Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Year In Review

New Years is the strangest time for me. Everyone else is celebrating a new beginning, but all my life, I've been in school.

I am a teacher. My life begins in August, ends in May, and provides an awkward break in June and July. Too much time to consider it a long weekend, but too little to establish a new routine. January is just a necessary middle.

Not to mention, the blog (for whatever reason) began in June. So all the updates and big announcements are usually announced on the blog's birthday on the 24th.

But people often review their past year during the transition from December to January, when the last number in the date we've been writing for 365 days can finally change. So I called in your feedback in a survey...

What were some of your favorite posts in 2016? 

So here are the responses from my beautiful readers, with the most popular post from each category included. Enjoy taking a look back at 2016!


What was your favorite post from our newest movement (#CrayonsToConfidence) battling insecurity in young children?
Don't Let Her Think This Way (published September 9)


The #WarriorPrincess movement is an aspect of #CrayonsToConfidence, encouraging girls to be their most powerful and beautiful self. Which post was your favorite for women? 
Perspective (published October 17)


The #AdventureHero movement is an aspect of #CrayonsToConfidence, encouraging boys to be their best and strongest self. Which post was your favorite for men? 
The Bikini Challenge: For Men (published May 16)


Strong teachers (can be) just as influential in a child's life as his/her own family. What was your favorite post regarding my education world? 


What was your favorite project / challenge we completed on the blog this year? 
The Photo Recreation Project (published December 25)


Thank you so much for your loyalty as a reader in 2016. I certainly wouldn't be writing if not for you!

I, however, am signing off for the evening to celebrate with friends, a little bubbly, and the live televised event in New York City. I'll see you back here in 2017 for more inspiration and confidence... This one (as always) is our year!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Photo Recreation Project

I noticed it the very first time I opened a magazine.

I must really need those pants, I thought to myself, I don't look like that. A page later, I thought I would need some lash blast mascara, too. By the end of the magazine, I was looking for a way to ask my mom for a new eyeliner pencil, two facial cleansers, toning spray, high waisted pants, new leather boots (I already had two pairs), and a hair coloring because mine clearly wasn't cutting it anymore. I found a pretty convincing advertisement for a diet pill, too, but I knew my parents would never go for that.

I was twelve back then.

Since then, I have been haunted by those magazines. I self check-out at the grocery store so I won't have to look at them. And I'm not sure what bothers me most... The fact that they photoshop their models to distort true beauty, or that they openly promote sex appeal rather than the heart of a woman.

I avoid Victoria's Secret at all costs. And if the skimpy angels weren't bad enough, I saw a Dove Chocolate commercial once where a girl was wearing lingerie, eating chocolate covered strawberries (in slow motion of course). Her chestnut hair was chopped at her shoulders (as any Dove girl would have her hair match her chocolate), and her brown eyes would roll into the back of her head as she would indulge in the treat, licking her firetruck red lips while groaning toward the camera. Ahh yes. Eat Dove chocolate, and you can look just as glamorous as her. 

Every Cosmo girl knows that if you eat that much chocolate, you will not look like that. And besides, most girls I know eat chocolate in their sweatpants. Not in their bra.

That's when it hit me. These girls didn't just look fake because they were enhanced, filtered, altered, and distorted. They looked fake because it was only one aspect of their identity. And a lesser known aspect, at that.

It used to burn me up inside that women were expected to be so sexy. Like I said, I was twelve back then, and such a thing never occurred to me that I would one day be desired. I also grew up in church, which didn't necessarily help. Please understand: my faith is a huge aspect of who I am today, but women found in the southern churches I grew up in (much in contrast to the alluring women in advertisements) were tired women in thick stuffy sweaters and long denim skirts. I didn't want to be objectified, but I didn't want to be so conservatively trapped in my own turtlenecks either. Do I agree with the ideals of modesty and purity? Absolutely. But do I agree with diminishing the natural beauty God gave you and wrecking the feminine charm automatically instilled within your soul in an effort to remain "pure?" Gonna have to draw the line there.

Why are we only given two options as women? We are either sexy or ugly. We are either hot or unappealing. We are slutty or we are unfashionable.

Ladies... There is so much more that we could be.

What about happy? What about fun? What about enchanting? Is that even really possible? And if we are pure and stylish, if we have somehow managed to accomplish both together; why must we remain boring? 

Why can't we be modestly fashionable? Why can't we be whimsically appealing? Why can't we be both positively happy and powerfully sexy? 



It bothered me so much that I sought help to prove my point. A woman is not generic. She is not a standard model; there is no such thing. Therefore, she should not be portrayed one way. She should have more options than to be a seductive temptress or a goodie-two-shoes. She should be allowed to be completely and unapologetically herself. She should allure. That is an aspect of her identity. But she should also motivate, inspire, and encourage others around her.

I find those magazines plenty alluring. (Ehh, more like toxically addicting.) But I can't say I've ever found them motivating, inspiring, or encouraging.

Model Rachel Boekhaus agreed, and we partnered right away. Joined by photographers Nulifar Zaifi and Jamie Napier, we sought to create the same photo shoot two ways: one representing the alluring, captivating beauty of a woman, and the second representing the whimsical, playful side of a woman. The ending result was absolutely astounding, and we feel we were able to fully capture the identity of a woman, as so many advertisements and enhanced photos do not.

See for yourself...


























Standardization is not possible. Not for politics, not for education, and certainly not for human beings. Don't buy in to the lies you are fed. (Or force fed.)

You are so much more than what you are told to be.


Be sure to tag us {@taxistotsandpolkadots} in your own photos of unfiltered beauty with the #PhotoRecreationProject. 

More photos by Jamie Napier can be found at Napier Portrait Collective
More photos by Nulifar Zaifi can be found at Zaifi Creative
More work by Rachel Boekhaus can be viewed at RachelBoekhaus.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Measurement Queen

Hey lovely reader! It's been awhile, has it not?

I'll admit... It's definitely my fault. The busier I get, the less observant I become, and the less I observe, the less I have to write about. This busy-ness also somehow makes me feel as though my life is becoming increasingly more uninteresting; therefore, I feel as though I have nothing of importance to share with all of you.

The trigger to all of this is the dreaded magic word: busy. The busier I become, the less I write. And I must say... I've never been very good at not remaining busy. I'm always doing something; working somewhere, rehearsing sometime, etc., etc. I don't even remember the last time I fixed dinner in my own apartment. I'm usually picking something up while on the way to a guard rehearsal, to babysitting, to a student teacher meeting... You get the picture. I'm busy.

But chances are, I'm no busier than you.

So learn from me today, because God loves to send major curveballs my way when He wants me to slow down a little. And I miss a lot of them. Like the second flat tire I've had this year, and that time my printer stopped working right before my teacher certification assignment was due. (Don't worry. It miraculously fixed itself after all my finals were turned in.) So when those curveballs didn't work, God sent me terrible sickness accompanied by a serious health scare; three unrelated things that hit me all at once and rendered me practically useless until I had healed.

Learn from me. If He wants you to slow down, He will let you know. And if you ignore Him, He will make you slow down.

And, it comes as no surprise, that once I dedicated some time to myself to heal, I began to notice things again. Not just about the kids in my class, but about the women who seemed to struggle just like me.

It started at the doctor, when the nurse walked into the room and said, "It looks like you've lost weight!" It was completely innocent. I pretended like I didn't know I'd gained any. Of course she looked at the chart and read the weight that had been taken a few minutes prior, 133, and verbally compared it to my weight last May: 128. I should've been glad it looked as though I'd lost weight even when I'd gained it. Of course, me being a woman, all I could notice was that I'd gained five entire pounds.

Oh, what I'd give to be like some of the other women I see every day, I often think in these moments, To be effortlessly thin, effortlessly fashionable, and effortlessly beautiful. 

The next day I was in line at a sandwich shop (much similar to Subway) when I stood coveting the young woman in front of me. She was clearly fresh out of the study room; it was finals week and she was in yoga pants, a sweatshirt, and her hair was in a messy bun. And she still looked gorgeous. You know those people? Yeah. Well anyway, there I stood in what I considered to be a cute outfit before I had to put on my rain boots that didn't match, hair that had been straightened to perfection before the rain curled it back up again, and no makeup/contacts because I was still recovering from pink eye. I'd woken up that morning with full intentions of looking fabulous, and this girl, who was effortlessly in sweats and messy hair, looked much better than I did.

I watched her closely. She picked spinach and balsamic dressing to go on her sandwich (of course). I was about to lather mine with pickles and mayo. Lots of mayo. Bring on the mayo. And then I watched as she picked up three bags of chips. I almost rolled my eyes. I mean, how typical. The effortlessly beautiful sweatpant girl was putting down a foot long sandwich and three bags of chips and maintaining a figure I would've killed for.

But I'm glad I didn't roll my eyes, because I would've missed what was so important. She wasn't eating those bags of chips. She wasn't even buying them. She was flipping them over and comparing them, reading their nutrition labels carefully. She had a preference. I know she did, because she picked up the Lays bag first. But she walked out with kettle chips, since they were less calories. I know that's why she made that choice, because I have done it too.

She was not effortless. She was just like me. Striving to make every little calorie count (or not count), completely oblivious to how beautiful everyone watching her thought she was.

That probably sounds familiar. It probably sounds just like you.


The next morning, I attended church. The sermon was literally about how important it was to not take a single snapshot of a moment, of a person, or of another church, and make assumptions about that moment, person, or church based on that small observation. The conviction was strong, and not even an hour after, I was called in to take measurements for the competitive winterguard teams at Missouri State. As the measurement queen, I take the specific numbers of waist, inseam, etc., and then the girls are asked about their ballpark estimate for their height and weight. It never fails. They always know their height, and they hesitate on their weight.

Some girls truly don't know it. Some girls live in a world of oblivion I would kill to know, a world where they don't weigh themselves except when they're at the doctor. I remember those days. I used to not even own a scale. Now it would probably give me an anxiety attack to not have one.

But some girls do know the number on that scale, and they don't share it because they don't want me to know it. They don't want me to write it down. They don't want others to know it. And so it happens every year; they are forced to give a weight, so they give the lowest possible believable number. Some give me a number that is completely inaccurate, because there's no way those measurements could match that weight. And our guard instructor warns us each year not to give an inaccurate weight because it makes things harder for the design company, but in those moments, it's hard to care more about the design company when you are too worried about how something as emotionally impactful as your weight was just scribbled down in ink next to everyone else's for some seamstress's records. Their designs. Their comparisons. 

As the measurement queen, I have begun to understand how frustrating it must be for the design company. But as the girl who's against the tape measure, I totally get it. Because I, too, have asked the measurement queen to write a weight slightly lower than the one I know to be true.

So I watched closely this year. Who really looks at those measurements? Because I always thought the measurement queen knew my measurements. Turns out, she measures quickly, jots them down, and forgets them in the next two seconds.

As for the design company, they only use the weight to ensure the generic sizes and the specific measurements taken by the measurement queen add up. They want to make every costume correctly the first time. That's good business, and having the height and weight as a backup plan helps them ensure this satisfaction. (Satisfaction... if given the correct weight.)

But what about the other girls? you ask, Can't the girl being measured view the others' measurements? 

I suppose she could... But she doesn't. Why? Because she's too busy looking at her own numbers, making verbal comments like, "That's two inches bigger than last year," and "Oh my gosh, I knew my thighs had grown, but not like that!" and "After the holidays, I'm hoping there'll be less of this region in existence." The girls usually motion to their hips with such a statement. Turns out, we all miss the days of curvy figures being socially acceptable.

So no one really looks at the numbers. The measurement queen sees them, but she will soon forget them. The guard instructor will see them, but only briefly before he sends them to the company. The design company sees them, makes the uniform, and then forgets them.

The only one who's still thinking about those numbers twelve days later is the girl herself.

WHY. Why do we live in a society where we genuinely feel that everyone is looking at us and judging us, when the truth is that we're all too wrapped up in our own appearance because we're worried that everyone is looking and judging. 

It's an endless nightmare that causes us to be so foolishly selfish. Did that girl at the sandwich shop really gain (or lose) anything by saving herself the extra 30 calories in the bag of chips she really wanted? No. All she did was talk her way out of something she really wanted. Because of what? 30 calories.

30 calories is a little less than a third of an apple. About 4 Cheez-Its. Maybe 2 M&M's, if you're lucky. Is that really enough to make a difference? No... I was impressed with the way she looked so effortless, but was immediately saddened when I saw that it was not for lack of striving.

I've come to realize that us women are a lot more beautiful when we aren't striving. When our head is tipped back and we're laughing so hard we're crying. When we're piling seven girls at a sleepover into one car for a pizza run, or when we're dancing around our kitchen with our roommates fixing breakfast at 2am. We're most beautiful when we're in our element; writing, singing, teaching, healing, leading...whatever it was God created us to do. When we're using our heart to build people up, rather than tear them down.

But when we are confident and comfortable in who we are? Man. That's when we really shine.

A tape measure is not to confine or define you. Nor is a scale, a skirt size, or a bag of potato chips. You are far too special, and have far too much to do, than to waste your time making yourself smaller. So take a deep breath, don't criticize yourself in that mirror, and whatever you do.... 

Eat the chips.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thank God For Answered Prayers


Sometimes I wonder why I do half of things I seemingly randomly commit to. You'd be such a good teacher. I think so too, I'll get my degree in teaching. You should start a blog. I love writing, what a good idea! You love New York. Why don't you just move there? I know, I think I'll try.

The latest has been about a makeup company. It offers such flexibility, decent money, and it's right in line with your mission of confidence in women and children... Why don't you sell Mary Kay? I dunno, let's give it a whirl.

So here I sit on Thanksgiving Day. A preschool teacher, colorguard coach, and blogger, sorting through box after box of new makeup inventory. It is flexible. It does make decent money. And I do get to remind women each day how beautiful they are. It's everything I ever wanted it to be, but like everything else, it has its ups and downs. And last night, I was stressing about Black Friday. Or Pink Friday, as Mary Kay likes to call it.

I'm a teacher! And an amateur writer. And a performer and a full time college girl. Not a salesgirl. So how was I supposed to host a Black Friday sale? And why on earth would I spend my first week of the semester off nurturing a new business? Well, even I wasn't really sure. I just felt like I should.

"Another question..." I texted my MK mentor (I always seem to have an over-abundance of questions), "I don't have very many customers because I'm new and have only booked one party so far! How can I rock this Black Friday thing??"

The answer? "Start a Facebook group of absolutely everyone you think might be interested in buying."

I must've added every female on the list. You just never know who's looking for what, you know?

It wasn't 20 minutes later before a girl I hadn't seen in nine years sent me a message. "Hi, someone added me to this group and I just don't know much about it. I know it's about makeup so I'm definitely interested if someone could explain it to me?"

I gave her my usual monologue about Mary Kay products and the company itself, half expecting her to buy and half expecting her to remove herself from the group completely. Then came her response: Congrats on all your success! I want to be a consultant. I'm a single mom who just lost my relationship and job and I am looking for a job. I think this sounds perfect. I'm a great sales person and I need any extra way to make some money. Do I just text the number you gave me? 

I was floored. The question had always been why is an early childhood educator out selling makeup? My answer was always I dunno, I felt like I should. Now, it was Because someone needed me to. 

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for God's plan. It is so much better than ours! I was once told at a consultant meeting:

If your dreams don't scare you, they don't scare your enemy. 

I have yet to hear anything quite so true. If you have a dream today, make sure you take the time to notice it. If you feel called, or compelled, or even the slightest feeling that something might be important...even if you don't know why or how it could be important...it's important that you do it. I thought the Mary Kay opportunity might help me aid some big transitions coming up in my life, but it was actually to help someone else aid the big transitions in her life. I am so thankful God was able to reach her through me. It was an honor to be used, just as he used my Mary Kay mentor to reach out to me. They always said it was about more than makeup, and I prayed it would be true.

Thank God for answered prayers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

History Has Its Eyes On You

This is not a political post. I don't write political posts. I write vulnerable posts, and this will be no different. Will you know who I voted for by the end of this article? No, I will not tell you. Will you be able to figure it out? Probably; if you're a regular reader with a firm grip on the things I believe. Will I delete your comments if you disagree with me? No. But will I debate with you about it? No. I will stand for what is important to me, but I will not fight with others because they disagree. I am putting a few thoughts out there because I am not a coward, but I will not flounder back and forth with you because I am not tacky. There has been one thought my blog had ridden on since the beginning: If you do not like what I have to say, you do not have to read it. If we do not agree now, we probably never will. That's okay. I will love you anyway. I will support you anyway. All I am asking is the same in return. 

November 7, 2016     11:30 pm
Tomorrow is the day we all never actually thought would happen. For over a year now, we have watched this election unfold. Even though I support one candidate more than the other, I could not fully support either one. I knew I would have to vote for someone I thought would make a bad President for the sole reason that I thought the other candidate would make an even worse President. And yet, I think I was waiting for some miraculous intervention that would take care of this mess for us. But here we are. We were not lucky enough for a miraculous intervention. Polls open in a few hours. May the odds be ever in our favor. 

November 8, 2016     7:20 am
People are flocking to the polls. I don't have practicum teaching today because my school is a poll site. I considered going in anyway to get a few hours and do some lesson planning, but I don't want anywhere near that madness. I can't even think about the future of the nation and the future of my students at the same time. Too much anxiety ensues when you put those precious futures together. 

November 8, 2016     5:30 pm
I just got back from class and the drama has already started. I'm signing off facebook until next week. I think it's interesting how so many friends preached the importance of remaining classy and loving through this madness. Those same friends are now carrying out heated debates through facebook comments and spewing hatred toward their loved ones who think differently. Everyone has always had a different opinion on everything. I often wonder why people think a presidential election with such drastic opinions and childish candidates will unite the nation. How can people not see that this is actually dividing us even more? 

November 8, 2016     7:20 pm
Thank goodness it is my friend and roommate's birthday. I get to go have some steak and good company amid the madness. I'm turning off the TV to indulge myself in some Texas Roadhouse rolls. I'm sure the election will still be on TV when I arrive back home. 

November 8, 2016     10:30 pm
Her birthday was filled with some good ol' country line dancing, good food, and good friends who couldn't shut up about the election, and I am not innocent of it myself. It's an addicting conversation. It was on almost every TV in the restaurant. No one was talking about their life. Everyone was talking about who they voted for and why and what their exit plan was to leave the country when their candidate didn't win. I wanted to participate in the conversation because I wanted to have a good time. But I knew the second I opened my mouth with my own opinion, I would be stuck yelling with those who agreed and debating with those who did not. I just took a deep breath and ate my bread. 

November 8, 2016     11:22 pm
My roommates and I are gathered on the couch. We are trying to find the good and the bad, but somehow we keep coming back to a whole lot of bad. We are fortunate enough to not be scared like so many of our other friends, but we are just human enough to be disappointed. Not necessarily in the candidate who is taking the lead, but in this entire election itself. The sentence most used in our apartment tonight: "This is just not how this election was supposed to go." 

November 9, 2016     12:30 am
My roommates are asleep so I am alone watching now. I need to go to bed. I can't believe I'm sitting here as if this is going to get any better. 

November 9, 2016     3:46 am
I woke up for medicine and water because my throat hurts. I am tempted to check in on the results. I turn my phone off instead. 

November 9, 2016     6:30 am
I logged onto facebook. That was a mistake. I'm going back to sleep. 

November 9, 2016     1:33 pm
Have any of you seen Hamilton: The Musical? There's a lyric regarding the election of 1800 that I can't shake from my head. Jefferson or Burr; we know it's lose/lose... Jefferson or Burr; but if you had to choose...

That's where we are. A lose/lose election, and yet, we're forced to choose. 

Am I happy with the way this turned out? Not really. Would I have been happy if the other candidate won? Not really. I haven't been on my personal facebook page at all since this morning, and won't (at least until the end of the week). I was naïve to think that this would all die down after the election. We aren't going to stop thrusting opinions on others and we aren't going to stop spewing hatred simply because one has been elected. Oh no, this will carry on for the next four years. Lucky us, huh? 

However, the goal of my blog was to remain a positive environment. So here are two of my favorite quotes from both of our candidates. 

Without passion you don't have energy, and without energy you have nothing. Nothing in this world has been accomplished without passion.
     -Donald Trump

To all the little girls watching... Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. 
     -Hillary Clinton

I have said before that there is one thing I will never share about myself: the person I voted for in a presidential election. Why? Because I believe in fighting for the stances and issues and beliefs I find most important. I believe in standing for what is right. I will tell you what I think about every topic on the political agenda. From there, you could probably guess which candidate will be filled in on my ballot if it is that important to you, but I will never specifically say their name. Why? Because if you disagree with me, you will try to change my mind (even though I am just as stubborn, if not more stubborn, than you are). And if you agree with me, you will act as though you've found your soul mate; the one kindred spirit on this earth that you can share everything with. 

I don't believe in taking sides. I believe in love. I believe in kindness, and positivity, and hope. 

So here's what we're gonna do. The results are in. Congratulations America, it's a boy. There is nothing we can do to change it if we wanted a girl, and no reason to flaunt it if we've prayed years for a boy. Some of us are happy, some of us a terrified, and some of us just want to forget the whole thing ever happened. Let's go back to the primaries. No, let's go back before that. Let's just start over, okay? 

We can't do that. So we're going to wake up each morning, make our coffee strong, and love like we've never loved before. The world is going to need a light, and it's going to have to come from us. 

Joy can be found in the darkest of times, if only we remember to turn on the light. 

This little light of mine? I'm gonna let it shine. I'm gonna take this light around the world and I'm gonna let it shine. I won't let anyone blow it out; I'm gonna let it shine. Every day, every night; I'm gonna let it shine. 

The future of this country (and this world), is not solely dependent on who we elect as President. Is our leadership important? Of course. But it depends on us, too. So keep on pressing on, my confident, beautiful love warriors. The world will need us now more than ever. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Spooky, Spooky!


Happy Halloween, my fellow creatives! I can't wait to see how you're celebrating the holidays with your kiddos and loved ones. Please, please, please, share your awesome costumes with me because I have no doubt you went full out!

I know I did! Can you even really tell the difference between me and favorite style icon? I think not.


I went full out for the blog, too... But instead of giving it a costume, Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots got a whole new makeover!

Yeah, yeah, I know the website pretty much looks the same. The layout, the color scheme, the logo... All of it's the same. I know. 

But! I used this opportunity to really switch some things up. Here's a sneak peak at some of the new features you'll find on the blog.

Two Category Bars
Are you new around here? If so, you came at a good time. My first category bar holds everything a new reader could possibly need to know. It includes my personal story/inspiration for beginning the blog, the primary mission/movement behind Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots, my secondary mission/partnership with Mary Kay, information on how to be featured/published, FAQs, and any and all copywright information to ensure credit is given where credit is due!

The second category bar holds all the main topics covered by the posts on my blog. Live refers to everything I've ever written, as it contains every aspect I consider crucial to my life! The other categories include other important parts of my life; love = relationships, believe = faith, teach = education, craft = DIY, style = fashion, travel = adventure, celebrate = holidays/special occasions, beYOUtiful = self love/confidence.


A Cleaner Sidebar
Less ads, less words, less clutter. Connect with me, search for a post, or shop my Mary Kay store. Extra features for the blog are found further down!

Less Scheduling
...because what I've been doing isn't working.
For all my analytical readers that greatly value consistency, please don't panic! You'll still hear from me in blogland roughly once a week, and you can catch me via newsletter at least once a month, but publishing on such a tight schedule is running me thin. Not only am I frantically running around at the end of each week, trying to get a new post up by the following Monday, but I am often sitting in my room alone for hours just trying to figure out what to write. I find that inspiration strikes me best when I am not looking, and having a less strict schedule is ideal for me to follow those creative juices.

An Annual Tradition
I've wanted to join in on the social media movement of #ThankfulThursday for awhile now (not because you need a designated day to be thankful, but because getting in the habit of being thankful is an extremely good habit to be in), and the upcoming season gives me a great time to start. Last year on Instagram, I participated in the 30 Days of Thanks November Photo Challenge, where I posted a picture per day of something I was thankful for. I'm pleased to announce that I am not only doing a modified version of this again this year (no prompts this time!) but also using it as a way to get into the habit of #ThankfulThursday. I hope you'll join in with me!

A New Movement
Self love has always been important around here, but it baffles me how early children are taught that they are not enough for this world. They are not too young. They are not too stupid. They do not have to "wait until they're older" before they understand. #CrayonsToConfidence was launched specifically to aid you and all the tiny humans in your life on your journey to self love, one lesson plan and creative concept at a time. I truly believe that confidence is the most powerful tool a child, a woman, or any living being could have. Confidence is appealing. Confidence makes you productive. Confidence has the ability to scare the living daylights out of people who do not have it. Insecurity and inadequacy have no place here at Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots, and #CrayonsToConfidence will banish both.

A New Opportunity
I've been pondering pink for some time now, and made the final leap of faith to become a Mary Kay beauty consultant this past week! YAY! There is still so much do and learn before I am able to start booking parties and appointments, but the coolest thing about my Mary Kay website is that I can sell to you from anywhere, and have it shipped right to your door! For all things makeup, skincare, and/or self love, I'm your girl!

To learn more about how/why I snagged this fabulous opportunity, visit the Mary Kay Store page in the blog's header, but I totally realize that there are two very different opinions of Mary Kay (just as there are two very different opinions of absolutely everything else). Nothing is for everyone, and Mary Kay is no exception. I never want to be that pushy consultant, and I have not linked the store to my blog in order to sell. I linked it to the blog because our missions are the same at the core; not about makeup or physical beauty, but about the girl who lives inside.


I am so excited about the upcoming opportunities this holiday season has in store, both occupationally and for the blog itself. We have so many surprises planned for the holidays, and giving the blog a basic remodel was the first necessary step to revealing those surprises! So grab a cup of coffee and stick around, dear reader... This is only the beginning of some seriously exciting stuff!

Don't forget to share your Halloween pics with me... I actually wasn't kidding; I want to see your creative costumes!

Monday, October 24, 2016

5 Books to Aid Your Journey to Self Love

What makes a girl lose confidence in herself? 

A dear friend and reader asked me the other day... like I would know the answer.

But I really don't think there is one, universal answer. We can talk all day about my triggers; about what makes me lose confidence, acquire anxiety, and gain the feeling of utmost inadequacy... But the same things that make me feel lost, weary, and prone to failure might not have any effect on you at all.

Likewise, there probably isn't one, universal answer to gain confidence in yourself, either. Sure, I have my own self-love regimen (check it out in Bethany's Guide to Self Love), but when I first began seeking supplemental material to aid me on my warrior journey to confidence, beauty, and self love, I didn't have the slightest idea where to look. So... I entered the place I feel most comfortable; the one place I can always count on to take me away from whatever's going on in my crazy life.

The bookstore.

Reading does a lot for me, much like all the other art forms I partake in. Writing is great for grounding anxiety. Music is ideal for when you don't have the words, theatrics are perfect for when you need an escape, and dance is for when you have no other means of expression.

But reading does so much more. It forms relationships even when you are alone, whether through imagination with fiction or connections with non-fiction. It helps you understand the perspective of others; it shares stories, ideas, and ways of life. It educates you on things you wouldn't otherwise understand, and it helps you learn things about yourself that you wouldn't otherwise consider.

A movie or TV show will not do the same thing. Neither will your tablet, iPod, or laptop. It is not the same.

There aren't any fun fiction novels in this list (though if you want some recommendations, I'd be happy to do that later). These are books that will make you stop, think, reflect, and ultimately grow. You'll probably find them in the self-improvement aisle of your favorite bookstore. And it is not silly, or shameful, or cliché to shop there. Just to make that clear.

Like I said, I can only speak for myself. These are the selections that I've read personally; books that aided me in my own fight toward becoming the self-love warrior that I am. I cannot promise you they'll change your life, but I can assure you that they changed mine. So you might as well give them a shot... Because we could all use a little confidence boost, and you really have nothing to lose.

Captivating
by John and Stasi Eldredge 
Every girl is tired of abiding by the rules. I threw away my lists of ways to be a good, strong, beautiful, Proverbs 31 woman a long time ago. The more I read these top 10 lists, the more I realized there were way more than 10 things to do before achieving the title I wanted. Every writer thought differently, and naturally, every writer thought they knew best.

Turns out, you don't have to do anything to be beautiful woman. You already are one. And instead of focusing on all the things you have yet to do, Captivating takes its feminine readers on a journey to her past, exposing her skills, passions, traits, and gifts, as well as all the obstacles standing in her way of becoming the captivating woman she has always longed to be. Turns out, the desires of my 20 year old heart are still the same as the desires of my 2 year old heart, and there's no reason us women should buy into the lie that we will not have what we dreamed of as little girls. We should be confident. We should be strong. We should be beautiful. We should be noticed, sought after, pursued, and loved more thoroughly than we can ever imagine. But often times, the only thing standing in our way is us.

The masculine alternative, Wild at Heart, exposes the same desires, fears, and failures of a man's heart, with chapters paralleling Captivating for an in-depth study with a partner, friend, or family member. 


The 5 Love Languages 
by Gary Chapman
Those of you who have read it are probably wondering how it fits on this list. It's a relationship book; one that I first read in a Child and Family Relationship class in college. It's advertised as the "secret to love that lasts," and I actually laughed out loud when I saw the cover. Surely this isn't the one she's recommending, you'll think when you see it on the shelf. But you've got the right one. It's got the silhouette of man and a woman in front of a sunset, beachside, slow dancing after being whisked away in the moment.

For the record... I'm pretty sure the secret to love that lasts is just to be selfless enough to care for someone. But the book did help quite a bit.

We often give love to one another in the ways we would want to receive it, which are, as Chapman calls them, our "love languages." The goal of the book is to help you realize that your relationships will fail if you are giving your partner love in the ways you need to receive it, and encourages you to express love in the ways they need to receive it. Yada, yada.

I'm single, and I was when I read the book, so don't think it's inapplicable to your life. Discovering my love languages helped me better understand ways to express love for myself. My top-two love languages are quality time and acts of service. Can you guess what two things I neglected to do most for myself? You guessed it... Spend time relaxing by myself, and spoiling myself on occasion. The book can take you in depth to discover what your needs really are, but the basic quiz can be found online.


Becoming Myself 
by Stasi Eldredge 
Ever woke up one morning and wonder what on Earth you're doing? Like how did you even get here, and where on Earth is your life headed? It often happens to me when I'm becoming quickly clueless and out of control of my own plans. It happens to us most often when we feel we've hit rock bottom.

This one is another one by the female author of Captivating, but instead of exploring a woman's basic fears and dreams, it dives into God's ultimate dream and plan for you. No more aimless wandering. This one helps you hope, trust, and believe in yourself by pointing you toward the basic truths of your existence. (I would personally recommend reading Captivating first.)


Anxious for Nothing
by John MacArthur 
I was walking through the store trying to find a quick gift for a friend when I first saw the book. I laughed to myself, acknowledging how perfect it was for my anxiety ridden heart and stressed, cloudy mind. I didn't read the summary or the first page, the way I normally do before deciding on a book to read. I just bought it, and it's been one of the best splurges I've ever made. If you have anxiety, this one's for you. And don't worry, even the author himself doesn't think you're really anxious for nothing.


So Long, Insecurity 
by Beth Moore
"We're insecure," Beth writes, "You and me and every woman. In fact, chronic insecurity is a cultural epidemic, but almost no one is talking about it. And it ticks me off." 

"I talk about it, Beth!" I wanted to scream, "I see it every day." But she's right. Very few of us have acknowledged how present and toxic this insecurity is in today's society. Some of us have yet to even acknowledge that we are insecure. But here on Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots, the Beauty Distortion Ban centers around this very idea. I was so intrigued, and it served as the ultimate inspiration for the Straighten Your Crown movement on the blog.


These books may not change your life the same way they changed mine, but they are certainly worth a shot. If nothing else, it gives you someone else's perspective and story on their own journey to self acceptance, self care, and self love. And we can learn just as much from others' stories as we can from our own.

Keep on fighting, beautiful. You are so worth it.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Perspective

Running around in a frantic frenzy as a poor attempt at preparing for my #1 choice of a Graduate School program, I texted at least ten people. When I write a letter of intent for something this important, I seek the help of at least five proofreaders. Usually a few English majors (for the grammatical proof), a few Education majors (for the content proof), and a few other friends and family who know me, my goals, my aspirations, and my passions best. My letters of recommendation had already been designated, my application form was complete, my test scores had been submitted, and all that was left was my letter of intent.

I never had a problem with writing. I write every day, and I've been known to crank out extensive essays in less than an hour. If there was ever one subject in school I was good at, it was English. If there was one assignment I always vouched for over a project or final exam, it was an essay. This letter should not have been this hard. But with everything else going on, I was really beginning to stress. I'd filled out a strong header and written To Whom It May Concern; then stared at the page for an hour.

Okay, maybe it was four hours. With a journal entry, two homework assignments, and a nap in between. At least my procrastination was paired with more productive things... Right...?

It was just one more thing that made me feel like my life was far out of my control. Sure, I have dreams and plans for my life after graduate, but that plan can only be achieved after being accepted into a certain graduate program, securing an apartment, and landing a job in another state. All of which require administrators, landlords, and bosses to all want me. Yikes.

I needed one more proofreader, so I texted a friend and fellow early childhood major. Would you proofread a letter of intent for me sometime soon? 

Sure! she responded, What's it for? 

For the Master's program application. Let's all have a mini anxiety attack together... LOL! 

Expecting to receive a haha or an I'll take a look right after I finish this lesson plan, I tossed my phone to the side and went to write another lesson plan myself. But when the phone buzzed again, I literally laughed out loud.

I'm so envious of how much you have your life together. 

How "much" I have my life together? To me, it felt like I had about 15% of it together. But to her, I had it all.

Perspective is important. And I've mentioned this before... Why else would other girls want the same parts of your body that you hate? Why else would you want the same aspects of their personality that they hate? We all see things a little differently, and we all want what we can't have. We all want that one thing that's seemingly holding us back from being just like (or preferably, a little better) than the girl sitting to our side.

My aunt called me a few weeks ago in the middle of the night. I saw a painting today, she told me, and it reminded me of you. Of your blog. It was of several large women, but they were dancing and smiling and holding hands with one another. 

I glanced down at the picture she had texted to me a few seconds prior to the phone call.

As a large woman myself, she continued, it just made me so happy. You know, acceptance of different body types and sizes is very important. But until a woman accepts herself, no real change is made in her heart. 

The more I stared at the picture, the more I realized I couldn't have said it any better.

Through the Crayons to Confidence Movement, I'm constantly crusading for beauty in our society, specifically targeting the kiddos I see losing confidence in themselves every day, and the people who question their ability to teach, lead, and raise these kiddos to the best of their ability. Statistics. Personal testimonies. Videos of photoshop programs being utilized to the fullest potential... I share it all, with the hope that my stunning readers will realize how normal imperfection actually is. How distorted our society has become. How beautiful they really are.

But until they accept their beauty themselves, no real change is made.

Have you ever met a woman completely secure in her beauty? I've seen it once, on a woman who was 85 years old. Every time she laughed, she threw back her head and let her stomach bounce. When someone was in need, her hand was the first to be extended. And when someone needed to be scolded, I have never seen anyone more gently stern in all my life. Wrinkles creased at her eyes from years of laughter. Her lips were stretched thin from smiling. Her hands were calloused from all her labor, and her heart shone from within. She embodied pure, undistorted beauty because she was completely and unapologetically herself.

My aunt was not captivated by that painting merely because she related to it. She was captivated by the painting because every woman should understand what it feels like to be like that woman. To truly love herself. To be happy with herself. To be confident in herself. The women in the painting weren't laughing and dancing because someone told them to. They were laughing and dancing because they wanted to. Because they felt compelled to. They were inspired to.

How you see yourself is important. It's even more important than how others see you. Because while other bloggers and I are trying our hardest to get society on our side, we all realize it probably won't happen. Sometimes, you're all you have. And even if everyone loved you and told you that you were smart and talented and beautiful every single day, it wouldn't have any real impact at all if you did not believe it all yourself.

Can you imagine how much greater life would be if you could look in the mirror and recognize all the ways you're great? Emily Freeman from the She Is Project said it best...

"I can't imagine anything more dangerous to the enemy of our hearts than women who know who they are."   -Emily P. Freeman

Isn't that the truth... I don't want to be the kind of woman that haters and bullies wait to attack. I want to be the kind of woman that when my feet hit the ground each morning, the devil panics and says Well crap! She's awake. 

Perspective is everything. Not just because someone else wants what you have, but because you should want what you have, too.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bethany's Guide to Self Love

Self - love. 

What the heck is that? It sounds so...weird. Uncomfortable. Selfish. 

Well, it sort of is. But as far as I'm concerned? The rest of the world can deal with it. Women struggle with self love every day. Wives caring for their husbands. Mommas raising a houseful of children. Often while working full time, still cleaning her own house, and doing the entire family's laundry (because even though women "are not to be confined to housework!", there's still inevitably housework to be done). Teenage girls are even being raised to put everything else before themselves. Their grades. Their extra curriculars. Their resumes, GPA's, college applications... Not to mention friends (it's important to be social!), and their family (because they wouldn't even be here without them). Right? 

We've been brainwashed. Everything else is more important. Everyone else is more important. And there's something to be said for selfless, unconditional love. But then we wonder why every girl's first love ends up being some insignificant bad boy when it should have been herself. 

Self love is just what it sounds like. Love (defined as an intense feeling of deep affection) for yourself. For who? Let's say that scary word again. For yourself. 

Because you deserve it. When was the last time you allowed yourself to receive a compliment? When was the last time you recognized your own strengths? Answer me honestly. When was the last time you felt worthy of love, attention, and affection? 

Some of you will answer a week. Maybe a month. Some will even gather the courage to say a year or longer. But if you answered anywhere on the timeline prior to yesterday or earlier today, it's been too long. 

The journey to self love is not a simple one. Nor is it an easy one. And some would say you never permanently reach it. But it's definitely an enjoyable journey. You not only end up feeling stronger in yourself and more confident in your beauty, but every aspect of your life seems to shift. Life may not get any easier. But it certainly becomes more satisfying. 

Begin the day listing 5 things you love about yourself. 
You might write them down if necessary, but I just try to find them first thing when I get up and look in the mirror. The key, however, is listing these things before I put my makeup on or straighten my hair. Don't list 5 things you love about your vanity routine. List 5 things you love about yourself. For an extra challenge, find five things you love about your body, and five things about your soul. 

Thank your body. 
Be kind to it. Instead of saying you hate your stomach rolls, be thankful you have enough food to be able to feed yourself. Instead of hating your jiggly thighs, be thankful you're still able to walk. Instead of calling yourself fat, be thankful that there's more of you to love. You should be honored that God chose you to take up space in this world. Being healthy is one thing, but don't channel all your creative energy into making yourself smaller. 

Use people-first language. 
This is slang we hear a lot in education, specifically in the special education community. Instead of saying “that autistic child,” we say “the child with autism.” It allows us to reference the child (heart, mind, body, soul…) before we reference the disability (autism), so that the disability is not defining the child. Likewise, if you struggle with a mental illness or self-deprecation, you should refer to yourself as a person before you refer to the illness or negative standard you have set for yourself. You are not an anorexic. You are a warrior who is fighting anorexia. You are not ugly. You are a woman who struggles with positive self image. Never forget to put yourself (your true, strong, beautiful self) before the battles you’re fighting. 

Keep a journal.
I know, I know. My creative, artistic, self-reflective readers just clapped their hands and did a happy dance, and my analytical, scientific, non-expressive readers let out an agonizing moan. But trust me. It doesn’t have to be a long, reflective novel each night before you go to bed. Just a few sentences about what happened that day, how you’re feeling (relaxed, stressed, anxious, exhausted, weak, etc.), and some ways you can channel that energy into self love. Positivity is a powerful thing, and I have found that I am able to generate more of it when I have first expunged all the negativity consuming my mind. 

Treat yourself each day. 
Some mornings, I have to be awake at 5:30 am for work, and my venti iced coffee from Starbucks ensures that I will embark on those early mornings as a positive, tolerant, and fully caffeinated individual. The weekends might be a glass of wine, and I have my cappuccino chocolate chip gelato reserved for that monthly emotional roller coaster when every other female craves generic chocolate ice cream. With chocolate syrup. On top of a fudge brownie. And does it have to be food? Of course not. Some nights I’ll read a book under a blanket, take a long walk with my earbuds in, do a craft, or take a drive with the windows down and music blaring. It’s easy to find a way to treat yourself. You just have to make time to do something you like. Which, I realize, is often the hardest part. 

Use your days off to decompress.
I like to call it #SelfCareSaturday. If you’ve got too much planned on a Saturday, make it #SelfCareSunday. Use the day to sleep in a little, spend time with friends/family, and maybe even get a jump start on the upcoming week to ease a little stress. I find that prepping meals on Sunday evening to cook throughout the week greatly relieves some anxiety when I have to cram dinner down my throat on my way to work, bible study, or whatever else I have going on that evening. 

Place reminders everywhere. 
I keep bible verses depicting God’s love and precious, feminine design wedged in the frame of my bathroom mirror. My scale holds a neon index card reminding me that the scale can only tell me the numerical representation of my gravitational pull, rather than my worth, intelligence, talent, or beauty. On particularly rough weeks, I have my phone give me reminders of positive quotes to keep me going through the day. 

Ultimately, take care of yourself first.
I am the world’s worst at this. There are so many other things that I could be doing! So many other people are hurting, so many other children require my attention, and so many other tasks are plaguing my planner. Wouldn’t taking some time for myself be, I don’t know… Selfish? Stupid? Counterproductive? 

No. 


Never forget to take care of yourself. Sometimes, you’re all you have.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Meeting Emily

With announcements blaring and stadium lights searing through the football field, I stood square in front of a group of high school colorguard girls. I can't believe she did that to him, she's so stupid! I overheard, along with I know. She's not even that pretty. Of course, they forget I can hear them because I am an adult. So I pretended as if I heard nothing, praying that it was nothing more than a frustrated conversation regarding a girl from one of their classes that I didn't know.

She doesn't even know what's going on half the time. And did you see her hair? She really needs to figure that out. 

It was about colorguard, that much I knew for sure. But from what I knew about the previous events from that evening, I was also pretty sure I knew exactly who they were talking about. And for the record? The girl's hair was fine.

Fast forward to a few days later, when I waltzed into a kindergarten classroom for the first time this semester. New school, new cooperating teacher, new kiddos. I was a little nervous, as to be expected on the first day of anything, and the nerves escalated quickly as the children whispered to one another upon my arrival. Every teacher wants to do a good job, but more than that, they want to be liked. And if we're all being honest, that's not just a trait for teachers. It's not just a trait for women. We all desire to be liked.

I hadn't even stood up before a little girl (we'll call her Emily) in a pair of purple polka-dot leggings was already behind me. Her long chestnut hair was pulled into a high ponytail. Her bright blue eyes shone with passion. In her arms, she held a book clutched tightly against her chest. Would you look at that... I thought to myself, It's a little 5-year-old Bethany. 

"Hello!" she beamed and waved her hand ferociously. I smiled down to the sweet girl and returned her greeting. She smiled back. "I don't know you," she shrugged and cocked her head to the side, "but you look really beautiful today," she said and turned to skip away.

And people wonder why I enjoy little kids over high schoolers.

I'm here to ask an honest question. Ladies, what on earth happened to us? How did we go from being sweet, innocent, complimentary little girls to scheming, deceptive, gossipy young women?

I don't know about you, but I am absolutely exhausted. I really miss the days of sweet smiles, twirly skirts, and plastic crowns. Remember when we felt genuinely beautiful? Remember when we felt captivatingly powerful? Don't you remember what it was like to feel worthy of praise and attention?

Maybe you don't, and that's what you're here searching for today. Maybe you never knew what it felt like to shine. But if you did, chances are high you're craving it again. You're becoming "needy." You're becoming "emotional." You're becoming some unacceptable ratio of too-much and not-enough. You aren't pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, or talented enough, but you're too needy, too emotional, too opinionated, and too sassy. Are you opinionated? Or are you intelligent? Are you sassy? Or are you confident? Maybe it all rides a fine line.

Or maybe it depends how you look at it.

When thinking about the differences between between my gossipy high schoolers and my sweet-spirited kindergartener, I couldn't help but notice something about myself. When I think a girl is pretty, smart, talented, etc., I make a note of it in my head. Sometimes it serves as a breeding ground for jealousy, but sometimes it remains nothing more than a brief compliment. But when I think a girl has something wrong with her, I feel the need to tell someone about it. Did you see her hair today? or Omg! I can't believe she said that to you! 

What if we complimented one another every time we thought about it? Or better yet, what if we held our tongue every time we sought to insult? Or perhaps best of all... What if we replaced our insults with compliments?

My first thought is how different the world could be. Girls wouldn't just be nicer, but we could be more confident. We could recognize some of the awesome parts of ourselves, rather than all the ways we seem to miserably fail at femininity.

My second thought is how overwhelmingly confused we would be. When that little girl told me I looked beautiful, I was dumbfounded. How long had it been since I'd heard that from someone who wasn't obligated to say it? Hearing it from a total stranger is much different than hearing it from your mom or a guy who's clearly in pursuit of you. This little girl wasn't biased, and she certainly wasn't in pursuit of anything. She was just an honest, genuine, confident little girl.

I would say that her brief, spontaneous act of sweet kindness brightened by day, but that happened last Tuesday. I've thought about her every day since then. I'm sitting here blogging about her a week later. She brightened my week, she convicted my heart, and she inspired me to be a better woman.

See what I mean when I say there's so much we can learn from little kiddos? It's my job to teach her to read and write. And I will. She'll get there. But I'm willing to bet she has just as much, if not more, to teach me. I'm learning from her already. And if we could all put her on our prayer lists right now, let's pray she remains that honest, that genuine, and that confident for as long as she lives. That little polka-dot panted 5-year-old is going to turn into one powerfully beautiful young lady, provided the world she grows up in doesn't completely ruin her.

Insult less. Compliment more. Let's all be a little more like little Emily.

Monday, September 26, 2016

I Don't Know.

It's almost October in my final year of college. By January, I'll be student teaching. By May, I'll be licensed with a diploma. And it's all so exciting to dream about what might come. I love to dream about it for hours. Until someone asks that ever dreaded question...

So Bethany... What are your plans after this? 

And I'm torn between several answers. The reality of what I want (which everyone thinks is crazy), the many probable and stable options (which everyone is quick to recommend), and the truth that I have absolutely no earthly idea (which no one allows themselves to accept). They offer advice. They tell stories of their personal experiences. All of which is fine and dandy until I bring up one important piece of information: I'm not them. 

God's plan for me might look different than His plan for them. Do they like that answer? Nope. Do they withhold any more of their opinions because of this new piece of knowledge? Nope. But has it ever really been their place to chime in? Hah... Nope.

So to answer those questions for any reader who's waiting to ask... What grade do I want to teach? I don't know. What city do I plan to teach in? I don't know. What school will I get a job in after this? I don't know. Will I go to grad school? I don't know. (Though I am currently applying, and am waiting for admission. Fingers crossed.)

So that opens up more questions. Will I work while I get my Master's? I don't know. Probably. Really? Where? Public school? Or something with less hours until I get the degree? Will I start gaining experience while in pursuit of another degree? A-hem. Didn't you hear me?

I don't know.

Oh. Well in a perfect world... What would you want? 

*Pauses to take a deep breath.* In a perfect world, I would fly to New York City to attend a job fair in April. I would land a job in a preschool classroom, and fly up again over the summer to secure an apartment close to said job. I would return home to pack up my apartment and move. I would use June to set up my new apartment. I would use July to set up my classroom. I would take the beginning of August to attend teacher trainings and get my teaching license transferred. I would start my job when school starts, spending my free weekends walking around the city and entering the Broadway lotteries. I suppose a few years after that I would meet an awesome man, get married, move out of the city into the suburbs so it would be safer to raise my own kiddos.

Wow! the questioners will respond, Why NYC? Do you really think you can live there? Do you think you'd make enough money to support yourself? How do you plan on moving? How do you plan on securing a job? How many interviews will consider you flying out for? Would you consider moving to transition cities to make the leap of faith easier? Why is this so important to you? Would you move with a few months' support in order to secure a job? Or would you attempt to battle finding a job before you moved into an apartment? What would grad school look like with you in New York? 

And I'll flash a big smile and bat my eyelashes. Can you guess my answer? Yep...

I don't know.

Does it give me an anxiety attack every day? Yep. Do your innocent questions help me out any with that? Nope.

I'm still trying to figure it all out while also enjoying my last year of college. That's what the last year is for. Do I have all the answers? No. I don't have any. And that's okay. Yes, I'm examining all my options. Yes, I'm listening to your advice (with no promises that I'll take it). Yes, I'm trying to make what I want happen because I would never forgive myself if I didn't at least try. But I'm letting go and letting God. Trust me. I want to know the answers just as much as you do, but unfortunately, sometimes He makes us wait a little while. When He reveals it to me, you'll be the first to know.

Just know that I don't have the luxury to sit around all day and think about my future. I'm trying to sort this out while pushing up to 20 credit hours when you count my student teaching practicums with my lectures. That doesn't count guard practice, which I get one credit hour for but spend at least ten hours a week rehearsing. I work. I babysit. I blog three times a week. I send out newsletters, market, promote, and update all social media sites for the blog on a weekly basis. My grad school application isn't done. Neither is my teacher certification tasks, prompts, or paperwork. I spend time in my bible and journal at least once a day. I pray every time I'm speeding somewhere in my car for the hope of a peaceful mind.

This post isn't me throwing myself a pity party. It's me attempting to do something about it all.

I'm too stressed. I'm too tired. It's too much. I like to pretend I'm superwoman, but man. I can't do it all. After all, I'm only human. I don't remember the last time I ate a meal without running somewhere. I don't remember the last time I watched a movie without also doing homework. I definitely don't remember the last time I went out for a dinner or a night with my friends.

One of the biggest aspects of self love is self care. One of the best ways to show yourself and the world that you love your soul and the body it lives in, is to take care of that soul and the body it lives in. Yes, you should feed it healthily. Yes, you should rest it often. But you should also eliminate unnecessary stressors that are taking a toll on it and you.

As much as I don't want to, I am cutting back to writing once a week again. I will also cut back my weekly newsletter to once a month. Three times a week is too much for posting, and once a week is too much to orchestrate an email when I've done nothing that week but run around like a madwoman and try to get everything done. Writing is my release. Writing is my therapy. So, the moment I begin to dread and stress drafting a post, I know it is time to cut back. I refuse to lose this awesome outlet.

One of the best aspects of blogging is having a diverse community that you built yourself, who is dedicated to supporting and encouraging your mission. One of the most difficult aspects of blogging is potentially hurting or losing a few of those readers when you begin to post less often. But, as a dear friend recently told me, you can't pour from an empty cup. 

Thank you so much for bearing with me as I get my crazy unknown life together. As a challenge, why don't you take a little break with me? Cut out a little something this week you can use to give yourself a little free time. And as a reward? You'll be the first to know the updates and answers to all those previously listed questions.

As soon as I have the answers, of course.

Catch ya next week, beautiful.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Build-A-Bear Bond

A strong sense of community is crucial in any large group of people who need to work together. Coaches and camp counselors have known this forever, always incorporating new and exciting games and activities to get to know teammates, form memories, and eventually create a lasting bond between members. Leadership trainings are purchased and implemented at great expense to companies and staff. Why do teachers expect our classrooms will be any different? 

One of the best things I ever witnessed in an early childhood practicum classroom was the incorporation of a daily morning meeting. It’s something my early childhood professors recommended on a weekly basis, but my cooperating teacher bit the bullet and decided to incorporate it every day. I was a student teacher, after all, so I was about to witness a leap of faith first hand.

In the first couple of weeks, I thought we’d lost our minds. Everyone was talking. Everyone was sharing stories that weren’t relevant to our class at all. One prompt about helping their community turned into a tragic story of one girl attempting to save a friend’s cat that died falling out of a tree. The class began to riot. Many wailing tears were shed by my empathetic 6-year-olds. I thought my cooperating teacher was going to cut all future morning meetings right then and there. 

I rushed to my car that day after my student teaching, flying down the highway to make it to a rehearsal for the high school color guard I coach separately. I peeled into the parking lot and jerked my open bag from the passenger seat. Every single item scattered all over the pavement. Electrical tape, fabric swatches, feminine products, music scores, drill sheets, choreography notes, 14 tubes of red lipstick… You name it. If a guard member needed it, I had it in the bag. I collected all the contents threatening to blow across the parking lot before moving to pick up my team’s favorite possession: their Build-A-Bear mascot. She was dressed like them. She traveled with them. She was there to cuddle with when one of them was having a bad day. She represented them, too; that little bear contained a wish and a goal and a heart from every member on that team. 


My thoughts jumped back to the kiddos I’d just left crying over a cat. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? If my high schoolers could love and appreciate something I thought they’d perceive as completely juvenile, why hadn’t I considered its effectiveness for my first graders? 

Just for the record, there’s absolutely nothing stranger than a grown woman in slacks and a professional name tag waltzing into a Build-A-Bear store, standing in line with a bunch of eight year olds, and then requesting to buy an unstuffed animal, a bag of cotton, and sixteen fabric hearts. But out I walked with all of it stuffed inside one of their signature cardboard houses. I bought a couple of outfits too, outfits that matched the culture and preferences of my students. I went home and dug out some of my old Build-A-Bear outfits from when I had one as a little girl. Then I turned on Netflix and spent the next three hours stuffing and dressing our new classroom cat. Named Lacey, of course, in honor of the tragic story shared in our classroom circle. 

My practicum teacher loved the idea, and I introduced Lacey the next morning. I called everyone to attention in the classroom circle and sat the cardboard Build-A-Bear house on my lap. “Who’s seen one of these before?” Every hand went up: from the girl who got a new bear every year to the little boy in the back who’d dreamed of having a Build-A-Bear since his best friend got one the year before. I pulled Lacey from the box and heard everything from gasping to cheering. It was a major hit. I explained the tradition to my bright eyed kiddos as I handed out a single fabric heart to each child in the room. 

“Lacey is our classroom mascot,” I said, explaining what a “mascot” was. “One of the first things you do when you make an animal at Build-A-Bear workshop is choose a heart. Lacey will have a heart from each and every one of you. So before we get started, I want you to close your eyes, and make a wish. It can be about anything.” 

The children closed their eyes and wished on their heart. I did the same with my heart. 

“Now, I want you to think about our class, and the friends you have sitting around you. I want you to set one goal for yourself this year. It might be to read a whole book by yourself. It might be to make three new friends this year, or write your own story, or to get better at math.” 

The children closed their eyes again and set their goal. I did the same. 

Then we all stood up. “Now rub your heart on your head so Lacey will grow to be as smart as you!!” 

The kids giggled and rubbed their hearts vigorously on their heads. 

“Now rub it on your shoes so she has a soul!” 

The kids hopped around laughing, rubbing their hearts on their shoes. 

“Now rub it on your knees so she needs you!” 

That one was a favorite. 

“Now hold it close to your heart, so she’ll never forget how much we love her.” 

The students held the heart close to their chest and I opened the back of the stuffed cat. Each child took their turn placing their heart inside the cat, and watched with big eyes and smiles as I fastened the back of the animal. 

We took Lacey everywhere. She accompanied field trips as a “chaperone.” She walked around the school with us as a “hall monitor.” She traveled to the computer lab to monitor online safety. She also gave several rewards to children. We used positive reinforcement in the classroom through Class Dojo rewards, so they could cash in their reward points for multiple activities with Lacey. 50 points can be exchanged for being the one to carry Lacey in the hallway for a day. 100 points can be exchanged for changing Lacey’s outfit for the week. 300 points can be exchanged for keeping Lacey with them at their seat for a day. That little stuffed cat turned out to be a pretty strong motivator.

She’s good for assignments too. She sits in the reading corner when she’s not traveling, and guards the “prompt bucket,” where students can go to pick up a prompt during free writing if they can’t think of anything to write about. She helps us count the number line during math and loves to operate the timer for center time. But my favorite assignment she’s involved in is the weekend trips, where each weekend, a different student takes Lacey home and writes about all the fun adventures they have with her at home. She is returns to the class on Monday, along with the best writing some of my kiddos did all semester. 

By the second month of school, our first graders really started seeing some major benefits. Not only were discussion prompts far more focused in circle time, but friends were being made. My egocentric students were becoming enthralled with their classmates' cultures and lives. Lacey broke down every diversity barrier that could’ve possibly affected the class. If there was one thing everyone had in common, it was that they all loved Lacey. My creative kiddos lived for show and tell. My analytical ones were making comparisons and connections on the spot. The diversity in our classroom wasn’t just embraced, it was celebrated. These kiddos were smiling. Laughing. Resolving conflicts that arose without the aid of a teacher. They were loving school. They were loving learning. 

I probably don’t need to tell you how rare that is. 

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Build A Bears are expensive!” But when you don’t buy a sound effect, thirteen outfits, and all the furniture they sell, they really aren’t that expensive. Basic bears are 12 to 15 dollars. Hearts are about 50 cents a piece. They gave me my bag of stuffing for free, and you really only need one outfit. I even sew my own build-a-bear costume for my color guard girls so the mascot’s uniform matches the one they wear to competitions. 

Stolen from my high school guard instructor, that little build-a-bear bond has made all the difference, and truly has the potential to make or break your class or team. For my first graders, it was the difference in motivation and excitement for learning. For my high schoolers, it was the difference in stupid drama among teammates. And for the sake of my sanity, I’m not sure which I was happier to see. 

If you love the idea, but aren’t sappy and creative… No worries. Colorguard season is en route once more, so for the first time, I have documented the build-a-bear ceremony for all to steal and adapt. 

Meet Bentley! {Pictured above.} He’s our adorable mascot for our high school color guard, named after their show concept, Bent Outta Shape. He was chosen with love, stuffed with care (by a spoon and some chopsticks…), and breathed into life by the wishes and goals of ten hearts. 


THE HEART CEREMONY IDEAS
Put it on your side so your friend is always by your side! 
Put it on your head so it’s super smart like you!
Put it on your muscles so it’s big and strong!
Raise it up high so it grows big and tall!
Put it on your knee so you know it needs you!
Put it on your tummy so it never goes hungry!
Put it on your lips for lots of smiles!
Put it on your toes so it’s TOE-tally cool! 
Put it on your hair so it never has a bad fur day!
Put it on your ears so it always listens! 
Drop more suggestions in the comments! 


I’ve found that the more significance you can give it, the better it will be. And if you’re worried about your high schoolers not receiving it well, I’m here to tell you… The second I brought out a bear that was dressed like them, made for them, and was soon to contain a part of them, they turned into six year olds again. Some really bought into the whole thing. Sure, some of them think it’s cheesy, but I have yet to complete the ceremony yet without each person doing every movement. They may talk like they think it’s stupid, but they wouldn’t rub a silk heart on their head, their knees, and their shoes if they truly thought it was dumb. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there’s a little kid in all of us, especially when we’re contributing to something on a personal level that ten of our best friends are doing with us. 

It’s worth the extra time. It’s worth the extra pennies. It’s my students' favorite part of the year, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite as well. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitant to email me at bethany@taxistotsandpolkadots.com, and make sure to show off your own adaptation on the tradition by tagging me {on instagram: @taxistotsandpolkadots} {on twitter: @ttandpd} {on facebook: Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots}. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with, but more than that, I can’t wait to hear the stories that come along with it. 

(Though I seriously doubt you can beat my cat story. R.I.P. Lacey… )