Seeing the Trail Through the Thistles

Last weekend I went on an awesome mountain bike ride with my husband. It was a little intense, though, I’m not going to lie. There Mollyhas been a ton of rain in Denver. It is so green here this summer we joke that we have moved to Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been awesome – I am not complaining, and I’ll feel even better about it if it’s a big snow year in the mountains.

On the trail we rode all this rain means super high grass and weeds. Weeds in Denver means lots of thistle. Now on this particular trail, it is usually easy to see what the singletrack unfolds ahead of me. But not this summer. The grasses are so high that I have to really pay close attention. If not, I run the risk of riding off the trail onto a cliff, and worse, down the mountain.

This high grass necessitates an almost trance-like looking forward to make sure there are no miscalculations. There must be nothing to distract my attention. There is to be no admiring of wildflowers, or looking over the cliff to see the view as normally might be the case. Instead, there is intense concentration and a laser focus on the task at hand.

Every year at the beginning of the school year, I create a mantra for myself. Last year’s was, “Turn down the volume.” With all of the changes in education that have come down the pike, it had become hard for me to focus on what got me into education in the first place: my students. My mantra came from a place of wanting and needing to preserve my own sanity, my own sense of what got me into the profession in the first place.

Turn down the noise became my reminder to question whether what I got caught up in on a daily basis really mattered to student learning, or if it was just noise, a distraction. It helped me focus myself on my hard days.

This mountain bike ride last week was a great reminder of the power of turning down the noise. All the thistles and tall grasses kept the trail ahead of me hidden. This has happened a lot in education in the last few years. We, in the classroom, have had a lot of grass grow over our trail. We have to concentrate and not get distracted at the real work, lest we miss a turn on the trail and go over the cliff.

So, with the start of the new school year, let’s all turn down the noise. Let’s help one another see over the tall grass, and let’s get up the mountain together.

Failure is Feedback

I often tell my students that failure is feedback. I tell them this because I want them to learn from each experience they have. What I mean by this nice little aphorism is that when we don’t live up to our own expectations, we have to examine our goals and our efforts towards those goals.

The last year has been tricky for me. I am still having trouble with my back and leg, so I quit spinning. I focused on my flexibility and inner muscular fitness. I put all of my focus into yoga. And I really love yoga. It gives me so much and it doesn’t beat up my body the way other things do. It helps me center myself and create a space in my life for comfort.

But what that means is that I am not nearly as strong on my bike as I once was. I have to admit, that is really a tough one for me to swallow. So last weekend when I was faced with some bike rides with some friends, I really struggled. It is really hard not to be where I want to be. But there is always a piece of me that thinks, “Is this just my ego talking?” I feel like I need to stop beating up my body. But if I don’t beat up my body, I get out of shape and chunky. I like to feel strong.

And yoga gives me this…

Until I head out to do something involving heavy duty cardio. Then I struggle. And that is where the failure is feedback slogan comes in.

I am examining and playing with these feelings. Because if I continue to simply push and push and be obsessive about one thing only, it will continue to not serve me. The answer seems to be what the Buddhists call the middle path.

Why can’t I do both and be really strong at each? Who says it has to be one or the other? What will this feel like in my body?

Here is what I do know: I like to feel like I’m in good shape, I like to feel strong, I am tired of beating up my body, I want to be healthy long through my life.


A couple of nights ago I went to a memorial concert for a friend of mine whose father died back in February. Many years ago he started¬†¬†a Beach Boys cover band that performed at different venues around Colorado every summer. I went because my friend invited me, and I care about her, and well, memorials are for those of us who are left behind. But that’s another story for a different day.

One of the band leaders came up to the front of the stage to talk about my friend’s father. He wrote so many musicals I can’t even tell you how many, and he was clearly a driving force in the Colorado music scene. But what became really clear to me as this man spoke is that my friend’s father sold people on their fantasies of what they thought they could become. Here’s the story:

This man had come home to find his wife sleeping with another man. In his distraught state he went to talk to my friend’s father who said something like: “Be done with her. Let’s start a band.” And that is how the Beach Boys cover band was started. They talked about touring, about the fun they would have.

But here’s the really awesome part. Each person in the band got their own nickname, a surfer name…in Denver…a landlocked city in a landlocked state. What I love about this is that this person convinced people they could be anything. That is his legacy. He convinced people they could become their fantasy of who they were. They would play this out with him. They all played along until this fantasy became their reality.

Their band was very successful, and was touring so much that it actually became overwhelming for my friend. But that’s okay; she had her own life she wanted to follow, her own vision of who she would become.

Watching the people in this band, including my friend, sing their hearts out the other night was a great reminder that we can become anyone we want. We have to surround ourselves by people who will play in our fantasy with us. We have to create a great improvisation in our lives with people who will say,