You are awesome

You're going to notice a little theme around here.  You are awesome.

Because really, you are and it's time you start owning it.

(insert knowing head nod),

Portland Love

Almost two weeks ago, I spent five days in Portland, Oregon at my favorite conference.  The conference was A-MA-ZING and I feel refueled in the biggest way.  I hadn't been to Portland in many years.  Have you been there?  That city is pretty awesome.  I would rank it in my top three US cities - Portland, Denver and San Francisco.  You can tell I have a thing for western cities that are eclectic.  I asked some locals if living in Portland is ever too inspiring because of how thoughtfully crafted each shop, restaurant, and space felt to me.  They looked at me and laughed, no.

Here are the highlights from my trip and conference including a new way to know if you are stepping into stereotyping.....

  • I led a workshop on Dr. Carol Dweck's work on mindset mixed with coaching strategies from my coach training.  Though I've done this workshop many, many times before.  This AEE group is so ready that the information landed in the best way possible.  I have never had so many people contact me during the conference to talk about the workshop or after the conference ended.  The information and take-aways evidently are still resonating with a lot of different people from all over the world, which is totally exciting and speaks to the importance of Dweck's work and co-active coaching.  I'm putting this one in the win column, for sure.
  • Speaking of win, I felt like I won the lottery when a participant, Marli, in the workshop I led gave me that You are awesome wooden nickel above.  Besides being so touched, I immediately wanted 1,000 wooden nickels to inject into the world.  Who is with me?  
  • You are with me?  I'm thinking about ordering wooden nickels that you can order, I ship and we all shower the world in what people deserve - a true compliment about how awesome they are!  Wouldn't it be fun to give out the nickels to your favorite educators?  Nurses?  Neighbors?  Kids?  The lovely guy at Trader Joe's who scores you more pumpkin-flavored coffee?  Yes!  We need nickels and lots of them.
  • Portland is such a delicious town - I'm talking tantalizing restaurants.  My favorites that I am still dreaming about included: Cheese and Crack, Stumptown Coffee, Pok Pok,  Tasty n Sons, Pine State Biscuits, Olympic Provisions, and Salt & Straw.  Seriously, none of these will let you down when you visit PDX.  Being at home now - where the food isn't super tantalizing - is a bit of a tummy/taste bud let down, I got to be honest.
  • The theme of the conference was social justice.  Not every single workshop aligned with that theme, but all of the main speakers did.  At the keynote with Caprice Hollins, she shared an interesting and super easy way to detect if you are stereotyping (and at risk of discriminating or being prejudice).  Ready to learn it?   It's easy like I said.  When you are in a situation and are surprised (I'll share an example in a moment), be watchful - stereotyping is lurking.  
For example, I am often surprised when I go see a medical doctor (who is a specialist) when they are either 1) a woman or 2) younger than me!  Yep.  When that doctor walks into the examination room and they are either female and/or younger than me, I have a split second of "wow, they are a woman!" or "wow, they look like they are 20 years old."  That's the moment where we need to be aware - stereotypes are present in our mind (whether we thought they existed or not).  It is how we use that surprise information to proceed that makes all the difference.

If I thought, "Oh, no...this doctor can't be capable (because of their gender or age)," then that would be the discrimination/prejudice part.  See?  Caprice encouraged us to use surprise as a way of noticing bias that may unconsciously exist in our minds.

What surprise moments have you noticed?  Come on....I shared mine.  I'd love to hear what catches you off guard.  Awareness is always a great step one to combating prejudice and social injustice.


Yep. Right now.

let it go or do something about it

After catching up with Sue and thinking more and more about Dr. Carol Dweck's work on mindset, I think this quote (from Sue) sums up how I will behave this fall.

Either let it go or do something about it.

This kicking-a-dead-horse thing doesn't serve me anymore.  And really?  When did it ever serve anyone?

Join me,

Life Updated: Early Fall Edition

I'm usually not a fan of fall - too much change and craziness coming off of a mellow summer - but this fall I'm feeling it in a really good way.  Here's what's been happening in my neck of the woods....

  • Since I finally chose a word for 2015 - FUN! - I've been working new fun experiences into my life like spending more time outdoors (1-2 hours is my daily goal) and saying yes to fun experiences for my family like Climb Zone (pictured above).
  • Apparently I'm sharing FUN with Miss O.  She said aerial class is the most FUN activity ever! I am raising a future Cirque du Soleil star.
  • On the FUN wagon, Jedi keeps me grounded and in the moment.  How will that dog ever know how much I adore him?  He is life-changing to me and my family in the best possibly way.  
  • I had the BEST time at Tarrant County Community College (in TX) and Calvert School (in MD) delivering two different keynote addresses and workshops.  If you want to know what beautiful, preK-12 school grounds look like, Calvert could be a magazine spread.  The school buildings and grounds are that gorgeous.  Plus, couple that with awesome teachers and leaders and voila, you have the formula for school success.
  • On a deeper note - ha! - do you have a fall uniform?  I think I have mine. This flannel and these pants.  Not together.  Kudos to Costco!
  • Could someone please stop time?  Lil O is now Miss O and growing up at warp speeds.
  • Since I appear to be growing up too (read: aging), I'm going to start taking better care of my skin.  I've heard so many wonderful things about R + F (they make Proactiv) that I bit the bullet and just purchased the Redefine starter kit from here.  Thanks, Shannon, for steering me in the right direction!  
  • See that middle artwork up above in the photo collage?  The "She dreamed she could and she did?"  I have some fun career news to share with you soon.  Very, very soon :)
Happy Fall, friends, and tell me....what's happening in your neck of the woods?


Love. This. Quote.

Picasso quote

The back-to-school time period is always super busy for educators, parents, children and teens.  To stay ahead of the curve, I'm reminding myself of this Picasso quote daily.

Amen, Pablo.  Amen.

You got this,


PS - My secret for staying ahead of the curve is ESC.  Extreme Self Care.  Lots of this, this, and this.

Graphic created with PicMonkey, of course. 

Favorites for back-to-school

It's that time of year again.  And for the record, that was an incredible summer.

Colorado (and North Carolina), I adore you.  I mean really.  Look at that scenery below.

Breckenridge, CO

I am refueled and ready to meet my new college students.  I have some fun keynotes to deliver over the next few weeks, too, plus I need to get my trip to Portland squared away.  In the meantime, these are my very favorite back-to-school activities and resources:

  • Professor KP's textbook gems.  How awesome are those?
  • I love easy tech tools. Recite this helps make quotes more engaging.
  • My all time favorite tech tool, though, is still PicMonkey.  I used it to make the graphic above. (Tip:  If you follow PicMonkey on Instagram, you can see their cool effects in action)
  • If you need new classroom props, I would purchase anything from the "other" Jennifer.  I still have a crush on her miniature metaphor kit.
  • Speaking of props, have you bought Sue's Curiosity Cards?  She's been using them all over North America with her newest endeavor, 1Conversation.
  • And, if you are like me and have cobwebs growing on your dreams, hire Sue!  She's doing a 100 conversations in 100 days challenge.  Which means, you literally pay her what you think the session is worth.  Contact her here (and remember, all the coaching is done by phone which makes it soooo easy to do).  You don't have to drive anywhere.
Off I go - Happy semester!


Life Updated: Summer Edition

Greetings and Happy Summer!  Can you tell what I've been up to this summer?

This summer has been fantastic.  Miss O and I started out the summer spending two weeks at the sleep-away camp I grew up attending in North Carolina.  It took Miss O about four days to warm up to camp life (living in a cabin, having counselors, making new friends, and doing a zillion cool activities), but now she is in love with camp!  It took me about four days to figure it out, as well, since I had a new role at camp.  I was a volunteer camp mom.  The last time I was at camp, I was in my 20s and carefree.  Camp, though, is camp.  It is awesome, life-changing, and filled with so much joy.  We both want to return next summer for a longer amount of time.

The rest of the summer, we've spent in Breckenridge, Colorado at our sweet little condo there.  You know how my family and I adore Breck.  It's been a great summer filled with lots of cool visitors, a trip to Denver, and new activities (like hiking a 14,000 ft. peak), pump tracking, and watercolor painting using Creative Bug's online classes (affiliate link).

What have you been up to this summer?  Are you getting ready for fall?

My best,


PS - I think Jedi enjoys Colorado more than anyone else in our family.  I mean, really.  Look at him here, here, and here.

PSS - This time-elapse video of us bouldering with friends is one of my favs.

Three Part To-Do List

As you know from my last blog post here, Miss O and I are two-week entrepreneurs.  Technically, we are down to one week, so make that one-week entrepreneurs.  To help us create products, launch our shop and reach our goal of becoming small business owners, we used a three part to-do list that was suggested by my new Zappos friend, Jennifer.  Jennifer is the goals queen!  Literally, it's what she does for a living - teaches others how to create goals groups, set goals, and accomplish them.  How's that for an amazing niche?  I think every business, school, and college needs her (probably every family, too).

Three Part To-Do List Collage

Jennifer recommend a three part to-do list.  She may have called it something differently when we were in Las Vegas, but I am calling it this very fancy name, The Three Part To-do List.  Though, you can name each part whatever you'd like, Miss O and I went with....

To-do:  This included all of the micro-steps to accomplishing our big goal of running a successful small business....

To-Do List Closeup

In Progress:  Once a to-do item was in progress, we moved it to this portion of the three part list. There was something REALLY gratifying about seeing each micro-step in action and moving along the completion journey. And really, can my business partner's hair be any shinier or straighter?  I foresee Pantene commercials in her future.

In Progress closeup

High Five:  This last part of our three part list was full of celebrations.  Miss O and I literally high fived each other each time a new sticky note made it to the end of the journey.  Using sticky notes, by the way, was another Jennifer suggestion.

High Five closeup

Now, as you can see below, we are in the final two sticky notes of our three part list.  The only items left for us to do in the progress section is "create thank you cards" and "ship necklaces," which we will be doing for one more week before we close up for the summer (PS - we plan to re-open at some point in the fall).

Three Part To-Do List Journey

I asked Miss O what she thought of the three part to-do list and she said she really liked it.  Her favorite part was moving the stickies along the journey and realizing how much we needed to accomplish and how much we did.  High five!  What do you think of the three part to-do list?

See you at our Etsy shop, OJCreates.  We close around June 7th, so go now!  Big thanks to Jennifer for suggesting the three part to-do list.  And good luck, Jennifer, on the release of your book, Goallaboration, this summer!  Goallaboration!?  What a fun word!

Off I go, dear friends - life is full as a small business owner, college professor, mom and blogger. Lest not forget I am writing a book, too!





Two Week Entrepreneurs

Miss O and I are embarking on something new.  We are two week entrepreneurs.  If you've been following along on Instagram, you know we've been in the planning stages for almost two weeks now. Today is showtime!  Welcome to our new Etsy shop - OJCreates.  We are only open for two weeks, so go shop now.  Really, go!  We close in 14 days and our inventory is made up of 17 special editions.

OJCreates Etsy Shop

This small business project is actually quite overdue.  Last summer, Miss O and I researched opening a business. We even bought a domain name, learned about logo design, and a whole bunch of other good businessy things.  However, my (awesome) sabbatical in the fall kind of got in the way.

Now, with just a few weeks before our summer kicks into full gear, we are finally living the dream - making pleasing and useful products, selling them to customers (like you!) and learning about small business.  I can't think of a better skill set for Miss O to possess than to learn the ins and outs of owning a business.

Our first items for sale are 17 different necklaces.  The necklaces are all one-of-a-kind, hand-knotted, and feature the coolest color & bead combinations on the planet.  Miss O designed 75% of them as she has a fantastic eye for color and style.  I designed or we co-designed the other 25%.  I am the master beader.  Miss O is the master necklace namer.  You can see examples below.   Miss O literally has a story to go with each necklace she's designed and named.  You can read more when you click on an individual necklace in our shop.  Miss O is also our lead shipper who writes all of our hand-written thank you notes.  Just wait until you see her old-school cursive handwriting in person!

Want to peek at the necklaces?

This necklace, Cupcake, is one of our color favorites.  Miss O wanted to design something with soft and fun colors.  I love how this necklace really is simple yet sooooo pretty with all those gorgeous freshwater pearls.

Cupcake handknotted beaded necklace

Lilypad, I designed.  I enjoy necklaces that incorporate eclectic beads and colors.  I feel like this necklace would match just about any outfit for summer and beyond.  I also like the uneven spacing between beads.  Sometimes we unevenly space and sometimes we don't.  It all depends on the design and look we are going for.

Lilypad handknotted beaded necklace

Cooper is named after Mini Cooper.  I won't give it all away, but you can read more about how Miss O designed and named this necklace in our shop.  Cooper's color palette is amazing to me!  I have no idea how she came up with this combination, but I love it.

Cooper handknotted beaded necklace

Ok, enough of me talking.  I'm sure you are ready to get on over to OJCreates and shop.  Just a few quick things....

  • Our necklaces make great end-of-the-year gifts for your favorite teacher(s). And really, you can't beat the price for a teacher gift.  Plus, each necklace is sooooo pretty.
  • If you spend $70 or more, use this code to get free shipping:  HIGH5 (which is because Miss O and I are high-fiving ourselves that we are shop owners.  I'm thinking we could have used Pinchme or Pinchus as the code, too :)
  • I've been wearing necklaces I've made like these for years now.  The necklaces are very strong and durable, but I usually don't shower or swim in mine.  You could, but I think they will last longer if they stay more dry.
Please go shop, tell a friend, and share this blog post with as many people as you can.  We'd love to sell out of our necklaces and create more (or a new product) when we re-open in the fall.

Hurrah for OJCreates and learning new skills,

Jen (and my business partner, Miss O)

Purpose-Based Learning

As you know from my last post, life purpose is on my mind.  This week, I have a meeting related to life purpose + education, so I thought I would dig deeper.

In education, we have all types of learning:
  • Discovery Learning
  • Project-Based Learning (or PBL)
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Experiential Learning (aka: Experiential Education)
  • Active Learning
  • Hands-on Learning
Where is Purpose-Based Learning?  

What if learning, college majors, and degree programs where tied to a student's life purpose and core values?  What if we followed what Stanford 2025 recommends and students declared a mission, not a major?  What impact would learning with purpose have on a student's interest, motivation, goal completion, and ultimately, what would be the impact on the world? 

Would learning be more meaningful?  Would life be more meaningful?  Would we have more fulfilled and joyful humans?

I'd love to know your thoughts on this: Purpose-Based Learning.  I'll give an example of what this new PBL might look like in my PS comments below.   Read on if this interests you.  It sure interests me.


PS - What would Purpose-Based Learning look like for me?  My current life purpose is to matchmake ideas with the right audiences.  If I was hoping to earn another college degree in this purpose, my program of study - to support my life purpose - might include the following courses related to:
  • Anthropology and sociology - to help me better understand people and their needs
  • Psychology - for the same reason
  • Communication - to grow my skills to relate to different audiences
  • Business - to learn how to market my ideas and manage my matchmaking endeavors
  • Accounting - to learn how to manage the financial side of my small business of matchmaking
  • Mindfulness - to help me manage the stress involved with learning something new and being courageous enough to actually live my life purpose
  • Web design and/or coding - in this century, I'm really going to need to embrace technology (website design, social media, blogs, etc.)
  • Graphic design - I like things to look pretty :)  Don't you?
  • Physical education - more stress relief
  • Other courses I might want to take to support my mission, not major:  Economics, Public Policy, and definitely more coaching classes from CTI
Ok, what are your thoughts on Purpose-Based Learning?  

Life Purpose & What's Your Verb?

I recently was on a conference call and the idea of life purpose came up in relation to education.  It is not often educational institutions, from my experience, think about a student's life purpose and how that purpose impacts learning, teaching, and student engagement on the whole.  When I hung up from the call, my life purpose was tickled.  I've come to realize from my coaching training, a person's life purpose is extremely important to living a fulfilled life.  Like core values, life purpose aligns your internal compass and provides a fantastic lens to live by, make decisions, and choose paths that enable you to move forward and courageously shake up the status quo.

Jen's music stand mantel

I realized in my thinking, life purpose can change.  Looking back, what might have been my life purpose in my 20s, isn't necessarily my life purpose today.  In my 20s, I would have guessed my life purpose had something to do with opening gates of possibility and opportunity as that was the role I felt was my calling & initially brought me to the classroom and becoming a teacher.  It probably had something to do with seeking exploration and adventure as a part of life, not wasting it.  If you remember my ski bum blog post here, you can imagine how many people thought I was wasting my life away in Aspen, not living to my fullest potential.  I also think my life purpose back then had something to do with finding value in the learning that comes from the spaces in between formal learning opportunities like those found in undergraduate and grad school.  In many ways, in my 20s, I was a salmon swimming upstream.  The choices I made and my life purpose weren't easy, but they were part of my DNA and drove my efforts and life choices.

Now, almost 20 years later, my life purpose has evolved.  I think I can narrow it down to one verb. My verb.  I am a matchmaker.  I matchmake.  My life purpose is no longer to swim upstream, open gates, seek adventure or celebrate the importance of informal learning.  Instead, it is for me to matchmake ideas with audiences who are capable of shaking up the status quo.  That is why I love giving keynote addresses so much.  I get to curate that best ideas (and themes) and convince audiences to dive deeper into those ideas (or themes) and shake up what they do.  Since my audiences tend to be educators - both preK-12 and higher education - it is vital they shake up what they do to further how they champion the growth of their students and their colleagues.

My verb, my life purpose, is matchmake.

What is your verb?  As Jennifer Ford Reedy explains in her keynote address here (fast-forward to minute 8:00), your verb is what you are good at, what you like, and what impact you want to make on the world.  Your verb is very much your life purpose - at this moment in time - in one little, tidy word.  It can be different from your word of the year.  For example, my 2014 word was Brave.  Brave was not something I was good at or even liked.  It was a goal word, not my life purpose.

Matchmake, right now is my life purpose.

What's your verb?  What's your life purpose?   Please share in the comments below, email me, embrace social media, anything.  I really want to know your verb and why.

I'm so curious,

Getting Stuff Done

I am often asked how I get so much stuff done.  I've got to tell you.  If you were to spend a normal day with me, you wouldn't be asking that question.  Super hero powers, for me, do not exist.  I hung up my cape a long time ago when Perfect passed away.  I'm just a girl with a mad to-do list and dreams.  Sure I get stuff done, but, there isn't a whole lot of magic involved. However, no surprise, I do have a few thoughts about this, which might help others get stuff done or GSD, too.

Pre-keynote coffee, preparation, and deep thoughts

My non-secrets to getting stuff done (by the way, the real queen of getting stuff done, Dr. I, will be guest blogging here soon.  She is a master of GSD):

GSD Non-secret #1:  Set a goal or a few of them.  Following the advice of entrepreneur and author, Tim Ferriss, before I get out of bed in the morning, I ask myself, "What is the one task or item that must be accomplished today?"  I then make sure that item or task is tackled first when my work day begins, which is usually after dropping off Miss O and trail running with Jedi.

GSD Non-secret #2:  Use a to-do list.  If an entire book can be dedicated to using checklists and lists in general, you need one in your life. I am totally digging the to-do list I shared here.  Go print one for yourself and use it for a few weeks.  Let me know what impact it has on your GSDing.

GSD Non-secret #3:  Honor your passions.  Part of why I GSD is that I like or love what I'm doing. What a difference it makes to work on something that resonates with you.  It doesn't feel like work, it feels like you are feeding your soul.  Remember this Dear Abby quote?  

GSD Non-secret #4:  Learn how to say no and yes - in that order.  When you are decent at GSDing, others want you to GSD with them.  Invites to do so can be overwhelming.  Knowing your passions (and core values) provides the compass and confidence you need to say no when a project or task doesn't align with what makes you tick.  The more I say no, the more I can say yes to the right projects and invitations.  

GSD Non-secret #5:  Counterbalance work + play.  Did you notice in non-secret #1, I make sure my must do task happens after I trail run with Jedi? I think most USAmericans have it all wrong. They do not allow enough time for play and joy.  This deficiency shows up in negative ways affecting their health, mental health, stress levels, fitness, and overall happiness. In the popular hackschooling TED Talk, 13-year old Logan LaPlante sums this up nicely, "We are taught to make a living, not make a life."

I'm all about making a life and getting stuff done.


PS - If you are confused about your passion(s) and core values either hire me to lead a workshop or deliver a keynote at your organization or hire life coach, Sue, for one-on-one coaching.  Life changes when you align with your passions and core values.  Remember this blog post?  Man, my world was rocked in the best way.

Curiosity Cards

I don't know if I shared it with you or not, but Sue is writing a book.  In case, you are new to Upcycled Education, Sue is my coach and also my friend, collaborator, and workshop co-facilitator. In fact, we are scheming what and where our next workshop will be.  We may even begin offering an online workshop related to coaching.  Sue is not only a dreamer like me, but she is a complete doer! Hence, Sue's newest offering - Curiosity Cards.

Curiosity Cards

Sue's book and passion are both related to curiosity.  I won't speak for Sue (you can check out her blog post here), but she's pretty set on the fact that if humans were more curious and asked more curious questions, we would naturally connect more.  That connection would lead to all sorts of awesomeness within our families, schools, communities, and workplaces.  To nurture asking curious questions, Sue developed Curiosity Cards ($9.95).  She sent me a pack to use.

Curiosity Cards example

I immediately had Miss O choose a card and read the question aloud.  We discussed the question for a couple of minutes.  Then, I chose a card and we discussed and each answered that question, too.  I liked the dialogue with Miss O, but to be honest, I wanted more.  Miss O was too concise that day and our conversation was short.  I knew I could get more juice out of the cards.

I decided to leave the cards on our kitchen table.  Miss O had friends over the next day.  I knew her friends - since they are big thinkers - would love the cards.  Sure enough, they saw them and asked what they were.  We immediately each chose a card and all took turns answering.  The dialogue was fantastic.  I had no idea where the questions would take us.  One question we answered was related to how we wanted to treat and relate to the earth.  Another question was about what we wanted to change in ourselves.  Oh man, that question was deep for these elementary-aged gals.  It led us to a discussion about fear.  These girls were talking about how fear keeps you from changing what you know you want to change within yourself.

What?  Self, change, fear, awareness!  Are you kidding me?  It was like a parent, coach, and educator's dream.  Youth talking about facing fear and recognizing how fear can impede moving forward in life.

Curiosity Cards - example question

I haven't used the Curiosity Cards with my college students, yet, but I will.   They are tiny enough to throw in my backpack and use them on the fly with students, colleagues, strangers, on a road trip, in a cafe, etc.  They would make a great gift for a parent, educator, or coach, too (plus, they are so affordable, too, at under $10).  I'm giving a keynote this month and I'm thinking it would be fun to giveaway a few packs to engaged audience members - you know, those audience members who nod their heads, laugh at your jokes, and beam a smile at you the entire time.

Sue, thank you for sending me the cards.   I dig them and know others will, too.

Here's to curiosity!


Best Rejection Letter Ever

Yes, I'm smiling.  Partly because I took this ski lift selfie a couple of weeks ago while Miss O skied adult-free with a pack of teenager friends & cousins.  But, more so because I received the best rejection letter ever.

Ski lift selfie Jen Lara

As you know, I am writing a book.  As much as I'd like to think it will be published anytime soon, it won't be.  Writing a book is hard work.  It's like a roller coaster of emotion and perseverance.  Having a sabbatical to research and write is totally awesome.  Not having a sabbatical to research and write and working full-time is messy.  Very, very messy.

Since I don't have time to research and write at the moment, I sent my book proposal, which includes one sample chapter, to an assortment of agents and publishing companies of different sizes to obtain initial feedback.  Most feedback I've received has been extremely short - like 2-3 sentences short - or the feedback has been so vague that it is unhelpful.

That all changed when I received the best rejection letter ever!  I'm not kidding.  This letter is frame worthy.  I could kiss this literary agent for his honest, laser-focused feedback. He didn't just say, your book sucks.  Instead, he asked curious questions about its content, styling, and examples.  He pointed out places where he felt short-changed and wanted more.  After reading his two-page, double-spaced letter (it was written in an email to me), I completely agreed with him!  I thought his questions and areas of concern were dead on, which I hadn't considered before.  Using his feedback will 100% grow my project.  Since I'm calling the book, Grow: 8 Skills to Champion the Growth of Others, I am grateful for the best rejection letter of my lifetime.  He grew me.

What's next?  When mid-May rolls around and I have time to focus on writing again, I plan to do a few things with the feedback he provided:

  1. Edit.  Oh, man, do I need to edit.  I'm trying to include too many concepts within a chapter. Less is going to be more.  I need to be pickier.
  2. Provide more examples and lessen the "what would you do?" questions.  He pointed out that people are coming to my book for "how to" champion the growth of others not coaching questions about "what does this look like in your environment?" (though I certainly can have a few of those coachy questions in the activities section I plan to provide).
  3. Be the expert.  Own it.  In my current drafts, I tend to not voice what I think is the solution, but instead rely on proven experts to make the case.  After 25 years of working with kids, teens and adults in amazing environments, it's time for me to speak up about what really has worked for me and connect those ideas to other experts and research when appropriate.
I'm certain there is even more I will glean from his rejection letter.

Being rejected has never felt so good.


PS - In case you are thinking, who celebrates rejection letters?  Let me just say there have been a few rejections I've received lately that are not celebratory and I soon felt like a complete loser.  However, the sun rises the next day and the world keeps turning.  This quote keeps me company in the best way.

Resilience quote

Graduation Subway Art 2015 {Free Printable}



Back by readers' request, Graduation Subway Art for 2015.  Just click on the art above, right click and save image.  I like the art framed, but you can make cards with it, gift tags, mini-posters, etc.

Enjoy and tell your favorite graduates congratulations!


Things to Do List UPDATED {Free Printable}

Jen's Things to Do List

A few weeks ago, I shared a "Things to Do" printable list I liked here.  I still like that list, but I needed to tweak it just a touch to meet my current needs.


I added a "Mantra" box at the top of the list.  A weekly mantra will help me stay focused and intentional that week.  I also wanted the days of the week to begin with Monday (and not Sunday), so I retyped the to-do list and started with Monday, which allowed for Saturday and Sunday to be right next to each other at the bottom.  Lastly, I wanted just a little more space to write since my handwriting is slightly chubby.

If you'd like to use this updated to-do list (pictured above) or share it with a friend, please find it here. It is ready to print on standard 8.5 x 11 paper.

Happy to-doing until you're to-done,


Lessons From a Ski Bum

Ski Bumming It

When I graduated from Michigan State University with my undergraduate degree, I did exactly the opposite of what my parents wanted me to do.  I moved to Aspen, Colorado and became a ski bum. Yep. I made my parents un-proud and awakened their expletive vocabulary.   They had just spent thousands of dollars on my college education and I chose to forego a real job to follow my dream - living the life of a ski bum.

I moved to Aspen.  Worked the typical 2-4 jobs at a time.  Skied and snowboarded my winters away. And three and a half years later, I re-entered the real world by way of graduate school.

Now, before you weigh in, let me share the best lessons I took away from ski bumming.  In fact, maybe you will read this post and plan your ski bum experience (or encourage someone else to take one themselves).  Either way, email me.  I'll come ski with you.  Pinky swear.

Lessons From a Ski Bum

Lesson #1:  When you ski bum, you become a master at balancing work and play - a lesson that most of US America could stand to learn.  As a ski bum, you work your tail off doing whatever jobs you can to support your addiction - skiing (and/or snowboarding). You always make time for both - work and play - as you understand their symbiotic, essential relationship.

Lesson #2:  You understand the value of a dollar and how to stretch it.  When you ski bum, your thrifty-side awakens (if it hadn't already from undergraduate school).  You learn to live with so much less and know it's totally doable.  You live in a 150-square foot studio apartment with a roommate?  No problem!  At least you have a futon to share.  You consider a bowl of Stove Top stuffing a meal?  No problem!  Who knows, you might be eligible for a free employee meal when you arrive to your third job of the day.  This thriftiness translates well into the real world where you discover you don't need a slew of material items to be happy.

Lesson #3:  You meet the most interesting people from all over the world and all different industries. Most of the people who can afford to vacation in ski towns have money.  They have interesting jobs and lifestyles, which they often take for granted - sadly.  Getting to rub elbows with such a diverse, privileged crowd is a great way to jump start your entry into the real world when you decide to leave the ski bum womb.  Ski bumming is a great opportunity to network and meet influential people.

Lesson #4:  Life is people.  People are stories.  Living as a ski bum gives you thousands of stories to tell.  Being a storyteller is a gift.  For example, I once worked as the personal assistant to the personal assistant for a very wealthy family from Chicago.  A sheik from Saudi Arabia would call me weekly to see if anyone from said family needed a ride to LA or NY on his private jet.  "Oh, no...but, thank you.  The family is already on their private jet to London for the week."  Or the time Gary Busey wanted to be seated immediately in the very busy restaurant where I hosted.  "I'm sorry, we don't have a table available.  What did you say your name was again?  Could you spell it for me?  I'll add you to the waiting list."  My very favorite stories, though, involved seeing John Denver daily in his white, one-piece ski suit using my work's pay phone (JD, may you rest in peace).  I guess pay phones should rest in peace, too.

Now, trust me.  Go!  Be a ski bum.  Encourage others to do the same.  The real world will be waiting for you whenever you return.  Quite frankly, the real world would be a better place if more people had ski bum on their resume.



Thursday is Brought to You by Jedi

Jedi the dog collage

Today is brought to you by Jedi.  This dog is responsible for bringing immense joy to our family, getting me outside to hike (or run) on days where I have zero interest, and for making the start of my day meditative.  Petting him for 5-10 minutes when I wake up is the best way to start the day - peaceful, calm, and loving.

I am contemplating trying real meditation again.  Just about every public-figure-person I admire meditates on a daily basis.  Are you like me?  I'm so not good at meditation; my mind goes 101 places.  I hear Tara Brach has a great collection of guided mediations, so I'm going to give her a try. I'm starting with her Smile Mediation.

Smile + Mediation?!  Sounds like my kind of combo.

If you have any meditation tips, please share.


Teaching Gear

from ski to running shoes

I am a complete gearhead. I love gear.  Part of my obsession is I love the outdoors.  Many sports in the outdoors require specialized gear.  If you want to downhill ski, you need ski gear.  If you want to cross-country ski, you need another type of ski gear.  Whitewater kayak?  More gear.  Backpack? Still more gear. Bouldering?  Thankfully, very little gear.  Gear, gear, gear.  That is why Mr. UpCyclist wants the toy-hauling RV pictured here.  More room to store our family's collective gear.

Now, before you judge (or applaud), I like gear because it has a purpose.  It doesn't just take up space (although, I certainly have gear that gets used less often - like my ice crampons for climbing glaciers).   Typing that line makes me miss teaching in Ecuador.  Sigh.

Thankfully, my profession includes teaching gear!  My favorite two places to purchase teaching gear is Training Wheels and  Experiential Tools.  I'm serious when I say, I could forego just about any material item in exchange for gear from either of those online stores.  Not that I'm hinting around for my upcoming April birthday (ha!),  I'm just trying to save you time when you are looking for teaching gear to use with your students.  Both online storefronts offer the most creative teaching gear I've seen.  I own my fair share of items from both stores.  These miniature metaphors are too cute and useful.  How smart are these button conversation starters?  I just used this body parts debrief in my class; my students thought it was uber-creative and memorable.  I really cannot get enough of this deck of Chiji cards.  It is my go-to item.  Oh, and wait until you see the new teaching gear from Sue! She's brilliant and just created her own deck of curiosity cards.  After I buy a set, I'll review them right here on the ole' blog.

Now, it's your turn.  What is your favorite gear - teaching or not?  I'd love to hear.

All the best, fellow gearhead,

PS - I just noticed this!  Now, that's a creative piece of gear.

Skiing (Hashtag) Rocks

ski selfies

Back in 2008, Mr. U and I asked our employers if we could work from a distance for three months. We wanted to properly teach Miss O how to ski.  Sure, you can learn to ski going 1-2 days a week. But, we wanted her to be fully immersed in the sport.  Our employers thankfully agreed (do I have the coolest college ever?) and we left Maryland and lived in Lake Tahoe for seven weeks and Breckenridge for seven weeks.  Both resorts share the same ski pass, which made the three months more financially doable.  This is also when we feel madly in love with Breckenridge and had to buy a small place there two years later.

I have proof in the videos below of Miss O's improvement over the three month ski experience. Immersion is grand.

Video #1: Miss O is skiing off the Magic Carpet here (remember this video is 7 years old).  Notice how she only makes one turn at the end to stop and squeals with delight the entire way down.  We pretty much hung out on this Magic Carpet for a week straight.  In Week 2, we would ski the bunny hill when she started to get the hang of making turns and stopping on a dime.

Video #2:  Just three short weeks later, look out how much she improved here.  Isn't it crazy?  From doing zero turns and barreling down the bunny slope to skiing the entire mountain at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe on any of their blue runs.

Video #3:   This video is shot almost at the end of our three month ski experience.  She's in the halfpipe in Breckenridge!  This video cracks me up and truly shows what happens when you get to ski daily for three months.  So much growth.

To me, skiing is such a incredible activity - you get to spend immense amounts of time in the outdoors and visit many different places around the world to ski.  Skiing is also a fantastic sport that you can do for a lifetime. I love when I see older skiers.

It is now seven years later and we still love to ski.  Some days the three of us go out together.  Other days, just two of us.  This year, we've been skiing only locally in Pennsylvania, which I thought I wouldn't like, but it has totally surprised me.  The snow has been great.  The lift lines are OK for such a populated part of the country.  I love seeing all the local ski teams; kids that ski rock, in my opinion. Since Miss O qualifies for the free PA ski pass, she's been using that all season.  I just saw it is closed for this year, but if your child qualifies, mark your calendar for next fall when applications open again.

Really, I can't say more good things about skiing.  A chance to be outdoors, glide down mountains, push yourself to conquer new slopes, meet interesting people, see the world, and if you are like me, collect lift chair selfies of the people you adore.

#skiingrocks  - Just sayin,


Love. This. Quote.

Thich Nhat Hanh

My friend and owner of Ambika, Erica, recently emailed me.  She shared this gem for podcasts, which I wasn't familiar with before, but now love AND the quote above by Thich Nhat Hanh.

How did she know my mud is so deep right now?  I'm talking quicksand deep.

Thank you, Erica, for knowing I needed a change of perspective.

Here's to blooming lotus flowers,


Lessons from Woodberry

Woodberry Hall

This past weekend, we celebrated Mr. UpCyclist's birthday.  We made his special day a Yes Day, which means he had carte blanche to choose all the activities for the day and Miss O and I had to say YES.   Our family digs Yes Days.  You can read about our other Yes Days here, here, here, and here.

As part of his Yes Day, he picked "going out for dinner."  I knew this might be an interest of his, so I was holding an early reservation at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.  We had heard of Woodberry Kitchen before, but had never been.  Boy, was it lovely.  In the photo above, you can see their Woodberry Hall.  They were setting up for a private party as we arrived, so I imagine it is a room you can reserve for special occasions.  I was ready to move into the whole place - the hall, the restaurant, the string-light laced outside seating area, the old steel mill buildings, you name it.  The look and vibe of Woodberry completely spoke to me.

Woodberry Kitchen  & Mr. UpCyclist
Miss O at Woodberry Kitchen
Upstairs at Woodberry Kitchen
Jen and Miss O at Woodberry Kitchen

It was more than the ambience, though, that inspired this blog post.  It was the whole experience. I left Woodberry thinking there were some important lessons an educator could adapt from Woodberry's thoughtfulness.  Lessons you could take back to a classroom (including an online classroom, too).

Lessons from Woodberry

1.  Environment plays a huge role.  No matter the situation, environment plays a tremendous role in how students feel and behave.  My family and I felt welcomed at Woodberry like we were guests in their home.  The staff and the vibe of the environment contributed to this.  Dr. Maria Montessori said 100 years ago the third participant in education after the child and teacher was the environment.  The same holds true today. An intentional environment has a major impact on how people feel and behave.  What are you intentionally doing to create a welcoming environment for your students?  What could you tweak or improve?  

2.  Make the people in your environment feel special.  Miss O, as you know, is on a special diet indefinitely.  Being gluten-free can be tricky when eating out.  At Woodberry, however, Miss O was treated like a rockstar.  She had her own special, gorgeous menu.  Her g-free bread arrived first and was delicious (instead of it being the waitstaff's after thought).  Since we were celebrating Mr. U's birthday, the waitstaff surprised him (and us) with a special dessert and candle.  I don't even remember telling anyone at Woodberry it was his birthday.  Maybe they asked when I made the reservation?  I can't recall.  But, I do know how special we all felt as we dined and now days later, how special each of us still feels.   How do you let your students know they are special to you? 

3. When your staff feels appreciated it shows.  I can't tell you how many times I've been to a school and have noticed the employees looking so sad and downtrodden.  It is heartbreaking to me.  At Woodberry, the staff was vibrant.  They each floated around the restaurant supporting each other while they kept up with the needs of the patrons.   I used to work in restaurants and bars all through my 20s and thought several times during the night at Woodberry, "If I were to work in a restaurant again, I would definitely want to work here."  The employees of Woodberry looked appreciated and you could feel it.  How do you show your appreciation to the people in your environment - your colleagues, support staff, class volunteers, and parents?

I left Woodberry wishing more people - teachers, parents, business owners, coaches - could be more Woodberry-like.  If we all would create more thoughtful, welcoming environments where others felt special, valued, and appreciated how might the people around us feel and behave differently?  What would the impact be?

Celebrating Woodberry and tipping my hat to them,

Gluten-free Pizza (A Winning Crust)

I almost titled this blog post, The Day This Blog Became a Cooking Blog.  But, then I remembered an article I had read about blogging and Google searches.  It is better not to be cute, but instead be practical when titling blog posts.  Practical therefore wins today.

Gluten-free pizza crust

You know I am not a cook as I explained here.  I don't claim to be.  However, I am on a roll and being much braver in the kitchen.  I have tried so many recipes lately that I am ready to write a cookbook myself.  The cookbook title will be Recipes That Really, Truly Work!  I'm pretty tired of recipes that do not work as written.  Recipes that I have to adjust the temperature, cooking time, ingredient list, or quantity.  Me!  I am not a cook.  Cooking doesn't come intuitive to me.  Yet, here I am tweaking away at recipes.


So, since I have zero time to write my Recipes That Really, Truly Work! cookbook, I thought I'd share the best recipes here when I discover them.  If anything it will be a great list of my family's favorites and perhaps inspire others to share their recipes that really work, too.  We can all grow our cooking skills together.

Gluten-free pizza crust

As I mentioned in my Brave Cooking blog post, Miss O is on a gluten-free, egg-free, etc.-free diet since November.  I've been looking for a pizza crust that would work for her - no gluten, no eggs, and no icky stuff.  This quinoa crust is the answer AND it really works!   I've now tried it twice and my only modification is I make two smaller crusts (instead of one larger one).  When I make the crusts smaller, the crust get crisper and the center pieces hold up super well.  In the photo below, look at that hold!  Amazing, right?  No floppy, soggy pizza crust here.

Gluten-free pizza crust

This gluten-free pizza crust also tastes great.  Since it is made from only quinoa, baking powder, salt and water (and a spray of oil on the parchment paper) it has more nutritional punch than a regular wheat-based crust.   Plus, now that I've made the batter a couple of times, I'm dreaming of others ways to use it.  Savory quinoa waffles?  Quinoa breakfast toasts?  Add some agave or honey and make it a sweet treat? More Brave cooking ahead!  You can find the quinoa crust recipe here (there's even a video to watch if you want to be taken through the crust recipe step-by-step).

OK, it's your turn.  What are your recipes that really, truly work?  Leave 'em below or email me, yes?

All the best - bon appetit,

Things to Do Printable

The beginning of the semester is historically crazy for me.

This semester is no exception.  I don't know about you, but I love a good list.  This things to do list is making me smile and I think will assist me in managing all my fleeting tasks.  You can't see the bottom of my list above, but it is packed full of things to do over the next few days.

Find the free printable here from A Pair of Pears.

Happy Hump Day,

New Year, New Blog Design

It feels so good to have a new blog design.  I don't know about you, but the old one just wasn't doing it for me anymore.  It was too colorful, too doodlely, and too what I felt like 2.5 years ago.  The new one is completely me at this point in time.  That's the beauty of having a personal and professional blog. It evolves as you evolve.

In case you are growing your blog design skills, here are the tools I used for the new design.

You know I am an avid PM user.  For the first time ever, I used PM for 95% of the graphics.  Yep, 95%!  The only reason I cracked open my Photoshop Elements was to meticulously space the social media icons you see in the right sidebar.  PM doesn't have a gridline view feature, so when you want to be precise, you have to open up Photoshop or something similar, like Gimp which is free.

I sent the beta-version of the new blog design to two friends, Laura and Susan. They both have a good eye for design and experience blogging.  They knew I wanted a crisper design that was also playful yet professional.  My original design had zero color in it besides black and white.  Both women wanted to see more color.  Color?  Ugh.  I was sick of color from my last blog design.  Lil O voiced the same concern. Choosing colors and how much color to add became a design nightmare during my 36 hour redesign. Until....Lil O and I stumbled across the coolest color wheel tool on the planet, Paletton.  After 15 minutes of playing on Paletton, I knew the color scheme I wanted for the blog. Whew.  Lil O, by the way, is one of the most decisive humans I know.  She picked out the blog colors in the first two minutes of using Paletton.  13 minutes later, I came around.

HTML and CSS Coding
The one course I took in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University that including a two-week HTML crash course continues to be one of the most useful courses I've taken this century. Seriously, if you blog or dabble in any elementary web design, you've got to know an itty bitty amount of how to code. You should see the tweaks I'm making to the HMTL and CSS codes behind-the-scenes.  You would never know it, but my blog is actually a Blogger blog.  And if you've ever seen a true Blogger blog, it comes pre-packed with all these bells and whistles, which I coded out to make Upcycled Education more unique and interesting.  Using code is also how I was able to tweak the sidebar on the right - adjusting spacing between items and adding cute little banners - plus, I overrode the features that limited my ability to add my own custom blog header at the top.  In summary, two weeks of code class is a life-changer.  No wonder One Hour of Code gets so much hype (though, that particular coding class isn't enough, in my opinion, to deepen your coding skill set for tweaking HTML).

Image Mapping with Gimp
Once I made all the new blog graphics in PM (and yes, I made every last one of them), I needed to image map the blog banner and the social media icons, so that when you clicked on a specific portion of the image, your click actually brought you to a new online destination.  There are several tools on the Internet to help you image map.  In my opinion, though, nothing is easier than using Gimp and Crafterhours's tutorial on how to create an image map. What used to be a dreadful process for me, now I can do in under five minutes per image, which includes image mapping and loading the new map into the blog. I was high-fiving myself and texting Susan a big thank you at 1am when I finished the new design.

New Favorite Font
Seriously, y'all (I am originally from the South, so I think I can use y'all authentically.  Though, by South, I mean the Ft. Lauderdale area). Ha!  I've been wanting to embrace this font for two years: Amatic Small Caps.  I originally noticed it on PicMonkey.  Then, dreamt about it for the next two years.  I finally embraced it for the good, I believe, this week with the new blog design.  It is totally playful, hand-drawn, and barely professional.  It is ME at this point in time.  Me, ME, MEEE.

I'd love to hear your feedback about the new design.  What do you like?  What do you want to see more of?  What did I forget?

Have a great weekend - see you on the other side.


What a Gift

Writing on sabbatical

Today my sabbatical ends.  Oh man, was it a gift.  Hardly ever in my professional life do I get to uni-task.  My professional days are usually like a multi-task dance recital of teaching classes, attending meetings, doing committee work, developing my courses, grading assignments, leading workshops, and emailing.  Not that I don't like all of those responsibilities, but it was a fantastic change to concentrate on just one thing:  writing a book.

That's it.

One task.

Just write a darn book.

Of course, that is easier said than done.  Uni-tasking, though, totally helped.  My goal for myself was to write half of the book before my sabbatical ended.  With eight chapters in the outline, I wrote four of them.  Four!  Half of the book.  Hurray!  Up to this point, I have written roughly 27,000 words.   I probably wrote a few thousand more words than that, but those words were deleted.  Some days, my writing was a total disaster.  My voice was unclear.  My comma usage was out-of-control.

But, I wrote.  "A goal without a plan is just a wish."  My wish became a goal.  I am incredibly grateful.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I knew from this blog post here, I had something to say.   I knew it wasn't just a wish anymore, it was something burning inside of me.  Do you ever have those burning inside of you feelings?  They are like caged wild animals; they must be freed.

Though I'm certain I have many more people to thank, my sabbatical was successful due in part to following people and groups:
  • My college, Anne Arundel Community College - who granted me a sabbatical and thought my goal to write a book wasn't insane
  • My department chair, director, dean, and vice president  - Thank you for going to bat for me!
  • My amazing colleagues who have reached out and cheered me on during this journey.  Jax and Karen, you led the way!
  • My coach, Sue, our deadlines kept me focused
  • My lovely friends and family members who helped me edit my work:  Sue, Jesse, Susan, Jenn, Mom and Hilary.  One day we will celebrate at a book signing together!
  • My sister, brother-in-law and their amazing staff - They welcomed me in their office all sabbatical long to write and just be
  • My parents - who consistently checked on me to hear the progress I was making
  • My extended family and friends, your interest in the book was incredible
To Mr. UpCyclist and Lil O - I don't think it is even possible to say thank you to you both in words. You picked up my slack around the house when I was writing.  You gave me so much time to think, be, and just write. You took care of me on long writing days.  You provided space when I needed it most. You put up with me when I turned into crabby pants at night.  I am so not a night person.  You believed in me - and still do - and know how important this project is to me.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  

The rest of January, I will be back in the teaching-college groove and writing much less.  I do plan to pick up where I left off in February and find either a literary agent or publisher for the book in late spring.  Have a shared the working title with you, yet?

Grow:  Championing the Growth of Others (and Yourself)

It feels so good to share that with you.   Thank you, amazing blog reader.  You keep coming back to this space and sharing in the journey.

With immense gratitude,


Tools for 2015: Let's Do This!

Breckenridge, CO - awesome!

If you are like me and are still processing 2014, but ready to embrace 2015 and all it's goodness, see what you think of these lovely tools and "helpers" to kickstart your new year:

  • I am loving this free workbook to process 2014 and delve into 2015.  It's like having a life coach, but made of paper.
  • Speaking of life coach, Sue continues to rock and starting off 2015 with a free coaching session with her is even better than the workbook above.  Too date, every single person I've sent her way has found coaching with her valuable.  Click here to link to her website and tell her I sent you - she'll take great care of you.
  • I downloaded this Passion Planner the other day (sounds risque, doesn't it?).  I don't know if I will use it, but I like the concept.  I also like this planner was born from a Kickstarter campaign.  I dig crowdfunding.
  • I keep wishing Elise's new Get to Work Book was available.  That is the #1 reason why I'm so hesitant to embrace another planner.  I want hers to be available.  Now.  In the meantime, you can purchase her $4 habit tracker download.  I love the layout of this.  
  • My cousin uses a planner by Erin Condren and I must say I am totally intrigued.  It is like a planner and creative project in one.  See what you think here.  If I wasn't waiting for Elise's planner to come out (in the spring, I think), I would purchase one of Erin's.   Thanks, Cousin Kathy for sharing your planner with me!  
This might surprise you, but I still like to kick it old-school and use a paper calendar.  I'm digital just about everywhere else in my life, but paper calendars are still my jam.

What tools and helpers do you use?

I'm curious on this rainy day....