Living for Breaks by Christina Knowles

To-do listToo often being a teacher means living for breaks. Fall break, spring break, winter break, and summer break—that’s when we will begin living again.

In the life of the teacher, particularly high school English teachers, but also for most kinds of teachers, breaks mean catching up on everything from cleaning the house to exercising. There simply is no time during school to do anything other than school work.

I’ve tried to change. Every year I make new promises to myself about how I’m going to erect boundaries and take time for friends, family, and personal interests, and every year, I get trapped in the I’ll-get-to-that-on-break lie. Here’s the problem. By the time break comes, I have accumulated so many things on my list of catch-up-on-break items that I can’t possibly get through half of them, and thus, I am sometimes even more stressed out over breaks.

For example, I have not properly cleaned my house in over a month, I have piles of mending to complete, piles of stuff to organize, the paint is chipping—all the paint—on everything, and things are breaking and wearing out all around me. I quit exercising about three weeks ago to catch up on grading and to get more sleep that I lost out on while grading papers and attending nighttime parent-teacher conferences. I quit meditating several weeks ago on Sunday mornings to plan for the coming weeks of school and to write tests I had to administer before the end of the quarter. I quit cleaning the house to grade papers before parent-teacher conferences. I put away the book I was writing when school started and haven’t touched it since. My poetry collection is waiting for me to finish the cover, but I said I’d do it over break. My fish are gasping for breath in want of fresh water, and my dog forgot what it was like for his mother to walk him. I have so many pictures on iPhoto that I’m not allowed to take another photo on my phone, but I haven’t had time to save them somewhere else. I need appointments for my teeth, my car, and my body. My hair needs cutting, I haven’t had a manicure in six months, and my summer to-do list isn’t even halfway completed, and now it’s fall break.

When you are a teacher and everyone knows you have break, they naturally assume that now you will not be neglecting them—at least for two weeks. Your friends, your family, your kids, your husband, and your dog all expect that now you will finally spend time with them. And I want to—very much. However, after I schedule them into my calendar, the rest of the list looks pretty hopeless.

Of course, there were even a few school things that I thought I could nonchalantly slip into my fall break schedule—re-reading the chapter I’m teaching after break, writing a new unit, finding an example paper for that assignment the students are finding difficult. Why did I think I’d have time to do that over break? Because there isn’t time during my workday, or even in the evening when I finish grading.

Some may wonder how I find time to write this blog? I find time because if I don’t write, I will surely lose my mind, and then I will never finish my list.

On a positive note, I’m really glad I realized the futility of catching up on things so early in my break. Maybe now, I will be able to cast aside my hopes and expectations and actually relax. I’m not sure I can, but admitting the truth is the first step toward tearing up the list. We’ll see. Maybe I can just put everything on my winter break list because who needs to spend time with family celebrating Christmas? Maybe I’ll start living for retirement.—Christina Knowles

Originally posted in 2013

Photo source: pieceofmindcounselling.com

10 Tips to Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions by Christina Knowles

img_1314Reflecting on life is common this time of year. Some feel as though another year has gone by and wonder where the time went and feel disappointed and unaccomplished. Not me. I like to reflect on the year in order to make plans for the coming year. I see each new year as a fresh start, a chance to stop and take stock, decide what’s really important to me right now, and to make sure I don’t waste a whole year without even realizing it. I reevaluate my goals and adjust accordingly.

 

Yet there are those who look upon New Year’s resolutions with disdain, suggesting that failure in realizing these goals is inevitable and merely contributes to frustration and disappointment. I don’t see it that way. I like to make lots of resolutions because I usually keep at least half of them, so the more I have, the more I keep. This year, I started a second blog, published a collection of poetry, gained a basic proficiency with Photoshop, and reduced the amount of work I take home in addition to several personal things I won’t mention. Did I complete all my goals? No, but I’m perfectly satisfied with what I did accomplish.

 

So, because I’m pretty successful in this area, I thought I’d offer a few tips that help me in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.

 

  1. Make sure your resolutions are things that you really want to do, not just what you think you should do, or what someone else suggests you do. It’s human nature to be inspired to work for something when you really want it. Sometimes, we try to force our desires to fit things that we think are good for us, but our heart is not in it. If your heart is not in it, you probably won’t do it.
  2. Make realistic resolutions for the things that you are slightly less enthusiastic about. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 40 lbs.,” say, “I’m going to completely stop eating at fast food restaurants.” A change like this may inadvertently get you closer to the more difficult goal.
  3. Make small incremental changes throughout the year, rather than jumping in full speed. Start slow and create habits without burning yourself out. Committing to doing yoga twice a week for a year is better, in the long run, than spending five days a week in the gym for one month and quitting.
  4. Celebrate small successes and let them encourage you to think bigger. Instead of deciding to write your first novel after several years of not writing, start journaling or blogging or writing short stories. Practice writing short things and get used to expressing yourself regularly. Not only will the task of writing a novel seem less daunting after a while, but your writing ability and creativity will have grown, so your novel will be better. This concept can be applied to all kinds of goals. This sounds like the same thing as number 3, but here I am talking more about practicing something to improve proficiency and build confidence.
  5. Put your resolutions somewhere you will see them regularly. Re-read them at least once a month to remind yourself of your goals, to adjust your methods, and to get yourself back on track if necessary, or hopefully, to check off goals that you have met early. Checking things off your resolution list is not only gratifying, but inspires us to tackle the next goal. As the year-end nears, I find myself gaining a renewed determination to knock things off that list. It feels great!
  6. Tell someone else about your goals/resolutions and ask them to check in with you periodically to ask you how you are doing with them. Be sure they understand that you don’t want to be nagged. That’s different than just a friendly check-in, which leads to number 7.
  7. Do not ask someone to hold you accountable. A friendly check-in should be framed as interest, not accountability. It’s my understanding of human nature, that as soon as someone appears to be telling us to do something, we react by not wanting to do it at all.
  8. Reward yourself for every goal you complete, or for larger goals, you should treat yourself for completing significant steps toward the goal.
  9. Make sure these rewards don’t sabotage your goals. The reward should not be taking a break from the good habits you are forming, but should be something unrelated that you enjoy. Building a habit or routine that helps you reach your goals can be derailed quickly by associating reward with stopping or taking a break from working toward your goal.
  10. Don’t feel bad or criticize yourself for the resolutions you don’t keep. Praise yourself for the ones you do keep. At the end of the year, count up how many successes you had, re-evaluate the rest, and if you feel like you still want to meet the goals you didn’t succeed in, add them to your next New Year’s resolution list, knowing that you are bound to meet some of them, so you’re better off than not making resolutions at all.

 

Why risk feeling like you let a whole year slip unconsciously by, regretting inaction, and missing out on the things that are most important to you? Don’t let your life slide by, lost in the hypnosis of everyday life. Take the necessary steps to move toward accomplishing what really matters to you.—Christina Knowles

“Dozens of Days and a Thousand Smiles” by Christina Knowles

24 in colorado (1)Dozens of days in my memory play

I can’t help but smile

Rewinding the slow serenity of those days

Reflecting on each fleeting mile

Each ephemeral year that goes by

The collected hours, passed time

The unfortunate distance we multiply

That priorities realign

Separated by a thousand small details

As time seems to stretch before us without end

We can’t quite make out all it entails

And what lies around each future bend

But I remember those days when

We could just sit for awhile

Sipping coffee or talking and then

Fishing on a still mountain lake

Camping at Eleven Mile

Swapping stories in the break

While time stretched before us without end

The wind blowing through my hair

Speeding through turns

On the back of your bike, unaware

Of time slipping by, unconcerned

I remember driving cross-country in the snow

Holding our breath through the pass

A little CCR on the stereo

Rubbing the frost from the glass

As time stretched before us without end

Just watching westerns on a lazy Saturday afternoon

Nothing but time to spend

I never realized life would move on so soon

I remember when you taught me to drive

And how to work on cars, to prep and to sand

Working together, talking and laughing comprised

Our minutes and hours, a lifetime spanned

Leaving me with a thousand smiles

Memories to tend

Images of dozens of days and a million miles

As time stretches behind us without end

–Christina Knowles

 

 

 

 

 

My Moment of Zen by Christina Knowles

MeditationThose of you who are Jon Stewart fans, like I am, know where this line comes from. At the end of every show, Jon would show a clip of something unbelievable, ridiculous, or ironic that reveals a not-so-surprising truth, at least it shouldn’t be surprising. Well, my personal moment of Zen came a few weeks ago when I had a heart attack at the end of a long day of stress, work, dehydration, and lack of sleep—during the summer break when I should have been having fun and relaxing. It’s ironic because I’m the youngest in my family, the one who eats organic, does yoga, and exercises every day, and the only one who has had a heart attack. It was not-so-surprising because I was a workaholic perfectionist. I say “was” because this epiphany-causing event has changed my focus from work to living my life.

With that said, this is not an instant fix for my workaholism. Like any addiction, working too much and trying to make everything perfect are things that are not easy to give up. Having started the school year, I am bombarded with opportunities and requests to work around the clock that have to be ignored. This is not easy for someone like me. I have a list of things to do that seem urgent and could never be accomplished in the work-day, but I’m trying. I have to constantly put my list out of my mind and do something purposefully peaceful and get to a place where I feel comfortable doing what I want to do with my free at-home time.

According to my list, this weekend, I have to create leveled reading groups for two classes, grade sample writing, create some unit modules for my website, look over and record pre-tests, and fill out some teacher evaluation goals and self-evaluation stuff. All of these things seem urgent. Ideally they would be done by Monday, but I worked very hard all week, and I need to relax and have fun, as prescribed by my doctor—I’m not kidding. Besides that, if I die next week, will I rather have had fun with my husband, or have gotten my “goals” written for the state evaluation, which are not really my goals, but what I think they want to hear anyway? I know what I want to do today and it’s not that.

In a few minutes, I’m going to meet some friends in nature to meditate and drink coffee—not at the same time, of course. Then I’m going to hang out with my husband and go see an art/photography opening by a friend of his. Later, we will do something with our dog. It’s his birthday month, so we’re celebrating our little guy. Maybe I’ll do a little reading later, and if I feel like it, I might do one thing for school—probably create those leveled reading groups. Then I will go back to focusing on my actual life until Monday.

I have to keep reminding myself that work doesn’t own me; it rents me from 7 am to 3 pm and occasional evenings. It’s just what I do when I’m not home, living my real life. I love it, but it is not who I am; it is does not define me. Who I am is here with my friends and family and experiencing the life I want to live. That is my Zen, and I will go on reminding myself of this until it comes naturally. Peace.—Christina Knowles

Photo snagged from gabby.tv

“The Clock’s Unwound” by Christina Knowles

Image from www.zazzle.com
Image from http://www.zazzle.com

 

 

The clock winds down

And it don’t care

And it doesn’t share

It strikes them down

It doesn’t bear

The slightest signs of life down there

 

The shot rings out

And it burns right through

The waterspout

And the spider turns off the flood

It ain’t no drought

 

She spurts her web right on out

It don’t hurt

The bottom feeder is out

And he don’t flirt

He comes right out

And takes your shirt

Right off your back

No time to shout

 

So the clock winds down

And you don’t care

What’s done is done

And you don’t dare

Interrupt the song

Disturb the lair

Let it be

Just move along

Until the clock’s unwound (Christina Knowles 2010)

Balance? Yeah, Right by Christina Knowles

Snagged from  Jacinta-Yoga
Snagged from Jacinta-Yoga

 

I’ve always believed people should live balanced lives: you know, mind, body, spirit. I learned this was important through life-long yoga practice, reading philosophy, and talking to wise ones who successfully practiced this path to peace and contentment. However, I’ve NEVER been able to achieve it–not even for one whole week. I live a life of never-ending to-do lists, schedules, alarms, and obligations. I even make to-do lists and schedules to make sure I schedule time to relax, but no matter how hard I try, something important is always neglected.

I am naturally motivated to improve my mind. For this I need no prompting. I don’t have to try very hard to make time to learn something new, read, or write. I once spent an entire summer studying philosophy and theology. Because I am a teacher and a writer, it is easy to justify time spent on these activities. But I recognize that there is more to life than my intellectual pursuits. The first thing that drops off my list is usually physical exercise.

I wasn’t always a sedentary person. When I was younger, I was an enthusiastic runner, I took Karate, yoga, and figure skating lessons. I used to dance. I admit that I never liked team sports or traditional working out at the gym. Actually, I loathe it. But running and skating cleared my mind, yoga relaxed me, Karate–well, that kind of sucked, but I liked the idea of being able to defend myself. However, after four knee surgeries, my doctor told me that I was not allowed to run, skate, or do karate. Ever. To avoid major knee reconstruction (which would involve breaking my legs and sitting in a wheel chair for almost a year), I was told to take up cycling. The doctor told me that even swimming would be too hard on my knees, and walking should be kept to a normal strolling pace. So I bought an exercise bike and have been pretty good about riding it on a regular basis. The only thing that motivates me to do this is that I literally cannot walk if I stop for any length of time. I also still practice yoga, but not with any consistency. Needless to say, my daily 20-30 minutes on my exercise bike is not really meeting my aerobic needs.

As for the “spirit,” I tried meditating and yoga, which does relax my mind and body. I also nurture my inner self by spending time with people I care about and by pursuing my artistic interests. I think I need to spend time outside in nature as well, maybe even be a little adventurous. I need to spend quality time with my husband, family, and friends. I need to just do nothing sometimes. I long to do nothing, but I am really NOT good at it.

So, as usual, summer vacation from teaching was the time when I planned to regroup and get my life back in balance, as if it ever were. I immediately made preposterously unrealistic goals, to-do lists, and schedules to accomplish everything to attain this balance. Of course, I thought, it would be balanced because I made sure to include something from every area on which I wanted to work. It turned out to be the opposite of balance. Before I knew it, I signed up for three courses to help me with a new class I’ll be teaching in the fall, I started writing a new book, and I’m helping some students create an e-book short story anthology. I have about 15 books on my must-read list. I’m riding my bike (a real one) daily, spending time outside walking my dog and gardening, fitting in time with friends and family, staying up really late with my husband, trying to fit in a few hours of writing every day, re-organizing and cleaning my house, and basically going crazy trying to keep up. And there is never time to do nothing. This is worse than working full-time. Well, almost.

My husband tells me that I need to prioritize, that I can’t do it all. But isn’t that the point of balance? Doing it all–at least some of everything? Making sure that I meet the needs of all the different aspects of my being? When I try to prioritize, everything seems like a priority.  I don’t get this balance thing. I think I am incapable of it. Or perhaps I just need a better schedule. I’d better get right on that.–Christina Knowles

 

 

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