Friday, January 4, 2019

Reflecting on my 2018 Goals

Hello there!  Welcome to a new year!  I posted about my 2019 goals already, but I haven't talked about how things went in 2018.  I want to make sure I do this, even if it's just for me.  Especially since there are some repeats from last year that I'm still working on.  

1. Read More Nonfiction About Race In America.
I have tried to be more intentional about this goal this year.  I read these titles that would definitely fit into this category... I also put immigration-related content in with this goal since there is some overlap:

--A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks
--So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
--Me, My Hair, and I by Elizabeth Benedict (partially race-related, just a different angle)
--Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris

I also read a number of fiction books that have to do with race too:

--If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
--Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
--Hey Hmong Girl, Wassup? by Leah Rempel
--The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
--The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
--Dear Martin by Nic Stone
--Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

2. Watch 100 Movies.  
Completed!  I'm not going to list all 100 movies here.  But trust me, I watched 100 different movies.  I kept track of them in my bullet journal.

3. Read 60 Books.
I didn't read 60 books this year... I read 73.  Holy cow.  I thought I would reach 60, but I didn't think I would read more than 70.  I suppose I do have to credit reaching this goal to including some manga and graphic novels in my reading as well as more poetry than usual.  But I did it!  If you're curious what all I read this year (since I didn't write about my reading this year... that's different), click HERE to see my GoodReads.

4. Read 20 Books Already On My Shelves.
I did not accomplish this goal, but I came quite close!  I believe I read 18 books that were already on my bookshelves.  Next year I'm going to extend that to my Kindle because there are a number of unread books on there as well. 

5. Participate In And Win NaNoWriMo.
I did it!  I have completed NaNoWriMo two years in a row!  Honestly, I wasn't sure that this was going to happen.  I tell you, it helps to write with other people.  If nothing else, you can prove to someone that you can do it despite everything else going on in your life.

6. Write And Edit A Full Story That Could Potentially Be Published.
I realized partway through the year that this was not a realistic goal.  It's one thing to write a draft, but editing takes so long.  So I let this goal go this year.  I think that if I write something that I think has a lot of potential, I should make a goal where I will not participate in NaNoWriMo, but I will sit and edit my work.  No writing, just editing.  But for 2018, no, I did not meet this goal.

7. Exercise At Least 3 Days A Week.
I started out fairly well for many months and I can't remember when I fell off.  I just didn't really pick it up again.  For 2019, I have this same goal.  I'm proud of myself though because I didn't wait for January 1st to roll around.  I decided that I was going to try and reach 3 days a week again and got started.  New Years is a good way to re-evaluate and take stock of your life, but it doesn't have to be the time when everything starts (in fact, I don't think it should be).  I likely will not be going to the gym until late January at the earliest just to wait out those people who join the gym for New Years and then quit after a couple weeks.  But I would like to start utilizing my gym membership at least a little bit.  But I also want to find more varied exercises that I can do at home as well.

8. Go Full Vegetarian.
Again, I think this stopped being very important to me, and so I didn't actively pursue it this past year.  For me, it's enough to cut down on the amount of meat that I eat.  Making some difference is better than making no difference at all.

9. Finish Europe Study Abroad Scrapbook.
I make progress on a February retreat at the beginning of 2018, but then I didn't touch it after that weekend.  So guess what I'll be doing this February as well? :)  I might even do it on my next long-ish break from school.  There's a long weekend coming up in January after grading is done that I may take advantage of.

10. Attend 2 Professional Development Opportunities.
I attended the Minnesota Council for Teachers of English conference in St. Cloud and that was incredible!  Other than that, I didn't go to any other conferences, but I did participate in summer committees at my school and helped organize a professional development.  I also got to talk about Quizlet and Quizlet Live in a mini-professional development opportunity.  I didn't anticipate getting to present

11. Cut Down On Sugar Intake.
I have tried putting some healthier snacks in my fridge, but I need to get past my craving for chocolate... I'll keep you updated on how this goes.

12. Make Self-Care Part Of My Regular Routine.
I think there are small, lasting things that I started doing that made an impact on me this year (for the better).  Last year during the school year, I rarely ate lunch.  Like, didn't even bring food to school, I just planned to eat at home.  And actually, this was something that I did for two years, because I didn't eat lunch while student teaching or while I was subbing.  So one big change that I made was I made myself bring lunch to school every day.  I didn't let lack of time stop me.  I didn't always pack my own lunch.  Oftentimes I would go to Trader Joe's and get lunches for the week that were already made.  Yes, financially it's not the healthiest thing to do, but that's okay.  That'll be something to work up to-- not just bringing my own lunch, but making time to make my own lunch and bring it to school every single day.  Perhaps this can be something I try out as I continue to prioritize self-care.  So I wouldn't say self-care is part of my regular routine, but I would say that important steps have been made in this area.

13. Finish 1 Dutch and 1 French Book.
This goal stopped being important to me this year, so I did not complete it.

14. Travel 5 Times This Year. 
Here's where I traveled this year:

--Scrapbooking weekend away from home
--Boston, MA
--Yellowstone National Park
--Honeymoon in England and the Netherlands
--New Years Eve in WI

So this goal is complete!

15. Write Something Every Day.
This is one I don't think I was clear enough on what I wanted.  Yes, I want to write every day and yes I said it couldn't be something related to school.  But what kind of writing then?  Does my bullet journal count?  And if I did mean stories or poems, is there more of an interim step I can take?  Are there prompts I can follow or do I need to be making steps on a project every single day?  And what happens if I miss a day?  If I choose to reattempt this goal someday, I will need to reword it in a way where these questions are answered.  I do want to have a writing routine.  But maybe I need to approach it in a different way... like not making it a goal of mine at the beginning of the New Year.  Maybe I just need to let it happen.  I'll have to figure this out.

I think overall, I did pretty well accomplishing the goals that were still important to me throughout the year.  There are a few goals I will need to re-evaluate if I would like to try them again some other year.  But I think my goals that I set at the beginning of 2018 helps me have a pretty great year.

Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Reflecting on the 18/19 School Year So Far

I'm almost halfway through this school year (couple more weeks!) and I realized that I have not stopped to really process how things are going during my second year of teaching on my own.  So I want to write this post to do just that. 

Last Year... 

I feel like I learned so much last year during my first year.  People are very quick to tell you how hard things are going to be throughout your first year and how you'll be overwhelmed a lot and you'll have to make choices about what you actually want to focus on for the year.  For the most part that's true.  First year is difficult because you're constantly being asked to juggle and you just have to figure it out or fake it until you get through whatever it is you're trying to get through.  But even with all of this, I feel like I had a really great first year.  After going through my end of the year evaluation, my lowest scoring section was my assessment section (there's also a section for the Principal's observation and for a score that students partially give you that focuses on how well you build relationships).  I was definitely disappointed but decided to focus on the silver lining which was at least I knew what I needed to focus on the following year. 

Classroom Layout

I started out this second year feeling pretty confident.  I knew I had some solid lessons and units I was excited about.  I had a better idea of how I wanted to run my classroom and how I wanted my year to go.  And I do feel like I had a solid start to the year.  I was happy with my classroom layout and I was happy with the extra organization that was in place this year but was absent last year.  I had more bookshelf space and bins that hide the mess but still hold a lot of art supplies.  We use art supplies quite a bit for an English classroom.  Last year, I had my desks in pods and learned fairly quickly that they didn't work for my students and it wasn't really something that I could make work either.  So this year, I started the students in rows of three desks.  This was a much better start.  

Things have changed a bit in my room since the beginning of the year.  I now have three columns in my room and desks are separated into groups of two.  I set it up this way for their first round of MAP testing and then liked the arrangement, so it stayed!  I think it's easier to place students in seats this way... kind of.

Student Connections

I'm really happy with the relationships that I'm building this year with students.  Like, I thought I had decent relationships with students last year, but these one are taking it to the next level.  I'm connecting with students I didn't think I could connect with for one reason or another and students seem to feel safe in my room.  Generally, we have a really good feeling in this classroom.

I've had some really great conversations with students.  I'm not even talking about conversations in class necessarily.  But just talking about life and taking time to listen to students.  One student even said that he thought it was weird that I was just listening to him, because he wasn't used to having that from teachers.  Other students have been able to open up about their home life so that I can better understand where they're coming from.  We have great conversations after school lets out and after school programs are finished for the evening.  It's really special and I feel lucky that I have this with students and that they're letting me have these connections with them.

Subject Matter

We have done literature circles (they need a LOT of work), read American Born Chinese and did some discussion around that book, I did an enrichment project for those who needed more of a challenge, and now we're nearing the end of Romeo and Juliet.  We left off on Act 1, Scene 1 before break and when we get back, we'll make a push for the end where they will stage and perform scenes.

I have been trying to be more intentional about talking about social justice with each of our units.  With American Born Chinese and the enrichment project, I took this to a much more serious level than I ever intended to go and I asked my students to come along with me.  We delved into race and tried to start conversations and talk about it.  We tried to share our experiences and apply what we already knew and learned to our own lives.  I was really proud of my students because they were able to be aware of where their knowledge fell short when it came to talking about race and were able to, for the most part, articulate when they needed help navigating a conversation.  And they did it without attacking one another.  Even if it started off with "You shouldn't say that!" it turned into a learning moment.  And I got to learn a lot too by making virtual lessons where I could be upfront about what I had learned and have practice talking about race.  It was uncomfortable, but I'm really happy that I tried, even if I have a long way to go.

We have some new content that I've never tried coming up and I'm both really nervous and really excited for these units to happen, especially because I think there will be some directly applicable to life parts that we'll go over.  I'll have to talk about those at the end of the year once I've been through them.

Life Organization

I feel like I have been better about getting assignments graded this year.  Prior to winter break was the exception because I essentially stopped grading and now I have a giant pile that I need to grade.  But I have been good about getting things graded in a timely manner.  It's passing things back that really needs work.  But students are always willing to help me pass things back, which I'm really grateful for. 

I am not doing very well at the work-life balance.  I took on another student for tutoring after I had told myself that after the end of last school year I was done tutoring.  I'm in a position now where the student I work with is really great, but I'm very acutely feeling that I need to be done with tutoring.  One full-time job is enough.  Unfortunately, it seems that it's taking me longer to learn that lesson than I thought.  I'll get there though.  I am trying to be more intentional about coming home at a reasonable time, but there have been several late evenings in the classroom.  I want to get better about leaving when I say I'm leaving.  I want to recognize what absolutely needs to be done in the classroom and what can be taken home when I reach the point where it's time to go home. 

I'm thoroughly enjoying this year and I can't wait to see what comes next!

Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

My Bullet Journal Through 2018

It's been a little quiet in this corner of the internet!  So I thought that I would show you my bullet journal from 2018, since I have migrated into a new journal.  This is my second year of bullet journaling and seriously, I don't think there is any going back for me.  I can't imagine going through life without this system of organization and this outlet for creativity.  I'll show you how I started off 2018 and how things have changed for me throughout the year.  I'll leave my 2019 set up for January of next year.  I rather like doing posts like this just to see how my journal changes with my need.

2018 started off a little weird journal-wise because I was still less than halfway through the book that I finished off 2017 in.  I use a Leuchtterm 1917 and truthfully, these are not the cheapest books.  I couldn't justify abandoning my journal three months in with more than half a book of blank pages, so I started 2018 a short way into my orange book.  As things usually go, I started out with a very ambitious 2018 splash page.  This was also where I picked my focus word for the year, which was "balance."  I was halfway through my first year of teaching and I was also in the middle of other obligations that I had started 2017 with, so I was quite busy.  My goal for the year was to part with most of these other obligations that I didn't need to have so I could be more involved at work and be at home more as well.  So my mission was to pursue balance.

Organization-wise, I started out the year with a similar weekly set-up where I have a weekly overview and then separate my tasks between school and home.  This worked for me and I continued this through the end of the school year, at which point I took out the school section and just had one solid to-do list each day as opposed to two.  

In addition to my weekly lists, I also had a weekend list.  I still separated this into Saturday and Sunday, but because the weekend tends to be flexible, I started including language that I learned before starting my teaching job and separated my list further into "Must-Do's" (things that need to be done or there will be some kind of consequence) and "May-Do's" (things that would be nice to get done, but if it's pushed to the next week, it's not a big deal).  This worked out for me too.  It helped me prioritize things that needed to be done, which was helpful as I was figuring out my first year of teaching especially.  There's so much to take in as a first year teacher that you really just need to figure out the bare minimum in order to survive.  The next year is a little bit easier because you have a foundation and you're not in survival mode most of the time.

One thing that I love about this journal is the appearance of more art.  The picture below was originally supposed to be a mood tracker in the form of a mandala, but I fell off that wagon early.  But I didn't just want to leave a partially finished piece in this journal, so I took the mood tracking pieces off and just finished the mandala with nice designs and coordinating colors.  I'm really happy with how it turned out.

The art continued in the form of taped in coloring pages, but also in the form of art at the beginning of the month.  

This is another art piece below (SUPER proud of this one... it took quite a while to do), but this is also the start of monthly calendars so I have more of an up-close visual of what my month will look like.  I liked this because I was able to plan ahead and decide if I could take on other events without having to flip through all of the weeks in that month in order to check my availability.

 May also brought the end of my orange book and it was time to start a new Leuchtterm 1917.  This time I chose a blue one.  I got fancy and fascinated with Etsy and I found some stickers to decorate the cover.  Summer was fast approaching (this journal started in June) and I knew I was traveling a lot over the summer, so I focused on demonstrating my love of adventure and my intention to travel.

Since I was starting a new book, it was also time to transfer over my yearly spreads like my movie and reading trackers and my new year resolutions.  I also really wanted to try using a Calendex like what Boho Berry on YouTube uses, so I set that up very early on.  Unfortunately, I really didn't end up using the Calendex like I thought, so this will not be joining me in my 2019 Bullet Journal.  I think it's enough for me to keep track of things month to month or have a simple list rather than something that's so visual and spans over such a wide space.  This will be adjusted in my new journal.

I traveled to Boston, Wyoming, England, and the Netherlands over the summer and that meant there was an increased pressance of packing lists.  So I have three that looked a bit like this:

I liked that it resembled a list I might have made in a regular notebook or put in the binder I travel with and I thought the faux washi tape was cute (I didn't actually want to use real washi tape because I wasn't actually holding a piece of paper on this page and I thought that would look dumb).  Even though I don't really have travel planned at the beginning of 2019, I'm already finding other ways to include art like this outside of packing lists.  

I also finished school for the year, so suddenly I had new needs that my bullet journal has never needed to fulfill for me before.  My school likes to give us summer reading to do, so I partially used my bullet journal to take notes on the reading that we would be referring to throughout the school year.  I also did a mid-year review of my new year resolutions.  I think this is something I will keep.  It's kind of a kick in the pants so that I am actually pursuing my goals for the year.  But this way I could be aware of which goals for falling to the wayside and I could let go of the goals that I was not feeling very serious about pursuing anymore.  For example, at the beginning of 2018, I said I wanted to reach an entire book in French and in Dutch.  That was one of the goals that I never ended up pursuing in 2018 and I don't feel bad about it.  Goals change and that's okay.

My favorite thing about my blue journal was the presence of journaling.  Before, my journals were pretty much purely for planning and productivity purposes, but this journal made the transition to being more of an actual journal and memory keeper as well as for planning and productivity.  This isn't something that I really continued once the school year started, which I never expected or planned to have happen, but I LOVE having this as memory keeping for when I travel.  Next time I travel, I will absolutely be doing this, especially since traditional planning is not something that I really need when I travel. 

And in the same vein, art continued to be a presence in this journal.  I'm definitely not going back on this no matter what time of year it is.  This was the first time I tried out watercolor painting and I cut it out and put it in my journal.  Watercolors appear several times throughout my journal in big pieces like at the beginning of a trip and at the beginning of a month, but also smaller pieces throughout my journal.

In 2018, I acquired an Instax (like a polaroid camera) and an HP Sprocket (which prints small pictures from my phone) and that's when I started including highlights in my journal in the form of pictures.  I rather like this addition too.  I'll be continuing this in 2019.

One change I made was I created a full-page calendar.  I realized that there really wasn't enough room to track events on my tiny cramped calendar before and this really helped fix that problem.  I could also keep track of my ongoing projects, my reading, and do some more intentional thinking about each month.

Summer was also the time where I was exploring different weekly layouts.  I was able to make my weekly layout span two pages one-sided (as opposed to 3 or 4 sides of a paper as is typical).  I tried a Dutch door set up which was fun for a month, but it also felt a little disorganized when I couldn't pair which sections were part of the same week.  But the Dutch door was cool because I could track so many things without taking up a huge amount of space. 

This was my layout once the school year started up again.  I forgot to separate my lists into home and school, but so far that hasn't really mattered.  In 2019, I'm going to try separating my lists again because I have started to stay really late at work again and I want to push myself away from doing that.  I want to see what I absolutely need to do while I stay at school and determine what can be done at home.  I hope this will help me leave a more reasonable time so I can be with my husband more.  

I have been trying to be more intentional while at work not just with my time, but about my interactions with my students.  So I have started tracking whose families I need to contact and I've also been writing praise and encouragement notes to my students, so I list who I want to write notes to.  I have a separate list on my phone so that I make sure I get to every single student in my classes.  My tracking started looking like the picture below, but now I have made a smaller section at the end of each of my weeks and that has worked a lot better.  I probably will not include this type of tracker in the future though because so much of it is centered on my phone.  I will add "write a note to ___" as an item to include on my To-Do list and that has worked just fine.  Not everything needs to be tracked in my bullet journal.  It's not always going to be a one-size fits all type of tool.  And that's okay.

 I also used my journal to track and research for NaNoWriMo again this year.  I took some of the perforated pages from the back of my journal and taping them in as a fold-out addition to some pages.  So below, the left two pages are the pages that are firmly attached in my book and on the right is the taped in page.  I fold it in when I close my book and on the other side of the tracker page, I had a brain dump page devoted just to the story I was writing.  This was helpful because I could have everything spread out in front of me in one spot.  I would do that again the next time I attempt NaNoWriMo. 

To sum everything up, my bullet journal became a lot of things I didn't know that a bullet journal could be when I started out 2018.  You'd think that everything that needed to be figured out about bullet journaling would be figured out in the first year, but I'm still learning every single day.  Here's to another good year of bullet journaling!

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Years Resolutions: 2019

Happy New Year!

2018 has been an incredible year for me.  It's been a year of finding my stride and many adventures.  My overall goal in 2018 was to find balance and while I haven't gotten there 100% (and really, who takes only a year to solve one of their greatest problems?), I still feel good about the progress I made in this area.  In a way, I'm continuing this theme in 2019 but perhaps going a level deeper... I'm not sure that I was the most specific about my intentions last year so I hope this year I'll be able to fix that.

I'll write a separate post reviewing how I did on my 2018 goals, but for this post, I want to share what my goals for this new year are.  Accountability is great for reaching your goals!


1. Participate in and win National Novel Writing Month.  I can't even count how many times I have attempted NaNoWriMo, but since I'm entering my third year of bullet journaling, I know that this will be the third time I have specifically named this as one of my goals.  For the past two years I have met this goal, so I'm hoping to turn this into a three year streak!

2. Travel 3 or more times this year.  Last year I said I wanted to travel a lot (a total of 5 times!) and this year I'm anticipating things to be a bit busier.  But I still want to make sure I'm getting out there and seeing the world.  I do have at least one trip up my sleeve and I can't wait to share that with you if/when that trip happens!

3. Play a whole song from a musical on piano.  I was fortunate enough to be gifted a keyboard for my birthday this year!  I took lessons when I was younger and honestly, I'm not sure that was a good fit.  My teacher was wonderful, but I hated practicing just because someone told me to.  But lately I've wanted to get back into piano.  So my mom helped me dig out my (and my sister's) old books and I've been slowly plunking my way through them.  I want to continue this progress and maybe learn a song from my piano book for Wicked.  We'll see!

4. Exercise 3 days a week.  I think this is one goal that I (and practically everyone in the world) has resolved to do in the new year, but I do want to find that "thing" that makes me want to get up and move.  I want to lose weight, but more importantly I want to lead a healthier lifestyle.  I have Wii Fit and I want to utilize that more to keep my exercise varied.  I like yoga, but I know that that's not enough to help me reach my goals.  I think that if I can set a low goal like this, if I fall off, it won't feel like I've fallen so far and that I'll be able to start up again easily.  But this goal will also feel more manageable than five days a week when I haven't really been exercising at all.  I'll try and keep you updated on this.  Wish me luck.


5. Read and/or listen to 70 books this year.  I don't know what has gotten into me, but I have been killing it on my reading goals ever since I graduated college.  So I'm kicking things up a notch and am shooting for 70 books from the get-go.  I reached this goal unintentionally in 2018, so I'm looking to repeat this.

6. Read 20 books that are already on my shelves.  Sadly, it seems that all of the most attractive-looking books are the ones that aren't on my shelves, but are instead on the shelves of the library or on Amazon.  I want to read books I already own whether they have been gathering dust on my actual shelves or if they've been taking up unread space on my Kindle.  This will help me clean out my shelves and donate books that I'm never going to read or that I just don't think that I'll read a second time.  

7. Write book posts once a month.  I have really fallen off the wagon on this, despite the fact that this blog was a book blog for the longest time.  I still want to talk about what I'm reading, but I may turn this into more of a highlight reel that I share out at the end of every month rather than talking about each and every book I'm reading.  I keep track of all of my reading on GoodReads whether they're excellent reads or terrible ones, so if you're curious about everything I'm reading, you can go there.  But otherwise I want to talk about the most impactful things I've read in a month and leave it at that.  A big part of this is because books are not the biggest part of my life anymore.  It was in high school when I started this blog.  I didn't really have another identity other than "that kid who likes to read a lot."  But now, I'm traveling more and I want to talk about other things that are going on in my life.  See below...

8. Write more about teaching and life.  Teaching is a huge part of my life right now and I want to make sure that I'm documenting what I'm going through for my own reference, but also, writing is an important way that I process what is going on around me.  I want to get as much out of my teaching life as possible because it is something I am very motivated to do well.  I want to share and talk about it, especially since I'm a young teacher.


9. Set up website for classroom and teaching.  I sort of started doing this over the summer, but I never finished.  I want to make something that is easy for my students to access and have a place where I can document my time with my students.  It likely won't be a thing for my current group (sadly), but likely in time for my third group of students.  I really look forward to putting this together!

10. Go to 2 professional development opportunities.  I'll have to think about what these opportunities will be, but again, I want to get better at what I do.  What better way to do that than to talk with and meet with other teachers?  

11. Create higher level quizzes and tests.  I have been creating quizzes that are modified for lower-level students this year, but I want to make sure that my upper-level students are being challenged and are being asked to prove themselves this year.  This will likely be another summer task.

12. Pass my GRE and apply to Grad School.  I have known that I want to earn my Masters Degree for a while, it's just been a matter of when.  I learned last year though that in order to have a sustainable career financially speaking, it's practically required that I have a Masters Degree.  I also learned that in order to teach College in the Schools, I need to have a Masters degree and I found a program that is aimed specifically at helping teachers reach this level.  But this program requires that I have a good score on the GRE.  I do not expect to start Grad School this year.  I just don't think that is a realistic goal for me.  But if I do this and I do well, I could possibly start school again in 2020.  Cross your fingers for me.

I feel really good about the possibilities of this year.  There are a number of bright things on the horizon and I think I'm ready to take them on.  I hope that you have a number of great things coming up for you as well!

Thanks for Reading!


Monday, December 31, 2018

I Traveled to Wyoming! (Part 3)

If you haven't read part I of this short series, click HERE!  There's also a part II and you can find that HERE.

Day 5: Cody, WY!

Our reason for coming to Cody, WY of all places has a little bit of a story behind it.  Not only was it relatively close to Yellowstone, but Jenna's mother had lived and worked there before she started her family.  The day before, we had said our goodbyes to Yellowstone and decided that we would spend the day in Cody. 

First thing we did was go and visit the animal hospital where Jenna's mother used to work.  It was a little awkward because we only had the name of the lead veterinarian (as opposed to the vet techs) and no one was expecting us.  But Jenna knew that if we backed out and didn't at least try to say hello or see what the place was like for her mom, she would regret it.  So in we went.  The place wasn't busy, but we were the only two people in the building with no pets and therefore no discernable reason for being in the animal hospital.  But one of the vet techs was so nice and when we told her why were there, she happily showed us around and let us take pictures and told us about how the place had changed since Jenna's mom worked there.  It was really cool.  I've brought my cats to the vet before, but they put us in a room and that's where they (and I) generally stay.  But we got to see everything from the kennels to the place where they perform surgeries.  It was really cool to see!  We left Jenna's mom's number in case the veterinarian wanted to call and say hello and then went about the rest of our day in Cody.

But we didn't really know the first thing about what to do in Cody, so we stopped at the visitor's center first.  There was an older gentleman there who reminded me a lot of the classic cowboy you can find in movies (but then, he wasn't alone... Cody is kind of a cowboy town).  Anyway, he was very knowledgeable about Cody and Wyoming in general, so he was great to talk to!  He gave us a few recommendations of places to visit in our full day in Cody and thinking back, we did most of them! 

The first thing we did was go to the Buffalo Bill Center.  It was described to us as the Smithsonian of the West.  And it was.  It was absolutely enormous.  Within one building, there were maybe five sections that we could visit.  I know we didn't see all of them, but we saw quite a bit.  We saw the natural history part, the part specifically about Buffalo Bill, and the art section.  We stayed long enough to see a raptor show through the natural history part of the museum and we learned about William F. Cody's life (aka
Buffalo Bill, which was his stage name through his Wild West show). 

After spending time at the museum, we were pretty tired, so wanted to go back to our hotel cabin for a little while and have some quiet time.  But before we did that, we needed coffee.  So we went to this really cute coffeeshop called The Beta Coffeehouse, which is on the main street in Cody.  We just thought it was a whatever coffeehouse, but we were wrong.  The people in there were so nice and their coffee tasted so good.  It was so good that we went back the next day too before leaving Cody.  They had a small table near one of the couches where people had signed their names, left messages, and drawn pictures.  We made sure to leave our mark too, however small.  We had been planning this trip for years before we actually did something about it.  And we were having such an incredible time.  It deserved to be memorialized in some small way in a yummy coffeehouse in Cody, Wyoming.  Who knows if it's still visible all of these months later.

After getting some rest and time away from other people, we went and got dinner at a place called Zapatas where we shared some more really yummy food and then we were off to the Rodeo!  Every evening in the summer, there is a Rodeo in Cody, and this is what they are known for.  From what I understood, there are some local colleges in Wyoming that have rodeo teams, so a number of students were participating in the rodeo.  I assume these students were on break though. 

I was surprised by the number of ages represented at the rodeo.  There were some older men, which was to be expected, but there were also young kids who were out there competing.  Some had to lasso a bull from a horse and tie it up the fastest, some were riding the bulls, and some were racing horses around hurdles.  Seeing young kinds on the bulls especially made me nervous.  Those bulls were fast and unforgiving...

You could tell that Jenna and I had never been to a rodeo before.  I think we were two of the loudest people there.  But the whole spectacle is so exciting!  It's kind of a rush and I can see why people would go to the rodeo every night if they could.  I'm glad this is just a part of the world that I can casually pass by though.  I don't think this is a life for me, nor one I can watch over and over again. 

 The night drew to a close and then we drove home in the dark.  What an incredible last night in Cody and in Wyoming as a whole.  You may have noticed that I'm writing about this trip months and months after we've come home.  This trip has stuck with me like no other.  It was my first trip with a friend, as opposed to a trip with family, my husband, or by myself.  There was a little bit of a learning curve as Jenna and I figured out what the other person needed and how we best travel together, but I wouldn't have chosen to go on this adventure with anyone else.  But there is still more adventure to be had.  We still needed to get home. 

Day 6: Traveling to SD!

Today, we packed up Louise (my car... I don't know if I ever told you her name) and we hit the road.  There were still a couple places we wanted to stop before leaving Wyoming, but our destination was South Dakota.  Minnesota is just too far away to drive all night.  We originally planned to drive to the black hills and camp and maybe even stop and see Mount Rushmore, but ultimately, we were ready to come home and decided to get a little closer to Minnesota before stopping for the night.

We first stopped at the Buffalo Bill Dam which is on the Shoshone river (which we drove parallel to almost every day we were in Wyoming).  We had passed in when going into Cody but didn't have time to stop, since there was more that we wanted to see while we were actually in Cody.  So we decided to go and see it the next day.  I think there's a small museum, but we just wanted to see the dam.  We parked in the parking lot and interestingly, they were driving people over to the dam in golf carts.  I thought that was interesting because it wasn't a very far walk. 

There are a series of locks and dams in Minneapolis and I had see one or two of them before, but these dams didn't compare to this one.  It was huge and unlike anything I anticipated.  I was weird to be on that bridge and see something totally different on either side.  I turn left, and there is a long drop to the bottom and water is shooting out from the dam as water is funneled through to continue the river on the other side.  I turn to the right and there is practically a lake where the Shoshone river has pooled and is waiting to be funneled through to the other side of the dam.  It's just incredible.

We had one more adventure up our sleeves.  We were told that if we drive towards Graybull away from Cody, there is a possibility that we could see wild horses.  We figured it would be worth a try to see them.  When we got to the turn-off (you had to look carefully, because it's not clearly marked), we saw there was a gravel road and decided that we would drive the path for a while.  No sign of horses, but soon we drove into what was actually someone's pasture and their cows were all over the road.  This was not a problem we anticipated having.  But we didn't know what to do, so we just kept moving forward.  But soon, we got to a point where these cows were sitting in the middle of the road.  We didn't want to hurt them or scare them, so we decided to wait and just watch them.  Except one of the cows looked like it had a skull mask for a face (pictured left) and that was a little bit creepy.  There was no one ahead of us or behind us, car-wise, so we waited a bit longer, thinking these cows might be inspired to get up on their own and leave.  But they didn't.  So I drove really slowly a little bit closer to them and then they decided to move to one side of the road.  We were able to pass safely. 

We kept driving, still partially looking for wild horses, but our hopes were not up that this would be a likely occurrence.  At this point, we just wanted to get out of this giant field and back on the road. 

And that's when we ran into the canyon.

No, we didn't literally go into the canyon, but we definitely weren't expecting any formations a la the Badlands to be in the middle of this freaking field, if we could even call it that anymore.  We decided that as soon as we could do so safely, we would turn around, especially because it was getting muddier on the roads from the semi-recent rains.  Our biggest fear was that we would get stuck and wouldn't be able to get help.  Luckily, we were able to find a safe turn-around point and headed out of the field and got back on the road, our hearts still pounding from that unexpected adventure.  Goodbye, canyon and very strange field.  I don't think it's likely that we will return to you again.  Enjoy your wild horses. 

Our next big obstacle was the rain as we left Wyoming and entered South Dakota.  All during this trip, we had fought against the rain in some way shape or form and we were feeling very washed out and sick of rain.  It was scary to drive in it in the dark and up until and including this point, it made it hard for us to camp.  Because of the rain, we weren't able to cook like we wanted to and we worried about what things would be like when we finally did reach camp.  We got frustrated that we stopped in, I believe, Rush City and decided to eat and regroup a little bit at iHop.  Crepes can make a world of difference when it comes to problem-solving.  It was still raining when we got on the road, but we were much more focused and patient with ourselves.  We drove slow and eventually, the rain stopped.  We were able to drive in a clear night the remainder of the way.  When we got to our campsite, everything was dry and it was super quick to put up our tent and crawl into bed. 

Even though it was a pain in the butt, I'm glad that we drove a little bit further this day so we could just go home and not have as much driving the next day. 

Day 7: Arriving Home!

In a shocking turn of events, we did some driving today!  Kidding of course about the driving being shocking...

This day was uneventful, which after the day before was quite welcome.  There really wasn't any bad weather to speak of and when we got home, Jenna practically fell out of the car, we were both so happy to not have to drive anymore for a while. 

I just wanted to share some things that I wrote in my journal shortly after coming home...

"As someone with not a lot of friends, it feels great to have someone I can be close with and not be bound by blood or law.  That's very special.  

I think we both learned to balance with each other pretty well and made a good team as we figured things out.  Again, this is really cool to experience with someone who doesn't have to like you or hang out with you.  Sure, there were times when we got frustrated in different situations, but we didn't let those things drive us apart.  We just took them in stride... 

We saw so many beautiful places and now have so many great memories together.  That's so special.  To have that with a friend I met in high school and then to grow that relationship through a life-changing experience.  That's irreplaceable.  I'm so happy we did this."

This trip is over, but I will write about my honeymoon in England and the Netherlands in the new year.  If nothing else, it'll be something for me to look back on.

Thank you very much for reading!