Post-Thanksgiving Thanks

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While Thanksgiving is officially over and it’s now time for presents and lights and trees, I still want to share a little about some specific things I’m thankful for this year. I find sharing our thanks to be a little tricky sometimes. When I was in fourth grade, we wrote in our journals at the end of every school day, and on Fridays we were supposed to write about things we were thankful for from our week and then share with our class. We had just put in a pool at our house and I ended up using this weekly reflection to brag about it. I wrote things like, “I’m thankful I can go swimming anytime I want” and “I’m thankful it’s warm enough to swim in my pool every day after school.” I kind of missed the point. As an adult, I still walk the line between being truly thankful for things and doing that annoying “humble brag” thing that is so easy to do. That being said, I spent some time in quiet reflection over the past week thinking over this year and all of the things, both seemingly positive and negative, for which I am truly thankful.

Alone Time

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Before moving to Australia, I spent very little time by myself. I spent my early and mid-20’s living with roommates and spending most of my days with my students and my free time with my friends. After moving back to Nashville at 25, I was usually with friends, Donnie, or my family. I’ve never lived alone and I’ve always worked full-time in jobs with lots of human interaction. However, I spent the majority of the first three months we were in Sydney completely alone. Donnie went to work every day and I had no where to be. After a year and a half of working far more than 40 hours a week at a demanding (and perfectly wonderful) job, the change was abrupt and challenging. I read 47 books in three months. I felt incredibly sad and lonely at first, but gradually I began to grow into my new-found alone time. I explored our new city at my own pace, visiting museums and parks with no rush and no agenda. I started drinking tea on my balcony each morning while our street slowly woke up. I prayed, but not in a deliberate or specific way, more in just a casual, continuous conversational way I had never really experienced before. I improved my photography skills a little. Even after I started working part-time and going to school full-time, I still found myself spending the better part of my days alone. I use my alone time to listen to podcasts, read, write, and just think. I’m much more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. Silence used to intimidate me, but I now find it to be vaguely comforting. I’m much more aware of my mental and physical health as I spend time tuning in to my experiences and working through things instead of just blazing full-steam ahead and ignoring my discomfort or frustrations.

My Students

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Connecting with students, whether my first class of kindergarteners (pictured above), high school seniors, or even college students, brings me joy unlike anything else. I’m so thankful for the hilarious, cheeky, curious little minds I get to engage with every week through my job. Watching as a kindy student makes the connection between all these sounds she’s learned and actual words on a page is inspiring. Coaxing a shy year five student into developing an opinion and putting his opinion into a structured persuasive essay is exciting. Building success with my little guy who finds school frustrating and who now looks forward to coming in for an hour after a long Monday at school because “this is fun and I actually learn stuff” is as rewarding as it gets.

Consistently Pleasant Weather

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I’ve lived through the end of summer, all of autumn, all of winter, and all of spring in Sydney so far, and there has not been a rough season. Winter, while cooler, was still almost always bright and sunny, with our average July (the equivalent of January in the States) temperature between 18-20 degrees (64-68 degrees fahrenheit). I’m pretty sure every single day of April was sunshine and 76 degrees. Good weather makes me a happier, more balanced person. I spend so much more time outside every day and I no longer have to suffer through those weeks of cold, dreary, grey days that just suck all of my energy and joy. The sky here is usually this unbelievable shade of blue, just so vibrant and rich that it looks like an Instagram filter in real life. Living on the ocean is an added benefit, as the calm and serenity that I gather from the water is unbelievable. I’m grateful for all of the sun I’ve soaked up, the cool sea breezes, and a consistently lovely climate.

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Thanksgiving is a time for traditions– deep-fried turkey and caramel apple sangria at the Conleys, Black Friday shopping (and an excuse to go out to lunch) with my mom, sister, and niece, watching football and putting up our Christmas lights at our house– and we really missed enjoying those things with our families this year. But Donnie and I truly have a lot to be thankful for in this exciting, adventurous season we’re living at the moment, and I feel it’s important to focus on what we gain instead of what we lose. This year we got to celebrate this holiday with friends from all over: the US, Australia, Ireland, Slovakia, and South Africa if I’m remembering all of the countries represented at our little expat celebration. We talked about our own family traditions and created new memories that we’ll think back to once we’re no longer in Australia. It’s a beautiful time and we’re so thankful for this wildly different and always changing life down under.

 

 

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America Votes: 2016

I have cried so many tears tonight my eyes are all squinchy and red.

There will be no cute koala pictures in this post, but there will be a lot of honesty.

I proudly cast my absentee ballot for Hillary Clinton. I am not ashamed and I do not feel like I chose the “lesser of two evils” for our nation’s president. I believe that Hillary Clinton is a brave, strategic, educated, intelligent, shrewd politician and I believe that she was the best option for president of this nation. Full stop.

After today’s (or last night’s) election, it is apparent that my candidate of choice did not win the election. Donald Trump, a racist, xenophobic misogynist has won the election. I am in disbelief. But I also accept the democratic process we have in place.

After the 2008 election, my newsfeed on Facebook was littered with both excited and distraught posts. Some of my friends were energized by the new President-elect, and some were dismayed. I saw so many “I’m leaving America” posts and too many “that’s not my President” posts. Tonight, however, I witnessed something different. I read post after post (the election ended much earlier in Australia, albeit on the 9th, so I read pretty much everything once all my Americans had gone to bed) about hope and love and the importance of fighting for love and acceptance and freedom. I saw so much sadness, and a lot of fear, and more than anything, I saw love.

Tonight I cried so many tears for so many different people. I cried for my friends who are minorities. I cried for my friends who are LGBTQA. I cried for my friends who are women. I cried for my friends who believe in freedom. I cried for my friends who believe in the love that Christ taught. I cried for my niece who, at seven years old, sat in front of a TV and chanted “Hillary! Hillary!” for the girl she saw who had a legitimate shot at our nation’s highest office. I cried for my country.

Donnie and I had so many conversations over the course of the evening– how did this happen, what are different demographics showing in the polls, what does this mean for us and how long we stay in Australia, how do we talk about this to those around us, how do we pray and what do we pray for? There is an unbelievably large amount of information and reality that we must sift through over the coming months and days. There is much to process and decisions to be made that will have long-term effects on our lives. But above all, we must acknowledge that Donald Trump, a man who stands for nothing I believe in, will be the President of our home country. I do not take this lightly. Michelle Obama, in her eternal eloquence, said it best, “When they go low, we go high.” I will not go low. I will not join in fear-mongering or spreading of hate or disparaging our elected leader. Do I believe he was the best option for President? I 100% do not. But I do respect the democratic process and I will never stoop to the lows I’ve seen others take during President Obama’s tenure.

I will reach out to each and every person I know who may be feeling scared or threatened or endangered by this election to let them know that I love them, value them, believe in them, and will hold space for whatever emotions they may be experiencing. I will continue my fight for equal education rights and the ability for every student to go to college, regardless of their economic status, ethnicity, or zip code. I will pray for our country and our leaders and I will trust that God has a plan that is greater than all of us. This is all I can do right now.

I am unbelievably encouraged by the strength, unity, and hope I’ve witnessed in the amazing people I call my friends and family. There is no hiding the fact that I am devastated and terrified by what tonight’s vote said. America stood up and cried out against a large percentage of its population and this is not something I take lightly. There is so much work to be done. But I believe that we will process, we will grieve, we will fight, and that ultimately, we will rise.

 

Twenty-nine isn’t so Scary

Nine years ago, I celebrated my 20th birthday in Paris. I spent the weekend with some of my best friends roaming the city, going to the Moulin Rouge, eating Nutella crepes, visiting Disneyland, and snacking on baguettes along the banks of the Seine. It felt somewhat monumental, leaving my teenage years behind and starting a new decade in a glitzy, cosmopolitan place like Paris.

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In two days (three if you’re reading this in the US) I’ll turn 29, celebrating my birthday on yet another continent. It doesn’t feel like my 20th birthday could have really been nine years ago. I so clearly remember feeling confident and sure of myself. I was living in England and spending my weekends traveling through Europe with my friends, I still had so much time to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with my life, and in many ways it felt like real life was just beginning. Fast forward nine years, and I am still trying to figure out what I want to be, it still feels like real life is just beginning, except now I realize just how little I actually know.

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Celebrating my 21st birthday in Evansville, IN.

In the last nine years I’ve accomplished quite a bit: visited 12 countries in Europe, made life-long friends, became an aunt, graduated from college, moved to a city where I knew no one, spent a few years working harder than I’ve ever worked to try to be a good teacher for my students, moved back to my hometown, adopted a puppy, jumped out of a plane, chose to love and commit to the best guy I’ve ever known, worked long hours and driven tens of thousands of miles while helping thousands of seniors access college, built a house, moved to Australia, started a Masters program, and had a lot of fun.

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Turning 23 in Tulsa, OK.

When I look at that list, nine years feels like a long time. In some ways, I’m a completely different person than I was on that birthday in Paris, but I still have that feeling of being on the edge of something, waiting for that moment of clarity and understanding. I hope I always hold onto that feeling, because it keeps me motivated and optimistic for my next adventures. The hope and expectations for the future keep me young.

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In Fayetteville, AR for the South Carolina/Arkansas football game for my 24th birthday.

I was initially a little apprehensive about turning 29. It’s my last birthday in my twenties, and to be 30 feels like a jump I’m just not prepared for. When my mom was 30 she had a five year old, and I was a newborn, but I still don’t feel capable of taking care of a child for more than 12 hours. Professionally my life is all up in the air, as I left a job I saw myself in for the longterm to move to Sydney, and now I’m only working part-time while studying full-time. Needless to say, I’m absolutely no where near where I assumed I would be at this point in my life. But I’m really OK with that. If nothing else, moving across the world and taking on the huge changes that have come my way in the last year has taught me not to try so hard to mold my life into what I think it should be. I’m developing a more zen attitude while truly slowing down and appreciating the insignificant day-to-day moments that eventually add up to real life. I’ve also noticed a trend of caring less about what others think about me or how they judge my happiness or success with each passing year, so I’m excited for that freedom to continually grow.

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Celebrating 25 with my family in Brentwood, TN.

In order to truly appreciate my 29th year, I’ve decided to commit to doing 12 things that scare me before my 30th birthday. Ideally, I will conquer a fear (big or small) each month leading up to my birthday next year. My hope is that this challenge will keep me focused on the present, not wishing for time time to speed up or slow down, and consistently engage my sense of adventure. I’ll blog about the experience, so look out for the first adventure coming sometime in the next 32 days. Here’s to enjoying every moment of my 29th year on this earth and to embracing aging for the gift it truly is!