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Sparking Joy

Dear Me, Love Me

Dear 5 year old Jeanette… It’s okay that you don’t look like everyone else in your classroom. One day, you’ll appreciate the intricacies of who you are and where your family comes from.

Dear 13 year old Jeanette… I know you feel like an outsider again, and maybe you are. It will pass and you will find your place, I promise. Be grateful that your family has given you the opportunity to get a better education than you would have at home. At the end of the day, no one can take your mind and your knowledge. Don’t be scared of the changes, flow with them instead.

Dear 16 year old Jeanette… Take care of yourself. It doesn’t matter what any boy thinks of you. How do you think of yourself? Are you as compassionate with yourself as you are with others? Oh and that scale? It can fuck off. It does not tell you your worth. Your life is worth living – every damn second of it.

Dear 18 year old Jeanette… Yet another season of change. Use this new beginning as a way to explore the world. Meet new people. Learn from the heartbreak. Don’t be afraid to say no to things that are just not for you. Oh, and stop playing that Words with Friends game during biology. You’ll do much better if you pay attention.

Dear 19 year old Jeanette… You’re off on a new adventure in a new country with new people. Please soak up this time of your life. Embrace the difficulties that come with learning a new culture, and use that to bring inspiration into your life at home. And don’t feel bad about eating the scones at Spar – you’ll never taste another like it.

Dear 20 year old Jeanette… You’ve decided to get married. Know that marriage is not easy, but it is worth it. I’m so elated that you’ve found someone who will make you think in new ways, and push you for growth. Love him, but do not forget to continue to love yourself as well.

Dear 21 year old Jeanette… You’re a big girl now, with a big girl job! Oh, how I wish I could hug you and tell you that it will all be okay. The tears and long hours will be worth it in the end. Every day of the next two years will make you a stronger human. Just know that you are making a difference, every damn day.

Dear 24 year old Jeanette… This is your year of saying no to things that do not add to your life. Your time is your time – use it however you please! Be grateful for who you have in your life, and don’t be afraid of letting people go. This year might get rough at some point, but you’ll get through it – you’re strong as shit. Don’t forget that.

Love always,

25 year old Jeanette

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Sparking Joy

I’m Not “Just” a Teacher

It’s bizarre how much of our identity is tied to our profession. Maybe it isn’t so strange – we spend so much of our time at work, getting ready for work and unwinding from work. Work is where people tend to spend most of their days. It makes sense that our self worth is so deeply tied to our jobs.

When it comes to careers, how does one decide on one? What should I do? It’s a question I’ve asked myself often over the past few years. I began to teach right after college through Teach for America. The first two years were brutal. Every day on my drive into work, I would ponder how much time off I would get if I crashed my car. Not just a little crash either – I considered slamming into highway medians at 80 miles per hour. Those two years were rough.

Instead of quitting teaching altogether, I decided to give it a shot in a different building. I started working at a school that I absolutely adore this year. It’s been great – I have an amazing class of kids and far less anxiety than I had the first two years, but I was still asking myself what I should do next.

I’ve thought about it a lot and I realized that I kept saying that I was “just a teacher.” I saw peers leave teaching to become lawyers and doctors. Some went into tech. It made me question why I was still here, “just” teaching.

I’ve made the decision to continue teaching next year. Why? Because teaching is not “just teaching.” Teaching is something I am good at. Teaching allows me to give something to this world. Teaching is where I am meant to be right now.

Throwback to my first day teaching!

Teaching isn’t easy. It’s emotionally draining. The stories that my students bring to the table – often stories of struggle and hardship that no child should ever have to face – weighs on me daily. I worry about them, and for them. Teaching has opened up perspectives that I had never even considered before. Teaching has made me a better human being.

I’ve considered leaving to do something less draining, like work in an office. But the phrase that powered my through my illness during high school continues to come back to me. No rain, no flowers. I blossom where I have struggled, and I do that through teaching.

So this is me, saying that I am a teacher. Not just a teacher. And you know what – I’m pretty damn proud of it.

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Head + Heart = Hustle Sparking Joy

I’m Where I Need To Be

I just had a flashback to my high school aerobics gym class. Every Friday we would do yoga and meditations (I know, I know – bougie AF). Our teacher would begin each meditation session by having us close our eyes, and saying that we are “exactly where we need to be.”

This has resonated with me a lot this past week. I am exactly where I need to be. I’ve had this overwhelming feeling of discontent over the last few months. I thought I should have been further along by now. I should hold a different job title. I should be more successful. These thoughts ran through my head on the daily.

News flash, Jeanette – you’re 24! You’ve already accomplished a ton. You have your bachelors and your masters. You have a job that DOESN’T stress you out! (How many people can say that!?) You are married to an amazing human who encourages your growth on the daily, and you have a dope family. You have friends that make you think more. You survived two years of hell in the workplace. You’re hustling hard on the side, and that will only continue to grow. You get 12 weeks off a year! You live a beautiful life. YOU ARE IN A GOOD PLACE!

I am exactly where I need to be right now.

I think we, millennials, are a bit arrogant. We’re entitled. We think we deserve more than we have, but why? I’ve worked hard to get where I am now, and I’ll continue to work hard to get to my next place, but for now, I am content with where I am.

We don’t need to constantly check boxes. We need to remember to live and enjoy life. I will never be 24 years and 237 days old again. Tomorrow, I will be a day older. Time is fleeting, and that’s terrifying but also so damn motivating. That motivates me to enjoy each day, to really savor it.

So next time I am feeling like I am not where I need to be, I hope I take a second to remind myself that I actually am. I hope I remind myself about the dope things I’ve seen and done. I hope I continue to see the purpose in my days.

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Sparking Joy

On Blank Canvas

My husband and I are very systematic people. We thrive on routine and schedules. When we’re on vacation, there’s an Excel sheet that goes along with our days. Letting go is difficult for us.

A few months ago, we took a trip to Texas, which included a few days in Austin. While there, we were inspired by the creativity of the park, and decided that when we got home, we would dabble in creative things.

When we returned, I went to Michaels and bought canvases, water colors, acrylic paints, too many paintbrushes, a pack of oil pastels and some chalk. This bag of supplies remained hidden in a closet for the next three months, as we were always too busy, or not in the mood to do something creative.

Last night, we took the bag out of our hiding space, lined our dining table with paper and cut a cardboard box up to use as our palette. We sat there with our supplies and our blank canvases. We hesitated. There was no system or rules to follow for painting. It felt uncomfortable.

We each picked up a paintbrush, and poured some paint on our “palettes.” We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know proper technique. We mixed acrylic with watercolor, and I’m still not sure if that was kosher.

We painted last night, and it was scary in the strangest sense of the word. It reminded us that we need to do things like that more often. We thought about how silly we would look to children – how can these adults not know what to do? It’s clear – you just pick up a brush and you paint!

Last night was a good night. We may not have made masterpieces, but we rediscovered what it means to let go and create. We turned those blank canvases into something, and that felt pretty damn nice.

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Sparking Joy

Dear 20 Year Old Me

I wish I could say I was the type of person who woke up every morning, sipped a nice cup of tea and wrote in a journal. I’m not. I try to be, sometimes – but that lasts for a week at most. Last night, I found an old journal of mine, from 2015. Only ten or so pages were written in.

I read this journal last night. Good lord, was I dramatic. Maybe I still am? But beyond it being dramatic, I couldn’t help but want to give 21 year old me a hug. Homegirl thought everything was her fault.

I apologized often in those ten pages. I’m not really sure what I was apologizing for (I wasn’t very good at details, clearly), but I often wrote things like “I am sorry for the way that I am.” I also wrote a lot about what I needed to change about myself.

It broke me to read this. I’m 24 now. I’ve been on this earth an extra 1,460 days and I think I’ve learned a decent amount since then. I’ve learned I don’t need to apologize for who I am. My personality – my humor, my quirks – they’re who I am. I’ve learned that my sensitivity isn’t always a detriment. I’ve learned that it’s not my fault all the time.

Hi 20 year old me!

20 year old me felt ugly. I was not yet comfortable in my skin. I still yearned for what my body had been when I was sick, at times. I put so much of my worth into my appearance, and because I felt so terribly about how I looked, I valued myself at nothing. I recall 20 year old me was still showering in the dark at times, to avoid seeing myself.

While I was saddened to see the state of who I was at that time, it also made me proud of who I’ve become since then. My self esteem, for one, isn’t squashed anymore. I believe in myself, and shit man, that’s all that you need. I recognize my faults, but I also can recognize my strengths. I know my worth.

I wonder, if in five years, 29 year old me will read this blog and cringe. Will I recognize myself anymore? What will have changed? What will remain the same?

My question to you is: what would you tell 20 year old you? As for me, I would tell her to keep her head up and to truly, deeply, love herself.

XO,

J

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Sparking Joy

International Happiness Day: Where Do We Stand?!

The World Happiness Report came out today, on International Happiness Day, and the United States is the 19th happiest country. Last year, we were the 18th happiest country, and the year before that, we were the 14th happiest. So… what’s happening? Why are we, a developed country, failing at happiness? What even is happiness?! How can I be happier?

Happiness is the feeling of contentment and pleasure. Okay, so it makes some sense why we’re not happy. We live in a country where we’re constantly replacing things with new editions, and never content. We also are obsessed with social media – I’m always seeing friends, acquaintances and strangers living their “best life” and comparing it to my own. But what about the other countries that are on the list? They have access to the same new tech that we do, and I’m sure they’re just as Insta obsessed.

American culture doesn’t believe in “happiness” in the way that other parts of the world do. We don’t value work life balance. In fact, I often hear people bragging about how much they’ve put into work: “YO BRO – I put in 50 hours of overtime last week and I got FREE dinner every night.” I’ve heard similar things while eavesdropping over the years.

Fortunately, I work in a place that gives me great work life balance. I work from eight to three, and am usually home by four in the afternoon. I don’t even have work e-mail on my phone, and the atmosphere at work is relaxed and not stress inducing. So I don’t need to do much in that area to be a happier person. ON TO THE NEXT SUBJECT.

Countries all over the world have times of rest. Italy, Spain and the Philippines have siestas where the shops and businesses close down so people can have a break in the afternoon. The U.K. gives workers a mandatory 28 days of paid vacation annually. The average American? We get 10 paid days off per year, and even with that, most Americans don’t use them all! As a teacher, who works 208 days of the year, I could not fathom a life where I have to work 50 weeks a year. No wonder we’re not happy!

There’s also the fact that most of the happiest countries in the world are countries that are pretty mono-cultured. The four happiest are Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland – countries that have a pretty high percentage of citizens from the same culture. This probably gives them a sense of belonging that can be difficult to find the in the melting pot that is the United States. Along that note, we also have a government who is trying to make things work for people across cultures, backgrounds, education levels and economic ranges. It appears impossible to please everyone.

So what can we do?

Let’s zoom in. Focus on our own day to day happiness. It’s going to be hard to make changes that make everyone in this country happy, but it’s a whole lot easier to make changes to your day to day life.

Maybe we can start by saying no more often. I’ve started to do this, and I see my own happiness growing. Unless it’s something I want to do, or that I see as a advantageous, I typically say no. I used to say yes to everything, and would inevitably find myself crying about how overwhelmed and unhappy I was. Give it a try, guys!

Efficiency can help too. Take a look at how you’re using your time. Is the two hours a night you sit on your couch something that truly brings you joy? If it is – go for it girlfriend! If not – use that time better! Pick up a new hobby. Spend time making your home cozy. Read a damn book. DO SOMETHING THAT PLEASES YOU!

I don’t have the answers, but I’m on the constant search for them. I want to hear from you! What do you do to be happy? On a scale of 1-10, how happy would you say you typically are? How do you get yourself out of an unhappy rut?

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Sparking Joy

Don’t Give From Your Cup, Give From Your Saucer

Is your cup half full? Half empty? I want neither. I want a cup that is so full, that it overflows onto the saucer beneath it. With the self-love, respect and energy that overflows, I want to give to others.

I recently heard this quote on a podcast. People always say you can’t give unless you give to yourself first, and I whole heartedly believe that. When I am at my best – excited about life, energized and healthy, I am the best teacher I can be. I am noticeably more excited about the lessons I deliver, and the kids are equally as invested. On days or weeks where something is getting me down, the energy in my classroom mimics that. We don’t get through as much. There are more arguments. Less laughter and less smiles.

The same rings true for the other people in my life. I am a better wife, friend, sister and daughter when my own cup is filled. I have the energy to be all that.

Some would say taking care of yourself first is selfish, but I disagree. How can I care for anyone else if I don’t care for myself first? More importantly, how can I make sure that I am taking care of myself?

I’ve noticed a few things ensure that my personal cup is full. When all of the following are happening, I’m able to spill into my saucer.

I need to be healthy – which means I need to be eating right. I feel my best when my diet consists of lots of vegetables, some meat, some fruit and tons of water. When I move a lot, whether its a lot of walking or consistent gym visits, I have more energy. I need to be sleeping at least 8 hours a night. Which means, I may not have time for late night dinners with friends or conversations past 7pm.

I need to be excited. I need to have things on my radar that invigorate me and thrill me. Personally, that’s usually a trip on the horizon that I can plan for and dream of. It means I’m reading and learning about new things, and having new ideas constantly floating through my head. It means I’m writing about all of it.

I need to be calm. When things are disorganized and chaotic, I am not at my best. My cup lacks. I need to know that my calendar is organized, that my lessons are planned and that my outfits are laid out the night before. I know myself as a person who does not work well under pressure, so I plan for that. Instead of doing a big project all at once, I divide it into manageable chunks.

I need time for myself, as well as for others. I love my husband, my friends and my family. I appreciate the conversations I have with them, and grow from them. One of my favorite parts of the day is the 20 or so minutes before sleep, when my husband and I are in bed chatting. Sometimes about nothing at all, sometimes about something one of us learned. Sometimes we discuss our plans for the future and sometimes we reminisce on what we’ve done so far. When we have these talks, I go to bed with a full heart. Same goes for the discussions I have with others that I love. And while I love conversations, I also need time for myself. In this time, I think. I play music. I read. I energize myself for the conversations I want to have with others.

I need to feel like I am growing, professionally or personally. Preferably both. Right now, I am pursuing my real estate license, which is making me feel like growth is on the horizon, which is helping to fill my cup. Personally, I am searching for hobbies. Hopefully, when the right one comes along, I will feel growth in that department.

When I do all of that, I feel good. I feel energized and ready to give. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself, regardless of what that means for you. Don’t look at someone else’s self-care plan and mimic it exactly. Think about how you feel when you do things in your daily life, and the things that bring you joy, calmness and ideas are the things you should incorporate more.

When you do that, when your cup is so full that it overflows, your saucer will be ready for others.

Question: What do you personally do to fill your cup? How do you know when your cup is overflowing?

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Five Thangs Friday Sparking Joy

Five Thangs Friday #3

They say it takes a month to make a habit, so does that mean I’m one week away from Five Thang Friday being a habit?!?! This week has been pretty good to me. We’re continuing to settle into our new home and I’m adjusting to this commute (as discussed in a previous post). Read on for five things that have sparked joy/amused/humored me this week!

#1. The honesty of children

I teach 9th and 10th graders in a cluster classroom, which means that we focus more on life skills than academics. Instead of typical homework, I give a sheet out once a week that asks them to read for twenty minutes a day, have a conversation with someone and complete a household chore. When it comes time to collect their homework, I always prepare myself for a chuckle. Last weeks chore was for them to wipe down counters. As you can see from the photo above, they did not enjoy it and they’re not shy about telling you that.

I think the honesty my students have is one of my favorite things about the classroom I teach. Have you ever noticed that when you ask someone how they’re doing they don’t even pause to think before saying “I’m fine”? My students pause, and then let you know EXACTLY how they’re doing and I flipping love it. Side note: proud teacher moment because homegirl above used a complete sentence (we’ll work on punctuation later).

#2. Costco ERRYTHANG

I’m from a Costco family. What on earth does that mean?! My mom has worked for Costco for about fifteen years now, and we are HUGE advocates for Costco. When I was in college, I worked for them as well. 80% of my house has come from Costco, and a good 15% of my conversations are about my latest Costco finds.

Our new home has a pantry (!!!) and we got excited and bought all the clean goodies we could find at Costco. I used to go to Costco about once a week, but now that we have the space to store dry goods, I’m trying out going once a month instead. I’ll let ya’ll know how this goes.

On another note, I’m pretty dang impressed with the amount of goods I can purchase at Costco that fit our dietary needs. We loosely follow the Paleo diet, meaning no dairy (except for goat) and no artificial bull crap. We try to stay away from grains and added sugar as well. It’s so great that I can go to Costco and not only get the basics, but also fun goodies as well – like nut mixes and three brands of kombucha.

#3. This instant bone broth

I’ve been pretty sick this week – which I attribute to poor sleep (I’m that gal who needs a solid 9 hours) and self-induced stress. We found this gem at Costco earlier this week and it has been a lifesaver. It tastes delicious and is clean AF. All you do is mix with hot water and boom – you have yourself a great mug of broth. This is great for work, and I’ll probably be keeping a few in my suitcase for when I travel!

#4. My pseudo work fridge

On the note of being sick, I’ve been trying to keep myself hydrated with all the liquids. At work, I don’t have a fridge in my room but I discovered that my window is wide enough to store my drinks in! I’ve been able to have cold beverages all week and it’s been amazing! I guess this is one perk of cold Chicago winters! Maybe when it’s warm out, I can cook some eggs in the window sill. (If anyone is watching from Shark Tank, feel free to reach out to me for some equity in this brilliant idea).

#5. Early morning breakfasts with a friend

Egg Harbor is a breakfast chain in the Chicagoland area. In high school, when we would get late starts, we would gather there for breakfast. I met one of my best friends from college there this past Friday and had a blast. We met up for a 7:30 breakfast (which my husband thought was a strange hour) and it was glorious. There’s something special about getting up with the sun and meeting a friend for some quality conversation.

So that’s my week in iPhone photos. Hopefully next week has fewer germs! Happy Fridays homies!

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Sparking Joy

When Your Commute is LONG AF

I was spoiled – spoiled rotten. My old commute was an easy 12-minute drive down the highway. We moved recently, and now my commute into work is about 30 minutes and my drive home is anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. That’s a total of at least one hour of driving a day! 60 minutes! 3600 seconds, if you will!

It’s going to take me a while to get used to this new drive, but I’m trying to be positive and proactive during this time. I’ve done this drive now for five days and here are some things I’ve been doing to fill that drive time purposefully.

#1. Podcasts

I go through phases with podcasts. One week I can’t get enough of them. ALL THE KNOWLEDGE, AT MY FINGERTIPS? LETS LISTEN TO ALL OF THEM! One week later, and I can’t stand the sound of anyone’s voice. I’ve been listening to podcasts, especially on my drive home this past week and it’s been a nice feeling to know that I’ve learned at least one thing every day. I’ve been trying to diversify the podcasts I listen to and have found several amazing ones! It’s kind of amazing – there’s a podcast on pretty much any topic!

What I listened to this morning – love me some Wellness Mama!

#2. Upbeat Music

It’s hard to get myself out of bed, dressed and to work. My body wants nothing more than to stay in bed, eat paleo pancakes and binge watch Netflix. With that being said, it can be difficult to be jazzed about the day ahead of me. Listening to my monthly playlist on my drive in, even if it’s just for a portion of the drive, has been helping me put myself in a better mood. Sure – you can be cranky your whole drive in, and possibly all day long, but why do that when music can change your mood almost instantaneously? Lately, I’ve been loving this playlist that I’ve screenshot below!

#3. Phone calls

I try to talk to my parents and sister regularly – at least every other day but preferably daily. It’s difficult to find time to sit for a phone call with everyday life, when you’re running to and from but I’ve been finding that I call my dad every morning. It gives me a solid uninterrupted half hour to catch up with my dad, and have more meaningful conversations than I was able to fit into my 12-minute drive. So in a way, my commute has been helping me strengthen my relationships with my family, and that is a beautiful thing.

#4. Mindfulness

I’ve written about being mindful, and specifically about driving mindfully in the past, however I’ve been able to take it to a whole other level with my new drive. For starters, this drive allows me to watch the sunrise every morning. Not only do I get to watch the sunrise, but I get to watch it rise over the beautiful Chicago skyline! It’s something special every morning, and I am hoping that that beauty never gets old for me. My drive gives me a good chunk of time to sit, be still (for the most part) and think. Sometimes, I think about the scenery that spills out in front of me. Sometimes, I think about my day ahead. It’s just a great time to process my thoughts. I’ve been enjoying listening to Petit Biscuit and just noticing/thinking/taking life in on my drives to and from work each morning, and it’s helped me calm myself down. It’s also allowed me to observe my surroundings more, and sometimes I’m gifted with something humorous, like this protest sign I saw.

#5. HYDRATION!

I drink a decent amount of water throughout the day, but I’ve found that my morning and afternoon commute is a great time to put away some water! In the morning, my mind is on coffee and I tend to forget about water. For the last week, I’ve been drinking a bottle of water and a thermos of tea on my drive in, and a bottle of water on my drive home. When there’s not much else to do, it makes drinking water easy!

So that’s five things I’ve been trying to do whilst battling Chicago traffic. How do you pass time on your commute? I tried to do some tasks, like paying bills, but reading account numbers off paper and staying in lanes turned out to be a more difficult task than I am capable of!

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Five Thangs Friday Sparking Joy

Five Thangs Friday

It’s Friday… I mean, Friyay! Here’s a rundown of how my weeks been, courtesy of iPhone snaps! Happy weekend, pals!

#1. NOLA


If you read my post earlier this week, or you stalk my Instagram, you’ll know I was in NOLA this past weekend and had the best time! One of the highlights for me was all the art, especially meeting this Banksy piece. It was amazing to see the sun for a bit and to not wear pants.

#2. THIS gym shirt

You know those girls who look cute AF when they go to the gym? Yeah, that’s not me. I’ve been loving this shirt lately – which happens to be my husband’s shirt from high school. Who doesn’t love tie dye? I swear it works like pre-workout. I push harder when I wear more colors to the gym.

#3. These punny towels

I am THE queen of puns, or at least I think so. This was a sweet gift from a sweet friend of mine. These towels speak to me, ya’ll.

#4. These broken headphones

I pulled up to the gym Wednesday afternoon, pumped to get a pump in (see? told ya I was the pun queen)! I opened my bag… and found this. Guys. Why do they make things so poorly? The hinge was completely supported by plastic, so obviously it was going to break. I looked on the internet for a bit, and found that many people had had this issue with Sony headphones. Insert sad face.

#5. This magnificent dinner

I am so grateful for my husband you guys. While this may not be the prettiest photo (I told ya it was all shot on my phone), it was delicious. I am lucky to have a husband who isn’t just hot, but cooks too!

#6 (BONUS). This petty song

No words needed. This song is so petty and I love it!

So there ya have it! My week in photos. Lets get the weekend started pals!