Dear Olive

You were the sweetest little girl. You were quick to snuggle, quick to press up against a hand or leg for affection, and quick to comfort. I wish you were here to comfort me now.

But you're not. And part of me blames myself for that. I could've taken you to more training classes. Maybe then when I saw you on the stairs and our eyes met, you would have come back inside when I called you instead of darting off down the stairs. If I had leashed you on the porch while I was working out there, you wouldn't have been loose in the house and therefore wouldn't hav been able to run out when the front door freakishly sprang open as the wind picked up outside. If I had looked to see where you went instead of running inside for your leash and my keys, maybe I would have found you faster. If I had circled through that parking lot, maybe I would have found you in time.

But I didn't give you the inclination to run when you could. I didn't give you your curiosity, your independence, your slow-maturing breed. And ultimately, I didn't hit you and keep driving. It was just an accident, a strange accident at the end of an otherwise lovely day. It's the kind of thing that no one sees coming, and that's what makes it so jarring, so startling, so difficult to get over. Thursday evening we were at the dog park. Friday evening you were gone.

Please know that you were loved deeply. Please know that I will miss you in every step of my day--when I wake up, I'll miss you by the bed. When I get ready for the day, I'll miss our morning walk. When I leave, I'll miss the way you knew just when to put yourself in your crate at the end of my routine; I'll miss saying goodbye to you as I head out. When I come home, I'll miss the sound of you shifting in your crate, happy to see me; I'll miss our evening walk, even the way you would tug on me after a long day waiting indoors. I'll miss you coming up to greet me as I lounge on the couch. I'll miss calling you into the bedroom when it's time to go to bed, and watching you curl up on your cushion in the corner.

We still had a lot of growing up to do, you and I. We needed to learn to stop jumping up, to keep our paws to ourselves, and how to walk nicely on the leash. We needed to learn those things, to practice those things, together. You drove me crazy sometimes. And by sometimes I mean at least once a day. You could be restless and grumbly, you scavenged from the counters sometimes, and you were so in awe of the world that sometimes I had to fight for your attention to get you to do what I wanted.

You were full of life is all. You were young and silly and energetic and sweet and beautiful and perfect. You were my little girl, my darling angel, my boo boo, my chicken nugget, my sweetheart, my doggy doppelganger.

I am so sorry this happened to you. I'm sorry I wasn't there sooner. I'm sorry that you suffered.

I'm grateful to the man who sat with you and petted you until I found you, who lifted you and carried you to the car. I'm grateful to the man in my apartment complex who came and told me where you were. I'm grateful to my mother for coming to the clinic with me so I didn't have to do this alone. I'm grateful to the boy for sending flowers, for calling as many times as his tour schedule allows. I'm grateful that you didn't suffer long.

I love you sweet girl. Rest in peace.

Going Home

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.

That Time I Became A High School English Teacher

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,

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

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***

2015, Year End Review

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?