I can't say I've spent much time thinking about high school since graduating from it. I was bored at my high school graduation; it was May in Texas, and I was hot, and I was wondering what the hell I was doing there. I had taken enough college classes my senior year of high school that I didn't really feel like I was there anymore. I had already moved on, and graduation seemed like an exercise in redundancy.

Over the years, high school has come up now and then--at reunions with my best friends from those years, who I still keep in contact with, on a date when he asks if I play an instrument, when asked to explain where I'm from--but mostly it's been buried in my memory. Most of my pre-college years have, really. My mom, still living in my hometown, texts me periodically to say so-and-so's mom is the new school nurse (she's a teacher, too) or I ran into so-and-so at that restaurant you haven't thought of in ages and most of the time I can't remember who she's talking about. Eventually, I might place the name, locate them spatially in memory, but I don't actually remember them.

From talking to other people, I know that this is not uncommon, to not look back, to not remember, to let parts of your life slip away. That doesn't stop part of me from feeling bad about it, especially when I encounter things like this Billy Crystal interview in which he seems to remember absolutely everything, even things that must not have seemed important at the time. I would love to have a memory like that, to hold on to detail with such clarity. But in truth I have a fairly foggy mind; things swirl around and confuse themselves in there if left for more than a moment or two. My mind is an old house that needs dusting a few times a day, and I absolutely hate dusting.

In June I announced that I was looking for a new teaching position. In July I got a call from my old high school--my mom had wasted no time in encouraging me to apply in Seguin, and after discovering that they did actually have an open English teacher position at the high school and my boyfriend encouraging me to apply to keep my options open, I had applied. The call came on a Monday, the interview happened on Tuesday, I was offered the position about an hour after the interview ended, and Thursday I went in and signed the paperwork. In August I completed two weeks of professional development and started teaching a new course at a new (old) high school.

So now here I am, back at this place that I surely never planned to come back to, and it's strange. It's strange how, walking the halls, I have so little memory attached to the classrooms, to the hallways. I've forgotten how to get around to the areas I didn't traffic a lot as a student, like the gym, though to be fair to myself, the school is now under construction. I do remember the teachers I had that are still there very clearly, and I now work closely with some teachers who were there when I was a student, but whom I never had. It's strange to compare the policies of the school then and now, and the behavior of the students. It's strange to think, a kid never would've said that to a teacher when I was in school, and it's the very same school. It's strange that when I was in school, cell phones were just beginning to be popular, and just about all you could do on them was text or play Snake, and now I'm dealing with students answering Facetime calls and playing video games and Snapchatting. It's strange how, from how the kids talk about it, Band seems exactly the same. 

Part of what makes it strangest of all is that I spent 4 years living where hardly anyone knew me. In Virginia, I was from somewhere else, somewhere far away, and while many people knew or wanted to know Austin, no one knew my hometown. To go from being from somewhere else to being from here is a strange jump, one I have to re-orient myself to every day. 

I had really mixed feelings about going home. In some ways, it seemed like a downgrade from working in a big school district like Austin, it was a pay cut, and the young me who couldn't wait to get out of there fought the adult me who couldn't say no to a job offer without a good reason. But then it also seemed cool in a way to go back to my old high school, and I really did get some good opportunities there and I liked the idea of being able to pay it forward in that community. Plus, the position I was being offered was a Junior English class, and I loved the idea of having slightly older students and more literature-heavy coursework. 

Avoiding Austin traffic didn't hurt either.

Going Home

Over the years, my friend Jessica, a high school teacher herself and one of my absolute best friends growing up, has asked me if I wanted to teach several times. My answer was always no.

I didn't get my degree in education. I pursued two degrees in writing because I wanted to write, to craft stories, to bring characters to life by pressing fingers into keys, by pressing imagination to paper. I wanted to connect and interact with audiences through words committed to pages and screens. Teaching would be a distraction. It would be so full time.

And, if I'm being honest, there was some kind of stigma around it, in my mind. The people I was surrounded by in these writing programs were artists and academics, and teaching anything but college seemed demeaning, a "those who can't do, teach" situation. If I'm really being honest with myself, I don't think I actually felt that way about it, but lots of people around me did, or at least that's the way I perceived their attitude toward education.

Fast forward a little bit and you get 2015 me, busting my butt in retail, living not enough month-to-month but week-to-week, feel exhausted and frustrated and broke and powerless. Feeling like I had too many words that weren't being shared because I didn't have the energy to share them, and also feeling like I had no words because I didn't have the energy to think them. But they were there, churning, eating up my insides. Really I didn't have the energy to articulate them, to commit to them, to do them justice.

And then here was my friend, asking me again if I wanted to teach high school. My answer was yes.

I thought about it a lot before answering. I had taught college classes throughout grad school and missed it. I liked the idea of having a regular schedule, of having weekends off, of having summer vacation time over the summer. I liked the idea of a salary, (underpaid but) a living wage. But mostly I liked the idea of being challenged at work, of being valued, of sharing knowledge and helping young students grow into knowledge, responsible, ethical citizens.

It was the right decision.

It's been a rough couple of months. I'm going through an alternative certification program, which takes up a good chunk of my time and money. It was a challenge getting these students to accept me, a new, young teacher mid-year, after being abandoned by their first one. It was something like culture shock stepping into this new team, this new building, this new way of life, this new position. And there was a lot to freaking do.

But it's also been an amazing couple of months. I've stretched my skills and capabilities. I've bonded with these kids. My most challenging class at the beginning elbowed their way up to being my favorite class by the end. These kids constantly surprised me with their generosity and their creativity and their innocence and their lack of innocence and their honest-to-goodness love. For every moment I wanted to scream with frustration, there was a moment when I wanted to cry with kindness.

My department is being downsized and I might not fit into it again next year. I'm job searching again. I'm waiting to find out what school will become home. Regardless, I'm proud to be a teacher and grateful for the crazy loco life this year has given me and excited to see what comes next.

Yours Truly,

That Time I Became A High School English Teacher

If you read all the way through my 2015 year end review, you know that one of the happy things that happened in the last part of last year was that I met a boy. I kind of snuck that info in.


The thing is, there aren't boys, and then there are. It's hard to say what brings that change about. Suddenly, things line up. A connection is made. It's kismet. Sometimes, I think you just have to be patient enough to wait for your life scale to balance itself, for the universe to bring good things to you. You can do a lot to improve yourself, to find grace, to increase your happiness, but you can't do everything.

The boy and I met online, on Tinder of all things. He found me the day I got back on after an online dating hiatus, sent me a message right away. And I swiped right on him even though he didn't live in Austin and was in school, two things that, in a different mood, would've made me think it was going to be too much trouble and I would've swiped left. We had our first date on a Friday, texted Saturday, had our second date on Sunday. We seemed easy together, similar but different, good. And after Christmas we talked about it, and it felt right to label this thing as a relationship. The boy is now my boyfriend. Excuse me while I suppress my little girl squeal.

One of my favorite things about having new people in my life is buying gifts for them. I can't help it. There is nothing as lovely as delighting someone with the surprisingly perfect gift that they didn't even know they needed. When UncommonGoods reached out to me about sponsoring a post, it seemed kismet too. Where else would I look for a gift for the boy, who never asks for anything? Plus I love giving my dollars to companies that pay their employees a living wage, are committed to being more environmentally friendly, and sell products that are handmade, organic, and/or recycled, so that's pretty great too (you can read more about their mission here, if you're interested).

I cannot tell you how many hours I spent combing through the website for gift ideas. The first gift you give to someone is kind of a big deal. The collections were a big help is narrowing things down. Look here, here, and here for more products if you're looking for a gift for him, too. Plus, a lot of these gifts are unisex, so really the possibilities are endless.

I have six ideas currently in the running, but I keep going back and looking at more, so who knows what he'll end up with. This bourbon stout beer brewing kit seems like it would be a fun thing to do together, this bamboo bike wall clock would look super cool on his walls (and he loves biking), this bar tool seems like a super nifty thing to have, perhaps along with this whiskey wedge for funky, undiluted drinks? This kit is the kind of luxury item he would never buy himself (but is it offensive to gift someone something with the word "hygiene" in it?), and we do live in Texas after all, so this make your own hot sauce kit seems fun and fitting.

Have your started shopping for Valentine's Day yet? What do you like to do for love day, and what kinds of gifts do you like to give (and receive!)?

Yours Truly, Jen

***This post was sponsored by UncommonGoods, but all thoughts and opinions are my own***

The Boy (+Uncommon Valentine's Gifts for Him)

I had all the hope in the world for 2015, and it started out so well. Unfortunately, rather than the happiness I was searching for, I got buckets of stress and anxiety. But, that's not to say that a lot didn't happen or that I didn't achieve some things, or that there weren't plenty of lovely highlights along the way. It did and I did and there were.

But I am not sorry to say, farewell 2015. It was real, but I'm ready to move on. First, though, some highlights from the year:

+ Read bunches
+ Reflected a lot on what makes me happy, and what I could do to bring more happiness into my life
+ Found out my oldest sister had late stage cancer
+ Became mildly addicted to taking hot baths
+ Took an amazing yoga class
+ Helped my dear friends sell their house
+ Battled the elements (So much snow! So much ice!)
+ Made the decision to move back to Texas
+ Injured my knee pretty badly when I slipped on a wet floor
+ Took the first steps toward getting my debt under control
+ Got the jewelry store in tip-top shape before I left

+ Sold off my things, packed up my life, and said goodbye to fair Blacksburg
+ Survived the drive from Virginia to Austin (with Olive and a car full of stuff) and moved into an apartment with one of my oldest friends
+ Survived unemployment and found a couple of jobs that would (barely) pay my bills
+ Learned to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle
+ Adjusted to apartment living, and especially, apartment living with a dog
+ Visited with so many family and friends
+ Lost some weight
+ Tried my hand at dating again

+ Turned 25, and spent some time reflecting on the last 5 years, and looking ahead to the next 5
+ Started a snail mail correspondence with my best friend back in Virginia
+ Worked way too much
+ Found out my oldest sister was (after extensive surgery and some chemo) cancer-free
+ Started going to coworking with some boss babes in Austin
+ Made a guest appearance on a friend's podcast
+ Started letting Olive sleep in bed with me some nights to give us more bonding time
+ Started feeling confident at both my jobs and making friends with my coworkers
+ Worked on upgrading my attitude
+ Got serious about my nutrition and fitness
+ Met a boy
+ Became determined to overcome my struggles with mornings
+ Hosted a super successful family Christmas
+ Partied it up on New Year's Eve with some old and some new friends, and still made it to work the next morning

What were some of your highlights from 2015? Is there anything in here you want me to share more about on here?

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. I would've liked to have this up before the new year, but I was working two retail jobs through the holidays, so it just didn't quite happen. Ya dig?

2015, Year End Review

Two weeks ago I thought I should really, definitely, surely write a post for Christmas. And then I really didn't feel like it.

One week ago when I thought about writing a Christmas post, I thought about titling it "Happy Everything, Schmucks." There are people who will yell in public. At a retail worker. During the holidays. Over absolutely nothing. There are people who will wait through a line, get to the front of it, wait until all of their items have been scanned, and then suddenly realize they don't have their wallet, or their debit card, or whatever. There are people who will do this, say they'll just run out to the car and grab it, hold up the line while they do so, and then never come back. There are people who will complain about how long something is taking (gift wrapping, processing an online return, looking for a different size), when you are already going above and beyond. There are people who will tell you "hey, what's that?" point to the ground, say "you dropped your smile," and then laugh when you are 1) confused, because you're tired AF and don't have full brainpower, and/or 2) angry, because it's sexist and not funny. There are people who get angry when you don't accommodate them when they read something incorrectly, because that's your fault somehow. There are people who will interrupt you while you're helping another customer, talking to a customer on the phone, putting away an armful of clothes, clocking out for your lunch break, and ask if you can check them out because they don't want to wait in the short line that's formed, when clearly no, you cannot check them out right then. There are people who think that somehow you should make everything happen instantly for them when they have groceries in the car, or when they have a place to be, or when they were supposed to be at a place 10 minutes ago.

And yes, those people are absolutely terrible. Not to the core, probably, but they need to learn to check themselves in public. Have some empathy. Have some perspective. Have some human freaking decency. And have some goddam holiday spirit. It's not all about your party dress or what's under the tree, you know.

But there are also coworkers to laugh with, to commiserate with, to dream with. There are boys who will text you and ask how your day is going. There are friends who invite you to parties even when you're always working, friends who will hook you up with job opportunities, friends who will take care of your dog so you can go out on a date, friends who will write you long, kind, inspiring letters from afar. There are customers who have utmost gratitude for everything you do for them. There is family to coordinate pot luck dinner with, and pups to soothe you on the days, weeks, months when you constantly feel like crying because of all of this accumulated stress. There are mothers to cheer you on.

When it comes down to it, holidays are all about spirit, and sharing that spirit with the people in your life. The other stuff is tradition, decoration, potpourri. But the holiday itself is feeling. Every holiday celebrates love and gratitude in a different way.

So Happy Everything, lovelies. Go out and spread your love and gratitude and light the best way you know how. Share a tasty treat with someone you love. Play Parcheesi. Sing as loudly and poorly as you want. Sip a festive beverage. Send a thoughtful text (or two or three).

Be merry. Be bright.

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. Some things to do if you're flying solo for the holidays this year.

Happy Everything, Lovelies

Being late to school was always a major source of stress for me when I was growing up. I found it mortifying, plus I would get punished by the school for my parents not getting me there in time, which seemed unfair to me.

I hate being late, and yet, lately, I always am. I'm using my tips for having an awesome morning to help develop a solid morning routine and kick the habit, but in the meantime, these are my favorite tips for making sure I looked pulled together (a must for me by nature, but also in my job description) when I'm short on time.

1. Choose key areas of your face to focus on. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT try to do a full face of makeup if you are running late. Because once you start it, you really can't not finish it. Trust me, I've been there many times before. Instead, figure out what you need to do to feel polished. Try to stick with 3-5 products. For me, I'll usually do a tinted moisturizer (2 steps in one, plus much quicker to blend than foundation), fill in my brows, line my upper eyelids, and swipe on some mascara, then throw my lipstick in my bag so I can put it on in the car or when I get where I'm going. It's such a good idea to practice this face and time yourself so you can feel super confident on your rushed mornings.

2. Master a go-to hairdo. True story: I am not good at putting my hair in a ponytail. Putting my hair in a ponytail I'm happy with actually takes longer for me than just styling it so I can wear it down. This is a great go-to for lots of people, but not for me. Find the thing that works for you! I'm most confident when my hair is down, and my daily style takes me 5-10 minutes to do, and usually lasts me 2-3 days. On day 3 or 4, if I don't have time (or, honestly, am just too lazy) to wash it, I can throw it up in a topknot real quick.

3. Prep your purse. I am notorious in my friend group for having a huge, Mary Poppins-esque handbag on me at all times. I like to be prepared, and I like to have the extra room to be able to throw my laptop, camera, water bottle, book, lunch, or whatever else I need in there and go. BUT, you do not need to have a huge purse to have a prepared purse. Think about the things you often wish you had or end up buying on the run and see if you can stock them in your bag. For me, having a go-to lipstick, a nutrition bar, a pressed powder, a pack of gum, a water bottle, and a battery pack for my phone helps me feel more confident about getting through my day. Confidence is the best accessory, after all.

4. Save your favorite outfits. Take the opportunity on mornings when you have plenty of time to get creative with your wardrobe, and save your favorite, go-to outfits for mornings you're lacking in energy or time so you can throw them on and feel and look good. Bonus tip: I like to dress a little nicer on days I'm not feeling well (which includes days I'm feeling stressed or frantic). I don't want people to be able to take one look at me and know that I'm a hot mess that day.

5. Eat Breakfast. Hungry is not a good look, or a good feeling! Take a moment to eat a granola bar, bowl of cereal, cold piece of pizza, or piece of fruit. No matter how late you're running, taking a second to drink some water and get some food in your belly is a non-negotiable step in my book. You can always pack something and eat it on the way!

5 Tips for Looking Pulled Together When You're Running Late

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