My letter to colleagues

This is my last week of work and I wanted to mark the milestone. I took some time writing these words and figure I should save it here rather than letting it get lost in email folders.

Dear Colleagues,

I cannot believe I have arrived to my final week with USAC. To mark the milestone, I have been wanting to attempt to express my gratitude in some way. I suppose I’ve been writing this in my head over the last few months and last night, this is what I came up with. Additionally, I very much desire to keep in touch. If we are not friends on facebook, or following one another on Instagram (@la_kenta), please reach out! I’ve also kept a blog for the last ten years. It’s been rather sparse since children came into the picture, but I hope to continue to let it be my digital collection of stories and thoughts and pictures and to give it more of my time. So here it goes….

When I read a book, I like to skim the acknowledgements section that comes at the end. I like to hear what I interpret to be deep expressions of gratitude—this always feels more powerful from a book I absolutely loved. It’s a reminder of the community that surrounds the author even though it’s just their name on the front of the book. I grew up with parents who had the belief that it takes a village and thus always felt an awareness of the community that surrounds me. I’ve been reflecting on my time with USAC a lot and am thinking about it as if it were a book. Chapter 1 would begin when I decided to study abroad in Costa Rica; the final chapter would be this one, where I say goodbye. And rather than telling you the whole story, I’ll skip ahead to the acknowledgements section to attempt to share with you, the community that surrounded me as the author of my book, the gratitude I have for the story of my time here and how much I will miss you all.

To the USAC Mission Thank you for assembling an incredible collection of individuals who believed in you and worked tirelessly to see you through. We all came and circled around you and your impact gave us strength to keep going even when things were hard.

To the VSG and Annex Thank you for being a space for my 14 years of work. Your walls, your doors, your kitchens and hallways will always be in my memories—primarily with laughter.

To those that were here Joel, Fritz, Josh, Shelly, Cami, Dominique, Sabrina and Andrew—you saw me in those early eager Graduate Assistant days all the way to now. I was in my 20’s, single, living with roommates and there wasn’t a single grey hair on my head. Thank you for being with me through all the days that led me here: days away from turning 40 (USAC and I were born the same year), 3 kids, 1 husband and lots of hair dye later….

To the ES team It has truly been the greatest privilege to lead so many staff over the years. It is absolutely the best part of this job for me. From an early part of life (I think it was at the age of 2 when I became a big sister) I took a great interest in service to others and have let cultural and servant leadership become a cornerstone of who I am. I owe some much of my best days at USAC to all of you and working together. Emily and Tylo (and the many others who have moved on), I count you here too 😊

To the USAC students Thank you for never staying the same and creating an eternal sense of job security as your needs continued to change faster than our ideas could keep up with. The square pegs and round holes created countless meetings, ideas and challenges to keep creativity flowing. And thank you to the handful of you that came back to work in our office—because like me, you saw something in USAC that felt special and wanted to become part of it. Even if just for a little while. I thank you the most of all the USAC students.

To the RD’s Thank you for all the ways you shared your home countries with me over the years. Some of my most treasured USAC memories are when you came to visit Reno and we inundated you with meetings and meals and you shared with us all the things that make your program locations amazing. I loved every minute of it and love knowing that I have a friend in every single time zone around the globe. Special thanks to the Spain RDs who spent time with me when I came to visit (on my honeymoon) in 2012. Patricia, Luis, Ibon and their staff made time to share their city with my new husband and me and I’ll never forget it.

[cue the music to get this lady off the stage amiright?]

To the Enrollment Department You have been my home during the work day since 2010 when I began full time work, and since 2008 when I was a graduate assistant in the department. I am not even sure how many department structures, staff members, retreats, meetings, potlucks or virtual themed meetings we have had, but they add up to a feeling of family and togetherness that carried me through when the work felt relentless. We have revised policies and procedures over and over, introduced new and improved systems and work flows and I feel so much accomplishment when I look back and consider where we began. It’s really remarkable what we have been able to achieve together. Keep doing what you do and keep your function as the center from where the spokes of the wheel extend that turn to move this organization along. Kara, thank you for the friendship, guidance and for believing in and trusting me with this work.

To the readers and watchers Thank you USAC book club, and the rest of you who would indulge me in impromptu conversations about TV shows and movies. I have absolutely loved hearing your thoughts on the most recent Game of Thrones or Ted Lasso episode and getting your recommendations on what to watch next. You all are my favorite.

To the mysterious brass mice Thank you for creating a true USAC mystery that goes on unsolved. To whoever has left me the brass mid century mouse figurines in my office over the last 18 months (there are 4 of them), reveal yourself and allow this mystery to be solved!

And finally…

To USAC  Thank you for giving me a space to learn and grow. A place to truly experiment with my leadership style and sharpen my saw. I’ve been able to see things from other angles, test my defenses and tamp down my stubbornness. I’ve been able to teach and learn at the same time, grow my network and expand my horizons. I will miss this very natural way to connect with people and work towards a common goal. Please know I’ll remain a fierce USAC Study Abroad supporter and hope to someday be sending Hugo, Cora and Esme somewhere in your caring hands.

With so much gratitude, I leave this week (and previous 14 years) with a collection of memories, skills, belief in mission based work and so many friendships.

All my best,

Jillian

The Holiday Card Letter

Remember the folded up letters tucked inside greeting cards that were often printed out on Christmas-y stationary and several paragraphs of what the family has been up to? That is what this is. I have never done one and thought this would be the year to start. You may have already read my reflective posts below about how 2020 has been so I thought I would just try to give a nice little recap of the year since we hardly saw anyone this year except on social media. I have missed my long talks with friends and family, they’ve been far and few between. I know this is only a one-way conversation but it may still re-connect us a little. At least that is the hope.

This year was just as much a whirlwind for us as everyone else. We are grateful that we have not suffered greatly during this pandemic as other families have. We have our jobs, our home and health. I have been working from home since March 19th and Hugo’s school had shut down the week prior to that. This flipped our routine on its head. For the next few months, we reestablished what would come to be our new normal as we quietly watched the world reach where we find ourselves today. Seriously, what a ride.

The spring was spent in lockdown taking all the precautions. We didn’t see friends or family, we left surprises on the doorstep of family and waved from our car as we doorbell dashed, we zoomed, took long walks on the trail around our neighborhood, groceries were delivered, TP and sanitizer was scarce, and I just have to say—the world felt scary. The saving grace was the sense of security and calm I felt at home. I’ve never been more grateful for my introverted home body tendencies. I would seriously go full weeks without ever leaving the house apart from trail walks, and never got stir crazy. How weird am I? We got very creative about how to make the days feel different from one to the next. We planted some seeds to grow in little pods in our dining room that we transferred to pots on the patio. It went ok, we have LOTS to learn about gardening. Once the weather warmed up, casual play and picnics outside became the norm. Kris and I would often enjoy some wine on the patio while the kids played and it **KIND OF** felt like we were on a tiny date. We took the win. We celebrated the kids birthdays at home and family came for visits of well wishes on the patio.

Summer was full of outdoor play, outdoor toys, swimmies and water. As the temperatures got hotter, we invested in more shade devices so they didn’t bake and bake as they played for hours outside. The alternative was to spend time in the same place they had been for the last few months. The extension of our living space was needed. In July, Hugo’s school opened back up and we enrolled Hugo and Cora for two half days. It was a strange time to start Cora in school, but she hit the ground running and has loved every second. This was a really nice way to shake up the week and give the kids some other interactions. By this time, we would engage in small family gatherings where the kids could see their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And lastly, we took a handful of long weekends to Lake Tahoe where we spent both our birthdays. Sometimes just a Friday to Sunday, others a Thursday to Monday. Each time, we’d come home refreshed after the change of scenery. These really helped a pandemic summer move along. The kids absolutely loved playing in the sand at the beach. They were so content to stay and play. When Hugo and Cora were younger, beach days were exhausting because they’d want to be everywhere but our beach camp. Things clicked into place and made the time at the beach a joy for all.

As the fall semester approached, we were not anticipating me still working from home and for there to still be a pandemic. We toiled over what to do for Hugo as he was to enter the public school in our neighborhood and begin his Kindergarten adventure. We could not imagine him starting school within such uncertain times and resolved to enroll him for the private kindergarten at their pre-school. This was a relief and far less stressful then having to deal with the public school system (I love you educators!!! This was just new school mom jitters). And so, Hugo and Cora went off to school each day and our once exhausted nanny went from three wildlings to just one. We celebrated our eighth anniversary with a dinner out at the Wild River Grille. What a treat!

The fall was full of many things. The sky was full of smoke for so much of august and September, the philosophical divides between masks and presidents ravaged the headlines and the pandemic worsened. Around the time despair began to creep in to my feelings, Kris saved the day and invested in our physical and mental health with a Peloton exercise bike. I could have a whole post on all the ways this bike has made such a positive impact but the best thing about it was timing. For me, the world was feeling so ugly, and the community I was able to connect with, lessened those feelings. We spent Thanksgiving home, just us. I cooked the whole meal and enjoyed every single minute of it. Truly. Time in the kitchen, to work through the steps of a recipe, feels so satisfying. Perhaps it’s because a feeling of completion in parenthood or life in general is somewhat fleeting as things can often seem so endless (to do lists, cleaning, meals, repeat), the ability to start something and finish it brought me so much joy. It is funny though—more than a full day’s work was finished in about 15 minutes of sitting at the table and eating.  

As we near the end of the year, I don’t see much changing with the start of the new year. I know everyone is anxious to say goodbye to 2020, but I anticipate much of our daily life staying the same. I’ll continue to work from our downstairs office at home, the kids will be attending school with temperature screenings, we will likely continue to limit our socializing outside of family and will keep learning the lessons we’ve been learning all year. I’ll patiently wait for this pandemic to subside and for new versions of the old normal to return. While I will truly look back on this year as personally transformative, it was not without its challenges, despite the rosey memories I share above. Our marriage, parenting style, finances, friendships/relationships, and more, were hit with significant challenges that we continue to work through. Nobody said life was easy, that’s for sure. But just like all of you, we all have stories to share, and we hold on to the positive and let go of the negative. So I hope this blog post finds you healthy and happy and enjoying the holiday season, however you plan to spend it. I also hope you’ve enjoyed reading about how things have been for the Kent Family. I’m fine, we’re fine, its all fine. The end 😉

Reflecting on 2020

Reflecting back on 2020, I have to say I’ve never had so much awareness and attention for the small things. I am so aware of how much my kids grew over the past year because we were home—all the time. Even though I have continued to work full time, being home and not having the hustle and bustle of going to the office and having social things on our calendar on nights and weekends has made things that were often flying below the radar more in my daily focus. You know how so many things usually just happen without you even realizing? I am grateful for the added awareness this year provided.

What is new and different compared to Jan 1, 2020?

  • I no longer have an infant. Esme was a little over 1 at the start of the year. Wobbling around on her legs, being broken from the bottle, and hardly verbal. She’s now big, fast, demanding, vocal and so interested in learning everything that Hugo and Cora are able to do.
  • Hugo is a giant. He basically skipped over size 5. In January he was a little over 4 1/2 and wearing size 4 clothes. I bought him some size 5 stuff in the spring and he has already out grown it all (pants wise). He’s impossible to pick up while sleeping. My toddler guy is gone, he’s a boy now.
  • Cora has found her voice. At the start of the year, she had a lot of speech with her tongue and teeth. They aren’t fully resolved, we had seen a speech therapist for a bit, but I think the issues were partially related to her being home with a quiet nanny all the time. She would express herself but didn’t have a large vocabulary and the words she would use were often intelligible. Going into quarantine and hanging out with her brother all the time, having a new nanny, and being around mom and dad more brought her to a new level and fast. She is now in school full time as of the fall and it is like night and day.
  • Me and my health. I eat salad. Every day. I eliminated dairy, and kind of do the trendy intermittent fasting each morning. (I say ‘kind of’ because I do have oat milk and a super food creamer in my coffee). I exercise almost daily. With these changes, I have lost 15 pounds this fall alone! Lots more to go, but still. Putting more time into what I eat and when because I work at home has been truly life changing for me, my habits and my body. I dread going back to the office and losing ground on this.
  • We fully moved into our house. I know we’ve lived here for a long time, but there were portions of this house (inside and out) that we were ‘waiting’ to get to. When I needed a place to work, and when home because the ONLY place we could go, we worked hard to make every square foot utilized. While we still want to do a million things to this house, we are happy to actually be moved in.
  • The kids (mostly referring to Hugo and Cora here) are turning into little independent humans, a shift from the needy highly dependent beings who were constantly tugging at our sleeves. They have their own interests, desires, opinions, and emotions. This is so different from prior phases where all of their basic needs all required a care giver. But they get themselves dressed, use the bathroom on their own, can open their own snacks, clean up messes and even like to help with things like the dishes or yard work. This is new. And I don’t think I would have been as aware of these subtle shifts in our role with them without having been home with them so much more.
  • We don’t need that anymore. And there is a lot of that. Starbucks? McDonalds? Bakery? Heck. No. We have been doing so much more of our own food prep. No more need for pre made stuff like salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, salsa, cakes or cookies. Without a social calendar on the weekend, we cook and we bake, and we use our espresso machine, BBQ and air fryer to replicate what Starbucks and McD’s once provided. There is still plenty that we do buy, I’m not saying we’ve gone exclusively farm to table-we are far from it. For example, we get a Pizza Factory delivery one a week, almost without fail. And lets be honest, that started pre-COVID. But overall, we have started to cook and bake more things reducing the need for others.
  • We wash our hands as soon as we get home. We use sanitizer when we are out of the house. We are aware of what we touch and how close we are to others. These are new life skills that wont go away with the pandemic. We had far fewer colds this year than other years (knock on wood—the year isn’t over!).

Well that’s enough for now, although the list could likely go on and on. I keep reflecting and keep watching what is changing and am truly enjoying the show.