Tuesday, 8 November 2016

From the mouths of babes on today of all days...

It's the day of the election in the US, and people over here in the UK are worried...all people, not just ex-pats.  The hate and vitriol that has permeated this election has affected civility and common decency on what I've seen in the news and social media. This whole fiasco has brought me to the point of despair over the human race.

Until about 10 minutes ago...

If you've read my blog in the past (or you just know me), you know I teach grade 6 at an international school in the UK. The school is approximately 30-40% American with a wealth of nationalities making up the other 70-60%. Earlier this morning one of my homeroom students came to me and asked if she could come in with a group of students and do some filming at lunch recess for a little project she was making for fun. I was a bit annoyed by this because we're in the midst of grading and report writing, and I'm swamped with work. But, I grudgingly obliged, warning that if they were too noisy I would make them leave.

So in they came...quietly...a big bunch of them, and they spread out amongst my desks, taking books from my classroom library and pretending to read as my student walked around the classroom filming them with her iPad. They then all gathered together behind two students who had a notebook with messages on four pages. My student zoomed in on each page, reading the messages aloud, so she could make certain that she was giving enough time for each message to be read.

Page 1- "You see a mixed race classroom. This is our school"
Page 2- "We accept each other for who we truly are no matter of religion, belief or skin color"
Page 3- "Our school treats each other equally and cares for each other because we are a community"
Page 4- "Why can't the world be like our school?"

 As I watched this my eyes welled up with tears. This was not an assignment. No one had suggested they do this. They felt it had to be said, so they gave up their recess to say it.

And with that, my faith in humanity is restored.


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

You've let me down, Gloria Steinem!

Gloria Steinem has been an iconic figure for me ever since I can remember. I even subscribed to Ms Magazine for a while. On the 4th of November, 1992, the day after Bill Clinton was elected president, Gloria Steinem spoke in Grand Rapids for a YWCA benefit. My mother was one of the organisers for the event. As I was living in Seattle at the time, I didn't attend, but my mother sent me a picture of herself and Gloria. I've had that picture in a frame and in a prominent place wherever I have lived. But, today I gave some serious thought to taking it down.

There's been a lot of chatter about what the old guard feminists are saying about younger female voters, and from it I came across Bill Maher's interview with Gloria Steinem on YouTube. The interview starts with him gushing over how good she looks for 81. Then he goes on to ask Gloria if she thinks, as some other feminists have said, that young women today are complacent about Rowe v Wade because they weren't around when abortion was illegal. Gloria answers in defence of today's young feminists saying that she finds them to be far more activist way more feminist than the women of her generation and goes on to say that "...gratitude never radicalised anybody." She continues on to explain that she "...never said, "Thank you for the vote,'" and adds, "I got mad at the basis as what was happening to me, and I think that's true of young women too. So they're mad as hell because they're graduating in debt, and they're going to earn a million dollars less over their lifetime to pay it back...they're mad about what's happening to them."

So good. It sounds like Ms Steinem really understands the issues of the youth (and some of us who are not so young) today. But then in one fell swoop she dismisses and alienates an entire generation of women. When Bill Maher points out that the younger generation of women support Bernie more than Hilary in this presidential campaign, Gloria says that women tend to get more radical as they get older, and "When you're young you're thinking where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie."

Wait. What???

So, this entire generation has gone from being way more feminist and activist and "mad as hell" to boy crazy??? For someone who claims to be more radical now that she's older, she certainly seems to be using a rather old school argument some men may have even used to belittle women who had stood up in the past.

Actually I think these women who are angry about the situation they find themselves in economically are more apt to be thinking of the two candidates who is really going to stand up to the bastards that have really set most of my generation (men and women) in the position we find ourselves? Of the two candidates who consistently votes his/her conscience and doesn't pander to big money corporate America? Who does that? Not Hilary Clinton.

When women fought for the right to vote, they did not make an agreement to always vote for women. They wanted the right to speak their minds and vote their consciences and to have their opinions be taken seriously. Instead of taking the opinions of the young women of today seriously, Gloria Steinem has trivialised their beliefs by saying they are supporting Bernie simply because they want to meet a man.

So today after I saw that interview (which by the way has now been removed from YouTube but you can still find it here), I thought about taking down that picture of my mother with Gloria Steinem.

But it's a really good picture of my mom.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

My dry spell has ended. Thank you, Donald Trump!

No, I've not slept with Donald Trump. However, that misogynist, racist asshole, who throws his toys out of the pram when he doesn't get his way, has been the perfect incentive for me. And as a result of his influence, I'm healthier and perhaps slightly wiser.

First, the backstory:
I realised back in November that perhaps I was going out and drinking a bit too much. But, the holidays were around the corner, so I carried on and decided that January would be the perfect month to give my liver a break. Many people have 'Dry Januarys' so I wouldn't be alone. But not drinking when you live in the UK is far more difficult than not drinking when you live in the USA or Mexico. Going to the pub is a social expectation here. People meet up at pubs far more than each other's houses or coffee shops. Plus, I have a fantastic local called The Lamb, where the most interesting and creative people I've ever met congregate. It's become a big part of my life, and I find myself there at least once a week if not more. Thus, I knew that this giving up booze for a month thing would not be easy. I needed an incentive to keep me on track.

If you've read my blog in the past, you'll know that I've a history of using my political/ethical beliefs to keep me on the road to meeting goals, so I was a bit surprised that I didn't come up with this idea on my own, but I didn't. The credit goes entirely to my friend, Kellie, who suggested that if I had a drink in January I should have to donate a sum of money to Donald Trump's campaign. Since I had social plans over the first weekend in January, I decided that the 4th of January should be the start date of my dry month. Thus on the 4th of January this was my Facebook status:

As 2015 was the year of indulgence for me, I've decided that 2016 will be the year of good health. Therefore in order to begin, I will not have a drop of alcohol from now up until the 4th of February 2016. If I do have a drink during this time, I will donate £300 to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

There was no turning back now. Everyone knew I wasn't allowed a drop of alcohol, and the brilliant part of this was that everyone I knew supported me. No one wanted me to give Donald Trump a penny, so no one tried to get me to drink. If I was getting pressured to have a drink, I would explain my incentive, and they would quickly offer to buy me something non-alcoholic. In fact, I have yet to actually meet someone who supports Donald Trump. If those people really exist, they do not live in the UK.


Second, the results and realisations from my dry month:

-I slept better!
I am normally quite the night owl, but found myself going to bed at more reasonable hours and then sleeping straight through the night. When I was out late, my sleep that night was sound. I didn't wake up early and stare at the ceiling feeling like crap having to guzzle down a pint of water.

-My resting heart rate dropped!
This surprised me a bit. I received a Fitbit Charge HR for Christmas and began to wear it immediately. My resting heart rate at that time was at 68bpm as an average before I started my dry month. It's now at 62bpm. For one week my average was 60bpm. This means my heart doesn't need to work as hard when I'm not drinking. Granted, I'm also exercising a bit more (see below), so that also might have something to do with it.

-I was more productive at work on the days after I went out with friends!
I was still social. I still went to The Lamb and did other things on various school nights. I just didn't drink. As a result, I was far more productive at work on the days following. I am always active and alert when I teach, so that remained the same. It's the prep time where my productivity increased. I didn't find myself staring off into space in the middle of a task, and as a result I ended up doing more at work and brought less work home.

-Weekend mornings are far more enjoyable!
This one really needs no explanation.

-I wasn't as socially anxious as I expected I'd be!
Social anxiety is probably the reason I started drinking in the first place. I have always been nervous in social situations, but after a few drinks I am intelligent, funny, and beautiful and don't care what people think. Sometimes my desire to be intelligent, funny, and beautiful would go a bit too far. The best example of this is my one and only real blackout when I was a student at Michigan State University. My friend, who was an active member of the Democratic Party, asked me to accompany him to the Governor's Christmas party. He was also helping secure a role as an intern on The Governor's Cabinet Council for Human Investment, so attending this party would be to my benefit. Since I was so nervous, I drank far too much. My last memory of that evening is clinging to my friend's arm barely able to stand while trying to have a conversation with a group of people that included Governor Blanchard.  Fortunately, my friend was tuned in enough to get me out of there, and I still somehow ended up with the internship. It's what my housemates told me I did when I got home that makes me cringe. Sorry, but I'm not going to relate it here. If you run into me in the real world, ask.
Anyway, since that time I must have grown in confidence because while I was out socially this past month, I discovered that I am already intelligent, funny, and beautiful and really don't care what people think. I no longer need alcohol to make me these things.

-I have just as much fun with my friends who are drinking when I'm sober!
Oh the laughter that happens when we share a few drinks. So many funny things are said that sometimes we laugh so hard we cry, and guess what? Those funny things are still said, and they're still just as funny. Plus, the goofier my friends became when they drank, the goofier I was. I still had a great time. I just didn't feel like poo the next morning.

-It was easier to exercise!
This one is a no-brainer. Cycling long distances on the weekend (30 miles +) is a lot easier if you haven't had a few drinks the night before. It's also easier to drag yourself to an exercise class during the week if you didn't have that glass or two of wine with dinner the previous evening.

-I ate better!
And it was easier to do so. There were no impulsive stops for 'cheesy chips' on my way home from the pub, no hangover pizza orders, and less cravings for cake (although the cake cravings were still strong, just not overpowering).

-And finally, my favourite thing... I LOST 9.5 pounds!!!!!


So today my dry month ends. Will I remain a teetotaller?
Hell no! I like the taste of alcohol, particularly whiskey and bourbon. I miss occasional overpriced cocktails, and I enjoy wine with dinner. Plus, it's just nice having a few drinks with friends at the end of the week. However, I do not intend to return to the level of drinking I was at in November. I feel much better now than I did then, so I still intend to use good old Donald as an incentive to keep healthy. Tomorrow I shall post the following on Facebook:

As Donald Trump helped me achieve my dry goal for the month of January, I will continue using him to guide me in healthy choices. With the exception of one day a week and when I'm travelling on holiday, I will, as accurately as I can, track my calories every day on My Fitness Pal from now until the 17th of June, 2016. If I do not do this, I will have to donate £300 to that man's presidential campaign.

But tonight I'm off out to celebrate my achievement of a month of sobriety with a few drinks.

So, thanks Donald! The fact that you're such a twat has been truly inspiring.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Death, you suck but...

"Death you suck! You take all the nice people."

I originally posted this as a status update on Facebook and then took it down. Not because I don't really feel that way, but yes because I don't really feel that way. Yes, death sucks. Yes, it does take all the nice people. But...

So first, allow me to give you some context to this post. I'm sitting here at a pub in my black dress on the way home from a funeral, having just missed my train, drinking a glass of red wine while wiping tears from my eyes as I wait for the next one.

The funeral I'm returning from was for my colleague, Judy. We taught together in the same year level for four years. Judy was one of the kindest and most lovely people I have ever had the pleasure to know. During the time we worked together, I held my first "teacher leader" position as the head of year. Judy was always there to reassure me during my first year in that position that yes, I had made the right decision, and yes, what I said at that meeting needed to be heard and wasn't stupid. In addition, she listened when I had to rant about my personal life, and she always had a gentle, wise perspective that left me feeling both better and empowered.

Then, I moved to another year level and saw Judy less. For the next five years when I'd pass her in the corridor or see her at a faculty meeting, she would always touch me on the arm and say, "Heather, I never see you anymore." I'd acknowledge that with some lame excuse about work or different schedules and say I'd pop by to say hello more often. Sadly, that rarely happened.

Tonight, I did have a chance to see and catch up with many wonderful people I work with whom I rarely get to see. There was, of course, one glaring exception to that. But, pictures and memories of her lined the walls of the room. 

I stared at one of the pictures on that wall longer than the others. It was a picture from our first year of working together. We were on a field trip to the British School of Ballooning, and Judy, me, and two other teachers were all in a basket of a hot air balloon about to be lifted into the air. As I looked at that picture, I heard a colleague behind me say, "It really puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?"

It does. 

All that other crap consuming your life doesn't really matter so much. Your job, a hurtful thing someone you barely know said, that rude person on the train, that stuff doesn't matter. What matters is the people you love and who love you. What matters is that you appreciate their existence on a daily basis. What matters is the little miracles that happen naturally right under your nose. What matters is the beauty that surrounds us and is also in us. What matters is that you embrace and live the life you have right now and in this moment. What matters is the way you treat others.

This isn't the first time I've had death give me this reminder. In fact, earlier this year my friend, Tom, another beautiful soul, was cruelly taken from this earth far too soon. And death's lesson of life appreciation rang in my ears then, as it has each time someone I love has been ripped from this earth.

But, after a while that beautiful yet painful raw emotion of unlimited appreciation and love fades as we all get sucked in to the drudgery of our lives and begin once again to sweat the small stuff. However, thanks to the loss of someone we love perhaps we'll come up for air to love and appreciate what we have a bit more often.

So yes death, you suck. You do take all the nice people, but thanks for the reminder.

However, I still think you're an asshole.