High School: September 2001 versus 2016

I’m working at my  former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up  bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.

First, a list.

Things I did as a teenager:

  • Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
  • Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
  • Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
  • Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
  • Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
  • Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
  • Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
  • Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
  • Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
  • Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
  • Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
  • Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning

I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if  I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.

Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)

  • Plugging their phones in during class to charge
  • Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
  • Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
  • Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.

But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way,  the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.

Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however.  In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This  nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.

The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:

The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future. 

I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.

An us with a bright future, and little to fear.

Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.

Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers.  As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.

For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.

Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.

Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.

But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.

Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.

So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.

But when I see them faced with the world we now live in,  and their quiet acceptance that accompanies  it….I see the biggest change of all.

And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.

Apologies, but this is the only photo of me as a teenager I have in my WordPress archives except the Featured Image. Like I said, I thought I was hot s**t….



@AlanaFlorence Works Out, Too

Happy One Year Anniversary to this blog….may the second year reflect the authenticity strived for in Year One.

How much can a person change in a year?

I think this blog is a living experiment of exactly that.

When I started out writing on WordPress, I wanted to lose weight. I have. Not enough for me to brag about big numbers, but enough that I feel different and hopefully look a bit different, too.  When I started this blog, I wanted to work out more. I do! And I have found joy in exercise I never thought possible. When I started this blog, I thought clothes would be a good motivator for change. I wanted to feel like Alana again. I wanted to love shopping, and makeup, and hair and new boots.

I still love all of those things…but I’ve realized I love nurturing my soul way more than I love pampering my appearance.

And I’ve learned my dedication to wellness on the inside will reflect in a healthier way than focusing on appearance – as much I love a good outfit and hope to be able to wear the clothes I want to again.

In light of this, my new URL is alanaflorencewrites.wordpress.com. This is generic, yes, but it ties to my general goal of writing and also works with my Twitter, @AlanaFlorence.

And off I go, to Year Two!

Exercise Anxiety


‘We Can Do Hard Things.’

This saying is popping up everywhere lately. I even purchased a wooden plaque with the saying from a thrift store the other day. I put it up on my husband’s bed stand, and looking at it makes me giggle just a little bit. Double entendre aside, I like the sentiment. I DO do hard things. Raising my son, looking after my mom, writing a novel, going to endless grad school…

But one of the hardest things for me to do is live an anxiety-free life.

And it’s very, very hard for me to workout; like REALLY workout.  Proper exercise.

Last week I went to Zumba. I’ve gone through phases of doing Zumba regularly, but I always modify it, and leave for at least one song to get a break for my sanity. In the past few years I’ve avoided it completely.  But Lauren, my workout buddy, and I had been doing such a great job at pushing ourselves every day, that on this one day she couldn’t do our cardio/strength routine, I went to Zumba by myself. I felt confident I could do it alone.

The fun ensued and I sweated through a few songs. My heart raced and I tried to ignore it. I shook out my hands, stood in front of the fan, and kept moving. I slowed down the next song, took a drink of water, and willed myself to keep going. But my heart raced and raced,  and as I took a certain misstep I thought for sure I  was going pass to out.

I panicked. This it it, I thought. Death by Zumba.  I wobbled to the door, mopping up my sweat with a towel and willing my heart rate to slow down. It didn’t. The evening remained hot and sunny, and the corridors of the gym filled with warm damp air as I wished for nothing more than a cold place to sit. Everyone walked past happy and fit, unaware I may be dying.

I hyperventilated my way to the locker room. Happy women sat chatting on the chairs and my vision was going blurry but I ran to the toilet and locked myself in, willing myself to stop panicking, trying to ignore the throbbing in my chest, now painful. I tried some vasovagal maneuvers.

I made my way outside somehow, and into my car. I blasted cold air on my face, took a drink of water, an anxiety pill, and sat with my head between my legs. Slowly my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. I was going to live.

It surprised me. It always does after a panic attack.

I texted and called my husband and a few friends, seeking comfort, distraction. I felt better.

Eventually I went on with my evening with nothing but an eye twitch to remind me of the episode.

I cried a bit that night for no real reason. I guess I felt a bit sorry for myself. I couldn’t finish Zumba. I obviously needed Lauren or someone to keep me from panicking. I couldn’t even go to the gym like a normal person.

Because this is one truth about me: I’m a worrier, and I’ve had a fear of cardio exercise for a decade.

It sounds almost silly to say. As I gained weight, doctors told me to exercise. I agreed, but never did. Not REALLY. Not in the P90x sort of way. I stuck with yoga and walking.

Finally I admitted it to my GP: “I  can’t do vigorous exercise. I hate the feeling of my heart beating quickly; it makes me panic. I literally think I’m going to  die every time. I actually look for the defibrillator to make me feel better. ”

“That’s not normal,” she said. “I’ve never had a patient tell me they look for a defibrillator for comfort.”

She raised her eyebrows.

I’ve had many heart tests done, just to rule out if I were paranoid or they really were after me. Anxiety is an expensive disorder.

In the end, it turns out I am able to overcome this particular fear through a variety of methods:

1. Distraction –  I work out with a friend. If alone, I listen to really loud music. Really. Loud.

2. Support –  I feel ‘safe’ with a friend.

3. Something to grab- If I’m feeling panicky on the treadmill, I can grip the sides. Steady myself, as it were. Zumba is so open. A definite  trigger for me. (But sooooo fun if I can do it)

4. Channeling my inner calm. Deep breathing, utilizing CBT techniques..

5. Anxiety medication.

6. Strength training. Less risk of getting short of breath.

Exercise may easy for some people. For me, it’s one of the hard things I have to do.

It’s not as hard as most things  in my life. But I know that to be my best self and to be the mom Alistair deserves…I need to overcome my exercise anxiety.

All Hail The Workout Buddy

CancuuunTwo roads diverged in a wood.

And, I…

I took the road that led me straight to the gym, with a friend.

And that has made all the difference.

My idea of exercising was going to yoga once a week (yay), doing the treadmill once or twice a week while I read magazines (meh), or trying to incorporate exercise into caring for my three-year-old,  Alistair, such as chasing him down  supermarket aisles when he’d try to run away or doing the vertigo-inducing game of swinging him by his arms (or armpits, I’m aware there is something potentially wrong with swinging him by his arms for too long).

But these feeble attempts at an exercise routine weren’t getting me any results. I felt great after yoga, accomplished after the treadmill, and almost always tired after taking care of Alistair all day. But it wasn’t igniting anything in me to get physically active.

And then, I had Lauren.

Well, I’ve had Lauren for half of a decade. We first bonded over growing up in Colorado and our mutual love of modge podge crafts. We did a lot of those while we served together in a church calling with pre-teen girls. Those were the days when neither of us had kids, and I’d stress over things like learning to crochet (I failed, she excelled).

She and I recently took a trip to Cancun together, when I won Fan of the Week on the TODAY Show. During this trip, my phone tracked our steps. We were walking SEVEN MILES A DAY on our luxury vacation. The resort was just so darn huge (first world problems) and we wanted to see all of it.  We were also swimming, and lounging in the sun. But we came back exhausted and ill, even though it was sooooooooooo totally worth it.

It was during these days of post -vacation blues we decided to be gym buddies.

This change has made the biggest difference to my workout routine!  We keep each other accountable, we push each other to go further, and the time just flies by.  I used to do a slow mile on the treadmill and call it quits. Now we are training for a 5k and yesterday managed 6 miles (on the bikes) as well as strength training.

One of the highlights of my week was when Lauren and I did one hour of hydro conditioning.  We were sweating to the oldies WITH the oldies (including a super fit elderly instructor), and pool noodles, in a very surreal swim class.

Burning calories, building muscle, getting healthy AND girl bonding time. It’s a win all the way around.

PS. Until I get a banner……here’s the link to my new venture in health and wellness….


The Weight of Things

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to start completely over at 30 years old, I can tell you:  Difficult.  Expensive.

Slightly maddening.

My husband, my son and I sold everything we owned in 2013  so we could move to Scotland for a year. The list of reasons for this break from Minnesota and the year in Scotland is long.  We needed a change for our sanity and our marriage. We wanted our son to get to know his Scottish side of the family (as my husband is a British native).  I wanted to fulfill my  dream of completing a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, and a competitive program in one of the world’s most literary cities let me in.

We knew  it was the right thing to do, and the initial shedding of all of our ‘things’ was easy: we just sold or gave them away. We got rid EVERYTHING, except a few boxes of books, mementos  and cothes. My dad moved into our empty apartment where the only thing we’d left for him was our dog.

It felt liberating to move with three suitcases.

But, inevitably, stuff started to mount up again in our tiny Scottish flat.  Two-year olds need a lot of stuff, I learned. And our space was…wee.

Tiny spaces! If you stood in the right spot, you could be in the kitchen, dining room and living room all at once!
You could use the radiator as a pillow in our Scottish flat. It looks clean here…but we’d barely moved in. There wasn’t actually room to lie down and stretch on our living room floor.

When summer of 2014 rolled around and I was still scrambling with my dissertation, we began a process we had grown used to doing: whittling everything down to a few measley suitcases. Vacuum packing. Squishing. Creating “maybe/hopefully” piles. But this time the emotional toll  was greater. I didn’t feel liberated, I felt sad.

I loved those curtains we bought.

Why couldn’t I keep every single book I read for my Master’s degree?

But, you can’t GET these boots in America.

Alistair played with this digger every day!

Our route from Scotland to Minnesota was the cheapest we could find, but it meant lugging everything we owned through Edinburgh, Belfast, a train to through Ireland to Dublin. Dublin Airport, Orlando, and then, finally, home.

But it wasn’t home anymore. My dad and my dog were there, and the walls the were the same, but it was full of my dad’s belongings now. I walked in half expecting to see our old living room set. To go to my room and sleep off the jet-lag and the reverse culture-shock. But my room wasn’t there.

I finished my dissertation on a variety of surfaces: air mattresses, grass, my signature table at Starbucks. We were back in America, and reality hit: we were homeless (in one sense), jobless, and owned…nothing.

The six months which have followed have been the worst for us, financially, since we got married 10 years ago. And that’s saying something, considering how young and naïve we were back then.

This is because we had to start over…again.

And while in Scotland you can rent furnished flats and you don’t need a car, in most American cities this isn’t possible.

Beds, chairs, toasters, lamps….apparently we needed it all to survive in 2014. And it added up, to the point that we fell behind on everything else.

I’ve never cared for possessions, anyways. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve heard me say, “We spend our money on experiences, not things,” and it’s true.

But I grossly underestimated the cost of starting over.

We’re now back on track, with jobs and schools and a routine which involves appliances and toys and smartphones and couches and simple things you need to feel comfortable in a two-bedroom townhome. We don’t  have very much stuff. But it’s too much for me!

These things I felt we so badly needed are cluttering my floors and my brain. It’s hard to keep up with.

When the new year started I had every intention of decluttering, minimizing, and getting this weight off my shoulders.

But The Neighbors stepped in, and they don’t like the sounds of cleaning, the sounds of packing, the sounds of 3 year olds, or any sounds at all, really. The Neighbors DO like harassment, so my family and I have the opportunity to move again. As we are bound to a certain rental company and lease, our choices were limited.

But my husband and I agreed. Give us a ground floor, and we don’t care what it is.

We are moving out of our townhome and into a smaller two -bedroom apartment next month.

And I intend to shed so much of the weight of things.

Exhibits A and B, below:

The living room is lived in.
Walk-in Closet….or Wade-in Closet?

It’s not that our home is a huge mess. We’re not at risk of being invited on Hoarders. But I know there’s an inverse  correlation  between clutter and clarity.

And I can always use more clarity.

I love to hold on to things. Tangible  things, like clothes which I wish would fit and cards I’ve received for my birthday.

But I hold on to abstract things as well: relationships I wish wouldn’t have changed, ideas of who I wish I were, unattainable ideals not grounded in present situations.

I’m hoping that as I shed the heaviness of holding onto too much junk, I can shed the weight of so many unmet expectations as well.

As so many of my blog posts reiterate, I’m on a quest for the present.

I’m picturing President Obama dusting the dirt off his shoulders. (I don’t think the abstract things I’m holding onto are DIRT- of course not, because if they were meaningless I wouldn’t be carrying them around) But I like the mental image of dusting these loads off my shoulders. When I let go of ‘should be’s’ and embrace what IS-  I imagine my body will feel lighter. I’ll be able to stand taller.

Since starting this blog, I’ve  made some habit changes which are making my body feel better. I’m exercising regularly. I’m more aware of what I put into my body. I’m practicing mindfulness, increased spirituality and have added some homeopathic and prescription supplements.

I believe that shedding the weight of ‘things’  is the next step in my journey. I’ll be sure to share the results!

Progress Report

I have a confession to make. I have only lost two pounds since this blog began. But I haven’t gained any, which is something I had been steadily doing.

I have become incredibly self-aware of my habits, which I think is of utmost important to losing weight.

Things I have been doing which seem to be working:

– I’ve gone back to weekly yoga. I love the feeling it gives me both during and after, physically and mentally.

– I have been tracking my steps using the built in app on my Samsung Galaxy. I have a daily goal, and if I reach half of that it alerts me and I feel pretty good. Given the cold weather I envision it being harder to get to maximum (which is where working out in the gym comes into play)

-I’ve been continuing to make smoothies, and find they fill me up much more when I use a scoop of whey protein powder. I’ve also discovered a protein shake I just LOVE:  Core Power High Protein Milk Shakes. They have a ‘light’ version which still has 20 grams of protein, and the shakes are good; not chalky or powdery at all.

-I’ve been seeing my doctor. I’m still unsure if I’m going to start metformin but I’m happy to be as informed as I can be.

Things I need to work on:

–Tracking my diet. For whatever reason I find this simple step to be difficult.

-Eating less sugar.

-Venturing beyond yoga and Zumba at the gym into some strength training classes.

And now, here’s a Christmas video from  the 1970’s. Just because. This song is always played in the UK and it reminds me of Scotland during Christmas. Make of it what you will.