T is for Toxic Relationships

TI value relationships very, very much. I am quick to trust and quick to love, and I am also slow to abandon people when they are not good for me. I have some toxic relationships in my life, and I have no real idea how to remove them.

There are some people whom I have cut out of my life that have been deeply hurtful, but the hurtful things they did made it easy to abandon the relationships. But there are too many people in my life that I have relationships with where I know associating with them isn’t good for me because it just makes me angry, irritable, anxious, or hurt. Sometimes these people are family members; sometimes they are friends. I say “too many” because I’m thinking just one toxic relationship is one too many, but I am fortunate that I can probably count all of these relationships on one hand.

Right now, my methods for managing toxic relationships that I can’t end include things like avoidance (I just try not to interact with those people), compartmentalization (separating out the toxic part of the relationship from the part that does work), and self-protection in the form of trying my hardest to never be alone with the toxic person.

Anybody have strategies for how to manage toxic relationships? I’m open to ideas!

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S is for Song Lyrics

SI love words. I especially love words when they convey more than just their denotation, when they are combined to create something greater than their individual meanings. That’s why I love reading novels and short stories and poetry, and it’s why I really love song lyrics. My husband knows all too well how I will pick apart and obsess over song lyrics. Most recently, he has seen me do this over all the songs in Hamilton. I’d listen to the songs and then text him insights or phrases that grab me. My favorite song from that musical is “Burn”, and Jim said he knew it would be as soon as her heard the line, “You have married an Icharus. He’s flown too close to the sun.” And he was right (although that line actually only cemented my love for that song — the lines that actually hooked me were, “You built me palaces out of paragraphs. You built cathedrals.” To me, that is what words can do, especially when paired with music — build palaces and cathedrals.

I always wonder what the backstory is in song lyrics that catch my attention. The first song I did this with was the song “Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting. To this day, I wonder what happened between the people in the song that caused them to separate and what he did that was so bad that she had to build a fortress around her heart.

Another song I wonder about is “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe. I remember saying to my brother once, “I wish I knew what happened in this song,” and his response was, “I don’t know, but it was something bad.”

I have always wanted to write the backstory for “Hands Tied” by Scandal. To me, it’s such a sad song that tells a story. I once tried to write a story based on that song — and it was awful! But It allowed me to act on an urge, and maybe someday I can write a better story based on that song.

Sometimes it’s not the story but the figurative language that speaks to me. “Over When It’s Over” by Eric Church does that for me. The metaphors in that song are so relatable and evocative. I’ve thought it would be a great way to teach metaphor to students.

These are a mere sampling of my song lyric obsessions. If you’ve got any songs with lyrics worth obsessing over, I’d love for you to share them with me!

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R is for Resolutions

RI am a day behind, but no worries. I thought it would be fun (for you — humiliating for me) to check up on the progress of my resolutions for this year.

Run 2 half marathons: well, probably not going to happen. Not going to be ready to run the one I wanted to in May, but maybe I can still do the one in September.

Lose weight: still on Weight Watchers, still can’t seem to stay on track for a full wee, still haven’t lost any weight so far this year. But hey, at least I haven’t gained.

Get my scared butt to the dentist: done. Went a couple weeks ago. I need a deep cleaning, a crown replaced, and 4 fillings. I am terrified for each thing. I really wish I could just ignore those problems.

Declutter: not so much. That sounds like an excellent summer vacation activity, though.

Attend church at least 25 times: nope. I’ve been once or twice. I might be a lost cause.

Read the Bible: more nope. In my defense, this IS a daunting task.

Reduce use of the f-bomb: another nope. I have moments where I’m conscious of it and try not to use it. But it’s just moments.

Looks like 2018 is going to be another year of mediocrity for me!


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Q is for Questioning Myself

QLast October, I ran the Chicago Marathon. It was my first (and likely only) marathon, and sometimes, when I think back on it, I get overwhelmed. The memories come back to me like scenes from a movie — seeing my cheering squad run out to me on the street, calling my name, my cousin holding a sign that said, “Run like a gazippo!” and me literally skipping up to him and my daughter when I saw them. Running past Lincoln Park Zoo and thinking, “I am all the way up by Lincoln Park Zoo!” Seeing my sister-in-law at about the halfway point and accidentally knocking her phone out of her hand when I ran up to her. Seeing the pace car pass me in slow motion and the realization I would be losing my course support. Seeing one of the aid stations being torn down as I approached it, watching in almost horror as an entire table of filled Gatorade cups was flipped over onto the street. The taste of warm Gatorade Endurance. Turning the corner and entering Chinatown, which seemed deserted. The taste of ice cold Coke. The angst I felt when I realized I still had a right turn to make before I could head north in the direction of the finish line. The actual physical feeling of exhaustion falling away from my body as I approached the finish line and the burst of energy I had as I sprinted across the finish line and collapsed, crying, into the arms of my friends waiting there for me. I can remember all of these moments clearly like they happened yesterday.

While I am proud of my accomplishment, sometimes I have these nagging doubts about it. I crossed the finish line 8 hours, 7 minutes, and 21 seconds after I crossed the start line. Here is a picture that haunts me:


This is taken on “Mount Roosevelt” — a small incline literally right before you make the turn to the finish line. It is at like mile 26, so you are so close to the finish line you can taste it. I am walking here. When I turned the corner and saw the finish line, though, I ran. Sprinted, actually. And that action is what haunts me. Every time I think if the marathon, I question myself — could I have run this race faster if I had just pushed myself harder, if I had run more and walked less in the last half of that race? I felt so good the first half of the race, but the second half, I was so tired physically and mentally and emotionally, and I was so hot, and I hurt so much, I spent a lot of time walking. I feel like I remember not being in that much pain or in a state of that much exhaustion. I remember so many things so clearly, but why can’t I remember the pain and fatigue?

Sometimes I am so haunted by the questions, the feelings of doubt that I really did need to walk that I feel like my accomplishment is somewhat dubious, or that the marathon ran me instead of me running the marathon. I hate that anything mars the memory of that momentous event in my life.

I wonder if I will always question myself on this.

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P is for Politics

PPolitical discussions that get hot are nothing new. There’s an old mantra that the three things you should never discuss at cocktail parties are sex, religion, and politics. And if your family is like mine, there have probably been plenty of family fights over politics. If you know my family, then you are likely familiar with the infamous “go to war” fight my parents had (my dad is a pretty conservative guy; my mom is a liberal lady).

But it seems that after Barack Obama was elected, political arguments started to take a turn for the really nasty. And since the election of Donald Trump, the fights have become absolutely vicious and downright divisive. I see it firsthand. I see people in my family being horrible to each other because of differences in political ideologies. I see friends of many years hurling the most awful  and personal of insults at each other over differing political agendas. And the fights happen in person sometimes but too often on social media which invites a gang mentality — people feel the need to rally around their peeps and defend them which just escalates the situation. And it’s all so public and won’t ever go away when people screen shot the discussions or they come up every year in your Facebook memories (if that’s where the fight took place).

The vitriol that often accompanies the expression of one’s political opinions keeps many people going the opposite direction — keeping their mouths shut and their opinions to themselves. I tend to fall into that category, only sharing my thoughts on politics with a select few people. Not because I only surround myself with those who agree with me. I do it to avoid the personal attacks that come with me putting myself in such a vulnerable position. I know that some would find fault with me for keeping quiet. I get it. But I am the kind of person who takes things quite personally, so I find it easier to just shut up.

Sigh. Politics are exhausting.

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O is for Odetta

OMy post for the letter O is my sneaky way of sharing a relatively new musical love of mine, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. I happened to be flipping through my Sirius XM Radio stations one day when I heard a voice that immediately caught my attention. it was this song, “Odetta” by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. All it took was hearing this one song to be immediately hooked on his music.

After doing a little digging, I discovered some more of his music. His voice is so incredibly rich, and his lyrics are powerful and affecting. It is easy to become lost in the sound of this man’s voice — it is actually one of my favorite things to do, envelope myself in his music, letting the sound of his voice fill all my senses. I’m sharing some of my favorite songs by him here, and I hope you love Rag ‘n’ Bone Man as much as I do.

“Skin” is a song that reminds me very ,much of my husband.

“Human” is an incredibly real song.

And the lyrics to “Hard Came the Rain” are like a punch to the gut.

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N is for Novel

NWriting is my first and most passionate love. If I could do anything in this world, I would write. I have dreamed for years of writing a book. I’d love to write a novel more than anything. In April 2014, I started writing my first novel, and it is still in progress. Honestly, the last time I worked on it was on 2016. I just don’t have the time to devote to it like I want to be able to do.

Much like Stephenie Meyer did for Twilight, I got the idea for the novel from a dream. But unlike Stephenie Meyer, I likely won’t write a blockbuster novel and make millions!

The working title is Living Without Dying. I would classify it in the genre of women’s fiction. Here is a synopsis of the storyline as I envision it right now:

“Some people find comfort in the familiar, in routine. Not Lianne. Despite having a wonderful marriage to a devoted husband, a daughter with a promising life ahead of her once she graduates college, a steady job, and terrific friends, Lianne yearns for more. The comfort, the familiarity is suffocating her. As she looks for ways to shake up her life, she finds herself seeking out more and more extreme experiences. Her husband Mark tries to be supportive through it all, but Lianne’s dissatisfaction with the life they have is baffling to him and it becomes harder and harder to be the supportive husband. Mark and Lianne need to find their way back to each other, but it is possible that they will be lost forever if they can’t find some way to continue living life together instead of separately at the same time.”

I started one draft and had a friend read it — a very high risk action for me as I am incredibly sensitive about my writing, especially my creative writing. She gave me good feedback which required a major overhaul of what I had originally done (and an overhaul I suspected the novel needed). I am still in the middle of trying to complete that overhaul, and to be honest, I know how I want the story to end but I am still unsure about how I want to get my characters there.

My husband recently had a dream of his own that he shared with me that he thought would make a good topic for a novel. That one needs a lot of pre-writing work yet, but I’ve got a bunch of ideas in my head that I desperately need to get written down before I lose them. I already developed a working title for that book — Meeting the Child I Never Had. I wonder what he will think of that idea 🙂

Until I get some dedicated time, my novel ideas will have to come to life slowly. Maybe they will only live in my world, but who knows. Maybe someday, if I get them finished, they will live in your world, too!

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M is for My Mom

MIf you know my mom, then you know she is pretty much an extraordinary human being. I love her. Just that simple. I’m not going to use any flowery words or superlatives to try to explain how much she means to me because words pale in comparison to the reality, so it is best to just state it simply and bluntly.

As much as I love my mom, I waffle between wanting to be like her and wanting to be nothing like her. I suppose I really want to fall somewhere in between.

Now, before you get all up in arms and offended that I had the audacity to admit publicly that I might not want to be just like my mom, hear me out on why first. Then you can decide if I really am the world’s most horrible daughter.

Here are some things to know about my mom, in no particular order:

  1. She loves unconditionally. Everyone. I can’t think of one person she wishes ill upon. I can’t think of one person she has ever treated with any malice in her heart. She just loves everyone. She loves people who love her back. She loves people who don’t deserve love at all. She loves people who are mean to her, who are abusive to her, who use her, who have been purposely hurtful to her. She loves her family members because they are her family; they can do nothing to lose her love. Lots of people say they love others in their lives unconditionally; she is the only one I’ve ever met that actually does love people unconditionally.
  2. She is kind in her heart, in her soul, in her actions, and in her thoughts. She does everything out of kindness. Some people see this kind of kindness as weakness, but not her. She doesn’t see it as strength, either. It is just the way she is. It is just the way she exists.
  3. She is generous. This means with her love, her resources, her thoughts, her money, and her time. If you need it and you ask her for it, she will give it to you. Advice, a loan, a prayer, a cup of sugar, a hug — if she has it, it’s yours. If she doesn’t have it, just give her some time to get it and it’s yours.
  4. She is beautiful. She actually glows. If you know my mom, the next time you see her, really look at her. You will see it — she has a light that shines from within her. When she smiles, she beams.
  5. She is devoted. That devotion extends to her family, her friends, her God, her faith, her church, her pets, her ideals. I have never seen her devotion to anyone ever fail. Ever. And believe me when I tell you that my mom has been tested PLENTY in her life. Okay, one caveat: the only person she doesn’t seem completely devoted to is herself. She would rather take care of others than take care of herself. She doesn’t do enough for herself. She doesn’t think enough of herself.

So, here is this woman who has all these shining qualities, and I have the nerve to admit that I doubt I want to be like her? I assure you, I am not evil.


A picture of me and my mom from a cruise we took together a few years back.

My mother’s love, kindness, generosity, beauty and devotion are gifts in the lives of those of us who know her. And when those qualities come together in one human, they seem to invite scorn. And that scorn doesn’t come from people who don’t know her. It comes from people who have been given richly from her gifts. She gets ridiculed and taken advantage of and has her feelings flung to the side. And I admit, I have done these things to her, too, at times. I don;t know if I want to be like my mom because I just don’t think I have the strength the withstand a fraction of what she has and does withstand. Hell, even if I could withstand it, would I want to? Would I want the people I love the most in this world to trounce all over my heart? I doubt it. I feel so much better keeping people just a fraction of an inch away, giving me the space to push them back if they push me rather than doing as my mom does, keeping no space between those she loves so that when they try to push her she can easily wrap them in her arms and pull them in closer. When she does this, when I see people be rotten to her, I ask her why she puts up with it, why she puts herself through the pain. She never sees it as pain; she just sees it as an opportunity to show more love, kindness, generosity, beauty, and devotion. That is such a hard life. She says it’s not, but I’ve got to believe it is. I’m exhausted talking about it; she lives it.

So when I say I don’t always think I want to be like my mom, it’s only because I don’t think I could be what she is — so strong, so trusting, so fearless. I’d be scared to be like her — it’s so hard to be that way so effortlessly. BTW, she will read all this and say she it’s not easy, that she works at it and prays about it, but I know that it is easy for her because it’s not a choice for her. It’s just how she is. And I’m a good person, but I’m not good enough to be her.

Quick edit: as I am finishing this and adding pictures, I realize how few pictures I have of me with my mom. That’s gonna change!

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L is for Legacy

LIn some ways, I guess it’s a little ironic that I saw Hamilton at the point in life I did — which was just recently — because I have been thinking a lot about my own legacy. One of the themes that runs throughout Hamilton is legacy.  Alexander Hamilton shows us early on in the musical that he is concerned with his own legacy, even if he doesn’t say so in those exact words. He proclaims, “I am not throwing away my shot” when faced with opportunity to help the revolution. When he meets Angelica Schuyler and she inquires about his family, he declares that “unimportant” but goes on to say, “There’s a million things I haven’t done; just you wait.” He writes prolifically — it’s undeniable that he uses writing to help cement his legacy, which is part of what makes Eliza’s burning his letters in “Burn” so profound. She knows exactly what she’s doing to his legacy — she says, “You and your words, obsessed with your legacy, your sentences border on senseless, and you are paranoid in every paragraph how they perceive you…. I’m burning the memories, burning the letters that might have redeemed you.” Ultimately, we find that in the end, we are not really in control of our legacy, no matter how we try. This is made clear in the final song. Washington starts it off by telling us, “You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Eliza ends the song and the show with the haunting thought, “And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?”

At least so it goes in the musical version of Alexander Hamilton’s life.

I wonder what my own legacy will be. When I express this to people, quite often I get the response of, “You’re a teacher. Your students are your legacy.” I get the references to Mr. Holland’s Opus. I get reminded about Dead Poet’s Society.

But I am not arrogant enough to fancy myself to be as influential as Alexander Hamilton, or even the fictional Mr. Holland or Mr. Keating. I’m just Renee.

All I want to do is know that when I’m dead and gone, my life mattered. My work mattered. I did something positive, something lasting, that what I left behind was a force for good in this world, that somehow the world changed even the slightest for the good because I was once here. I want to be remembered, even just for a little bit. I want a part of me to remain after I’m gone, just for a little while, just to show that my life was worth remembering. This is why I feel it so much when Hamilton says, “There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait.” I feel like there’s got to be a million things I haven’t done yet, either. I have no idea what they are, but just you wait. This is why I feel it so much when Eliza asks the questions I didn’t even know I was asking myself, “When my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?”

Maybe that’s why I write — few people know how much I actually write. I have this blog plus two others. I have diaries and journals and notes and poems and ideas and thoughts scribbled in notebooks and in journals and on scraps of paper. Maybe I believe that someone will find these papers when I’m gone and keep them, thus ensuring my legacy, keeping me alive beyond my life.

Maybe it is incredibly conceited of me to want a legacy. Maybe it means I’m insecure. Maybe it means I’m childish or selfish. But I sure do hope that when my time is up, I’ve done enough, and someone will think it’s worth it to tell my story.

Until then, just you wait.

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K is for Key West

KI am cheating big time here today! I have struggled for the past few days to find something to write for the letter K and I just keep coming back to this one topic: Key West. I’ve written about Key West before, so my post for today is just a recycle of my previous post. Still all very true — I do love that place, and if there is any way I can swing my retirement there, you know where to find me!

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