A Year of Thanks

1 post a day for 365 days showing gratitude

figuring it all out April 26, 2011

Filed under: books and reading,family fun,favorites,friends,kids,self-discovery — courtsbrogno @ 8:17 pm

Spring Break

Last Thursday was the last day I taught at the community college for a little over a week. Yes, it is officially spring break for those students. I felt so happy and light when I left campus, and then I came home and looked at the stack of work I have to do while on spring break, and since the university is still in session (and going strong), I still have to work my entire spring break. But, it’s like this every year, and I’ve figured out to be grateful for the extra time I do have to grade. And, quite frankly, with gas prices as high as they are right now, I’m also grateful for driving less this week.

Readers’ Group Movie Night

Every once in a while, when a movie comes out from a book my readers’ group has read, we try to organize a night when we can all get together to see the film. Friday night we did just this. The movie: Jane Eyre. Since we had done a meeting last summer to Bronte vs. Bronte, seeing the film seemed obvious. But seeing it together made it fun.

I started the night out by walking over to my neighbor Andy’s house to make sure he didn’t flake on the movie (also a readers’ group member). We wound up chatting for a bit, drinking a glass of wine, and then riding our bikes downtown. My bike is still getting fixed, so Andy’s neighbor kindly lent me his. However, he’s much taller than me, and though I did ride is successfully, it was rather difficult at times (especially stopping when I had to jump off the seat as my feet wouldn’t touch the ground), but I haven’t ridden a bike in almost a year, and the feeling of being on a bike again was one that brought back so many old memories. Plus, it’s such a freeing experience. I love the wind flowing through my hair and the freedom to ride between lanes. I’m thankful for that bike ride.

We got to the movie, met the other readers’ group members, and settled down to watch Jane Eyre. I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed. The film lacked transitions and I really think you must have read the book to understand what was going on. I also thought the dialogue was incredibly cheesy. But, our entire group was split, and there were several of us who loved the film.

After the film, some of us went to Mary Kay’s house, another RG member, who lives close to downtown. We sat around, drank wine, ate cheese and crackers, and all talked. While we get together to discuss books, and while I work with many of them, and even more importantly,  consider them friends, even dear friends,  we’re all so busy,  we rarely see each other except for when we meet to discuss a book. Watching the film and meeting to discuss it was wonderful and I’m thankful we all figured out a time to get together. I’m thankful to have spent some extra time with all these friends.

After the film, Andy and I hopped back on our bikes and headed to a local wine bar that has a great lounge area with a DJ every Friday night. I love this wine bar and their lounge area is intimate and really, just great. Andy and I drank some more wine and ran into some other friends. It was a great last-minute decision to go. It was great to catch up with other friends. In general, it was just a fantastic way to extend our evening out even further.

(Andy, enjoying his night)

(Zach. So nice to run into you. So nice to share stories)

Then Andy and I were back on our bikes, riding home. I returned his neighbor’s bike and we sat around and all  drank a beer together.

I stayed up way later than I had anticipated, but what a wonderful night I had. I’m thankful for it all.

Easter

I’m just going to say it: Easter is my least favorite holiday. I hate dying eggs, I hate hiding eggs, I’m not a huge fan of ham, and in general having to buy big Easter baskets for my kids filled with chocolate and candy kills me.

So this year, I cut back on  a lot. We didn’t dye any eggs, and instead I bought 10 plastic eggs that Maddie filled up with 3 jelly beans each and then she hid them (she was so happy to do this for Luke). Neither kid received one Easter basket from me (or, ahem, the Easter Bunny). Luke woke up and gathered the plastic eggs Maddie had hidden, and he enjoyed every second of it.

The rest of the day was spent just hanging out with family, eating together (yes, and I actually did enjoy this year’s ham), and letting the kids collect empty easter eggs all day long.

It was one of the simplest Easters I can recall having. And it was wonderful because I figured out how to make it fun and simple and somehow meaningful (and not comprised of candy). The only thing we all really indulged in was talking. OK, and I totally indulged in banana cream pie, but only because it’s my favorite and I never eat it, and I just couldn’t stop myself from gorging.

(But damn you banana cream pie. I ate so much, I felt ill the entire rest of the night. So worth it though.)


Being Cranky

Monday morning, yesterday, I woke up cranky. Really cranky. And I have no real reason to explain this crankiness. Nothing is bothering me; nothing is going wrong in my life right now. But still, I was cranky. And the thing is, I’m never really cranky, so I don’t know exactly what to do with this feeling.

I thought by the time I got to school, my mood would improve. But it didn’t. Not at all. Instead, my student irritated me and I felt even more on edge. So as soon as I left campus, I changed my clothes, grabbed my neighbor Andy and my dog, and headed up a local mountain for a hike. With both my kids gone for the night, I had all the time in the world, but even that didn’t ease my mood. However, laughing and walking up the mountain helped change my mood almost immediately. I realized that because I hadn’t hiked or really gotten outside on Sunday like I usually do was probably part of the reason I felt so irritated. And because we didn’t even start our hike until 5:30p.m., it was chilly and the fog was rolling in. I love hiking in the fog. I love not being able to see the view from the top, just dense, moist clouds that surround me.


At the end of our hike, my mood significantly lifted, Andy and I were both hungry, so we ordered Thai food, settled in his house, and Andy, his neighbor, and I all ate and drank some wine, told stories, laughed, and listened to Wilco’s album, “Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot.” I left feeling completely back to normal. I’m thankful I figured out that all I need to feel better is to be outside, eat good food, and surround myself with friends.

Therapy Experiments

It’s no secret that I love my therapist and I especially love how he constantly challenges me. Every time I see him, I feel like I’ve grown and become a better version of myself. But sometimes, I have a hard time articulating exactly what it is I’m trying to accomplish. Then this morning, I was responding to an email from a friend, and I was just writing, and in the middle I wrote this:

“A year ago I started going to therapy. I have no deep hidden problems; I’m no more damaged than the person sitting next to me at any given moment (and actually, perhaps a lot less damaged). I’m not suffering from depression, I am not bi-polar, I have no suicidal tendencies. But something was seriously broken in my life and I couldn’t figure out what it was. And when I saw my therapist and told him about my most recent life-failure of marrying matt, he asked me how it was that I could marry someone when I hid, literally hid, from him our entire engagement. In discussing this event, I realized I had completely divorced my feelings (gut level instincts, ones that led to hiding) from my thinking (i.e. this is a good thing. I’m 31. I should be married). Then I realized I had not been feeling anything at all for many years. Partly this is because I had Maddie young, had to get my shit together–finish school, get a job, pay my bills, work hard, hard, hard, pay off debt, etc.–and that’s all good. And necessary. But somehow for about a decade, I had stopped following my instincts and become completely encompassed in my analytical mind. Anyway, seeing this disconnect and all that had manifested from it, caused me to pause. And change. And experiment. Now, I try to stay out of my analytical mind as much as I can. Now I’m enamored in my feelings. How does my gut feel is almost all I’m concerned about.

I used to hike and do yoga because it was good for my body, healthy, toning. Now, I just want to feel my body. I want to–literally-roll in the mud. Lie against a tree. Stop and stare at a bird. I don’t rush. I used to have dinners all the time and invite friends over to cook and talk and catch up on life. Now, I still have the dinners and invite friends, but I find myself wanting to almost make love to my friends–metaphorically, of course. To dive into their bodies and connect on some different, deeper level. Before, I hated my breasts. Now, I love them. Oh, I know that they are not ideal, far from it. I will never make it onto the cover of playboy, and I guess, technically I could have a boob job (and I often tease that i will), but I gave life to two kids, and though they definitely show that, I love that about my body. If someone has a problem with them, I understand, really I do. But it doesn’t make me love them less. I’ve always read for pleasure but now I read to be one with words and sentences. To take a word and put it on my wall. Or write it on my body with a pen.”

The funny thing is that what I wrote, casually and without really thinking every much, was not really connected at all to what the email was about. Well, loosely connected. It was for certain a digression and it did–somewhat–have to do with a bigger argument I was making (not about therapy, rather about photographs and images) , but the words just flowed. And then I hit send.

And then a few minutes later, I thought about this email I had sent and how odd it was that I included all this extra information. But then it just kind of hit me. In some way, in a way I’m actually discussing in my email, I had left my analytical mind and had traveled into how I felt. This is what therapy has taught me the most. That I was able to articulate a change in myself through a casual, seemingly meaningless email message made the lesson seem even more important. I feel like I just stumbled across the greatest change I’ve made in my life. I’ve figured something HUGE out, and I’m so thankful for that.

Sharing an Inspiration

This afternoon, after grading, I went to my favorite coffees hop to catch up on some grading, and as soon as I walked in I ran into the son of a my former mentor. My mentor was an instructor at the university that I worked with for two years while I was a grad student, studying his teaching style, grading for him, and even teaching some of his classes. The reason I initially began working  for him was because he was battling a terrible form of cancer, but within days of taking the job, it no longer seemed like a job. Rather it seemed like the greatest experience in my life, a time to learn from one of the greatest minds I’ve ever known. To learn from the best. Tp be critiqued by the best. he taught me more about life than I think he even did about teaching. sadly, he passed away years ago. But his teaching lives on in all those he mentored, me included.

His son was in college in Texas for the majority of the time I worked with his father, and we only met a few times. Since his father’s passing, I’ve run into him a handful of times, and we always say hello and I ask about his mother and just generally express pleasantries.

But today when I ran into him, I sat down and we started chatting–about what he’s been doing with his life (now that he’s been out of college for a while) how his mother is, etc–and then I just started sharing how much his father meant to me and how much of what I teach today I learned from him. I mean, I almost couldn’t stop talking.

But then, suddenly, I stopped. Had I gone too far? Was I bringing up painful memories of his dad?

His comments to me assured me that I hadn’t. He seemed so pleased to know his father’s legacy lives on in so many of us. He’s trying to figure out still how to live without his father, and I’m trying to figure out still how to teach without my mentor, but we both expressed gratitude for what he bestowed upon us both.

It was a great conversation. I’m thankful for the chance I had to express my feelings. I’m glad I told him how much his father meant to me, how much he changed not only how I teach and what I teach, but how I look at life.

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Spring. April 19, 2011

Filed under: books and reading,family fun — courtsbrogno @ 5:42 pm

It’s starting to feel a lot like spring around here. The afternoons are getting a bit more warm, the sun isn’t fading until well past 7p.m., and my dinners seem to be including more fresh vegetables and less meat. While I love spring, I can’t help but feel that it’s just another season in the way of summer. I love the long days of summer, the days of no work and all play, of sandy toes and late dinners. I cannot wait…

But until then, I’m thankful for spring.

Because spring always ushers in the Sandecki brothers’ birthday. Born on the same day, 4 years a part, makes celebrating twice as fun. And since I could only jet out for a bit to share dinner, I was grateful that I got to see Chris, whom, surprisingly, I haven’t seen in a few years, and, of course, good ol’ Steve, whom I love almost as much as I love my kids (kind of because I feel like he is one of my kids). Oh, happy birthday Chris and Steve. I love watching you grow older, wiser, and just in general better.

::

Because Spring also means that the days are warm enough for Luke and I to walk downtown to pick Maddie up from school (and also because I’m not working Fridays). But this past Friday, Maddie had a half day and I was picking up Maddie and her friend Sadie–both girls have been riding their bikes to school on Mondays and Fridays–as it was my turn to walk behind them as they rode their bikes home (my bike’s getting a tune-up).

So Luke and I strolled to Maddie’s school where we waited and waited and then, realizing there were no other parents around, I figured out that Luke and I had arrived an hour early. I honestly don;’t know how I messed up the dismassal time since it’s ALWAYS THE EXACT SAME, but there you have it.

Luke and I ate lunch together and played near the creek before we walked back, got Maddie and Sadie, and then walked Sadie back to her house, and then got a ride home! I was sweating from having Luke on my back in the hot sun.  But the girls have so much fun riding their bikes to and from school that I guess that’s all that really matters.

::

Because this week the nation celebrated Record Store Day, and we celebrated as well. The kids and I met some friends and walked downtown to take part in the festivities. I love independent record stores. I’m not sure if my love stems from the sense of nostalgia I get when I walk into one, remembering a time when there was no easy internet way to download music and the many times I actually sang or hummed parts of a song to the poor guy behind the counter as he attempted to figure out what artist I was looking for. Or maybe it’s because an old love of mine worked at our local independent record store and he instilled a sense of respect that all independent music stores should receive. Perhaps it’s just because they’re the under-dog in a deal-conscious corporate America, where most of my students get all their music for free. They justify this by saying they’re not ripping off the artist, just the huge corporate record label. I say, who cares? You’re hurting the record store.

Which makes me think of the facebook status update where facebook users were asked to change their profile picture to one of an album cover that changed/influenced their life. I didn’t participate. Not because I won’t change my facebook profile picture (though, in fact, it’s never been changed), but because I couldn’t make a decision. What album influenced me the most? It could range from a Smiths album (my dark, angst-y teenage years) to a Sufjan Stevens album (my lighter, more mystical and spiritual years). I gave up thinking about this, but then the other night, I shot up in bed and with complete clarity knew what album changed my life, or at least influenced me the most.

(Oh hello, Wilco’s amazing album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” I pick you. You are the greatest album ever and you got me through some particularity difficult life times while also supporting all those great life times. You are the sound track to my life and I’m glad I remembered you.)

So we went to our local record store. And the kids listened to music. And we watched someone make shirts. And the kids got stickers. And I ordered a CD. And then we all got ice-cream. And it was a good afternoon.

::

Spring means growing up a bit or at least being aware of all that grows. And Luke grew big time this week, as he walked the entire trail–2.5 miles–all by himself and for that, I am thankful (and my back is as well). Usually Luke makes it 1/4 of the way during any hike we take and then he’s up on my back, but this week, I chose to do a mellow, rather easy hike because my body was in agony and rejecting any activity that involved moving , all because I had subjected my poor, out-of-shape body to a yoga class Saturday morning and while it felt great–amazing even–the next day I realized just how out of shape I am. Terribly. But that’s OK, cause summer’s almost here and then I have all the time in the world for exercise (the problem is how to sustain this year round?)

Anyway, I chose an easy hike and Luke was so happy running along through the tall grasses that I don’t even think he noticed that he was doing all of the work.  The day seemed made for a hike. It was warm, we all wore shorts, and none of us felt rushed. The grass along the trail had grown over-head and yellow flowers caressed the tops of our heads. Luke bent his head to the right and let the cattails whisk by his cheek, laughing each time that it “tickled.” And when he finally asked to be carried, we were already 3/4 finished, so I just simply refused to carry him and he walked on, without even a whimper. When we finished (and we were slow. What’s normally an hour hike took us two), Luke threw his arms in the air and said, “I did it!” Maddie and I are so proud of him, and he’s pretty proud of himself, as he should be.

::

A few other things to be thankful for: finishing my taxes (Sunday night!) and not owing money to the feds (though I did owe a few hundred dollars to the state); reading a great book given to me by my secret book benefactor: Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng (what an incredible story); surviving an in-class evaluation despite my honest to God thought that I may just faint from fear; and finally running into an old student from 7 years ago who made my day by saying really, really nice things to me about how much he liked me and my class–I felt all sparkly after our conversation.

::

Spring is here, and I will try to be present–to put my energy in the now, to focus on the minute that it IS–which will be a complete challenge because my mind keeps wandering off to the near future, to summer, to a time of endless freedom (kind of a stretch, I know, but that’s how it feels right now).

But I will try.

 

birthday parties, books, baseball April 12, 2011

Filed under: family fun,friends,kids,work — courtsbrogno @ 6:18 pm

THANKFUL FOR:

My collaborative learning group because, well, I’ve learned SO MUCH. This last meeting, we all passed around assignments that work for us in the classroom and it was like hitting the jackpot! I have at least 8 new assignments that I can implement into my classes. Also, there’s always food and I’m always hungry by the time I get to the meeting, so food is definitely something to be thankful for.

::

Luke’s birthday was on Friday, and it’s hard to believe he’s 3 years old. I constantly ask myself the tired phrase of most mothers, “where did the time go?” I miss the days when he was just a tiny infant, snuggled up against me in his sling, as I carried him from place to place. But I love watching him learn and grow and become, really, a tiny little man. And hearing him say, “good night, mama, I love you,” before he falls asleep every night makes my heart feel like it’s going to burst from my chest. Three months ago he couldn’t say those words, couldn’t put them in a sentence. Now he can. Tomorrow he’ll say something just as wonderful. And that’s the beauty of watching your kids grow up, I think. That’s also the beauty of Luke. Because as much as he’s the destroyer of his house and like to break anything he can get his hands on, he’s also the sweetest, kindest, most cuddly little guy I’ve ever known. I think his heart may be twice the size of others. He carries more love in it then most people I know.

Since it was his birthday, he got whatever he wanted, which included pancakes with ice-cream for breakfast and a park picnic with my sister, her kids, and my mom.

::

Luke’s birthday party was the next day, a day when friends and family and a whole bunch of little kids came to have a very simple, park party. To be honest, I’ve been so busy that I didn’t have time to plan anything elaborate or even send out homemade birthday cards like I’ve done every year previously. This year I sent out a hastily written email to friends asking them to join us at the park. I ordered pizza, bought a cake, strung up some balloons, and bought a pretty cheap pinata (Of a ball. Because really, I have a serious problem with people/character-shaped pinatas. I mean, who really thinks it’s a good idea to have kids beat, oh, say, Dora the Explorer until she breaks a part? Seems to me that kids hitting a small, Latino-American inspired character until she basically dies is wrong on so many levels.). Despite my doubts about how much fun this simple party would be, it seems everyone had a blast, especially Luke.

::

Hail on an evening when it seemed cold, sure, but not cold enough to hail. Hail that lasted  for almost 15 minutes. Hail that gathered on our roof so it looked like it had snowed. Hail that sent Maddie running outside to gather it, play in it, and pretend, even if just for a few minutes, that she lived somewhere in the mountains where it snows all the time.

::

A family dinner night that included my mom and dad, me and the kids, my sister and her family, plus my two uncles, Michael and Tommy (who is visiting from Japan). It was a great dinner, and my sister opened her house and cooked for all of us. It was nice to see my mom and her two brothers together and the evening got even better when the entire family played an impromptu game of baseball. Surprisingly my mom did the best out of all of us. Somewhat surprisingly, I actually had a few great hits. Even the little kids hit the ball (with some help). Maddie, unfortunately, will never be a baseball player. Especially since she closes her eyes as soon as the ball comes toward her. Thankfully, she great at other things.

::

Usually I’m so busy during the week that I rarely get good, quality time with friends, but this week I got to do it twice!

My good friend Jason came over on a Saturday afternoon and we just sat at the table and talked about our lives. Then Monday night, my friend Andy and I shared a bottle of wine and we just talked about our lives. Both times, I felt this great connection to my friend and him to me. It’s such a wonderful part of my life to have deep conversations with those friends that know me well. I’m grateful I had a chance to slow down, connect, and enjoy their friendship; it’s not something to ever take for granted.

::

Finally, a few weeks ago, I was getting my usual morning cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop/bookstore when I picked up a book just lying around and purchased it. It was Michael Ondaatje book, The English Patient. I, of course, had seen the movie years ago, but I never knew it was a book, and I have no idea what made me buy the book (especially since I made myself a promise not to buy one more book until I finish reading the ones I already own. But actually I’ve already broken that promise several times. I guess this makes my argument null and void). A few nights ago, I picked it up and started reading.

And couldn’t stop but then also didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want the story to end. It was honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary fiction and for the most part, it’s good: great plots, thoughtful and interesting characters, deep ideas. But all these contemporary books seem to lack one thing: poetic prose (except for Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses. This book had it all as well). The prose, the rich language of The English Patient, wrapped around me like I was submerged in fragrant bath water. My words don’t do it justice. It was just eloquent and beautiful and I feel in love. Deeply in love. So in love that I believe I’ll start reading it again.

So to end this busy, thankful week, a quote from The English Patient, one of the best I’ve ever read:

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden as if in caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography–to be marked by nature, not to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owed or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.”

 

walks, some other stuff, and whiskey April 5, 2011

Filed under: family fun,friends,kids — courtsbrogno @ 7:57 pm

I signed Maddie up for track, and she was not pleased. While she excelled at cross-country, she hated it. Said it was boring. She assumed the same with track. However, to my great surprise (as I am not, though it may seem to her, intent on making her life a living hell), she loves track practice. And even better, she’s good at it! She is a fast runner, the 2nd fastest of her group (which includes 7th and 8th graders). She is focusing on sprinting, the high jump, the long jump, and hurdles. I am thankful she’s so happy:

 

 

::

Fridays are now all mine! I no longer work on Fridays, so I get to spend time with Luke.

Playing legos with him (he’s getting quite good!):

Taking a bath in the middle of the afternoon because it was so hot:

Then Luke and I relaxed. Me in my chair and him in his new chair (a birthday gift from Nona and Poppy):

And because the temperatures were almost in the 90s on Friday, Luke and I walked to pick Maddie up from school. It takes a while because Luke has to stop and look at everything, and he especially loves smelling the flowers:

But how can I blame him when they are just so gorgeous:

On our way home, we diverted downtown for some ice cream:

At the end of Friday night, I spent a few hours having a light dinner and some wine with my friend Leslie. It was wonderful to catch up and gain her insight. She is a poet inside and out, and I love how she listens to all my thoughts and ideas, and then spins poetry out of my life. I wish she’d write my life story! It would be so much more impressive and beautiful!

(recycled picture of Leslie as I forgot to take one when we were out)

::

Waking up on Sunday felt terrible. I had much work to do and both kids were crabby. My solution? Get them outside for a hike.

 

(I loved watching this lone bird on a fence. Sometimes don’t we all feel like a lone bird?)

 

The hike did change our moods as walking through nature, at times right next to a gurgling stream, seems to put everything back into perspective. I dream one day of living in a small house next to a pond with a creek that feeds right into it (thing Thoreau here). But since I can’t have that, these little hikes suffice my desire.

In better moods, we came home and cleaned and cooked dinner for some of my favorite people, Mark and Carolyn. WE had a wonderful dinner with them and I couldn’t be more honest when I say that I enjoyed every minute they were at my house. I love these friends.

::

Luke finally broke our TV. It’s actually amazing it didn’t happen earlier considering he climbs all over it and pushes every button he can get his hands on. But this is not a bad thing. In fact, I’m thankful the T.V. is finally dust: no more movies, silly TV shows, or reasons to waste time. As a family, we don’t watch a lot of TV anyway, but still, I’m happy it’s gone (Luke and Maddie have yet to jump on board my happy train).

 

::

Finally, last night I walked over to a neighbor’s house who is also my colleague at the university because I desperately needed some help with putting together an evaluation packet (it’s a new form and folder, so I’m not quite sure how exactly it’s supposed to be done this year). Not only did I get the help I needed, but I also got the chance to hang out with my colleague, another friend, and some people (soon to be come my friends!) and talk about books and music and life and challenges and triumphs. We sat in a small living room, drinking whiskey on ice out of jelly jars, and I swear if that’s not what life should be about, then I don’t understand anything. Yesterday was a long, exhausting day, but it ended on the most.perfect.note. ever.

 

So from walks, to flower gazing, to a few unusually hot days, and to dinner with friends, broken TVs, and whiskey out of jelly jars: I am THANKFUL almost beyond comprehension.