New Feature: Photos and Few Words




Photo Jul 23, 2 42 38 PM

I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to improve the blog lately.  One thing I notice a lot on blogs I admire are regular (weekly, monthly, ect.) features.  I have dabbled a bit in a feature I was calling “My Life Right Now” but I struggled with consistently having enough to discuss.  I had created categories but found these to be somewhat stifling.  What I really want to create is a space to share some photos from my life and discuss what’s going on in my life: what feels particularly good and what I might be struggling with.  I want a space to bring to the forefront topics and events that matter but might just not quite be post worthy on their own.  I want this to be a space where I can provide updates but also where I can just release whatever I’m feeling.  I guess what I’m hoping this will turn into is mini photo essays where I rant and rave a bit and get the opportunity to hopefully connect more with my readers.  So here’s a shot at what I am thinking of calling Photos and Few Words.

Photo Jul 23, 4 01 50 PM


I’ve been thinking a LOT about time lately.  My father called and informed me last week that my great grandmother passed away.  She was over 100 years old.  And yet with all that time, I never really knew her very well.  She didn’t speak English so the few times she visited the states (she lives in Japan), I never really got to connect with her.  I was a little girl who just didn’t understand.  I’ve been processing the loss by examining my own life and how I spend my time because any death is a reminder that we have limited time.  Almost immediately, I realized with some dismay that I haven’t really been keeping a clear schedule lately.  I let my body lead me into whatever it feels like doing.  This can work in the summer but definitely won’t work when school starts up again (and that day looms ever nearer).  I’ve started tracking how I spend my time in the hopes of really reflecting on what I want to be doing with my time.  I mentioned earlier this week that I’m really trying to get more sleep.  I’m wondering of some of my more leisurely daytime activities (aka too much time in front of the computer and television) might be part of my core problem.  I will continue to track how I’m spending my time over the next couple weeks and then I will try to revise and prioritize a bit better.  I’m already trying to think ahead about how to better schedule my time for when life gets crazy busy again.

Photo Jul 22, 3 01 01 PM

I’m also really working on getting healthy.  I’ve been doing the running and the yoga but now I’m focusing a bit more on my diet.  I’ve signed up for a 30 day challenge to consume a green smoothie every day!  I’ve stocked up on lots of leafy greens and yummy fruits.  I consumed my first green smoothie today after my morning run and loved it!  I’m hoping this is a healthy habit I can keep!  For more info on the wonderful green smoothie program I’ve adopted visit this amazing site!

Photo Jul 21, 7 24 12 AM

Speaking of running I got some awesome new running kicks (thanks mom and dad for an early birthday present!!) that have amped up my motivation to hit the road in the morning.  I’m going to miss being able to run in the morning once the school year starts.  I have to be at school by 7:30 so morning runs aren’t terribly practical for me.  I’d have to hit the road around 5AM and even then I’d be anxious about time.  I prefer mornings where I can do yoga, write, and prepare breakfast before I head into the fray of a school day.  I’ll gradually start shifting to afternoon/evening runs in August so that my body can acclimate to the change.  School starts August 13th so as soon as August arrives I’m going to be starting to test drive my new schedule so that I’m not going crazy in that first week.

Photo Jul 23, 8 29 58 AM

Change is coming.  I like to think I’m ready but I have a lot of work ahead of me.  Change terrifies me.  I like being comfortably nestled in routines and terrain that I know well.  But change is natural and part of progress.  I can and will adapt!

I really do love hearing from you!  How do you find yourself spending your time lately?  Any new diet tips or tricks you’re trying out?  How do you find yourself adapting to change?  Are there any great routines or time management tips you have to share?  And last but not least, what do you think of this as a regular feature?  Do you like the photos?  Should I be writing fewer words? Let’s get talking!

Gratitude for Multiculturalism

I’m a lucky girl.  I have a lot to be thankful for.  I’m fortunate to have been born to my Japanese & Filipino father with his Polish last name and my Italian mother with her stubborn traditions.  I haven’t always realized all the blessings that this cultural heritage has granted me.  So let’s start at the beginning.  Jennifer, my name, grew from the silly fact that my parents were expecting me to be a boy.  They had every intention of naming me after my grandfather, Joseph.  And then I appeared as a girl and they had to rethink that planning.  Most of my childhood was spent outside in my mother’s vegetable garden.  I grew up picking cherry tomatoes straight off the vine and eating them.  I was so tanned and lean back them from running around in the sun all day.  My mother would let me frolic in the wild of our garden picking flowers to put in my hair or make ornate bouquets and occasionally I would help her with the mundane tasks of weeding or harvesting.  My mother has a rare natural talent for cooking.  When we weren’t in the garden, we were in the kitchen.  And my sister and I were always mesmerized by the strange chaotic methodology my mother’s kitchen utilized.  After all, she was trained in a kitchen with her mother who didn’t use measuring cups.  All of my grandparents came from their respective homelands and brought with them stories, rituals, recipes, clothing, and a way of life so different from what they would eventually adopt when they settled in America to have children.  I loved all of them dearly but only one of my grandparents is still alive.

I’m luck to have been able to soak in so much culture even if I find myself distance from it now.  I sadly don’t retain many (if any) of the practices or traditions or even recipes so near and dear to my grandparent’s heart.  But somewhere in college, I found this burning passion to study other cultures.  I wanted to find ways to be more sensitive and respectful of the differences I observed.  I wanted to find ways of celebrating and embracing difference instead of making people feel like they needed to cover up.  After all, part of my own distance from the culture of my ancestors comes from my own discomforts in terms of sticking out.  And so through literature, I studied diverse groups of people. I examined the various experiences.  I asked questions about identity and community and belonging.  I read and I wrote and I questioned.  I rarely came up with any definitive answers.

I still don’t have any definitive answers.  I have questions and experiences.  I have memories and feelings.  I have the desire to continue to learn.  And now I’m fortunate that I also get to teach.  I get to guide students into the world that is multiculturalism.  I get to challenge them to try and see life from a different person’s perspective.  I get to discuss these vast topics in a classroom discussion.  I get to continue learning.  As I work on designing a new short story multicultural reader for my American Literature class, I’m blown away by the gift I am receiving through my work.  I’m challenged by the waves of memories and regrets that wash over me as I dig deeper into my research and these hauntingly beautiful stories.  I wish I was more connected to my own cultures.  But without the guidance of my grandparents I find myself at a loss.  And yet, I study on because although I haven’t found any singular answer, I do find layers of meaning and truth in my reading and in my discussions.

Have you studied multiculturalism in any of its many forms?  Are you deeply rooted in your cultural background or have you found yourself melting into the pot that is the United States without any clear distinctions or direct memories/ties to your homeland (this isn’t necessarily a bad thing …)?  I started this post with a string of gratitude and memory.  What are you feeling grateful for right now?  Are there fond memories that are running through your mind?

Happiness Check In: JULY

I sit here twenty-one whole days into my second round of trying to live a happier life.  This project started much like last year: at the beginning.  The goal of July, the beginning of my happiness project, centers around creating a foundation for my project by getting my body prepped and ready for the journey ahead (aka healthy).  I broke down my bigger goal of overall health into smaller tasks that I felt needed the most work.  I wanted to pinpoint measurable tasks that would challenge me while still being realistic.  This has been further motivated and supplemented by the fact that this summer I’m also preparing my body for the intensive yoga training I will commence in September.  I had gotten an e-mail from the instructor with a summer to do list that basically said: eat healthy, practice yoga, mediate, read, get your body ready!  I translated that almost immediately into: stop eating junk, work out, and finally lose some weight!   But the goal of my project isn’t weight loss or even increased health, is it?  I thought that the goal was to make me feel happier.  And then I came across a quote that made me rethink things a little:

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is. 

I found this quote on Lindsey Mead’s blog A Design so VastOriginal Quote from Hugh MacKay The Good Life

I did start this project with the ultimate goal of being happier.  But I think that definition changes the longer I commit to these resolutions.  I no longer just want to live my life with a dopey grin on my face.  Instead, I want wholeness.  I want to be better.  And I think that MacKay is on to something in that wholeness (which happiness is a part of) also contains sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure, and a bunch of other complicated emotions. But wholeness allows us to constantly be learning and challenging and wondering.  Wholeness is a journey that never ends.  And my happiness project isn’t really designed to ever end.  The idea behind it would be that every year, I would take on new challenges.  And that means that I don’t think I’ll ever have those boot camp perfect days I wish I could have.

Photo Jul 19, 5 00 12 PM

My month of trying to live healthier has been so incredibly difficult.  I’ve discovered that even though having a healthier body makes me feel better, keeping up with healthy habits is really difficult and not always fun.  Let me break down my adventures so far this month:

1. Sleep More.  I endeavored to commit to a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night. I thought this would be a happy in between of the suggested dose of sleep for most adults (6 – 8 hours).  Now I always considered myself a deep sleeper.  Since I lived in dormitories throughout college, I though I lean red how to sleep through anything.  But then I realized that I wasn’t really feeling rested.  So I’ve started more closely examining my sleep habits as well as the hours of sleep I get.  I’ve been using the fitbit to track my sleep.  I’ve learned that I’m a restless sleeper.  The good thing in all of this is that I actually really do enjoy going to bed early and waking up early.  This is a habit I engrained in myself since high school when I would procrastinate my homework late into the night and then out of sheer exhaustion let myself sleep for a couple hours before waking up at the crack of dawn to finish the work before school.  Not the best way to discover the magic of early mornings but my love affair with having time for myself in the earliest hours of the days is something that persists even today.  So now I am getting in to bed earlier and constituting a no electronics an hour before bed rule for myself.  This is helping but I’m still pretty restless at night.  I will be experimenting with more meditation later in my happiness project.  Perhaps this might help improve my sleep quality…

2. Exercise consistently.  I’ve had enormous success with this one.  I’ve been doing yoga daily (not directly associated with this project but more in preparation for yoga training).  I’ve also been running three times a week.  Running has emerged as this odd secret weapon for me.  I gain so much from running.  It’s a struggle to stay motivated at times especially when I consider how slow I am, but I’m miraculously remained consistent for the past month.  I haven’t missed a day yet.  I think part of this can be attributed to the fact that I selected a realistic number (three times a week allows for “recover” days or days when I am too busy or just don’t feel like it).  On the days I don’t run, I have been trying to walk. The fitbit helps with this but I have to admit that I haven’t been perfect.  I definitely walk a lot more now than I did before the fitbit and definitely a lot more than before I had Zuko.  He ensures that I get at least three walks a day!  Still, I would like to increase my mileage (not just my step count).

3. Eat healthier.  This one is difficult.  When I think holistically about my eating habits, I can say with absolute certainty that they are healthier now than than they were a couple months ago.  However, I also find this one a bit difficult to track.  I haven’t been eating out very much since summer started but that’s mainly attributed to my new schedule.  I eat more vegetables and less fatty junk food but that’s primarily because I’m not as stressed out.  I know what my triggers are for eating unhealthy foods and I’m fortunate to be away from most of them right now.  Still, I do like to think of these summer months, the beginning of my happiness project, as experiments.  They are meant to help establish habits and routines that will stick when life gets more challenging.  So I’m hopefully that this healthy eating thing might just be sustainable.  I’m using myfitnesspal to track my food consumption and it’s teaching me a lot about what I put in my body.  Perhaps these lessons will help me plan ahead during the school year to avoid pitfalls.

So I’m not sure if these past twenty days have necessarily made me abundantly happier.  They have however moved me toward being more healthy and whole.  I’m growing.  I’m challenging myself.  I’m moving toward a place where I can take better care of myself.  Sure, there are a lot of external factors tied to each of these resolutions.  I want to lose weight.  I want to be able to fit into my skinny jeans and look better in my clothes.  But even more than that, I want the intrinsic benefits.  I want to have a healthy body. I want to nourish and cherish myself so that I don’t fall into serious health problems later in life (diabetes and heart disease run in my family after all).  These foundational resolutions don’t always make me feel happy.  Sometime coaxing myself into going for a run or eating a salad instead of a burger is incredibly dissatisfying and actually puts me in a bad mood.  And then I get through the ordeal and I realize that there is a bigger picture than just feeling some joy or happiness in the moment.

This was a long post but I’m still curious and thinking about a few things: do you find yourself seeking happiness, wholeness, or a mixture of the two?  What do you think about MacKay’s commentary?  I told you all a bit more about my struggles and successes this month, do you have any advice for me in any of my areas?  Are these areas where you find yourself excelling at or struggling with in your own life?  

Graduation Advice

Every June, I produce some words on Commencement.  As a high school teacher I have the rare opportunity and requirement to attend a commencement every year.  Yes, every year I find myself moved by the words that are spoken by the students and adult leaders.  Although I’m not directly partaking in the ceremony, I am reminded of the cycles of life as I sit in the audience.  Inspired, I find a way to start something new.  Usually, I turn this into some sort of summer project (this was originally the thinking behind starting my happiness project in the middle of the summer instead of the beginning of a new year).

On Audible I came across a book entitled If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young by Kurt Vonnegut, edited and introduced by Dan Wakefield.  The book is a collection of graduation speeches written and delivered by Vonnegut.  I had purchased the book with my very valuable Audible credit on a whim.  I think the book was part of a 2 for 1 deal or something like that.  I’m not as versed on Vonnegut as I wish I was so I thought this seemed like a low key introduction to the mind that so many revere.  Let’s just say I’m going to be expanding my Vonnegut knowledge after this.

The book is disjointed as each “chapter” presents a different speech.  Each speech is introduced and in many ways the collection is topically arranged.  However, there are interesting common thematic threads that weave through all the speeches.  Vonnegut seamlessly presents humor and deeply serious advice to make some of the best graduation speeches I’ve ever heard.  The best advice I walked away from after listening to this collection?  The title of the text: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”  The line comes from one of Vonnegut’s uncles who used the phrase to maintain perspective.  Basically, Vonnegut is attempting to get his audience to look around and realize how nice the small moments are.  Sure, graduation is a very special moment but so many speed through the day thinking about other worries.  They don’t stop and realize that this moment right here, right now is the moment that is really nice.  The celebration of past accomplishments.  The “long delayed puberty ceremony.”  But even more than that, a moment in between student and full-time adult (whatever that even means).  Vonnegut has an amazing gift to challenge graduates to think about their futures while also trying to get them to fully realize the moment they are currently living in (and he even challenges them to remember gratitude for all the people and places that helped them get here!).

And all of this got me thinking about my own graduation from college.  The amazing Khaled Hosseini spoke at my graduation.  Despite the honor of hearing him speak, I remember feeling a bit underwhelmed by the entire day.  He was an awesome and inspiring speaker but all the students around me didn’t seem to notice.  A couple of them were thinking about what delinquent behavior they could try and get away with.  Many of them were drunk from attending an event fondly referred to as Dads n Grads hosted at the local bar.  I however was stone cold sober thinking that this just had to be the most important day of my life.  This was the culmination of four years of dedicated studies (and then the previous 12 years of study hoping to get into this school).  And then when I walked across that stage to receive my diploma, time seemed to stand still.  That moment was all about me.  And it was nice!  And then everything after that sadly seemed to smell of anticlimax.

Which isn’t to say that adulthood isn’t awesome.  There are plenty of “nice” moments.  But there are also a lot of very mundane routine days.  I’m still waiting to feel like an adult.  I’m still waiting for all that education to make me sound smart and sophisticated.  I’m still waiting to somehow turn all the amazing graduation advice I’ve consumed into something more concrete.  I suppose that’s part of the best commencement addresses: preparing students for the lives of uncertainty that lie ahead.  There is no perfect advice.  The best speeches are stories that remind students to celebrate all that they have accomplished while trying to give them some perspective that will help them face the future.

What is the best (or worst) graduation you have heard?  Do you remember who spoke at your graduation?  What impact did it have on your special day? 

Thoughts on American Wife

This book begins with a line that had me hooked: “Have I made terrible mistakes?”

This book is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of American First Lady Laura Bush.  I have to admit going into the book I didn’t know a whole lot about Laura Bush (I still don’t really since most of the book really is fictional speculation based on Sittenfeld’s research).  What I found myself enjoying most about this book though isn’t the ties to politics or the White House.  Instead, I fell in love with the close examination of a woman and the ways in which she was challenged and changed by her relationships.

Alice Lindgren (the Laura Bush inspired protagonist) is a memorable narrator.  After the prologue which depicts her in the White House laying in bed next to her husband and contemplating all of the strange, unexpected twists and turns that brought her into this very place, this very moment.  Alice grew up in a small town in Wisconsin to average parents.  A profound bookworm, Alice never imagined becoming First Lady.  In fact, she would have been fine staying in the confines of Wisconsin as an elementary school teacher.  But then she meets the charismatic bachelor, Charlie Blackwell, and she is quickly swept into a world of privilege and power.  Navigating this foreign world is a struggle, but Alice adapts.  She is what any bystander would call the perfect model wife.  She supports her husband’s wild ambition.  And then, some secrets from her past are dug up and she finds herself facing unexpected contradictions that lead her to wonder whether her road here is actually all due to the consequences of mistakes from her past.

As I read this book, I just kept wishing I could write something so engaging, inspiring, and honest.  This book is a page turner no doubt.  I read this during a busy time for me and I used the book as a sort of reward system to keep me on track with grading.  Even more than a page turner though I found myself empathizing with the character (sometimes to the point where I was bawling!).  Don’t we all wonder if we’ve made the correct decisions?  Don’t we all have ghosts that haunt us and make us reconsider the choices that have led us to where we are?

And yet Alice isn’t a mopey complainer.  She doesn’t live her life with regrets.  She is able to notice the role she has played in making difficult choices.  She admits the ways in which her heart, her ability to love her husband because of his faults, is ultimately what keeps her exactly where she is.  And this sentiment is one of the best little tidbits that I took away from this novel.  No relationship is perfect.  We all have our ghosts, our insecurities, our wandering minds.  We all end up in unexpected places.  And yet, with all the bad that we do in the world (whether purposefully or by some tragic accident), we seem to end up right where we belong.

Not to spoil anything, but I felt like this book wrapped up nicely without too many neatly tied bows.  Instead, the book left me thinking about how the themes so perfectly fit into the lives of any reader.  This is why I find Sittenfeld to be such a remarkable writer.  She lets the reader weave in his or her own life into the pages of the text.  This wasn’t just a story based off of some interesting speculations about Laura Bush.  This was a story about relationships and the ways in which a person can change and be changed when falling in love.  This is about the ways in which being in love can both completely change a person but also more completely reveal a person.

I couldn’t recommend this book enough.  Sittenfeld is definitely a writer to follow!

So confession time: have you made terrible mistakes?  Do you have regrets that haunt you?  Do you think you’re where you belong or are you still heading somewhere?  If so, where are you headed?

Who Am I?

Justice Jennifer is ....

[Aspiring Writer. Avid Reader. Amateur Gamer. Ardent feminist. Beginning Teacher. Borderline Obsessive. Music lover. Wannabe Photographer. Fashionista. Runner in training. Yogi.]

... Trying to figure it all out.

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