When it rains, it pours

I would not consider myself a well-traveled person. I’ve been to Hawaii almost every year of my life (and for many years I got TWO trips thanks to my divorced parents) and I’ve done a decent amount of domestic travel, but anywhere else has never been an option because I’m busy paying bills (those student loans are all up in my business). But that’s ok – going to Hawaii is just fine for me.

HOWEVER, my husband, Thor, works for Nike and a few years ago he started traveling like crazy for work. All of a sudden he was a jet set international traveler, regularly hitting multiple places in Asia and some of Europe. They fly him first class and he’s checking in on Facebook at the Ritz Carlton. He comes home saying, “We ate at a Michelin starred restaurant,” and how he is downright pampered in first class.  I can’t help but be jealous! I thought to myself, “It’s not like I’m ever going to get a free trip from being a teacher – they can’t even afford new books…”

He even asked me to download an app called, “been” where you click all the countries you’ve been. I exclaimed, “Whyyyyy???? Are you trying to torture me???”

Ironically just a few days later, my colleague, Kyle, asked me to join him at a free happy hour for a student travel company. He promised I didn’t have to sign up for anything – just drink free wine and eat free food and hang with him – so I did…

But you know how it goes when you’ve had a few glasses of wine and your friends are cracking you up (you’re still bitter about your husband’s free trips) – your defenses are down. Pretty soon I was scheduling a meeting with one of their travel consultants just to TALK about chaperoning some students on an international trip. Maybe. Probably not. Very doubtful.

Then I threw it out to my teaching partner, “Hey Josh – would you ever want to take some students to Europe with me? Am I crazy??” and week later we were both signing our names on the dotted line: Greece Summer 2016 for nine days. As neither of us have been to Europe, AND our trip will be free (and chocked full of sightseeing), this was pretty exciting.

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Just a couple weeks later, my mom asked, “Do you want to go to Paris with me this summer? Maybe a few days in Amsterdam?” Um – ok! That was unexpected. All of a sudden I’m booking a cool Parisian apartment on Airbnb, and if you read my blog you know that I’m busy relearning mon francais.

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Cool – right? Finally after all these years, I figured out how to get to Europe on a budget!

Then our school tour consultant says, “Oh yeah – and don’t forget to pick your training trip that comes before you take students on the real thing!” Suddenly Josh and I are signed up for a five day trip to Barcelona in January. For free.

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Here’s the deal: I promise I’m not trying to brag, “WOOHOO for meeeee! I’m going to all these amazing places!” My point is that if you are frustrated, annoyed, or even apathetic (like I was) that you can’t travel somewhere because you’re broke – there might be other options. Step outside what you know.

If you had asked me a couple years ago about taking students on an international trip, I would have said no no no no no nooooooo NOOOOOOOO. Hell NO. It sounds stressful, maybe dangerous, probably intensely exhausting. Most people know I’m not a big fan of spending several days with my students at Outdoor School, but after hearing Kyle talk about taking his students to Costa Rica and then seeing his pictures, I realized it might not be that terrible. And now knowing that my very organized and very responsible and very fun teaching partner is willing to partner with me – I can digest that we are literally going to take our students on a plane, to wander a country who’s financial system is crumbling, but I’m sure we’ll eat some souvlaki and see the Acropolis and I’ll be fine.

Thor often complains that even when he gets to travel for work, he doesn’t get to do a lot of exploring or sightseeing. He’s working. On our student trips, we’ll be working and doing a ridiculous amount of sightseeing (since that’s the point of the trip). We won’t be flying first class, or staying at the Ritz Carlton (I’m just crossing my fingers for a Holiday Inn), but I stepped outside my comfort zone and it’s happening.

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Are you a teacher who’s curious about the student travel company? Check it out here: EF Tours. Since we haven’t gone on our trip yet, I can’t fully endorse them – but so far they are coddling us newbies.

Piano is out! French is in!

One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to relearn how to play the piano. In college, I took piano classes and was at the point where I could play with both hands and could easily read music (which I already knew since I can play the flute). We have a nice keyboard and I thought all I really needed was some motivation.

WRONG. Over spring break I said to myself, “Ok – today I start!” and I set up a nice desk/keyboard area, hooked up to a big computer monitor so I could either use an app or look up music online (down the road). Then I couldn’t find the cord to plug in the keyboard. It took close to 30 minutes to find it. Then the cord wasn’t long enough to get to the outlet and I couldn’t move the desk any closer. Then I accidentally knocked over a shelf and my craft supplies went flying. I took a cleansing breath and thought, “Today is NOT the day I start.”

And I haven’t even bothered to pretend with the piano since then.

HOWEVER, very soon after the piano shitaster, my mom asked if I wanted to join her in Paris this summer. I studied French all through college (and almost double majored in it) but never really had the chance to speak it somewhere Frenchy. As the years have passed, I can definitely read French but my speaking and listening is back to a beginner level.

It’s my blog and I can change it if I want to, so I’m crossing off the relearning the piano, and swapping to relearning French. With a travel date of July on the calendar, I need to move fast

Last week I downloaded a few French podcasts, my favorite thus far being FrenchPod101. I can’t say the lessons are all that helpful, but I like how the hosts bicker a little bit – and since one is American and one is French, they talk about some cultural differences, etc.

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My struggle at this point is that my brain is a swiss cheese of vocabulary. I can remember some incredibly obscure things, but then forget how to say, “I want,” two seconds later. I know it will come back to me, but with only seven weeks to go – I imagine I’ll be listening to a lot of podcast and flipping a lot of flash cards.

I’m sure many people right now are saying, “You’ll pick it back up when you get there,” but the point is that if I dedicated years of my life to learning it – I would like to have a nice solid brush up before going. If I look the fool and say something like, “Kick my toilet,” well, that’s life.

Pendant ce temps, je voudrais parler le français un peu mieux. (Did I say that right?)

My knee is messed up again. If you would have told me three years ago that I would still be having problems this far down the line, I might have thrown my crutches at you.

But the good news is that I’ve learned to be more patient (albeit incredibly frustrated) and I mostly accepted that when my knee doesn’t feel right, I need to scale things back. This means for right now, I need to change up my workouts…

Last weekend, I hopped on a spin bike over at the Nike gym, and right away noticed a couple fancy exercise bikes next to me that I had never seen before. They had big screens with animated terrains and moveable handlebars, and scrolling message that said, “Expresso Interactive.” When I got home, I looked it up and sure enough it looked like a video game attached to an exercise bike.

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FOR YEARS, I have been saying that my treadmill runs would be so much more fun if I had a screen in front of me that worked like a video game. Maybe if I saw zombies running at me, I would run faster. Or if nothing else, looking at an animated beach would be way better than watching Fox News. I got on Expresso and created an account, and then yesterday returned to give it a try.

Here’s what I learned:

Yes, it’s basically a video game on an exercise bike. However, I am such a noob that I only have access to the “beginner” courses – like biking on a beach, a forest, etc. You definitely have to move the handlebars in order to stay on the road, but it won’t let you crash if you get too close to the edge or run into another biker. At the end of a ride, there is a leader board with your stats that compare you to other riders at your gym, and everywhere else.

Once you hit a certain amount of logged miles, you will unlock course that look a lot more exciting: stuff with pirates and dragons and, yes, zombies.

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Also, you can set your personal best as a ghost rider to give you something to compete against, rather than all the random CGI riders who seem to be taking a Sunday stroll.

My takeaway? I’m not so bummed about my knee anymore because I can’t wait to get back and unlock some more levels.

Have any of you tried this at your gym?? Have any of you seen a treadmill version??

Moving Sideways to Get Forward

In 2014, I initially made one of my “bonus” goals to get hired as an Assistant Principal. I hemmed and hawed, and asked everyone I knew whether I should do it or not. Finally, I said, “What’s my problem already?!” and applied for our district’s AP pool. Then everyday I dreaded the phone ringing, saying I had an interview. While I have no doubts that I could do the job (and learn to do it well), the question really has always been do I want the job.

The phone didn’t ring, and when they finally sent me a “thanks but no thanks” email – I felt completely relieved, not rejected. This year, I was back in the classroom (although I always have my little things on the side) and in February I began to feel the proverbial claustrophobic panic of doing the same old thing for the next school year. Don’t get me wrong – teaching can be super fun, but it’s not enough for me. I want to get out and see other teachers do their thing, and help them get better at doing their thing. I want to advocate for them when the principal can’t remember what it’s like to be a teacher, and temper them when they can’t understand why the principal is so overwhelmed.

This year, I didn’t even think of applying for an assistant principal position, but last week when I saw an instructional coaching position open under a principal I totally respect, I thought, “Ok – I’m going to give it a go.” A few days later, I had accepted the job just a couple hours after interviewing.

So there it is: I have a new job. The IRONY of it all. Why didn’t I make it a 2015 goal so I could cross it off my list??

Just a couple weeks ago I read a quote that said something like, “Sometimes a step forward requires a couple side steps first,” but I can’t seem to find the exact quote, or who said it. But I reflected that I’ve been impatient, and trying to force applying for a different job just because I should. Working at my current school for the last two years has been the biggest “bucket filling” experience I ever could have had. The parents and kids and staff and leadership are pretty much out of a magazine, and everyone has treated me so well. Yeah, professionally it’s a sidestep, but personally it’s been a big step forward. (BTW, Amanda, you’re the one who made all this happen).

Who knows what next year will look like, but I keep reminding myself that I need to do things my own way.

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Breaking the Rules (get it?? LOL)

If I was guy, I’m pretty sure I would look like this:

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And I’m pretty sure I would spend my days like this:

© Naki Kouyioumtzis. UK B-Boy Champs 2012, Brixton Academy, London, UK

You think I’m joking, but I’m not.

But alas, I was born a chick. I hear you saying, “Why do you have to be a boy to be a super fly breakdancer?” And you’re right, you don’t – but as a female it just isn’t my calling. (Instead, I guess I’m chasing a Martha Stewart meets Lady Gaga kind of lifestyle.)

ANYWAY, that doesn’t mean I can fully enjoy the aesthetic of hip hop and bboy style, or be fully entertained by an epic dance battle where dudes contort their bodies and spin on their heads. At the lunch table, I constantly hear teachers talking about football or basketball or any other jock-type sport where the dudes are overpaid and over idolized. Now breakdancing – that’s where you’ll find athleticism at it’s finest…and you don’t have to listen to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” every time they take a time out.

But as a 34 year old white lady teacher, I don’t exactly cross paths with a lot of dancers or their events. In fact, I have even actively searched for dance battles in Portland and repeatedly come up dry.

But now that I’ve made it an official 2015 goal to attend a legit breakdancing competition (where I might possibly have to travel to get there), I’ve signed up for several listservs and Facebook groups that post national events – and guess what! There’s one in Portland at the end of the month!

It’s ok – you can call me out as a total poser; I know. And you know what? I also like Chris Brown. But at this point, who cares?

Book of April

March and February have been really uninspired months for me in terms of books. I started two different books and plowed through only to toss them aside midway because I just couldn’t get into them. Then I spent a lot of time playing Animal Crossing instead.

I just wanted to read something I knew I would enjoy; so I took the plunge and picked up George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones for a second time. It was just as good the second time around, but instead of feeling ripped up and down by all the twists, this time I savored it…like a fine vintage from the Summer Isles.

A-GAME-OF-THRONES-new-HCThis month, I’m going to change my format for this particular post (since normally I give a brief synopsis and “yay” or “nay”), and instead first judgingly point my finger at you if you’ve only watched the HBO show. Anyone who’s read the books can tell you they are SO MUCH BETTER than the show (not to say the show isn’t entertaining). Fundamentally, there is no way the series could cover all of the content of the books in 12 episodes a season, unless they went into 30 seasons or something. So when I had friends who were like, “OMG THEY KILLED ROBB!” the rest of us were rolling our eyes.

Recently a friend of mine complained, “But the books look so long!” and she’s not wrong, but if you enjoy the show – why wouldn’t you want to have more enjoyment that started the whole thing?

Anyway – I digress. Let me explain why you should also read more than the Ice & Fire series, if you’re already a fan.

During my first year of teaching, I was reading a lot of sci-fi and horror anthologies. I’m a fan of short stories because if it sucks, you only have a few more pages to go, and if it rules, you’ve just found a new author you can explore. I honestly don’t even remember where I first read Martin’s Meathouse Man (which has also been made into a graphic novel), but instantly I knew it was one of the best short stories I had ever read, and it totally resonated with me for weeks.

To which I discovered Game of Thrones

In the morning on the way to work, I would say to my carpool buddy, “So I’m reading this book…it’s like fantasy medieval, sort of, with knights and kings and wolves!” I distinctly remember her raising a super skeptical eyebrow. And while reading it before bed at night, I literally remember putting the book down in my lap simply to process it’s awesomeness.

Once I ripped my way through the books that were released, I moved back to his other short stories and novellas, like In the Lost Lands (which has recently been optioned for a movie starring Mila Jovovich!), and Fevre Dreams. The list goes on and on…

So basically what I’m saying is,

#1 – IF YOU LIKE THE SHOW, READ THE DAMNED BOOKS!

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#2 – IF YOU”RE BITCHING THAT THE NEWEST GOT BOOK ISN’T RELEASED YET, PICK UP HIS OTHER AWESOME WORK.

However, I will end here, saying there is one special thing that the show did better than the books:

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Why I don’t monetize my blog

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I also have a podcast. In fact, my friend, Amanda, and I have podcasted longer than I have ever blogged. I don’t really mention anything about our podcast here because this blog has really just been about me, and our podcast is a monthly recap of The Young & the Restless (check out our Facebook page here!) which is a separate facet of my life.

But in the last week, I’ve had three different people ask why I don’t try to monetize my blog or podcast. Amanda and I really do have a serious following on our podcast (which continues to crack us up – sometimes it’s hard to believe people like listening to us drink beer and talk soaps). While we discussed the possibility of trying to make a few bucks off our podcast in the beginning, we decided that podcasting really is entertainment for us. It’s pretty cool that other people listen to us and chat on Facebook, but we are seriously just recording conversations we would already be having and that’s FUN. By monetizing our podcast, it kind of feels like it would become WORK. No bueno!

The same goes for my blog here. I have a deep entrepreneurial spirit (my friends in college could tell you about how eBay paid my rent through college) and love the idea of making money by yourself (in fact, I think more people should do it). But, again, I don’t blog for money. This page (and the bucket lists developed through the years) have become a way to challenge and enrich my life…and frankly if I was asking you to buy something to read it or give donations, then that might change the reliability of my content…my blog might become less about me and more about gaining readership (and that’s not why I’m here).

If you want to make money off your blog, AWESOME – go for it! But I’m just here hang out, try some stupid things, share some resources, and contribute to the freeness of the interweb. I think it’s pretty rad that in 2015, I can post some random writing about my desire to run a 10k at the state prison and people from around the world are reading it…and in turn, I explore their blogs (ok, I admit it – if you “like” a blog post, I secretly troll your profile and read your blog). I think this is what Al Gore was going for when he created the internet, right? (That’s a joke, people).

Anyway, thank you for reading – all I ask is that you possibly send me cool ideas that you think I would be interested in. And if you’re into The Young & the Restless, you should check out our podcast! Find us on iTunes!

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Bucket List Economics

I hold a very deep principle that a bucket list shouldn’t be filled with expensive items. How many times have you seen a bucket list with something like, “Zipline in the Amazon” or travel some place like this?010697e0ed30875371baed9126acfcba I don’t know about your salary and or lifestyle choices, but I’ll tell you that based on my teacher salary coupled with my student loans, these kinds of “experiences” aren’t realistic. I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been to Asia. I’ve never been to Australia. Would I like to go to those places? Of course – duh! But working for $8/hr while in college and then scraping pennies to buy a car and all that jazz has left very little disposable income in my bank account. In college, my parents certainly weren’t going to send me to study abroad when I was already calling home begging for more grocery money. Wait – you just ate caviar in Vegas and then saw Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, you say? You’re right. For the first time EVER, I’ve managed to save enough money to splurge on a few experiences. Some of you remember my epic couponing year where I wanted to “live more on less” and I saved over $8,000 but even then that wasn’t money that went in my savings – it was just more to pay on debt. Before you lecture me on first world problems, believe me, I am not bemoaning my “poor little white girl who got to go to college” status. Having had enough students who are homeless and didn’t have enough money to even buy school supplies, I know I have lived a life of privilege. And that’s why I think a bucket list full of all these crazy, wild, extravagant experiences is problematic. Why is it that there is an expectation that a bucket list is chocked full of things that break the bank? You shouldn’t have to spend a gajillion dollars to enjoy life more, or find yourself. At least that’s my opinion. Some of my most memorable goals have been the incredibly cheap experiences. Laugh all you want, but they were specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Top 5 Cheapest Bucket List Items I’ve Completed 1. Learning to play bingo at the bingo hall. For a mere $10, I was treated to a full day’s worth of entertainment; we got to bring our own snacks, and an egg salad sandwich from the “cafe” costs less than $3. I hear you snickering right now, but we’ve been back many times. 2. Learning to build fire with flint. Using my $2.99 flint kit, we learned an actual survivable skill, cheered when there was actual fire, and then ate marshmallows by the fire all night. What’s not to love? 3. Planning my own funeral. This baby costs ZERO dollars, and I’ve been given major peace of mind. It used to nag at me all the time. What will happen to my body? Will they play crappy music at the service? Now I barely think about it, knowing that my funeral party is all laid out explicitly for my loved ones. 4. Joining the Sheriff’s and FBI Citizen Academies. These experiences werFREE. I still can’t believe it. I was treated to see some awesome public speakers, learn more about my community, and shoot guns. And guess what? It’s not over! 5. Submitting food/crafts to the Oregon State Fair. First it was cookies, then the infamous dollhouse, and marshmallows and dollhouse furniture. Every year I have the pleasure of challenging myself creatively and submitting my items for judging and display at no cost – other than my fair admission (of which I use to the full extent). So tell me? Did these experiences not enrich my life and teach me new things? I certainly learned more about my local community, and I was able to share these experiences with my closest friends. Maybe it’s my Italian grandma’s frugal and bargaining DNA that’s been passed on to me, but rather than trolling pictures of epic places I could visit in the world, I like to think of what I can experience close to home. SOOOOOO THAT BEING SAID, I’m going to Europe this summer. And next summer. And maybe even over Winter Break. When it rains, it pours.

Letters of April

April isn’t even over but my four letters have already been sent. Actually, I wrote five letters. BOOM!

This month I took a break from writing to my former students (well, mostly).

I chose two friends who don’t live in Oregon anymore. Even though I can text or email them, or see pictures on Facebook, getting a letter in the mail is kind of fun. I also got to use my new kawaii stationary:

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(You know you want this stationary…)

Then I wrote to two “mentors” who have helped me professionally. One I am currently working with, and the other I haven’t seen in three years. (No, I did not send them the cat stationary LOL).

My 5th letter was to my former student, who I wrote about in February when I found out he was in jail (read it here). We’ve become pen pals, of sorts, and his letters are pretty hilarious. For a young guy stuck in a detention center in a remote part of Washington, he sure can make light of his situation. For instance, he told me that it’s “saw season”, meaning the inmates are trained how to use chainsaws to go out and cut down trees, supervised by one unarmed guard. “Seems like a great idea, right?!” he joked.

He was also a talented artist, and since I love art and integrate it into my lessons daily, he sent little pictures of stuff he has drawn. He bemoaned a complete lack of art supplies except for a mass amount of pencils and paper.

They’ve got chainsaws, but not markers. Think about that for just a minute, will you?

How I Rented the Runway

Was it just last weekend that I was in Vegas, dressed to the nines while eating meatballs in a casino?

A lot of people have asked me about how I rented a designer dress, so this post is dedicated to how it worked for me, and why I think I’m officially hooked. If you’re a dude, you might want to tune out right about now…

First off, my budget for buying a dress specifically to wear in Vegas was about $100. However, I had a feeling the type of dress I would buy wouldn’t be the kind I would be pulling out a couple weeks later to wear to work, or even out to dinner. In my brain, there were visions of gold, sequins, glitter…

So I got on Rent the Runway. I didn’t know anyone else personally who had rented a designer dress, but I feel like usually I’m the guinea pig of my circle. An hour and $40 later, not only had I rented a dress, but I had texted my Vegas buddy, Kelly, and she also rented a dress. That way we could be uber fancy twins.

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Ok so you pick a dress (from a huge selection). Then you choose 4 consecutive days on their calendar and “reserve” your dress. My $600 Slate & Willow dress costs $40 to rent for an extended weekend. Worried it won’t fit? You get to select a 2nd dress size for FREE. There are also lots of customer reviews (with pictures) describing how it fit them. The two dresses arrived on a Thursday, and included a pre-paid UPS envelope to ship them back on Sunday.

We didn’t have to worry about dry cleaning or even finding mailing envelopesEverything about renting our dresses went seamless until we drove around Vegas for an hour looking for a damned UPS dropbox that was open (note to self: figure that out ahead of time).

Rent the Runway also has handbags, jewelry, sunglasses, jackets, and a few other pieces. Rental prices are all different, but all of the dresses I considered, they ranged between $35 – 60. The calendar is easy to navigate, and insurance is included.

They also have an “Unlimited” program where you can have any three items at a time, and keep them for as long or a little as you like. Yesterday I was wandering around Banana Republic and thought to myself, “Why the hell would I ever buy anything again?” Sure, I’m probably delusional, but I swear this might save me money in the long run.

So check it out: Rent the Runway