The Sounds of Silence

There has been a lot of snow recently in my neighbourhood. All of Metro Vancouver has been nestled under a blanket of white for a couple of weeks, but here in Coquitlam we got more than most communities. It’s pretty, for sure, and my kids love it. However, it does pile up and need to be removed from sidewalks and driveways and so on, which is how I found myself out shovelling this morning.

snow shovellingNormally while I do a task I don’t enjoy, like cleaning the kitchen or shovelling snow, I distract myself with some music or a podcast. It helps the time to pass more quickly, and makes menial work less mind-numbing. However, today I forgot my earbuds somewhere inside the house. By the time I decided I wanted them I didn’t feel like taking off my snow gear and searching, so I gave up and shovelled in silence.

All that nothing in my ears? It actually felt kind of uncomfortable. It made me think about how rarely I experience quiet in my life.

I always have music or a podcast going in the car.

I’m a substitute teacher so work is pretty much never quiet, and on the occasions when I’m alone in the classroom I often play music.

I have two children and a husband. Enough said.

I spent about an hour and a half shovelling today, and by the time that I was done I had moved through my discomfort to appreciation. I was outside, I was exercising, I had accomplished something and I had some quiet time to myself. In the lead-up to Christmas, when my to-do list feels long and my days feel hectic, it was actually a rare treat.

Maybe I distract myself too much. Maybe I should stop and just be where I am. Be mindful. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes. Or shovel the snow to shovel the snow.

I have the next two weeks off, so this is timely for me. How will I use this vacation? Will I distract myself, or will I be present? If my experience this morning is any indication, I should probably choose to be present.

Or, at least, that’s how I justified the yarn I bought online this afternoon. Because knitting can also be about mindfulness, right?

Here’s to personal growth, impulse purchases and finding some peace in the busy holiday season.

A Letter to Myself

How are you? I am poking my head up from watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix.

The first episode of Gilmore Girls aired in October, 2000. At the time I had just graduated from university with my engineering degree. I was engaged and living by myself in a one bedroom apartment in a much cooler neighbourhood than I lived in now. I had just bought my first car and I was volunteering as a Brownie leader and planning a wedding. Things were very different for me then than they are now. For one thing, binge-watching TV is much harder for me now these days, which is why I haven’t already finished Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

I also have my eye on another Netflix series, which I will get to…eventually. You get it, right? Anyways, I’m looking forward to checking out The Crown, which depicts a young Queen Elizabeth II. Inspired by that series, a few of Netflix’s leading women drafted notes to their younger selves. Here are my two favourites (you can click on them for a larger view):

netflix_letter_thecrown_english_v1

netflix_letter_chelsea_english_v1

 
 
Looking back on my own life, and how much it has changed in the past 16 years, I also wrote a letter to myself. I chose to write to myself back in 2000, when the original Gilmore Girls first premiered.

Dear Amber,

You worry too much. You already know that, but it bears repeating.

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but you have a lot of freedom right now. More than you will appreciate until you find yourself with two kids, a mortgage, a cat and a tank full of fish.

So that voice that is telling you that you want to do something different? Listen to it. This is your time to take risks and make mistakes. Big ones and little ones. Every mis-step will teach you way more than you will ever learn by following the rules.

That boy you’re engaged to? He’s a keeper. You already know this, but it will take years for you to learn what a strong force for good he will be in your life.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and make other friends, though. You need people more than you know. Cultivate relationships. Put yourself out there. And don’t be afraid to show people your imperfections. That’s where the magic is.

And also: you are way hotter than you give yourself credit for.

Love,
Ms. Strocel

2000

2000

2016

2016

What would you say to your younger self if you could?

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

My Happiness List: November 2016 Edition

I am a Canadian, and a relatively liberal Canadian, at that. Because of that it probably won’t surprise you to learn I was rooting for Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential election. My children were, too. Last night, as the results became increasingly obvious, my son Jacob became angry and my daughter Hannah became sad. At first I just sat with them and validated their feelings, sharing my own discouragement. And then I moved on to reassure them, as best I could, that as their mother I will take care of them and keep them safe and they don’t really need to worry about this stuff.

I tried to put on a brave face, but I was very unhappy. Today, I am determined not to wallow. I need some positivity. I think a lot of us need some positivity – even if you’re pleased about the outcome of the election, campaigns have a way of breeding divisiveness and bad feelings. So I’ve decided to count my blessings and look on the bright side. I blogged my last personal happiness list over a year ago, so it’s clearly high time for some happiness up in here.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness

My Happy List

  1. My daughter Hannah, who baked cookies yesterday, completely of her own accord.
  2. Singing along to a great song.
  3. Kindergarten. I spent today as a substitute teacher in one, and while those kids are super energetic, they are also hope in human form.
  4. Speaking of substitute teaching, I am so, so, so happy to have a job that I love and that energizes me every single day when I show up to work.
  5. Great boots, that make me feel super cute when I wear them.
  6. My son Jacob, who recently started piano lessons and loves them, and who shares my love of doing math calculations in the car.
  7. Chocolate, which never disappoints.
  8. Justin Trudeau. Is he perfect? No, but he’s a leader that many of us, as Canadians, are justly proud of.
  9. Speaking of being Canadian, I’m especially happy about that right now. Eh.
  10. New skis for my husband, and ski passes for my family, which means a really fun winter (provided the weather cooperates).
  11. The camera on my phone, which allows me to capture so much of life – and especially so much of my children’s lives – that I never would have been able to in the past.
  12. Colourful fall leaves, which brighten up an otherwise gloomy month like November.
  13. My husband, who supports me in so many ways, in particular as I went back to school and earned my teaching degree.
  14. Guitar Hero, which saw me through the couple of weeks when I was sitting around waiting for my teaching certificate to be finalized so that I could work.
  15. The peaceful transition of power, which is such an amazing thing, whether I disagree with the final decision or not.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Free! Evenings!

So, I’m officially a substitute teacher. My teaching certificate arrived a week and a half ago and since then I have taught everything from kindergarten to precalculus 11. It’s interesting. I’m learning a lot. I’m sort of getting my feet under me. Sort of. I will write a lot more about it later.

For right now, the pertinent thing is that there is a big upside to being a substitute teacher. Specifically, as a substitute I don’t do all the things like plan units and mark projects and write report cards and meet with parents that take up a teacher’s time outside of school hours. I show up about 40 minutes before school starts and leave about 45 minutes after it ends, give or take. And then when I’m home, I’m home.

This is novel for me because before I was a teacher I worked from home for years. There are a lot of great things about working from home. However, the downside is that you’re always at work and you rarely have set working hours. It’s very easy to find yourself spending your evenings trying to finish an article or writing invoices or trying to stay on top of your email. The same thing was largely true for me as a student teacher, as I tried to stay on top of both schoolwork and teaching at the same time. I was always working. It was good. I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining how liberating it feels to have my evenings to myself.

This evening, for instance, I found myself home alone with my son Jacob. My husband was working late and my daughter was at a performance of the community theatre production she’s a part of. Jacob and I had a couple of hours to kill while we waited for Hannah to finish. He got to stay up until nine o’clock on a school night (!!!). I got to enjoy some mother-son bonding. We decided to settle in for some Netflix.

mother-son bonding

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a whole TV show or movie with my kids. That work from home thing meant that I mostly used screen time as work time. Movies and TV shows were my electronic babysitters. This evening, though, I was free. So Jacob put on his pajamas and we each chose a beverage to accompany our viewing. For him, it was milk. For me it was Trader Joe’s Sweet Tea, which my husband kindly brought back for me when he made a recent trip to the US.

Once we were ready we pulled up Netflix and had some deep discussions about what to watch. We started with a couple episodes of Teen Titans, which is one of Jacob’s favourite shows. Then we had a disagreement. I wanted to re-watch The Force Awakens, but Jacob wasn’t into it. In the end I deferred to him and we watching the beginning of Zootopia. Jacob has already seen the movie, but I haven’t. So far, it’s good. I enjoyed it.

Jacob milk netflix

A lot of things are changing for my family now that I’m finished with school and working as a teacher. We’re still figuring it out, but so far it’s been really positive. I’m excited by this new chapter, and I’m enjoying the chance to spend more time with my children again now that I’m not a full-time student. It’s pretty sweet!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

I Will not Take Your Trash

If you are a parent you have probably experienced this scenario.

You are out somewhere in public. A grocery store. A park. Church. A festival of some sort. Your kid puts something in their mouth and then promptly decides that they do not like it. They hate it so much, in fact, that they indicate they simply must spit it out. Right! Now!

So what do you do? Without thinking, you hold out your hand for that child to spit into. Sexy? No. But at least it keeps the partially chewed food off the ground where other people will be grossed out by it and/or slip on it.

trashThis happens less and less as kids get older, thank heavens. But the habit, once established, asserts itself in new ways. Kids give you their trash. Their apple cores. Their friend’s trash. They have learned that if they have something that they want to get rid of, you will take it from them. And without thinking you usually do.

What happens once you have this half-chewed food / gross apple core / used tissue in your hand? Inevitably you look around and realize that there are no signs of a garbage can in the vicinity. As in, you could walk for three fricking days and not find a garbage can. Or a compost bin. Or any sort of likely place to leave the crud you’re holding.

Unless you’re at Disneyland. There are trash cans everywhere at Disneyland. But really, how likely is it that you’re at Disneyland?

This is why my purse contains old cheese string wrappers and wadded-up napkins and popsicle sticks that have been licked clean and sometimes even chewed on. I usually persist long enough to find an appropriate receptacle for things that will rot or very sticky things, but the rest has a way of ending up stashed somewhere for the moment and then of course I immediately forget about it because I’m in public with kids and my mind is sort of occupied.

This summer while visiting the PNE, which is the annual summer fair in Vancouver, I experienced this scenario when my daughter attempted to hand me her empty snow cone cup. Without thinking I started to reach my hand towards her to collect her trash. And then mid-stride I had a moment of clarity.

Amber! the voice in my head spoke, you do not have to carry your children’s trash around. You can just say no.

And so I did. My daughter looked puzzled. She asked where to put it. I told her that, in fact, I didn’t know. I do not have magical garbage disposal abilities. But she could look for a trash can. And she did. And then we continued our day.

It’s funny how you get into these parenting habits when you have two-year-olds and then just carry on for years without a second thought. Of course you’re going to deal with gross stuff when you have a two-year-old. Toddlers are gross. And loud. You’ll go a long way to avoid exposing others to their grossness and loudness. If they’re melting down because their tongue touched cheddar when they were expecting mozza you’ll hold out your hand just to avoid the stares of passing strangers.

But then, one day, you realize you’re taking your 11-year-old’s trash for no good reason. Or tying your eight-year-old’s shoes for him. And single-handedly doing all the cleaning and meal preparation and so on. Because you’re used to it. Your kids are used to it. And it’s just easier. With each realization, you have a decision to make. Are you ready to take a stand? Are you ready to go through the effort to change things?

On the trash collection front, I am ready. I am taking a stand. From here on in, my kids can throw out their own trash. And maybe the next time I rifle around in my purse for my keys, I won’t pull out a half eaten cereal bar and three empty food sample cups in the process.

A mom can dream, right?

Poem for September: Goal Setting

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but others are for sharing. And so, a blog series is born.

And now, here is a poem I wrote over a year ago. It actually feels pretty apt for my life right now. I just finished my teaching degree and I’m working as a teacher on call – or a substitute teacher, as you prefer. I’m waiting around for dispatch calls to come in and it’s hard for a planner like me. I’ve had one dispatch so far and it went well. But because the paperwork from my degree is still working its way through the system I can expect things to be slow for the next month or so. Even so, I need to be ready just in case. It’s a strange sort of limbo and I’m not as zen about it as I would like to be.

And so, this poem, which is about handling anxiety and chaos, seems perfect. Here’s to embracing the unknown!

substitute teacher student teacher poetry

Goal Setting

I’ve always thought my goal was to remove
Every anxiety, until I just felt perfectly
Calm – All. The. Time.
In my imagination I am serene, silent, strong,
My vision focused and my discipline absolute.

I realize, now, I could never be this person
And I doubt any such person really exists
(Although I do allow that my experience
Of people is hardly complete)
I’ve discarded my old goals and I’m lost.

I am tired of meditating and exercising
Getting enough sleep, eating right
Eschewing alcohol and caffeine
Good behaviour sucks all the sparkle
Out of life when it’s not freely chosen.

My new goal: learn to accept chaos
It’s going to insist on creeping in
Fraying the corners of my mind
Upending furniture, ripping up schedules
Bring every messy thing on.

This is real strength:
To dwell in the land of the lost
Without losing yourself.
To make plans in hope even as you
Know it won’t turn out as you expect.

Finish Line

student teacher sfu pdp

My last official day on campus as a student teacher

Almost three years ago now, in October 2013, I sat in a classroom in the Education Building at Simon Fraser University. I was there because I was starting to seriously think about going back to school to become a teacher and they were having an info session. I sat in a room with a bunch of people, most (but not all) of them much younger than me. As I listened I sketched out a plan of what would be required and how long it would take and I realized it would be almost three years. Three! Years! That felt like a really, really long time. That alone almost put me off the idea.

But it didn’t.

It didn’t put me off because of that little voice in my brain that has been there for as long as I can remember. The voice I have been ignoring since I was 15 years old. The voice I suppressed through the end of high school and engineering school and years of work and family. The voice I ignored because I wanted a solid, well-paying, prestigious career. The voice that said I was meant to be a teacher.

Oh, sure, there were moments along the way. Moments when I was discouraged and disaffected and starting surfing the Internet reading about prerequisites for my teaching degree. But always those moments passed and I sucked it up and moved on. Until one day, when my son was in kindergarten and I knew I needed more. As I spent more and more time thinking about it, I got more and more serious. I attended the info session. I talked to my husband. I ran the budget numbers. And then, finally, I made the leap and applied to go back to school.

Along the way I committed to taking things slowly. Embarking on a new career as a mom with two kids and a mortgage and all that stuff is a much different proposition than embarking on a new career as a twentysomething with no responsibilities. I had to be sure. I had to really know.

And so I took classes to get all the prerequisites I needed to apply. I volunteered in a local middle school. I spent time in the Faculty of Education. And then, once I applied and actually started I considered and re-considered at every step along the way. After all, spending a semester in school and then dropping out might feel like a waste oftime and energy and money, but it’s much less of a waste of time and energy and money than spending a year and finishing and maybe even working for a bit and discovering that you really hate teaching.

Fortunately throughout the journey one thing has rung true: I love teaching. School was stressful and difficult and time-consuming. I was occasionally extremely discouraged. I wasn’t sure I would make it through. But even on my worst day that faded when I was actually in the classroom with my students. When I was teaching I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. I finally really fit.

I didn’t get here alone. My professors, my sponsor teachers, my fellow student teachers, my friends, my husband and my children all supported me. I am immensely grateful. I am especially grateful to my kids who had to put up with the fact I had very little time and energy for them, and that I was often not at my best. My hope is that by watching me go through this they have learned something themselves, about setting goals and following through and not being afraid to try new things.

All of my classes are finished now, and all of my marks are in. I’m officially done. Pending approval from the University Senate and the Teacher Regulation Branch, I am a teacher. I have been hired as a substitute teacher in two school districts, and I am looking forward to being in the classroom this fall. It feels great to be here.

Three years ago this moment felt impossibly far away. But now that I’m here, I can’t believe it’s already over. I guess time flies when you’re doing what you were always meant to do.

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