A Long November.

So November is over and I didn’t write as often as I’d planned, but I did do the following:

Spent time with friends.
Spent time with family.
Saw one play and two musicals.
Kept my environs tidy (a big deal this time of year).
Watched movies.
Read books.
Listened to music.
Called senators.
Called congressmen.
Graded. And graded. And graded some more.
Laughed with my students.
Laughed with my colleagues.

Tomorrow is December 1 and a Friday, so for my Friday Morning Soundtrack I will fire up the Christmas music and on Sunday, start thinking about Advent. Time keeps ticking, and while I spend a decent amount of time every day in existential dread, I also spend a decent amount of time every day living a pretty great life.

And I can’t think of anything else to really be grateful for besides that.

Keeping the World Safe for Democracy.

Growing up, I never understood what my dad’s job entailed. His security clearances required he not share a whole lot about the specifics, but he would often tell me his job involved “keeping the world safe for democracy.”

The older I got, I tended to laugh a little when he would say that phrase; it seemed a little tongue-in-cheek, a nod to the fact that he couldn’t tell me just how dangerous his job was. A veteran of the Cold War, his job entailed managing parts of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and being an expert at deterrence theory. He literally kept the world safe.

In my own public service career, I have made similar passing comments about my work, often when talking to my peers. What do I do? I change lives. I’m a champion for children. I’m helping the future. All idealistic catch phrases I’ve said over the past 17 years, sometimes sarcastically, sometimes not.

Ernest Hooper, a columnist with the Tampa Bay Times wrote a piece this week about his experience at the Journalism Education Association’s Fall Convention. It’s fantastic. You should read it.

I’ve taught media literacy in some capacity my entire career, but I’m not sure how I would’ve answered if people asked me on a regular basis why I feel so strongly about teaching media literacy. I’d probably fall back on those catch phrases.

But Hooper’s column gives me the real answer: “Protecting [democracy] begins with educating a new generation that you can’t have freedom without a free press.”

With public education under attack locally through LB 295 and at the national level with the House’s tax reform bill (the Senate’s bill is a bit more supportive of education), I get discouraged about my job and wonder how much longer I’ll be able to do it. Especially since I teach journalism, and if you haven’t heard, the current leader of the free world doesn’t take too kindly to journalists.

My current job feels a bit precarious.

But tonight, I have a renewed sense of purpose, thanks to Hooper. I might be changing lives and teaching the future and whatever teaching cliché you want to throw at me.

But really, I’m keeping the world safe for democracy.

I’m a Rowse. It’s what we do.

 

38 Days.

Thanksgiving is Thursday, which doesn’t seem possible, but here we are. Today at church we sang “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing” and “For the beauty of the earth” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” I reflected on my week and wrote in my journal and led a discussion with other women about how we can do better at fellowshipping. I sang at a choir rehearsal to prepare for the Christmas program.

The holiday season is here, whether I’m ready. I feel I have much to do–at school, at church, at home–but I’m going to breathe. I can only do so many things in one day. I can do quite a bit in one day, of course, but some things can wait. Family, friends, sanity each deserve space and attention.

I count 38 days between Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day. Our focus for those 38 days can either be “Ugh I’m so busy” or “Waah I have so much to do.” Or.

Or.

Or you can “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” that your life is full and messy and even though you left the green beans in the microwave and slightly burned the rolls and the cat destroyed the ornaments and the gift wrapper at Barnes & Noble needs to just work the register, the holiday season still is not a disaster.

Lin-Manuel Miranda said it best this week, when he tweeted:

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I hope starting tomorrow, and this week, then 38 days after Thanksgiving, I can remember to start with grateful. And I hope you can too.

Healthy.

A quick word (rant) about health.

I am obese.

I know this because I have giant mirrors in one of the classrooms where I teach, but also because last year when I logged into the patient portal for one of my doctors to double check her instructions, I saw this: “counseled patient on dangers of obesity.”

Except that she didn’t.

Didn’t say a word to me about my weight or my health. I saw her for a problem with my voice–which she diagnosed and has been wonderful about–but I’ve seen her three times in the past year and she’s never said anything to me about my weight and how it’s apparently killing me.

I’ve made peace with the fact that I am never going to have a body like the starlet du jour. I bake too often and like chocolate too much, and at this point, I feel that life is too short to try and bend my body to society’s will.

But I am concerned about overall wellbeing and health. I want to have energy to do everything I need to during the day. I want my sleep to be deep and restful. I want my mind to be clear.

So two years ago, I started eating oatmeal every morning for breakfast. One year ago, I started Jazzercise. Four months ago, I doubled my daily protein intake (and holy cow, what a difference that has made!).

These were each small, easy changes that haven’t made me feel like the world is ending, and each of those changes has been 100% sustainable.

Friday I had a doctor’s appointment, and she did a full workup. Because I know I’m medically obese and middle-aged, I was prepared for all manner of high blood pressure and cholesterol medications, as well as admonishments to never again make Pioneer Woman’s Chocolate Sheet Cake.

The nurse called today with the results. Every single test came back smack in the middle of every “normal” range. Glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol (and all its subsets)–all 100% normal.

I will probably always be medically obese. But after hearing all those test results, I remembered that there’s more to health than Body Mass Index. The rare mornings I don’t have oatmeal for breakfast, I can tell my brain is a little off the rest of the day. When I make it through a particularly tough Jazzercise song, I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment, though it is probably time to bump up the weights. And when I’m not absolutely starving throughout the day, I know I’ve put the right things in my body for me to be most effective.

One of my favorite websites, Beauty Redefined, reminds me that my body is an instrument, not an ornament. And apparently, I’m tuned up just fine.

If you look in the mirror and are unhappy with what you see, I get it. But look at other health metrics. And if you need to make some changes, start small, work with a doctor if need be, and recognize the smaller victories like waking up rested or lowering blood pressure or making it from breakfast to mid-morning snack without feeling ravenous. Those small indicators are just as important markers of health–I would argue more important–than any number on the scale.

Refocus.

I stood next to a table, watching my colleague, my friend, my writing compatriot laugh and rap along with a room full of kids. I soaked in that moment and reminded myself, “This. This is why you show up every day.”

I can get all kinds of ruffled up with righteous indignation about any number of injustices I am privy to on a daily basis. Sometimes, those injustices make me wonder if I wouldn’t be better off, happier, someplace else. Or, as I asked my Pop Culture class last week, “Have you ever had a day that made you question every single life choice?” Most of them smiled and nodded. I sighed, then had them each write me an essay on whether sampling in the music industry is creativity or theft.

If I looked hard enough, every day I could bombard myself with reasons to stop teaching. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even have to look hard at all. But no matter what career I chose, I imagine I would reach a point where injustices and my inability to do anything about them would threaten to take over my mindset.

As I watched a room full of kids–student journalists–laugh and rap and stuff their faces full of unhealthy food, I felt lighter. It reminded me to refocus on the things I can control, like teaching proper comma use or how to make ethical decisions–because I’ve taught all of those kids those things. And knowing how to use commas and make ethical decisions just might make them better people.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the “why.” For me, when I get to that point, I need to remember to take a breath, spend some time looking at what my students have accomplished, and acknowledge that those accomplishments don’t always produce external recognition. Sometimes the accomplishment is the kid who finally makes deadline, or the kid who finally takes a perfect photo, or the kid who finally writes a sentence without a helping verb.

Small victories, but victories nonetheless; victories that deserve my acknowledgement, especially at those times when the injustices blind me to the reason I keep showing up: the kids.