Waaaah. Summer is Over.

Today is August 1 and a Monday, which makes it a quality day to do some reflecting on the past 9 weeks of my life.

It was a good summer.

I didn’t take classes or do any traveling. I wasn’t beholden to a schedule that made me feel the rigidity of the school year. I slept in until 9 or later more than once, and when I woke up before 9, I stayed in bed and read books or watched Netflix.

More than once I didn’t shower until noon.

I didn’t see as many films in the theater as I wanted to, but I saw several movies courtesy of Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix (both streaming and old-school). I caught up on television shows I didn’t have time or energy for during the school year.

I read 15 books.

I spent time with my nieces and nephews and my parents and my friends. I visited places in Nebraska I never knew existed. I presented at a conference.

I wrote 23,776 words of a book I’m working on. I wrote a 2100 word essay and submitted it for a publication.

I learned the value in taking purposeful, creative breaks, I was a counselor at a high school journalism camp, and I started a podcast with a couple of friends.

I haven’t had many summers like this–I’m usually packed from start to finish. And the one summer I wasn’t, I did so very little that I started the school year hating myself for wasting all that time.

Of all the things I accomplished this summer, the most important was this: I learned how to relax with purpose, how to create without pressure.

In May, I made a list of everything I wanted to do in my time off. I didn’t cross off every item off that list, and that’s okay. Now, on August 1, it’s time to return to my school list, the one I start every Sunday night and add to it every day, hoping by Saturday most of the items are checked off.

And this school year, I’m adding movies and books and breaks to my list.

An Experiment.

I’ve had quite the relaxing summer. No major trips, no classes, no conferences. Just movies, binging on TV shows, reading books, and listening to podcasts. It’s been great, save for one bad habit that just got worse: Facebook.

I realized how much time I was spending on Facebook when I admitted to a friend that sometimes I spent my time watching Facebook the way I would watch a movie or TV show–just constantly refreshing the feed to see what people we reading, seeing, doing with their lives.

So I decided that after my birthday, I would go on a Facebook hiatus and see what I could accomplish. Today was the first day of that–the last time I looked at Facebook was at 10 a.m. Here’s what I’ve done in that time:

  • Met a friend for lunch.
  • Worked on my book for two hours.
  • Visited with a former student at Starbucks.
  • Watched a movie.
  • Read 80 pages of a book that is due back to the library on Thursday.

And now it’s 7:30 p.m., and I need a break from reading so I’m going to go for a walk. When I get back, I will scan in some ads I’ve been collecting throughout the summer, to use in my Popular Culture Studies class, then plan out the rest of my week, do some yoga, and go to bed.

I’m interested to see how much I get done this week (and perhaps next) without falling into the time suck that is Facebook.

Listen to Something.

Over here, I try to document the media I consume. And for a while, I was tracking podcasts, until it became clear to me that I listen to way too many to track every day. So instead, I’m writing this guide to podcasts I listen to.

Before I begin, a note about how I listen to so many: I am not wild about existing in silence. Occasionally, I take time to meditate or pray or just drive in silence, but for the most part, I like noise. So podcasts are my go-to when I’m doing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning and driving. Some times I will listen to a podcast instead of music while walking. So if you think you don’t have time for podcasts, you might be surprised to find that you actually do. These are in no particular order, by the way. But I’m certain there’s something for everyone.

1. Open Account with SuChin Pak. This podcast is all about money, why we are afraid to talk about it, and why we need to. Favorite episode so far: Paula Pell. I don’t know how Pak convinces her guests to be so open about their financial lives, but I’m glad, because their stories help me feel less alone while inspiring me to be a bit smarter with my money.

2. Code Switch (NPR). This is a must-listen. Panelists discuss issues of race in America and the challenges people of color encounter. Favorite episode so far: I Don’t Know If I Like This, But I Want It To Win. I learn something every episode, and I really think all educators should listen to this podcast to confront their own biases.

3. The West Wing Weekly. Probably my most favorite podcast right now. Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina discuss The West Wing, one episode at a time. They both praise and critique it, and they’ve had some knockout guests. Favorite episode so far: In Excelsis Deo. I cried while listening.

4. NPR Politics Podcast. Panelists discuss political happenings. Especially important right now as we gear up for what I think will be a rather ill-fated election. Favorite episode so far: Musicals and Politics. I mean, really, does that surprise you?

5. Ask Me Another. Starring Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton, this is a radio quiz show packed with wit. It is delightful. Impossible to pick a favorite episode because each one is wonderful.

6. The Moth Podcast. This podcast highlights stories told by real people with real nerves and some real emotion. I have laughed and cried while listening to these stories, and I’m never disappointed when I listen to this podcast. I’ve been listening to it for so long that I can’t pick a favorite, but trust me. Give it a try. Tip: fast forward through the hosts jabbering.

7. The Moment with Brian Koppelman. Koppelman interviews people about their creative process. Favorite episode: Beau Willimon. I listened to that episode while I was revising my book, on a day I was feeling like I wanted to pull my book from publishing because I felt like a complete fraud. Their conversation addressed exactly that feeling, and I figured if both of them felt like frauds (both have written several films and television shows), then what I was feeling was normal.

There’s a glut of podcasts out there, a glut that I’ll be adding to come September, but their entertainment and educational value is so worth it. Try one I’ve written about here, or find one that fits your own interests. Have a must-listen that I should try out? Let me know! Enjoy!

Some Advice (and a recipe)

It’s been a bit of a week.

So much has been written about last week’s tragedies, and I don’t think I have anything new or groundbreaking to add. I really believe that listening to stories, whether in person, in print, or in film, is key to problem solving. And since I’m all about practical solutions, here’s some suggestions.

  1. If you’re in Omaha, there’s an exhibit at El Museo Latino that documents immigrants from various Latin American countries. You can read their stories as well as listen to them on a CD.
  2. This morning, I read the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was devastatingly powerful. If I had the means and power, I would make everyone in America read it. I have not felt as educated to the Black American experience since reading Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”
  3. If you are on Twitter, follow some people that might provide some perspective and understanding. A few of my favorites: @Ebonyteach, @Jananamirah, @bomani_jones.

And because the world still spins and a little levity is still important, here’s a recipe for Pina Colada Smoothies that I’ve been drinking all summer. I had to find a recipe that most resembled my favorite smoothie at Juice Stop, because Juice Stop is a bit of a trek from where I live, and because their smoothies are a bit spendy.

2/3 c. milk of choice (I use coconut milk–the kind in the half gallons, not the cans)
1/3 c. greek yogurt (I use Fage 2%)
1/3 c. Molokai Coconut drink from Bai (My local Walmart Neighborhood Market carries this)
1 c. frozen pineapple

That’s it. Blend and drink. It makes the perfect amount–I find with smoothie joints the serving sizes are so big that I feel sick if I drink the whole thing, and feel like I’m wasting money if I don’t.

30 days from today, I will have students in my classroom. Doesn’t seem possible that summer is already over.

Avoiding It.

I’ve been avoiding the blog lately. Not ignoring it, outright avoiding it. Every day I think, “I should write today,” and I start to type in the URL but quickly backspace, shut my laptop, and play Frozen Free Fall on my phone until I run out of lives.

I’m not sure why I’m avoiding it–I’ve been blogging for 12 years, so it’s not like I don’t know how to chop through some weeds and just write, even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

But I saw a tweet today with this advice:

When you cannot think: write
When you cannot speak: write
When you cannot sleep: write
When you cannot write: read

I’m reading–I set a goal to read 10 books this summer–so since I cannot write, I am definitely reading.

I’m speaking and sleeping fine, it’s the thinking that isn’t happening all that great right now. Perhaps part of my brain is doing the equivalent of an iOS update and system restart, now that my 15th year of teaching is in the books.

And maybe just forcing myself to write and hit ‘publish,’ even though this isn’t that great of a post, will trigger something in my brain and I’ll write again soon enough.