Replenishing My Bucket

Tom Rath presented a wonderful analogy of interactions and their effect on people in his book How Full Is Your Bucket? The premise is simple: either you have a positive interaction which adds to your bucket, or a less rewarding interaction that empties it a bit. You also do this to yourself through positive and negative self-talk. Big interactions reap big effects, sometimes filling that bucket up to overfull and sometimes emptying it till all that’s left are pieces of lint and rust — kind of like burning the candle at both ends and getting singed in the process. In the spirit of overextending metaphors as I do and using the bucket analogy of life, some people are bucket heads, some people put out fires with their buckets and some people share the water in their buckets until there’s nothing left for them.

This brings me to May. April is the cruelest month for T.S. Eliot and tax preparers; May is the cruelest month for teachers. We walk around like extras on The Walking Dead, shuffling with arms outstretched in an effort to catch that last little morsel of learning (braiinnnnnnnss) and prove to the students that they really can master the concept we’re teaching. Teachers are committed, desperately so, to the notion that our students are important. Their futures matter, their psyches matter, and their goals matter. I don’t have time for the argument about the bored teacher who gave up on the students; I only have time to be inspired, so I look for those teachers. They are abundant and cross all grade and subject areas.

As a buffer to the news, to the end-of-course exams, and to the students’ burn-out, I have devised a few strategies to keep my bucket full:

  • Thank you notes. I write positive notes to parents, to the students, to my teacher friends, to anyone who could use a smile. They include emoji stickers or scratch and sniffs because stickers are a universal smile inducer. If you don’t like stickers, I will stay away from you, I promise.
  • Candy. Yes, it is not healthy, and no, I don’t care. I share my candy. My friends at work know where I keep the goody stash, and unbeknownst to them, they are the ones I buy it for. Very rarely do the students get the chocolate; that’s an adult reward.
  • No surprise here, I keep a gratitude journal. Each day, I write down three things I am grateful for and three things I hope for. I don’t write a to-do list; those things get freakishly long and I do best focusing on one thing at a time.
  • Inappropriate lyrics to songs. I rework lyrics to songs when I need to regroup. Fortunately for the world, I keep it in my head. The cadence of Frozen is a good one to use: “F—it all, F – it all, stop passing notes in class,” will usually yield a smile wide enough to make the students wonder what I’m up to. That’s all anyone hopes for: curiosity on the part of their students.
  • Award certificates – I derive fiendish glee in making award certificates for ridiculous categories and giving them to people. It’s like a sticker, only more official looking.
  • Exercise. I hate it that I typed that, but it’s true. Exercise helps keep me from burning out.

The reason I write about the book and my strategies is that I needed every single one this past week. It was a whopper in teacher-land: students who didn’t want to take finals (like, who does?), colleagues who are overwhelmed, way too many social events and way to little sleep. Added to that, I will miss the students. There are plenty of memes and video clips out there about people counting down the last days of school, but I don’t. It makes me feel a little bittersweet. When we do our job well, our students leave us. With all the tribulations of testing and grading, the graduations and the celebrations (I don’t know why I needed three –tions, but there it is), my bucket’s wobbling a bit. I have to remind myself that the best part of this time of year is the hope. The graduates, the transitioning students, the parents: we’re all looking forward to a notion, an idea that the next great adventure is on the horizon and that the people who are important to us are ready for it. For me, that next great adventure involves sleep and a trip to the bucket store.



Getting the Most out of Your Workout

Fitness magazines are awesome: muscular people showcase six-pack abs and toned physiques that beg to be encased in Tencel/Gore-tex goodness. The article titles range from “How to Get those sculpted biceps you always wanted” to “How to deal with the workout envy other people will heap upon you” (These aren’t real titles, but they’re close). I never knew until I saw the title that I always wanted sculpted biceps and I definitely don’t go to the gym to make other people jealous. What tends to happen when I go to the gym is that I make other people giggle.

I often feel like the antithesis of a healthy person. I work out, but not for long and no more than every other day. I don’t work out to push myself and I definitely don’t work out until the sweat drips off my person like a Gatorade commercial actor. In this area of life, I am wonderfully lackadaisical. My fitness goal isn’t to run a marathon or complete a triathlon, though I will gladly clap for those who do. My goals are a little less ambitious: don’t jiggle my way into my clothes, manage that middle-aged muffin-top, have the energy to do my day without getting breathless.

I read fitness magazines the way an anthropologist would study a culture: with detached curiosity. I admire those who are motivated to find out their peak physical condition, but I also admire people who make cakes and decorate them with ganache. Neither one of those things directly applies to me. One particular article that I connected with recently was how to get the most out of my workout. From concentrating on the muscle group I was working, to how long to take breaks between reps, I was fascinated by the advice. The target audience for these words of wisdom was definitely not a person like me who views exercise as a chore that must be done to maintain a healthy lifestyle and nothing more.

If you are at all like this, I will add an extra step that will help clarify how you, too, can get the most out of your workout: go. Yes, if you’re working on adding definition to certain body parts and streamlining other body parts while celebrating your cardiovascular system, then you’ll have to do more exercise-y stuff. If you are like me, we just need to go. Go regularly, go in whatever comfortable clothes you have (I feature good all-purpose cotton), but go. Go with a friend if that helps you, go alone if you want the think time, but move your body in a cardiovascular kind of way. There. We’ve all just gotten more out of our workouts.

You Are So Beautiful to Me

I am flummoxed by the current definitions of beauty. For women, is it people with defined biceps and thigh gap, or people with more voluptuous physiques? Are men supposed to look like the letter Y, with broad shoulders and narrow hips? Personally, I hope we all decide that human-shaped is just fine.

While we might all intellectually agree that beauty is defined by the cultures in which we live, my own culture’s definition could use a rewrite. Even before Photoshop, it was a little difficult for me to entertain the notion that I had to look like the person in the magazine to be considered pretty. Models have an entirely different build than most other people. They’re not necessarily any prettier; they serve as moving hangars that feature the clothes, cosmetics, and products companies are trying to sell. That smexy, smoldery look of many a fashion spread is a combination of light and shadow, good photography and cosmetics. I won’t say models aren’t pretty and all, I just think it doesn’t hurt to have both a certain “look” and a team of professionals buffing, polishing, and air-brushing the “flaws” away.

In real life, people can and should look like people. Women are built to be squishy in some areas. That’s not something that needs to be liposucked away. It’s life. I love a certain online clothing retailer because it proudly features clothes for women from a size 00 to a size XXL. Oftentimes, the clothes are the same. I see rail-thin women showcasing the same swimsuit as their full-sized modeling partners, and they all look wonderful. Yes, there is air-brushing and cosmetics at work, but it doesn’t appear as though anyone has had their size distorted through the magic of Photoshop.

Is it just me or are we paying way too much attention to how the women look? How come men aren’t obsessing about whether their thighs touch? Given a very brief scan of Google, I couldn’t find a quick data blurb that gave me a ratio of how much women’s beauty magazines outnumber men’s manly-magazines, but a scan at the local bookstore suggests it’s pretty hefty (I’m factoring out special interest magazines here). There are more women’s magazines telling women how to be pretty (usually by buying stuff) than there would appear to be men’s magazines telling them how to be handsome. Hmmmmm, think there’s something to this? I do.

I don’t want to go all “Love yourself and you’ll be beautiful,” but loving yourself for who you are is usually healthier than wanting to look like someone you’re not. I have no objection to fashion, shoes, cosmetics, and so forth. I wear clothes, buy shoes, and wear makeup. If you want to get your wrinkles Botoxed or your eyeliner permanently tattooed on, ouch, but do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt you in the process.

I do, however, think it’s far better to engage in that whole eating right/active lifestyle deal I hear so much about. I am not the posterperson of healthy eating and exercise awesomeness. I think I am better about the exercise than the healthy eating. I admit freely to having a relationship with chocolate that I’m not in any hurry to correct. At least it’s usually dark chocolate, I tell myself.

I am betting by now that people are wondering what I look like. Am I some emo person who wears all black and decries fashion? Do I weigh more than my couch? Have I liposucked the fat out of my stomach or thighs? In order: Nope. No, and Not in This Lifetime. I am not going to win any beauty contests, but I also don’t scare children. I am trying to be the most “beautiful” me I can by eating relatively well and exercising relatively often. More importantly, I am trying to be a beautiful me by living with dignity, honesty, and a giggle or two. My beauty quotient in that regard changes daily.

In other words, I’m a work in progress. So are we all. That is kind of beautiful.

*Tip o’ the hat to Joe Cocker for the title.


New Exercise and Numb Behinds

I told my daughter the other day that I would try out a cycling class. Even though I occasionally grumble about commitments large or small, I keep them. Today was the day: I donned my exergear, grabbed my water and a towel and trucked on over to my local gympeople club. My first impression of the cycling room was of a disco room in Hell. Teal and blue lights festooned the ceiling, while the teacher’s bike was on a platform resembling the stage at a car show.

I didn’t know whether to be intimidated or simply bemused, so I took a bike in the far corner of the room, and waited for either instructions or an announcement that class had been cancelled. The instructor strode into the room, all healthy and well and glowing with the good spirit of one who is in wonderful shape. I was tired already and I hadn’t even mounted the bike. The teacher showed me how to adjust the seat and levers, and I was ready.

To the tune of today’s techno beat, we cycled, then cycled, and then cycled some more. I was so happy I could actually ride the cycle that when she said “Stand up,” I almost fell off. My center of gravity is questionable on a good day, much less when I have a machine to stand up on. I finally managed to get up as the song was coming to a close. I call that perfect timing.

At 10 minutes in, my muscles were already fatigued and I was drenched in sweat. I kept peddling, even though I wanted to be finished.

At 20 minutes in, when the instructor said, “Stand up and go to position three,” I tried to stand but my behind was numb and my legs were already wobbly.

At 40 minutes in, when the instructor said, “Stand up and work up that hill,” I found that even though my behind was still numb and my legs were on fire, it was easier for me to push through a hard resistance than a light one. Okay, uphill all the way for me. Then she said to sit back down. I couldn’t move properly. I forgot how to sit, I guess, or my muscles refused to change direction, or I was just cranky – in any case, my ability to control my muscles was not at its peak. Still I cycled.

At 50 minutes, I recited all the swear words I know, internally of course.

At 55 minutes, I heard the most beautiful words ever uttered: “This is the last song.” The sweet joy of that phrase carried me through. The cool down made me laugh; my muscles were so fatigued that I had to hold on to the bike for balance.

On my way out the door, the instructor asked if I was coming back. I answered, “Oh, yeah, and next week I’ll figure out how to stand.” Really? Where did that come from? She gently informed me that my numb butt was going to be mad at me tomorrow (I’d figured that one out on my own) and to keep my exercise light for the rest of the week.

I now have a new appreciation for my friend who rides bikes for fun, and for my daughter whose definition of great exercise is slightly different than mine. I also appreciate that variety is the spice of life, which certainly holds true for exercise. If I can get out of bed tomorrow morning without wincing, I’ll consider this a win/win.

Plus, there’s always next week to go back and try again.

New Years Begin Every Day

I am not a New Year’s Resolution type of person. Each day is a reminder to me that I have another 24 hours of possibilities, so I don’t really need sparkly balls dropping from the sky on New Year’s Eve to get me thinking. I live in the moment, and usually the moment I’m in requires coffee. That is, until gravity began to pull on my person. I noticed on my most recent birthday that gravity had begun gently reminding me I’ve been on Earth for a while. A good while. I have college-aged children type of while. That’s a pretty long while.

Because I accept that gravity is a thing and that time passes, I joined a gym. I do not have the personal motivation necessary to do yoga or exercise tapes, and I truly despise my husband’s little rowing bicycle torture device. That thing judges me, sitting there looking all sleek and sportylicious. Instead, I tossed on my old sweats and t-shirt, happy to receive my teacher discount at the local gympeople establishment.

For three months, I have stuck to a regimen. This is not gloating. I’ve been breathing for a whole bunch of years and I’m not likely to give myself a sticker for that, either. There are days where sticking to my regimen is the biggest accomplishment of my day. I might only have done the exercise gig for 15 minutes, but at least I did the exercise gig. I celebrate the days where I reach my fitness goal, and I forgive myself the days that I jog at a pace even slower than I normally walk – at least I’m out there.

Of course I feel better. That endorphin kick people talk about works even when a person hasn’t run a marathon. For me, I start being able to problem solve and think more clearly after 30 minutes of doing whatever exercise I’m doing that day. Exercise helps me manage my stress better. I can also climb a couple flights of stairs without getting winded. I’m feeling pretty awesome about that.

Whatever your resolutions are, I suggest you make them each morning and hold yourself accountable. That can mean a chart, or a journal, or a desk planner, or some groovy-cool “keeping my promises to myself” type app on your phone that beeps when you log in that you’ve done The Thing you set out to do. Keep it real though: I am under no illusion that because I’m now exercising regularly that I have tossed gravity out on its keister. I’d be floating and typing if that were the case.

Happy Monday.