Wednesday, July 31, 2013

|| My Happiness Project ||

Have you had the chance to read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project yet?

Yeah? Cool beans. Then maybe you don't have to read this post. Or maybe you will choose to anyway.

No? Well, my friend, it is a treat for the soul. I suggest you get on your unicorn and fly to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. Also, wouldn't it be sweet if we really could ride unicorns to work or to Target or in my case, to the village store down the street? Mine would be bright green with electric blue dreadlocks.

Back to the point...

Gretchen Rubin is one smart lady. You'll see why later.

But first things first...
Are you happy? Like truly, unbelievably, irrevocably happy? I know that's a pretty big question and I would venture to guess that 98.75% of people aren't happy all the time. Unless you're a Buddhist Monk or a Saint or maybe Odie from Garfield and Friends. I bet even Oprah isn't a ray of sunshine every waking moment.

I consider myself a glass-half-full type, a girl who has a good head on her shoulders, smiles most of the time and is overall pretty content, but I still sometimes complain about things more than I should. I've attempted to work on this in the past. I want to be happier. My personal history includes making valiant efforts to strive to be a better, cheerier, more fulfilled person. Subscribing to the self-help flavor of the month, receiving weekly emails about soul searching and passions and living life fully, creating checklist after checklist of the person I think I should be (based on others' opinions) - these are temporary fixes and many times have ended with me feeling like I failed at trying to be better.

There's a lot that goes into being happy. A healthy dose of self-love, a choice to be so, surrounding yourself with those that bring out the best in you, and making decisions in your life that reflect your interests (If you like what you are doing, chances are you are going to be overall happier, right?). It all involves you. You are the only person who can make you happy. I know this and that's why I'm setting out to learn more about me and what it means to "Be Mandy".

The Happiness Project makes this quest in being happier a lot more accessible. Rubin first looks deep into herself to find her interests, what makes her happy, uncomfortable, areas of improvement and then lays out a year-long plan - a courageous quest -  to find a way to be happier. To be honest, the first few pages I was thinking Rubin was a little nuts... she is way too organized and has turned the idea of becoming a happier person into an arduous task, but as the book progresses you see that her way really works for her. And I think that's what it's all about. Finding ways to work towards happiness that sit well with you - and knowing that the journey that you take to being a happier person is just that, a journey and it's uniquely yours. 

I'm currently in the middle of a season of uncomfortableness. I'm not really sure what else to call it. The newness and excitement of this place is waning, I'm questioning my role, my job, why I do what I do, what I'm passionate/not-so-passionate really it's the perfect time to take up a new project. Changing things up without changing my physical location or job.

I thought I'd write about it here. I have a plan. A theme each month for the next year. And since it's August 1st why not start now? No point in waiting for 2014 to start. Plus, if I become happier in the process that will only make me a more effective Peace Corps Volunteer. When we are more content with who we are, we can help others more effectively. I'm empowered and excited and ready to look inward to see if I can cultivate a happier life. So I'm going to start today. Even though I feel happy most of the time now, this project is aimed at growth. There is always room for improvement. Always. 

Each month is going to include a theme and a set of daily resolutions that connect to the theme (which Rubin lets us know are better than goals because they are something we are constantly working on where as once a goal is met it's met...).

So here's the plan for August.
Theme: Vitality - I am striving to boost my energy.
1. Exercise better (which includes a commitment to a consistent yoga practice including 6 sessions a week).
2. Act more energetic (...even when my energy is waning around my students and fellow community members). 
3. Toss, restore and organize (even in Peace Corps it's easy to accumulate unneeded stuff and the battle in keeping a shack clean that has a history of rat problems and the addition of a new kitten is going to be quite an interesting task! Plus, when your life is organized you tend to be more productive!). 
4.  Eat mindfully. (Instead of focusing on when I should be eating, I am going to focus on whether or not I'm hungry and what/how much I'm putting into my body)

How will I be accountable to myself? I made a sweet looking journal full of pictures and little trinkets that I've collected that make me smile and included inside is a resolutions chart. It's got a box for each day and each resolution. I just ask myself... "Mandy, how did you do?" Maybe I'll show it to you sometime. During my morning coffee/tea time before school I will look back on the day before and ask myself if I really completed what I set out to. The empty box either stays empty or gets a check. It also will help me focus on creating mindful intentions for my day.  

Here I go. 

I invite you to think about a happiness project, too! Maybe yours doesn't have to be a year long... maybe it's just a month, or a week or a day ... or for the next five minutes?

One of my favorite quotes from Gretchen Rubin: "One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy, is to be happy myself."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

|| quotables ||

Maybe these quotes will speak to you the way they did to me. maybe not. Either way, here's a post full of quotes that have inspired me recently.

"The journey is the reward." :: More than a few people have told me "Mandy, think of how good it's going to feel when you are done with Peace Corps!" and while I'm sure I will feel like I accomplished a big goal, that isn't why I'm here and it's not why I'm doing this. For me, that's just like wishing away two years of my life... that's no way to live! (Though I have had my moments when I wish it would speed up a bit) having an idea of where my life will go, but shouldn't be something that I'm dwelling on every day. This is hard to remember sometimes, but I'm working on leading a mindful life - living in the present and being grateful for where I am at in this moment.

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest good intention.” - Oscar Wilde
:: When I look back at what I've done the last 11 months there are many things that stick out, but none of them can be written on a resume. Meeting new people, getting hugs from my students, high-fiving  a friend when they are excited, learning to embrace and navigate a new culture, laughing with the neighbors ... these are the things that I will remember. The little things.

.الجيات أحسن من الرايحات What is coming is better than what is gone. - Arabic Proverb
:: Almost all of the time, I love my life. I am grateful for the experiences I have had and the adventure I have been on. I like that I'm navigating a path that is uniquely my own. The people that I've met are treasures (every single one - they each teach you something), but I'm so excited to see what is around the corner. It seems like every year life gets sweeter and that's a great feeling.

When people talk, listen completely. - Ernest Hemingway :: But what does that mean? Listen completely? Even in Tonga people are sometimes distracted during conversations. They are more focused on other things or what is coming next. To completely listen means to put everything down, to devote your full attention (not just your ears) to what the person is saying. It's a great feeling to feel like you are really being heard, that your opinion and thoughts and feelings matter. I know I need to be reminded of this sometimes.

Do you have quotes that you return to often? Words that inspire you?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

monkeys, kitties and deer.

the monkey mind is a term sometimes used by Buddha to describe the agitated, easily distracted and always moving behavior of ordinary human consciousness. Buddha says "just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called though, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night". i don't know about you but that pretty much describes what goes on in my head at any given moment ... unless i'm truly in the present (something i'm working on). this is a stream of consciousness post. much like the monkey mind i will move from thought to thought without any transitions... it will not be organized in any sort of way, sorry. 
right now i'm sitting in my kitchen with a penny sleeping on my lap. the trade winds are here and there is an amazing breeze coming through the windows. the roosters and chickens are clucking away outside the window and penny doesn't seem to be bugged by it at all. a three-year-old is also singing "happy long life to you!" happy long life to you!" (to the tune of "happy birthday"). i'm listening to sleigh bells (the band, not the instrument) on my itunes. i just finished school. my students learned about the weather, poetry and plays ... in that order. i made up a pretty rad version of "three little pigs" that has one student yelling "what's up?!" and another howling at the moon. howling at the moon is very funny to tongan children. it will actually induce belly-aching, rolling-on-the-floor laughter. and as their teacher, this is the kind of learning i like to see. some actual work mixed with playful fun. these kids are learning to read, they are learning to write and they are exploring how to express themselves in a new language. they still make fun of me when i misspeak or say a tongan word wrong (iamsorrybutmanyofthemaresosimilar). the picture in this post is one of my students. she is so bright and so funny and so polite and so full of love. her goal is to be a doctor someday. sometimes i teach her english words that a doctor might use. today two men from new zealand came with the ministry of health and checked every student for signs of heart problems. she was really excited to watch what they were doing. she is two years ahead of where she should be in school and will take the class 6 test in about 2 months. she wants to gain admission into the best high school in tonga. i think she can do it. i challenged her to read 100 books before i left for america... she told me today she has read 206. tonight i will go and practice yoga with a group of really fun people. tomorrow night i will teach the same class. i love yoga so much and i'm so grateful that i can share it with people here. here's to a great rest of the week... and to having "minds like the forest deer"... gentle and completely aware of the now. 'ofa lahi 'atu (much love to you) - mandy

“Laughter is the sound of the soul dancing. My soul probably looks like Fred Astaire.” 
- Jarod Kintz

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kau Puleako Fakataha || Principal's Meeting

Once a month the kau puleako (principals) from my island group get together at the satellite office of the Ministry of Education to learn and grow from each other. This month I was invited to attend their meeting. My principal, 'Atu, and I met with the other administrators after their country-wide weekly radio broadcast. The radio broadcast reviews important educational items, gives teachers ideas of what they should be teaching and goes over logistical information that otherwise might be difficult to disseminate across a country whose islands are spread so far apart. Some of the Ministry of Education (MOE) staff members are interested in learning from my experience as an elementary school teacher in the United States (and other Peace Corps Volunteers). This makes me excited and nervous ... I'm excited because it's fun to show people what works in the classroom and what I've learned that translates to the students of Tonga. It makes me nervous because many of these teachers have 5 times the experience I have in the classroom and I don't want to step on any toes. Not only am I white (What does a white girl know about teaching a Tongan child?) but I'm also young (hrmph...well young-looking ... What experience do I bring to the table that would really help to prepare teachers to be more effective at teaching English?) I have to tread carefully. What I have learned so far in my journey is that it's best to present ideas that are easily transferable (and easy to do) in the Tongan classroom and to come with an open attitude that shows that I'm just as interested in learning from them as I am excited to share my ideas. And I really am excited to learn from them. I work with some really enthusiastic people and if I choose to go back into the classroom when I return to the States, I have expanded my toolkit just by working with these rad people.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Kovi Kitty Gets a New Home

Information you need to know before reading this post:
I'm allergic to cats. Not as badly as my siblings, but enough that it gives me watery eyes and the sniffles.
I'm not a cat person, but kittens are up there in terms of things that make me yell "Squeeeee!"
I have a rat problem.

The post:
On Tuesday morning the cutest most cuddly grey kitten appeared on my front door step. Where she came from I can't be sure, but there she was. Before I had time to think, one of my students ran up and said, "Pusi a'hai?" (Who's cat is that?) to which I responded "pusi a'aku" (My cat). This was said as a joke, but it didn't translate as such. Soon all of the kids were excited because Mandy had adopted a cat. They kept telling me how good it was and how it would help the rat problem that I've faced since January. Except I know nothing about training animals and this kitten is about the size of the rat that I ran into in my house a few weeks ago. Somehow I don't think she would win if there was a duel. But I know nothing about cat-rat fighting, so who knows.
The kitten hung out all day. It sat with my students as I taught them English. They voted on a name: Astrid (though when they say it, it sounds a bit like: &!# turd). Astrid was so well-behaved that I thought at certain moments that she was actually trying to learn what I was teaching. I already had a meeting scheduled after school so I let the kids stay with the cat and figured that they would return her to me later or maybe she would just be at my door step again this morning.
I got home last night and there was no cat. Oh well. Maybe it wasn't mine to begin with.
But then this morning rolled around and I heard the fence open and 20 or so kids come parading up to my door. I opened the door slowly to find twenty smiling faces and two very frightened kittens, neither of which was Astrid. 
I asked them who owned these cats and they responded with "ko koe!" (you!) ::gulp::
I found out that Astrid had followed a little boy in Class 1 home. Soni (the little boy) felt bad so he brought me one of his cats and then his neighbor heard and brought over one of his. Cats, cats, cats. One of my coworkers asked for one so I happily gave them an all white one, keeping a little black and white one.
I think I may have made the wrong choice. This cat is sassy, has already #1ed and #2ed on my floor and likes to scratch me when I pick her up. My students saw this and one of them approached me mid-afternoon and told me:
"Mandy, Masi is going to look for a new cat for you. You need a polite cat." 
Ha. What a sweetie. But maybe I'm meant to keep Penelope (Penny, for short). Maybe she and I are secretly kindred/sassy spirits and I have something to learn here. I'm hoping that I can get her to drink her milk and gain some weight and then teach her to patrol the outskirts of my fale (house) while I sleep. I'm also hoping that my watery eyes/runny nose can be fixed by my allergy meds until she is big enough to leave the house. It would keep me rat free and happy. Somehow I don't think it's going to be that easy though.
Anyhoo... here she is... Penelope the Pusi.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sunday Musings.

A look inside my brain recently: Coffee. It's early Sunday morning and I'm sitting with a full cup of coffee in front of the computer screen. This java is the good stuff - Caribou coffee sent by one of my best friends from the States. It's raining outside and the sun isn't quite up yet. It's 7:17am. I guess that's what happens when it's winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I love my coffee. The single greatest thing I brought with me to Tonga was my metal french press. Metal is important because there is just no way a glass one would survive here. It wouldn't. But then again I'm not sure why my metal one is surviving so well... it's the only piece of metal that hasn't rusted in my shack. Shack is a funny word. Teaching.  Term 3 (of four) has started which means we are just weeks away from the Class 6 test. The pressure put on children in standardized tests is unhealthy (in my book) and sometimes it's just as bad for teachers. Maybe this hatred of standardized tests comes from the fact that I was never good at taking them and I consider myself to be a pretty intelligent girl. I just think they only measure one type of intelligence. By the way, I'm not asking for a pity party here. I feel the same amount of unease (maybe more) as I did in the States. What if these kids don't pass? What does that mean for their futures? How can I create lessons that don't bore them to death while I teach to the test? Why do I have to teach to the test? Also, the stress? It looks so much different here than it does in the States. I don't know if Americans are just more open with it, but the way that it manifests itself here is in the long (after school) hours that are spent preparing, the weekend classes, the "summer school" during any break we have. But I'm not sure how else it would go if you knew that one test would determine what track you were placed on the next 7 years. Last year 61% of the students in my school passed the test... I have only 9 kids in my Class 6 so that means that 5 of them need to pass in order to beat last year's number. Inward Journey. Peace Corps is a big adventure... both inside and out. And I believe that while it's important to work on my primary and secondary projects in Peace Corps (that's why I'm here), taking care of myself is vital in order for the former to happen. So after being around yoga for 29+ years, I've finally embraced my inner Buddha and have started a pretty awesome home practice. I even meditate. It's good stuff. Makes me feel more focused, I get more done and I'm not worrying about what will happen later, tomorrow, next month... Family. I have always loved my family, but I don't think I truly realized how lucky I am until my recent trip back to the States. Despite the miles we are still close and will always be. Speaking of families, have you seen this? So cool! People tell me that I look more like my dad than my mom. What about you?

That's all I got this morning.
Also, a picture. This little one is a new addition to my host family. I could only hold her for .2 seconds before she started crying... I think she was afraid of the white girl... or my oversized old man glasses. Or maybe both.


Friday, July 19, 2013

 "Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences."
Neil Gaiman

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Little Moments & Being Present

I was talking to a very special friend this week and he reminded of the importance of the little moments and that "those are the ones that count!" Dan Millman wrote that "Life is a series of moments. The quality of attention and action that we bring to each moment determines the quality of our lives." I'm constantly working on being more mindful and intentional. Peace Corps is sure an interesting and wonderfully good place to be working on this. "Living in the moment" is a constant journey. Some moments I think I know what I'm doing and feeling like progress is being made in that area and sometimes I feel like I'm just floating, not really paying attention to what is going on in front of me. And what is going on in front of me is uniquely cool and sometimes I forget that. Instead I'm thinking about what comes next (in the next moment, month or year), what I will say to respond to the person in front of me when they finish talking. Not being mindful. Not enjoying the now. Not at all. I don't want to be like that anymore. I don't know if it's a renewed sense of excitement being back here, the fact that I meditated and did yoga every day this week or what, but man, my week was filled with some amazing experiences. I giggled with kids and jump-roped beneath a mango tree, talked with a co-teacher about how we teach to best help students learn, drank tea and skyped, climbed a tree and listened to the wind, had a wonderful conversation with a local principal about the proper way to wear a ta'ovala (grass mat), taught some Tongans some new yoga poses (eagle pose is a tricky one) and watched as one of my students read an entire book in English for the very first time. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Today was so good for so many reasons. The cool air, the wind, so many "a-ha!" moments in the classroom (my kids are learning to read English! woo woo!). It was so good. So so good. (I'll be back with a more substantial post later this week.)
 Today was good.
  Today was fun.
  Tomorrow is another one.
  - Dr. Seuss

Saturday, July 13, 2013

My Trip to America.

I am back in the land of coconut trees and turquoise water.
I am back to living with rats, walking around barefoot most of the time, and listening to a language that is not the one I grew up learning.
And I love it. I love you so stinkin' much Tonga.
It's 7:30am on Sunday morning and lots of rain is coming down outside.
I love the rain, especially when I rely on it for drinking water.
Thank you Water Gods for filling up my sima vai (water tank). If I could high five you I would. Seriously.

I knew that coming back here I'd feel a plethora of emotions.
I expected the transition back to be a tricky one. And by tricky, I fully expected it to be really really hard.
Which makes sense since 99% of the things and people I love in this life were compacted into the last 22 days. So much goodness that it all feels very much like a dream. The best possible dream. Is there an opposite to a nightmare? Because that's what I have experienced the last month or so.

And even though I did not arrive back with my luggage and I touched down in a rainstorm in a plane that I'm not exactly sure should still be operating (but who am I to judge? I hold no aviation certification, but based on the fact that duct tape was used to hold some parts of the plane together one can only question), I'm one happy girl. 
 So this blog has been a little quiet and I thought that I would share with some of my favorite moments from the last 3 weeks. In no particular order:

1. Reunions. When my flight touched down in Denver, CO on June 22nd I expected to only see my sister waiting for me. It was 11pm on a Saturday night. But instead, my best friend and her crush cutie were there too. Complete with a big obnoxious sign, Disney princess balloons and noise makers. They made quite the scene. I'll never forget it.
2. Seeing the family. I love my family to bits - they are pretty rockin' people and the week before Molly got married I got to spend a lot of time with them, hanging out, throwing impromptu dance parties and enjoying each other's company.
Playing in the hammock in the backyard.

Drak standing up in the wedding.

Chattin' it up at the wedding rehearsal.

3. Watching Molly marry her crush cutie. I love my new brother (I refuse to call him brother-in-law... takes too long to say and to me it shows an element of separateness and Josh is now part of the family) and I was really excited to welcome him into the family.

Almost ready to walk down the aisle!
4. Meeting new friends. Very rarely do I meet people and become immediately comfortable around them. I'm sure it's my fault. I put up walls and really dislike pushing through the artificial small talk that leads you to the deep and juicy goodness found when you know somebody really well, but I made a new friend while I was in the states. That comfort, straight-forwardness and honesty was there immediately and it was really neat that we crossed paths. Plus my face muscles hurt from laughing so much. And now I have a new pen pal. A win-win situation.

5. Seeing old friends. Friendships come in many shapes and sizes and one of my favorite things about my friends back home is that no matter how much time has passed when we get together it's like no time has passed at all. Some of the friends I was able to catch up with when I was home are friends that I have known since I was 5! Whether it was a drink at cool pub in Denver, lunch at a tiny diner, bbq in the humid Wisconsin summer,... it was so good to reconnect.

6. Getting to hang out with babies. I'm at that age where some of my friends are still single like me, some are engaged, many are married and some have started creating families of their own. It's so neat getting to meet the children of my friend's... it's really amazing to see little people that look like the people you love.
Oliver being adorable.
 7. Visiting the grandparents. I had the opportunity to drive up to Door County, Wisconsin for a quick day trip with the 'rents. We hung out with my grandparents, ate trip (a type of sausage, almost like a bratwurst, that is made with cabbage), and hung out in nature with aunts, uncles and cousins. Sweet deal.

8. Eating amazing food. Mmmmm.... salads. Kale. Mixed greens. So much green! I ate as many leafy greens as I could fit in my face while I was in America. Me and Vitamin B12 were best friends for 3 whole weeks.

9. Dry weather. One of the many many reasons I love living in Colorado (when I'm not in Peace Corps) so much is the weather. It can be 100 degrees in Colorado and I'd be loving it because of the low levels of humidity. Humidity makes me look like a bloated red tomato. And not the perfect ripe kind. Not good.

10. Skypes. I was able to take part in multiple Skype sessions at home and with the licky-split quickness of the interwebs Stateside it almost felt as if each one of my friends was right in the room with me. Such a good feeling. I'm still missing camp like wo, but it was amazing to get to Skype with my camp family since I wasn't able to make it to Maine on this trip. 


So excited to see them tomorrow!

Monday, July 8, 2013

a video.

I gave a presentation tonight in my hometown about my Peace Corps journey in Tonga (so far). Check out the video I made:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Molly and Josh Get Married.

Life is so good in the Northern Hemisphere. 
We celebrated my sister's wedding and enjoyed a week together with family in Colorado.
 I met some new friends.
 Laughed a lot.
 I learned what a Buddhist Shambhala Wedding Ceremony entails (so cool... must learn more... When I get married some day this is the type of ceremony I want).
 Watched my sister marry the love of her life.
 Played with one awesome dog.

And now here I am with a cup of coffee sitting at my childhood breakfast table (in Wisconsin) enjoying a bowl of gf granola, bananas and blueberries. 
Life is so good.