It was a beautiful day, I just couldn't see it.

I’ve never fully allowed myself to dream as an adult. When I was a child, I would make up these wild stories about being transported to the moon on the back of a semi truck in the middle of the night and nearly convinced myself that it actually happened. As an elementary aged kid, my mom, brother and I would walk to the library with our Radioflyer wagon with these wooden fence slats that were inserted on the perimeter of the wagon that made tall walls, like a tiny moving red barn without a roof. We'd proudly stack our books in that moving book wagon and raced home to start reading. We would hit a bump of the uneven city sidewalk and the slats would rattle and shake, threatening our book bounty. Once we returned home, I’d commit myself to my room to read like I needed books to survive. And I could never get full.  Somehow that never translated to anything more than what I like to do on long plane rides and on rainy Sunday mornings. I never let myself believe I could write anything, let alone do it for a living.

I made a good run of it in high school with my friend Seth as we spent our entire weekends writing to small literary magazines and journals, desperately trying to get our poems published. 2 out of 20 was pretty hard to take. I saved the rejection letters in a shoebox because of course I did. Notably, I did manage to graduate with an English degree and I hang my pride on that every second I get. But the dreamer died on the semi truck rocket ship. Maybe she fell out of the wooden slats of the book wagon. But she never made it to adulthood.

I don’t know if I convinced myself that being a writer wasn't a “real” job or I just didn't have any faith that I was good enough. I’m realizing now, after stepping away from 4 years of teaching, that I gave up for nothing. I never had “real” proof that I wasn't good enough, or that it wasn't a “real” job. I was just scared that something that I love so much would end up crushing me. It’s kind of like refusing to fall in love because you’re afraid that it will end, or you’ll screw it up, or you’re not good enough to be loved. Something along those lines.

I don’t regret my journey to today, but it’s been challenging. Teaching always felt like, “eh, okay this will be fine I guess.” Since I returned home, a lot of unanswered questions have appeared with answers, scary ones. Like, the fact that I want to grow most of my own food and have 1.5 kids in the next two years, especially since, for the first time in my life, my brother told me he wants to be an “uncle” and coming from an amazing dad like him, that changed so much of my past, present and future. But the unanswered question of “What the hell am I supposed to do?” kind of sat there in the universe and I've been feeling really anxious about it. It’s affected my work and my relationship with my bosses as I've had a really bad attitude coming into work, not really understanding why I’m still there or what I’m working towards.

Today was hard. The sky was cloudy and on my lunch break, I started perusing higher ed jobs, something I’m convinced is the only thing I’m qualified for with my master’s in special education.  But it’s never felt like enough. Nothing ever has, except of course, for this exact thing that I’m doing.

My dad and I were laying in the hammock triangle in his backyard on the evening of his birthday party. Everyone had gone home and we were waiting for dusk to light a fire. The cicadas were so loud it was nearly deafening, a sign that fall is looming in the wings. It was a perfect summer evening, rare humid-less air with even less mosquitoes and just enough heat and chill to make shorts and a hoodie make perfect sense. 
I let out a big sigh and whined about jobs. 

“What am I supposed to do with my life?” The tone of my voice very much matched the tone of my voice as a freshman in college. Annoying and self-important. Mostly annoying.

“Well I don’t know why you aren't writing yet.”

He said it so matter-of-fact that I became defensive. And in our tradition of not agreeing on many things, I postured, ready to explain why it was so hard with many solid bullet points. But I didn't even get to spew out nonsense because he didn't let me.

“How many jobs have you bid for?”

I let out another sigh and mumbled, “One.”

“Uh huh. Apply for 100 and then come talk to me.”

I remembered this conversation today as I pleaded for answers to whatever or whoever I whine to. And although I’m not yet comfortable with naming whatever or whoever I whine to, there was an answer. And it was loud.

While scanning lectures for my boss’ Tedx application, I came across this. 

“Change your words. Change your world.”
Really, universe? Bawling.

Then I watched a Ted Talk about successful people and companies being in tune to the “why” of their work instead of focusing on the how and what.
More ugly crying.

And finally, I watched another Ted Talk (I swear it’s part of my job) where a highly successful woman walked away from a highly-powerful DC job to be with her family more and stated that she “made the decision as a woman she didn't know yet.”

And there it was: me on a summer day hanging laundry on the line, picking tomatoes for lunch, watching our children run around in the backyard that looks like it goes on forever. Me at home. Me writing at home…..
The power of being the breadwinner at a high paying marketing job that I've talked myself into no longer made sense.

I’m supposed to write. That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what I've always been. That’s what my mother told me that I was, in a flash of lucidity the day before she transitioned. That’s what I've been running away from, because I’m so afraid to fail. That’s why I obsess over old blog posts, agonizing over using the wrong “than” when I didn't take enough time to edit. That’s why it’s taken me this long to accept that this is what I’m supposed to do, because dreams are for kids who want to go to the moon, not someone who wants health insurance and a farm with kids and dogs and a grove of black walnut trees.

I don’t know how or when or what this actually means. But I know my “why” now. And although I’m incredibly emotional at this discovery, scared out of my mind and blown away that questions can actually be answered when you’re ready for the answer, I've also realized that it’s always kind of been there, lingering in the background noise of “what if” and “someday.”

It took me six years to become a pretty great teacher. I don’t doubt that it will take me just as long to scratch the surface of how this all works. But I do know that if I stay grateful, enlightened, and aware, I will get to where I need to be.  Good times teach you gratitude. Bad times teach you hope. And the in-between, grey sky days are practice for the rest. 

It finally stopped raining as I pulled into my parking space after work. 
It was a beautiful day, I just couldn't see it.
Because when you stop looking for the answers you've been seeking, sometimes you find that they've been right in front of you the whole time.

And cue the tissues.....

Welcome Home

There may be nothing better than hearing a 10 year old run the length of "arrivals" at full speed outside the airport into her uncle's arms.

Feelings. All of them. At the same time.

After flying through the night, exhausted and hungry, I didn't think I'd be so weepy and sentimental. I usually save those feelings for viewing videos of animals that are unlikely best friends (Mr. G and Jellybean? Cue the curtain of sobbing). But I kind of stayed exhausted, hungry and sentimental for four days.

I have had a complicated relationship with Bedford, Michigan, my hometown, ever since I left as red-faced angry 18 year old. Even though I had so much to complain about, I showed it off to my college friends like a badge of honor when we'd take turns visiting each others hometown on weekends when campus was boring. But when I came back to live as an adult 10 minutes from Bedford, and fell in love and married a Bedford native, there was still a feeling that I hadn't "made" it because there was a lot of the world that I hadn't seen yet. We got married and eventually made enough money to travel, which opened up life-changing doors as I type this in my cozy west shore apartment, free from stifling humidity and poisonous insects.  But the complicated relationship stood when I left, and I had to somehow rationalize living "here" instead of "there" by qualifying my hometown as a cesspool of socially conservative dude bros that have green slime water and are afraid of diversity. And I, the chosen one, live in a mountain utopia, free from ignorance, negative wind chills and scabies.

You know, some of it's true.

But what I learned when flying into Detroit last weekend is that although there are butt holes everywhere, I am from an amazing place. And I was able to finally see how beautiful home is, and was, and how many people I know that fill up my heart with all that is made up of videos of unlikely animal best friends. Lots of healing. Lots of feelings. Lots of alcohol. Just a perfect weekend.

Friday started off like many from my past. Mud Hens. Adam Street. Old School Hip Hop Night and Mac and Cheese at the Attic. Going to bed way too late. This time I met someone from Oakland because of course I did.

Shane provided jokes and an external-hard-drive-of-a-brain about all things baseball.

I got to meet this guy....and this gal smiled a whole bunch :)

Riggins! She's like if there was a human made out of sparkles and a million smiles.

My sister-cousin came and we bebop-d to old school hip hop whilst leaning on the Wesley's patio bocce court. Perfect? Yes.

The first night ended with Taco Bell in my sister-in-law's mom car and Shane turning into Mush Mouth.

It's amazing how many perfect moments happened. The weather was perfect. The water didn't kill us. There wasn't a lot of thinking about securing the trash from the bears (weird).

Saturday was spent on Schnipke's Lake watching Onnica make sand castles.

Onnica, soon-to-be 2nd grader and sand artist

Paul spent some quality time with his dudes, Josh and Tony.

I forgot what it felt like to be able to see for miles.....

The best Saturday in a long time!

We spent our Saturday night in Josh's "man cave" although I think we agreed to call it something else because the women were enjoying it just as much as the men.

There is NOTHING better than looking around a table and seeing some of your best friends. All in the same room. Poker!

30th birthday present from my brother: Voltron tattoos! Lindsay and I looked pretty tough....Note: Shark and yo-nau tattoo sold separately.

Sunday was the big surprise birthday day for my dad's 60th birthday. Although he came home an hour early and there were only a handful of guests there to surprise him, the day was great. Lots of relaxing with my family, sharing family stories and soaking in time with people who look like me and act like me and have to love me because it's their job.

My niece, Vera, proudly wearing the necklaces I got her in Hawaii.

The hammock triangle in my dad's backyard!

Sunday night, the full moon rose over my dad's subdivision trees. He took out his telescope and we took turns peering into the cheese moon. A sinking feeling started, something I hadn't experienced when I visited last. I really didn't want to leave. I didn't get enough time to squeeze my nieces and nephews. I didn't get the chance to ask my grandma how to make the lima bean sauce. I needed a couple more days, or just to be at the farm for a few more weeks. And then I got really sad.

The very last day, it rained hard. We spent the last few hours on the farm, stomping around in my wellies and remembering how amazing this perfect place makes me feel.

The garden. We got married at this exact spot nearly 4 years ago....

Just picked. Nothing like it.

My dad and I wandered around the farm, talking about asparagus, shooting crows, drying black beans, the frozen pond that killed all the fish and the giant ancient red cedars that line the garden like soldiers standing in attention. The sinking feeling rose again and I realized that I need more weekends like these. I spent so many weekends of my past on the farm and I still feel like I never got enough time. The older I get, the more I want to be just like my grandma, living on the land she was raised on.

For so long, discomfort , being in a "bad" place motivated change. Now it's just so different.  I am from a beautiful place and I live in a beautiful place. And I'm realizing now, more than ever, that anger, resentment, having to divide the "good" and "bad" into "pro" and "con" lists is not going to motivate the next change - that will all happen on its own. That "good" and "bad" qualities are illusions - a simple way of trying to understand or figure out a complex issue in your mind. But it's not reality.

The length of the list of why I live in Tahoe is long but somehow it never equals the feeling the farm gives me or playing catch with my dad. 

I've never been able to figure out what to do with that. 

I sobbed on the plane ride home but eventually came to the point that I'm so grateful for understanding how lovely every breath is, and that each breath is the same, no matter where I am. 

It felt incredible to drive back from the Reno airport to Homewood. It's a strange feeling returning from home to home. Our jobs, our guinea pig, our pots and pans, our lives are here. So did we go on vacation or are we on vacation now? Both?

It's so true: it doesn't matter where you're at, it's what you do with the minutes you are given. And for the first time in my life, vacation never seems to end, whichever home I'm returning to. What an incredible feeling.

Thanks for the incredible weekend, Mitten and surrounding area. I'll be back in December, expecting a Christmas Eve snowstorm that doesn't delay the planes as I would like to craft a fish made out of snow and crochet next to a fireplace that means something. Take note.

Bob Evans, Fall 2005

I used to meet my Grams at Bob Evans every Thursday when I was in college. I return home in two days for the first time in eight months and I can't help but wish she was there waiting to see me. I wrote this after a Thursday lunch four months after I turned 21.

Grams picks up her coffee and puts her tongue in her cheek and I know she's about to say something heart-breaking and she doesn't even know it's going to crush me.

So I think nervously about something else and my feet start to sweat. I start looking around for something to focus on.

This crazy looking guy sitting by himself at the kitchen bar is staring sideways and smiling. A cook walks by not noticing him and the guy tips his coffee mug to him. He giggles. 

or maybe he has more of a secret than i know and is just content. not waiting for anything to fall in his lap. because maybe his lap is already great. he doesn't need to wait for anything to fall in it. 
then she drops the bomb.

"i was using grampa's old wallet. i had to get rid of it. it was falling apart...."

she looks down at her coffee cup and i wonder if this is the moment i should tell her that i miss him and i will miss her when she leaves and that we are the only surviving women of our family and we should stick together and make mud masks together. instead i think about mom's stupid old yellow highlighter i carry around with the pooh sticker barely still stuck on with my mom's radio name "dena" printed on pooh's honey pot. in her handwriting. if that sticker falls off, then what am i going to do?

"i had to buy a new wallet," she says. and tries to soften the blow to at least herself by getting it out for me to inspect.

"it has a closure so it doesn't fly open. but the pockets aren't worn enough. i can never get my cards out...."

she struggles with her visa to pay for my fattening chicken lunch.

and another bomb.

"sometimes i wish it was shop-worn like grampa's..."

i think about thanksgiving and the empty place next to me. it snowed today and last night and all i wanted to do, more than anything, was fall in love and dance in the snow. but it got too cold and i hadn't any layers. 

The Indigestion Has Started. This is 30.

My 30th birthday began and ended with a hammock. In the last two hours of being 29, Paul excitedly handed me an unwrapped box sealed with packaging tape. I looked at him curiously. I usually always know. This year I had no clue. I opened up the box to reveal a smallish orange sack. A backpacking hammock. Oh that man. There's just something about being able to hang a hammock in the woods, on a mountain. I've wanted one for forever. And like most things lately, there it was sittin right in front of me.

In the wee hours of being 30, I dressed early and allotted enough time to curl my hair instead of letting it dry on my commute. I wore my trusty green dress. I had painted my nails and toes the night before, something I hadn't done in at least a year.  I was at the very least going to approach thirty with some sort of finesse. Work threw me a surprise lunch party, complete with a special red chair with a balloon attached, Hawaiian music and a surprising thunderstorm  that we witness in awe from the third floor balcony. It continued into the afternoon, and for the first time since I've lived here, something was cancelled due to rain. Truckee Thursdays. I figured some people would be deterred by the rain but we had enough people to have a lovely dinner and after bar conversation and I even got to eat a cupcake on the way home.

I had the entire day off on Friday as at my work, your birthday is a paid holiday. Eve and I decided to walk around Wanderlust together before the rain came in again. On our way out, we stopped at Honest Tea's Honest Compliment booth. They instructed us to write a compliment to one another on a chalkboard and reveal it on the count of three to each other and then they take a photo. The vendor gushed at how many people hug, laugh and one mom even got a bit teary with her daughter. I wrote to Eve about how much she inspires me to be a better everything with her beautiful heart. I was going to transcribe Jesse McCartney's Beautiful Soul lyrics but there wasn't enough room.

On the count of three, we showed each other our compliments and just started blubbering like babies. Eve's chalk compliment was that I always put others first and she's lucky to have me as a friend. And in that moment, gratitude just spilled all over the place, in the form of tears, with the realization that here I am, living in Tahoe, a place that not a lot of people think that they can live, and live within 15 minutes of the woman who stands in front of me, who has known me since I was a mess of a 17 year old and still manages to be one of the most supportive, positive, loving influences in my life. It's been a year and these moments always make me stop and say, "How did I get here and how do I stay this grateful?"

We continued to openly weep in public and tried to laugh in between sobs because this vendor lady was real uncomfortable. "No no these are happy tears" we tried to say as we hugged each other. She gave us a free bottle of tea, possibly to make us go away. Later, I played softball with a ton of new friends who gave me a card and threw a bbq on the coaches' pier. The sunset was so epic that my friend Ali said, "It's so pretty I just wanna whisper." It felt like a family bbq and maybe it was, with my Tahoe family that makes my OH/MI family feel a little less far away.

After dinner on Saturday, I was given this incredible sunset at Northstar.

After not a lot of deliberation, full of amazing sushi, sake and a German chocolate cake martini, we headed to the woods with a six pack. The four of us drove down a fire road to reach this giant rock that we sat on and watched the weirdly humid sky, sometimes bright with stars and sometimes cloudy with lightening. I swore I saw a shooting star and wished on it, a lot. Alex said, "I always just wish that this will all keep going." I nodded. What do you wish for when everything you've ever wanted is right in front of you?

We got lost on the fire roads for a bit, just driving around in the mountains at night with best friends, laughing as Alex hung out of the car, finally relenting to the map to take us home.

Sunday we hiked on the east shore, with a picnic, new hammocks and the knowledge that there would be rain storms coming in. As we picked out the perfect hammock spot overlooking Spooner Lake, we heard rumbling. Our relaxation didn't last long. Once we packed up and started back to the Jeep, giant raindrops started plopping on our heads. Almost instantly we were in the middle of a straight downpour. Paul and I just smiled. We couldn't remember the last time it rained this hard and we enjoyed every second. We fast walked, hand in hand, to the Jeep, soaking wet and full of smiles.

For all of the stress I put on myself to celebrate this 30th birthday right, I think I finally figured it out. I was told to "jump in the flow" and things just worked out, so perfectly. I wanted 30 to be perfect. But I realized that just accepting "whatever will be" is so much better.

I don't think having a perfect life should be anyone's goal, or buying the perfect home, landing the perfect job or finding the perfect mate. I think we always have to stay motivated to be happy, to welcome happiness in as a daily routine and know that no matter our situation, we can be happy, because our situations are constantly changing. It's up to us to decide what to do with what we've got right in front of us.

30 used to seem so old. Now I feel like I'm just getting started.

My birthday started and ended with a hammock, but sandwiched in between was just another fantastic Tahoe weekend sharing this epic life with new and old friends. Blessed beyond words.

Thirty Preceded By Birthday Blues

Okay, I admit. I am completely full of it. Last year, I renounced the birthday week for good. But this year, I ran into a snag. 30. Milestone? What the heck are you supposed to do when you turn 30? For a moment, I naturally went back to the birthday week. And realized I have no idea how to have fun on my birthday.

For all of you who think I made up "the birthday week" I am sadly not that clever. The Birthday Month was indeed championed by my mother. With all her grace and goofiness, it hung in the hallowed halls of anticipation as a kid, way above what Christmas provided, which she just turned into the birthday of Jesus so we could eat cake on that day (see: I'm obsessed with all things cake).

Birthdays were the ultimate time in my life. It was my favorite breakfast with a giant hand drawn "Happy Birthday" greeting from Mickey Mouse, or whatever I was into that summer, never ending shopping trips, never ending ice cream runs, late night fast food runs like we were in college but I was only eight, cleverly choreographed birthday parties that my friends would talk about for weeks with all of the games invented by my mom front and center of the best memories. Getting our ears pierced together when I turned 12. Queen dance parties. Bawling while watching "The Lion King" in the theater and washing down the tears with a post-movie milkshake or two. Always a balance of mom-daughter activities with family and friends. My birthday was forever the most exciting time, simply because of the way she made me feel like the most loved, most special daughter in the universe. Every year.

The last birthday we spent together was my 16th birthday. She was in the hospital again and I wore a new party dress. My grandparents brought the traditional brownie cake, that year without candles. I have one picture of that day, of me in my dress, back against a generic hospital whiteboard graffiti'd with nurse notes, a closed mouth smile. We lost her the following March and I wore that dress for seven more years.

Every year since, I fervently plan "the birthday week" months ahead of time, subconsciously, or semi-consciously preparing enough events and chances to drink too much so that one birthday part of me doesn't have to feel the giant cavern that my mom left when she transitioned. I've written about it every year. It's the same story. And it's never ever enough. I predictably get the birthday blues weeks before, I think about cancelling every year, I overwhelm myself with details and it somehow never stops.

This year, I broke down. The knowledge of missing her and the tradition of burying it deep finally came to the surface, finally. Through a series of replanning, flyer creation and a sinking feeling that nothing that I planned felt right, I was forced to deal with my birthday head on. I miss my mom. That's all. It's not ego or craving to be in the center of everyone's world for four days. I just wish that she was here to wake me up with cinnamon apple pancakes and dessert before dinner. I wish she was here to draw a cat tattoo on my foot with a sharpie. I wish she was here to remind me to be silly, to teach me how to hang a spoon on my nose in a super fancy restaurant, and hug me, and tell me that I'm doing everything right. And with this "milestone" birthday comes with this reality: I don't want to run around and exhaust myself to simply create opportunities for everyone else to have fun. What I really want for my birthday? To sit on my couch and watch Gilmore Girls. To sleep in. To have a donut for breakfast. To watch the sunset. To go into the woods and get lost. To stare at the lake and breathe in real deep. And to accept that she's not here for birthday week, but to give myself the gift of birthday week, 30-year-old style, meaning doing something for myself for a change instead of worrying about everyone else having a blast. Even if it's only for a day.

I am thankful that I had a mom that taught me to not take myself so seriously. Ironic that on the very days that are supposed to be the most silly, I take it so serious. I'm supposed to have fun, even if it's in a bubble of fun, party of one newly-turned 30 year old.

I was afraid that I didn't know how to celebrate without her influence. No one can live up to her birthday legacy. But maybe no one should, myself included. I want to let go of a nice eco-friendly balloon, and in it, a commitment to letting go and allowing the universe in, starting a new tradition that gently reminds me of what my mom did for me, but also creating space for something new, starting with me. Growth is painful and so rewarding.

So here's to 30. And burritos, cupcakes, naps, balloons, party hats and never ever ever growing up, no matter what number I become. At least I know that much.

Giant cupcake! Made by my dear friend Becky.

The Modesty Principle and All Men are Pigs

"Let’s change the conversation currently steeped in the negativism of “cover yourself” to “you are capable of so much more than being looked at” and positive, powerful outcomes will follow." 

I reached a milestone in my late twenties: this weekend, I wore a bikini two days in a row.

That may be nothing to some, but to me, it was a lot. I have agonized over what I look like, especially in the summertime, for as long as I can remember. As I age and my body comes along for the ride, I feel like covering up more and more of my bod. And I wanted to figure this out.

Is it because I'm ashamed of how I look? Am I worried about what others will think? Well, all of those things. I was raised to believe that it was my job to be modest, so boys wouldn't have impure thoughts about me. When I went to church, we dressed in our best all the time. Although I wasn't a member of a church that asked for all women to wear a permanent skirt, there was an expectation of modesty. Cover it up. Even when I was baptized, I had to wear a giant t-shirt over my swimsuit. My one-piece kid swimsuit. The thought of that is rather disturbing. But figuring out where I get this knee-jerk reaction of constantly wanting to wear a king-size sheet over myself beautifully collided with reading this incredible article yesterday about modesty.

Let's start with the obvious. I used to subscribe to modesty standards simply because I was paranoid about sexual assault. You are taught as a girl that what you wear matters when it comes to being sexually violated. Victim blaming is the norm and you're given a checklist of "safety" items in high school gym class of what not to do. "Wear loose-fitting clothes when going out at night."

This is disturbing as it insinuates that rape and sexual assaults are about sex. Just as long as you don't wear anything that turns another person on, you're safe. If this were true, burqas would work as a barrier against sexual assault. Not true.

Many dress codes in schools and church require women to wear a certain length of shorts/skirts and have tight policies against baring too much shoulder. They want to protect young boys who may have impure thoughts about these legs and shoulders (really? shoulders?). Not only does this begin to teach young girls that their bodies are dirty and used only for sex, but it also proposes that these bodies of young girls can control young boy's minds. Let's chew on that for a second.

If this were true, if we were able to control boy's minds with girl's bodies by covering up said girl's bodies, boys would never have an "impure" thought for the rest of their life, until a bare knee walks across their innocent paths. This insinuates that boys don't think about women until they have girl skin in their face.


Not only does this propose that women aren't sexually attracted to men, but it also allows men to do and think however they want, because they are men. Well, they're boys so they're allowed to be dogs and think of women as nothing but sexual objects.

No. You don't get off that easy.

It's your choice to think of women as nothing but sexual objects. And sadly, we are all taught and accept that this is just "who boys are," uncontrollable hound dogs just always, constantly, looking for a bone.

Is that really what we think of men? Is that all we ask of them?

Bare shoulders don't awaken the sexual demon in men. They choose that. And so do women that lust over men that get to go shirtless at the beach (gasp! scandal!). We are all humans capable of choice and decision and objectifying any member of the opposite sex reduces them to an object, by choice. You can accept a body as a beautiful thing. You can be attracted to that thing. But it's not in your DNA to act like a perverted oversexed animal. Please.

Which brings me to a sticky point. Since when were bodies just nothing but bodies used for sex? Aren't we more than the bodies we are in? And don't we use our bodies, all parts, for so many other things? My body walks, hikes, runs, swims, sleeps, eats, dances. It wears so many different things: swimsuits, dresses, baggy sweatpants, sweatshirts, tank tops, shorts, short shorts. Wearing small things on that body is just one option. Sex is one function on that list.

But it's not everything. It's not all I'm capable of. There is more to me than this body, and my sexuality, how I choose to express my sexuality, has nothing to do with what I wear. I am so much more comfortable in my skin now that I don't have to worry that my bikini is turning on the world of men.

It's not about what I'm wearing, it's about someone else thinking they are allowed to feel a certain way about my body. There is some ownership here. They think they're allowed, entitled, to comment on my body, to look at my body, to feel sexually attracted to my body. How does that have anything to do with me? I'm reduced to an object. And objects aren't people: they are ready for manipulation, ownership and sometimes abuse. When we disconnect humanity with body, it can be a dangerous thing. But it's a choice, always.

So if the population of the world decides to reduce me to a sexual object, the one thing that won't matter is what I'm wearing. What's important is being in control of your body: what you wear, how you wear it and what you do with it should be your choice, always. If it did matter, getting catcalled in teacher pants at the grocery would never ever happen.

And, finally, a part of all this is how women treat each other and treat themselves. Someone, somewhere in history successfully convinced all women in the world that they are ugly, in need of millions of dollars in beauty products. But at the very same time, we crucify ourselves AND each other for not looking perfect, calling people we don't like ugly, fat, hoe, "why does she think she can wear that? instead of focusing on meaningful goals. I'm guilty. I obsess over pimples, outfits for special occasions, what my hair looks like on my morning commute. But if I didn't have that to worry about, what else could I actually be focusing on? I could get a lot more crosswords done in all the time I spend agonizing over my pot belly. Truth.

Let's be kind to ourselves, to each other, start dressing for ourselves, and actually hold men accountable for being idiots. All men aren't pigs and all women don't have to be insecure disasters. I believe.




On the very last day of my four-day trip, Judith and I were driving back from a fabulous party in the mountains straight to the airport. I was attempting to catch a 9:50 p.m. red eye to LAX and we chatted idly about birthdays. Strangely, the AC in her Jeep Cherokee suddenly stopped working. We dramatically huffed and relented to the humid warm air from the outside. Then there was a ticking sound. Then, nothing but steam coming from the hood. Judith pulled over quickly just as the steam gushed out of the hood of the car and radiator fluid poured out of the bottom. We weren't going anywhere.

As I called the insurance agency, Judith went straight to the road to hitch hike me to the airport. She waited while I called the airport taxi.

"You might as well just flag someone down."

Is this airport guy telling me to hitchhike? I mean, I know that's what we do in Tahoe, but not knowing the area, I was apprehensive.

A minivan pulled up. Doug, I would come to know him, asked if we were okay and after Judith explained our dilemma, he offered to take me to the airport. I ran to get my things. One more minute and I could have missed my flight as we were still a good 20 minutes away from the airport, and in addition to TSA, The USDA checks your bags a second time to see if you're trying to smuggle papayas and coconuts into the mainland. I would've if they weren't going to check....

Doug took my bags to put in his trunk and immediately offered me a bottle of water. Doug was Hawaiian, born and raised on the big island, and widened his dark eyes when I told him where I was flying back to.

"Tahoe has lots of snow mountains, yeah?" He told me about the time he snowboarded at Squaw, said he got a couple of really good runs, and when I told him where I grew up, he admitted that he had been to Cleveland, Ohio with a "pretty nice place" and a shrug.

When we pulled up to the airport, he made sure I was as close as possible to my airline. I profusely thanked him and to that he offered, 'This is what we do here." He retrieved my bags from the back, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Be well, Sarah." I learned later that he went to check on my boss on the side of the road and gave her his number just in case the tow truck didn't show up.

The kindness of Hawaiians is astounding and I learned a lot more than the feel of the sand at the magnificent beaches and the mind-blowing color of the sunsets. On my first full day on the big island, we visited a placed known as the "City of Refuge." People who committed kapus (wrongs) against the king would be sentenced to death unless they were able to make it to the City. Then all their transgressions were forgiven. It was also a sanctuary during wartime.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing. And there is an entire city dedicated to it.

A historical interpreter sat underneath a thatched awning in front of a wooden table sprinkled with artifacts. As he spoke, he gestured towards the canoes that were housed next door and told the most amazing story.

"When I was a child, I learned that our people lived on 8 canoes. We did not own these canoes, but we took care of them. When I grew older, I went to school where they taught us about this giant ball: white at the top, white at the bottom and blue and green in the middle. Only one canoe. Not eight. Our canoe is bigger but our journey is the same. The biggest struggle we face beyond survival is getting along. No one owns this canoe; but we do need to take care of it, and to take care of each other."

Amen, guy.

Warrior carvings on the beach of the City of Refuge

Before Hawaii was taken over by the US, the islands were completely sustainable. Families had slices of the island from the very top of the mountains to the beaches so their families would have fresh water, fertile farm land and fish to eat. Now, not many Hawaiians own the land. Most goods are flown in and drive up prices immensely, furthering the class war and economic divide. What was once their land now became a playground for wealthy Westerners. A completely unsustainable model emerged, one that forced Hawaiians to take menial service jobs, sometimes driving 2 hours in one direction to work at luxury hotels, simply because they cannot afford to work and live in the same community. 

When this struggle began, a rather pejorative term came out of it. Ha'oli is a Hawaiian term meaning "without breath" and refers to white people. When Hawaiians greet each other, they touch noses and foreheads and "breathe" in each other's breath, then kiss on the cheek. When the Westerners came to Hawaii, their handshake was "without breath." This happened a long time ago, but you can still feel the tension if you're paying attention.

But there is a renaissance happening, and more and more people are starting to plant gardens, however small, and sell at farmer's markets. I tasted the most fresh produce of my life: papayas, apple bananas that are as small as plaintains, lychees, avocados, celeriac. There are roaming chickens everywhere and having fresh eggs for breakfast spoiled me for life. Roosters woke me up in the morning and restaurants boast organic, local, vegan-friendly fare that blew my mind and expectations of food forever.

On the last day of my journey, we attended a birthday party of the son of my boss' friend. It was his 50th and we drove up the mountains to an amazing estate overlooking the ocean like I've never seen. The birthday man wore several leis and we added one with tuberroses and orchids. He looked like the king of the island. Dinner was served, which consisted of a giant farm table of sushi. It was a sight to see. I learned how to eat lychees properly and practiced with consuming at least six of them. And when people asked where I was flying to, they laughed and said, "Yeah, we won't feel sorry for you since you're flying back to TAHOE."

Such perspective. In Hawaii four days, with the best food of my life, incredible sunsets and scenery, and yet I missed my mountain home. Because I live in an incredibly beautiful place, too, sans humidity.

But what makes Hawaii beautiful is the people of the land.

Kimo and Leena, paniolo and wife (that's Hawaiian for cowboy), friends of my bosses', hugged me after knowing me for 30 seconds and told me I should visit them again. Anytime.

Marta sold me the most amazing jam made from fresh strawberries grown in Waimea.

After 18 years of teaching, Pua decided she wanted to make artisan chocolates and sold me the most delicious homemade oreo, with caramel in the middle instead of cream.

Sheryl and Danielle own and operate Green Market and Cafe in Honokaa where I had the best fish taco of my life, with ono (delicious) from the ocean, and an incredible dessert made from Hawaiian macadamia nuts, cocoa and raw honey.

Marjorie, who taught me how to eat lychees like a local.

Doug, our new friend and unexpected stranger who helped us when we really needed a hand.

And a lady wearing bright red pants, that I formally met but forgot her name, told me I was more powerful than I know. "We all are," she said.

They have such an incredible culture surrounded by the love of ohana (family/friends) and a beautiful landscape. You know, and views like this aren't terrible either.

Backyard of my bosses' place. Coconuts in them trees!

A wall from 1550 on the beach at the City of Refuge

Every night, we would sit in the backyard with a glass of wine and watch the sunset. 

Puako Beach. Neil Young lives just to the left. No big deal....

Pololu Valley

Mauna Kea beach and resort hotel

It was raining! at Pololu Valley

Chickens in the parking lot of Green in Honokaa

Bon Voyage

My morning consisted of herding 11 8th graders (who have never had me as a teacher) to the neighboring college for a stream study field trip. Yes, I say herding because that's exactly how it is attempting to get that many hormonal 14 year olds to walk in the resemblance of a line. When you politely ask them to stay with the group, it is greeted with a glare and a long sigh, like you just asked them to solve a never-ending math equation. The field trip itself was incredibly interesting, but trying to milk some sort of enthusiasm out of strange bratty, angsty teens was exhausting, not to mention constantly asking them to be respectful of our terrified college student guides. Looking back, it was a bit amazing how they literally made everything into a sexual innuendo. Kind of like smaller Michael Scott's, with less comedy and more rudeness. 

I've been a bit sad for the last week about leaving. Today made it easier. And tomorrow is my last day of teaching.

For over 24 years now, my life has somehow been bent around education. I started preschool and naturally made my way to the wonderful jungle of kindergarten. Upon graduating high school, I became a college student and unless you count those two spring semesters where I worked at seven different crazy jobs sporadically and drank my face off instead of taking classes, there hasn't been a break. Since preschool. And I've never had an August where I wasn't preparing to go back from summer break.



It's been this way my whole life: August is new clothes, school supplies, lists of newness, hope and renewal and excitement. Fall comes in with leaves and pumpkins and just enough college football. You work your face off til summer. You ride your bike and swim in the lake. Then you do it all over again. 


Except now, one month before I turn 30, I'm being hurled towards the fact that in August, I won't be returning to school. I feel really uncomfortable about this: not in the way that I want to rethink this career shift, but more like there is a Tic Tac in my shoe that I can't quite shake out.


But things get to me. These things.

  • Who am I if I'm not a teacher? 
  • What I've been working so hard towards for the past 6 years? 
  • I know I am a good teacher but am I decent at anything else? 
  • Am I still allowed to demand authority from K-12 kids who are acting like butt holes in public?

The countless staff members mean well, but their constant ploys to get me to stay breaks my heart. I would stay if I could, but I know I have to leave, for now. There are moments in your life that ask important questions that demand answers.  And if I don't go now, I fear I never will. That doesn't mean it's any easier to walk away from Ms. Ronau. 


And I naively thought it would be. 


Some things make it easier, like the fact that they tried really hard to eliminate my position as a half time special ed teacher and successfully eliminated our paraprofessional job. That leaves 24 kids and counting to ONE full time sped teacher. I can't wrap my head around that. It makes me sick, confused, angry and reminds me why I need a little space from teaching. 


If I do come back, it will be in a different state with a new outlook on education. It will be on my terms. I'm not sure yet if that is possible, but I guess we will see when I get to that crossroad. In the meantime, I will enjoy using the restroom anytime I want, never taking my work home and sweet, blissful 8 hour days. Somehow though, even after adding up all these perks, I know deep down that there may never be a job that can compete with the great parts of teaching.

I guess I'll have to find something to teach at the rec center. Puppets, anyone?

social media madness and never ever giving it up

What's the Age of Your Future Pet Ferret? A video scrolled by that I will never click on. A random thread from a stranger that one of my friends "liked." Let's not forget the homemade jam, kitchen cleaner, diy headboard that none of us will actually ever have time for. I spend a lot of my day wading through this jungle, gladly, willingly. And as I post from this time sucker that is the queen of social media, can we just all agree that Facebook is 89% nonsense? Sweet, beautiful, awful nonsense?

I haven’t posted in a while and it hasn’t been because it’s been non-eventful around here. In fact, I may have just lived through the best two week stretch in the last year and it doesn’t seem to be over. The universe is just hailing amazing vibes and completely fantastic opportunities have been lining up. Hawaii plans. The break in a four-year teaching career looming. Making new friends on a softball team (haven't played in 10 years!) Making plans to majorly downsize. Epic East Bay trip. Memorial Day Chambers Landing. It’s kind of overwhelming and it’s all colliding with the fact that I’ve lived in Tahoe for a year. Wow.

But lately I’ve been realizing with every grand thing that has happened, I instinctively reach for my phone. Capture it. Share it. Tweet it. Instagram it. I tell myself (and my annoyed husband) that it’s because I want to share good news with so many of my friends and family that are no longer in my daily life. Sure. But I’m starting to think it’s a bit deeper than that.

In the morning, when I reach to snooze my phone alarm, I also read Insta and Facebook like the newspaper. I do this every morning, first thing, for at least 10 minutes. Before the first bell rings at school, I’m checking in again on close friends but mostly a sea of acquaintances that I haven’t seen face to face in years, let alone possess their phone number. On my 2nd period planning, I’m bopping around on Twitter to read the latest in MLB news and pop culture scandal. Then it’s back to teaching. But I’m creeping around again on lunch. When I need a break from writing newsletter copy. When I reach for my afternoon snack. When I get home. On commercial breaks. Before I go to bed. It’s literally a full blown addiction, so much so that it mimics a lot of my routines when I was a smoker.


I read this great article shared by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Facebook (of course) and it reflected back at me, just like my iphone in the direct sun.

"Gone are they, the days of coming by with chicken noodle if you were sick. Now I would rather send you an e-cauldron of broth via Facebook."

But before I start telling y'all that I'm going to throw my Facebook account into the symbolic ocean, let me tell you what I love about social media. When I first started communicating through the computer, it was via Instant Messenger. Yes. The clever away messages. Typing til 5 a.m. I learned to type quite well in those days. All through college when MySpace and LiveJournal was boss. Being able to communicate in this way helped my social anxiety and helped keep in touch with friends all over the country, including long-distance relationships. And while all of that served me when I was a noodley-nerved middle/high school/college kid, now nearing 30 and as bold and brave as ever, I think it's hindering my relationship with now. Because sometimes I think I care more about what my sea of acquaintances think then the people, place or thing directly in front of me. Yes, I want my family and friends to keep in touch with my life, but I also want everyone on my friends list to think I'm devastatingly cool. And that really scares me.

There have been so many articles about social media addiction, viral videos about missing moments because the phone is in your face instead of what you're doing. But for me, the next dream of ours is to downsize even more, to be a bit more unattached, to let some more "stuff" go. My next biggest thing isn't the TV or shoes or my Jeep or my clothes or even my hair dryer: it's my addiction to filtering my life through all of your eyes, with cleverly angled food pictures, lake selfies with two filters, making sure you know where I got that killer falafel in Alameda when I checked in on Facebook. I'm obsessed with not feeling like I "missed" anything, and even if I haven't talked to you directly in 10 years, I still want to know if you had that baby yet.

It sounds so maddening when you say it out loud, but I know I'm not alone. And I think being this far away from a lot of people and not making a lot of friends out here, I've missed the point of actually connecting. It isn't through likes and comments and creeping/scrolling down your Facebook feed. Those things are fine, but when it's all you do, there's a problem. And maybe instead of hiding behind my really good away messages (no, really, mine were really good), maybe I should put down the phone and start a conversation, or read a good book, or give someone a call. I am that person that posts a tagged photo on Insta instead of calling them on their birthday, and that kind of makes me really sad.

I don't think I'll ever be minimalist enough to delete my Facebook account and buy a flip phone. I've always loved technology, since I was eight with the help of web tutorials from my IT dad. But maybe a bit of balance is in order. Maybe I should actually read the newspaper instead of scrolling past jello salad recipes, memes about hating stupid people, and another news article about something terrible that happened in that state with that weather and that kid. I'm tempted to add up all the time I spend and substitute something else, like really ask Oatmeal about his day and listen or put my phone by the milk in the fridge during dinner. While I can't promise that I won't ever take another food photo with 6 filters and I'll probably check in at my next epic meal time, maybe I'll finish that book that I started in October.

Expect a full review via Facebook in 1-2 months.

Moving On, Officially.

It occurred to me that it's quite interesting that I've had the same conversation with three principals now, three years in a row, in the spring. The first one was terrifying and bittersweet as I had made lifelong teacher friends and had taught for two years in my first position. The second was easy and exciting as it meant the start of an amazing transition from Ohio to California. And this one was hard in a different way as I am officially hanging up my "Ms. Ronau" title in pursuit of something else. I say it's just for a year but that doesn't make it any less terrifying, because I know there's a possibility that I won't return. And that makes me feel all the feels. At the same time.

My job is great. I work in an amazing district with just slightly difficult students sometimes. The majority of my three class periods are spent laughing and enjoying my time there. I have an amazing supportive former sped teacher as a principal and the back of my school boasts the most scenic backdrop of those mountains.

But after four years, there is something missing in me. Although I really like to teach, the time off is great, it doesn't feel like it's enough. It's okay but it's not what makes me feel alive, inspired and changed.

And I'm sick of waiting until the summer to do what I really want to do.

I want to feel alive, inspired and changed as much as possible. I think I might be addicted to that feeling. My afternoon job will welcome me in June with a ticker tape parade (legitimately discussed but the VP is in charge of clean up and he said no) as I go full time as Aston Kinetic's creative director/office manager/I do everything. Also I get to write my own job title, so suggestions are welcome. Since I've made the decision, each morning as I teach, I try to soak up everything: the difficult times, the hilarious middle-school times, and the really great moments that make me feel so torn on my journey into the unknown. But it also makes me reflect on how this job is so incredibly hard, how if you're not a teacher you probably sincerely don't get it and how my fellow teachers deserve the world because they make up some of the most talented, intelligent, creative people I have the pleasure of knowing. They spend more time with their students than their own families and teach them so much more than the Common Core. They teach their students how to be people, how to navigate the world socially and emotionally. All of them would thrive in the private sector and they choose to educate for peanuts. Legitimately incredible.

Tomorrow, I begin the fourth round of standardized tests, this school year alone. For five days, I will pick up a bag of secured testing materials, with mints, carefully bubbled in demographic data and a script I "have to recite by law" or you know, they'll take my teaching license away. Basically, and just as the training material so succinctly said, "This is not the time for thinking outside the box." Just, woof.

It's no surprise that testing season triggers a history of negative emotions and one that


 forever made different. Fellow teachers and parents, I am with you. And I have hope that the creative, "out of the box" teaching will win, eventually. For now, here are my Ms. Ronau highlights:

                              Being the Spelling Bee Coordinator had its perks, like wearing this to work.

                                                                    Kid art is just the best.

So I was famous once.

                                                               His name was Marshmallow.

                                            Ms. Ronau as seen through a very special 4th grader.

                                                           My McTigue classroom.

                                                   This little turtle bear was my classroom pet.

                                                                       See? Kid art. Yes.

                                                                  My Tahoe classroom.

                                                           My hilarious, brilliant students.

                                                                 Oh, middle school.

This is Rape Culture.

**Trigger warning: This post contains descriptions of sexual assault and rape.

I have a morning routine of reading my emails, Facebook and Instagram before my morning coffee. It's a nice way of shocking my eyes into some sort of light and eventually forcing myself out of bed around 5:30. Today I didn't have a hard time getting out of bed. I was jarred into anger, sadness and other emotions I don't have words for.

This morning, it came to my attention that some people think rape is funny. Not just Daniel Tosh. People on my Facebook friends list.

Like not, haha funny, more like, "lol bro I'm crying that's so funny," all to various comments under the central post of:

"Some call it rape, some call it snuggle with a struggle."

Followed by a meme of a muscled guy with the caption:

"I go to the gym a lot. It makes getting girls a lot easier. The last one I raped didn't stand a chance."

That got a "well done" and two likes.

Followed by two lols and this gem:

"What rhymes with rape? You can't escape."

I was immediately sick to my stomach. It was a post by a person that we just shared our house with for five days, that I made coffee for, that I called a friend. This triggered me immediately and the entire day has been spent in emotional exhaustion, trying to figure out how to process this. How can


think this is funny, let alone a league of people


close to me? One Facebook friend away?

My childhood consisted of two parts, before my mother told me about rape and after. She sat me down at age 8 and told me her story and I grew up to be an advocate because of it. When I unfortunately experienced sexual assault firsthand, I volunteered at the YWCA Rape Crisis Center, in an effort to understand and process that experience.

And you know what's


? In all of those experiences, I never laughed. Not once.

When women and men in my life have told me their story, I've never laughed. It's never smile-inducing. I've had the same reaction every time: incredible sadness, complete disgust and the most anger I've ever felt.

But it's never, ever been funny.

Because this is what it does when you don't take rape seriously, when you make rape jokes to your Facebook friends. Not only do you laugh at victims' trauma, at the point of their life that


changed, you make it

that much harder

  for rape victims to come forward because you think it's funny. Don't believe me? Here are the numbers:


So before you tell me to "Relax! It's just a joke! We aren't serious!" go ahead and round up six of the closest women in your life. Your aunt, daughter, grandmother, mother, sister, girlfriend/wife. 

1 out of every 6 American women

 has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).

Therefore, one of those six women, the women in your life, have had someone try to force an unwanted sexual encounter on them, or have been the victim of a completed rape. Against their will. Without their consent. 

Still funny?

I did not report my sexual assault. I was embarrassed. And rape culture dictated this. It told me it was my fault because I was drinking. Because I couldn't give consent because I had been drugged. Because he was an acquaintance. Because I couldn't remember what happened, even though my clothes weren't on the same way. And when I started having flashbacks years later, when I learned about what date rape drugs actually do to your brain, when I learned that it wasn't my fault, then I wanted others to know, too. Then I wanted to change it all, just like I did when I was 8.

I have not told this story to a lot of people in my life, but maybe it's time to share because apparently rape illiteracy still abounds. And I want it to stop.

See, we are taught as a culture that if a woman was provocatively dressed, drunk, flirting, alone, then she was asking to be raped. We teach each other these "codes" of "safety": Don't go out by yourself. Wear loose-fitting clothes. Carry a rape whistle and mace.  And if you don't follow these rules, then it's your fault. 

But let's make something perfectly clear: 

it's the rapist's fault. The rapist rapes people that don't want to be raped. No matter if they are completely naked and forgot their rape whistle, it is the rapist's fault. Period. There is no excuse.

So when you make fun of being raped like it's "no big deal" you perpetuate this notion that rape is the victim's problem. We were asking for it and we have no sense of humor. 

But if you were my dad, brother, husband, grandfather, uncle or boyfriend and I was sexually assaulted, do you really think I'd confide in you, with you laughing with your bros about how funny rape is?

Stop laughing and start a conversation. Even if you don't think it's funny and say nothing, you're still a part of the problem. 

So in the spirit of education, here are some ideas on how to deal with rape culture. Because I assure you: your encounter with it will unfortunately happen again. (Take from "Ten Things to End Rape Culture" on The Nation.)

1. Name the real problems

Violent masculinity



. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” ....


Violence functions in society as" a means of asserting and securing power."

2. Re-examine and re-imagine masculinity

: Once we name violent masculinity as a root cause of violence against women, we have to ask: Is masculinity inherently violent? How can you be a man/masculine without being violent?  Understand that rape is not a normal or natural masculine urge.

3. Don't laugh at rape

. Most people aren't rapists. But most rapists believe that everyone does it. What's more, you can't tell if you're in the presence of a rapist. They don't look any different from the rest of us, and may be perfectly good company. So while it might seem harmless to you to laugh at a joke that makes light of rape, your laughter could be telling an unknown rapist in your midst that you think rape is hilarious. And what's worse: letting go of a laugh once in a while, or accidentally enabling a rapist? Your call.

The full article, "Ten Things to End Rape Culture"  by Walter Moseley and Rae Gomes is excellent.

Read it here.

Just To Be a Tad Bit Smaller and Miles to Go

Today I had a very involved battle with myself on the last 14 minutes of my commute. When I round the corner of 28 and 89, I always get sleepy and today was no exception. But instead of pumping myself up for an evening run, I just told myself, "No. I want to get in my jams and eat 4 Junior Mints. And. Do. Nothing."

I climbed the stairs to our second floor apartment, and out of breath, I scolded myself. I admittedly felt bad that I didn't effortlessly cascade up them stairs. Counting the months in my head, my distinct thought was, "Well, you only have 3 months until bathing suit season."

Plenty of time to shrink my waist.

That was my thought. Ew. I caught myself thinking about this and paused for a minute. This is my thought every spring: that I have enough time to get smaller. This is the time to get serious about weight loss because I have 


. Three months and then I can show off my waist line, even wear my mint green 2 piece, leaving my tankini and boy shorts behind. I have all this time to get 



For a woman who has spent so much time painfully trying to love herself in the now, instead of in the future when I'm better, skinnier, prettier, these thoughts are hard for many reasons. First of all, it points out how much more I need to figure out about self-acceptance and loving my body. It also points out that even though I avoid Cosmopolitan because it makes me feel bad about myself, I avoid a lot of reality TV because it makes me feel bad about myself, even though I spend a lot of energy avoiding things that hurt my body image, somehow it still creeps in. Sure, I can proclaim to the masses that I'm okay, you're okay, we're all okay in the skin we're given, sometimes (a lot of times), I personally don't believe that. I want my hair to look better. I want my smile to look like I don't drink coffee everyday. I want my skin to be flawless without wearing makeup. And I want to have a flat stomach, smaller thighs and less jiggle in my arms.

But don't the majority of women do this? I mean, judging by how much we all spend in beauty products per year, I think it's safe to say that a host of industries are getting rich on the fact that we all hate what we look like, no matter what. I read this amazing article about women and accomplishments. They pointed out that a lot of women, no matter what they achieve, always have this wish to be smaller. No matter what size, how successful, there is always this desire to shrink their waist lines. And I am no different. Looking back at photos, I constantly criticize. Ugh, my makeup was terrible (in my Jubilee photos). Yikes I look like a teenager breaking out (in my graduate college graduation picture). No matter what I've achieved, I still don't think I'm good enough, in some way. And those amazing days somehow get dwarfed underneath some giant self-hatred. Self-loathing. Where being gorgeous is the A+ and I have never received anything but a C-. I have coveted being smart as my ultimate goal, but even having two degrees and a successful professional life, somehow not looking model-pretty makes everything not good enough.

Since when was being perfectly skinny more important than everything else in my life?

Dear God, can't I just accept my size 8 jeans, sometimes greasy hair and skin?

I don't really know. I've come a LONG way from a starving high school student hungry for attention and to be tiny. And most days it's okay to be me. But the longing to be smaller still manifests itself, at all the wrong times. And there is never a time where I LOVE my body. What's up with that?

Let's just look at Pinterest. Here are all these amazing recipes for your family that you can make. But if you want abs like your "inspirational" workout pictures, better eat this sad diet food while that lasagna is cooking. Sure, make those adorable cupcakes for your co-workers but unless you want to feel like a giant lard, better stick to 6 "small" almonds for your snack. No nap for you! You better werk that fat butt into shape if you want to squeeze into that bathing suit in three months. And make something cute for your classroom while you're not sleeping. Be. Perfect. In. Every. Damn. Way.

Where does it end? I don't know. I grew up with a loving mother that didn't necessarily teach me to hate my body, but I never learned how to love it "as-is." How do you learn such a powerful skill? As a perfectionist, I want everything to fall into place, effortlessly. I want to relax after a long 12 hour day but I also want to be smaller. I always want to be smaller. And I wonder why. Why is smaller better? Why do I want to have a tinier pant size? What is the value? Ego? Something to post to my Instagram when I reach my "goal?" Am I really pursuing health or do I just want to look like someone I have seen on tv?

I have miles to go in accepting who I am, where I am and what dress size I wear. I want to really believe, "Self, you're absolutely amazing right 


, in every single way, a lot like Mary Poppins." Somehow, that feels cheap, inauthentic, something that I just say to myself in order to feel less shallow and more self-actualized. But even if I don't believe it, would saying it still make a difference? If I put it out into the universe that I am not just okay right now,

 but I'm perfect right now,

 would it help me believe it?

I guess it couldn't hurt, right?

And most importantly, honestly, let's stop judging other women for their clothing choices, their hair styles, their pant size. I know it's tempting to scoff at someone wearing something ridiculous at Wal-Mart but stop it. It's hard enough to be nice to ourselves. We don't need anymore body hating from the rest of the world, okay?

And now that...

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before.

I picked up a hitchhiker today with a beautiful Spanish accent. She chatted idly about the lack of snow and told great stories about her first American job. She had to hitchhike there and one afternoon, she couldn't find a ride home.
"It was my fault," she added.
"How was it your fault?"
"It was my energy. I probably was invisible to the drivers because I was so angry I couldn't see."

We laughed together. But it reminded me of teaching and where I've been these past few months: so angry I couldn't see.

Long story short, teaching made me cry happy tears all last week, gave me a new sense of purpose, and kind of let me feel like I have it all figured out, somewhat.

My principal brought up the possibility of me co-teaching general education English. I didn't see this coming, but it led me to remember filling out my grad school application to become a high school English teacher. Instead, I chose special education and although I don't regret that decision, four years later, here I am with the opportunity to do what I first wanted to do so very badly, but in middle school.

It immediately changed all of my plans. This exit strategy that I've been carefully crafting for months crumbled instantly. All of the perks of my second job, coffee-tasting afternoons, possible work trips to Hawaii, social media for a living, suddenly lost all its meaning. I fell in love with teaching again and everything has been different.

A new student of mine, who is an A/B student in my resource English/Language Arts class, proudly showed me his grades during our weekly grade check. Not surprised, I congratulated him quickly in an effort to check all 11 of my students' grades.
"No, Ms. Ronau, you don't understand. Look."
I stopped and let him show me. He scrolled up to the top and showed failing grades in the previous quarters. Literally straight Fs.
Knowing his history and being responsible for his evaluation and IEP, I joked, "No way was that you!"
He remained serious and pointed to his name next to the grades.
And then, shaking his head back and forth with a pause, he added, "You changed my life."

Every time I think of that moment, I immediately cry, because I had absolutely no idea. It blew me away and still does. But it also made me realize how many other moments I've missed as I've been wishing away this "last year of teaching." How many times has a student said something amazing and I missed it because of my apathy towards this time in my life? Probably a lot.

It's amazing what happens when you honestly let teaching affect you, all over again. It's amazing what happens when you just decide to be. here. now.

I know. I've been here before. I've said this before. I've even felt this before. And believe me, I still haven't forgotten Danny. I still haven't forgotten some of the craziest teaching days involving thrown chairs, suicide attempts and multiple screaming students. Teaching is literally one of the hardest things I've ever done, but instead of trying to run away from the hard, I've decided to try and accept it as part of the process. You are going to be stressed out and cry and want to quit, and then you're going to have a co-worker that is really good at making you laugh and you'll have one too many coffees and a student will blow you away. And if that doesn't work, it's time to learn how to cope with stress effectively. I am learning the true meaning of balance: having the right amount of time for your career, your relationships with family, friends and yourself and a whole lot of having fun.

So you want to know a really big secret that no one ever ever tells you, ever?
There is literally nothing to figure out.
That is not why you're here. That is not your job.

The best thing that we can all do, especially the over-thinkers and the sensitive ones, is balance out our lives. If we are stressed out at work, it's time to focus on relationships and fun. If a relationship is bumming you out, it's time to plan a killer lesson plan on polar bears. Because in the end, if any part of your life is out of balance, it might still be fun. Like if all you do is hike for fun, that's probably awesome. But it could be even better with people to share it with and a job that you don't mind doing. And as long as we're doing our best to pay equal attention to ourselves and the ones we love, with a priority on fun, the universe will guide us to where we need to be. It's really true.

All of this stress and pressure I've put on myself to find the perfect job, to do what I "love" has lead me in one giant circle. I could be mad about it but I've honestly found so much value in this journey. I'm so much better for it. I asked a question I was afraid to ask and I received a very clear answer.

Question: "What am I supposed to do?"
Answer: "You're already doing it."

Just because I don't get paid to blog doesn't mean I'm not a writer.
Just because teaching is super hard sometimes and I resent that doesn't mean I'm not a teacher. It doesn't mean I'm not supposed to be a teacher.
I'm both. There is room for this and more. And that's better than okay.

February is the Best Month and Another Grateful Day

This weekend, we celebrated Paul turning 34. It was a weekend filled with literally our favorite things: amazing friends, White Russians, excellent hip hop, pizza, hiking, delicious beers, way too much cheesecake and jam bands that sing about bbq and camping. I made Paul a video of his friends back home wishing him a happy birthday (including his local friend, Oatmeal) in an effort to help him feel less homesick. We watched it together, we laughed, we reflected over this past year and I got to remember why his birthday is so important to my life.

I tell this story all the time about how we first met. It was on his 25th birthday and I was drinking underage at BW3's because I was a dummy and in an attempt to numb the shock and awe of breaking up with a boyfriend of 3 years. That's when I ran into Tony, a mutual friend of ours. Without much formality, he immediately inserted the fact that his friend was here and he thought we should meet. I was incredibly incapable of even processing that thought, let alone actually meeting anyone. He insisted and I met a man in a sea of boys wearing a backwards hat and a Hurley hoodie he still wears today.

It was a movie moment that demands you to pause. So I stopped. I was impressed just by his demeanor, not asking for anything but a great conversation and none of the pretense I was used to with man-boys his age and in that terrible sweaty sports bar on a Thursday night. I tried hard to be ridiculous, just to see what he would do, and he didn't even flinch. Not even knowing anything about me, this athletic-built dude in a sports bar idly chatted about Conor Oberst and his yoga class, and now knowing Paul pretty well, this wasn't for my benefit, but actually what he was into. It is always sincere, everything that comes out of his beautiful mouth. There wasn't one second spent in the first hour of meeting Paul that made me want to leave or say something mean, and at 20 with an inability to be easily amused, a sad heart and an intolerance for bullshit, this was extremely rare.

But it has to be one of my favorite nights of my entire life.

Last year, in between his actual birthday and his birthday party, we decided to move. It started with looking for houses in Michigan and when that didn't feel right, Paul looked at me and said, "Why don't we move, like really move?" It was a Sunday night, the only night we were able to spend together because of our crazy schedules. It took us about two hours to decide completely what we were going to do. And once we decided, everything literally fell into place, movie-style. At his bowling birthday party with friends, we announced that we would be moving to Tahoe.

So many great moments have happened in February. And now as I drive to and from work with this giant backdrop that doesn't seem real, I wonder why I always relate everything to "a movie-script ending." At least twice a week, I swear I'm on a Truman Show movie set. The mountains and the alpenglow of my evening commute cannot be real. I remind myself that it is, but there is always this thought in the back of my mind that there is a zipper at the base of these mountains. That this isn't real life.

It's just too good to be true.

The rest of meeting Paul eventually had a happy ending, but we didn't walk off into the sunset like the movies. Our first year of knowing each other was hard as I struggled with allowing the sunshine in and letting it happen to me. I just kept telling myself it was too good to be true. I was looking for the zipper. I thought it was all a green screen. But something really great happened. I let it happen. I allowed myself to believe that all of this happiness was real and I deserved it. And once I allowed that in, the rest is history. I have an unbelievable relationship with the best person in the world, everyday is literally the best day and we get to spend every blink under this incredible sky that we now call home. But it would've never happened if I believed "it's too good to be true."

What does that mean, anyway? "It's too good to be true." When applied to princes in Nairobi attempting to scam your bank account, that's just dumb, not good. When applied to lake front castles for $100, that's just fishy. But when something good happens to your life, the good as in something great, a relationship, a new job, isn't life too short to just go ahead and believe it? Shouldn't your gut know what is true and what is a lie? And when you don't know the difference, isn't that a clue you should start trying to figure out why you can't trust your instincts?

Along the way, I've learned that everything good in my life has taken a fair amount of faith and trust. I'm being hurled towards 30 at an alarming pace and at this point, no day is worth doing if you don't believe it can be the best day. I believe that completely.

Because if I didn't, I wouldn't be living in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with the best dude on earth. And before you call me lucky, I'd rather be known as someone who never gave up on believing life can be great, not just good.

The Worrying Addiction

For the first two years of my teaching career, I was in love with inspirational quotes. I pinned them ferociously on Pinterest, I copied them at work and plastered them on the walls of my classrooms. There was just something about a simple phrase that calmed my mind for a few seconds. Quotes gave my brain a rest from the constant chatter, worry and negative thoughts that seemed to haunt every second of my waking life. You know, that and a lot of alcohol.

Being a nervous person my entire life, I thought this was normal, just a part of

who I was.

 It was so much a part of my routine, my thought process, the way I made decisions and the way I interacted with people. Essentially everything was woven into this constant overload of thought, worry, worrying about the thoughts, creating new thoughts and worrying about those thoughts. It really never had an end, as one situation resolved itself (without my interference, mind you), another one was invented. It bled into every part of my life. I was convinced that my mind couldn't be slowed or stopped, and a high-stress job added to it almost made it unbearable to be awake.

There was this quote I always went back to then.

"Finish each day and be done with it" - Emerson

There's more to it but I always loved the simplicity of that line. I could just never ever practice it. As hard as I tried, I spent all of my mental energy on replaying the terrible day: from beginning to end, like a detective trying to piece together a hypothesis on why it was so terrible. Then the endless questions began, of why and how, the guilt of feeling like I didn't do "enough" in my 12 hour day, and the endless daydreaming of the day where I wouldn't have to think about any of it. All the time. It created crippling insomnia and an inability to enjoy anything, especially on the weekdays. No stop button in sight.

Addictions don't just come in jars and bottles, you know. They can be deeply embedded into the lifestyle choices you're making. You're addicted to demanding attention from everyone around you. You're addicted to seeking out bad relationships in an effort to fix them. And I was completely addicted to trying to control my life through my thoughts. Because mind control is a thing.

I was addicted to worrying. I convinced myself it was uncontrollable. I couldn't control my mind.

I couldn't control my mind. Seriously. I really thought that. This was my proof.

Symptoms of a Worrying Addict

1.) I would stay up for hours, tossing and turning with intense insomnia, simply because I was thinking about what I had to do, what I could do differently about this one thing, replaying that mean look my co-worker gave me in the halls, feeling bad about not returning phone calls.

Actual excerpt from insomnia: "No! I forgot cheese at the grocery store! .... my haircut is so lame! I need bangs tomorrow!...what should I wear tomorrow?.......i wonder if its gonna be cold at school? ugh i hope donald is absent for reading.....I'm a genie in a bottle/ya gotta rub me the......"

Yes. My brain sings Christina Aguilera when it's on autopilot. I'm as upset as you are.

2.) In conversation with really good friends and family, my mind would wander back to....see above.

3.) Weekends with free time would be spent thinking about what I should be doing instead of giving myself much-needed down time to do absolutely nothing.....but shouldn't' I be catching up on laundry? Shouldn't I be making my bathroom prettier by crafting a new way to hold the q-tips? Shouldn't I have lunch with those people I haven't returned phone calls to? Shouldn't I read a book? Paint my nails? Do the dishes? Bake delicious cupcakes for my coworkers? Shouldn't I x 10,000.

4.) A slave to my conscious, I would oscillate between feeling guilty for not doing enough and feeling like a failure if my efforts weren't perfect.

Essentially, most minutes were spent in agony. And I created every bit of it. I longed to really change my life, like my inspirational quotes so simply pointed out.

"Worrying is like a rocking chair..." Yes it is! It's so dumb!

"Overthinking ruins you." So true! I agree!

But quotes only offered validation. Alcohol offered a temporary sedation. I didn't have any idea what to do after both of their effects faded. And it's amazing how exhausted you can be after an entire day of your brain on autoplay.

So here's how I started to peek my head out of self-pity, constant thinking and an addiction to perfection through worrying.

It sounds really sophomoric and slightly cheesy, but I practiced.

  1. I bought some new music because it's not okay to let your brain sing you Christina Aguilera when it's on autopilot. (I mean, at least Beyonce?)
  2. Every time I had a thought that wasn't consciously made by me in this moment (but definitely when I started chewing on negative crap), I looked at the thought as a third party. Completely objective. Making no judgments. Just observing the fact that those thoughts didn't matter. They didn't add value to my life at that moment so I didn't have a reason to think them. This take a LOT of practice, but even turning one bad thought off is extremely liberating and I found myself addicted to the feeling of being free, for at least a little while. (Read "The Power of Now" by Eckart Tolle because he is a master at this.)
  3. I found the strength to give myself permission to do nothing. Recharge by unplugging. Not call people back if I didn't have the energy or emotional strength to explain where I've been, why I don't want to do anything. I started to allow myself  to make sure all of my decisions improved my situation first. Having a cute place to store your q-tips is great. Taking a nap after a 57 hour week is such a better decision.
  4. I practiced being kind to myself. It's okay if I wasn't able to stop worrying today. It's okay if I slept all day and cancelled plans with everyone. It's okay that my vegan mac and cheese that I spent an hour on was disgusting. It's really okay. The laundry and dishes and perfect house can wait. I decided to run with the wild idea that I was more important. Now say that to yourself enough to believe it. Don't let housework or the illusion of control through dusting bully you around. You have another moment after this one. (Or you don't and none of this will matter anyway! Yay!)
  5. I prioritized fun. Not as something I did every once in a while. Not something I planned so I would have something to "look forward to." Not exclusive to an annual vacation. Something as essential as my morning coffee, food, air. I made it a part of my every day.
  6. Sleep. Once I was able to help my mind calm down, I slept. It helped every single area of my life and I made it another non-negotiable.
  7. I realized that everything major, good or bad, never came to me by worrying about them. They came from hard work, making my own luck, natural misfortune of a loved one lost or a situation that eventually made me better. But NONE of those situations were made any better by me thinking them to death. They came and they went, on their own time. Because everything that's hard or great is like that: it comes when it wants and it leaves when it's ready. Believe it. It's true.
  8. None of this will ever work if you don't let go and believe it. You can't start living the life you dream about if you're still trying to control everything by retroactively fixing your day in your head and planning your future. 

I added a new quote to my Pinterest today. Something that I really believe.

Almost a year later and I still have bad days. I still find my mind wandering around trying to invent things to be sad about. But the more I teach it to be quiet when I want quiet and work really well when I actually need to think, and the more I learn the difference between constant chatter and daydreaming that makes me feel good, the less worry has an ability to seep in. It may never be perfect (what is that?), but I'm working on my mind being stronger than anything I could possibly worry about. I'm worry-proofing my conscious.

While you continue your New Years gym routine, losing ell bee's or just wanting to de-stress a bit, don't forget to work on your mind. It's amazing what else you can accomplish when your brain is helping you, not holding you back.

The First Funk of 2014 and the Last Post of 2005

The first funk of Tahoe happened nearly two weeks ago. I was only able to shake it off on Monday.
It's hard to go back to work after being off for nearly two weeks. I'm not very good at getting back into a routine of reminding myself that chip crumbs aren't components of actual meals and that fun is not a luxury, but a priority. No worries, I'm back on track, in record fashion for me in the winter.
Winter in Tahoe makes cold weather blues shrink. There are so many activities you can do outside and it's almost always sunny. It helps. But I think I'm so used to everything falling apart around at this time of year that I just invent it when it really doesn't happen. Funny thing about your history is that it follows you and sometimes begs to stay alive. So, of course, I wondered how my past blogging endeavors have fared around this time of year, and maybe find a pattern of psychosis. Because I am a data-driven teacher. Which means that guy from Star Trek inspires me :)

2003 didn't start out very well. I was a freshman at Eastern Michigan and this is what I had to say on January 20th:
Ypsi is sad, i'll be headin back to her tomorrow, EARLY, yum, hate mornings. 
This town makes me want to kill things.

2004 was bleak too:

January 24th
i'm dropping out of college this week.i don't care what you think about it but i'm f**king serious.

The start of 2005 was great. I was still in Chicago and this gem happened on January 13th.
last night i learned what a klezmer band is, what a sopranos "jersey" looks like, and that it is possible to be completely drenched by an oncoming car when the streets are flooded and it is raining. and it is pretty funny....or really hilarious. eve got the front of the wave and she was much more fortunate than me. also, when you dont have an umbrella and you are with a best friend/wonderful person, it's ten times more fun. thank you rain for a lovely night.

2006 was a bit rough....
 i haven't been sober like this (three straight days) in months. so instead of a heine, i toast this cherry lime-ade to patience and change this week. and getting my liver and lungs to outlive me. i got april fool's and groundhog's day mixed up. that's when you know you need to start reading more and slow down the brain damage.

2007 was great.
Excited for my classes and new organization ideas. And the fact that my life is amazingly wonderful. Nothing like a dose of perspective for the New Year. Yessir.
2008 was back to my sad routine: 
Things are on the up. I can feel the momentum in the house sway back to normal. It's been a really long fall/winter already and I can't help but feel my bones trying to usher out this cold already. I'm struggling with it, trying to fight it from getting me down.

2009 I was trying to be optimistic. But being surrounded by negativity is hard.
With this new thankfulness, I've run into 29074398672398478947 unthankful people. And it makes me want to murder them. I guess that's karma. Or something.

2010 documented an amazing Felix memory:
I hung out with Felix all day Saturday. He is probably my favorite human. He told me he is a meteor that has fallen to Earth from Neptune, and the only way to save the planet from the volcano is to squeeze the giant brain into the volcano because the brain is full of milk. I want him to always be a giant weirdo. We started a game of wishing into this jar we had in the back seat of my dad's car. He wished to have a giant dragonfly as a pet and a duck. I told the jar that "I wish to go sledding with Felix this winter." He turned to me and said, "That was a pretty good wish."

2011: Being an adult with my first full time job (terrible first job) got to me.
It hit me in the middle of my first vodka tonic in a month. I hate my job. I've finally stopped glazing over the obvious with, "well, it's okay, sometimes it's okay" to this is the source of why my hair is falling out.

2012: I was asked to give pre-marital advice to another couple. Here's a sound byte.
You have to believe that your relationship is a TRUTH, a fact, not a theory or a fairytale, but a thing that nothing can ever question, change or alter. And that's hard if you're conditioned to be cautious with your feelings and be on alert for signs of infidelity, mistrust or betrayal. Being together means you give these up. You retire your spy hat forever...."

2013: The wise Yoda sage had some advice to give y'all
My 2013 advice to myself and to you is to love the tiny things: 5 more minutes of sleep, your favorite Greek yogurt on sale, a simple smile from a non-threatening stranger, and in my case, a tiny little guinea pig that fills up a large part of my heart. 

So what have I learned from January blog posts spanning 11 years? Lots, like I was an extremely whiny college student. Winter, especially after Christmas, historically bum me out. Majorly. I obsessively wish for spring, drink recklessly and waste too much time oscillating between desperately needing to have fun and worrying about being a grown up (I still don't know what that means). I feel so far away from the lady that just wanted to be somewhere else, constantly. But I am not immune to a bad day. I just don't have to live in that day. It really makes a difference when you provide yourself with a choice. You choose where you want to be, physically and where your brain lives. I want to live in sunshine and have as much fun as I can. Priorities.

And for the sake of a good dose of laughter, here's my insane 21 year old brain. You're welcome.

December 31, 2005. My lunacy was at its height and most of this blog is so melodramatic and unreadable, but this is quite a gem.

it is december 31st. 
tomorrow it will be 2006.
this is a time for big reflection and anticipation. however, i don't feel like big reflection/anticipation today. i want to eat low-fat food, drink girly girly drinks, not even think about beer and have tres curly hair. this is my day to look like at LEAST ten bucks. come on hair gods, gimme a break today.
i have split ends.
my uncle and i had a crazy wonderful conversation, which usually is not a crazy wonderful conversation. he made a really funny analogy about "facing your problems."
"what do you do in wrestling when you're in a bind: do you turn away or in to your opponent?"
"IN TO!!"
"THAT'S RIGHT!! now, who do you work for?"
"you work for YOURSELF! now it's time to fire, re-hire, and negotiate a new contract!"
man he was givin a sermon. i thought he was gonna take out a white handkerchief and mop off his sweaty brow. 
i'm really into latin jazz right now.
let's rock 2006 right, fellows.

New Year's Resolutions and Coming From/Going Back Home

On New Years Eve, The Yo-Naus started the long process of going-going back-back to Cali-Cali at 3:45 a.m. EST. Sleepy but excited to return, we waited for boarding to begin at DTW to O'Hare, to board a plane to Denver, to board a plane to Reno. We were slated to return to Tahoe approximately at 12:49 p.m. PST and we had NYE plans in Truckee that we'd been looking forward to for weeks. I was going to wear a top knot and drink too much champagne and show strangerfriends pictures of Oatmeal. It was going to be rad.

After sitting in the Detroit airport for over 3 hours, it became clear that we were going to miss our connecting flight to Denver from Chicago. We watched dozens of couples, singles, and many disgruntled State fans (going to Pasadena) become unglued, shouting, pacing, angrily calling family members to explain their dilemmas. We watched airline employees attempt to calm them, analogous to attempting to appease small children in need of naps or a snack. It was alarming. And in that moment, I felt a true change, and felt miles away from where I used to be. (I also felt lucky to no longer work at a preschool.)

A year ago, I would've freaked out. I probably would've cried but most definitely would've been feeling exactly like the dozens of disgruntled passengers we watched stomp around. I would've felt an epic disappointment. We arrived in Chicago 3 hours later than planned and finally made it to Denver at 6 p.m. on New Years Eve. It was clear with holiday travel and bad weather, we were staying in Denver for New Years.

And we had a really good time. We were put up in a super comfortable Denver hotel, ate nachos and salmon and burgers and met a host of kind strangers also making the best of an unplanned detour in an unknown land.
We slept like rocks and headed back to the airport, making it home to Tahoe around 2 p.m., 26 hours after our original plans.

Returning from my hometown after my longest absence from it felt longer than 7 months and at the same time it felt like no time had transpired. The trip was filled with lots of happy moments, nostalgia and being surrounded by a ton of close friends and family fulfilled that social aspect I've forego-ed that comes with starting over in a new land. But as we peeked out the airplane windows at those mountains, as I spied a Big Truck hat (Tahoe local sign) in front of me, a feeling I never thought could happen anywhere else, did.

It's good to be home.

But wait, wasn't I just "home?" Isn't my home where I grew up? Where my family is? Sure. But this trip has taught me a very important lesson on home, the "where should I be?" question. It all lies in one essential truth that I've constantly questioned: it's not where you are.

So if that is true, then where do you go? How do you choose where to live when the "where" no longer matters?

It's so incredibly easy to look at Tahoe and say, "Well that's why. The mountains, the lifestyle, the great jobs." It's so easy to say those are the whys - what Toledo isn't. And although the tap water and food are much better, Toledo has some wonderful things about it, too, that people may be too busy to appreciate or have forgotten about - it's MetroParks, the beautiful sunsets illuminated behind puffy cotton candy clouds, the strange magical way you can see for miles and the solitude of an Ohio farm horizon. These things make my heart swell almost as much as a hike in the Sierras and the alpenglow of my evening commute.

There are so many of us so tightly painfully coiled up, foregoing sleep and eating standing up in the name of productivity, glorifying "busy" and "hard-working" as if the alternative is "lazy" and "lazy". It's almost as if being incredibly busy is more important than being a human being. They essentially forget how to be human. They are found stomping their feet in the presence of others, not because they are vile or inherently evil but because they've turned off all sensibility in an effort to live more productively. But less sleep for more work, less lunch for more meetings, less love and more urgency doesn't improve a human's life. Denying all basic needs, in return, turns "normal" humans into robotic monsters, thinking of the rest of us as being in the way of getting to work 5 minutes early. When I lived in the city, I truly hated so many of my jobs, but that thought of "well at least I have a job" was ingrained in me. And now, I think I'd rather be unemployed than so stressed out, it takes me 3 days of nothing to return to "normal".

So if it's all the same, why am I here? It took 7 months and being away for a week, but it's simply the culture. There is a greater concentration of people that prioritize fun, their connection with nature and with everything that changes the energy of a place. There are so many human moments, something I lacked severely before being here.

I am learning to live, fully, without thinking or planning on how to live.

And in these moments where I struggle to prioritize living myself and nurturing my relationship with nature, being in Tahoe feels like medicine.

I want to be where the people are. That remind me to stay conscious, that living unconsciously is as dangerous as a life-threatening disease (and often leads to it). I'm not yet strong enough to constantly be around robot monsters that crave the city speed of things.
 I never liked small talk until I got here because it's genuine and when I'm in less of a rush (I may never ever be in a rush here, seriously, well maybe a powder day....), it's actually pleasant. I don't look at strangers like they're in my way, like they're going to kill me. My eggs can take a little longer to cook. I can let you go in traffic before me. I can say "hi" to you when we share a hiking trail. Because the less we create walls and labels for persons, places and things, (he is better than him, she is prettier than you) the more obvious it is that we are all connected. Everything. And the more awake we are to every single moment of our experience, every breath, every step, the more we can start to enjoy our lives as they are, right now.

I think a lot of people are sick of New Year's resolutions because so many of them are not genuine. Let's go to the gym! Let's lose 100 pounds! As if the stroke of midnight on this day has some sort of magic to throw our lives into a new dimension. I like New Years. Reflection is important. But the biggest mistake we all make is not knowing that the happiness we wish for and the resolutions we announce are possible with what we already have. And when taking a closer look at our lives and the ones around us, the best resolution is realizing that your life is already pretty fantastic, where ever you are: Toledo on a cloudy day, in Denver on New Years, in the middle of a Tahoe bluebird morning. It's true. Embrace the universal truth that you are beautiful and loved in this moment, without skinnier thighs or a nicer car or being in the "perfect place."

My New Year's resolution is to. Love. You. All.
Everyone of you.
When you're mean.
When you're nice.
When you're loving me back.
When you think I'm annoying.
When you're smelly.
When you hate yourself.
When you're a bully to people that reflect what you don't like about yourself.
When you're beautiful.
When you're talking about me because you think I'm crazy.
When you're awake and when you're asleep.
When you're brilliant. When you say stupid things.

I will love it all. Because loving you helps me love myself.
Stop thinking and planning and wishing for a good life. Living must be felt. So just do it. And have an absolutely radical year.

No labels. Just love.
Happy 2014.


Today is Thanksgiving. Social media is serving up heaps of turkey cartoons, Black Friday nonsense and a very interesting phenomenon of listing something you're thankful for each day in November. I always look at these trends curiously and try to put myself in that mindset: what would I say? Driving home yesterday, the local radio blared "Motorin'" by Sister Christian and I welled up with tears remembering the first time driving into wine country from the Golden Gate, Eve grinning from the passenger seat DJ position, marking just the beginning of a life-changing trip that would land us here a mere year later.

So as I thought about what I'm grateful for, what I'm thankful for, it occurred to me that it would be easier to come up with a list of what I'm not thankful for. I am simply, overwhelmingly thankful for every single thing, and I surprise myself everyday with the amount of gratitude I have. So here is my Thanksgiving wisdom.

1.) I cannot be grateful for the mind-blowing beauty and stress-free land of Tahoe without being thankful for the road it took to get here. It's easy to idolize where I am. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and I am reminded of that every minute. It has never stopped feeling like being on vacation, but I got to this point by realizing what I didn't want in my life. I didn't want to see my husband once a week. I didn't want to be a full time teacher. I didn't want to live just for the weekends and fill them with binge drinking and taking care of other people's problems. And although it was hard (really really hard), I would've never gotten to this point of absolute bliss without figuring out what life I didn't want, and having the courage and faith to trust that there was a better way to live. Trust me, there's a better way to live and it can start anywhere you choose. You just have to get off the road if you don't like the one you're on.

2.) Stuff doesn't make you happy. Being away from my family is tough. But it has also put so much in perspective that I always knew, but never really practiced. Everyone says this but I don't think they believe it. That's why Target provides some sort of empty happiness and why I used to be addicted to going at least once a week to buy crap I didn't need, because I subconsciously believed that it would better my life. I needed a new cardigan so I could look fresh on Monday. I needed better blush so I would impress my friends with my rosy cheeks and we'd have that moment of, "Wow Sarah you look divine!" And I'd be like, "Oh this, no, Really?" Until I needed another "hit" of some crap I didn't need to receive affirmation from the mirror or someone else and it never ends. Ever. I have the same cardigan in five color patterns if you don't believe me.
It's not happy, it's temporary.
And although my dad and I have this fabulous tradition of Christmas Eve shopping, I don't miss the stuff. I miss watching baseball games with him on Sundays, farm Saturday mornings and the smell of my grandma making pancakes. You can't buy that. I've tried.
Instead of presents this year, for Christmas we're giving our family a memory. An experience. Something that provides belly laughs and photos to put on the mantle. Because when we fly back to Tahoe on New Years, I want to remember a moment instead of having to tuck something away in my suitcase. And I never ever want to do anything else.

3.) Gratitude is about being in love with this very moment, and taking care of that moment if you're not in love.
I'm reading this book called "The Power of Now" by Eckart Tolle and it is changing my world view rapidly.
He talks about how he has absolutely no use for the past or the future and only interested in now. Many thoughts came to my mind when I read this: Where do grown up things like buying a house, building a successful financial portfolio (I only hear grown ups talk about this on TV. I have no idea what it is), paying down your debt, how do those things exist when you only focus on now?

When you focus on the past and the future, you forget about what you're creating: now. You can invent whatever you want in the future and recreate what actually happened in your past, but the best part about life is now. Right now. If you want a house, put it out in to the universe and keep on living your life. You'll be surprised what happens when you stop worrying about having the illusion of control and start ripping life right now.
(And being an adult is just like a Halloween costume. It's just an act. A funny dance. I live in a place that focuses on playing outside, all ages, all year round. It rules.)

4.) You can't be grateful for your own life when you're too busy making fun of people at Walmart in their rubber ducky pajamas.
Drama is created by people who aren't focused on meaningful goals and drama can be defined as judging others by their appearance, behavior, car, house, or other arbitrary nonsense. But if you have time to judge others on those things, it means you aren't focused on your own. Looking inward takes patience and a lot of strength but the less you focus on others and the more you focus on loving and accepting yourself, the less others will matter. And when you criticize others, you're really just telling the universe what you're afraid of becoming. You're uncovering your own insecurities and building up walls between you and who you perceive as someone "icky" or "dumb" because you're afraid to  be perceived that way. And as tie-dyed as it sounds, radiate love and it'll come back to you, like a really smart boomerang.

So instead of saving November for thankful month, be unbelievably thankful everyday of your life: for the bad and the good, the icky people and the ones you love, the dog that bites you and the guinea pig that greets you with squeaks every morning. All of it has contributed to this beautiful life we all have the pleasure of living. We are breathing. We get to walk around and talk and hear and chew and run and ski and breathe. A miracle every day, everywhere and it could end any minute.

And now my 8 Thankful Things:
1.) I am thankful for both of my jobs that allow financial security and barely any resemblance of stress.
2.) I am grateful for my amazing family that has been nothing but supportive of this giant move we've made.
3.) I am thankful for my dad, the smartest man I know, that loves me unconditionally and genuinely wants the best for me.
4.) I am grateful for my amazing hus-friend, life partner, cooking buddy, adventurer, that offers an infinite amount of support, love and belly laughs daily.
5.) I am thankful for my dear little guinea pig who gets so excited when I walk by his cage. Always.
6.) I am grateful for my mountain family who have helped our transition from midwest to west coast in a million different ways.
7.) I am thankful for our west shore apartment that provides insane views of the lake daily.
8.) I am grateful for my commute that feels like driving to vacation.

This video made me feel feelings. Watch it all. Happy Day of Thanks, guys.

A lesson in thankfulness

Holistic Health: My Road to Wellness

It's not exactly fair to blame Tahoe for my gradual shift to a holistic lifestyle in these past few months. In reality, I blame my peace love and understanding parents for weaving a natural life of teas and herbs to help tummy aches with cost-saving poison for dinner, consisting of Sizzleburgers and a mug of Tahitian Treat. I knew what McDonald's was but I also knew the difference between fresh carrot juice versus carrot juice in a can. When my mother started getting sick, she flew head first into homeopathy. Apple cider vinegar cleanses, juice cleanses, special diets, teas, supplements and herbs were a part of my growing up.

So now I would like to sing a love song to Yin Chiao and Evening Primrose Oil.

Reflecting on the past ten years (yeah, wow, woof) from 19 to 29, I've lived a terribly unhealthy lifestyle. A huge chunk of that time consisted of college life (no sleep, no money, binge drinking, female drama) and being a poor graduate student (all college life minus female drama plus existential crises and tweed blazers). Without meeting my basic needs of sleep and good food, it's hard to focus on bettering your health when you don't have the means. And now with more time, money and resources (I live in Northern California), nearing 30, I felt like it was time to make some major changes.

1.) First life change: I ingest enough chemicals. Time to cut out the daily extras.
I've been on birth control for 10 years, and besides a 4-5 month break in 2010 (see: poor graduate student), it's been consistent but varying forms of hormones. Then, in my first teacher year riddled with severe sinus infections that my doctor related to untreated allergies, I was put on a daily pill as I was "allergic to dust and pollen," meaning year-round allergies would plague me. When I did get the eventual sinus infection, it became rounds of antibiotics, strong decongestants to get through the day and codeine-laced cough syrup to sleep. But with rising costs in both birth control and daily allergy pills as well as severe side effects of being on "something" for a long time, I decided to just quit it all and see what my body would do. (Note: birth control has been linked to depression and anxiety. NO WAY.)

My allergies regulated quickly, but I got a mild cold about a week later. Nothing needing medical attention and now months later, I barely have any symptoms. The effects of coming off birth control have been a little more visible with oily hair and skin and more frequent breakouts.

2.) NO MORE decongestants, sleeping aids, "Day Quil" and minimal Advil.

It was funny how some sicknesses come on extremely fast, kind of like a really strong wind throws you sideways. It was my first time getting that sick here. I was at my second job and as my boss is in the natural health field, she immediately threw supplements at me, told me to go home and get some rest. "This is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, this is an immunity booster and this is a Chinese supplement that used to keep the ancient emperors alive."
Okay. I have learned to come at "weirdness" here (what is weirdness?) with a positive attitude. It helps to accept people, as they have a right to be whoever they are, without being labeled as anything but nice people. You should do the same.
The pairing of juicing in the morning for breakfast and a strict routine of oil of oregano between meals and Yin Chiao before breakfast and after dinner had me feeling 75% better within 24 hours. Paul started feeling sick a couple weeks later and found the same regimen had him nearly back to normal in a day.  And it's such a strange feeling to actually be able to feel your body working against infection. I'm so used to taking pain-numbing medication that just puts you in a fog until you're better, but taking supplements that actually help your body naturally fight is somewhat powerful. And I haven't been sick since.

Being sick here is altogether different. People take health seriously. If you're sick, you don't go to work, sometimes for days if need be, and that's what everyone does. There is absolutely no value in coming to work when you don't feel good and people think you're insane if you attempt it. Therefore, sickness is usually shorter as you are allowed to stay home at the first sign (allowed sounds weird). I've always been in a war with myself when it comes to time off, but as I have learned, your leader sets the tone. As she has taken off when she didn't feel well, it's easier to justify. And for the first time in my teaching career, I took a personal "mental health" day and didn't think twice about it. And it felt amazing.

3.) Juicing. Every day. For breakfast.

I had a million concerns: I'll be hungry in two hours! It will taste like dirty salad water! I like oatmeal (the food, and also the animal)!

But once I got into the rhythm, it not only saved time (didn't have to cook breakfast!) but also provided me more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamins (spirulina is BOSS) and protein to get me to lunch easily. It has also given me a TON of energy, has kept me regular (something I have never ever had) and I've dropped 2.5 pant sizes not to mention making my monthly cramps, aches, fatigue and headaches disappear.  I ALSO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. I've had such bad sporadic insomnia since grad school and this has completely disappeared, which may be because of altitude as my body works harder just breathing up in these mountains. But either way, juicing is kind of a miracle drink. No joke. And when I have time to cook breakfast, I do it on those magical weekend mornings in my donut-patterned jams.

4.) Working out. Woof.

I have hated this my whole life, sans yoga and dancing. Besides the sporadic free yoga I attended in the summer, I haven't done anything. Once the days started getting shorter and hiking season started to wind down, Paul and I knew we had to start something to keep our mood and energy up through the weekday winter days (we'll be on the slopes on the weekend). So we started Insanity. Four times a week. I died the first week but it's become quite manageable and a fun way to boost energy in the evening. It also gives us another activity together which always rules.

Tahoe yoga is so great. Not only are there at least 4 yoga studios on the drive home, but nearly all offer a $30 for 30 days deal. Eve and I are starting a month session today and I couldn't be happier getting back into yoga. It's always been my favorite way to workout.

5.) Only coffee on the weekends.

Yep. I know. Me. The one who planned on getting matching coffee tattoos with Lindsay for years. I have been OBSESSED with coffee since my first cappuccino at 14. I love the taste, the way it makes me feel, the smell, the process of buying/making it and nearly all coffee-flavored food items. I even really love chocolate covered espresso beans. But I've known for an equally long time that it murders my sensitive stomach and before moving, I was drinking half a pot by myself in the morning and a diet soda for lunch, sometimes giving me tunnel vision, intense afternoon crashes and blurred thinking. So. Much. Caffeine. If I chose to sleep in on the weekends, I would be woken up by a really terrible caffeine headache. Just ridiculous.
My whole life has been dealt with in either/or thinking, so I've tried to quit completely and drink tea and it never worked. Instead, I'm drinking coffee on the weekends, but just yerba mate on weekday mornings. No more headaches, less stomach woes and nothing really lost. Win.

6.) Resist urge to get back on the pill and/or go to the dermatologist and start crazy acne meds.
It took a couple of weeks, but just like in 2010 when I came off the pill, I started having unusually oily hair and way more breakouts than I'm used to. My hormones have been regulated by a decade of birth control so it's no wonder why my body kind of doesn't know how to regulate all that stuff going on in there. It bummed me out for a while, so much so that I thought about trying another form of birth control just to escape the oil farm growing on my head.

But that's not what I wanted. So I did some research.

I found Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) on a holistic health blog. This lady had the exact same problem as me and began some natural skin care regimens while taking EPO three times a day. She had great results.

I started Vitamin A, Zinc and EPO supplements as well as switching to an all-natural tinted moisturizer. In three days, I see a marked difference. My hair is less oil-slicky, my breakouts are normalizing and I feel awesome. Some websites (like WebMD) state that there has been no medically proven benefits to taking EPO. Other (natural health) websites have pages of testimonials of women with more severe cases than me, praising the use of EPO and its effects on their hormonal balancing, skin, arthritis, eczema. So, go do a medical study on those ladies. Or me. Oh Western medicine.....

7.) Just fish. No meat.

If you know me, you know my love affair with vegan/vegetarian cuisine. I've called myself a part-time veggie when living in the Midwest and truthfully find eating animal flesh really gross. I only ate it out of convenience these past couple of years, with intermittent months of being vegetarian. But being here, in a place that almost always has tasty veggie/fish options and super affordable grocery store veggie options, it's so easy to live a pescatarian life. My meat-eating hus-friend has even embraced it more than part-time and can be seen eating more fish, veggie ground beef and black beans.

(Also, cows have best friends, chickens and turkeys are gross and pigs are smarter than dogs. I'm okay with eating fish because I know how to catch and gut them and I don't feel that bad.)

8.) I drink at least 74 ounces of water a day.

Altitude sickness happens fast when you're dehydrated so I drink more water than ever. It's helped all of the things including my longing for soda at lunch time.

So many easy, simple life changes has helped my anxiety, depression, stress, sleep and waistline more than any diet or pill ever has. But, most importantly, they all work together and affect everything. Juicing not only helps my appetite, energy, sleep and waistline but it also affects how fast I bounce back from a sore throat. Working out helps my sleep, my appetite (I crave salt and sugar WAY less) and my ability to climb mountains way better. Cutting out Advil and other pain-numbing meds has taught me that symptoms are your body's way of alerting you of a problem. Headache? Find out why. Maybe you're dehydrated or hungry. Fix the problem and it'll go away. Numb the problem and it'll likely come back. When I listen to my body, I have a better idea of what I need to give it in order to live in my best, most healthy body possible. And it's amazing how much stress and lack of sleep affect everything, from cravings to too much caffeine.

So maybe it's Tahoe's fault or maybe Tahoe just made it easier to get to this point, but I can't imagine my life any other way. I also haven't eaten at a fast food restaurant since June. That's probably Tahoe's fault as the nearest McDonald's is a 30 minute drive.....

How fantastic.

Longing to Belong and Dreamscapes of Dogs

I've got it down to a science. Every three months, I get a bad bout of homesickness and start dreaming about owning a Michigan farm.

It is quite possible that even at age 19 I was a bit more certain about what's ahead of me. Or at least I had an illusion of being certain. Here, where the horizon boasts these giant mountains that dwarf me and my plans, the only certainty I have is that the road ahead is completely blank. And it may not even be a road. I've given this year to myself as a gift, trying my best to live for today, completely against my instinctual urge to plan out every second like I have done for 29 years. Some days I rock it. Other days, there are these new feelings that haunt me, pleasantly, every three months or so. I want a beet farm and a baby and a medium sized dog friend. I get excited about these three things until I realize that I'm far from home and the only person I want to teach me how to grow beets is my dad. And then the homesickness crashes into me, unwelcomed and throwing off my happy routine of meal planning, exercise and meditation. I turn into a mush of sadness and start looking for higher ed jobs in the U.P.

Let's talk about all the other moments living in Homewood. On our long hikes through some of the most beautiful land I've ever seen, we float along edges of mountains and idly chat about selling it all off, buying a Vanagon and hopping around the country following Paul's seasonal work life while I write from our home on wheels. We talk about a cabin in the woods not too far from here, but far enough away from the tourons and cidiots that clog the only road to drive on. But when we both get sad,  when babies get born and all the Thanksgiving commercials taunt us into sentimentalism, we always start building our dreamscape around dogs and babies and farms: in Michigan. And it drives me crazy.

It's much more complicated than a pro-con list, but California, this life, these moments that I get to live, has made me happier than I have ever ever been. I have the least amount of anxiety and depression since I can't remember. I've lost 2 dress sizes. I literally have zero stress. I SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT. This life is near-perfect.  So much so that if I had a map of the U.S., I would just cut out Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Nevada and glue the midwest at least 8 hours away. Then this whole life could be sustained. We could live here where people are patient and let me be strange and let me keep my maiden name without judgement and not ask me how much money I make or put a nose up at the fact that I'm still renting after being married for 3 years and nearing 30.There is a do what you want attitude here that I've been craving my whole life. There are mountains and a commitment to bettering yourself, even if that means you only work 40 hours because that's what you want to do and it's more important to have fun NOW instead of waiting for retirement or on vacation. That is how it is. Except I miss my dad so much that I try not to think about it.

What do you do with that? How do you rationalize waking up to loving everything and realizing it can't be forever because your family isn't here? Is there a place that can give me the same peace of mind, freedom, nature, wide open space and still be within driving distance to Thanksgiving at the farm?

That's all I want. I just want a place that feels like home. And although Tahoe is amazing and beautiful and somewhere I never want to leave, it's lonely without my family to see it. And that means these are growing pains and it gets better, or I'm going to have to figure out how to make everyone live in the same magic place, somehow. 

In the meantime, we are off to making a dreamscape of pictures, words and phrases of our ideal place to live, except we can't use any terms to describe specific states. Just descriptions of dreams. A big dog named Linus Larrabee. A fireplace. Near some sort of water. Enough room to grow veggies for Oatmeal and our smoothies. Space for guests. A firepit. A garage to work on an old beat-up farm truck. 

Someday. Somewhere. For now, I'm going to enjoy my inner peace, sunshine, low blood pressure and a sense of adventure I may be getting addicted to. Stay tuned.