Learning to Take Care of My Damn Self

Growing up I watched my very motivated father work his fingers to the damn bone. If there was a retake needed by a football player, he’d stay until 6 to give it to them. If a parent meeting needed to happen at 5 am or 9 pm, he’d make it happen. If he needed to learn Spanish or trombone to get the information across, he’d do it.

Every evening I watched him get home late and fall asleep minutes after sitting down. And every single school break I watched him get horribly sick and spend his time off recovering.

When I started teaching I promised myself I would find a way to work for my kids, to give them every chance I can, without burning myself out.

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I have been blessed with a team of co-workers who are caring and understanding, who always look out for me. My co-teacher tells me often to take care of myself. The beginning of every department meeting is either a self care check-in (where we talk about our specific self care goals and what we are doing to reach them this week) or a self care practice (Tai Chi, guided meditation, etc.) My Assistant Principal meets with me once a week to lesson plan/unit plan/revise curriculum/talk about what’s not working and how to fix it. My in-school mentor meets with me once a week to talk about literally anything I need help with.

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I’m supported, much more so than a lot of teachers. I’m lucky and I know it. But still I got caught with a case of ignoring my own needs.

Last Monday I got up at 4 and laid on my couch sobbing because my head was pounding so hard I couldn’t move. I called in sick but by noon the fever, headache and general ick was so bad I couldn’t stop crying.

I went to the clinic in the afternoon (I’ll be honest I went mostly because I wanted to be at work the following day) and found out I had a high fever, a sinus infection, and an ear infection.

My point is: don’t do this. Don’t let it get this bad. I was sick, really obviously sick and tried to push too hard through it and for what?

Americans especially have this notion that if you are not absolutely killing yourself at work, you’re lazy. I can’t say this enough times: that’s bullsh*t.

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In Peru, we would work from about 7- or am until lunch, go get lunch and take a nap or spend time with family, and then go back to work from 3 until 5 or 6. Yeah, that’s a three hour lunch. We also took 20-30 minutes breaks throughout the day to sit and talk.

At first I was torn apart by the difference and went to the go-to argument so many others have used (or at least thought in their head): well maybe if they worked more, their country would be more advanced. This, my friends, is also bullsh*t.

The reasons that many countries struggle has more to do with internal structure and corruption than with amount of hours worked. Hard work may be important, but worker bees working their buzzers off with no break  will not improve a country or a city or a workplace or a person.

I suppose the moral of the story is: put in the work, do whatever it is you do the best that you possibly can, but remember that half of being your best is treating yourself well. Work hard, self care hard.

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Best of luck.

Learning to Take Care of My Damn Self

Success! Finally Being Good at Something

I’ve been decent at a lot of things in my life. I’ve been a decent musician, a decent student, a decent retail worker, a decent volleyball player.

Ok that last one isn’t true, I was pretty awful at volleyball. Your girl does not have hand-eye coordination.

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My point is, I’ve felt like I’m ok at so many things and truly, comically awful at a few, but I have rarely really felt like I found my jam.

Until now.

Before winter break I had two teaching evaluations. One was in October and came back with pretty typical results for a first year teacher: a mix of developing and effective marks. The second evaluation was in December, right at the end of term one. I got those results recently: all effective and one highly effective mark.

It’s ok. You can say it. I know. Daaammmmnnnnnn.

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Now this one evaluation does not mean I’m perfect and I’m also not about to place my worth as a teacher on it. But it made me come back to a thought I’ve had many times in my four months teaching:

I have room to grow and learn and I always will, but damn it if I’m not a really good teacher. I’m good at this. This is my jam. I always thought people who claimed to have found their calling were liars, but then mine came out of nowhere and body checked me.

I only wish I could go back to retail me and paraeducator me and food service me and college me and tell them that they’ll get there. The suffering is real but it will pay off. You will get to your dream one day.

And it will feel so damn good to be great at something.

Best of luck.

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Classroom Portraits: Pete, Javier & Mercedes

I’ve decided it’s time for me to introduce some of my students and celebrate the magical moments of my profession. I’m hoping this will be a regular series, so please let me know if you enjoy it.

Pete

I had Pete in my government class first term. He was always sweet but spent a lot of time trying to sleep through class, begging to be given a task that required less effort and in the end, he barely skated by.

Going through this brought us pretty close. Every single day he comes into my classroom after school and we do our patented jumping high-five, where we back to either side of the classroom and run at each other, jumping and high fiving mid-air in the middle. Every time he exclaims “now my day is complete!” and runs out the door.

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Javier

Javie and I also had a rough first term together. He’s known for leaving class suddenly and disappearing for half the period, cursing out teachers who call him on his behavior, and generally keeping everyone off task. This term, after so many good days, bad days, and long meetings, he’s in my class again. He has grown up a lot in a few weeks.

Last week we held a Class Court for the case of NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin. Many of the more engaged students participated in the court early on and I watched as Javie alternated between talking to a student near him and listening to the other side. I would have been happy with this behavior, but then there came a booming voice from his side of the court.

Javie spoke clearly and with all the professionalism of an attorney defending the rights of workers and the role of the government. He stayed calm when questioned by the judges and stood for his team when challenged. At the end of the period I stopped him and told him I wanted to see this every day. He grinned at me and said “I’ll try.”

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Mercedes

Mercedes is a very sensitive kid whose hurt usually turns quickly to anger, cursing, and fighting. She struggled through the first term but passed. She says hi to me in the hall everyday and has this infectious, crooked smile that I just can’t describe.

At the beginning of January, she came into my classroom at lunch and talked to me about her second term classes. She complained about biology and English but said she liked art well enough. She turned to leave and get some food but then turned back enough and said, “I never got a chance to thank you for all your help last term, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

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These precious moments with this amazing young people bring me up from the very drudges. The best advice I’ve received so far as an educator is to write down this good moments, these students showing you their best selves and cherish them. These moments can save you from the very worst days.

Fellow teachers (and others), do you have any of these moments you hold on to?

Best of luck.

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3 Awesome Uses for Turmeric

The other day I was riding home from a basketball game with a car-full of teachers and for some reason paprika came up. Clearly we are exceedingly interesting human beings and you should be jealous. After discussing how smoked paprika is amazing and plain paprika is lame, someone said “well, nothing is as bad as turmeric, it doesn’t taste like anything and it turns everything yellow.”

WHAT.

Turmeric is easily one of my favorite spices, for so many reasons. Personally, I’m in love with it’s anti-inflammatory properties that save me from IBS and angry old person joints again and again.

Don’t you worry, I set him straight, by telling him about three of my favorite ways to use turmeric:

1. Calming Golden Milk

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Golden Milk is a fantastic for tummy trouble, joint pain, or just a soothing hot drink. There are many different recipes to make this lovely elixir, but I tend to use the following:

  • 1-2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2-3 cups milk alternative (almond, soy, coconut, cashew, etc)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of black pepper

Warm the milk over the stove and stir in the other ingredients. The black pepper seems a little strange, but don’t leave it out as it helps with absorption (and you really can’t taste it). Feel free to add in any natural sweeteners as well.

2. Face Mask

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I was hesitant at first to put a substance that’s know for staining this yellow on or near my face. This face mask however, did not stain my skin and, even better, it really helps keep it clear. I’ve noticed that the morning after I’ve put this on my skin, any blemishes I have are greatly reduced and my face in general is smooth and glow-y.

Again, there are many variations, but the mask I tend to use contains:

  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tsp coconut oil

It’s messy so beware, and wear something black for sure. Rub the mixture on your face lightly until entire area is covered. Leave for 10-20 minutes. I also typically carry a tissue around with me while it’s on, to blot any possible drips.

3. Turmeric Seasoned Rice

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I love me some seasoned rice. I also love me some cauliflower rice because rice is not my stomach’s BFF. No matter what type of rice you’re eating, mixing in turmeric, (smoked) paprika, and salt and pepper make it so tasty. Put a fried egg (or three) on top and I’m in heaven.

Not only is it a solid meal though, the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric work through this dish too. I find myself eating “yellow rice” (or yellowish, reddish rice)  when I’m feeling crumby and feeling better quickly.

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How To: Batch Cooking

I’m back!*

So a couple of days ago, a friend asked me for advice about batch cooking/meal planning. I’ve been doing it consistently for a while, mostly because it makes for fast lunches when I wake up late and quick dinners when I come home tired, but also because it’s hot as balls in NYC this summer and turning on the stove once a week keeps my teeny apartment stay much cooler.

Seeing as school is starting soon, fall is coming for us, and change is around the corner, it seems a good time to share some of my hard-earned knowledge.

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Am I a professional cook? Absolutely not. Am I an expert of kitchen tools and food quality? Not even a little bit. What I am is a perfectly average cook with an interest in saving time and a propensity to walk away from a cooking session with at least two bandaids. I do not own a zester of any kind and for the last four years I’ve either cooked in the corner of a tiny studio apartment or shared a partially outdoor and entirely oven-less kitchen with a Peruvian family.

So why am I, the oft injured non-expert, writing about batch cooking? Because I can’t be the only one with a lot of interest and almost no skill. If we all read advice from only the experts, we’d start to get worried about our abilities. This one’s for you, average cook with very little time, I raise my box of bandaids to you!

Lessons I Learned While Batch Cooking:

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Have a Plan

Sure this seems obvious, but until you’re splashing boiling water down your pant leg because you have thirty seconds to strain it and oh sh** you should have but the meat in before the greens and is that FIRE, THAT’S FIRE…you don’t understand just how little you can wing it.

This is particularly important in the beginning: planning not just what you want to cook but the order in which you will cook it and a rough timeline is key.

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Mix Up Staples and New Recipes

This took me a while, but especially starting out, you don’t want to have to cook some new and impressive recipe for every meal. That’s 21 new recipes.

I don’t know about you but around 20% of the new recipes I try are sub-par. 20% of 21 is more than four meals. Four meals that you have to box up and eat later, knowing they aren’t going to be very delicious.

Avoid this by choosing 1-2 new recipes for the week and sticking to what you know for the rest. It’s also important to mix it up, cooking some full meals (ex: Beef Curry on Rice, Cracklin’ Chicken) and some things that can be mixed with other things (ex: boiled carrots, vegetable mix**).

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Ask For Help/Take a Damn Break

Cooking food for the entire week is not a simple task. While I’ve gotten better at it, almost every week I end up either hurting myself or getting tired doing it. Boyfriend has gotten very good at stepping in about five minutes before I hit this wall to help me finish up and clean the kitchen.

If you don’t have someone right there to help you, consider planning in a place to take a break and sit down with a glass of wine for twenty minutes. This does not make you weak, it makes you smart and less likely to injure yourself.

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Choose smarts, not the emergency room.

 

I hope these tips help in your future kitchen adventures and may the odds be ever in your flavor (Yeah).

Best of luck!

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*At this point, I’d like to say that I’m going to pick up the blog, cradle it in my arms, and rekindle my loving relationship with it, I would really like to say that. But I don’t want to lie to you. I’m starting the year of my life where grad school and full time work as an NYC public school teacher intersect and I’m still trying to figure out how to fit eating and sleeping in. But right now, I have a vacation and I’m going to blog, because even in the darkest times, something something, idk I’ll write when I can. But I do love you, you perfect cupcakes and I appreciate you reading the blog at all.

** Pre-cooked vegetables make for really fast omelets in the morning.

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A Soul Cleansing Moment

I sat on the train this afternoon, I’ve been sitting on trains a lot lately, in a frantic rush. I didn’t want to be late, to waste one precious moment I could spend talking to this woman who has meant so much to me, on this dumb train.

It was cold on the train and hot on the platform. I didn’t feel like putting make up on on the train so I listened to music instead. Chambers street, right? Right. Then the path and my first time to New Jersey. On the other side of the river, a breeze existed; cool air and suddenly it smelled like the ocean. It only ever smelled like city in New York. It was chilly in the breeze but warm in the love of my friends embrace.

Friend? Mentor? What do you call someone who inspires so much in you, who believes so deeply in you, who you admire so fiercely. She taught me how to be imaginative and creative in education. She taught me to think outside the box. She taught me things I’m only just now learning that she taught me.

Seeing people from home in this big, bad city feels like a deep breath after months underwater. I tell people I miss hiking, that the train is hard to navigate. I tell people I miss fresh air, that there are too many people. I laugh it off, New York is great sure sure sure. But this glimmer of hope from home brought me to life again. She breathed into me and renewed my entire being. She told me I was great, in real, human words. It wasn’t implied or alluded to. It was said. When so rarely these words are earnestly spoken.

Everyone should be told that they are honestly, perfectly, entirely great and that they should let their greatness flow. Have you heard that yet?

Yes you have, you just did.

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Best of luck.

Can I Be a Friend Right Now?

Life is stressful these days – I’m fully immersed in a big old pool of grad school, which often sometimes feels like drowning, while preparing for my first year of teaching in a New York City public school.

I’m fine. Everything’s fine.*

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In my time here, I’ve met some amazing humans, a few of whom are responsible for my ability to get through all of this madness. I love and respect them so very much.

I’ve been trying to improve my listening skills for the last few years because, well, listening is really important and a huge part of knowing someone deeply. I’m practicing this because I want to get better, because I love my friends and want to hear them.

Trouble is, sometimes hearing everything creates a battle between being a good friend and anxiety.

An example: there’s this paper due at the end of the month for a class I’m taking and it’s a doozy. I won’t get into the details but the issue is that it’s very involved and no one really seems to be clear on the topic, the expectations, or the process. We’re all shooting in the dark, we’re all nervous wrecks.

So we talk about it. A lot. Sometimes I’m really upset and nervous and emotional about it and sometimes I’m not. When I’m not feeling negatively about it, negative talk around me brings me down. So it’s a cycle of panic that none of us can seem to escape.

Some of my pals got an extension but I chose to turn my paper in on time; I’ll get my grade next week and I’m scared. Every time the paper comes up, I think about what happens if I messed up. What happens if I failed? It’s not a useful thought. So the conversation comes up and I get anxious about something that has yet to happen, something that might not happen.

So the answer is to stop engaging in the conversation, right? Well, remember that ‘being a good listener’ thing…?

I want to be a good friend but I also can’t hear another damn thing about this paper while my fate hangs in the air. And how do I even express that without hurting the people I love?

“Oh hey guys can you shut the hell up because I’m avoiding my feelings?”

This is a post without an answer. I don’t know what to do or what I will do. I don’t know what you should do if you’re in a similar situation.

Thoughts?

Best of luck.

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*But don’t you dare tell me things are only get harder from here because I will cut yell at you.