of the US government stimulus money, I finally paid off all my credit card debt. In a further debt victory, the rules for Public Service Loan Forgiveness were changed such that it looks like I will be eligible for full forgiveness of my undergraduate and master's degree loans in full. This has enabled us to increase our charitable giving & direct aid to family/friends, contribute more to retirement funds, and spend without worrying on the things we value. Life without crushing debt really changes your outlook. I also found Die With Zero and I Will Teach You to be Rich to be helpful books for this new stage of my financial journey.

Relationships: It was my first full year thinking of myself as a "caregiver" to my mother whose stroke in August 2020 has left her more dependent on others for help. I am proud and grateful at the amount of care I've been able to provide for her. This shift in our relationship has enabled me to reflect on what is most important and let go of more small slights. I feel solidly like a middle age adult, and I think this identity has a lot to do with it. I have rekindled a friendship with my sister who has helped with the caregiving and let go of the relationship with my brother that has always been toxic and strained.

Bringing Mom on vacation to the beach was a major 2021 highlight!

I also deepened my friendships with the women in my book club and their families (all of whom are mixed race, with one Asian, one white parent, such that our children all look more like each other than we do). These friends have become my go-to people. I am so grateful for this group we have built where I feel accepted and built a close community for my biracial children. have also become closer to a few work colleagues, parents of my kids' friends, dance friends, and neighbors this year.

Although I let my blog Free, Fun, Family lapse and haven't been writing as much, I feel connected to several online communities through Twitter, which is now my only social media besides Goodreads. I do hope to reconnect at in-person events with them in the future.

Professional: I am now through two full semesters of work on my Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership--and I love it! It's got me thinking and trying things in different ways that have already resulted in some pretty awesome collaborations and projects at work. It's also been a great outlet for managing, processing, and reflecting on the trauma of these last few years. I find myself re-inspired for educational work in a time of incredible challenge and difficulty in this profession. Although it can be very stressful at times, I'm so glad I decided to pursue this program at this time. I am also becoming close with a number of people in my cohort.

Bringing dually enrolled English Learner students on a tour of campus--many are first gen!!!

Reading: Thanks in part to my daughter's embrace of The Magic Treehouse series towards the end of they year, I made it to my goal of over 100 books in 2021 (as of right now, I'm at 111 and will probably finish at least one more book today). One of my goals was to increase my usual rate of 20-25% books by writers of color, and 43 of those books (38%) were by BIPOC authors. In reviewing my read shelf, I see that most of my books for grad school and my kids' read-alouds were not very diverse. I can't do much about the required reading for grad school (except continuing to advocate for different authors & choosing diverse authors when given a choice), but I think I need to be more intentional about getting my kids books by writers of color. Especially now that they are both independent readers.

So overall, a year of growth and development. Much to celebrate!

Of course, what I am most grateful for and proud of is the growth and closeness of my family. This year's struggles have resulted in a closeness and joy. I can't wait to see what 2022 brings for us!
Harper's Ferry visit with my Uncle Tom!

I've been less pleased with my year in terms of health (I gained weight with how stressful this year has been), minimalism/anti-consumerism, and writing (other than school, I didn't do much this fall). As such, these are the three areas I am focusing on for 2022 "goals."

Goals for 2022:
1. Lose the 20lbs I gained in a healthy way (whole foods, less dining out, more movement, smaller eating window/semi-IF). I'm not really all about the weight anymore & care way more about health, but I know that this weight impacts my diabetes control and makes dancing & hiking a bit harder.
2. Avoid Amazon (which we *still* use far too often), minimize Walmart, more food that's local, & declutter--for realsies.
3. Publish once a week in this blog. Sometimes it's gonna be short, sometimes long. But I have to build my writing muscle again, and I enjoy blogging here. It feels low stakes. Please hold me accountable.

Thank you for reading my thoughts, as always. I hope you are well as the year closes. Do you have any reflections or goals for this year? I'd love to hear them.

Monday, August 23, 2021

What a wild summer it has been...

I finished my big debt goal and started my doctorate and BAM--stopped blogging. Whoops!

I earned As in both summer courses and had many enjoyable family (and friend!) mini-adventures this summer, but preparing for the opening of this school year has been rather time-consuming. Now that our district is back in session, I hope to get back on this blogging wagon, if for no other reason than I enjoy writing a log of my life, even if only three people read it (hi, friends!).

Now in fourth and first grades--time has really sped up!

We're still living in the pandemic, of course. Covid-19 cases locally dipped really low this summer, but now with the Delta variant, are shooting back up. It's really challenging to pull back after enjoying the almost carefree summer, especially with school opening fully. We're just trying to mask and limit most travel/dining out, but are choosing to continue outdoor socializing with other families where all 12+ persons are vaccinated. I remain mostly concerned about our unvaccinated children, but remain hopeful that the natural partial immunity children seem to have, combined with mandatory mask mandates at school, will keep them mostly ok. Who really knows? It's exhausting to continue to be so on edge for so long. Finally, I now qualify for a third round of vaccine, due to my immune suppressed self. Hopefully that will keep me protected from the worst side effects of the virus if I do catch it.

Summer camping trip with good friends--so grateful for the pause on C-19

My mother is mostly recovered from her stroke, over one year prior. She is still in occupational therapy and has a vision therapy appointment this week to see if she might be ready to be assessed for driving again! I would love for her to be able to regain some of her prior independence. She is already back in watercolor classes at the local community college and even went out to lunch with friends without my assistance! Such progress is wonderful.

Enjoying the Fireman's Carnival with my best kiddos!

Financially, we're kind of at a good place of allowing a bit of purposeful luxury spending, now that the debt is paid off. We've automated a higher contribution to the IRAs and emergency fund, but mostly are doing well because of YNAB (or, You Need A Budget--that's a referral link!). They redesigned and are even more fun to use, so I highly recommend it as an all-in-one, goal-smashing budget app.

Ready to move into the end of official summer and see what fall brings. Two more grad classes, of course, but also perhaps getting back to a schedule of regular exercise and such.