why i don’t care about being “cool”

When you work with kids, like I do, they have a way of keeping you pretty dang humble.

Like last week. I was teaching a lesson with two young students who moved to the U.S. recently from Taiwan, and are ESL {English as a Second Language} learners. I was guiding them through a reading comprehension activity I developed, based on my children’s book There’s a Huge Pimple On My Nose! Usually, the kids reading this story know what a pimple is, but “pimple” was a new word for these two students.

“It’s a bump you get on your skin,” I explained to them. “Like a mosquito bite, but smaller. Then it goes away on its own. Usually when you’re a teenager is when you start getting pimples.”

The girl pointed to my face. “Like what you have on your chin?” she asked.

I laughed. “Yep, like what I have on my chin. Adults get pimples, too!”

Later that same day, I was leading a writing lesson with two third-graders. We were talking about brainstorming strategies and how, when you feel stuck or are struggling with writer’s block, it can help to write down every single idea that pops into your mind, no matter how silly or off-topic it might seem.

“Writer’s block happens to everyone,” I told them. “Even professional writers get stuck sometimes. I’ve been writing for twenty years and I still get writer’s block! All you can do is keep trying your best and don’t give up.”

“Wait–you’re a writer?” the boy asked. “Like, do you write books?”

“Yep,” I said, thinking maybe I was earning “cool points” in the eyes of my students.

“Then how come I’ve never heard of you?” he asked innocently.

“Well, I’m not famous yet,” I said, shaking off my stung pride. Elementary schoolers, man. They can be tough!

{But then sometimes they make you feel like a million bucks!}

I remember a time in my life when I cared about being “cool.” Back in middle school and high school, I definitely paid attention to the trends and tried to stay on top of things. I used to straighten my wavy hair when I wanted to feel “pretty” because shiny, stick-straight hair was the coveted kind. {Now my hair is naturally straighter, and—guess what? I miss my waves.} I remember using babysitting money to buy face glitter {I really think that’s what it was—not eyeshadow, but glitter for all over your face, because we were ridiculous like that in the late 90s} and the honeydew-melon spray from Bath & Body Works, which was THE popular scent in my middle school locker room. To complicate things further, the guidelines for what was “cool” sometimes contradicted each other. On the cross-country team, high running shorts and low invisible socks were the “cool” uniform; but on the basketball team, baggy shorts and high socks were in. I played both of these sports in high school. Usually the seasons were at separate times of the year, so coordinating my outfit wasn’t a problem… except for during the summer, when I had both basketball AND cross-country practices. I remember running into the bathroom to change my shorts and socks, slipping from one practice to the next—knowing that I would feel like everyone was looking at me funny if I showed up to cross-country with high socks and baggy shorts, or to basketball with short-shorts and low socks.

As I type this out now, it seems so silly. But at the time, it felt so important.

It wasn’t that I felt like being cool was the most important thing. I cared more about being kind, and curious, and thoughtful, and respected. I cared about being a good friend and a good sister and a good daughter. I cared about learning and growing and striving for my dreams.

But I also cared about being “cool.” I wanted to fit in. I wanted boys to like me.

When I think about that thirteen-year-old girl, peering critically into the mirror and wielding a straightening iron, I want to take her hands in mine and kiss her on the forehead and tell her, You are perfect just the way you are. There is no way you can make yourself any more beautiful than you already are, right this moment. You are exactly, wonderfully enough.  

When I went to college, my world opened up. What had been deemed irrevocably cool at my school had not necessarily been cool at someone else’s high school. I remember sitting around one afternoon with my college friends, going through our high school yearbooks. Looking through the line-ups of senior portraits, none of us were able to pick out who had been in the popular crowd at each other’s schools. It was such a strange, liberating realization. Those old rules didn’t apply anymore. Perhaps they never really had. We had been in small fishbowls, but now we were in the wide-open ocean. There was so much more room here. So much more life and light and color.

I began paying less and less attention to what the outside world marked as “cool” and more and more attention to what I liked, what made me happy, what made me comfortable. It didn’t really matter what someone else said was cool. What did I think was cool? I began to listen to that voice inside me, instead of the voices outside myself. I let my hair air-dry, wavy and natural. I wore tennis shoes. I listened to country music. {Holly and I loved Taylor Swift back in her early, first-album days, when our other roommates thought she was lame.}

I learned that true coolness isn’t about following someone else’s list of rules. It’s about being happy in your own skin and being joyful in your own life. That is what gives you the sparkle. That is what other people are drawn to. Not your face glitter. Not your high socks. Not your honeydew-melon body spray or perfectly straightened hair. It’s your… you-ness. Your confidence and contentment. It happens when you embrace the knowledge that you are the only person in human history who will ever be exactly like you, living your unique and beautiful life. Why try to cram that life into a one-size-fits-all box?

It’s probably not surprising that once I stopped trying to be cool, I became cooler. Boys asked me out on dates, tennis shoes and all.

At my wedding, I put on my tennis shoes and compression socks for the reception, because I wanted to dance my heart out and I wanted to be comfortable doing it. For most of the reception, they were hidden under my floor-length dress. But one of my favorite photos is of Allyn removing my garter for the garter toss. My shoes and compression socks are on full display. Our friends and family who were gathered around loved it. I felt like the coolest bride in the universe.

These days, when I think about how I want to be remembered, I don’t care one iota about being cool. I want to be remembered as someone who lived her life boldly, and freely, and generously, and gratefully. I want to be remembered as someone who spoke her truth, wrote about things that mattered, and loved others with all her heart. I want to be remembered for how I made people feel: encouraged and inspired and cared for and confident.

When my students grow up, I want them to remember their writing teacher Miss Dallas—yes, Miss Dallas with the pimple on her chin and no bestselling books to her name—as someone who believed in them and in their dreams. I want them to remember Miss Dallas as a teacher who made them feel empowered to express their wonderful, complicated, messy, hilarious, impossible ideas down on paper, and to actually have a bit of fun doing it. I want them to remember Miss Dallas as someone who always let them know how proud she was of them, and who taught them to be proud of themselves.

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer, and use the following questions as jumping-off points:

  • What was “cool” when you were growing up? Did you feel pressured to be “cool”?
  • Write about a time you felt distinctly uncool. What happened? How did you react to the experience?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

weekend fun {+ trying to stay cool!}

Happy Sunday, friends! Hope you are having a joyful, relaxing, rejuvenating day!

It has been H-O-T here in Southern California, and especially in my little beach community where few of us have air conditioning, this weekend has been all about trying to keep cool! I have been downing Gatorade, homemade iced tea, and smoothies.

As I mentioned the other day, I have been all about the smoothies lately! I am a little late to the smoothie party, and I don’t know why it took me so long. I think I was intimidated by the blender {and blender clean-up} but it really takes me all of five minutes to assemble my smoothie, blend it, and wash the blender. A smoothie has become my go-to breakfast! I normally blend some fresh or frozen fruit, a couple spoonfuls of greek yogurt, 1/2 cup of coconut water, a handful of baby spinach, and ice. Here are a few of my favorite fruit combos:

– strawberries, banana, pineapple
– peach, strawberries, blueberries
– mango, peach, blueberries
– raspberries, strawberries, banana, blueberries

Also, if anyone is like me and feels a little wary about adding spinach, trust me: you really can’t taste it! It’s a great way to get a little more green into your diet.

On a more decadent note, I also made these chocolate butter cups which are currently chilling in the freezer … I will let you know how they turn out!

me beachin

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the beach with my dear friend Patty and her family, who were sweet enough to invite me out to their beach house. It was a beautiful day at the beach and the nice ocean breeze cooled things off a little!

Then, last night my mom and I kept cool in the air conditioning: we went to a local restaurant and saw my amazing friend Lauren Sexton in concert! She is such a talented songwriter, singer and guitar player. She just released an album and the concert was a celebration. You can check out her music on her Facebook page — two of my favorites are her songs “In the Morning” and “The Highway.” Her music is beautiful and I was so proud to be there last night! Congrats, Lauren!

lauren sexton concert lauren sexton

This morning began with a smoothie, the Sunday comics, a slobbery doggy kiss from Murray, and a beautiful sermon at church. Today’s sermon was about delighting in the abundance and joy of the summer and taking time to relax and recharge your batteries. After I got home, I’ve spent the rest of the afternoon sprawled out on the couch reading a great book — Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. {I love her! Her novel Olive Kitteridge is another great read!}

As I’ve written about before, sometimes I feel this pressure to be go-go-go all the time, like constant busyness makes my days more worthwhile, but I’ve found it’s really quite the opposite. On those rushed, forced go-go-go days I typically climb into bed feeling depleted and frazzled, like my gas tank is on empty. Not a good feeling. I’m learning to give myself permission, especially on Sundays, to just relax and savor this amazing life I’ve been blessed with. There was nothing I felt more like doing today and curling up with a book, and it has been a delightful Sunday.

What are you doing to relax and recharge your batteries? What are you delighting in this summer?

kitchen tip tuesdays: my favorite {healthy!} chicken salad

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Hi, friends! I have a quick, easy and healthy recipe to share with you today as part of Kitchen Tip Tuesdays! I love chicken salad but I don’t like mayonaise very much, so I was on a mission to find a healthier recipe for chicken salad that I could make at home. I think I found a winner!

I like to bake chicken breasts ahead of time during the weekend {see my earlier post about making the most of oven time} so I typically have cooked chicken breasts in a tupperware container in my fridge. Often to save time and extra dishes, I mix up the chicken salad in the tupperware container, and I’m ready to grab and go if need be!

chicken salad

healthier chicken salad
– 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
– 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt {you could add more or less yogurt as desired}
– 2 tbsp hummus
– 2 stalks celery, chopped
– 1/4 cup dried cranberries
– 1/4 cup slivered almonds
– salt and pepper to taste

1. Stir Greek yogurt and hummus into chicken until fully incorporated.

2. Add chopped celery, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, and mix well.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

It’s a great lunch, especially as the weather continues to warm up! I like serving the chicken salad over a bed of baby spinach.

chicken salad lunch

Have a great day! I’ll be back tomorrow with a post I’m really excited to share with you! 🙂

Till soon,
Dallas

MPM-Spring

This post is also linked up with Menu-Plan Mondays!

cool off with these summer drinks

Wow, summertime in the Midwest sure is H-O-T! It can get warm where I’m from in California, but I’m having a bit of a hard time getting used to the humidity of Indiana summers. I am grateful to air conditioning and electric fans for getting me through the hot afternoons we are having! {And local friends tell me it’s only going to get hotter in July & August…}

When it is hot out, it is especially easy to get dehydrated, which can make you feel lethargic, irritable, and headachy. I’ve been guzzling the cold water, and I’ve come up with two quick and easy recipes that have been keeping me hydrated and cool even on the hottest of summer days. I’m excited to share them with you!

Zero-calorie Iced Tea

1. Steep a bag of your favorite tea in hot water. This recipe works particularly well with fruity teas — two current favorites of mine are Trader Joe’s Mango Black Tea and Lipton’s Blueberry-Acai Green Tea.

2. Fill a large drinking glass with ice cubes. {Don’t skimp on the ice — I typically use half a tray!}

3. Once the tea has steeped for 3 minutes or so, pour it into your ice-filled glass and enjoy!

Ice Water with Cucumber Slices

This recipe comes courtesy of my grandma, who declares it “the most refreshing drink around on a hot day.”

1. Rinse and peel a cucumber and cut it into thin slices.

2. Fill a large drinking glass or pitcher with ice cubes and water.

3. Drop the cucumber slices into the ice water and let it sit for 2 or 3 minutes until drinking.

*This recipe is also great with lemon or lime slices, but there’s something about cucumber that I think is the most refreshing of all.

And there you have it! Hope these recipes help you stay hydrated, healthy and cool this summer. What are some of your favorite summer drinks?

Always,
Dallas