Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

Embarking on a lifestyle transformation is never an easy decision. You’ve got to give up something in order to bring new things into your life. Habits, ideas, maybe even people need to change in order for true change to take place. Habits that provide comfort are the hardest. As I’ve been slowly correcting the way that I use food and adjusting how I spend my spare time, I’ve become aware of the way that comfort can lead to self sabotage, and in this case could set me back into the yo-yo pattern I’ve been working so hard to end.

The month of October was the hardest yet. As autumn takes over, those habits of comfort seem to kick in at even greater lengths. One “annual” pumpkin spice latte leads to another… One candy corn pumpkin leads to 10… One sugar rush leads into just another quick “hit” and before you know it, you’re secretly grabbing a bite of pizza and stashing a candy into your bag because your body is now craving it.

What can we do in order to avoid these struggles when all around us are carefully orchestrated, researched based marketing ploys encouraging you to give in to these comforts?

I found success by reaching out to my community of health. Talking to friends and family that are also on the path of transformation saved me. After making myself physically ill from “indulging” in not only those despicable candy corn pumpkins, but also fluffy frosting covered cookies and greasy cheese pizza, I reached out to my community. My long time friend and inspirational leader told me, “Girl! Perfection isn’t long term. There will be times you have the opportunity to learn from choices you make.” These words not only unburdened me from the feelings of guilt that I had, but also illuminated a problematic feature of most health programs.

On my past health roller coaster rides, I’ve done really well… until I didn’t. When I gave in to those cravings, I felt as if I had to start back over again. For example, with one temporarily effective program I followed, Whole 30, if you screwed up, you started back at Day 1… I used this program for about 90 days and even though I gained some healthy habits along the way, it wasn’t sustainable. The mental concept of having to ‘Reset” to Day 1 was effective for only the first month. After that, with very little progress made in weight loss goals, resetting just became defeating.

Long term change will only happen if you are persistent and forgiving of your humanity. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for growth in change. I didn’t have to start over an entire 30 days, I just had to change my very next choice, and then the one after that.

I’m excited to share my progress so far. This is my 3rd month on program and my body has changed so much I can hardly believe it is true. Sometimes when I walk by a mirror, I pause to see the woman I’m becoming. I’ve seen glimpses of this woman in the past, but never like this. When I was at a healthy weight in the past, I was a 19 year old girl. I didn’t have kids, a career or an education. Today when I look in the mirror, I’m the woman that I’ve always wanted to be: a healthy, strong mother with a college degree and a stable career.

This is only the beginning.

Want to know more about my transformation? Just ask.

For years I have battled with my health and weight. I remember noticing that I was chubby as early as 8 years old and it caused me some distress all through my pre-teen and teenage years until I took exercise into my own hands and started using diet shakes. It was transformative and then my life took off in a completely different direction and I fell back onto what I thought I knew. Portion control, calorie counting, exercise are all the things that go out the window from me when I’m thrown a life curveball.

After my teenage years, I found myself once again on a journey towards better health. I began weight lifting and running along with taking a pill, Metabolife, that decreased my appetite. I was nearly to my weight goal. That all ended one day when I gave into just one bean and cheese burrito and one quesadilla from Del Taco. I remember the day specifically because I began to gain weight after that and then I got pregnant.

I was sick a lot throughout my pregnancy and I developed acid reflux that seemed to be relieved when I ate… This combined with marital troubles brought me into a depression and I never regained my pre-pregnancy body. I was even heavier with my second pregnancy.

After I had 2 miscarriages and recovered from pneumonia and an umbilical surgery, there was a shift in my thinking and I began to focus on my body again. I began to lift weights again and followed a body building routine and clean eating diet. This had amazing results and I was on a good track, but then my entire world blew up again. I got divorced.

The divorce brought on new challenges. I was already in feeling pretty good about my body at that point, even though I wasn’t down to my goal weight. I was doing pretty good until once again my life got turned upside down. I got sick, had to move in with my parents and ended up commuting to college.

The next time I worked on my weight, I was enrolled at university. I had been slowly gaining weight and then discovered the diet “Whole 30”. I worked the diet with fidelity and got down from 200+ to 176lbs. Then I started student teaching and my masters degree. Over the last couple years I’ve been working on managing my weight, but it always comes back on. Some life altering event happens and my habits, routines and healthy choices disappear first.

Finally, I feel like I am in a place where my career is stable and I’ve got a good handle on the time management it takes to make my classroom go smoothly. I have embarked on another diet program, hoping this one will be my last one. This one is different than all the ones I’ve tried before. They sent me a book that focuses on habits of health. Once I get to my ideal weight I will begin slowly to transition away from the provided food and slowly work on how to balance caloric intake and output through meal planning and exercise.

Other areas of health that I am focused on are financial and social which should continue to support my healthy life style choices.

After one month on the program I am down from 187lbs to 173lbs. It’s been rapid weight loss but I have immediately seen the results of feeling better, looking better and most importantly having more energy. My goal weight is 140.. but my life goal is to maintain my health and make my life a priority.

Overcrowded classrooms hurt everyone.

In the education world the motto is, “Do what is best for students.” This is wonderful and inarguably needs to be the goal for all educators. But what does that really look like and what are the powers-that-be doing to achieve that?

The basic ideas of education are high quality research based curriculum. Looking at the history of education you can see clearly that different generations have different feelings about what this looks like.

In college we learned about educational psychology. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs humans first need to be fed, clothed and sheltered. Next we need safety and security. Then, loving and belonging. With these three elements in place humans can then develop self esteem and finally self actualization.

This means that if a student doesn’t know what they are going to eat, where they are going to live, and are in unloving or inattentive families, they aren’t going to be able to learn.

Schools have solved some of these problems. We offer free or reduced lunch, have programs and resources available for homeless families and provide a loving environment in our classrooms that helps students who aren’t getting the love and attention they need at home.

But, what happens when educational policy works directly against the teachers being able to provide that loving environment? Teachers get stressed out and burnt out, that’s what.

This is exactly what happened to me in my 4th year of teaching. My first couple years I had large class sizes. 27-30 eight-year-olds requires good classroom management skills, but I managed. All my students were at or near grade level, and I only had a handful of students that needed severe interventions. A student in need of severe intervention is one that is several grade levels behind their peers. A balanced classroom allows for a teacher to give equitable attention to all the students.

But, my 4th year… I was assigned a 3rd grade class of 32 students. Over half of these students were severely below grade level (reading and math at a kindergarten-first grade level) the other half were one grade level behind. Very few students were readers, and none of them could access the 3rd grade curriculum (textbooks, etc) that I had on hand.

I soon realized that I didn’t have the resources to support these students. I reached out to my administration, got two aides and some 2nd grade materials. How could I teach students 3-digit addition and subtraction with re-grouping when they didn’t have basic number sense to add 8+3?

In a balanced classroom, I would be able to get the majority of students on independent work, and then provide small group intervention to the ones in need.

With both my aides and myself taking on small groups, dividing 32 students into 3-4 groups still means you have 8 students in a group. 8 students isn’t an ideal “small group”.

I have come to find that many students that are below grade level have behavior challenges. Their motivation is smothered by repeated failures or they didn’t learn the material because their behavior got into the way. Also, home challenges manifest into behavior challenges at school, as mentioned above. With 6-7 students struggling with behavior problems, it was sometimes impossible to teach because their behavior seemed to bring the rest of the crowded class into a frenzy. It seems like one would trigger another and then before I knew it I had to stop teaching.

By the end of the year, my physical and mental health had deteriorated rapidly. I was in and out of the doctor’s office, for migraines, stomach aches, fatigue, and muscular/skeletal problems. One day one of my colleagues had to actually drive me to urgent care. I was not okay and my students were suffering right along side of me. I was looking for alternate careers, and felt like a failure as a teacher.

Ideally these students would have benefited by first being separated so that the burden didn’t fall on one teacher. Next, they needed a smaller class size so that more time could be devoted to each student.

When one begins to talk about class sizes a bunch of negative clamoring is found. Teacher grumble that class sizes are too big, but say that research doesn’t show that smaller class sizes affect achievement until you get to about 18 students per class. This is impossible they say, because the district won’t spend the money on more teachers and more facilities. And so, the cycle continues with teachers getting sicker and more burnt out year by year. The attrition rates are high and that turnover isn’t good for our future.

At some point in time small class sizes were mandated by the state. A maximum of 24 students per teacher was the law. Somewhere that law changed so that primary grades (K-3) can have up to 32 and intermediate grades (4-6) capped at 34.

A number of problems arise with this many students including lack of physical space, management challenges and more work for teachers.

This year is the first year that I have had a small class. With 18 students, my classroom feels like a dream. I have two students severely below grade level, some near grade level and some above grade level. My small groups are going to be fantastic. 3 groups of 6 students is so perfect. I can devote a significant amount of time to each student as I walk around the room conducting formative assessments. My students all fit into my classroom without crowding onto each other. They have space to breathe and to get away from each other when needed.

Grading time is significantly reduced and I have found that I don’t need to take things home to grade. I am saving money on materials and was able to buy one pack of birthday gifts instead of 2. When a student has a behavior challenge I am able to devote more time to helping them find better coping skills. Since I only have three students that need extra practice in self control, I can give them the attention they really need to help them earn those skills. For example, I am able to have one student that has ADHD sit close to me so that he can be my helper. Meanwhile another student with ADHD can be on the other side of the room with freedom to move about without disturbing others.

I know that I learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person last year. But at what cost? The experience put me into a depression that caused my health and finances to suffer. I was spending money on building my own curriculum to support my students. The medical co-pays began stacking up and I had to take multiple days off. The cost to me as a person was high.

The bottom line is, what is best for students is also what is best for teachers and vice-versa. When teachers are less stressed students thrive.

If you care about your child and the future of education, you can take action by petitioning to your local school board demanding smaller class sizes. Go to school board meetings and get to know the people in charge of your district. You can call your legislative representatives and explain to them the harm that is being done to students due to lack of oversight in class sizes. In California your district has developed a plan called, “Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). This plan requires parent input. You can become involved in your school’s School Site Council meetings where budgets are approved and parents vote on where the school’s money goes.

Getting involved is the best way for everyone to make the changes that are necessary for the wellbeing of our future. Smaller class sizes are what is good for students. It needs to happen. Because when the teachers are happy, everyone is happy.

After letting auto-pay handle business for the past 6 months and me just living my best life, there came a point when I needed to face reality. I had to look at what kind of havoc ignorance had wrought. Last month the thought of diving into that pit of despair led me to check my balances and then take another break. This month, however, with school back in session and routines working their magic, I dove in.


How the fuck did all these things happen. Well, first, I apparently didn’t read or comprehend the fine print of the numerous companies contracting me into their profits.

Guess what? That student loan consolidation plan didn’t actually tell me that if I took the reduced payment option, I one day soon realize that I had just allowed $3k of “interest capitalization” to accrue. Seriously, that is my ENTIRE TEACH GRANT. No one was there to tell me, “Hey this is a bad idea.” Yes, being completely honest with myself, I knew what I was getting myself into when I accepted $55k in loans. But what were the alternatives? I had to get a degree to get a job that would come even a little close to supporting my children and providing them with a stable environment. Working through college would have meant baby-sitters and working night shifts. Is it really worth it to work a part time job AND pay for a babysitter? Now I’m just a slave to the interest rates.

Enough about that though. Because that was only “debt” number one and I haven’t contrived a solution to that problem. The next gut wrenching debt I tackled is my credit cards. (Oh, joy!) Two months ago I had thought my credit card debts totaled around $25k. Well, I was wrong. Let’s add some more ten-thousands to that. Double Ouch.

It doesn’t matter that a year and a half ago I had devised this plan to pay off my credit cards in two years. It had been the perfect plan. I was going to consolidate my loans and pay less interest. Only the plan didn’t take into consideration that the loan company wouldn’t give me enough money to pay off all my credit cards. So, the accounts remained open and obviously, given my current situation, I continued to use them. I just didn’t stick to my budget.

Realistically, I just can’t afford to do all the things expected of me in our society on a single income. I know I can make different choices, such as, do my own nails, color my own gray hairs, ignore Starbucks Happy Hour, engage in meal planning and cooking in. I could stop buying things for my students, make my kids purchase generic clothes, shop good-will for my clothes, get a second job. I already don’t pay for a gym membership, share all my streaming accounts with family, shop at Winco, and I never go to a mall. These are things that I perceive many people doing, so what exactly am I doing wrong?

Disclaimer: I know, even in my “dire” circumstances that I am swathed in privilege. I had the good credit to get all these loans, I have a reliable car, my ex pays child support, I live in a nice neighborhood with a really nice landlord that hasn’t raised my rent (fingers-crossed, knock on wood). These things I am grateful for, and I am aware that people have experienced much more severe hardships in their lives.

My first world problems are still mine to fix.

So… solutions… where do I go from here? Well, today my dive in to my finances was deep and efficient. Because, after all, when you are faced with something the only way to the other side is often right on through it. What’s that song? ‘If you’re going through hell, keep on going” or somethin’ or other. (Squirrel: isn’t it funny how silly our little sayings look in print?)

This part is a punch in the gut. I had to look at where my money has been going. All the money advice people have told me this is the first step. I keep several different records of my expenses, digital and paper. The first one is a simple composition book that lists my non-negotiable expenses like rent and utilities, income, budget, and credit card activity. The second one mirrors that, but it is in a complicated spreadsheet that I built the last time I made a budget plan. It works really great with the numbers changing based on income and expenses. I decided to give it an update and make it useful to me again since I had basically blown that previous plan sky high.

PS. Spreadsheets are fun. If you don’t know how to make one, I suggest you hop online and learn some of the basics. You don’t really need to know a lot to get some good financial organization.

This spreadsheet allowed me to plug in the numbers of my debt. Balances, interest rates calculated monthly so that I know how much the interest charge will be each month, and, of course, payments.

On one sheet I have my credit card information, on the second sheet is the income/expense report also found in my composition book. Only, the sheet is interactive. When I make more money, a bunch of numbers change so that I can see how much I’ve got.

It really is pretty basic stuff, but it was soothing to set it up. It makes me feel as if I am actually accomplishing something, even though all action will take place one long month at a time. Making a fun spreadsheet is all the productivity that I will get until the first of the month.

I also use the Mint app that takes all my accounts, puts them into a single place, sets a budget with alerts, and categorizes all my spending. It is a simple way to have my choices at my fingertips… I just have to open the app and take a look… :-/

Unfortunately today I made a bunch of rash decisions before I sat down and looked at my data. The first mistake was to send all my savings into a credit card in one smash hit. It felt great bringing that balance to zero, but I have left myself vulnerable. It will be many months before my savings account will make me feel good again. Until then, I don’t have a fail-safe plan if things go wrong.

The next mistake I made was to go crazy applying for zero percent credit card loans. The more I ask for a loan the less money they seem to be willing to give me. Last month good ole BofA offered me a $10,000 limit credit card with 29% interest (gasp!!) and this month they were so kind as to lend me $500 for 0% interest. Nothing in my financial status has changed, except for a keen sense of desperation.

With all my options seemingly tapped out, I reached out directly to the credit card companies. I called and explained to them that I was entering a phase of financial difficulties and I feared that I would no longer be able to sustain the payments that I’d accrued. Each of them transferred me to a ready-made debt-counseling department. I was put into contact with a nice guy named Tomas who listened to my situation and helped me take a good look at my finances. He even empathized strongly with my plight. There were some things that he dug up that were revelations for me. For example, Discover had lied to me when they told me that they would give me 18% interest the last time I had asked for help from them. Nope, that credit card was at 20% (still more palatable than 29% but sheesh!).

Tomas was very thorough and basically told me that with my income I was loosing $900 per month just with basic necessities. And, yes, that is why my credit cards are going up, partly. That, and I know that I have an Amazon problem. You know it’s really bad when you get a delivery one day and have no idea what’s in the box. Surprise!!! With everything at our fingertips, impulse purchase retail therapy is also one of those things that deep down I know better not to do.

Tomas’s plan was appealing. He would take over my 4 debts, negotiate lower interest rates and pay all the bills for me. The accounts would all be closed and everything would be paid off in 58 months. – The catch? Because there is always a catch. – While this plan would be easy for me, I would be paying $35 a month for them to manage my accounts.

After reviewing my numbers with him, I realized that this wasn’t really going to help me. Two of my accounts already have low interest rates. The other two interest rates are outrageous, but they have smaller balances. I felt in my gut there was a better way. I told Tomas I would consult my family. (This is a really great way to get sales people to let you off the line, by the way.)

I decided to use the snow ball method that my spreadsheet is designed to facilitate. This is a proven effective method, you just HAVE TO STOP USING THE CARDS. (Yelling at myself here!!) First, I will pay the minimum payment on all the accounts except one. The first account should be the smallest balance with the biggest interest rate. All the extra money I can spare in my budget will go to this account. If I follow my budget, I will have around $1000 extra to send to my credit cards. (oh how I wish that $1000 was going into a savings account… soon soon soon!) When that account is paid off I will take all that money and send it to the next account. By this time I won’t have to pay the minimum payment on the first account, so I will now have $1300 to send to the second account. To learn more details about this method, just do a quick google search.

The sad thing, guys, is that this isn’t my first-go around. Nope. I don’t even want to get into that right now. But, again. It’s the truth and why not just own it. Yes, circumstances and choices got me here. I believe that I am doing my best at whatever moment I’ve been given. And sometimes that best needs some extra work.

This time, though, just like my new diet… is going to be the last. I have a budget and a plan. If I follow it carefully I will pay off my credit card debt in 24 months. This gives me an incredible sense of hope. It fits well into my 5 year dream plan for FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early). The concept of retiring early is incredibly appealing to me. It seems nearly impossible with a single income, however. Anyone want to move in with me? Taking applications… 😉

The key difference this time is that I’ve got some help from my kids. Both of them are old enough to understand our situation and it’s past time that I actually taught them how to manage money. (It’s okay that we are all learning this together, right?)

One idea that I came up with is to keep a separate account that automatically pays out the recurring expenses such as rent, electric and car payment. That account will not have an accessible debit card. A second account will have our monthly budget automatically deposited. This will be the only way that we can draw money for food, gas and other purchases.

It’s not going to be easy as this is going to forte the opportunity to get creative. Sometimes creativity can hurt. Creativity is certainly inconvenient in this situation. However, my work stress this year is significantly decreased compared to last year. I feel that I’ve got the energy and determination to stick it out the next 24 months.

I know I am not alone in this debt tornado. It is hard for me to even post this into the public sphere. In my family we never openly talked about finances and why we never seemed to have enough money to “keep up with the Jones’s”.

Do you have any suggestions how I can tough it out for 2 more years and really stick to my goals? I would love to hear your stories in the comments.

Tom’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

Finding Normal

Single parenting in the ADHD Family

Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.


Thoughts and ramblings of a young adult