This past year, I thought I'd try to deepen my spirituality in some way, like reading the bible, going to church, mediating, learning more about yoga, learning about Confucianism or Buddhism... And then I did none of those things. Or rather, I tried all of those things, but none felt right. Not even church felt right anymore. I prayed sometimes, and sometimes that felt right. Other times, prayer felt like nothing more than run-on trains of thought. What was I looking for when I hoped to deepen my spirituality? Peace, hope, acceptance, stillness, clarity, direction, gratitude, connection with something outside myself...

One's religion is whatever allows you to latch on to the fiber of humanity and the universe--the fiber that stretches over eons, connecting every being, matter, and energy that is, ever was, and ever will be. It's what lifts you, what brings you to your knees, what connects you, what turns you inward, what brings you pause, is your flow.

Writing, music, and running are my religion. What's yours?


-Run regularly
-Don't think how long the run is first thing after waking up, etc; focus on putting on the running clothes, then having breakfast, then brushing teeth, etc. Then go!
-Take it easy if that's what you need to do. Jog if can't run, walk if you can't jog, etc.
-Don't push and push just because you got that runner's high. Just run the set amount that you had set out to do, rest, recover, and reserve your energy for the next run.
-Pick one "limit" (a set distance, a set time, a set speed, etc.) and stick to it, whatever it takes. Congratulate yourself for meeting that goal regardless of how long it took you/how far you got/etc.

Cheers, 2015. Cheers, 2016.

Another year ending, another one beginning. It's one of my favorite times for reflection (the other time being my birthday).

In the past years, I did well in remembering my goal throughout the year, sticking to it, and then reporting back come November or December--
2009: "New Decade Resolutions
2010: "NDR" progress check  
2012: Goals | Reflection 
2013: Goals | Reflection 
2014: Reflection
Today, December 30th, 2015, I can hardly remember if I had even made any goals for this year. Luckily, I stumbled upon this buried post I had saved as a draft (now published): Here comes 2015. This year, I was uninspired in January to make NYR. I felt like I was still swimming, drowning, in over my head with two previous personal goals I had made: don't quit my job and ChillTFO. I made those goals going into the 2014-2015 school year, so by mid-school year (Dec 2014/Jan 2015), I just didn't have it in me to set any new ambitious goals for 2015. So, rather than make New Year's Resolutions, I took a page out of my sister's book. She makes a Things I'm Looking Forward To list and a Things to Keep in Mind list. Her latter list includes something like "Practice Patience" or "Trust in God" or something nice like that... at any rate, my little list still came out kind of goal-like, even though I abandoned ship on those goals ("strive for a minimalist lifestyle" and "deepen my spirituality") by June.

That summer, I revised; these became my new goals (progress checks made today, in parentheses):

-Save $10,000 by end of January (check--surpassed that goal one month early AND maxed out my IRA contribution for 2015)
-Go somewhere epic for Thanksgiving (check--NOLA was all that and more)
-Exercise weekly. At least twice a week! (there were a couple of weeks here and there that I slacked off, but I did alright)
-prepare for marathon!!! (Technically, even buying a pair of shoes counts as preparing for a marathon. Luckily, I did slightly more than just that. Slightly. Either way, Oakland Running Festival 2016, here I come!)

Now 2015 is over. What happened? Did I make any progress in life? I mean, I guess I did a good job of sticking to it; it's my first time repeating a school year as a full-time classroom teacher (in the States) and I'm feeling the positive effects of "just try to do it all over again, this time maybe slightly better". I grew a lot, but I still feel like the same me from 2014. I'm not doing anything new, but I'm better at what I do. I'm a little more me, but mostly unchanged. And there the year went, say bye bye. 2015 is coming to a close, extremely un-climactic-ly.

If there's one lesson I learned in the past year or two, it's the value of routine and slow progress. My mom likes to say that there are two types of people in the world: goal-oriented and process-oriented. She says I'm a goal-oriented person (hence all the NYRs). On the other hand, Brian seems to me to be a process-oritented person; he enjoys working out every day for the sake of that routine more so than hitting target fitness goals periodically.

This past year, I plodded along routinely. I didn't have my eyes on any prize; I focused on getting enough sleep every night, settling into a routine at work, going to yoga on Wednesdays, and going on long runs on weekends. When anything broke my routine, I said 'oh well' and just tried it again the next week. I didn't track my progress, I didn't ask anything more of myself than I had already been doing; I just kept going.

Maybe through that process, I grew. Maybe I became a better teacher, more fit, more sane, or more healthy; I can't be sure.

Family and friends tell me, though, that I'm the happiest they've ever seen me.

And that actually means a lot to me. For too long, I had let my little demons of failure follow me about wherever I went--being told I wasn't smart; nearly failing out of college; many job rejections; quitting my job; settling for terrible jobs; caving under or even hiding from stress and pressure. This year, those evil little voices started to fade out as I focused on making a routine of being healthy, showing up for work, trying really hard, and then not ruminating over my day as I went to bed at 9pm that night. During spring, summer, fall, and winter vacation I did nearly no work (zero work turned out to be impossible, but nearly zero is good, too) and thoroughly enjoyed each and every vacation--from aurora borealis-chasing, to Andes mountains-climbing, to New Orleans soul food and jazz-gorging, to sweet, sweet, Hawaii life-enjoying.

I suppose I have grown in some way. I'm more content with life and with myself. That's something. A big something. So thanks, 2015.

Now, onward--2016.

Things I'm Looking Forward to in 2016
-spring break adventures with Gia and Catie
-more camping trips
-finishing BTSA
-crossing the finish line at the Oakland Running Festival (checking off finishing marathon #3 after having trained for 4 marathons)
-being married
-seeing Iceland with close friends and family <3
-crossing the wedding (namely, paying for the wedding) off the pesky to-do list
-my sisters' career advancements
-fall break and winter break 2016

Things to Keep in Mind in 2016
-Don't let work consume you; actively seek out a good work-life balance
-Make time to reflect and recharge
-Make music

and finally, my NYR 2015:
-Tell the story of the Many Lives of Carmen.  This story has been sitting on my hard drive and in my email (but mostly in my head) for 2 or 3 years now. The characters exist, the beginning has been written, the last page has been written, all the middle pages are in my head--now to just get it on paper. Publishing doesn't matter to me; neither does readership. All I know is that this story has been simmering in my brain for some time now and it needs to come out.

Cheers, 2015.
Cheers, 2016.


Happy Teacher, Happy Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving! For me, anyway. School's out for a week. Hooray, we made it!

I'm on a teacher high right now.

I love my students; I love my job. Ironically, I had to reminded myself with those words today. I said it in a frustrating moments out loud, psuedo-under my breath, to a class today after a student was--unintentionally--giving me a hard time. I wanted them to see that I was frustrated, but I also wanted to remind them and myself that I really do love my job--and my students.

That difficult moment was only a few minutes out of my day, though. Zooming out and looking at the day--better yet, zooming out and looking at the past two weeks--my teacher life has been great.

A few things I'm excited about:

  • There's a noticeable difference in my authority over the class now as compared to last year. That's due to many things: I use strategies like attention-getters, I use wait time until I have everyone's attention, I acknowledge positive behavior, I re-direct and correct inappropriate behavior in a firm and constructive way, and--more importantly--I've built relationships with many students over this past year and a half. Many of them have come to respect and trust me. In turn, not only do they give me their respect, they also help shape the class culture in such a way that feels respectful, trusted, caring, and positive.
  • I'm taking creative risks in ways that I'm teaching the material. I try many different methods of teaching the same content in order to try to allow different access points to the material. I am patient with students and with myself whenever I introduce a new learning structure.
  • I feel like I'm teaching students something meaningful. Today, I was upfront with my students when I told them that it's important to me not only that they learn and grow their abilities in math, but also that they improve and become better and better learners. I showed them coaching notes that my supervisor took of my teaching; I showed them how my supervisor observes my teaching and then shows me how I can improve; I told them that I am doing the same thing for them so that they can become better learners. In the long run, I hope that my walk away feeling confident in their ability to learn inside and outside of academic settings.
  • I also feel like I'm setting a positive example about just simply what it means to be kind to others and I feel like I'm being met with success. Some of my students can be rude to each other--they are, after all, 15 years old. I have a lot of talks with a lot of students about what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to be kind to one another and I've seen improvement in my classrooms little by little. 
  • At the same time, I'm learning tall lessons from my own students. One student kindly and lovingly reflected back to me a time that he felt disrespected by me when I called him out on his behavior; he even was self-reflective and forgiving enough to say "April, remember that time that I came into your class heated from an earlier class, and I just walked out? Well, I just wanted to compare that situation with this one. I wonder if you were having a bad day." I'm on my students' cases all the time; on top of that, I get bogged down by the stresses of the day. My last period students probably see the most worn-out, disheveled version of me every single day. Yet, every single day, they show up--it's a new day, one in which they're ready to try again with me.
  • I'm inspired to learn and try right now. I have a tiny notebook in which I write down all my ideas for things I want to try in the classroom. I have small ideas that I've already implemented, like a tracking system for students' classwork so that they can easily access their class notes and track their own progress with the content.  I have medium to large ideas, like having students create YouTube videos in which they teach a concept, and then make those videos available to the class and to future classes so that they can refer back to it when they need virtual tutoring. I feel like I'm starting to break free of having to learn sooooo manyyyyy millions of little teacher things--like how to use the copy machine and how to fix it when it jams, or how to set up an online grade book, or how to manage to clean up a classroom, set up for the next class, quickly tutor a student, get lunch, heat it up, and eat it, all within 30 minutes--and am becoming more free to learn and try interesting teachery things--like how to create respectful classroom cultures, and how to empower students to work hard and help one another.
OK, I'm going to stop that list there because I feel like I'm starting to gush. I could go on and on, though. I love my job; I love my students. Teachers may get a bad rap for "low pay", but I'm convinced that no other job pays you more in hugs and love than a teacher's job.

And they love me back, sometimes.

(Thanksgiving-grams, distributed by students <3 )

This one made me tear up; full disclosure, I thought that this kid hated me because I've been hard on him, he used to cut my class a lot, and I gave him a failing grade last year, so he's re-taking my class. And now, I get nothing but love from him. 



The saddest part, at times, is possibility extinguished. Gone. We imagined a trajectory; it was cut short. Who else's trajectories will be cut short? Why was yours? What's to stop anyone else's from being disappeared? I don't believe in ghosts--I didn't. When others leave, they're gone. Yours is one of the only ghosts that exists. You still exist. How? You're still laughing, still photographing, still eating ice cream. I feel this truth deeply in my bones.

Though now typically disenchanted, when I see photographs of Iceland, when I hear "Love Me Like You Do", I come to believe in the power of the universe once again because I know you're out there, somewhere.

A million miles of photo credits to MAG.


Bottled Up

Anniversary-ing in Big Sur
The good news is I haven't been writing because my day to day fell into a rhythm of good/not bad/not bad/alright/not bad/OK/not great, but not bad... Which is to say that work life is thousands of miles better than it was last year--especially this time last year.
Dear self from on year ago,
  You made it. It gets better.
      -Self, one year later
As I write this, I'm cozied up in a woodsy loft of a house tucked away in the woods of Carmel Valley, CA. Brian and I are celebrating our 4 year anniversary with expensive dinners and beautiful coastal views. One year ago, he and I were cozied up in a woodsy loft of a tiny house in Sebastopol, CA, celebrating our 3 year anniversary. At the time, I was regularly coming home from work exhausted or in tears or both. He was underemployed and starting to question his hireability as an engineer. What a difference a year makes. Since then, we've made strides at work, maintained a healthy social life, and hey, are even planning a wedding.

Some thoughts and experiences I've gathered along the way and haven't had a chance to nail down on paper (or blogpost):

I learned how to shut off work and stress after leaving work. For the past several months, I routinely shut off the stress. I left work at 6 or 3:30 or 8:00 (seriously), came home, vegged out, had dinner, and went to bed. Then, I woke up and did it all over again. It didn't matter what sorts of little stresses I faced during the day or the emotional load that I carried after one student or another confided in me over the stresses of their own lives--like clockwork, I shut it off, went home, and then came back to work the next day. I forced myself into a routine. I focused on doing precisely three things after work: have dinner, shower, and be in bed by 9. The days started marching by quickly, robotically, and, well, unemotionally. Coworkers who knew me from last year celebrated with me that I hadn't cried at all since August! Three whole months! Yay!

By last Monday evening, I started noticing that something was off inside of me. No matter. I pushed the thought aside and persevered through Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Thursday morning, I voiced to Gia that I was feeling... blah. Empty. Bored? Weird. Then, I pushed/skated/floated through Thursday. 6pm, leave work. 6:30, lay on the couch, stare vacantly at the wall while my sisters and their friend chat around me. Brian comes home, I continue to sit. Finally, I pull him into our room, I shut the door, and I make him sit next to me on the bed. He now notices too that something is off. He asks what's wrong and I respond with... broken sentences, confusion, finally, only tears.

I'm not stressed out. I'm not overwhelmed. So what's with the tears? What's with this feeling I can't name?

We had a concert to get to that night, so I washed my face, put on a braver one, and we set off into the cool Oakland night. I let myself settle into the singer's crooning and even groove with the warm, jazzy funk. I felt like a shaken up soda bottle whose bottle cap was finally, slowly, being opened.

The next afternoon, I went on a hike with Gia and Marisol, our school counselor. For possibly the first time since the school year started, I didn't shut off work. Instead, I talked about it. I talked about how I felt when one student told me she'd been absent from school because she and her family had been living out of their car--how I'd felt myself start to well up, but then I 'successfully' shut off the emotions and just listened and tried to be a support for her. I thought about the dozens of times each day that a student chooses chat, or mess around, or be on their phone, or walk out of class, or talk back to me, or be mean to each other, and how I shut off my frustration in the moment, and do my best to 'respond' and not 'react'. I talked about how I'd gotten so 'skilled' at shutting it off--all emotions--that unfortunately, even when daily little good things happened, something inside of me stays turned off. Like when one girl came into my classroom demanding a hug from me (seriously) because of something she was grateful for from me, I robotically hugged her, put on a face that I hoped fit the situation, and reminded her that I am always here for her. But I couldn't feel happy with her. Now, as a second year teacher at my school, I have dozens more positive interactions with students and dozens more successes in the classroom--why wasn't I happy? Why didn't I feel pride or joy or accomplishment? I felt nothing.

Now, after crying with Brian, getting lost in some feel-good music, talk therapy with friends, a hike, and writing, I'm starting to feel re-centered. Marisol told me that sometimes when we faces stresses, we dissociate to turn off the stress. However, if we don't process what we're going through and let our emotions run its course, it will start to build up. The negative impacts of shutting off stress includes shutting off all emotions--hence not being able to properly enjoy happier moments. She told me about vicarious or secondary trauma, when empathy causes one to be affected by the trauma of someone close to them. Vicarious trauma is as real and as direct trauma and needs to be treated and faced just as we all know that trauma needs to be treated.

These past few months have shown me that I can shut off the stress when I need to. But now, I've also learned of the importance of letting myself feel sadness and frustration when it comes and to not run away from those feelings. That way, I can make room for other, better, feel-good feelings. I need to take care of myself emotionally. I want to start working it into my schedule to do the things that make me feel good--like blogging, talking through my emotions, and listening to really, really good music.

Anyway, that's where I am right now: better than last year, and hopefully on a track to continue to be better and better--as a teacher and as a human person :) .



Three and a half days ago, a child was killed.

That child was 15 years old and a student of our community.

That child was my student.

I was home last Sunday when I received the news from a coworker. The one, single emotion I felt when I received the call and for the rest of that day was surprise--that is, surprise at my numbness.

And then I went to school. I saw my coworkers--my co-teachers, his other teachers. We gathered in the classroom for our morning meeting. Something inside of me broke. Reality hit me like a truck. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't help but look to my coworkers for an appropriate way to react to this situation. I found comfort in seeing no one holding back and nearly everyone crying. I didn't need anyone to "be strong" for me in that moment; their tears gave me permission to let go, too.

I can't choose one thing that hurts most:

losing Sergio

seeing his picture on the altar/memorial students and staff had set up

watching his closest friends, boys, girls, and young men alike break down, holding each other through sobs

seeing his two sisters, also students at our school, his little brother, and his father

the injustice of a life with so much potential extinguished in the blink of an eye

wanting to be a voice of comfort or of reason to students when they search for answers in death, violence, and murder--but having none

fear for my other students' lives

sadness for students' fear, either newfound or renewed, of walking their own streets

the lack of uproar in the community at large; the normalcy of a fatal drive by shooting in Oakland


= = =

You will be missed, Sergio. I'm thankful to have known you. I will do my best to take care of your sisters and brother.

= = =

Please consider helping Sergio's family by donating. Anything helps and is deeply appreciated. http://www.gofundme.com/xf2hxqmc 


Huaraz, Lake 69, and Lake Churup

From Lima, Brian and I took an overnight bus with Cruz del Sur to Huaraz. The seats were comfy (we chose the VIP floor, which included fully reclining seats, a pillow and a blanket, a media console, and a sketchy looking pre-packaged meal of a ham and cheese sandwich that we did not eat) and with the twists and turns and bumps of the bus ride, I slept like a damn baby.

Brian did not fare so well. He was going on day 5 or so of his stomach virus and, well, here's what we did on day 1 in Huaraz:

We stayed at the Morales Guesthouse in Huaraz. Though it was a bit pricier than we had gotten so used to spending ($7-10 per night on average!), it was nice to escape noisy party hostels, to not have to make our own breakfast, and to have our beds made every morning :)

Added bonus for having real, brewed coffee rather than the usual instant coffee that Peruvians seem to love so much.
Annie, one of the workers at Morales Guesthouse, recommended a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant for fried cuy (guinea pig). The waitress at the restaurant seemed utterly shocked that Brian and I each only wanted a quarter of a cuy each (rather than a whole). Here it is, served on a bed of some four or five whole potatoes. 

Little girl at the restaurant trying to talk to Brian and I. Brian handed her his iPhone so that she could try translating what she wanted to say.
Huaraz is a tiny, tiny town and far different from the colonial cities of Lima and Cusco. After visiting the villages surrounding Huaraz, though, we were surprised to find how comparably large and bustling Huaraz actually way :)

Celebrations for Peru's independence day started early here.

Once Brian was back in tip-top shape (sort of), we set off for our first hike around the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negro. Lake Churup!

We climbed straight up the side of this waterfall!

After an evening of rest back at the guesthouse, we woke up early the next morning to join a group tour to Lake 69.

On our last day, Brian and I decided to check out some nearby ruins and take a peek at the villages and little homes of Andean life.

Overall, the Cordillera Blanca area was of the most beautiful sights in all of Peru. I was surprised that so few travelers who I met had made Huaraz one of their destinations. If you're in Peru and you have an extra two or three days--hop on a bus and go to Huaraz!