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Monday, April 25, 2016

A Finite Number of Words

I recently read a book called "The Mystics of Mile End" by Sigal Samuel, which is a beautifully written story of lives intertwined. It follows a Jewish community, specifically a young family whose loss of their mother has changed their relationships forever. The family is attempting to sort through their faith, grief, and the meaning of life.

One of the characters, Mr. Goodman, is a Jewish teacher and Holocaust survivor. Readers are given a glimpse into his relationship with his wife, whom he met before the war, was separated from and sent to different concentration camps, and later found again and married. The interesting thing about their relationship, however, is that they rarely speak to each other. This is because Mr. Goodman believes that people are only given a set number of words and once they have used up their words, they will die.

This is not a new concept to me. I have seen the movie "A Thousand Words," starring Eddie Murphy where this exact thing happens. He is told that he only has a thousand words left to speak before he dies. As he speaks, each word causes a leaf to fall off a tree that mysteriously grew in his backyard. When all the leaves are gone, his words are used up, and he will die.

Upon reading the book and reflecting on its connection to the movie's theme, I began to think. I am a teacher, a writer, a poet, a student, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and on top of that, I love to sing in the car. I speak A LOT of words in a day and can't imagine how many I will speak in a lifetime. Even as I am writing this, my natural instinct is to read the words aloud to make sure they sound okay.

BUT what would happen if we did only have a finite amount of words to speak before we would use them up and die? If we knew what our number was would we speak differently than if we just knew that someday we would run out?

Would I write as much, learn as much, sing as much? Would Brandon and I stop talking to each other as Mr. Goodman and his wife did? Would my teaching and relationships with my students be better or worse? Would my relationships in general be better or worse?

Some days I know that I should speak as if I only have a thousand words left. Some days, I speak carelessly anyway.  Maybe reading this story was a hint that I should talk less. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Either way, it made me think...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Finding the Meaning of Life

Such a bold title for a simply story about something fun and rewarding Brandon and I started this week, but that I just can't help but sharing!!!

Last year, on Labor Day weekend, Brandon and I decided that we were going to go to a shelter and see about adopting a cat. Now, I grew up with dogs, big dogs, German Shepherds. I had no experience with cats except the occasional visit to a friend's house who had one. Brandon grew up with no pets in the house so basically we were flying blind.

We happened upon a shelter that was fairly new and close to our house. So, on a Wednesday night we drove over to Barb's Precious Rescue and Adoption Center to visit some cats.


The shelter is an old house that was refinished inside to serve as a home for over 100 cats. Each room is designated for a different age group of cats. Included is the preschool, kitten room, toddler room, teenage room, and adult room. Also adorning the hallways are even more cats. The rooms are full of trees and beds and blankets and toys.

Barb, the owner, knew every cats name and story. It was one of the most amazing places I had ever been, truly a save haven for homeless cats while they wait to be adopted. Two cats from the kitten room ended up choosing us. I say they chose us because I truly believe they did.

I wanted one that would curl up on my lap to read so I sat down in a big arm chair in the room and waited. Almost instantly I had a cat in my lap, tail wagging, and softly purring. "This one," I told Brandon. While he was standing there another cat had peeked her head out from one of the cat trees and gently licked his fingers. She was so timid, but felt compelled to make the connection. When Barb confirmed they would get along in our house together we were sold!

This coming Labor Day will mark our one year anniversary with Scout and Tigress and we couldn't be more happy. They have become part of our family and while I used to identify as a dog person, when people ask now I'm not quite sure what to say. It is undeniable that the way the cats cuddle with me might have swayed my decision.

 Tigress (aka "Lil Baby" because she hasn't grown since the day we got her)
Scout (My Cuddle Buddy from day one!)

Anyway, Brandon and I recently attended an Open House supply drive and benefit for the shelter and afterward decided that we wanted to give back in more than just a monetary way. This Wednesday was our first time volunteering and it was such a great experience!!!

Ironically enough (or perhaps Barb planned things this way) we were in charge of cleaning the kitten and toddler rooms. We did things like sweep the floor, clean off their beds and trees, but we were also instructed to "just spend time with the cats." They didn't have to tell us twice!

We spent about two and a half hours there not only cleaning the rooms, but also visiting the other rooms to socialize the cats. Aside from the fact that we could spend time with the animals, it was nice to feel like we were part of a team doing something meaningful for these cats. While it broke my heart that there were so many there, it felt nice to know that we were helping them have somewhere clean and kept to live in until they found their forever home.

The moral of the story, and the reason for the bold title is that cleaning those rooms and sitting with a lap full of cats made me think, maybe the meaning of life is to continuously do something meaningful with your life. I am a teacher. That is the main way I identify myself, but I am also a volunteer and that has added so much meaning into my week.

Can't say enough good things about Barb's Precious Rescue. Seriously, check them out!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Spring is notoriously a season of renewal. It seems to come naturally to most that as the winter leaves its last few flakes of snow only to be replaced with buds, we are cleaning out our lives and looking forward to a new season of warmth. Naturally, I was feeling this way and began reflecting on the habits that I have recently taken on in an attempt to clean out my life and renew.

So... here is my list of 5 healthy spring cleaning habits that I have found useful and maybe you will too:

1. Get rid of and donate any clothes that don't make you feel FABULOUS! I told my mom that I was doing this at first, as a joke. I was looking through  my closet one day at the many different items I owned and realized that while I had A LOT of clothes, not all of them made me feel my best. You know the things I am talking about, those clothes you keep just in case, but every time you wear them you just don't feel good about yourself. I realized that I had a lot of clothes and that I had no business owning and wearing things that I didn't feel good in. So, I literally got rid of everything that didn't make me feel FABULOUS and began only wearing things that made me feel like my best self. It has made a world of difference in my everyday attitude because, as I have always believed, dressing your best just makes the day better.

2. Find a time for yourself. For me, I have found this through yoga. I have always been a fan of yoga, but haven't been practicing recently because, well... I was lazy, but I began to yearn for some kind of physical outlet. The cold months often leave us bundled under blankets and eating large meals, but eventually I reached the point where I just had to get up and move. Thus, I began practicing yoga again. While the physical benefits have been obvious, with it came another benefit. I was able to set aside even just a half an hour a day to focus on bettering myself, breathing, and paying attention to my needs. I am calmer, more reflective, and much more energized.

3. Drink lots of water (and tea). I often found myself having digestive issues (not a surprise after the comment about curling up under blankets and eating big meals). I tried eating lots of different things, but couldn't seem to find relief. I have recently been paying close attention to how much water I am drinking and began to try and double it. With it, I have been drinking at least two cups of green tea a day, my goal being two cups in the morning and two at night. This has greatly improved my digestion and makes me much less hungry throughout the day. A double bonus!!!

4. Have meaningful conversations, daily. While the last three might seem more obviously related to spring cleaning, you might say, "How does having a conversation relate to cleaning and renewing?" It is obvious when someone uses weather as a conversation starter, they don't know what else to say. When someone does, or even I do, I notice and cringe. Brandon and I try to go for walks (more physical exercise) every single day. We often spend these walks talking about things we both are very passionate about. This could cover a variety of different things, but I can assure you if it is rarely about the weather (except for an off hand comment about the blizzard conditions in March). There is so much to talk about and taking the time to explore the things that you are thinking about anyway, will clear out your mind and help you sort through them.

5. Go out of your way to do things you enjoy. Obviously I mentioned the yoga and having meaningful conversations, but I'm talking about doing more! Over spring break I read four books, watched potentially hundreds of poetry videos on YouTube, began writing poetry again myself, and attended a benefit for the shelter we got our kitties from. (I also spent a majority of the time I was reading cuddling with my cats). These are all things I truly find joy in. In taking the time to spend my free time, not on social media, but engaged in meaningful activities that better myself and others, I have found a renewed contentment with my days.