How Important is Learning How to Share?

There is something I've noticed every single time I've taken my son to his infant play classes: parents always encourage their kids to share.  They tell their children to share toys and share turns playing on the obstacles.  Even when their kids don't want to share, parents make them do it.  They act like instilling this value in them is the most important thing in the world; maybe it is.

Being able to share is a quality I want to teach my son.  It's a value that I believe is necessary for his livelihood.  My wife and I encourage him to share his toy and play well with others. (He has no choice since my wife and I like to play with his toys when we play with him.)  As an only child myself, I had a difficult time as a child learning how to share, but I learned, and believe that it's been essential in my life's success.

The ability to share is important, but how important is it really?  What impact does learning how to share have on our children and the rest of society?  Will it help our children build strong friendships?  Will it help in future relationships by allowing people to share love?  I wonder if it will help our children cooperate in school and in the workplace.  Does learning how to share help people be safer drivers and "share the road"?  Does it help people play fairly both in sports and in life?  I wonder what wealthy people who donate millions and billions of dollars to charity (see Warren Buffett) learned about sharing as a child.  Would there be less greed in the world if more people were taught how to share?

I wonder.  What do you think?

In Life, There are Rainbows (a poem)

In Life,
are there really rainbows?
I used not to believe.
They were an illusion to me;
a beautiful fantasy
of what I
may never touch or see.
How can it be?
Something so wonderful,
seemingly magical,
never before appeared to me.
Can it actually be?
Something I suddenly see
made a true believer out of me.
In Life,
there are rainbows.

How I Live My Life like a TV Star

Life is too short to take everything too seriously.  I'll admit, plenty of times I consider myself a serious person.  I take my family, career, and other obligations pretty seriously.  With everything else, I treat it very playfully.

When I drive to work, I pretend I'm on The Amazing Race taking a road trip around the world.  When I'm at work, I imagine my colleagues and I are characters on The Office. (There really should be a sitcom based on us.)  During lunch I pretend I'm a food critic, like a judge on Top Chef (not Kitchen Nightmares), as I try, taste, and test the culinary creations of the local eateries. 

At home, I don't get any more serious, seriously.  When I cook dinner, I imagine myself in an episode of Iron Chef America as I create the best tasting (and looking) meal in a short amount of time (without the Alton Brown commentary of course).  When it's time to clean up around the house, I envision myself as my own version of Ty Pennington and give my home an extreme makeover.

Even though I won't be surrounded by adoring fans or chased by the paparazzi, imagine does make life a whole of a lot more fun.

How Baking Brownies Turned Me into a Time Traveler

Yesterday I made brownies for the first time in a long time.  It was delicious; the chocolate delicacy was fresh out of the oven and the molten fudge texture can't be beaten.  On top of the fudge brownie was an additional layer of chocolate.  It could be considered chocolate overload, but some people may argue that there is no such thing.

Making brownies made me feel like a kid again.  Brownies were one of the first treats I learned to make.  Even though it wasn't from scratch (I learned from following the directions on the box), I enjoyed making them as much as eating and sharing them.

In 6th grade, I had a class project where we had to make a culinary creation by baking.  It was a project we had to bring to class and share.  We also had to list instructions of how we made it, swap recipes with a partner, and make our partner's dish.  We had to bring in our product and compare it with our partner's original offering.

Even back then, I was a little innovator.  I thought I would make my brownies unique, more moist, and extra delicious if I added milk.  The brownies came out fluffy, so fluffy that my classmates told me that they weren't brownies at all; they were pieces of chocolate cake!

When my partner made brownies using my recipe, he didn't add extra milk (he probably followed the directions on the box EXACTLY), and my classmates agreed that those were what brownies were supposed to be. (For the record, I'm sure that my lemon poppy seed muffins were better than his.)

Even though my brownies turned into chocolate cake, it was a fun experience that helped me develop a love of cooking and sharing.  Now as an adult, I like learning more and more about food, experimenting with recipes, and sharing the deliciousness with people around me.

But for right now, I'm just going to enjoy these brownies.

Why Every Morning is a Good Morning

I used to think that only Sunday mornings were the best mornings.  It was a day I had off, got to sleep in, and for some reason, everything appeared more pleasant than usual.  The sun seemed to shine brighter, everything from the wind to how people interacted also seemed to be much calmer.  On Sunday mornings, the streets looked as if there was less traffic and people appeared to be a little more cheerful.

Monday mornings are what many people dread the most.  It signifies the end of the weekend and the start of the work week.  It connotates a commute, traffic long hours, and for some, captivity.

Since yesterday was Sunday, I told my wife, "This is a good morning." as we walked outside.  She frankly replied, "Every morning is a good morning."

After much mental debate, I came to the conclusion that she was right (this time).  Every morning that I wake up is a good morning.  The simple fact that I woke up is something to be thankful for.  Every morning I spend with my family is a good morning; they make it that way.  The weekday mornings I commute to work are good mornings since I have a job to drive to.  I really don't have a reason to not call each morning "good."

I guess it really is all about perspective.  Today, Monday morning, is a good morning.

Why Words are Awesome!

  • It's the reason why people become poets, journalists, and authors.
  • Words are the reason William Shakespeare is a literary immortal.
  • They are why people read the lyrics to a song as they listen to it.
  • It's the reason why people go to poetry readings; especially with a pen and paper.
  • Words are what makes languages beautiful.
  • It's why people debate about the true meaning of a poem, song, or a quote.
  • Words express what we can imagine.
  • They are what makes poetry flow.
  • It's the reason why people keep journals.
  • They allow people to communicate in evolving ways.
  • Words are why people still go to bookstores.
  • They are the reason why people don't mind listening to their favorite song over and over again.
  • It's why people flock to book festivals and book signings.
  • They are why a text is sometimes more than just a text.
  • Words make songs merge thoughts with sound.
  • It's why love letters are so lovely.
  • They are the reason why good books today will still be good books tomorrow.

A Cha Cha, a Doña, and a Colombian Walk into a Bar

By Maria Cowell, Guest Author
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
“A Cha Cha, a Doña and a Colombiana walk into a bar...”
You're waiting for the punch line, but what if I told you the Cha Cha, Doña and Colombiana are really one in three or three in one? (But not like the Trinity. Waaaay not like the Trinity). Or maybe that’s All (Three) for One and One for All (Three)? Oh, wait, that’s a different story.
Does the lady trio suffer from a Sybil personality disorder, each lady being an alter-ego of the others?
When I hear Cha Cha, I think of the sultry Latina in the Grease dance scene who slinks onto the dance floor with her wild hair and kickin-it moves and proclaims:
"They call me Chaaaaa-chaaaaaa.”
Aye caramba!
Doña is the complete opposite:  a buxom matron, a mother of at least three with smelling salts at the ready in case she passes out when she encounters something scandalous.  Like an anklet. A true Doña is usually decked out in a long, black mantilla, standard issue for Doñas these days. The longer and blacker, the more pure Doña blood running through her veins.
And do we really need to talk about the Colombiana? Everybody knows she is a coffee-drinking, ruthless killer out to avenge her parents’ death. The narcos got nothing on her. Plus, she is a third cousin, twice removed from Juan Valdez and his donkey so that makes her uber cool.
Perhaps though, we are all Sybil personalities.  Not the crazy-kill-your- parents-and-hide-their-bodies-in-the-basement way, but the good way.  The way that says there is something more to a person than what is obvious, and a way that is a delight to discover. We meet people at work, school, church or community and we automatically label them as the office accountant, the guy that installs air-conditioning, or the stay-at-home mom. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just the way it is. It is practical and helps us categorize the people in our lives and keep it all straight. And after all, vocation is a huge part of who we are.
But it is limiting.
It is limiting because once we see Sally So-and-So as “my kid’s teacher” we have a hard time seeing her as something more than that. But what if Ms. SSS was a teacher AND a skydiver? Whoa, baby, major paradigm shift. Now Ms. S-to-the-third power (did I mention she is also a math whiz?) is no longer just a female version of Flat Stanley, but she has dimension. And what if she is also a trained black belt? Now we are talking real person, not to mention the fact that my kid will never misbehave in her class. And I will always be very agreeable at all parent/teacher conferences.
About a year ago I had a conversation with a friend who is staying home to raise her boys.  I knew she had a degree in graphic design but that part of her personality didn’t fit the stay at home mom version I had always known.  When she told me she was taking some painting classes and showed me her work, I was blown away. Why? Did I think she couldn’t be a mom and a skilled artist?  Had laundry and meal preparation diminished her passion and skill? Of course not, but my tunnel vision had diminished my ability to see the entire person.  Maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you can appreciate the complexity of the people in your sphere, but for me it takes intentionality to look beyond the obvious.
We don’t just limit others. We limit ourselves.
We can also contribute to others’ myopic perspectives of ourselves by compartmentalizing. We compartmentalize our lives and in doing so compartmentalize our personalities.  We are parents and we don’t stop being parents when we get to work, but somehow we think we should. So we don’t talk about our kids or share our challenges as parents because that would be “unprofessional.” Yet parenting gives us a mean set of transferable skills; negotiation for one, and who doesn’t want to be a killer negotiator in the conference room?
To some extent, we do need to compartmentalize. Social situations call for different sets of behaviors at different times. Nobody wants to be a gooey, Gumby mess of inappropriate behavior.  Plus, I certainly don’t want to go around cleaning up after everyone in the staff lunch room like I do in my home kitchen. But there should also be a natural ebb and flow in our relationships that tell more of our story than our day-to-day roles. Our stories are all so multi-layered and interesting. People are multi-layered and interesting and nobody is just one thing all the time. Our different layers blend into and support our entire persona. Sure, it's risky to get below the surface. You know what they say: "People are like onions. You peel them one layer at a time and sometimes you cry."  But don't onions add some spice and flavor to some really boring dishes?
I know this isn’t France. We can’t sit around sipping wine all day long, debating Plato vs. Aristotle, and  blowing air kisses on each other’s cheeks (come to think of it, why can’t we? Why should the Frenchies have all the fun?). But maybe we can go a little deeper and find out something new and different about plain old Joe Blow who works in maintenance.  He may be writing the next Great American Novel. He might really be into Plato. Or maybe he is just plain old Joe Blow, maintenance worker, but with a wicked sense of humor.
Try this next time you meet someone.
“Hi. Did you know I am a certified circus clown, having completed clown school? By the way, I also fix cars for a living.”
I’ll go first.
“Hi, I am a Cha-cha, a Doña and a Colombiana and I like walking into bars. Would you like to see my mantilla collection?”

What are the other layers that make up all of you?
Yes, I did, in fact, have a boss one time who was a real clown.  Go figure.

Maria Cowell is a marketing professional at a private K-12 school in Los Angeles, and a former reporter and editor for newspapers in LA and Glendale. Follow her musings, meddlings and moments at

How Writing Soothes My Soul

Writing soothes the soul.  I can see why people become poets, novelists, songwriters, journalists, and literary artists.  Putting pen to paper gives me the possibility to bring out my thoughts and emotions.  Depending on the situation and how I feel, I can keep my words private or share it with the entire world.

It has been a fantastic experience writing for Nourishment Notes.  I've been able to share some insights and life lessons I've learned so far.  It's been an ideal intellectual, emotional, and artistic outlet for me.  I've gotten to "spread goodness" to thousands of readers around the world through my words.  I like to imagine that everyone who reads the articles I write are fulfilled in some way and even possibly empowered in ways beyond my imagination.

Writing has nourished me personally and knowing that my literary art has touched others in positive ways brings me additional satisfaction.  I write for me, but most of all, I write for everyone in the world I'm in.

Perspective: How to Make the Grass Greener

Right now, instead of being at work, I'd rather be at home relaxing.  Instead of going through a labyrinth of paperwork and a perpetually growing to do list, I'd rather spend time with my family or go on a "daycation."  I'm sure there are plenty of people who feel exactly the same way.  On the other hand, I'm sure that there are a multitude of people at home (possibly unemployed) that would love to be in my shoes. 

Now that I think about it, I remember what it was like last summer when I was unemployed; it was an exciting and (mostly) scary time.  There was so much possibility, yet so much uncertainty.  My wife and I penny pinched, clipped coupons, and made use of every cent we spent.  We were expecting our first child in a couple months, which was exciting, but scary since we didn't know when we'd get our next paycheck.  I constantly considered how different life would be if I had a job.  As hard of a situation that was to be in, it was absolutely terrific to be able to spend my whole day with my wife.

Except for the 1-2 hours I spent applying for jobs daily, she and I got to relax for most of the day.  We enjoyed each other's company and didn't have to go to work or class.  That time was our uninterrupted couple time we had to ourselves before our son was born.  It was a very stressful time of my life, but one of the happiest periods of my life.

In both situations, being employed now and unemployed last year, the grass is greener looking at the other side.  It has been easy for me to want what I don't have.  A couple days ago, a colleague of mine told me, "The grass isn't greener on the other side; it's greener where you water it." 

That thought hit me really hard (not literally).  Instead of wishing for what I don't currently have, I can take a proactive approach and be satisfied and happy with what I currently have.  If there is something that's not making me happy, I can do something positive about it instead of complaining.  Right now, I have the funnest job I've ever had.  I get to do what  I love to do (teach) every single day.  It's (almost) never boring.  If I ever get frustrated or discouraged, I can remind myself that my work is meaningful and makes a positive impact in this world.

The "grass" I stand on grows greener with every passing day.

An Ode to Coffee

Dear Coffee,

Thank you for helping me stay sane every single morning, especially the times I don't wake up feeling like P. Diddy.  Thanks for helping me wake up and become alert so I don't cut my finger off when I prepare breakfast, get in a fender bender on the way to work, or have a meltdown at work.  When I feel like I have 99 problems, you make me feel like I only have 98.

Thank you for being a great date.  It could be something as simple and quick at the neighborhood coffee place or fancy like at Dripp or Urth Caffe.  Coffee dates were great in college, and even greater now with my wife. 

You helped me get though midterms, final exams, and important deadlines.  Through college, graduate school, and manic Mondays, you've been my saving grace.  You've been my copilot on road trips and the perfect tasty treat for any time of the day. 

For being my morning elixir, a delight in my marriage, and one of my favorite delicacies in life, I want to simply say thank you.



Why Celebrating Every Accomplishment is Important

Thinking positively is better than thinking negatively and definitely better than not thinking at all.  Making myself aware of every accomplishment that I do by recognizing and celebrating them is an effective way I bring positivity into my life.  Success is like a snowball, it can build momentum quickly.  Celebrating an accomplishment, even if it's small, starts or continues a chain reaction from one success to another.  Both the ordinary (I came to work on time) and the extraordinary (I just earned a promotion) need to recognized in order to build positive momentum.

This works not only for myself, but also for everyone around me.  I celebrate the accomplishments of my colleagues to elevate the team as a whole.  A simple "Good job on ______" compliment can go a long way.  Positivity is contagious and can spread like wildfire.  As a high school English teacher, I celebrate the successes of my students to build their confidence and motivate them to improve academically. 

As a father of a 10 month old, I've congratulated my son on every little accomplishment he has made.  It's amazing watching him grow up (so far) and see what I (and probably other adults) take for granted.  When he was a couple months old, moving his hands and feet were such big challenges.  After that, he learned to hold his head up, roll on to his stomach, and crawl.  He now is climbing on top of everything and just stood up on his own a few days ago.  Every time my son learns something new, my wife and I clap for him.  Somewhere along the way he learned that it was positive reinforcement for him; and now he claps for himself when we clap for him.

Even on the days when I feel like nothing went right, there is always an accomplishment to celebrate.  Like a friend of mine once told me, "If you're still breathing, you're doing something right."  No matter what, every day I have reasons to celebrate.

Why Simple is Good (one tasty example)

As Monday evolves into the five day work week, I am a little overwhelmed with the massive and ever-growing to-do list that haunts me at the office.  I try my best to be organized and have everything setup and simple as possible.  Sometimes (not every time, unfortunately) the more simple things are, the less stressful and more fun life is. 

Last night, as I was cooking dinner, I was reminded that simple can be good; and in this case, tasty.  As a side dish for spaghetti, I made garlic asparagus (see picture).  It was easy to make, fast to prepare, and definitely delicious.  All that was needed was fresh asparagus, garlic, a few drops of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper.  No fancy or super expensive ingredients were required (see recipe below).

So for the rest of today and all week (hopefully even longer), I'm going to try my hardest to keep everything as simple as possible in order to prevent complicated chaos.  My to-do list, schedule, and everything else I encounter during the day will not (and should not) complicate my life.

My Garlic Asparagus Recipe

  • One bunch of asparagus
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

  1. Cut off 1-2 inches from the base of all the asparagus.
  2. Mince the garlic into finely cut pieces.
  3. Lightly coat a skillet or pan with olive oil.
  4. Warm up the pan on medium heat and then toss in the asparagus.
  5. Rotate the asparagus constantly for about 2-3 minutes or until they start to turn brown.
  6. Add the minced garlic.
  7. Saute the garlic and asparagus for 1-2 minutes or until the food reaches the desired level of "brown-ness."
  8. Share, eat, and enjoy!

4 Ways Finding a House is a lot like Dating

The more I house hunt, the more I realize that shopping for a house is a lot like dating.  Finding the right house to live in and finding the right person to be with aren't quite the same, but there is a lot of coincidental overlap.  This is what I've found so far:

Timing makes a huge difference on opportunity.
I've been looking for a house for about five months.  What is available depends on when I'm looking.  Houses come and go off the market every day and some are sold much faster than others.  The houses that are available now might be drastically different than the ones available a few weeks from now.

The same is true for dating.  Sometimes people are single, sometimes they're in a relationship.  Other times, people are single, but don't want to be in a relationship.  Timing affects one's window of opportunity.

Appearances can be deceiving.
On the journey so far, I've found some houses that looked great on the outside, but were trashy on the inside.  Those houses needed some work done before anybody could move in.  Some house listings looked like great deals on paper, but when I went to go actually see them, they weren't. 

People can have as much depth an ocean or as shallow as a puddle.  A person can have a charismatic personality, eye popping looks, both, or neither.  It's hard to know unless you actually see for yourself.

There will be disappointment and heartache.
In my five month adventure, I've only put in one offer, and it looks like it's not going to be accepted.  My agent told me that there are other multiple offers; some are higher and include a larger down payment.  I've wanted to put in five other offers, but for some logistical reasons, those properties were unavailable.  I've encountered really nice houses in not-so-nice areas and houses that were broken down in really nice areas.  Sometimes I try not to get my hopes up to emotionally prepare myself for any disappointment, but I know it's a part of the home buying experience.

In dating relationships, it is almost impossible to avoid disappointment and heartache.  There is the disappointment of the person you are interested in either already being in a relationship or saying no when being asked out.    Breakups, for any and all reasons, affect both parties.  It causes emotional stress.  Even if the breakup was mutual and both people are better off apart, there is still an emotional impact that can't be avoided.  That's when romantic comedies, ice cream, beer, and guys/girls night out come into play. 

When you find the right one, it's worth enduring the adventure.
Even though I haven't found it yet, I know the right house for me is out there.  I haven't given up hope.  When I find the right one, it'll have the right balance of price, size, and quality of neighborhood.  It'll be a great place to raise a family and build memories in.  Finding the right one will be worth it.

The same is true for relationships.  When you find the right one, you'll know.  Finding the perfect person to spend the rest of your life with, start a family with (if you want to), and create a lifetime's worth of memories is worth all the effort, heartache, and patience. 

The Most Important Leadership Lesson I've Ever Learned

A statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in San Bernardino, CA.
Leadership is a commonly used term that's thrown around various workplaces.  It's a trait that is admired in others, especially those in management.  If you were to go to any bookstore, chances are you will be able to find dozens of books on leadership.  There are leadership conferences that people pay large sums of money and travel around the world to attend.  Even certain colleges and universities offer some form of graduate degrees in leadership.

It is a topic that heavily intrigues and fascinates me.  On a daily basis, I read as many articles I can about being an effective, innovative, and successful leader.  I find it inspiring to read the stories about leaders who have impacted the world in profoundly positive ways (see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett).

People who are leaders need to have certain traits in order to be successful.  They need to have a strong vision of the future to work towards, need to be great communicators (both good listeners and speakers), and are able to adapt to any environment and evolving trends.  From my experience in education, retail, and non-profit management, the most important leadership lesson I learned was from joining Zeta Phi Rho fraternity in college.  A mantra that was present in all our meetings, events, and daily lives was "Lead by example." 

That is a lesson that I have taken to heart.  Every single leader I admire leads by exemplifying expectations.  It's advice that has helped me everywhere I've ever worked and anywhere I've had to coordinate with other people.   It's something that I keep in mind every single day when I'm at work.  I try to show my students what a responsible professional looks like.  I model for them critical thinking, problem solving, and how to thrive in a global economy.  For my colleagues I put my best foot forward in order to help the team move forward.

When Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" I am certain he understood just how important it is to set the example so that others may follow. 

How a 99 Cent Watermelon has been Helping Promote Positivity at My Work Environment

If you were to see a watermelon sitting on a colleague's desk at work, you might wonder to yourself, "What the heck is going on?"

Well, a couple of weeks ago, a student (I work at a charter school) went to the 99 cent store, bought a watermelon, and gave it to the English teachers as a gift.  Initially I thought it was an odd gift, but being the encouraging educator I am, I accepted it gladly.  For two days, the watermelon sat on the shelf, alone and unused.

Then I read an article online about how Caribou Coffee celebrates their Employee of the Month by giving her/him a watermelon (for "using her/his melon") and a pair of customized Converse Chuck Taylor shoes.  It gave me an idea.

I created the "Using Your Melon" Award.  It would promote positivity in the workplace by recognizing excellence.  First, I gave the watermelon to someone who I found doing something smart (aka "using her/his melon"), working excellently, and who I felt deserved it.  The winner was announced to everyone through email and displayed the watermelon on his desk for a day.  Then after a day, the person with the watermelon must pass on the tradition by finding a colleague to recognize, giving her/him the watermelon, and publicly announcing the achievements of the recipient.

As of right now, the watermelon has been passed around for two weeks and is still going.  People have gotten the watermelon for both very serious and silly reasons.  The name has even evolved into "The Watermelon Award."  I don't know how long this tradition will last (hopefully for as long as possible), but in the mean time, it's been a fun way for my colleagues to recognize the good work that we all do.

How Priorities Reflect Character

"I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck."
- Emma Goldman

Our priorities are a reflection of our character.  It signifies what we consider important and insignificant.  Not all people have the same priorities.  What I consider most important may not be as much of a priority for other people. 

Wanting the latest fashionable clothes, a new car with top of the line luxurious yet unnecessary gadgets, or having the newest electronic toys would make me materialistic if I valued all that over my friends and family.  It would be nice to have the nicer comforts of life, but to me, it is nothing compared to my loved ones.

Some things are more important than others.  I agree with Emma Goldman.  Instead of diamonds on my neck (wrists or teeth), I'd rather have roses on my table that I can stop, smell, and think to myself, "Isn't life awesome?"

How a Creative Outlet Helps Cultivate Sanity

For the last five days I've been an altered version of myself.  When I don't get to express myself creatively, I almost turn into the Incredible Hulk.  There are thoughts and emotions that build up inside me that get bottled up.  The longer I don't have a creative outlet, more pressure builds.  It's almost as if my very sanity is dependent on my artistic expression.  I write (obviously), draw, design, produce poetry, craft custom cards, and consistently try something new that I find interesting.  This is how creative expression keeps my brain in one piece:

It makes everything more fun.
More fun equals less stress, which is something everyone could benefit from.  Creating something from scratch and building something with my bare hands can be really satisfying.  There is nothing like cooking a fresh home made meal for my family, writing a poem that provokes thinking, or sketching a scene that sparks the imagination.

It provides a positive way to express overwhelming emotions. 
When I've had a bad day, having someone to confide in is almost vitally necessary.  Having a paper and pen to dictate how I feel can be life saving.  It's like having a best friend handy that I can tell anything and everything to without judgement. 

On the other hand, when I've had a great day and feel on top of the world, I just want to share it.  I want to manifest it all in a piece of art so that others can feel it too.  Part of the beauty of art is expressing complex ideas and feelings in previously unseen and profound ways.

It helps generate new and powerful ideas through playing and experimenting.
To me, teaching is an art.  Some people may argue that it's also a science, but it's more a form of performance art.  Sometimes my best ideas come to me at the most unexpected times.  By watching Hell's Kitchen and Iron Chef, I've designed some interesting and very effective teaching lessons.  I'm always looking for new ways to motivate students.

Throughout my whole life, I've been an advocate for trying new things.  It helps keep my mind open to the world around me.  I'm constantly trying something new in the classroom.  Some attempts work, and others aren't as effective.  I continually try new methods to help my students learn and see what works and what needs to be improved upon. 

Playful experimentation helps keep everything interesting.  I try to write articles or poems in a different style or perspective.  I attempt to take pictures from angles that I usually don't do.  When I feel brave enough, I try to draw in daring new ways.  It challenges me by forcing me to think and act outside of my comfort zone.  That's when I get results (both expected and unexpected) to build upon.

Thinking about Switching Careers? (my friend Susan can help)

Have you ever felt like you were in a career crisis? Did you have a civil war inside your brain debating whether or not you’re in the right job? Susan, an attorney-turned-teacher, was there. It takes a lot to invest years of study, preparation, and tuition into one career and then switch to another. She kindly gave Nourishment Notes an exclusive interview to share some insights she gained from her experience.

1. How long were you an attorney before you decided to switch careers?
I was only an attorney for a matter of months, but I didn’t come to my decision to quit hastily.  In law school, the vast majority of students get summer internships or clerkships with judges or DA’s offices or work for law firms as summer associates during the summer breaks, and I was no exception.  I clerked at a DA’s office the summer after my first year, and as a summer associate at a San Diego law firm the summer after my second year.  Much to my surprise, I found both of those jobs incredibly boring and hated the work I was doing.  I hadn’t realized until I had those experiences how much of the job was spent researching and writing.  After each summer experience, though, I held out a glimmer of hope that it was simply the type of law that I had worked in that didn’t interest me, and that "things would be different" if I just tried a different area of law.  Once I started working at the firm I joined after I graduated, though, I realized that research and writing comprised the biggest part of the job regardless of one’s practice area.  Since I never enjoyed research or writing and merely viewed them as a necessary evil that were a means to an end (which I thought would be tons of courtroom time), I came to the conclusion that I was probably in the wrong profession.

2. Of all the professions in the world, why did you want to become a teacher?
To be perfectly honest, teaching wasn’t my first choice.  Once I made the decision to leave the practice of law, I immediately knew the field I wanted to pursue – psychology, which had been my minor in college and was a subject I found fascinating.  I began researching Ph.D. programs and discovered that I would need 4-7 more years of schooling to earn my degree.  The thought of going back to school for 4-7 more years was completely overwhelming, though, since I had just spent the past 7 years getting my bachelor’s degree and law degree and another 3 months studying for the bar exam.  I was totally burned out on school at that point, and simply couldn’t face another long stint as a student.  Since psychology was out of the question, then, I started trying to think about past experiences I’d had that I’d enjoyed, and I remembered that I loved being a teaching assistant in law school.  I was a TA for Moot Court and Appellate Advocacy classes, and I had found that even though I hated doing my own research and writing, I enjoyed helping others with theirs, and I also liked helping students develop their oral advocacy skills and serving as a mentor/sounding board for them.  It was then that the idea that I might want to be a teacher came to me.

3. What inspired you to take a leap of faith and switch careers from attorney to teacher?
I am kind of embarrassed to admit that both pop culture and privileged personal circumstances are what "inspired me to take the leap of faith" and quit my job.  In the summer of 1997 (the year I became an attorney), Princess Diana died in a car crash at age 36, at the height of her beauty and seemingly on the cusp of happiness after her divorce from Prince Charles.  I had watched her wedding live as a 10 year old girl, and had always loved and admired her for her compassion for the sick and downtrodden, and for her willingness to both figuratively and literally embrace people (such as AIDS patients) who seemed to have been deemed "untouchable" by many people in society.  When she was killed, I was of course devastated for her family (especially her sons), but also profoundly troubled by the fact that Diana seemed to have just come into her own and was finally building a life that made her happy, and in an instant it was taken away.  I also saw that having a lot of money doesn’t solve all of your problems or make your life perfect.  In a nutshell, Princess Diana’s death made me realize how precious, fleeting, and unpredictable life is, and that you shouldn’t waste it being miserable, because you never know when your last day on earth will be.  I knew that, for me, the only correct decision was to leave a job that I detested (even though it made me very comfortable financially) and to go out and find one that would make me feel happy, fulfilled, and excited to come to work.  I must admit, however, that the decision to quit before I had a solid career plan or a new job lined up was made a thousand times easier because my husband’s job paid enough money for us to be able to get by (albeit with a Spartan lifestyle) on his salary alone.  I fully appreciate that most people aren’t so lucky, and I remain grateful to this day that my husband not only had a steady, decent-paying job that enabled me to make the change, but also that he was willing to make the lifestyle adjustment necessary for my career change to be financially feasible.

4. What would you say helped you make the career transition?
I got really lucky with making the transition, not only because I didn’t have to worry too much about the financial aspect of it, but also because my 7 year old niece presented me with a golden opportunity.  She was in the first grade at the time, and her classroom desperately needed adult volunteers to come in and read with the kids.  I thought that volunteering would be a great way to get to spend more time with her, and to see if the instinct that I had that I’d rather teach children instead of adult learners was a correct one.  It turned out that I loved working with little kids, and especially enjoyed sharing my love of reading with them.  I volunteered for a couple of months and, through the contacts I made at my niece’s school, began getting requests to sub for teachers at the school.  I started to do that, and before I knew it, I had become the "go-to" sub at my niece’s school and a few others in the district as well.  The reputation I was able to build as a sub then led to my first full-time teaching job – a principal from a private school had to replace a teacher mid-year and called around to other elementary school principals and asked if they knew anyone they could recommend for his vacant first grade teaching position.  One of the principals at a school I subbed for often gave him my name, I was called in to interview, and I was hired.  So the take-away message from this answer is:  don’t be reluctant to use volunteering as both a way to explore new career possibilities and as a way to meet contacts that might just lead you to your next job.


5. What advice would you give people who are debating whether or not to switch careers right now?
Advice?  I’m full of it!  Here are the highlights:

a. Find out what skills/abilities you enjoy using (which aren’t necessarily the ones you’re good at).
      I bought a book called What Color is Your Parachute? and completed the self-inventory.  It helped me easily pinpoint why I didn’t enjoy being an attorney, and helped me identify two categories in which I would be most likely to find my ideal job.  Teacher was included in one of the two categories.

b. Don’t be reluctant to use volunteering as both a way to explore new career possibilities and as a way to meet contacts that might just lead you to your next job (see question 4). 
      This can actually be a great way to find new opportunities if you can’t afford to quit your current job before entering a new career, which is the situation I think the vast majority of us find ourselves in.

c. Don’t assume that you necessarily have to go back to school to start a new career
       – often you don’t, or you may not have to go for as long as you originally may have thought.  This might not be what you want to hear, but I wish I had explored other avenues within psychology besides the Ph.D. – I could’ve completed an MS or School Psychology program in much less time, but I simply didn’t know that those possibilities were out there, which leads me to . . .

d. Talk to and shadow several people working in the profession you think you might be interested in BEFORE jumping into a job or degree program.
      I could’ve saved myself years of hard work and grief if I’d shadowed practicing attorneys for a few days instead of basing my knowledge of the profession on LA Law, lol (are you too young to recognize this as a popular 80s TV show?).  Find out what the actual day-to-day life of a person in that profession is like, and make sure it’s filled with things you know you’d enjoy before you dive in.

e. Don’t base your career decisions on how much money you think you’ll make.
  This is the one that still keeps me up at night.  I think because I grew up poor, I didn’t believe the old adage that "money can’t buy happiness."  Sadly, it really is true.  Yes, you need to make enough money to live off of, but you don’t have to be rich to be happy.  How I wish I had followed my passions when I was young instead of chasing the dollar!  Especially today, when so many people are finding creative ways to make money doing what they love, I am a big believer in "do what you love, and the money will follow."  Besides, life is simply too short to do otherwise.

f. Before entering a degree program, do your research to make sure that there are jobs available in the profession you would be training for.
  This saved me from entering a costly, lengthy Master’s in Library Science program – I considered being a law librarian, but learned from talking to people in the profession that jobs are practically nonexistent and opportunities are shrinking yearly due to the digitization of archives.      

The Best of What I Can Be

Watching the 2012 Summer Olympics in London has been inspiring.  There is absolutely nothing like seeing the world's best athletes compete against each other.  It's been amazing watching people achieve goals (especially world records) that were once considered impossible or highly improbable.  Discovering the stories of some of the athletes is really motivating.  The dedication, preparation, and discipline it takes to be an olympic athlete is really awe inspiring.
It's inspired me to be the best at something.  The first thing I would have to ask myself is, "What am I the best at?", "What am I good at?", and "If this was an olympic sport, would I win the gold medal?"  I'm not that fast of a swimmer, and I'm pretty sure that Michael Phelps can swim faster than me.  Gymnastics, rowing, and judo aren't sports that I consider myself to be particularly good at.   Gabrielle Douglass, Taylor Ritzel, and Kayla Harrison already have a head start on me.

Then I had to ask myself, "Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte can swim at world record speeds, but can they teach high school English?"  I don't know them personally, but I highly doubt they can.  Can they motivate students the way I do?  How well would they teach students to write literary response essays while simultaneously discussing deeper meanings of literature?  Can they do what I do as well as I do?  Maybe, but I think it's unlikely.  Being a teacher takes a special kind of dedication, preparation, and discipline than olympic athletes.  My performance in class may not win gold medals (for now at least), but I know that (just like performances of olympic athletes) it inspires people in profound ways.

My Favorite Quotes: Teamwork

Who dreams of having their kids grow up to be antisocial adults?  Not me.  That's why when I take my son to baby classes and play dates, social interaction is something I really want him to develop.  Other parents and I encourage our kids to play with each other, share, and use manners.  It is vitally important he learns to communicate and coordinate with others.  In order for him to be successful in life, he needs to learn to be part of a team.

In salute to teamwork, here are my favorite quotes:

"In union there is strength."
- Aesop

"Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is succcess."
- Henry Ford

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
- Helen Keller

"We must all hang together or most assuredly we will hang separately."
- Benjamin Franklin

"It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed."
- Napoleon Hill

"People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society."
- Vince Lombardi

Love and Chicken

"I make it with love." is what Tita, the protagonist in the movie Like Water for Chocolate (I know it's based on a book), says when she is asked by others why her food tastes so good.  That line has stuck with me ever since I saw it.  It made sense to me; make food with whole-hearted effort, passion, and focus and the food will have to taste delicious.  Now every time I cook, whether it be for myself or others, I make it with love.

For dinner tonight, I decided to make chicken.  Specifically, I made baked barbeque chicken wings (see picture) and tofu "chicken" wings for my lovely vegetarian wife.  I made both dishes with love and care knowing it would nourish both of us physically and it would be something we would have a great dinner conversation over. 

Even though I eat meat and she doesn't, it doesn't affect the way I love her.  I know that being a vegetarian isn't that popular in society, but I stand behind her decision to be one no matter what (even if I have to cook with tofu almost daily).  When she cooks for me, she makes what she knows will make me happy (and vice versa).  The food that that we cook for each other is always made with love; and that's what matters the most.