Friday Five - 12.16.16

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now

"Ugly" Christmas Sweater Day

Today is apparently "Ugly Christmas Sweater Day" according to the made up holidays of the internet. While I have dressed up for my fair share of these days/parties - I have a problem with the ugly part. Why can't it just be Christmas Sweater Day? Festive Christmas Sweater Day? I've read a little about the classism associated with the trend and as much as I love dressing up I'm just not into the ugly part. 

Just like another made up holiday - #jessdaytuesday - to me the success of this trend is due to the novelty not the ugly. It's fun to dress up! If I could wear a costumey festive outfit for every random made-up holiday I totally would. 

This article sums it up well. A few tidbits:

 "The "ugly sweater" trend lets us have it both ways. We can indulge in the whimsy of a fun holiday sweater, while emphasizing that of course we are not the kind of people who would genuinely purchase and enjoy such a thing. Those people wear holiday sweaters to church or to Wal-Mart because they don't know any better; we wear them to ugly sweater parties serving hand-crafted cocktails because we do.

So if you want to wear a tacky, fun, joy-inducing sweater (and you should!), just wear it. You don't need a theme party with kitschy decor and ugliest sweater prizes. You don't need the protective irony of the adjective "ugly" at all. Christmas sweaters are fun. They're warm. They're comfortable. They make people smile. The rest of us should be thanking their stalwart fans for keeping the tradition alive, not giggling at them behind their backs."

Read more here and here

Holiday "vacation"

In a few short hours I will be at the airport headed for a (slightly - dang you polar vortex) warmer location to begin my two week break from work. This time of year I can't help but realize how lucky I am to have a generous break. Did you know that in the US, companies are not obligated to offer paid vacation? In fact, the US is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn't guarantee leave. There are over 24 countries that actually require employers to offer 4+ weeks of paid vacation with some as high as 6 weeks. 

While companies aren't legally obligated to do so, many still offer 2-3 weeks throughout the year. But the bizzaro part is that only 57% of workers actually use all of their days. I read that this is in part because Americans find more happiness from their work while Europeans find that from leisure (but I don't believe it) And while as a teacher I get a ton of "vacation" let's be clear - it is not paid. Teachers have limited sicks days and are paid for their work days (generally only around 180/year)  - one of the reasons salaries are so low - despite working an average of 53 hours per week during the year. 

So - off soapbox and back to my point - if you get vacation days, paid/unpaid whatever - take them! Time off leads to "higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and significant health benefits" It makes you a better employee, a better boss, and really just a better person in general. And it's fun. 

Read more here and here

Flight Anxiety

If you made it through my rambling above you know this evening I'm flying off for a few days of solo adventure. It's a short flight but as I've gotten older I've developed some pretty gnarly flight anxiety. I read that one in three people are in the same boat so here are some of the things I've found that help me:

- Podcasts! I won't listen to my favorite podcasts for the week or two leading up to a flight so I have a lot of new ones to download before boarding. It's a great distraction.

- Close the window. I generally like the window closed (or a night flight) so I don't have to see where I am. Trick your brain into thinking you are on a train instead and the normal bumps seem totally different and more manageable.

- Trust the industry. Easier said than done but reminding myself how safe air travel is actually does help. 

- Box breathing. This is  a type of breathing that helps any type of anxiety. Basically you exhale all your air for four counts, breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts,  repeat repeat repeat. Simple but effective. There is even an app!

- Just accept it. I've heard anxiety described as like a lid on a boiling pot. If you try to keep the lid on you're going to create an explosion. When you try to fight your anxieties you're only making them worse in the long run. Recognize how you are feeling, acknowledge the tools you have (or don't) to change the feeling, and then just accept it. Because really what other choice do you have?

- Watch this video. It goes through the takeoff/landing/normal sounds etc and is actually helpful :) 

Read more here, here, and here

Reading Challenge

I'm in the final stretch of my 2016 reading challenge. I challenged myself to read 52 books and I'm currently finishing up the 52nd! I wanted to know how much of a weirdo I actually was so I looked at some US reading statistics.

According to a Pew report in 2015, 72% of adults have read a book in the past year. The part that gets me about this number is that it's a book "in whole or part" - umm a part of a book could be 10 pages - does not count in my challenge. 

Anyways, some other interesting stats are: those aged 18-29 (the dreaded entitled millennials who are killing everything) are actually more likely to have read a book in the past year than any other group. The average number of books read was 12 but the median was only 4 - outliers like me screw up all the data. Women are much more likely to read than men (average of 14 books per year with men at only 9) as are those with higher education and incomes. 

Another interesting thing I found was statistics on the reading habits of successful people. Studies have found that successful people generally read at least two books a week, and that they're almost always nonfiction and personal development related books. One of the daily habits highest correlated with success is reading for self-improvement every day. 

For example, Bill Gates reads at least 50 books a year, Marc Cuban reads for over three hours a day, and Warren Buffet spends an estimated 80% of his day reading. "In fact, when Warren Buffett was once asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of nearby books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

So, even if you don't have the free time or desire to read like I do - set a goal! Set up a goodreads page, track your progress and learn some new things in 2017!

Read more about reading here, here, and here

Angel Tree

Christmas is only 9 days away! But luckily there's still time to help make a child's Christmas a little more joyful. I've participated in the Angel Tree program through the Salvation Army the past several years and it is always rewarding (and easy!). I usually pick a local child off a tree at Starbucks - it gives their age, gender, and three things they want for Christmas. You shop for them, wrap the gifts, and then drop them off. So fun! 

Last night I shopped for the 8 year old girl I chose. She wanted a dollhouse and Barbies so I got her the coolest Barbie Dreamhouse, some Barbies, and Barbie outfits. Did you know they make Barbie career outfits now?? I got her teacher and painter outfits haha I just hope she likes literally everything I like. I also ran into a family spending their evening shopping for Angel Tree kids all together - super heartwarming.

My gifts aren't due back until the 23rd so if you're interested check a Starbucks! You can see what the child asks for before you choose them if you don't want to get stuck buying something you can't afford. It would also be so easy to do as a group so you can pool the money and get extra awesome gifts.

The Angel Tree programs are region specific but learn more about my region here

Happy Friday :)

30 for 30

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.' - Kurt Vonnegut

As I get older time seems to pass by much more quickly. It's easy to become negative and wonder where the time has gone. Each year at my birthday I try to take an inventory of the year - what was good, what was bad - recognize it all. While this year was difficult in a lot of ways, it was really mostly amazing. I made a list of some of the amazing things from this year - 30 places I went as a 30 year old - and thought I would share. You can fit a lot into a year y'all. 

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park

3. Yellowstone National Park

4. Red Rocks

5. Santa Fe, New Mexico

6. Garden of the Gods

8. Aspen, CO

11. Vail, CO

15. Rocky Mountain National Park

16. NYC

17. Custer State Park

24. Idaho Springs

25. Dead Horse State Park

26. Crazy Horse

30. Monmouth IL - home :) 

Friday Five - 12.9.16

“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”

― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This week has been a strange one. It's my last solid week as a 30 year old, it's colder in Denver than it has been in 2 years, it's the week before finals, and it snowed! It's been the sort of week that somehow feels long and short at the same time. A week where I have been happy and sad and everywhere in between for reasons I mostly can't even remember now. So, just like this scattered week, here is a scattered list of five things that have gotten my attention:

Emotional Relationships to Numbers (aka thank goodness I'm a prime number again)

In three short days I will be turning 31! Like many others, I am excited to leave this year behind. - not just 2016 but 30. It wasn't all bad - in fact, it was mostly really great - but the number 31 itself is exciting for me.

Why is 31 so interesting? Well, I am a math teacher, so I'm sure it's not surprising that I love reading about numbers. But my fascination is not just with numbers in a mathematical sense, but the emotions and relationships we have with numbers. I - like a lot of people - have always been obsessed with the number 3. I count out everything into groups of three. Three (and any multiple of three) feels calming to me. I'm also really interested in prime numbers - the lack of pattern and divisibility make them unique. I also like that 3 and 1 are both odd, that 3 divided by 1 is 3 and that the difference between the two are equal to the digits of the number. So.. maybe the fascination is mostly sort of mathematical (and strange). 

While I am excited about 31, my favorite numbers are actually 11 and 3. There are so many interesting studies about favorite numbers and number relationships. Even numbers are seen to be good or calm, while odd numbers are seen as bad. Evens are said to be feminine while odds are masculine and more difficult to process. Despite the seemingly negative connotations, odd numbers are far more likely to be someone's "favorite number"

The number 7 is - by far - the most common favorite number in the world. It is arithmetically unique and seems mystical in some way. It's the only one digit number that isn't a part of another single digit fact family (nothing under 10 can be divided into/multiplied etc to make 7). Three feels that way for me. It's odd, it's prime, it's curvy, and it's everywhere in art. Eleven is odd, prime, but still has even characteristics (add up to an even, first two digits of the Fibonacci sequence, etc..) 

If you want to learn more about favorite numbers and the emotional relationship we have with them, listen to this episode of Radiolab (embedded below) or read this, this, or this

Petrified Forest National Park

Today marks the 54th anniversary of the establishment of Petrified Forest National Park. I visited the vast park in the middle of nowhere nearly two years ago now. 

Interesting part of the parks history: at one point the park said it was losing 1 ton of petrified wood a month to visitors illegally smuggling it out. The park took several punitive steps to curb the theft but found that it actually seemed to increase with the attention placed on it.

I recommend a great, short, Criminal podcast (embedded below the pictures) about the wood theft. It talks about the bad luck people claim to experience after they've stolen wood from the park and the subsequent letters they send back (with the wood) in the hopes of their luck being reversed. The so called "conscience letters" used to be on display at the park - now they are trying to step away from that narrative - but the letters are still available on the website "Bad Luck, Hot Rocks" and book of the same name. Here are a couple of my favorites: 

Read more here and here

Creators vs. Consumers

Last weekend I spent Saturday night getting (much needed) drinks with a friend and catching each other up on our creative projects. Through the night - as we got a few more drinks and a little more honest in our venting - the refrain "at least I'm doing something" came up more than once. It can be frustrating and lonely to try to make something new. To put yourself out there for judgment. But at least I'm creating. At least I'm trying. At least I'm sharing. At least I am doing something. 

While "sharing" online seems to be constant, most people are not actively creating content. Consider the 1% rule of the internet - the theory that 1% of users actively create new content and that 99% generally "lurk" on most platforms . The 1-9-90 Principal is similar - that 1% of users are creators, 9% are synthesizers (Blooms Taxonomy woo) and 90% are just consumers. The Pareto Principle is also very similar and theorizes that 80% of content is created by 20% of users. 

Any way you look at it it's a very small percentage of people creating and the overwhelming majority of people are simply consuming. Here are some interesting stats I found:

0.2% of Wikipedia users ever contribute new content

44% of twitter users have never even tweeted (lurkers) and only 3% tweet daily

< 0.1% of YouTube users are creating any content

1-3% of Reddit users are contributing

< 1% of people who buy books on Amazon leave reviews

I don't know about you but I'd rather be a creator. I may not always create the best content but at least I am creating it. Creating gives you power - the only cultural influencers are creators. Consumers are passive. They believe they have limited options and work within a framework that's already been decided. Boring. And the more you create the better it gets! 

Read more about creating vs consuming here, here, and here


Psychology of Holiday Decor

One of the best parts of the holidays for me is the opportunity to decorate! I especially love Christmas decorating and despite living in a small one bedroom apartment, I have managed to fit in 7 Christmas trees of various sizes, shapes, and colors. 

 Generally I am the only person to ever see the 7 trees but I know that decorating is important to me and my mood. I wanted to know more so I did some digging into the psychology of decor. I ran into several articles talking about "neuroarchitecture"- the study of the link between neuroscience and the physical built environment. (i.e. how light affects mood)

Some interesting takeaways:

Clutter can sometimes be a good thing! It's been found that some clutter can be beneficial in a home and that being surrounded by evidence of who you are has a grounding effect. 

"Soft Geometry"or the idea that curved surfaces activate more emotional centers of our brain and cause us to relax. Conversely, a Harvard Medical School study found that sharp objects produced a negative feeling and conveyed a sense of danger. 

Plants reduce stress! Even just a picture of a landscape can improve concentration and lower stress. 

Rearranging can lift your moods! Just like the hedonic adaptation I talked about here, your physical environment can benefit from novelty. When you make changes in your environment, dopamine kicks in and motivates us. Easy way to rearrange: Holiday decor :) 

Read more here, here, and here

Math Stained Glass - Math/Art Connection

This week my classes all finished one of my favorite activities of the year - Math Stained Glass! They have to graph linear equations into a stained glass pattern then color them in and we put them on the window - instant fancy. 

The math art connection is so important to me. Every year kids complain that this "isn't art class" and I have to tell them it is. Math is art. They are inextricably linked. Here is some proof/things to ponder:

Maryam Mirzakhani, a mathematician who became the first woman and Iranian to win the Fields Medal (most prestigious award in math) works almost entirely visually. She sketches out everything on large paper and says that "The process of drawing something helps you somehow to stay connected”. This is math in the real world. It is open, creative, and outside the box. It is the direct antithesis of school math - math that is generally closed and absurd. School math poses very few interesting questions, and assumes a general algorithm can be used to find a tidy answer. That is not math.

Math is more than numbers and computation. The most powerful learning occurs when we use different areas of the brain. There are different pathways for drawing/visualizing and numbers and symbols and achievement has shown to improve when subjects are taught in a way that uses both of these pathways. Brain crossings are the definition of creativity - making connections between seemingly unrelated things and finding hidden patterns. The world is a pattern and math is all - guess what - patterns! 

Another creativity block in (boring) school math is the idea of "learning styles" that has permeated education and other fields despite there being no scientific evidence or brain research that supports the idea. Instead, many of the same styles and modalities apply to most people and EVERYONE is a visual learner! 

Visualization and visual representations are key in math. Students who use more visualizing in their curriculum achieve higher. Not just in math class, but students who are in more arts courses have been shown to score higher on SAT's and other standardized measures, as well as have more confidence, better motor skills, better decision making and problem solving skills. 

I could go on. And on. But if this is interesting to you read more here, here or here. (Or just bring it up with me over a glass of wine. But be prepared.)


Happy Friday :) 


Friday Five - 12.2.2016

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” - Dorothy Day

The purpose of these Friday Five posts (all two of them) is, in part, to force myself to stay out of the rabbit hole of internet research and share just a small snippet of information on things I am interested in. But I am superfluous. And detailed. And hungry for all the information. About everything. All the time. Well, let's just say I'm curious (sounds better). So I did my best this week to keep things short and sweet and may have failed just a bit. But I hope you enjoy the journey either way through these five unrelated (and sort of strange) things I'm extra interested in this week: 

The "Wild Effect" 

Last Friday - instead of writing one of these posts - I watched the entirety of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix. If you haven't watched and plan on it be aware there are spoilers ahead!

In the Fall episode, Lorelei "does Wild" - she plans to hike the Pacific Coast Trail (a 2,650 mile trail through the Pacific States) a la Cheryl Strayed in her memoir Wild. The sequence was fun and made me think more deeply about the implications of the book. I read Wild for the first time a few years ago (it was published in 2012, was a #1 NYT best seller, adapted for film etc etc) and have come back to it many times since then for inspiration. And, not surprisingly, Lorelei and I are not alone in this. 

The "Wild Effect" is something that has been written about a lot since the publishing of the book (and again after the film release). In 2012, the PCT reported double the number of thru hike attempts from the year before (over 2,000 in 2014). In fact, there is a whole section of the Pacific Coast Trail Associations website dedicated to Wild and "Wild Stories". 

Books, of course, are meant to be inspiring/life changing and even specific to long distance hiking this effect isn't new. The Appalachian Trail also experienced a 50% increase in thru hike attempts within two years of the publishing of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods - another book I recommend - and again after the film version was released in 2015.

I could go on but instead here are some articles if you are as interested as I am: here, here, and here.

Dorothy Day

This past Tuesday marked the anniversary of Dorothy Day's death. Day has been an inspiration to me for more than ten years since I first read her autobiography The Long Loneliness. She was a journalist, social activist, and the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement - a nonviolent direct action social justice movement.

Day is fascinating for many reasons, but what inspires me most is the steadfast commitment she had to her ideals. Her life was spent actively rejecting war and intentionally working for the rights of the poor. She was imprisoned 4 times for civil disobedience (the last time at age 75!) due to her pacifist positions  - once spending 10 days on a hunger strike before being released. She was a supporter of "distributism" and she helped start hospitality houses all over the country - many that still exist today - to serve the homeless and poor. 

Although she is not an official saint in the Catholic Church, last year Pope Francis named her one of four "Great Americans" along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Merton. 

Some of my favorite Dorothy Day quotes: 

“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

“We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.”

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

"Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily."

"I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions."

 Much more information: here, here, and here


Giving Tuesday

Tuesday also marked a recently made up holiday (the kind I like most) - Giving Tuesday! (ahem, #givingtuesday) I've read a lot about how the social media appeal (hashtags woo) has succeeded in getting millennials to give more than ever - and based on my own anecdotal evidence (um, facebook) - I would say that seems to be true. 

Giving Tuesday raised 168 million dollars this year - 44 million more than last year! Whoa. 

While that's all awesome - I think it's important to remember that these organizations need support year round! 

If you don't have anything to give - give your time! I volunteer weekly as a tutor at the local Rescue Mission and it brings me so much joy. But if you'd like to give more of your money and need new ideas here are a few organizations I give to monthly:

World Vision - I sponsor a couple of girls who live in Africa through World Vision (both who share my birthday!). I've done it for years and it's so awesome. You send letters, pictures, and gifts back and forth all while supporting their education and other needs through a fairly small monthly donation.

A few years ago I was teaching a class of all girls in Louisiana and we decided to sponsor a girl together. Everyone brought in a dollar each month because they wanted to help her get an education. It was so powerful to see my students - who were themselves disadvantaged by American standards - feel so much empathy.

World Vision also has a Christmas catalog where you can help those in need (in America and around the world) through things like buying animals for a family, paying for healthcare, sponsoring the building of a well (or just a portion), or funding a child's education for the year.

88 Bikes - This is an organization started by a friend of mine that "endows bicycles to girls throughout the world, especially the heroic survivors of human trafficking." The bikes are only $88 to sponsor as a one time donation. You can send a picture of yourself to give to the recipient of the bike and then you get a photo back of them with their new bike! So cool. 

I endowed a bike a couple of years ago on Giving Tuesday and have now set up a recurring monthly donation to help with other projects that are really awesome. Check it out. 

Donors Choose - I've been lucky to work at schools and in districts that have generally supported my classrooms with basic supplies - but that is definitely not the norm. Even in my position I buy things for my classroom out of my own pocket weekly and it definitely adds up. Donors Choose lets you help fund a classroom project with a small donation and every bit helps! 

The Death Penalty

One of the books I read this month was Dead Man Walking. If you've read it or seen the movie you know that it is a nonfiction book written by Sister Helen Prejean centered around the death penalty in Louisiana and her work advocating for death row inmates. 

It's an older book (1993) but the subject is still at the forefront of debate. Three states just voted on measures that actually strengthen the death penalty in those states (CA, NE, OK) despite only 49% of Americans polled saying they favored it - the lowest in 20 years. 

This is a subject I am very passionate about so instead of pontificating I will just recommend the book, the movie, and some articles about the current situation if you haven't been following. It's so important to understand what the new laws mean for the death penalty moving forward. It's fascinating and contradictory and maddening to say the least. But important. 

More info here, here, and here.


Murder By Death

I have been listening to Murder by Death nonstop this week. They've been a favorite of mine for over ten years and I always find myself coming back to them.

I have a tendency to assume that everyone listens to/reads/watches all the same things as I do, but on the off-chance you're not a big fan of this particular alt country/folk/cello/Gothic band (and there's a good chance you're not as they have less than 50,000 listeners per month on spotify - 0.05% of active users if you're into stats) I made a playlist of my current favs. 

Don't be put off by the kinda morbid and emo band name - give it a shot - and let me know what you think! 

and Happy Friday :)

The Anticipation Phase

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.” 
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I love traveling to strange places off the beaten path. I love road trips, I love exploring, and I love finding hidden gems along the way. All of these things bring me a lot of happiness. But something that brings as much or more happiness is just the process of planning the trip. I love researching, I love planning, I love talking with friends and gathering recommendations. Of course I am not alone in this.

Trips, like a good story or a lesson, come in three phases: the anticipation phase, the savoring phase, and the reflection phase. As a teacher, the beginning of a lesson serves the most important purpose - the "hook" or in educational terms, the "anticipatory set". The anticipatory set is meant to "focus students attention, provide a brief practice and/or develop a readiness for instruction to follow" it "helps students to get mentally or physically ready" for the days objective. The anticipation is what drives the lesson. It is when the inquiry starts and (hopefully) the curiosity is ignited. 

Anticipation, in general, works this way. The latin root of anticipate - ante-capio literally means to take before or to cause something to happen sooner. When you are anticipating something, the positive emotions associated with what you are anticipating happen sooner. If you are going on a great vacation, getting married, or buying a house, you feel the happiness boost well before the event takes place. 

And it's not just anecdotal, there are several studies that back me up on this. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life found that among participants, the majority of people felt happiest before a trip - even more so than on the trip itself. Another study commissioned by found similar results. In the study, 72% of people experienced an immediate high when booking a trip, 56% said they were at their happiest when booking, and over a third said they thought about their trip once or more per day for a quick pick me up. 

These studies aren't surprising when you think of the vast history of delayed gratification research. People who are able to delay gratification have always been posited to be happier in the long term. Like the famous 1970's cookie and marshmallow experiments where the children who could delay their gratification received not only another cookie or marshmallow but were found to later do better in school, have less behavior problems, higher SAT scores, higher incomes and on and on. The trajectory for those who couldn't was much more negative.

What does this have to do with anticipation? Well, there is a ton of research that suggests that not only does delaying gratification build willpower and more successful people, but it actually makes the thing you have delayed that much more satisfying. 

According to Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and happiness researcher, "it is better to immerse yourself" into the planning and anticipation stages of a trip for many reasons. It helps to actually smooth over discrepancies in your expectations vs reality of the trip, you learn something new, and it gives moments of novelty to your everyday routine. 

Novelty is at the crux of anticipatory planning for me. As University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has found in her research, because of the concept of "hedonic adaptation" we return to our baseline levels of happiness after adapting to positive and negative experiences. Basically, once we get what we've wanted we adapt to it - it becomes our new normal and alas, it becomes boring and we take it for granted. The way she and other researchers suggest to counteract the adaptation is through novelty, variety, and surprise. Simply changing your daily routine to spend ten minutes researching an airbnb or a trail you want to hike can provide the variety to keep your levels of happiness up. 

So how can you apply this to your life? Well, plan something! It can be a year in advance! In fact, that would be awesome - you have a whole year to anticipate and plan. Here are some things I do in the Anticipatory Phase:

Pinterest Boards

I create a pinterest board for trips I have coming up. That way I can browse through posts about the area, specific things I want to see, photography, packing tips etc. and pin the things that excite me. I may never go back to any of the boards but the excitement is in the creating. 


Of course! I have nothing without books. Read about the place you are going! I read Astoria before visiting the Grand Tetons, a Georgia O'Keeffee biography before visiting Santa Fe, and read parts of Wild pretty much anytime I go on a hike. There is a great website: Longitude Books that has books organized geographically (so smart). 


Watch a movie that's set in the area, watch a TV show with a similar backdrop (or exact hello Westworld), look up documentaries on YouTube.. the possibilities are endless. I've spent many nights watching random internet videos of Bishops Castle or Arcosanti (currently anticipating) to prepare for a trip. 


Basically, google it. There is information on everything in a form of communication that you enjoy. Trust me. (Or just start here)


Buy some new gear! Even if it's something small. I bought a new pair of leggings before I went to NYC that I've needed for months but it felt special to "buy them for New York". 

Countdown Apps

This is just fun (well if you have some available phone storage). There are many apps that countdown to events in your life. I generally download one once I have a trip confirmed, set my arrival time, maybe a background photo of where I am going, and I can look at it whenever I need a pick me up. It sounds small but it's really kind of gratifying. 

And finally...

Talk About It!

Talk to your friends about your trip. Social bonds increase happiness already so it's a double win. And you'd be surprised how many people have already been to the seemingly obscure Utopian off-grid community you are going to and they can be great resources. 

So don't be afraid to anticipate. Don't fall into the trap (that I sometimes do) of being afraid to think too much or plan too much so you won't be let down. Because even if the trip is a letdown, you've experienced a lot of joy already. :) 


Friday Five - 11.18.16

"Be interested in everything. You don't have to adore it. I don't adore hip-hop, I don't think it's great music, but I'm interested, I listen. I watch a lot of new films, I see everything. I still read, I like books, whether they are old books, new books. I'm interested - you gotta stay interested!' - Mel Brooks

I really enjoy the process of blogging. I like writing, sharing, photos, research, basically just creating. But the idea of a long blog post synthesizing tons of information, pictures, and maybe a joke can be daunting. So I'd like to try to start posting a Friday Five post - five things I'm super interested in this week. Not that my interests are so great you should take the time to read all about them and take them as your own - but because the process of sharing is so important and something that I really value. I love hearing about random art, articles, books, podcasts etc that other people are into and I love reading these sorts of posts from others. So here are five of my (not election related) current obsessions: 

The Unicorn Tapestries - The Met Cloisters Museum

I took a quick trip to NYC last weekend and spent the perfect Sunday roaming around the Cloisters Museum. The museum is in Upper Manhattan on the Hudson River in the middle of Fort Tyron Park. It was the perfect fall day, with the perfect company, and some really interesting medieval art. 

The best part was a room with the Unicorn Tapestries (or the Hunt of the Unicorn). It's a series of seven tapestries depicting hunters and noblemen pursuing a unicorn. The tapestries have been a mystery to critics in modern times but they are believed to have been created between 1495-1505. Some historians believe they were commissioned by Anne of Brittany as a gift to Louis XII on their marriage in part due to an A and E that are displayed in each tapestry - but this has also been refuted. 

The unicorn is such an interesting figure and the symbolism of it in the tapestries has also been the subject of much debate. "The original pagan myths about The Hunt of the Unicorn refer to an animal with a single horn that can only be tamed by a virgin; Christian scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary." Interesting stuff.

There is a lot more information about the tapestries and the symbolism online if you can't make it to the museum - but I'd recommend it if you are in the area. Read more here, here, and here.

Grace Hopper - Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Grace Hopper, the "first lady of software" was one of 21 people awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week! Super exciting to me for so many reasons. Hopper was one of the first female computer scientists, one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer, an admiral in the United States Navy and so much more. I painted her portrait for my classroom STEAM stars wall and I'm so glad she is getting even more recognition, albeit posthumously.

Interesting Grace Hopper story: she is believe to have invented the term "de-bugging" after she found an actual moth in Harvard's Mark II computer.  

She is awesome. Read more about her here and here

Math Gender Gap

As a math teacher who has spent three of the last 8 years teaching all girls, this study has been on my mind a ton this week. It found that the gender gap in math starts in kindergarten due to teacher and parents expectations and biases! I know this to be true from my own experience but it's still shocking to see that girls are consistently underrated in math skills when the data actually shows that they start out at the same level of ability. Boys are more likely to be called on to answer or demonstrate, and teachers in study after study are shown to have unconscious biases towards girls math ability.

This is so important for teachers, parents, mentors - everybody to address. In order to close the gender gap in STEM girls need to first believe that they are capable! (and have role models like Grace Hopper :))

Read more here and here

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

I'm reading 52 books this year so people ask me for recommendations a lot. Well, people who read books - so still not like a lot a lot haha but a fair amount of people. I just finished up Daring Greatly after it had been in my pile for months and I can't recommend it enough. I'm always skeptical of the Oprah book club variety fare but this is a revelation in so many ways.

The title comes from The Man in the Arena exerpt from the famous Teddy Roosevelt speech, Citizen in a Republic

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

This quote is at the crux of Browns research that led to her incredibly popular TedTalk on The Power of Vulnerability - and the book is basically a continuation of the talk. Brown defines vulnerability as, "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure" and through the book explains that in order to have purpose and meaning in our lives, we must have the courage to be vulnerable.

She says, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

It seems like common sense but I honestly have felt a shift in my life since I have read this book. I have let myself be vulnerable in ways that I haven't done in the past and I feel so much freer. I could go on but you should just read the book! Or watch the TedTalk :) 


Summer Plans - (and that guy who dissolved in Yellowstone)

It snowed for the first time this year yesterday in Denver (after a 40 degree temperature drop in mere hours) so I have been thinking a lot about summer haha. I love summer - not just because I am off work - but the sun, the water, the mountains, the opportunity to wear backwards hats - the list goes on. 

I've been looking through some of my summer photos (like the ones taken in Yellowstone above in June) and reminding myself that just as winter comes, so does summer and soon enough I will be back out there. 

I've also been morbidly obsessed with stories about the guy who essentially dissolved in a hot spring after falling into it just a few days before I visited. I heard about it at the time but the report was just released so if you're into that stuff... look here and here. 

So there ya have it - my top fives this week. I will (hopefully) have five definitely new, maybe interesting, possibly math related things to share next week. What are you thinking about this week? Stay interested friends. 

taos - new mexico

"My needle is slow to settle, varies a few degrees, and does not always point due southwest, it is true, and it has good authority for this variation, but it always settles between west and south-southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and richer on that side." - Henry David Thoreau

There are a few places I've been where I feel most like myself - more alive and understood without saying anything. Taos New Mexico is one of those places.

I have been going for long weekends as often as I can since I've moved back to Colorado and it's the place I get asked about most frequently. It's a 5ish hour drive from Denver so it's a great long weekend destination. Not convinced? Look at these pictures and maybe read my absolutely biased opinions on one of my favorite small towns. 

Taos was incorporated in 1934, and has a population of only 5,731 people. There is a small downtown plaza with neighborhoods of adobe houses surrounding it on mostly dirt and gravel roads. Taos has a distinctly "dirtier" vibe than nearby Santa Fe - part of why I like it. It has over 80 art galleries (seriously), is 81% democratic (seriously), has several ski areas nearby, 3 art museums, is/has been home to Aldous Huxley, Gary Johnson, D.H. Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Donald Rumsfeld and allegedly the "Taos Hum" - a reported widespread low frequency hum in the area that was referenced on Unsolved Mysteries and the X-Files. It is an eclectic place to say the least.

Bordering Taos on the North side is the Taos Pueblo that has been around since somewhere between 1000-1450 AD and is one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the United States. You can visit the Pueblo (and you should) for a small fee and either catch a tour or roam around yourself. While there are 1,900 Taos indians living in the area there are only about 150 that live in the Pueblo year round. I had some fascinating conversations just wandering around with the people who live and work in the Pueblo. 

One of the best things about Taos is that you can spend a weekend there and never even go into the city. The town is spread out with many interesting abodes. One of the places I come back to often is a geodesic earth dome (below). I've stayed several times and it's the perfect peaceful retreat. I only met the property manager once - briefly - who explained that this area is known as "introvert heaven" and I understand why. I've spent entire weekends here cooking, reading, painting, taking long baths, laying in the grass outside, and not speaking to another person the entire time. Heaven indeed. 

I've also stayed in a couple of tiny homes/airstreams/vintage trailers - this one is in the same area as the dome and was also the perfect place to spend a weekend alone. I read three books, drank wine, watched the sunsets, and then woke up with the sunrise for three days and it was magical. There is something about the sky in New Mexico - I could sit and stare for hours. 

But what if you're not like me and want to leave your weird tiny lodgings? You're in luck - there's so much to do! Hot springs are all over New Mexico but to get the authentic experience you have to go to the free and natural springs on the river. Manby Hot Springs/Stagecoach hot springs are a collection of hot spring pools on the bank of the Rio Grande. It was a location in the movie "Easy Rider" and is popular with locals. The hike down is not too long or difficult but it's a hike so be prepared. The pools are at the bottom and are clothing optional so, again, be prepared :) 

I've found several different (wrong) directions online so here are my hopefully sorta kinda accurate (as much as you can be in this town) directions:

Take highway 64 west from town towards the Rio Grande Gorge bridge and turn right on Tune Rd. Take the road about 4 miles (all dirt) and stay left at the Y. There is an upper parking lot if you don't have a high clearance vehicle and a lot right at the trailhead if you do. The trailhead is a short walk to the left. If I missed a step just go towards the gorge :) 

Not into naked hippies or hiking? Head to Taos Mesa Brewing which is just a short drive from the springs. The original "mothership" is actually in El Prado - an unincorporated Taos suburb - but there is now also a smaller downtown tap room location. It was built in the same sustainable building style of the Earthships down the road (and down this blog post) with salvaged materials and within 5 years it should be totally off the grid. The beer is good, the food is good, they have live music, an awesome outdoor space, and tons of cool people. Also - the best view of the majestic Sangre de Cristos. 

Another 6 miles down the road in El Prado is Earthship Biotecture World Headquarters. An Earthship is a type of passive solar home that is made from recycled, salvaged, and up-cycled materials (tires, bottles, cans etc). You can visit the model home and learn about Earthships as well as rent one for the night - next on my list. The community was started in Taos by architect Michael Reynolds but Earthships can now be found all over the world. It's a fascinating topic and the homes are super artistic and livable. Definitely worth a visit. 

If you're not convinced yet - check out the festival schedule, some of the art galleries, the nearby high and low roads from Taos to Santa Fe, the ski valley, watch this episode of the X-Files, or just listen to this little ditty:



"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy." - Ms. Frizzle

I love celebrating. Every day in my classroom we celebrate one of those weird National Days (today is National Food Day btw) and I have holiday decor for all seasons in my apartment down to cocktail napkins. So it's no surprise that I have made up my own weekly holiday - Jess Day Tuesday. More commonly known as #jessdaytuesday. I've gotten a lot of questions about what the heck this is, why and what I am celebrating etc. So here is the history and background of this great day.

I've always loved to theme dress. I frequently think of my outfits as "looks" (others think of them as "getup's" yikes)  and try to dress for the occasion at hand. My first foray into whimsical work dresses came with this math print dress: 

I'm a math teacher so this was an obvious purchase. But the interesting part of the dress isn't the dress - it's the feeling I get when I am wearing it. 

A lot of research has been done on the affect of clothing on our lives and self-perception. I've always known that when I look better I feel better, but there is some serious science to back it up. According to a study cited in the Wall Street Journal article "Why Dressing for Success Leads to Success" wearing nicer clothes than required raises confidence levels, affects how others perceive you, and boosts levels of abstract thinking - which is the thinking of successful leaders and executives. 

Another interesting study came from the Journal of Experimental Psychology and found that clothing affects our performance through "enclothed cognition" - a type of embodied cognition that basically means that the clothing you wear affects your cognitive process and your behaviors mirror your expectations of how someone wearing that clothing would behave. In one of the experiments,

"subjects who donned white coats that they thought belonged to doctors performed better on tests than those who wore street clothes, or those who thought the coats were associated with artists. Their heightened focus was evident only when subjects actually put on the coat in question (not merely when they were in the same room)."

So what does all this have to do with whimsical dresses on Tuesday? Well, the math dress made me take on the role of the most important teacher in history of course: Ms. Frizzle! Ms. Frizzle is the teacher in the Magic School Bus series and according to Wikipedia (and me) she is,

"eccentric and a bit strange, The Friz is intelligent, kind, resourceful, happy, funny, supportive, loving and somewhat motherly. She loves making jokes revolving around the lesson she teaches, even if she is the only one laughing. A redhead, she wears wacky clothing that reflects the subject of each adventure and earrings that glow before a field trip begins." 

If I had to be described as a teacher (or just as a person really), that is pretty much word for word what I would want to be said. And according to the enclothed cognition phenomena (and my own anecdotal evidence) the dresses help! 

So why isn't the holiday Ms. Frizzle Tuesday? Well you see that doesn't rhyme and things like that matter to me. :) Also, another fictional whimsical dressing teacher I admire is Jess Day - a character on New Girl - and since New Girl is on Tuesdays (and it all rhymes) a holiday was born! What started as a funny hashtag has turned into a vital and important part of my week.

So here is my challenge to you: think about the way your clothes make you feel and dress the way that makes you feel great/powerful/confident whatever. Maybe create your own day!! Post a selfie without shame. It's not frivolous and it's not shallow - it's fun! And it's science :)

And let me know how it goes :) 


utah's mighty 5

“Most of my wandering in the desert I've done alone. Not so much from choice as from necessity - I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” 
― Edward AbbeyDesert Solitaire

Mid-October: the best and worst of times. Fall activities, changing leaves, crisp temperatures, Halloween!... and the realization that summer is finally over. For a teacher like me this is.. unsettling. So instead of give in to the October blues, I've spent some time looking back over some of the incredible places I visited this summer - like Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks! 

If you know me you know one of my greatest joys is visiting National Parks. Preferably alone on a road trip in the summer but I'm not picky :) I've had visiting the Utah parks on my list for a few years and even just weeks before leaving made every excuse about why visiting 5 parks in a week across a sparsely populated state as a single lady was a terrible idea. But when has any of that ever stopped me? :) 

My intention is to blog more specifically about each park in the future but for now here is some general info on the parks and some pictures that might inspire you to get outside.

Day 1 - Capital Reef National Park

I started the trip from Denver and drove to Torrey Utah - about 447 miles and the longest driving day. I got there early enough to spend the evening relaxing in the most amazing airbnb with a view out over Capital Reef. 

After waking up with the sun and eating some breakfast I trekked it in to Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef was first settled by Native American tribes then by Mormons after the Civil War. One of the settlements was Fruita - a small town of ten families that has been restored by the Park Service. You can (and I did obv) visit the old general store, blacksmith, school, and the Fruita fruit orchards. Visitors to the orchards can pick whatever is in season on their own and leave a very small fee to take anything out. The apricots in the orchard were mostly out of season when I visited but I still enjoyed the stroll through. Surprisingly, I didn't encounter many other people at all during my walk and drive/stops etc. It is in a remote location but still has far fewer visitors than the other parks. 

capital reef 2

Day 2 - Zion National Park

The next day I woke up in St. George Utah - not the closest place to Zion but the easiest and most affordable. I drove to the park with the intention of getting there before the crowds but boy was I wrong. I shouldn't have been surprised since Zion is the sixth most visited National Park and the most visited park in Utah (by far). There isn't car access to much of the park so I waited in line for a shuttle bus for over an hour. Once I got on the bus it was worth it. The park is just the way I imagined it and more - awe inspiring and massive. 

I got off at the last stop to hike the famous Narrows. The Narrows is a hike through a river in the canyon. You can find tons of information about it online but my advice is: don't rent the shoes, socks, sticks etc - my cheap trekking poles, old New Balances, and waterproof case in my bag worked just fine. There was a chance of rain and flash flooding can be deadly so I didn't go as far in as I would have liked - just a reason to come back next summer :)

zion 1
zion 2

I went on some other hikes and had lunch at the lodge before the heat got to me and headed back to St. George for some room service and pool relaxing. 

Day 3 - Bryce Canyon National Park

The next day I checked out of my hotel and headed on to Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive to the park was incredible but unfortunately storms were rolling in. The park is between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation so the risk of storms can be dangerous. 

Bryce was crowded and although you don't have to take the shuttle I recommend it. I hiked along the rim trying to convince myself I was in a real place and not a dream world until the storm clouds were imminent. I took the opportunity to visit the lodge for some food and people watch (one of the best things about visiting national parks)

The weather kicked me out way too early so another visit to Bryce is first on my Utah agenda for next year. 

real place.

Interesting Fact: Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon but a natural amphitheater. Who knew. 

Day 3.5 - Brian Head Utah

I try not to plan too precisely on trips like this in case something (like a huge storm) comes up and ruins my plans. Thankfully I hadn't booked a place for the night by lunch so I found a resort I could relax the rest of the night at in Brian Head Utah - a ski town with a 119 population at 9,800 feet. It was raining/freezing rain the entire time I was there so thankfully my resort had an in house restaurant with some pizza and the only place that sold wine was across the street. It was the perfect place to relax mid-trip. 

brian head

Day 4 - Arches National Park

Arches was the only Utah park I had already been to so it wasn't even on my itinerary in the beginning. Of course, I like doing things in series so I figured if I'm already going to 4 of 5 parks I have to do them all. I tried to do some of the hikes that I hadn't done before and it paid off. It was kind of a gloomy day so I spent several hours hiking and just sitting/reading/yoga-ing among the 2,000+ natural arches.


Day 5 - Canyonlands National Park

I left the perfect Airbnb I stayed at in Moab before dawn to catch the sunrise in Canyonlands. The park is about 35 miles away from the city (Arches is only 5). There weren't any cars on the road and surprisingly only passed one other group in the park. I sat and watched the view at Mesa Arch for quite a while before exploring some other areas. The park is so vast - it was the perfect last National Park. My actual last stop was Dead Horse State Park (ahem, Westworld) which is about 8 miles away. 

my selfies got so much better throughout the trip ha

So there you have it - a whirlwind 5 days and a whirlwind of a blog post. If you made it this far - go outside, how do you have this much free time?! haha but seriously, if you have specific questions about any of the parks please ask - I'm no expert but I'm really into research. :)

Now start planning your trip!


grand teton national park

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” Sylvia Path

teton 1

I'm not one for resolutions - but I love goal setting. One of my goals this year is to read 52 books. Not necessarily sticking to one a week but 52 in total. So far I am ahead of my goal (woo!) and reading a lot of books that I wouldn't have normally chosen. One of those books is Astoria by Peter Stark. It was book number 26 and chronicles John Jacob Astor's Astorian's trek to the West Coast to establish a fur trading post. 


What does this have to do with the Grand Tetons I'm sure you are asking yourself. Well, the Overland party of Astorians decided to take a route through North America that was south of Lewis and Clark's between 1810 and 1812 and in the process became some of the first non-native people to cross the Teton range. 

teton reflection

"There the landmark stood, clearly visible even at sixty miles' distance - three jagged, snowcapped peaks rising in a cluster like shark's teeth, nearly a mile above the surrounding landscape... '[the three mountains] were hailed by the travelers,' wrote Washington Irving, in his account of Astor's enterprise. 'with that joy with which a beacon on a seashore is hailed by the mariners after a long and dangerous voyage..." (Stark 131) 

After reading I immediately booked my first night in Driggs, Idaho, in the Teton Valley - over the Teton pass that the Overland party traveled over 200 years ago. What can I say, books inspire me. And I'm so glad that they do - because I wasn't prepared for the beauty I was about to find. 

I stayed in Driggs the first night in part because the Jackson Hole valley is super duper expensive (especially in the summer) but also because I wanted to see the range from a different view. I stayed at a beautiful log home in the valley (on a yak farm!) and enjoyed an evening watching the sunset and a beautiful morning watching the sun rise over the peaks. 

After watching the yaks for longer than I care to admit, I started on the (breathtaking) road to the park. Grand Teton is north of Jackson, Wyoming and 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park - connected by the Rockefeller Parkway. It was established in 1929 and encompasses 310,000 acres of land. It is in the top ten visited National Parks with over 2.5 million visitors per year.

teton sign

Grand Teton is the tallest mountain in the Teton range at 13,775 feet above sea level but what makes the landscape so dramatic is that it towers over 7,000 feet above the valley. 

teton drive

There are over 200 miles of trails, 1,000 campsites, lodges, visitors centers, lakes famous for trout fishing and two that allow motorized boating - Jackson and Jenny Lake (below).

jenny lake

I spent quite a bit of time in the Colter Bay area of Jackson Lake, named after the first white man to see the Tetons and the original mountain man - John Colter. There is a marina with rentals, swimming beach, picnic areas, general store, restaurants, lodging, a gift shop, and an alright view :) 

Fun fact about the parks name: "The buoyant French-Canadian voyageurs called them as they saw them, the Trois Tetons - 'the three breasts.' It's the voyagers' name that has stuck for these grand mountains that tower above today's Jackson Hole, Wyoming." (Stark 131) 

jackson lake

Now that I hope these pictures and stories of fur traders have convinced you to visit - here's how to do it:

Fly: The Jackson Hole Airport is the only airport within a National Park! 

Drive: I drove from Denver through Jackson to Driggs via 191 which was so beautiful but a more direct route is via US - 287. 

Stay: There are lodges and campsites in the park, hotels in Jackson just outside, or a little farther in the Teton Valley - over the Teton pass to Driggs (where my airbnb was located) and Victor. 

Pay: I (of course) used my $80 America the Beautiful Pass to get in fee free but if you don't have one, the fee for Grand Teton is $30 for a vehicle 7-day pass ($50 for a Grand Teton and Yellowstone pass) 

Things to do: There are so so many things to do that I can't possibly blog about here but check out the official website, my post on trip planning, and this map for more specifics!

Now plan your trip! (and bring an extra memory card for your camera - you're going to need it) :)

tetons relaxing


road trip essential: podcasts

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose."

- Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

I love a good road trip. I'm currently driving across the Midwest and, well, it's not the most exciting part of the country. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the sights anywhere - but I need something to keep me occupied during a long (or short) trip. Enter Podcasts.

I don't have any actual data (although I'm sure I could find some) to back this up but I'm fairly certain the popularity of podcasts has grown exponentially in the past few years (thanks Serial) BUT I'm still so surprised when I frequently talk to people who don't listen to any - mostly because they don't know where to start. 

I listen to sooooo many (because there are sooooo many out there) so it was hard to narrow it down but here are my recommendations on tried and true podcasts (all available via iTunes) to get started for a newbie and some less popular casts for those looking for something new. 


Tried and True:

It wouldn't be a list of podcasts without TAL. This is continually the first or second most downloaded podcast on the iTunes charts each week and with good reason. It blends journalistic non-fiction, short stories, essays in generally a three act format. There are over 500 episodes hosted by Ira Glass available online and an estimated 2.5 million listeners per week. 

Available: once a week

Time: 1 hour

Memorable Episodes: Is This Working? , The Problem We All Live With, Abdi and the Golden Ticket

This podcast is a collaboration between TED (Technology, Engineering, Design) and NPR hosted by Guy Raz bringing together snippets of popular TedTalks and interviews with the speaker that all relate to a common theme. 

Available: weekly

Time: 1 hourish

Memorable Episodes: Solve for X, Quiet, Do We Need Humans

Spun off the popular book series - the authors are back with a podcast exploring the "hidden side of everything" If you enjoy the books or are just a curious person this is for you. 

Available: weekly

Time: 30-50 minutes

Memorable Episodes: Is America's Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?

iTunes describes Radiolab as an "investigation through sound and stories, centered around one big idea" Each episode is a trip through science and philosophy woven together brilliantly. There are shorter and longer episodes (I prefer the longer) and it rivals This American Life as one of the most popular podcast downloads.

Available: every other week

Time: Ranges 30-1 hour +

Memorable Episodes: 60 Words, Space


and For Your Consideration...

An advice podcast from the original "Sugars" of the Dear Sugar column from The Rumpus - Cheryl Strayed (of Wild fame) and Steve Almond. Each episode centers around a theme with one or more letters that the hosts and special guests (authors) give advice on. Strayed has created a huge following (me included) due to her insight and empathy and she doesn't disappoint. *Also check out the book of her columns as Dear Sugar - Tiny, Beautiful Things.

Available: Fridays

Time: 30-45 minutes

A newer podcast I stumbled upon hosted by two friends from Kentucky - one is conservative and one is liberal - discussing politics. They say the word nuance a little too much but in general I enjoy their perspectives. They don't argue, are both very well informed, and just seem like the type of friends you'd want to have at happy hour (if you're like me :))

Available: They have a weekly longer show and "The Briefcase" a shorter episode also each week. 

Time: 30-1hr

This is a newer podcast that aims to take a deep dive into a news story and, well, embed into the story. So far I'm enjoying it. The first episode especially hooked me - I'd recommend starting there since there aren't many episodes yet.

Available: Season 1 all available

Time: 30-45 min

Memorable Episodes: The House (episode 1) and the follow up We Found Joy, The School 

A podcast from Buzzfeed that takes on race, gender, popular culture (and jokes!) I really like the two hosts and they have some good guests and interviews. 

Available: weekly

Time: 45ish min

Memorable Episodes: Ep 28 with Hillary Clinton

This show is hit or miss for me but I love criminology and the episodes are short so I always give it a chance. Each episode is a different story related to crime in some way throughout history. 

Availability: not sure - 44 episodes available on iTunes

Time: 15-30 min

Hosted by Lea Thau, this is a podcast with great stories. Some are personal to Thau and some she becomes involved in. I like how she allows herself to become moved by the stories but again, this is sometimes hit or miss for me.

Available: bi-weekly

Time: 15-50 min

This is a fictional serial-type podcast with just six episodes in the first season. It follows a reporter investigating a town where everyone disappeared and ... you'll find out (through twists and turns) 

Available: Season 1 is all released

Time:20-35 min 

I'd say this is my guilty pleasure but whatever - no guilt. This is a Real Housewives breakdown podcast from Casey Wilson (of snl and Happy Endings!) and Danielle Schneider, two cast members of the Hotwives parody series on hulu. They are both hilarious and talk about the Housewives franchises on at the time and really all the other Bravo shows. The only thing I'm guilty about is that I haven't been listening all along!

Available: weekly

Time 1 hour ish


So there ya have it - a sampling of some of the podcasts I'm listening to now. Enjoy!

Nowhere to go? Check out my post on how to plan a weekend roadtrip! And remember, you don't have to go on a roadtrip to listen. I listened to four podcasts while I was writing this blog about podcasts! (so meta) Happy travels!

manitou incline

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

As I've gotten older, it's become more important to me to set and achieve goals. One of my goals the past year has been to climb the Manitou Incline.  I'm proud to say that yesterday I made it to the top on my first attempt! 

What is the Manitou Incline?

The Manitou Incline a hiking trail in Manitou Springs Colorado that famously gains 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile! What was once a cable car to carry materials to build pipelines on Pikes Peak has been used for years (but has only been legal since 2013) by athletes and locals who wanted a challenging exercise. 

The base of the trail is already 6,600 feet above sea level in Ruxton Canyon in Manitou Springs. It is right at the base of Pikes Peak and becomes an offshoot of the Barr Trail that summits Pikes Peak (14,114 ft). The trail is categorized as extreme and the rules are clear about that. 

The incline is open from dawn to dusk. I went on a Sunday at around 9am with two friends. We parked in a city lot and caught the free shuttle to the incline that runs from May 18-September 24. There have been many complaints and legal action taken as a result of the congested parking and noise at the Incline trail-head itself (parking for Barr Trail and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is at the base of the incline as well) so the shuttle is a great service. 


We started out slowly and decided to stop every 10% completed. We used the Manitou Incline app to track our progress. It told us our time and the percent completed which was really motivational for me. We ended up stopping more than every 10% mostly between 50-80% where the grades can be as high as 68%! The average grade is 41% and the climb is higher than the Empire State Building! 

My legs started to hurt about 30% of the way up (and never stopped hurting haha). It's hard to breathe due to the incline itself but also due to the high altitude - bring lots of water! There's a bailout to the Barr Trail at about 2/3 of the way up but otherwise it's not recommended/safe to go back down the incline so you have to commit!

There is a false summit with about 300 steps to go - but thankfully a fellow climber warned us so I wasn't too upset. Everyone on the incline was really friendly and helpful.

We took a lot of pictures during breaks to keep up morale. :)

Once you reach the top there is a flat area to sit and relax before going back down the Barr Trail. Another friendly climber told us that it's easier to trail run down and honestly, after climbing up 2,000 feet, that sounded like the worst suggestion ever. But we tried it and - surprisingly - it was super fun. I think I'm a converted trail runner now. 

After the hike we rewarded ourselves with some lunch - there are so many eclectic spots in downtown Manitou Springs


If you are in the area and in decent shape I'd recommend this hike! We passed athletes, tourists, old, young, families etc.. The feeling of accomplishment is worth the agony challenges of climbing. Just be careful if you aren't acclimated to the altitude, bring plenty of water, start slow, and don't be afraid to take breaks.

To get to the Manitou Incline: from I-25 in Colorado Springs take exit 141 (US 24) West to Manitou Avenue. Turn right, go three miles to Ruxton Avenue and left 3/4 of a mile. You can park at the Barr Trail trailhead NOT the Pikes Peak Cog Railway lot. Or you can park in town and catch the Incline Shuttle. 

So what are you waiting for? Challenge yourself -you'll be glad you did. 

the great great sand dunes

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” - Rumi

From 1st to 4th grade my family lived in Colorado. One of my strangest memories from those years is of a visit to the Great Sand Dunes (it wasn't yet a National Park). I have always remembered images of the visit in my mind but thought that it was too surreal to have actually happened. Because not even my mind could conjure something so incredible.

dunes 1

Since I have moved back to the state I have visited a few times and am in the same state of wonder and amazement as all those years ago. 

A little background on the park: the Great Sand Dunes are home to the tallest sand dunes in North America - 750 ft from base to crest. It was declared a National Monument in 1932 and a National Park and Preserve in 2004. The park covers 44,246 acres and an additional 41,686 for the preserve. The nearest town is Alamosa (35 miles away). 

The dunes started forming through sand and soil deposits from the Rio Grande, the winds picked up the sand and lost power before crossing the mountains. The process is continuous and the shape of the dunes change daily. 

The dunes are accessible for hiking (very carefully in the summer when sand temps can reach 150 degrees!) sand sledding, sand boarding, and there are sand wheelchairs available (so cool) The sand sleds and sand boards are available tor rent in Alamosa at Kristi Mountain Sports or Oasis Campground outside the park. 

The Great Sand Dunes are just shy of 4 hours from Denver. I take I-25 south, exit 52 to US-180 W at Walsenburg, over La Veta pass and into Fort Garland then Blanca. Turn right onto CO - 150, drive about 19 miles and you're there! It is $15 per car (or no charge with the America the Beautiful Pass that I recommend at least once a day). 

Until you get close you'd never know anything was there other than the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 

dunes road

At the main parking area you enter the dunes by crossing Medano Creek - or swimming through in the summer!

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sand dunes 4
sand dunes 5
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The dunes are much larger than a picture can convey. Be prepared to walk quite a while through some challenging altitude change if you want to get to the top. Bring water! (and sunscreen - I had a Teva foot sunburn that lasted a year after this picture)

sand dunes 9

I like to climb up somewhere and just sit. I bring a book but it's usually too windy to do anything but take it in. There are no real set trails due to the changing landscape so you can be as far or close to others as you'd like. I prefer far :) Acoustic monitoring has shown that the park has one of the quietest soundscapes in the country! I'm not surprised. So peaceful. 

Again, pictures don't do them justice. You have to go.

Resolution: make a gif ✔️ #sanddunes #cartwheel #gif

See this Instagram video by @emhart11 * 8 likes

If all these pictures haven't convinced you to visit this underrated National Park then I don't know what will. It is an amazing, peaceful, and surreal place that everyone should see in their lifetime. 

how to: plan a weekend road trip

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

As much as I would like to spend weeks traveling the globe, my kind of travel is generally of the long weekend road trip variety. Living in Colorado makes finding beautiful places easy but - trust me - there are hidden gems near anyone. 

People ask me a lot of questions about road-trips: how I decide where to go and how I find interesting places when there. While most of my advice is common sense and you probably do most of it already, hopefully I can give you some kind of new tool to make your planning less stressful or some inspiration to start planning (Memorial Day is around the corner!). So here is the first of a series of "how to" posts covering some basics of short road-trip planning. 

car window

First: Where to go??

The first thing I do when I have a long weekend or am itching to get away is to look at a map. I start in Denver and search a radius of 4-6 hours in any direction for place I haven't been.

denver map


A good strategy is to find the green on a map and zoom into it! This is what I got a couple weeks ago zooming in to the Rapid City area. So many places I never would have thought about!

rapid city map

Second: Where will I stay?

After finding the area I want to go to I generally will start an airbnb search. I set the map to the same places, filter it to my price range and entire home with the dates I want to travel and see what comes up. If you haven't used airbnb before, my advice is to go for places with lots of reviews 4 1/2 stars and up. I've had only really great experiences this way. 

airbnb rapid city

If there isn't anything I like I move the airbnb map around with the cursor to see if anything else pops up. Just make sure to keep it within the distance from home that you want to travel.

This also helps with finding unique places. The best places I've stayed (tiny houses, domes, etc.) are "off-the-grid" in some form so it's worthwhile to look in the outer areas. They are also generally cheaper!

This trip didn't have a deal good enough for me so I went on to Hotwire

Love a straightforward hotel.&nbsp;

Love a straightforward hotel. 

As you can see, hotels tend to be much cheaper in this area. Personally, I also knew that the objective of this trip was to spend as much time as possible visiting things outside of the hotel so having a swank or interesting place to sleep wasn't as important to me. 

I don't make the actual reservations just yet though! I just need to know where the best accommodations are to direct the rest of my search. 

Third: What will I do while I'm there?

Sometimes I visit places for a specific reason, sometimes just because I haven't been there, but generally it's a combination of both. I had never been to South Dakota, but I knew I wanted to visit Mount Rushmore. After that I was open to anything. 

Again, looking at a map is a great way to start. That's how I found that Badlands National Park was within a day trip of Rapid City. I also put Custer State Park on my list from the map. 

Reading other blogs is a great way to find well known and less known attractions. I usually start with a Pinterest search and go down the rabbit hole for a bit, pinning posts and taking notes of places that seem interesting or that keep coming up in posts. 

black hills pinterest

I also always look at the "things to do" section of TripAdvisor. It's based on reviews from real people so the content and ratings are genuine.

trip advisor

 I look at the general vicinity and also the specific city I'm staying in. The Rapid City TripAdvisor page is the reason I got to see this dinosaur: 

dinosaur park

Another great way to find interesting local attractions is instagram! Hashtags and location tags are seriously how I've found some of the greatest places I've ever been. 

I also do this with the locations I visit to make sure I don't miss out on a cool spot. It's also a great way to get inspired and excited for a trip. 

Instagram led me to Art Alley in Rapid City, an awesome alley downtown full of street art. (look out for a dedicated post - so great to find in South Dakota)

Fourth: List making!

After I have some ideas/notes/maps I write out actual distances between the places I want to go to find the best route. This (of course) starts by looking at a map and getting a general idea for what's going to be the smartest route. Then I look up distances between the points and come up with an itinerary. This helps me feel more organized and makes the best use of my time. Not a minute is wasted! 

This is what I ended up with for the Black Hills trip: 


I didn't end up making it to Wind Cave National Park or Chapel in the Hills but knowing the possibilities made the actual trip much less stressful. 

Fifth: Book it!

Book the trip! Take the day off, confirm the hotel/airbnb/tickets etc. Be confident that you have planned an amazing trip and focus on the fun stuff! 

My First Portrait - Kurt Vonnegut

"Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something" - KV

People often ask me how long I've been painting - or what my training is. They are surprised to find that I just started painting portraits about 14 months ago on a whim. I've been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut for as long as I can remember and was inspired by the above quote to do more than just create, but to try something new. So I found the photo below and got to work. 

My process is fairly simple. I start with a regular canvas usually from Michaels or somewhere similar and pencil sketch a photo that I like. I start with the face itself, and fill in colors/shapes without regard for any details. It's important to use several shades of a color rather than immediately try to lighten or darken with white and black. I add in those last.

I usually stop there for one sitting. I paint fairly fast and the first layer could be only 30 minutes or so of work. The next day or two (or hour) I start in on more details, but with the same basic idea of colors/shapes/variation in tones. The only real difference is I'm using a smaller brush and - duh - smaller brushstrokes result. The process of building the facial expressions is my favorite part. 

The last part of my process is generally more details and sometimes an unexpected element (like the red below) depending on what I'm working on. The whole process could take as little as a few hours or as long as a few months! I tend to come back to paintings a lot and I've used the same basic process since I started. 

This was my first portrait ever and the first printed canvas I sold through the store after getting the site up! You can too - here :) 

Stay tuned for a more in depth look at paints, brushes, mediums etc! (and maybe another gif!!) 



While in South Dakota, I took a day trip to Badlands National Park. It is about an hour drive from where I was staying in Rapid City via I-90 E and about 6 hours direct from Denver.

It is everything I had hoped for and so much more. 

badlands profile

Badlands is a 244,000 acre National Park  in Southwest South Dakota. It's east of the black hills and the scenery is strikingly different. 

badlands 1

According to the National Park Service, "The Lakota people were the first to call this place "mako sica" or "land bad." Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900's, French-Canadian fur trappers called it "les mauvais terres pour traverse," or "bad lands to travel through."

It is near the town of Wall, but you wouldn't know you were anywhere but a prairie until after you've entered the park. 

It costs $15 per car (or nada if you've got an America the Beautiful pass that I can't recommend enough!)

badlands 3

Some history: Badlands was designated as a National Park in 1978. It is made up of eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires made of layers of colorful sediment. Water carves out an inch more each year through erosion to create the beautiful formations. It is home to one of the worlds richest fossil beds, and the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. 

Wildlife is everywhere at the park (like the snake pic below ahhh) and it used to be the home of rhinos, three toed horses, and saber toothed cats. --> They even sell saber tooth cat fossil earrings. 

had to.

had to.

I took the Highway 240 loop scenic byway through the park and stopped at every single pull over (duh). It is breathtaking. The thing I liked the most was the differentiation between the landscapes. Between the prairie and "The Wall" of sediment and between the formations themselves. Each area had its own look.

I took about 3.2 million pictures, but here are just a few (and a gif!!):

badlands 4

Door Trail

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Notch Trail



badlands 7

original fav pose

badlands notch

Ladder on Notch Trail

badlands snake 1.JPG


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Fossil Trail.

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Fossil trail.

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badlands logo

Badlands is an underrated park for sure - if you are near South Dakota (or not) you should definitely go! 

Mt. Rushmore (Earth) Day

Last weekend I decided to take the day off to celebrate Earth Day! I had recently been looking at maps for fun (I do this a lot) and found that Mt. Rushmore was only 5 1/2 hours from Denver! I had never been so... woo weekend road trip to South Dakota! 

I drove through a whole lot of nothing until I got into the Black Hills. The nothing was so worth it. The Black Hills are beautiful and driving up to Mt. Rushmore is gorgeous.

Background on Mt. Rushmore (just in case): it's a National Memorial governed by the National Park Service. It was conceived by a South Dakota historian to bring tourism to the area. It is now visited by over 3 million people annually, and is the number one attraction in South Dakota - where tourism is the 2nd largest industry. 

Originally the historian Doane Robinson wanted the sculpture to be of Western heroes but Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, wanted it to have a national focus which is why the Presidents were the final design. They began sculpting in 1927 and finished the four faces (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) between 1934 and 1939. The original design sculpted the Presidents from head to waist, but due to a lack of funding work ceased in 1941.

Amazingly, sculpting 60 foot heads in blocks of granite for 14 years produced no fatalities. 

There is no entrance fee to the Monument, but there is an $11 per car parking fee. This allows you to park in the parking garage for the year. 

After walking down the Avenue of Flags, I spent some time taking in the view above the amphitheater. Then I went on the fairly short hike closer to the mountain. One of the first stops on the hike is a cave with a great view up George Washington's nose. 

It was a beautiful day for a walk.

The hike is all wooden paths and stairways (lots of stairs) in the trees.

Future Mt. Rushmore face.

After the hike I stopped at the dining hall and got some ice cream. The big draw is Thomas Jefferson vanilla, apparently modeled after his famous ice cream recipe, but the mint chocolate was too tempting. (and didn't cost extra like TJ vanilla!)

I had painted Mt. Rushmore earlier in the week and (of course) brought it to take pictures with the real thing. 

It was a beautiful place and once in a lifetime experience (60 foot President heads!) I definitely recommend if you've never been, or haven't been as an adult. 

PS - my Mt. Rushmore is for sale :) Make me an offer if you love Presidents as much as I do!

to the moon and back

Day four in New Mexico. I woke up early to hit the road to Alamogordo. The drive from Roswell was about 2 hours through beautiful country. 

The only thing I had planned was a visit to White Sands National Monument, leaving time for some roadside attractions. 

Luckily I saw a sign for the New Mexico Museum of Space History! Obviously I had to stop. 

You start on the fourth floor and work your way down the museum chronicling the history of space in New Mexico. You also get to practice landing the space shuttle (see above - I crashed only once or twice) There is also a cool Space Hall of Fame with filmmakers as this years inductees. 

At the end of the exhibits you can dress up as an astronaut for pictures. I was flying solo so I chose not to put on the full spacesuit but.. next time. Also, in a once in a lifetime moment (like being on the moon) specify what you want when asking strangers to take your picture. This scene was way cooler in real life. ahhhh #solotravelproblems

Then it was time for the main event - White Sands! I stopped at the Visitor Center on the way in but passed on renting a sled (mistake). My National Parks Pass got me in without admission and I started driving towards the most surreal landscape I'd ever seen (and remember, I was on the moon just minutes before) 

The road quickly goes from paved to completely sand covered and you really feel like you are in a different world. It was super windy so I didn't stay as long as I wanted. BUT ... you can camp in the backcountry on the dunes so I see a longer trip in my future.. and sunset pictures!

But until then - daylight pictures are alright too. Although they don't do any justice to the place. You have to see it for yourself! 

Still mastering the camera timer - and maybe got in a fight here?

After I left I headed back up North for my next adventure. Until next time White Sands..