A love note…to my nephew

Dear Hudson,

Today you are 5 years old. That’s a momentous birthday- you are a whole hand.  I remember, vividly, when I held you for the first time in the hospital.  You were this little tiny baby, tiny button nose, and the sweetest fingers there ever were.  You held my heart with those tiny fingers and I have watched with awe as you have grown through stages and years.  Now, you are a little boy who knows not only how to run and jump and play, but you know how to be kind and curious. You are smart and, let’s face it, just a little bit devious…but that’s ok…maybe you got it from me.

You, Hudson, were the first grandchild born into our family.  You were the first truly awesome thing to happen after a slew of not-so-awesome moments.  I have watched you grow and I have loved you as only an aunt could- with wild abandon, in an ice cream at 8am kind of way.  Being an aunt, you see, is so very amazing.  Unlike being a mother, it allows for a little more wiggle room.  I love the wiggle room.  And I do so love ice cream at 8am (don’t tell your cousins!).

I was standing in the backyard of our house in North Carolina when your father told me I would be an aunt very soon.  Then, I was working out at the gym, when your mother called to tell me… “he’s coming!”  When I got off the plane, got to the hospital and held you in my arms, I knew, without a doubt, that being an aunt to your sweet face was for me.  I have since had children of my own, and they are amazing in ways I struggle to fully explain, but you, my sweet boy, hold a special place in my heart.

You were with me when I married your uncle.  You reminded me of how special The Polar Express can be.  You sang You Are My Sunshine to my first baby when she was only weeks old and rocked her in her stroller.  You have been along for my ride as I have been along for yours.  I’m looking forward to all the twists and turns that are to come.  I’m looking forward to ordinary days splashing in puddles and family vacations and momentous birthdays.  And I’m so looking forward to a belated birthday hug the next time I see you.

I love you, Hudson.  Happy Birthday.

Aunt Sarah

25502_900218063629_1695369_n 165508_10100163929470829_3585971_n 329657_10100662088067009_1605080072_o

An open letter to the well meaning people in Trader Joe’s

Picture this: a woman in her mid-thirties. Hair in a messy pony tail, yoga pants, UGGS and a sweatshirt on. Her two small children are energetic, talkative and sometimes impatient. The young girl, maybe 2? 3?, is pushing a child sized cart next to her mother. Even as the mother warns her daughter to “be careful”, the young girl pushes her tiny cart into a wall. There is laughing, chatting and then, coming as quickly as it leaves, crying. The baby is in the cart this whole time and is chewing on whatever he can get a hold of- a toy, an apple, the shopping list, his shoe….  You’ve seen this woman in the store…or you’ve been this woman. I was this woman the other day.

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day with my two children. They are 2.5 and (almost) 1, so they keep me on my toes, but I was armed with a list divided into categories, applesauce for my son and the multiple activities that Trader Joe’s provides for my daughter.6a00e554d86f248833013484b79c1d970c-800wi But, she’s a toddler and about half way through the store, she got excited and her small cart (with our juice, yogurt, black beans and apples, toppled over and brought her down with it. She often bounces back from that kind of spill…but that particular day, I was not so lucky. So, on came the screaming and the crying. As I bent down to sit on the floor with her and help her calm down, the advice started coming. A woman nearby shared, “You know, they have lollipops here.” Then from another patron, “Maybe you shouldn’t let her carry such heavy items in her cart, they tip easily.” Followed by: “Your son is chewing on his shoe…”

Thank you. Really, thanks for the support. But I’ve got it. It might not look like it, but I promise, I’m good. And that, I think, was the source of my frustration as I gathered my daughter up and replaced the shoe with Sophie– these strangers were making me feel like I wasn’t capable. With a smile on my face, a lot of F-bombs in my head, and my son’s rogue shoe in my hand, I made my way to the check out and told myself to ignore the well-meaning tips. Because they are well-meaning. But does that mean they are actually helpful?

Upon reflection, I started to think about how often we assume our way is the right way or we know the answer to the problem. How often we believe that we know what’s best for everyone else out there. This video certainly speaks to how some parents feel an innate right to judge others for their choices. Who am I to tell any parent, or anyone for that matter, how to conduct themselves? I may make different choices, but does that make them better choices?

Ultimately, I want to be quietly supportive when I see a mom with a kid melting down in Target. I don’t need to tell her what to do- I assume she knows what to do. When I talk to my friends who don’t have kids, I don’t want them to feel like they need to defend their position.  When I speak with my students and they share varying opinions on feminism, gay marriage, and abortion, I feel happy they were comfortable enough to share. It isn’t up to me if people buy organic. I hope they are deciding instead of sliding into these choices. I want to talk to people and have good conversations, not judgmental ones. My husband and I try to make informed and thoughtful decisions…sometimes we miss the boat, but that’s ok. As my Dad says, “That’s why they make erasers.”

The thing with the Trader Joe’s experience is that everyone who shared small tips or suggestions with me had good intentions. I’m good with advice when I ask for it, but maybe on that Trader Joe’s floor, while my daughter was crying and my shoe-chewing son was looking on, I needed some quiet support.

Thanks, friend crush.

1. A friend who inspired me 

25. Trader Joe’s sparkling lemonade

42. Going to Target alone

347. dropping Nina off at school and watching her play with friends

I have a friend crush. What’s a friend crush? Think elementary school- innocent, sweet- meeting someone and wanting to be friends. I met Jessica when my first baby was just 2 months old and ever since, I’ve had a bit of a friend crush. Jessica is kind, supportive, funny, smart and artistic. She is a mom who has made it through these first hard years and has been open to listening, chatting and having coffee when our schedules allow. She has also inspired me to be grateful in an everyday kind of way.

One of the things that almost anyone who knows Jessica knows is that she loves the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.imgres This book, above all else, centers on a message of finding the joy in our every day lives. Now, it is a religious book- there is a whole lot of Jesus- so if that’s not your cup of tea, proceed with awareness. I will say though, I have read this book cover to cover, and as a person who grew up in an interfaith home and continues to question everyday, I put the religion aside. That wasn’t the point for me. The point was to find large and small things that make me happy. The point was to find 1,000 things that I am grateful for.

5. coffee

30. summer thunderstorms

31. screened in porches to watch thunderstorms from

128. FaceTime double date night with my brother and sister-in-law

143. wine and chocolate

For the past 2 years, I have been keeping a list. It is on my laptop desktop and every now and then, I open it up and add a few items to the list. Sometimes I just add one; sometimes I add a few. I’m not as far along to reaching 1,000 as you might think. As of today, I am thankful for 428 things. I don’t do it everyday but I am also not in a rush. I try not to repeat things, but let’s be honest…I’ve got two small children, I’m sleep deprived, and I have 428 things…coffee is on there twice.

11. Nina’s “battle cries”- they won’t last forever and they’re fantastic

30. evening walks with my family

138. Feeling my little boy kick 

149. laughing until it hurts

256. having a really good cry

I started keeping this list as a result of a conversation I had with Jessica two years ago. I was exhausted, cranky, and feeling frustrated. For a lot of reasons, I was having a personal pity party. I happened to see Jessica that day and she, without knowing how ungrateful I had been feeling, told me about a talk she would be giving at our mother’s group meeting. She would be talking about this book and her own personal list making. I set out to investigate and ended up starting my thankful list to remind me of all the good there is in my life…even when I’m low.

415. flowers from my mother in law

428. sugar free vanilla soy lattes from Starbucks

I’m not there yet, but I think about hitting 1,000 things and get a little sad. This has been a great exercise. It’s also sort of a time capsule of my life- I read the list and think about what inspired each thing. Maybe I’ll go for another thousand.

Just jump

Years ago, prior to teaching, I worked as a student affairs professional. You ask, “What is a student affairs professional?” Basically, everyone who isn’t a professor or administrative support at a college or university is a “student affairs professional”. Coaches, academic advisors, residence hall staff, student life advisors, and on and on. My goal as a member of this profession was simple- support and challenge college students through programming, leadership, individual conversations and group events. I loved it, but towards the end, I was frustrated. I felt unsupported by my boss. I felt frustrated with the limitations of my job as it was being described to me. I wasn’t doing what I wanted. It was a nuanced decision with a lot of mitigating circumstances, but one day, after many days, weeks and months of emotional days, anger, tears and angst (sounds dramatic, huh)…I just quit. No safety net. I just jumped.

My husband was relieved. My dad was concerned (Understatement). My brother and sister-in-law were supportive. My friends were of the mixed nut variety. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that none of it mattered because I felt free.

I needed to figure out the next step. It took some months and a few failed ideas before I ended up falling into teaching. The truth is, I started freaking out that I had screwed up. I was happy, but happiness doesn’t bring home the bacon. I began stalking college jobs sites and found an open teaching position in the Developmental Studies Department at a local community college. The requirements were vague, so I applied- what could it hurt? After a few interviews, I was hired. I began that first semester teaching Study Skills and Developmental Reading.

I was scared shitless. I had teaching experience, public speaking experience, and experience with the content comprising my course. But I had not been an actual “teacher” before. I walked into that first classroom with a whole family of Monarch butterflies in my stomach. And I loved it. I loved every minute of it. Sure- there are moments, there are students, there are days that are frustrating. But I love teaching. Spending the time getting to know my students and utilizing my student affairs training to encourage more than just academic development in my classroom has been incredibly fulfilling.

Fast-forward 6 years later and I’m still teaching. I have transitioned between subjects and institutions, but the passion remains. I strive for lessons that transcend the modern student’s desire to check Twitter or get to the next level of Bejeweled. I struggle (within confines of my young family) to carve out time to grade all of the papers, discussion boards, quizzes and in-class reflections. Even with all the headaches and challenges, I love it. I have a ball. And I’m good at it! It feels amazing to love what you do and feel confident about it.

As if the universe conspired in how I was reflecting on my work this past week, I received my student evaluations from last semester yesterday.  This warm fuzzy is going directly into the rainy day folder…

I would like to say that Professor Stowens is one of the best teachers I have ever had. She encompasses all that an educator should possess as an effective teacher. She is not only very knowledgable in her field, she expresses that knowledge in a way that gets through to her students with her passion, humor and desire to educate about these very important topics of society. My hopes are that WU values her employment.”   -student

Then, because the universe has a sense of humor…came this one:

She gives dumb tests and keeps us for the whole class [period].”     – other student

…so, there’s work to be done. I love this job.

Pass the non dairy butter?

Do you know what the #1 resolution buttermade on December 31st every year is? I don’t either… But, I’m guessing losing weight is up there on the Top 10 list. I fell victim to this particular resolution this year. Really, I am looking to feel healthy and feel better in my clothes…but that often boils down to dropping a few pounds.

So, with the goal of losing weight in mind and my husband fully on board with this plan (he’s really the best), I began contemplating my diet. Diets are annoying. I get bored and frustrated and want immediate results. No, patience is not one of my virtues. Enter husband, with clever idea- what if every month in 2015 we did some sort of diet modification and a corresponding physical activity? Might not be sustainable or we might do something for 2 months, etc, but it seemed like a good jumping point.

January was no carbs, no booze (yes, I know…no fun.) We also did the 7-minute NYTimes workout every day from December 28th until January 31st. Two hundred and forty-five minutes of cardio, core, and strength and a fridge eerily empty for a month, I feel stronger. I feel like maybe some of my clothes fit better. But what for February?

Vegan. We’re cutting out meat, dairy and eggs. For 28 days, I will live my life without delicious delicious cheese and devoid of a juicy burger. Off I went to the grocery store and returned with nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, grains, coconut milk and non dairy butter. I’m weirdly excited.

photo 1

It’s not you, it’s us.

We are breaking up with our daughter’s preschool. And the thing is, it’s not anything they did. In fact, they are amazing. They love and respect children. They have intentional activities supported by theory and experience. They communicate often with the children and talk to them like humans. They believe that children can do for themselves.

But we have to break up with them because we’re moving. We will be too far away to keep driving to this school. My husband and I found a wonderful school for our daughter to move to. During the tour of the new school, she jumped right in and started participating. She looked like she belonged. She told us she liked it. It is, by every metric, a wonderful school and we are excited for the next steps. And still, I feel sad. I’m sad to leave this place that has cared for and taught my daughter during her first year of school.

A friend suggested that I write a thank you note to the school and her teachers- she suggested it might help assuage my sadness….

Dear Ms. Debbie, Ms. Sarah, Ms. Kelly, Ms. Rachel, Ms. Jen, Ms. Ellen, and the countless student teachers:

Thank you for holding my daughter’s hand after I left on her first day.

Thank you for holding my hand after the door closed and she happily started to play.

Thank you for encouraging our whole family to get involved with the school community.

Thank you for paying attention and having opportunities that appeal to my daughters’ interests.

Thank you for not yelling, not getting mad, but encouraging my daughter and her friends to resolve their problems.

Thank you for letting sheep come to school and keeping him safe.

Thank you for encouraging my daughter to get messy and then clean up.

Thank you for singing funny songs and dancing even if you look silly.

Thank you for writing me updates every day to keep me in the loop.

Thank you for asking me to volunteer in the classroom.

Thank you for the parties, parades, and events.

Thank you for exposing my daughter to people, traditions, and ideas different from her family.

Thank you for helping my daughter start to learn empathy.

Thank you for caring about intentional teaching and letting kids be kids in equal measure.

Thank you for reading book after book after book without tiring.

Thank you for getting down on the floor and playing with the kids.

Thank you for all the care, support, and interest you have given to our family. We will miss you, but we take with us the lessons you taught our daughter and our family. We are so grateful. It means the world.

love, Sarah

All the windows down

I’ve been thinking and talking about starting a blog for a few years now, but timing was always an issue. I got a new job, then had a baby, then had another baby, then (hysterically) got a new job. I’ve been working on finding a balance between life at home and life at work and never felt quite ready to devote myself to my writing as often as I felt would be necessary.

A few months ago, I had a bit of time to myself in the car. I started by listening to some NPR.  Then I called a friend. But on the way home, I plugged in my phone and turned on the tunes.  Bon Jovi and Billy Joel and Metallica and Katy Perry and Kesha were turned all the way up and the windows were all the way down. I drove faster than I maybe should have.  I sang at the top of my voice, badly, without shame. The wind rushing through the car was warm. It was fun. It felt amazing.

Arriving home, my routine resumed: babies, laundry, dinner, husband, lecture notes, grading, shower…rinse and repeat (forgive the pun). Now, don’t get me wrong- I love my life. My family and my work give me immense pleasure and self worth.  But I started craving something entirely mine, a creative outlet for all the swirling thoughts in my brain.

Enter blog. I wrote an essay a few months back and sent it to a friend. She suggested reviving my blog idea, and I decided to run with it. I started conceptualizing, planning, designing…and remembered almost immediately the feeling of freedom and release of that night- singing at the top of my voice with all the windows down.

As I embark on this journey, I will write about what I love- my family, my friends, cooking, reading, teaching and, from time to time, myself. I hope as I write, I find some freedom and some release. I hope you have something in your life that offers the same thing. If not, maybe you should write a blog?

Here’s to life with the wind in your hair.