Thoughts on Courage

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

At least once a week, I am told that I am brave.  And my reaction to this praise, is to laugh.  Me, brave?  I am a person whose life has been dominated by fear, for way too long.

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I’ve held back from trusting people, because I feared being hurt.

I’ve hung back in the shadows, afraid to stand out, because I feared rejection.

I spent 10 years in a situation that no longer suited me, because I was afraid to try something else.

I spend one year getting nothing more than one chapter done on my book, because I feared that it wouldn’t be good enough.

I’ve remained silent when I have seen other people being mistreated, because I feared that it would happen to me.

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We’ve all let fear get the upper hand, and we’ve all acted in ways that we are less than proud of.  I can criticize survival mode, because I’ve spent much of my life experiencing it.  Fear has been a constant state for me, for most of my 34 years on this earth.

So what does it mean, to be brave?  Does having courage mean that we’re never fearful?

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I don’t believe that it does.  I think that courage is simply a matter of making a choice.  It’s a matter of realizing that the risks of maintaining the status quo are greater than the risks of making a change.  It’s a matter of taking a situation that could destroy you, and using it to create something amazing. 

There is fear involved.  Great changes always involve some amount of fear.  But courage involves understanding the fear, acknowledging it, but moving forward anyway. 

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I was terrified the first time I sailed through a storm, but the prospect of never being on the water again was even more frightening.

I was terrified when I requested autism testing for my daughter, but I was even more afraid of her not getting the help she needed.

I was terrified the first time I opened up to all of you on this blog, but I was even more frightened of not accomplishing all I can with my writing.

I was terrified when I quit my job and moved across the country, but I was even more afraid of staying in a situation that made me unhappy.

I was terrified the first time I rode my bicycle to work, but I was even more frightened of not discovering another source of joy in my life.

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The risks of doing nothing, of staying on the shore, are almost always greater than the risks of trying something new.  Stagnation should scare you more than failure.  We humans have the amazing ability to get back up, after we fall flat on our faces, but we do not have the ability to turn back time, and to do all of the things that we wish we would have done.

We all experience fear, every one of us.  But have courage–work through it so that you will not look back on your life, and see nothing but a list of things you wish you would have done.  Our time here is precious, and it is up to us to make sure that we live fully.

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It Still Matters

I have to admit that I have really struggled in writing this post.  It is something that I need to write today, but I’ve been having a hard time with the how.

That is because I have made one decision differently than many of you.

It is not my intent to sound judgemental.  We each need to take different paths, in order to find our own peace and happiness, and to contribute in the way that is most meaningful to us.  I respect the journeys that each of you are on.

And my journey at this time, involves me continuing to teach.  In spite of the fact that I was less than happy in my last job.  In spite of the fact that I disagree with many things going on in education right now.  And, yes, in spite of the fact that school is one of the places where kids learn to “follow the script.”

Public sentiment toward teachers is not what it used to be.  I remember, only a few years ago, what people would say when I told them that I taught special education.  Basically, I was regarded as a saint, which made me feel very uncomfortable.  Now the response is neutral, at best.  But that is all right.  I don’t need to look to the outside, to find out that what I do matters.

That is right.  What I do matters.

Why does it matter?

  • I’ve taught numerous teenagers to read, from scratch.  You can’t say that being literate isn’t life-changing and important.
  • Yes, schools are set up to prepare kids to follow the script.  But that is because society is based on the script, and schools are a part of society.  I carry my values with me, into the classroom.  I might be the first person to show my students that there ARE alternatives to the life we’re “supposed” to lead.  I might be the first person to tell them that their crazy dreams are possible.
  • Adolescence is a difficult time, as kids are moving away from their parents and trying to define themselves.  I am one more adult that they can form a relationship with–a positive role model, someone who has been through the fire.  I carry my experiences with me, even if I don’t share all of them with my students.
  • Not all students come from supportive homes.  For some kids, I might be the only person ever to believe in them.  That can have a huge impact.

Yes, there have been plenty of changes in education.  But I refuse to believe that I “can’t” teach students certain things, or in a certain way.  I most certainly can, and do.  Last year, I decided to let go of survival mode, and just do what is right, without concern for my evaluation.  I’m setting up such a lifestyle, that having to live on a smaller paycheck (if I lost a teaching job) would not be devastating.  I’m there for my students, not for my evaluation.

And do you know what’s interesting?  When I slowed down, and taught my students creatively, their test scores went up anyway! 

I do know that I am not following the path that most teachers follow.  I have lost my years toward retirement, by moving to another state 10 years into my career.  And I intend to cross the ocean well before I’ve spent 30 years in my current position!  But, for now, teaching is what I am doing.

And I am doing it because it matters.

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You do Have a Choice!

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of keeping fear in check.

I have to admit that I am a hypocrite like everyone else, and I don’t always walk the talk, in that area.

I have found that I am the most fearful, when I feel like I don’t have options.  I feel the most hopeless, and unhappy, when I feel like I am trapped in a situation or a pattern of action.

The crazy thing is, there are always options.  We always have choices.

  • We don’t have to be in survival mode.  We can choose to let go of that and take a chance with doing what is right.
  • We don’t have to live the way society says we do.  We can find the freedom that comes with living intentionally.
  • We don’t have to believe everything we hear.  No matter who said it, we can judge for ourselves whether it works for us.
  • We don’t have to seek approvalWe can look inwardly, rather than outwardly, to find our true worth.
  • We don’t have to stay in situations that don’t help us grow.  We can leave or change the situation.
  • We don’t have to accept “no” or “you can’t” as an answer.  We can persevere and keeping trying to find a way.
  • We don’t have to be chained to the past–no matter what happened there!

Think about it.  What do you “have” to do, that you would rather not be doing?  Who says that you have to do it?  Look around–what other options are there?

Being stuck is fake.  We are only ever stuck, if we keep thinking that we are.  Regardless of where life has taken us prior to this day, today our possibilities are endless.

So get out there and make some choices!

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A Tale of Two Twenties

First, yay! Blog.com is allowing me to add pictures once again. There are a lot of things you need to know about, and you definitely need to see pictures of my adventures this weekend. However, it’s late and I’m not up for picture-searching at this time. Instead, I’ve got a pretty good story…

Last summer, when we were rather broke, I found an extra $20 bill in an ATM at the Meijer in Bangor (just outside of Bay City; right beside our marina). I thought about it, with the angel and devil on my shoulders. We could really use the extra cash, for fancier food and whatnot. However, this picture of a single mother, with her arms full of kids, scurrying away from the ATM in a hurry to get her kids back home and out of the store, kept haunting me. So I dropped the money off at Customer Service, so she could reclaim it when she realized that she had lost it, and that she needed it to get her baby’s milk (organic, of course) for the next two weeks.

They thanked me, took my name, and said I could come back in 30 days and see if anybody had claimed it. If not, it was mine.

We pulled Moonraker the next week. Driving to Bay City and back would cost more than $20.

But I had karma. And tonight I needed it.

I rushed home from my staff meeting, knowing that the Bean had visited the doctor after school. Sure enough, he had written her a prescription for 3 more days of Sulfatrim. I rushed to the drug store, then realized I was short on cash. I dashed to the laundromat next door while they filled the prescription, and visited the ATM. Then I dashed back, just in time.

Two hours later, I found myself at the grocery store, looking for provisions for our upcoming road trip to Louisville. I expected to find $80 in my wallet, but there was only $60. This was a problem, because we aren’t exactly affluent at the moment. Then I remembered the ATM.

Could I have left $20? It’s possible, but not likely. And less likely that it’s still there. I considered heading home. However, I remembered that I had turned in the twenty I found in Bangor. Maybe someone had done the same.

Right inside the laundromat, I saw the ATM. With a $20 bill sitting in its tray. I took it, but explained my situation to the attendant.

So, turn in that money you find, folks. You never know when it will be your scrambling around, looking for that lost Andrew Jackson.

Create Your Own Suburbanalist Lifestyle

You may have noticed that our lifestyle is a hybrid. We’re almost completely between urban minimalism and homesteading, with some just-plain crunchiness thrown in. We noticed this when we began researching off-the-grid living and saw that the other people doing it–and there are quite a few–are almost exclusively homesteaders. We have not found a single OTG house in a subdivision. That led us to coin the term “suburbanalism,” to describe our lifestyle–minimalism and green living in the suburbs!

So, let’s break it down, so you can see what ideas we have borrowed from where, and why we borrowed them. Then, you can decide which ideas work for you and your family!

The crunchiness definitely came first. “Crunchy” (for those who don’t know) refers to “crunchy granola,” and it basically means natural/green living. We got started with this kind of lifestyle when we decided to breastfeed and use cloth diapers. My Internet research of these topics led me to attachment parenting, then natural parenting. Living green is really our first priority. Here are some great resources on “crunchy” living:

Mothering
Michigan Natural Parenting
Natural Parenting Tips
Kelly Mom

Next, we merged this with minimalism. We wanted to own as few possessions as possible, after meeting this couple. After a low-stress half of a summer on the boat, we pared down even more. It is crunchiness that leads us to use cast iron pans instead of Teflon; it is minimalism that leads us to own only two of them. Here are some great resources on minimalism:

Becoming Minimalist
Minimalist 4 Life
Everyday Minimalist
Minimalist Living in a Modern World

Many extreme minimalists rely on eating out, or at least eating more processed foods, in order to not require as much in their kitchen. This is where we deviate. Homesteaders value self-sufficiency; there is much wrong with our nation’s food supply, and the best way to avoid the problems it causes is to eat from a different food supply. Homesteading has led us to bake our own bread, cook as much as possible from scratch, home brew, and work towards getting off the grid. We only deviate from this philosophy in the most obvious way; we don’t have a homestead! While we would love to raise animals and grow our own food, we love being able to leave our home even more. (Face it, having chickens on Moonraker just wouldn’t work!). So, we rely on local farmers to provide us with our food. Here are some resources on homesteading:

Homesteading Today
Homestead.org
Frugal Homesteading
Modern Homesteading

So, do some reading on your own, but don’t feel like you have to subscribe to a philosophy in its entirety. Pick and choose and find what works best for your family!

On Dreams, Children, Growing Up, and Settling Down

“Shall I follow a dream? Or are dreams made just for children?” –Child of the Universe by Laura Nyro

Young people have dreams. We were no exception. We wanted to be free spirits, to travel, to explore. We loved the water and dreamt of spending a summer–or a lifetime–on a boat, exploring it. We lived in a “mobile home resort,” which was really just a campground that could fit older trailer houses. We had a 12 X 60, on an RV lot, and loved it. At night, it smelled like campfires. On weekends, our neighbors hosted a bonfire for anyone to join. The first warm weekend of the year, everyone walked past us, enjoying drinks on our porch swing, and asked us about the winter.

Then I got a full-time job. We wanted to start a family. “You need a bigger house, if you’re going to have kids.” We believed it. We found a reasonably priced chalet, in a subdivision. It’s a wonderful, efficiently laid-out house. It will be an inspiration when we build our next, smaller house.

When I got pregnant, everyone shook their head and said the same thing: “It will change your life.” I smiled, because I hoped it would. I remember what my mother had said, when our friends started having kids: “Everything is more fun with children.”

We had friends who took their baby off-roading in their Jeep (it put her to sleep!). Other friends insisted on traveling with their daughter, until she became accustomed to sleeping in a hotel room. Now she cries when it is time to leave.

Nobody has backpacked with their kid, but we’re seriously considering it.

What do we want to teach our daughter? Do we want to teach her that it all stops when we have a kid? That she was the end to our fun?

Or maybe that dreams are powerful? That we love her enough to include her in our dreams?

So, Beanie comes along with us on Moonraker. She loves the waves, and she climbs around on the deck when we’re in port. When it’s dry docked, she climbs up the ladder and says, “My boat!” When she’s older, she’ll throw lines, trim the sails, and take the helm. This is her life as well. This is our gift to her.

She won’t remember this summer, and running aground. She’ll remember Moonraker, the boat on which she spent the best part of her childhood.

So, take your child on that boat. Take them on the adventures you had before they were born. And, if you feel that the house in the suburbs is not where you belong, take them away from that. Yes, people will criticize you. If you go against society, it’s inevitable. But, many will admire you. They won’t necessarily speak up, but they will be there. They will root for you in that small house, or boat, or wherever you end up. There are many life stories available, and only one is the “American dream.” Choose the story, the adventure, that is yours.