Understimulation in the Woods

We talk a lot these days about overstimulation. Mostly we talk about this in the context of the ever-present screens in our lives: the notifications, the messenger apps, SnapChat (which despite what my students think, I do vaguely know how to use), the constant barrage of news and pictures and the necessary responses.

I know sometimes living in a city (if you call Boulder a city) gets overwhelming to me. There are always people, lights, things to do; something is going on. This is less true than say, downtown Denver, but it’s still a lot more than somewhere like Steamboat.

But for me, being a teacher is also wildly overstimulating. There are usually over twenty-five people in the room with me, and they’re all looking at me. I’m making a million decisions, evaluating their emotional and cognitive abilities, trying to listen to the goofball behind me while helping the student in front of me, while tuning out the twelve other conversations happening in the room, watching for the phones to sneak out, and oh yeah, somewhere in there, I’m trying to remember the subtle beautiful nuances of a complex and intertwined story that is biology and convey that to other human beings.

My mom once sent me a Facebook post that said, “Teaching seems to require the sort of skills that would be required to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no breaks, down a rocky road through the Andes, while providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.” The quote is by Franklin Habit and while I find it hilarious, I also find it almost painfully accurate.

Yeah. Teaching.

But one of the things I’ve been working on this year is going outside more. And I’ve realized something about going outside.

It’s incredibly, beautifully, wonderfully, understimulating.

There are fewer people. Even better, they usually don’t want to talk to me as much as I don’t want to talk to them. There aren’t a million conversations, and usually there’s no music. There aren’t the overpowering smells of the crazy processed artificial snacks my kids bring to class, and I don’t have to think. I just have to move my legs, whether I’m on foot or on my bike.

When I go outside, I have time to focus on the feeling of the sun on my face, listen to the wind in the needles of the pine trees, the smell of warm ponderosa bark as I lean against a tree. I love hearing the rush of blood behind my eardrums and feeling my pulse against my fingers, my throat, my cheeks.

When I get the glorious opportunity to go backpacking, it’s even better. Time stretches out so all I care about is when to eat and when to crawl in my warm sleeping bag. I absolutely love staring out over whatever scenery I’ve gotten myself back into.

This past weekend I wasn’t backpacking, but I got to go for a nine mile mountain bike ride in Golden Gate state park. The aspens were golden and rustled in the wind, when I could hear them over the rattling of my derailleur. The trail was rocky in places and hero dirt in others, and I was grinning like a crazy person the whole way. My brother Jeff and Jonathan came with me, and we spent as much time leaning on our handlebars appreciating the beauty around us as we did pedaling.

I love flying through a grove of aspens and watching the leaves swirl around my brother’s back tire. I love weaving through pines and climbing up around switchbacks and just generally being out in the forests. After being out there for five hours, coming back into a city seems colorful and noisy and fast-paced. It’s good to slow down.

To be fair, this particular definition of slowing down includes spiking my heart rate through the roof trying to keep up with two boys who are way stronger than I am. By the end of the ride my legs were tired and I was flailing around some corners. Jeff laughed very hard at my stupid clipless moment. (I have pedals that my shoes clip into, and if I don’t manage to unclip my foot before I stop, I fall over. Just…slow motion fall over.) But that’s also it’s own kind of fun.

Your homework this week: Go outside! Take a moment and see what you notice, and if your mind slows down a little bit.

Hej då,

Jamie

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Trying the Thing I Can’t Do

Hello everyone! I’ll start by apologizing for my absence last week. We’ll just call it my by-week for the year and move on. School got me a little busy at the beginning of the year!

This is the first week of September and everyone I know is out saying goodbye to summer. I’m writing to you this week from Wyoming, where I’ve been camping and biking and scrambling up lots of rocks. I’m camping in a place called Happy Jack, which is just east of Laramie. At the moment I’m sitting next to a reservoir contemplating the first streaks on my shins, courtesy of a very technical bike ride I went on this afternoon.

Jonathan, who went to school at the University  of Wyoming, spent many weekends up here and delighted in showing me all his favorite spots. The trails here are dry and a little sandy, and there are lots of sandstone obstacles. Normally the trails I ride in Steamboat are smooth and flowy and altogether very different than this!

At first I was nervous about getting up and over some of these rocks, or dropping off them. But I have a tendency to follow the person in front of me off of things that I wouldn’t normally ride by myself, and I found myself riding over all sorts of things that were initially scary but actually totally within my skill range. Jonathan is a much better rider than I am, and he’s also very good at letting me know when he thinks I might want to look at before I ride them. I learned a lot about what my bike was capable today, and I only fell over once!

Off of the trail we were riding were several “play areas” which were quite a bit more technical than the trail. They were short loops that linked back into the trail, so riders could choose to try them or not. Jonathan and I rode the first and second play area, and it was really fun! There were lots of things I couldn’t ride, but there were lots of things I thought I couldn’t ride that I did, and I learned from watching the other riders in the area. As my mom says, there is no hill so steep I cannot push my bike up  (or down) it.

The thing I loved about this was that I was in a no-pressure situation. I was riding with someone I trust a lot, and we had no schedule. Our only goal was to have a good time (and to limit any blood loss). This allowed me to try new things that I otherwise would have been afraid of trying. I also very much enjoyed the fact that the obstacles on the trail were far enough apart that I still felt like I could ride my bike successfully.

There are lots of potential applications of all of this to other parts of my life, particularly my classroom. But for this weekend, I promised myself Saturday and Sunday would be school-free days. It’s part of the balance I’m working on.

Your homework this week is to create a situation where you feel safe trying something you don’t think you can do.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Hej då,
Jamie

On Being Stubborn

Happy first week of August! For a lot of my teacher friends, we’re gearing up to go back to school; the first day for teachers in my district is next Thursday, and students come back the Wednesday after that. If you’re headed back soon, best of luck!

As I say farewell to my summer, I’m thinking a lot about all my wonderful adventures this summer. I got to spend a lot of time hiking, biking, camping, and swimming in mountains all over the western half of the US, more than I have in quite a while. And in doing so, I’m getting reacquainted with a personality trait that can go by many different names. I say I’m stubborn. Tactful people tell me I’m persistent, and my brother sometimes tells me I’m being dumb (he’s usually right).

My whole family can be stubborn at times, including all four of my grandparents! I could tell you stories for days. I learned not only from them, but also from an entire childhood of keeping up. I spent a significant amount of time running around with the kids on my ski team, where the social currency was based on pulling off crazy physical stunts. I was nowhere near as crazy as some of the boys – some of them are lucky they aren’t permanently injured. But whether we were biking, skiing, playing soccer, running, or lifting, the name of the game was to push the edge.

Being stubborn served me very well in my athletic endeavors. It helped me keep going during races and get stronger during training. Even when I had a bad run or a tired day, I knew I had to get up and keep going. I know when I can push my body just a little further and when I’m really at the end of my rope.

But being stubborn isn’t only applicable to athletics. Every once in a while I find it in myself to get stubborn about a class. When I was in college, I struggled in chemistry. Especially my first semester, I took Chem 1 with a very brilliant professor who was not very good at understanding why I didn’t understand. Chem 2 wasn’t really any better. I thoroughly enjoyed organic chemistry, but still found it challenging, and then truly met my nemesis when I took physical chemistry. The last chemistry class I took was biochemistry, and at this point, I had had enough.

I decided that I was – finally – going to get an A in a chemistry class at CU. I did everything I was supposed to do; I read the textbook before I went to lecture. I did all the homework sets. I printed the slides before I went to class and took diligent notes. I drew molecular mechanisms for hours in the engineering center lobby. The more nervous I got about graduation, the more I poured all that energy into that class. Even when I was tired, or my brain felt fried, or I had a million other projects, I pushed through.

I aced that class. It was one of the more satisfying moments of my college career.

But being stubborn is, like many traits, a two-sided coin, and there have definitely been moments when I’ve clung to goals or ideas long past where I should have let them go. When I was twelve, I continued to run on a hyper-extended left knee and compressed the meniscus. When I was eighteen, I partially tore my MCL in the same knee and proceed to race on it all season. My left knee likes to remind me of this with increasing frequency these days, particularly when I’m walking downhill with any kind of heavy pack.

I also find myself doing this in my teaching. I’ll set goals for what I can get done in a day (grade these papers, write this lesson, prep this lab) and I’ll want to stay until I get it all done. What ends up happening is me, staring at the wall, not willing to walk away but too tired to really be thoughtful. I end up wasting time rather than taking a break so I could come back refreshed. This kind of stubborn is not at all helpful.

When I was ski racing I came up with a pain scale to figure out when I could push through and when I needed to slow down and take care of myself. I will fully admit that during both of the left knee incidents I described, I knew I was pushing too hard! And as I got reacquainted with my adventuring this summer, it didn’t take me long to start feeling that out again. I don’t, however, have any kind of related scale for my intellectual and emotional energy. What was it about my situation with biochemistry that helped make me successful, and when do I need to set my grading aside and do something different for a while?

Your homework is simply a more generalized version of the question I asked myself; how do you know when to push yourself and when to take a break?

Hej då,

Jamie

Two Very Different Adventures

I think all the traveling I did this summer finally got to my brain, and I completely forgot to write or post yesterday. Sorry dear readers! I’ll try to make it up to you with some really awesome photos.

Today is one of those interesting fifth Sundays (this happens way more frequently than I thought it would…or perhaps this year is just particularly odd…). But rather than exploring a combination of the parts of me or philosophizing, I’m just going to straight up tell you an adventure story. Two adventure stories, in fact! Next week I’ll get a little more philosophical about adventuring and being stubborn, and when that’s potentially good or potentially bad.

In the last couple of blogs I’ve made quick references to my two biggest trips in July: the eight days I spent in and around Yosemite National Park and the Knowles Summer Meeting, which happened in Philadelphia. Today is the day I finally tell you about them!

Adventure Part 1: Learning, Hiking, and More Learning in Yosemite National Park

This year I was honored to participate in the California Institute for Biodiversity’s Sierra Institute and Yosemite Field Institute. The two programs were run back-to-back, meaning that participants could choose to do one or the other, or to go all out and do both (which is what I did). Seriously, teacher friends; this is one PD not to miss. The dates for next summer will likely go up on this website, so sometime in mid-winter check in and see if you can make it!

The Sierra Institute took place at the Jack L. Boyd outdoor school just south of the actual park. It felt a lot like summer camp – sleeping in bunk beds in large cabins and eating in a dining hall. We spent most of our time learning how to synthesize several teaching structures together into a coherent classroom plan called an activity guide. As it was defined for this training, an activity guide is a framework for around two weeks’ worth of lessons. It begins with a phenomenon and allows students to question and engage in the processes of science. In creating an activity guide, we pulled together the NGSS framework, the 5E lesson model from BSCS, HHMI BioInteractive resources, growth mindset, the Understanding Global Change Framework (website in progress at the moment, but if you Google Jessica Bean you can get an idea of it, and the other resources put out by Berkeley), naturalism and teaching nature journaling, and probably several other things I’m forgetting at the moment. It was a lot of brainpower to try to weave all those things together, but it was an incredible mental exercise and I cannot wait to try out the activity guide my group wrote!

The second institute took place entirely within the park; we camped at Crane Flats campground and hiked all around the valley. With us (for both institutes, actually) was a freelance naturalist named David Lukas. I’m not an Instagram person, but I’ve been told he posts absolutely beautiful photos along with very short stories of the natural world. His knowledge was incredible, and he could tell stories as we hiked about anything from fungi in the soil to the natural history of the fish in the lakes to the geology of the glaciers that helped form the valley.

The most iconic hike we did was the Mist Trail. All of the trails we were on were incredibly crafted, but the Mist Trail takes the cake. It’s chiseled into a rock face next to Vernal Falls – you absolutely get soaked by the mist! You can also see a lot of cool geology on the back of Half Dome and Liberty Dome.

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We continued to hike above Vernal Falls to connect to the John Muir trail, so this is looking back down at the falls. You can’t see the trail from this angle because it’s back behind the rock on the far right of the photo.

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This is Nevada Falls, slightly upriver from Vernal Falls, and Liberty Dome. The water was incredibly high this year because of the massive amount of snow California received this winter. Mammoth Ski Area is closing TOMORROW!

Yosemite is one of those parks where you hear about the crazy crowds, the traffic, the impossibility of getting a campsite or a parking spot. Yep. All true. But this is also one of those places where the crowds exist because it really is that special. Someday I’m going to drag my whole family out there to experience it!

Adventure Part 2: Walking miles and miles in New York City

I was home in Boulder for a whole five days before I set off on my next adventure, which was a little bit different than the first.

Most of my adventures involve lots of time outside walking. But usually I’m doing that in the mountains, traversing meadows and winding through forests. Not this particular adventure. I had never been to New York City before, so I took advantage of the Knowles Summer Meeting being in Philadelphia to go out a little early and stay with Rebecca, a teacher from the fellowship who grew up there! She lives in the north part of the Bronx, teaches in South Bronx, and went to high school in Manhattan. We had a blast riding the Staten Island Ferry, seeing the Lincoln center lit up at night, visiting her favorite Hungarian pastry shop, wandering through Central Park, and just generally exploring. We went to see the 9/11 museum and memorial, which is incredibly well-done and very much worth a visit. I ate bagels and pizza and cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery (I had no idea this was famous until I got there).

But the crowning experience of the whole thing involved entering a dozen lotteries, running around from building to building around Times Square, and finally gambling on standing room tickets, which were 100% worth it.

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Oh yes. That happened. I got to see my very first Broadway show. And it was beyond belief!!!!

I could go on and on about this experience. It was Rebecca’s sixth time seeing it, and she spent most of the time watching my reactions and laughing at me. I’ve seen the movie a million times if I’ve seen it once, so I wasn’t ever really surprised, per say. But the movie in no way compares to seeing the show. When they turn the lights on in the chandelier and the organ strikes that first chord in D minor…chills.

I think the the thing that sets Broadway apart (aside from the fantastic amounts of talent on stage and in the orchestra pit) is the sets. I was extremely fortunate to see If/Then in Denver with six of the eight Broadway leads, including Idina Menzel! But the Denver Center for Performing Arts has one main theater, and shows typically don’t run that awfully long. I’m always impressed by how they do build the sets there – they have to be able to change them so quickly between shows. But Broadway spans a ton of theaters (which I didn’t realize until I got there) and each theater is dedicated to one show. They can build so much more, and it truly makes the show that much more magical.

I also got to see Miss Saigon, which is a heartbreaking love story set during the Vietnam War. It was a very different, but still totally amazing, experience – I know the music from Phantom by heart but Miss Saigon was a completely new show to me.

As Rebecca and I drove back towards Philadelphia for our meeting, she asked me to sum up my New York City experience. I told her everything is bigger, brighter, completely overdone, and it’s a great adventure. I can’t wait to go back to visit again; I’m also very glad I don’t actually live there!

My summer is coming to a close, so my travels will also be more limited, at least until next summer. But I think I did a pretty good job seeking wonderful adventures. Thanks to everyone who hosted me, hiked with me, and put up with me talking way too fast while showing you pictures!

Your homework: What’s your favorite part about going somewhere new? Do you seek adventures that are “in your wheelhouse” or do you go for something completely different?

Hej då,

Jamie

Balance

Well, I am writing to you from yet another state this week! I’m currently in New York City with a girl from my teaching fellowship. Our summer meeting is at the end of the week and I came a few days early to experience the city. I’m sure I’ll write about that next week! But for now, I’m going to come at the idea of balance a little more head on, rather than as an application to other parts of my life. And I’m going to do that through the lens of yoga.

The first time I tried yoga was in high school with my ski team. I remember laughing at the weird names for the poses and generally feeling very silly. I also remember trying crow pose and landing on my face, which was not my favorite thing to do. So I gave up on yoga for quite some time.

In fact, I didn’t try again until the summer of 2013, when I lived in Bocas del Toro. There was an in-house yoga studio three houses down from us, and when the girls and I decided we were curious, we tried it out. Sarah and Amber got bored fairly quickly, but I was hooked. At first I liked the core work and the stretching, which were familiar to me from ski racing. Then I started to like the shoulder strength, which is not something ski racers generally care much about! But what became really important to me were the breathing (not something that should be taken for granted, though I often do!) and the three principles the instructor shared with us.

Laura Kay grounded all of our practices in these three principles. The first was a good attitude. When people walked through the door and nervously mentioned they weren’t very flexible, Laura Kay would ask them to ditch that attitude and instead take up one of optimism and gratitude. The second principle was foundation: having strong legs and good alignment for the safety of all the joints involved. My knees certainly appreciated that one! The third and last principle was about opening the heart to shine our light out. Now, you can interpret that statement any way you like; my favorite way to think about it is how Laura Kay would tell us that smiling was the most advanced form of the pose.

One pose we did frequently in that class was called half moon pose, and it looks like this:

half moon pose

(Thanks to the Creative Commons Search, where I can look for pictures tagged for reuse!)

This can be quite the tricky balancing pose! I’m usually very good at standing on one foot, and I can also bend forward to touch the ground on one foot. But turn it sideways, and life gets a whole lot more exciting! Often I wobbled, or tried to lean too far backwards or reach too high up, and I flailed and fell over. When this happened, I would laugh. And it wasn’t the embarrassed nervous laughter of worrying about being judged; it was a genuine “that probably looked really silly and I’m glad I was pushing my limits” laughter.

When I came home from Bocas, I didn’t practice much for nearly two years. I tried a couple of different studios in Boulder, but they all felt competitive and like I had to push myself to keep up.

Enter Keeli, my freshman college roommate. She’s a ski racer from Winter Park I randomly got placed with our first year, and we’ve been great friends ever since. She’s awesome at spontaneously calling me and dragging me on adventures. One time she did just that and took me to her friend Maggie’s yoga class. Maggie teaches with a non-profit called Grass Roots Yoga in a large-ish classroom at CU. I’ve been going steadily ever since!

I like the mix of people in class – some older, some students – and I actually really like that it’s not in a traditional studio. Especially without mirrors, I feel much less pressure to be a “good yogi” and get into the “perfect” pose. And I especially love Maggie. I love how she offers modifications to change the poses for different bodies and different needs. Some days I need to push myself to be stronger and burn off some energy. Some days I need to chill out a little bit. I even spent the entirety of one class in child’s pose, because that’s what I needed that day.

One of my favorite things that Maggie has taught me is that balance is not a destination to be achieved. Rather, balance is a process that is constantly changing. In yoga, this means that we’re humans, not statues! Instead of trying to achieve stillness, the goal of a balancing pose is to learn to feel the wobbles and ride them.

But yoga advice is usually pretty good off the mat as well, and I think that’s definitely the case for balance. I can’t begin to explain the variety of advice I’ve gotten about work-life balance as a teacher. One mentor told me I should always take Friday night and Saturday completely off from school. Another told me I should make sure I have an hour for self-care every day. Yet another told me not to bother with all this new-age crap, and that I’d feel better if I just got stuff of my to-do list. And I do constantly feel the pressure to do more, be more efficient, and work harder.

This pressure exists in the consistent tasks in my life (grading, anyone?) but also in the one-time pressures. Test proctoring, extra (awesome) professional projects. Piloting a new textbook. Attending a conference. All the hard-and-fast rules I’ve read fall apart in the face of this inconsistency. I’ve been trying to figure out for years how to achieve balance in all of this.

But did you catch my language there? It’s not about achieving anything. The idea that balance is a process can apply to the rest of my life too. It means being observant of what’s going on in my life and how I’m reacting, and knowing how to ride out all the wobbles. I’ll candidly admit I’m quite terrible at this right now, but it seems like a worthwhile thing to practice.

My homework for you: How do you balance the important things in your life? How do you respond to all the varying pressures?

Hej då,

Jamie

Knitting at the Campfire

Hello everyone, and sorry for the late posting this week! I’ve just returned home from a sixteen-day multi-part adventure in which connectivity services were somewhat limited. Let me catch you up on some of the craziness.

On June 30th, my dad picked me up and drove me to Steamboat. I spent two days enjoying being lazy and hanging out on the porch, and then my brother gave me a very special birthday present. He took me backpacking in the Zirkel Wilderness Area north of Steamboat for two nights! This is especially nice of him because he carries all the heavy stuff for me. We hiked five miles in to Gilpin Lake and spent the first night there. We didn’t anticipate how much snow was left, that’s for sure! Our original plan was to continue past Gilpin to Gold Creek Lake and complete an 11.5 mile loop, but we decided climbing the snowfield between the Gilpin and the nearly 11,000 feet high ridge line with packs did not sound like a ton of fun. Instead we stayed both nights at Gilpin. Jeff even packed in a cupcake for me!

We packed out on July fourth, and returned home for some frantic showering, unpacking, and repacking. I was trading my backpacking set up for car camping stuff, which required just enough overlap and just enough difference to be really confusing! After dinner Jeff drove me down to his house and I slept on his floor before heading to the airport early on the morning of the fifth. I spent the next eight days in California, learning about the natural history, biology, and geology of Yosemite National Park. I also learned how to tie together citizen science, NGSS standards, growth mindset, outdoor lessons, and the 5E lesson planning model in fascinating new ways.

This was A LOT of adventuring, and also a lot of being really nerdy. Only at a teacher training will you find twenty-two adults laying on their bellies on a chunk of granite, exclaiming about the striations in the rock and other evidence of glaciation! It was tons of fun and I went through lots of sunscreen and pages in my notebook.

But the gist of my birthday goals was about balance. Where was my hobbit self?

Despite the overwhelming emphasis on adventurer and nerd these last two weeks, I made sure to tuck a ball of pink and purple and grey yarn into my duffle bag (right between my tent and my camp chair…). And in the evenings when people were roasting marshmallows for s’mores and getting out ukuleles, I pulled out my knitting.

I was impressed by the amount of conversation it generated, actually. Everyone wanted to know what I was making, which I expected. But the conversation didn’t end there. By sharing my own project, people wanted to tell me about their experiences with crochet or cross-stitch, or their favorite something that someone special had knitted for them. Lost of people agreed that it seemed meditative, and thought it was a cool thing to do for someone.

There were a lot of things I appreciated about knitting in this situation. It opened up conversation, which reflected to me that people were totally cool with my knitting. Often I get insecure about the hobbit parts of myself – what hard core adventurer knits? But no one else seemed to think it was weird at all. I also liked how it allowed me to be doing something with my hands and still participate in the conversation around me. It was a nice balance between having something I like to do and being social.

What exactly was I knitting? A baby blanket for a little girl named Macy. Her mom is one of my colleagues at Longmont High School, so this project has been in the back of my head for a while now. It’s a really simple pattern – I cast on 150 stitches on my size 9 circular needles. I knit garter stitch for the first ten rows, and then for the majority of the blanket I knit garter for the ten stitches on either end and stockinette stitch in the middle. I’ll finish this one with ten rows of garter. I like the garter stitch border because it prevents the stockinette from curling up so much! And I like simple patterns like this when I’m using a variegated yarn.

The blanket definitely smells like campfire smoke now, nor is it anywhere close to done. But I think I learned something valuable by sneaking in a couple of rows here and there; these things are more compatible than I could have expected. I don’t necessarily need big chunks of time to be an adventurer or a hobbit or a nerd. I can sprinkle them throughout.

This next week will be the longest stretch of time I’ll be in Boulder since graduation (five whole days!) so I hope to indulge my hobbit a little bit more. I’m enjoying the quiet of my house and the time to get some of those nagging adult things done (renewing my passport, for example). And then I’m off on a whole different adventure – I’m visiting some friends in New York City and Philadelphia before going to the Knowles summer meeting.

Your homework: When was the last time you mixed two seemingly contradictory things? If it’s been a while, try it out! What happens?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

A Mid-Year Accounting

Hej everyone! Today is July 2nd, and it is officially the 26th anniversary of the day you all got stuck with me. I love my birthday for a couple of (completely unrelated) reasons.

My Grandma Gay’s birthday was July 4th. She used to joke and say it was because she was such a firecracker, and she was right! Grandma loved to cook, clean, and sew, and she painted ceramics and porcelain dolls. She loved roses and lace and pink, and I learned a lot about being girly from her. However, she also loved snowmobiling and tubing behind a speedboat, and she even went parasailing in Switzerland one time.

When I was little, Grandma and Grandpa used to come to Steamboat to celebrate our birthdays. But I didn’t totally grasp the whole concept of the 4th of July, and so every year I experienced a powerful wave of jealousy. Every single year, Grandma got fireworks for her birthday, and I didn’t! I have since learned a bit about our national history, but I still find it amusing to imagine six-year-old me getting all worked up about the whole thing.

The second reason I love my birthday is because my mom and I go for birthday hikes, just the two of us, each year. We started this tradition when I turned fifteen, and even though I’m lucky to see my mom far more often than just once a year, I still love that we carve out this time.

But the last reason I love my birthday is because July 2nd is the exact middle day of the year. There are 182 days before it, and 182 days after it (unless Leap Day messes with it). Often people use New Year’s to make goals or resolutions for the coming year. I’m fortunate because I have a ready-made reason to reflect on the other side of the year’s arc.

So what can I say about the last sixth months? What have I learned?

As an adventurer, I got back on my mountain bike and I’ve ridden more this summer than I have in the last three summers combined. I was given many opportunities to remember how much I love being outside, feeling my muscles contract and release, and getting sweaty and dusty. I’ve also learned that I can swing too far into adventure mode and forget the other parts of myself.

As a nerd, I had some incredible learning experiences this spring semester. I got to present for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the National Science Teacher’s Association and work with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study on their STeLLA project. STeLLA is based on instructional strategies to understand student thinking and create a coherent content story line. I’ve really only been focused on three of the eight student thinking strategies, but they’ve changed the way I teach.

But I also struggled with taking on way too many things this spring. In the fall semester I did a good job of limiting my involvement in things outside my everyday teaching job. I was happier and had more energy to be present in my classroom. In the spring, all these fantastic opportunities arose, and I took them! I don’t regret a single one, because they all had hugely positive impacts on my teaching. But I did let my nerdiness, particularly the teaching vein of it, take over everything else.

As for my hobbit-self, I think the thing I’m most happy about is my renewed commitment to my friends and family, especially this summer. I’ve visited Granny (my mom’s mom) more often in these last couple of months, and I’ve done better at staying in contact with with my friends who are far away. Traveling is not a hobbit trait, but finding my people is; I can officially say I’ve spent nine days in Boulder since May 27th. The rest of the time I’ve been with the people I care the most about. I’ve learned a lot about how to share and accept love, and how to really see the people around me.

But in many ways, I neglected the hobbit part of myself in these last six months. Exactly why this happened requires a bit of backstory.

In one of my (far) earlier posts, I described how I had a massive blood clot in my right leg when I was nineteen. I had just been to a cadaver lab, and was feeling incredibly grateful for how well my body works. What I chose not to describe in that post were some of the after-effects of the clot. Most people notice very quickly that I wear one knee-high compression sock on my right leg. The clot destroyed the valves in those veins that help push blood back up, which means the blood will pool in my foot. The compression sock helps ameliorate this problem. What most people didn’t see was the fact that I was on an anticoagulant (blood thinner) for five and a half years.

Being on an anticoagulant meant I had to stop ski racing and mountain bike racing. I had to be careful when I did pretty much anything, because any concussion or internal injury could be very, very bad. Losing the ability to do these activities changed the way I viewed my own identity; I lost my connection with my adventurer. I threw a lot of my energy into nerdy pursuits, and this is also when I developed a lot of my hobbit hobbies.

This past October, I made the decision to stop taking anticoagulants. I feel better and I got all of my adventuring back! It’s been a process of learning how to not hold back and remember all of my love for being outside. But in that process, I lost some of my hobbit-ness, and I started using it as a means to recover instead of loving it for itself.

As I look forward to the next six months, I have a lot of really exciting things coming. I have six more glorious weeks of summer, which includes going to Yosemite National Park for a professional development about naturalism and water ecology, visiting Ogden and Steamboat again, visiting Knowles friends in New York, and going to the Knowles Summer Meeting. I have the fall semester of my third year of teaching, complete with piloting a brand new textbook in biology. I get to attend conferences about teaching and ski race officiating. I have two baby blankets to knit, and some canning to do.

I think my goal for all of these things is balance. I want to express all three parts of me because I can learn from and enjoy each part. I don’t mean to say I’ll create equal time for each thing, but I want to be intentional about how I engage in doing the things I love.

Goals are slippery things. How will I engage in this goal? By writing to you all, of course. This space to reflect will be both part of my process and my measurement.

Your homework: Do your own mid-year review! Write a paragraph about what you want your life to look like for the next six months. How will you engage your goals?

Hej då,

Jamie