Posted in Life, Teaching

You’re Going to Be Disappointed

New Year means new goals, new promises, new challenges, new you.

Some people like to choose a single word for the new year, something that embodies their focus or intention for the next twelve months. I think this is a cool thing to do, but it’s not for me. I’m a resolutions girl through and through. I like a list, even if it’s a short one. My 2020 resolutions page includes a concise seven items.

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Here are two of my resolutions. The rest are for me to know and you to wonder about.

The first is a return to an old favorite. Monitoring my “Have to’s,” “Need to’s,” and “Want to’s” is one of the best resolutions I’ve ever made and one I recommend for anyone to work on. The second is a familiar goal with a small twist. I love reading and often finish 40-60 books a year, but this year I don’t want all my reading to be for pleasure. I want to read at least a couple of books that push me in some way.  Maybe it’s a difficult text that requires constant use of a dictionary. Maybe I’ll try to learn a new skill or subject and read something that requires study and memorization. Or maybe I’ll read something that challenges my political beliefs or worldview. I don’t know how I’ll go about it yet, but I’m determined to work for at least two titles.

I like my method of goal-setting. It works for me. This year, though, it’s like the universe is trying to force the one-word trend on me.

On Saturday, all Facebook wanted to do was show me people’s 2020 words. PERSEVERANCE. PEACE. OPENHEARTED. CREATRIX (<– I love that one). These are all very cool, and there’s nothing wrong with this way of embracing the new year. It’s just not something I want to do. But, inundated with these terms—STRENGTH, PRESENCE, TRUTH– I found my mind begin to wander… “IF I were to choose a word…” until, in a spectacular bout of stubbornness, I went old school Ghostbusters on myself. “No! Don’t think! Clear your mind! Clear your mind!” I don’t know why I’m so determined NOT to have a 2020 word. I just am.

I thought I had successfully cleared my head of this parasitic inspirational intrusion. Then my metaphorical Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men started showing up.

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to my dad– a thank you note for a Christmas gift and a copy of something he asked me to send him. When I pulled a plain white envelope out of my stationery box and opened it to insert his letter, I realized the envelope was full of words cut out of magazines.

Now, this isn’t strange in itself. I like cutting words out of magazines for found poetry and art and decorating journals, and when I have words left over (you should always have words left over– never use all your words) I often keep them in an envelope. But how an unlabeled envelope of unused words got put back into my box of brand new stationery is beyond me. At the time, I pondered it for a moment, shrugged, and then sent the letter to my dad, leaving the extra words inside. (I figured he could use them for something.) It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized the implications of my discovery and, literally, gasped. The universe was trying to TRICK ME into choosing a 2020 word! Well, it didn’t work! Ha! My dad can choose one if he wants, but I deftly averted the universe’s clever ploy.

So… the universe chose a word for me.

Monday, I went back to work. [Insert sad violin music here.] The first thing I saw when I walked into my classroom on Monday morning was a small rectangle on the floor. I picked it up and turned it over. This is what I found:

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Before you start spinning myths about how that word got there, NO, I don’t possess a set of magnetic poetry in my classroom (want to buy me one?), and YES, I’m sure that magnet did not exist in my room in 2019. (I’ve been in this classroom for four years, and I am very organized.) I truly have no idea where it came from. I only know that it was sitting there, on the carpet, waiting to mock me the day I returned to work: DISAPPOINTED.

Well, the joke’s on you, Universe, because I refuse to accept your word. I am my own person! I shall not be owned by a word! I am free! FREE, I tell you!!! (But that’s not my word either. I don’t have a word.)

In conclusion, embrace the new year however you want, and don’t let anyone force any particular inspirational method on you. You be you.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here hiding from the universe and trying not to be disappointed. Don’t mind me.

Posted in Life, Random

Conquering New Year’s Eve

When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve was spent at home hanging out with my family, playing games or watching TV. At midnight, we’d go out in the backyard, and my dad would set off the cannon. It was a real cannon, but was only about the size of a desktop tape dispenser. He’d pack it with a small amount of gun powder and light the fuse, and we’d all stand back and cringe in anticipation. Some years it wasn’t much more than a loud pop. Other years, depending on how much powder he used, there’d be quite a little explosion, and the next day the paving stone where it sat would be scorched black. If I remember correctly, once the blast sent the cannon flying several feet and it took us a couple of minutes to find it.

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This year, the long-retired cannon has been passed down to me, but my father refused to give me any gunpowder and forbade me from actually using it. I will honor his wishes. For now.

This might be one of those “only in Texas” stories. I don’t know because I’m from Texas and have always lived in Texas and people sometimes roll their eyes and say “only in Texas” about things that seem completely normal to me. Then again, it could also be one of those “only in my family” things as well, like the stocking tree or calling the things you use to cut up small limbs “jaloppers” instead of “loppers.” (You haven’t been embarrassed until you’ve been corrected by a Home Depot employee half your age on the pronunciation of a garden tool. Thanks, Dad.) Perhaps I should collect some data on the subject. If you or anyone you know ever had a tradition of setting off a small but mighty cannon in the backyard on New Year’s Eve, please weigh in with a comment. Thanks.

Anyway, that was how we did things.

When I was in junior high and high school, our house was the place to hang out, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. If you’re picturing a wild party and a keg, you’re way off. If you’re picturing a six pack of beer and a football game, you’re still way off. If you’re picturing Dr. Peppers and non-alcoholic sparkling cider and loud games of dominoes and cards, then you’re welcome at our kitchen table any time. Even in college, I spent most of my New Year’s Eves at home with my family, so it wasn’t until I was an adult (a real one with an apartment and a job) that I realized New Year’s Eve was a THING, and there was a certain way you were supposed to celebrate it, and it didn’t involve miniature cannons and Dr. Pepper. Thus began my complicated, often disappointing relationship with the holiday.

I don’t know if there’s any other holiday with more pressure placed upon it than New Year’s Eve. (Ok, maybe Valentine’s Day, but I don’t celebrate that one, therefore it causes me no stress.) Society tells you that in order to have a successful December 31st, you must do at least 6 of the 7 following things:

  • Go to a fun party with more than 12 people.
  • Look great no matter the weather.
  • Drink a lot but not enough to embarrass yourself.
  • Kiss someone at midnight.
  • Set inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.
  • Leave the party at just the right time (neither too early or too late).
  • Wake up on New Year’s Day either A) Really hungover with a great story to tell or B) Refreshed and energetic and ready to tackle all your inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.

That’s a pretty tall order.

I did okay for a couple of years. The year of Y2K, my boyfriend and I went to a party at a friend’s house and had a good time. A few years later, I rang in the new year with some friends at the Carousel Lounge, where the seventy-five-year-old legendary “dancing waitress” Stella Boes, a longtime fixture at the Carousel, served us drinks with a smile. That was a good year.

But there were plenty of years where plans fell flat or parties petered out or the party itself was fine, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. There were years when I had someone to kiss and years when I didn’t and years when I told myself I didn’t want to go out only to change my mind at the last minute and not be able to find anywhere to go. I think those were the most disappointing because I wasn’t being true to myself, wasn’t able to accept that what I wanted was different than what other people wanted and that was ok.

Marrying my homebody husband in 2010 should have made things simpler, but somehow it didn’t. I had someone to be with, and neither of us really wanted to go out, so the choice to stay in on the 31st was easy, but even when we decided to stay home, I still placed expectations on how the evening should go. We’ll ring in the new year watching a marathon of scary movies. Or… We’ll camp out in the backyard and sleep under the stars. Or… We’ll drink a bunch of wine and play board games all night. Those are not such tall orders, but sometimes they still fell flat. We got bored of the movies before midnight or the weather wasn’t right for camping or we just weren’t in the mood to play games.

Some years, we’d put off the festive activities until later, so as to experience them at the correct hour of celebration. Around 11pm when I was happily writing in my journal and listening to a horror podcast and hubby was happily playing a computer game, I’d suddenly look at the clock and realize we were running late for our planned night of fun, at which point I’d stop us from doing the things that made us happy, and force us to do something that I deemed an “appropriate” homebody NYE activity.

Yes, I’m weird. I know it. But that’s what I did, year after year, until finally, FINALLY, I got it. There wasn’t a specific moment that changed me. I don’t remember a conversation or event that drove this message home. It just came to me spontaneously in that “You’ve had the power all along, my dear” sort of way, like a lightning strike to my brain. I just got it. And what I got was this:

I can celebrate or not celebrate the new year ANY WAY I WANT. (Cue light bulbs, sparkly music, and one small firework.) So, the big question is… what do I want?

For me, the passing from one year to the next is about reflection and contemplation. It’s about setting up for the new year in whatever way feels right, whether that’s cleaning my house, writing resolutions, or planning a cool lesson for my students. Sometimes it’s about being around friends, but more often than not, it’s about enjoying some relaxation and me time after a week of family visits and traveling. It’s about thinking about who I am and who I want to be, without judgment (if possible).

Ever since this epiphany, I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves doing things like walking the dog and writing in my journal and watching movies and playing games. Yes, a lot of those are the same things that were on my list before, but the difference is the lack of expectation, the forced “meaning” in them. Sometimes I nerd out and spend the whole night making a new planner. Sometimes I do an elaborate tarot card reading for myself. Sometimes I read and nap and do a whole lot of nothing.

Whatever we’re doing, a few minutes before twelve, hubby and I get together and step out onto the back porch with a beverage, and we kiss at midnight while listening to our crazy Texas neighbors set off their crazy Texas fireworks. And then we begin the new year by going to sleep or going back to whatever we were doing before. The transition is a smooth one, marked by very little pomp, and we’re more than ok with that.

So what does this year have in store? It’s 6:37PM and I’m writing this from the hammock in my backyard. A little while ago, I decided it was a nice night for a campfire, so I made one. I’m currently on my second glass of prosecco. The temperature is dropping, and the illegal fireworks are already starting. I have a new game I want to play tonight and some leftover pasta I want to eat. There’s an owl hooting somewhere and a dog barking somewhere else, and about six hours to go until midnight. How will I spend them? Any way I want.

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Happy New Year.

 

Posted in Halloween, Life

How I Do Halloween

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If you’ve met me or read this blog before, you probably know that my birthday is on Halloween because I like to tell people that. I love having a Halloween birthday. I love decorating my yard and dressing up in costume and carving pumpkins and watching scary movies and going to haunted houses and accidentally scaring myself with the tricks and traps I set for my husband.

This year, my homemade cemetery had a theme…

 

While I love having a birthday on Halloween and celebrating it all month, my actual birthday can be a bit chaotic. When the day approaches, friends often ask me, “What are you going to do for your birthday?” and I just laugh. If they’re thinking of parties and date nights and nice dinners or even just some relaxing me-time, they’re way off.

I dressed as Lucy Carlyle from the amazing Lockwood & Co series at school and a wild-haired demon thing wearing yoga pants at home…

See, I can’t actually go out on my birthday because I have to want to be home to hand out candy to all the trick-or-treaters I’ve been luring to my house for the past month. Nope. No fancy birthday dinners or relaxing me-time on my birthday. Instead, my night goes something like this:

  • Dump candy in bowl, light 8-10 jack-o-lanterns, turn on Halloween-themed music. Change out of work costume into yoga pants, comfy sweater, and creepy mask. Pour “pumpkin juice” into a Halloween-themed cup, and sit down to put my feet up and wait for—DING DONG! Never mind, trick-or-treaters are already here.
  • Open door, offer candy, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down, take a sip of “pumpkin juice,” realize I cannot drink pumpkin juice through my mask, lift mask, raise “pumpkin juice” to lips—DING DONG—spill “pumpkin juice” on self.
  • Pull mask down, open door, offer candy, am informed of peanut allergy, offer Halloween pencil instead, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down, pick up “pumpkin juice,” am handed birthday gift by hubby. Squeal with delight from behind my mask, begin opening birthday gift—DING DONG!
  • Put down “pumpkin juice,” leave gift half-unwrapped, open door, see some of my students on the doorstep, offer candy, say Take two. Take THREE if you’re a good student. Watch them squirm a bit, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, listen to students laugh at me because I’m a very dorky teacher, close door, return to birthday gift.
  • Rip paper quickly and unceremoniously off of birthday gift, say Ooo! Thank you so much! in non-creepy voice. Lift mask to kiss hubby—DING DONG.
  • Pull mask down, open door, offer candy, am informed that neighbors have bigger candies, say Good for them in creepy, surly voice, close door.
  • Lift mask, realize I have lost my “pumpkin juice,” begin searching for it—DING DONG!
  • Pull mask down, open door, realize it is the pizza we ordered, take the pizza, tip the delivery person, offer candy, say Thank you and Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Find “pumpkin juice,” lift mask, guzzle “pumpkin juice,” stuff slice of pizza in mouth—DING DONG!
  • Swallow pizza, pull mask down, open door, see small child staring at mask in horror about to cry, lift mask, say It’s ok! in not-creepy voice, offer candy, say Happy Halloween in least-creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down on couch and—DING DONG!—Tell hubby to please please please hand out candy for five minutes while I eat a slice of pizza.
  • Eat pizza, pour more “pumpkin juice,” contemplate going to Bermuda for my next birthday.

But, really, that would never happen. I love my Halloween birthday and all of the “work” that comes with it. This Halloween, like every other Halloween, I was right where I wanted to be.

***

If you’re wondering why I’m posting about Halloween halfway through November, it’s because this October brought with it the wrong kind of scare. On October 20th, an enormous tree fell on my parents’ house during the terrible storms in Dallas. My parents were inside at the time. They were (thankfully, miraculously) unharmed, but the house suffered serious damage.

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I spent the week before Halloween helping my family clean up debris, deal with insurance, pack my parents’ belongings, and relocate them and their cats. It was exhausting, both physically and emotionally. This is the house I grew up in and also the house my dad grew up in. It’s never not been in our family, and its sentimental value is incalculable. After going through all that, I just wasn’t in the mood to write for a while.

Now though, things are starting to look up. Everyone is doing ok, and I’m finding my way back to the keyboard. There is still a long road ahead though. There’s a lot of work to be done, and my parents will be displaced for quite a while. If you would like to make a donation to help them pay for repairs, visit their GoFundMe page. A few dollars toward their goal would make a wonderful belated birthday present to me. =)