Life

The Art of Gratitude

This morning I woke up with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It’s a stark contrast to the mornings I wake up feeling like a 500 pound weight is resting on my chest. Those are the days I feel I can only be thankful for the 150 milligrams of happy to help me cope.

It’s hard to keep your heart in a constant mode of gratitude, but it’s one of those attitudes that produces contentment and joy, something the world could use more of. Instead, we are under a constant state of blitzkrieg with messages of items we simply must have. We need to upgrade the old. We need the biggest and best. We need fast. Consume, consume, consume. We never have enough. Sometimes I feel like I never have enough.

During the Thanksgiving season, when I was in high school, teachers would ask students what they were thankful for. Everyone would go around and name something, usually big ideas like family, friends, or a huge material possession they had just acquired. And when it came to me, I always had to be weird. I would think up something stupid like my pillow. And I would share that. Friends would snicker at the idea and teachers would think I was being obnoxious, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Most people probably don’t think to be thankful for a pillow. It’s something most of us have always known. But have you ever tried to sleep without one? It’s not fun. I imagine the multitude of homeless right here in the States. People who don’t have a bed to sleep in. Somewhere to lay their weary heads. Yes. I’m thankful for my pillow. Usually we are told to focus on the big picture and not get lost in the details. But isn’t the joy in life in the little things? And if we’re so caught up in the big picture, sometimes we miss the details. And sometimes we need to focus on those details, because they can produce immense joy.

About four years ago, I read Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts and began keeping a journal of my own beautiful moments throughout the days. Seemingly dumb things to be thankful for. I recently went back and looked at what I wrote on the first few pages. Many of them I can vividly see, smell, hear, taste, or touch.

Classical music in ears on Sunday mornings.
Ketchup cornered smiles.
Brown sugar shampoo
Dancing raindrops on pavement

 And some of them I don’t remember what they mean.

Ace of Base winks from Jesus

I don’t doubt that in that moment I must have felt confirmation or assurance about something going on in my life. I’ve always believed God to speak to me in ways other than church, the Bible, prayer, or friends. Sometimes I hear him in the rain, or a breeze across my face. Sometimes through music (which this apparently was). He talks to us in a multitude of ways if we are willing to listen. And often times a grateful heart will open those windows for us to be receptive, because we aren’t so tangled up in our own selfishness.

Gratitude. It’s hard. It’s even harder to instill this in the hearts of children, especially when most have an overabundance of selfish nature. But the best way to shift their focus onto what they have instead of what they have not, is to model it ourselves. Yikes. Not an easy task.

My family prays according to Acts (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), and when we say our family prayers at night before bed, we spend the majority of our time moseying around in the “thankful” portion. We thank God for the seemingly mundane, the things we take for granted. The things we just assume will always be there: our house, two working vehicles, food in the pantry, bicycles to ride, clothes on our backs, and pillows on which to rest our heads. I love hearing my daughter thank God for all of these things. It’s a good reminder to me when I get into the slump of desiring more. Don’t get me wrong, wanting and having nice things is not evil. But if we don’t balance that out with a grateful heart, we flirt with our selfish desires a bit too much. We become egocentric. Our hand becomes a fist instead of an open palm. It’s an ugly, scary place to be.

So today, what am I grateful for?

Toothless gummy bear smiles
Whispering winds through tree branches
Raspberry lime scented candles
Texting dates with childhood friends
Morning first sips of coffee

 Each of you who continue to encourage me

Life

Cut to the Quiet

If you are reading this entry, it means that you are one of my faithful subscribers. If you make it to the end, it will be because you’re sitting in a waiting room with nothing else to do, you actually care about me, or you find it a challenge because I’m betting you won’t read the whole thing. Why? Because it’s going to be long. It’s also going to sound like my thoughts vomited onto the keyboard, and I most certainly am not going to end up where you think I’m going. Instead of A to B to C, I go A to -37 to purple fire hydrant.

So, where to begin…

I want to sell my current two homes, purchase land, build a farmhouse, buy a milking cow and some egg-laying hens, plant citrus trees, and grow a vegetable garden. I’ve always been a marriage between city and country, so this isn’t too far-fetched of a scenario.

But first, let’s rewind to two weeks ago.

The best way I know how to put it is that I’ve been experiencing an identity crisis. For as long as I can remember, this has been the equation for my life:

Beverly = School.

I’ve never not been (for more than a few months) either a student or a teacher (sometimes both). Now that I’ve closed that chapter of my life, I have taken on a new full-time role of wife and mom. Sounds easy, right? I get to do what many women wish they could. I’m living my dream. But now that the newness of fitting into my new role has washed away, I’m finding myself restless. Not because I want to go back to work, but because I almost feel as though I don’t know who I am anymore. Being a mom and wife is fulfilling in its own right, but I have always needed something that belongs just to me. Something in which I feel I excel. My name means “industrious one,” which means I need to find a craft. When I left teaching, I thought adding “writer” to what I identified as would solve the problem. So, I’ve been writing.

I’ve always known my blog isn’t something that would go viral. I’m not the world’s best writer, I don’t write with a universal audience in mind, and I’ve committed to only write about ideas that come to me and ferment for a while, which is why you only get an update every few months, at best. My real side project has been working on a manuscript for a novel. I’m eight chapters in of a potential 24-30, and two weeks ago, I was ready to throw in the towel. I’ve been working on poetry, but much of it is riddled with dark themes describing the brokenness of humanity: suicide, abuse, murder… I fear I can’t share without others thinking something must be wrong with me… But back to the point. I have always believed everyone has at least one thing in which they are really great. I’m good at a lot of things, but I’ve never felt as though I’ve been great at one thing.

Insert crisis.

Thankfully, I have a couple of good friends who listen to me without judgment. And by that, I mean, even when I walk away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt they aren’t thinking something different than what they said to my face, and I know what was said will be kept confidential. So I texted with one about this crisis and had coffee with another. Both graciously listened to me and gave me advice on what I should focus on. Even after that, I still just felt frustrated, and for the first time in my whole life, completely lost. What am I doing with my life? Who am I? Why am I not great at something? Why do I always feel distracted?

When people who know I’ve been working on a manuscript inquire about how far I’ve gotten since the last time they asked, I’m embarrassed to say I’m in exactly the same place. I tell them I don’t have time. I don’t even have time to read. I’ve been reading The Lovely Bones for three months now and have only conquered ten chapters. The only “reading time” I’ve allowed myself is when I sit in the tub at the end of the day. But invariably, I find myself catching up on what I’ve missed online since I checked in the morning…or since lunch…or since that afternoon break…or since thirty minutes ago.

I woke up several times Sunday night thinking about why I can’t seem to make a major dent in any of my projects and about how much “noise” is in my life. I’m constantly reading people’s conversations on Facebook, keeping up with what’s going on in my own world as well as the world at large through Twitter, I’m focused on seeing the cool life everyone else has on Instagram. I love music, so whenever I’m in the car, I have the radio on. At home, CDs are always the backdrop for chores, cooking, playing, eating,…anything! I even bought tickets to three different concerts all within a week’s time!

The next morning when I awoke, I impulsively deactivated Facebook for seven days. I can’t delete my Twitter or Instagram app because it will delete it’s content, so I moved them to the last page on my iPhone and committed to not opening them for the full seven days as well. I need quiet. Apparently, I’ve become more interested in everyone else’s life than my own. I’m afraid I might miss what one of my friends I haven’t seen in twenty years and probably will never see the rest of my life had for lunch.

Back to Monday morning. After I dropped Elizabeth off at school, I came home and picked up the book Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider. A friend had lent it to me a few weeks ago. I wasn’t even really sure what this book was about. I picked it up and finished the whole thing within two days…and in rolled the farm.

Even though non-fiction isn’t my first choice when I go to pick something up, this book spoke to my soul. It was so timely. Within chapters, she eloquently explained the struggle I was experiencing:

“…I find my soul frequently calling for a rest from the loud cacophony of the Internet. It’s too easy to confine the world to little pixels and square-shaped photos that ask for a “Like.” When I can dive into that world at any given moment, from the stoplight to the church pew to the grocery line, my heart begins to hurt. The Internet is clamoring for me to admire and interact with the thoughts of my friends and readers around the world, but the payment is the three-dimensional people around me the ones with whom I live and breathe in community” (Oxenreider 73). *

My first day without social media was amazing. I felt newly alive. I even decided to not turn on music or talk radio for this sacred week of quiet. It’s then that I remembered that I had seen a sticky in Brent’s car the previous week when I borrowed it. Plastered right in front of the gas gauge were these words:

“Be still and know that I am God.”

I wonder if I had been thinking about that subconsciously, and that was what originally woke me in the middle of the night.

Monday night I asked Brent what we did before we had easy access to the internet? When I think back, life might not have been as convenient, but I do believe it was richer.

Tuesday, I drove to Melbourne and back to visit my parents, which is almost a two hour round trip. Usually this is my time to put in some of my favorite CDs and just zone out or sing at the top of my lungs. Instead, I drove in silence. I allowed myself time to quietly think.

I have friends who have never even opened a Facebook account. I’ve always thought they were missing out. Now I believe it is I who am missing out. It’s much harder to go back once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box…especially when I opened three (FB, Twitter, and Insta), but I am on my fourth day and I haven’t missed it one bit. I honestly haven’t wondered what is going on in everyone else’s life because I’m focused on my life. What is right in front of me. I would really like to give up social media altogether, but there is pressure if I want to (maybe) be a writer, I have to build a platform…and that platform is mostly built online. So while I know I can’t completely give it up, I will figure out a way to balance it. I might only check social media once a week. And because I do that, I will have to check “popular” instead of “most recent,” a momentous challenge for my OCD brain.

So, if I don’t “like” a status, or “favorite” a tweet or “love” a picture, it’s most likely because I didn’t see it, not because I’m a snob.

Our current generation is at a real disadvantage because of their easy online access. Yes, it’s a handy tool, but they are missing out on life by staring at a screen. I’ve seen this played out over and over again in my last few years of teaching. Instead of using a study hall wisely, over the course of a year, students waste an obscene number of school hours watching YouTube videos or Netflix, or playing games. We want them engaged (even within education) with a screen rather than with those around them. We wrongfully tell them they are engaging the culture and each other through technology.

And forget about allowing our kids to be bored! Oxenreider writes an entire chapter on the subject of boredom. Here are just some of her thoughts:

“If boredom is simply a lack of stimulation and the unpleasant feelings that go with it, then the antidote is not finding a source of entertainment – it’s finding motivation to brush away those unpleasant feelings. If I quickly solve my kids’ boredom problem with movies in the car, the next great video game, a slew of extra-curricular activities, or even lying on the floor with them to serve as a playmate because no other kids are around, we’re short-circuiting what could ultimately be a beautiful thing. History has shown that boredom is the impetus to creativity” (Oxenreider 182).

Our kids rarely have the chance to be bored, and it’s really our fault. We, as adults, don’t allow ourselves to be bored either. We often model the need for constant entertainment. I can’t even stop at a red light without checking to see if I’ve missed an email.

We’ve also eaten the lie that in order to be productive, we need to multi-task…and we wake up wondering why we have a bellyache. Sometimes to be productive, we need to be quiet. And still.

During the last few days of quiet, I have one word that keeps coming to me. At the beginning of the year, my resolution was “be.” I’ve done fairly well “being” in the moment when there is a moment to be in. But isn’t it true that when we begin to master one area of our lives, a new construction site is opened before our eyes? I keep hearing the whisper of “Repurpose.” I’m not sure if that means I’m learning what my new purpose is now that I am listening, or if I’m supposed to go buy used materials and repurpose them, or start a side blog titled “repurpose” that will follow my journey and give encouragement to others to live intentionally and simply. But I kid you not, this word has been repeated in my mind at least 100 times daily since Monday. It must mean something.

Live simply. Live intentionally. Minimize the noise.

When Brent got home from work last night I asked him the following question: Do you think we could go a whole year without buying any new clothes? We have so much! We are so rich (in comparison to the rest of the world, not to mention non-monetary richness)! We consume, and consume, and consume. We have so many unused items on shelves and behind cabinet doors that I could probably make it a mission to just tell myself I can’t buy new eye shadow or nail polish until I use up what I already have. And I’m not even a hoarder. Brent knows when he turns his back I’m constantly weeding things out to donate or throw away.

Don’t get me wrong. I like new stuff. We’ve scrimped in the past because we don’t believe in living outside our means. Right after we had Elizabeth, I colored my own hair until just a few months ago (she’s almost five), we rarely went out to eat, and we lived on $80 for weekly groceries. Credit cards and debt was not an option. So now that our dedication has paid off and there’s more than enough wiggle room, I enjoy going out to eat, taking the occasional shopping trip, or being pampered.

But what if I went for a year giving myself my own pedicures, wearing the clothes I have in my closet that haven’t been worn in three years (maybe even reinventing them with my sewing machine), used what I have. Lived on what I have. What would I learn? I would probably learn about savoring life. Having a rich life. Because it would be on purpose. I would consciously be making that decision. There’s nothing wrong with having it the other way. I just fear I’m allowing life to live me when I choose convenience over quality.

I realize that I have the advantage over many people because I don’t work outside the home, but in my several days of quiet, I have realized I haven’t done some of the things I’ve been wanting to do for years because of the distraction of all the noise around me. I live a quarter of a mile from the drugstore and grocery store. I should be riding my bike up there if I only need to pick up a few things. How long have I lived in Florida and I don’t even have a library card yet? It’s been six years since I’ve wanted to bake cookies and take Shadow over to the fire station. Make my own pasta. Roast my own coffee. Cook from scratch. Eat organic, whole foods. Learn how to can. Do the things that my family did just a few generations ago (some of them just one generation ago). Enjoy the sweetness of it.

I need to write out the principles I want to instill in my daughter and figure out how our family can instill those in her through the intentionality of our lifestyle. I want her to have knowledge about the world, not just her world (believe me, it’s not going to come from access to the internet).

I want her to live a real flesh and blood life, not a digitized life. I want her to be bored so that she can create.

It seems I might be going backwards, but when I think of savoring life, I think of my grandfather. He was the oldest of nine kids who lived on a farm when he was younger. He knew what hard work was. He even built several of the homes he and his family lived in. He knew how to live a self-sustained life, dependent on no one, not held captive by the almighty dollar or consumerism. And savoring life is often about enjoying the fruits of your labors, is it not?

I’d love to one day sell our two houses, buy some land in the “country” outskirts of Orlando, build a house (a distant dream Brent and I had when we first married), grow some of our own vegetables, plant citrus trees, and even have some livestock.

To live life slowly. Yes, it would be hard work, but think about the togetherness our family would experience from weeding a garden, milking a cow, and cooking from scratch in the kitchen. Oh, the lessons Elizabeth would learn that can’t be taught in school. I know I sound like 1900, but there’s something to be said about the way they lived life back in the good ol’ days.

I’ve been thinking lately about what the best way is to honor my grandfather’s legacy since his passing not long ago. It’s not by necessarily doing all the things he did, but at least creating a life conducive to reaping the same benefits of the life he had, whether it be in the country or not. Being content and resourceful, working hard, not wasting, caring about people and not things.

It’s easy for me to get excited about all of this because I’m in the romantic stage of this awakening. Check in with me in three months and I might be moving to Winter Park, getting weekly pedicures and eating donuts. Even if I never own a cow named “Brownie” like my grandfather once did, I do want to purposefully set aside time to recalibrate myself on a regular basis. To spend time in the quiet. Listen to my own thoughts. Be willing to sacrifice convenience for quality.

Moo!

 

Oxenreider, Tsh. Notes from a Blue Bike. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2014. Print.

*Sorry I don’t know how to format a block quote in my blog. The English teacher inside me panicked, but the ex-English teacher inside me doesn’t care!

Life

One Word New Year’s Resolution

It’s New Year’s resolution time, and that typically means it’s time to recycle my list from last year:

Exercise at least five times a week.

Eat clean.

Read more books.

If you’re a task-oriented dreamer like me, you enjoy creating your goals. Nothing brings more satisfaction than making that list and picking the items off one-by-one in front of the firing squad. And if you’re melancholy like me, you will also find yourself feeding your shredder that same list around day 23 as you ride the elevator up to the penthouse of defeat, personal pan pizza in one hand and twitter feed in the other. One thing is for sure. The only crunches that will be happening are from the handful of chips in my mouth.

Of course, I rarely feel guilty about not keeping my resolutions. I mean, I make the same ones every year. But I’ve finally discovered the problem. I’m always dealing with quantitative data, and defeat inevitably creeps in when my numbers get behind. It’s the curse of the melancholy.

That’s why, for this year, I’m going to make my resolution simple. One word, to be exact.

Be.

Yep. That’s it.

Be.

Ah, yes. Finally. A resolution that is qualitative instead of quantitative.

Technically, I can’t fall behind my goal because all I have to do is be better than I was last year. And that really won’t be hard, because I’ve always been terrible at just being.

You see, I have a disability known as mentalitus interupticus, and it goes something like this: I’m at a Christmas party surrounded by lovely people talking about lovely things, building relationships and making memories, but I’m only partially listening, nodding my head up and down, halfway engaged because here’s what I’m really thinking: Did I rotate the laundry? Great, now I’m going to need to rerun the load. It’s 8:00 already. I hope Brent remembers we need to leave at 8:15. What am I going to cook for dinner tomorrow night? It’s 8:03. My phone is vibrating. It could be an emergency. Why can’t my house just be organized? 8:07. Brent better start winding down this conversation. I’m not joking about my 9:00 bedtime. I haven’t heard back from that email I sent over 2 days ago. Need I read into that? 8:15. Time to dig my elbow into Brent’s side. 8:15 and 30 seconds. He’s still talking. We are going to be sooo late getting home. That means I won’t have a full 8 hours of sleep and tomorrow’s events will be sent into a tailspin. 8:25… He’s a dead man.

See how easy it is for me to sabotage the present?

About six weeks ago, I experienced a moment of personal crisis when my husband went out of town on business. Plagued with off-and-on sickness since summer time, a diagnosis of depression, and a house that hasn’t been completely organized since we moved in three years ago, I melted into an emotional puddle. My brother kindly invited my daughter and me over for the afternoon. While the kids were playing with chalk on the driveway, my brother, his wife and I sat in camping chairs in their beautiful Disney forest of a front lawn, sipping coffee, and talking about life…for three hours. And it was the best three hours I had had in a LONG time. That’s when I realized that is the stuff life is made of. I had made myself so busy, physically and mentally, that I had lost sight of what is important. Relationships and the beauty of nature…everything else is rubbish. I’ve always known this innately, I think everyone does, but to be consciously aware and intentional about just being has caused a paradigm shift, at least for me, someone who has an anxiously loud brain.

So then why am I always so consumed with thoughts that in the long run have very little to do with enjoying nature and the presence of others? Why do I waste my time worrying about an unorganized house? Why do I spend my time half-engaged in conversations because I’m so hyper-sensitive about the time? Why do I allow the chiming of my phone to distract me from the people and experiences right in front of me?

Just two weeks ago, I was visiting my parents in Asheville, North Carolina, and my favorite uncle and his wife came to visit. This past year he was diagnosed with Leukemia, and after a long, hard battle, and what we believed was eminent death, God spared his life and he is in remission. I don’t remember all of our conversation (I blame that on the anti-depressants and not on the importance of the words), but he did speak briefly about “being in the moment.” So much of our life is wasted thinking about future moments that we don’t fully engage and digest the moment we are in. We are busy looking through camera lenses instead of experiencing images through our raw vision. We are so busy thinking about how to make the future perfect that we aren’t fully present.

Relationships. Nature. Being.

Who cares about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself (Matthew 6:34).

I need to just be.

I know, I know. All of the things my brain thinks about are still important. I can’t ignore them. But, I can quiet my thoughts so that I can appreciate the present for what it is. Instead of stressing about my 9:00 bedtime, I can remind myself that the visit I’m having with dear friends is far more important than trying to shuffle them out the door by 8:50.

So for this year, my resolution is simple. I will still need grace. I will still need forgiveness. I will still deal with anxiety from time to time.

But I can’t imagine the beautiful opportunities, memories, and richness that will blossom for me, all by simply being.

 

Now, pass the pie.

Life

Why Introverts Should Stop Feeling Guilty

If you are an introvert, you know all too well the labels given to you by the “others.” You’ve been called “stuck-up,” “snobbish,” “standoffish,” “intimidating,” and maybe even “narcissistic.” And if you’re an introvert, you’ve also obsessed and agonized over what these words mean, who said them, the tone that conveyed the message, the context in which they were said, what that person was wearing when they said them, if the person is a back, belly, or side sleeper, could you take them in Street Fighter, …

But you also know that none of these labels are true. The truth is that you just don’t need people like other people need people.

At some point in your life, your parents made you play a musical instrument for houseguests. No doubt you’d have rather poured kerosene over that ten grand baby grand and let the flames lick up all the glory than have to touch an ivory for an audience.

You’ve also probably enjoyed hanging out with your big brother when he suddenly pulled over at a grocery store to pick up juice before going home, and he forced you to get out of the car to run in to get it. Water works ensued as the nightmare of greeting the cashier had you wishing he would just run you over with his Ford Bronco…in both drive and reverse.

You know what it’s like to receive a phone call and instantly start weighing the pros and cons of taking the call. If you pick up, you can just rip off the band-aide. If you wait, you’ll have the burden of calling back, but you get the bonus of a message tipping you off about the content of the conversation. Then you can practice all possible scenarios before the dial-back.

Or how many times have you been asked by your significant other to call to make a doctor’s appointment or even order a pizza, and you’d rather eat the telephone, power cord, and charger than have to talk to a complete stranger you will most likely never see ever, ever again.

Yep. Introverts are oftentimes seen as “less” than their party-animal counterparts who just love, love, LOVE people. We’ve been told by others that we need to come out of our shells, that practicing talking to people will make it easier in the future.

What if we like our shells? Do extroverts know how fabulously decorated and awesome it is in there? That maybe we don’t need to come out? What if we don’t want to purchase a copy of Holding Conversations for Dummies?

All of our lives we’ve heard from others that we need to work on our “weaknesses” so we can turn them into strengths. I’m sorry, but do you know anyone who is made up of all strengths?

When our kids come home and show us their report cards, what do most parents tend to focus on? Any substandard grades- the Cs and Ds. If they have the capability to be an A or B student in those classes, then that is a different story. But, if your kid just isn’t cut out for math, he’s not cut out for math! That’s not his strength. Likewise, our temperament is pre-determined. And while we can and should bring areas of deficit up to some level of “functioning,” let’s not fixate on what’s “broken,” but rather harness and improve our strengths.

Phew! What a relief. We are free from the pressure of being awesome at all things!

Most introverts are task-oriented, which means we pay attention to details, we tend to be creative, and we process information at a slower rate, which not only makes us excellent listeners, but also allows us to be less reactionary to terrible news.

We might not like to party like it’s 1999, but we know how to strictly follow a recipe, sew a dress from scratch, write a novel, paint a masterpiece, or play a concerto in A minor. None of those things require anyone else to be involved, AND THAT’S OKAY.

So the next time an extrovert is making you feel like a Debbie Downer because you have a pre-written list of 101 reasons why you can’t go bowling, just remember the words from the Tom Petty song, “You don’t know how it feels to be me,” then proceed to crawl back into your shell, whip up a chocolate soufflé, and write a dear diary entry on how awesome it is to be an introvert.

 

Life

Anniversary Anxiety

It was my seventh wedding anniversary yesterday and I struggled to find a gift for my husband. By struggle, I mean, the seven minutes I spent looking felt like seventy.

Usually we keep it pretty low-key. When we first got married, we went out to dinner to celebrate, but we’ve never really exchanged gifts.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure why we don’t exchange gifts. My love language is gifts so I’m pretty sure that wasn’t my decision. Well, this year I had a little jingle in my pocket and I wanted to get something for him as a small token of how much I appreciate the self-sacrificing man he is. Here was my thought process: Hey, I’m classy. Well, at least sometimes, and what do classy people do? They buy a gift off that traditional gift list someone made up.

So a quick Google search pulled up a list of traditional wedding anniversary gifts. Let me tell you, the list looks pretty good when you get down to the bottom: pearls, silver, gold, emeralds, diamonds. I guess those nice gifts are at the end because you can afford that kind of stuff when you’re old.

Do you want to know the traditional gift for a seventh anniversary? Copper or wool.

C.o.p.p.e.r. or W.o.o.l.

What comes to your mind? Let me tell you the only things I could think of: a sack of pennies and a pair of socks. Or I could stuff the socks with some pennies.

So then I searched online for actual traditional gifts for seventh anniversaries of the copper and wool persuasion. Most were some sort of trinket or knick-knack, many of them with the ability to personalize (gasp!)

Let me tell you something about me:

  1. I hate knick-knacks or anything else that can clutter up my home.
  2. I’m not a fan of personalization, with the exception of stationary or initials on something practical.
  3. My husband and I are graduates of FPU, and that means we believe in making purchases with cash. That makes spending cash much more painful, so we always make sure we really like what we are paying for.

With that being said, I refused to buy any of their suggested gifts because I didn’t want to buy him a gift just to buy a gift. I needed to like it. Well, I wanted him to like it, too.

See, if I was the one making a list of modern day anniversary gifts, you know what would be the seventh celebration gift?

A gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts, because husbands deserve a half-priced happy hour iced latte every once in a while for putting up with their wives (let’s admit it, most of us are crazy).

Don’t worry. I’ll let him know when he should start looking at the traditional gift list in approximately eighteen years.

But for now, cheers!

Life

#amwriting

I’m a few weeks in and this journey is nothing like I thought it would be.

I first had the dream that I might write a book when I was in my early teens. Let me tell you how my elementary mind thought this would go:

You sit down in front of your typewriter (yes, I typed on my mom’s typewriter as a kid) and just start making up a story, hoping the keystrokes will keep up with where your mind is traveling.

For some people, maybe that’s a reality.

For me, it is not.

Below are some of the things I have discovered as I’ve started walking down this path. Some of them I already knew, but experience has made them golden.

 

1.  Start at the end and work backwards. When I began this journey six months ago, all I knew was what would happen at the end of my novel. I sat on my idea and jotted down notes as they came to me until I began my first chapter just a few weeks ago. Know the highlights of what happens throughout, discover a beginning and then work forward connecting your dots, ultimately reaching the end you knew all along.

2.  Keep a notebook with you at all times. When you don’t have a notebook, use a napkin, paper towel, toilet paper, your hand, etc. Some of the best pieces of inspiration I’ve gotten have been when I’m away from my keyboard. It might be a witty piece of dialogue, a location that would be perfect for a setting, or a vivid scene that comes to mind while daydreaming.

3. Don’t shy away from things you don’t know anything about, but also don’t be afraid of research. In my current draft, I chose a sport I know very little about for some of my characters to engage in. It’s going to take some time to research how this sport works and the terms that are used. Hey, look, I’m learning something new as I write!

4. Don’t over plan. You can stifle creativity. Depending on the genre, some authors need a very detailed plan, but don’t be afraid to make some of what happens up as you go. As I said earlier, I know what happens at the end and the beginning, and I know a handful of things that needs to happen along the way. Other than that, I am only thinking a few chapters/scenes at a time. All I need to do is connect to that next dot.

5.  When you’ve only spoken using your own voice all your life, mastering a new one (or five) is a challenge. The key is to know who your character is and get inside his head. In a way, you have to become that character.

6. Don’t be afraid to veer off track. As long as you don’t sabotage your end goal, it’s okay to change details, dialogues, scenes along the way. Writing is oftentimes fluid. You have to be flexible.

7. Read while you write. Read a variety. Subconsciously study while you read.

8. I have a friend I trust who reads what I write piecemealed to him. While I know what’s going on with the story in my head, it’s important that it translates onto paper without any glaring gaps. Pick someone who you know isn’t in the business of flattery.

9. There are a lot of head banging moments. Sometimes you just have to walk away. My friend who reads my work has told me to put a draft away and let it stew in the back of my mind for a period of time. The kinks often work themselves out.

10. This one is my favorite because it has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Don’t edit yourself on the sentence or even the paragraph level as you go. Let your brain throw up onto the keyboard. After you finish the chapter/scene, you can then edit, edit, edit. It doesn’t matter how bad the first draft of a chapter is as long as you understand the power of editing. You can’t make awesome what isn’t there. Get the main idea typed out, then you can go back later and figure out the best way to express it.

I’m new to this. What’s above isn’t a list of laws or commandments, but elements that have been true for me as an individual.

Writing isn’t what I thought it would be. It’s harder, requires more time, and is more mentally exhausting than I dreamed.

Writing isn’t what I thought it would be.

It’s so much better.

Life

Birthday Memories

As I have been savoring the dwindling moments of another wonderful birthday week, I’ve been thinking about the various ways my family has celebrated my special day in the past. No doubt, this birthday will be remembered with affection in the years to come, but my mind keeps wandering to one of my favorite birthday memories.

It wasn’t because someone planned something elaborate or spent a bunch of money on me. In fact, this particular year, my situation was less than ideal.

Four years ago, when I turned twenty-eight, my husband had to be away on a business trip during my birthday week. I was six months pregnant with my daughter, taking care of two dogs and working full time. None of my family lived close by. This was sure to be the year I’d have an unhappy birthday.

When asked by my students the week leading up to my birthday what my fabulous plans were going to be, I told them that I wasn’t doing anything because my husband was away on business. God bless the gracious and giving nature of the students I had that year. When I arrived at school the morning of my birthday, four gourmet cupcakes from a local cakery, my favorite Starbucks drink, and a royal scepter were all delivered to me. After school, my students whisked me away to Chili’s to eat an early dinner, complete with that dreadful birthday song. They showered me with gifts, but even more so, they showered me with their love, time, and laughter.

They saw an opportunity to pour into my life.

What did I ever do to deserve such awesome treatment from a group of “kids”?

It gets better. That group I described to you was a class of juniors.

The next night, a group of seniors stole me away to eat at a Japanese steakhouse. They all signed a card and pooled their money to purchase the latest season of a television show I was watching at the time. The night was topped off by a trip to the ice cream shop.

I know I’ve had a lot of cool birthdays in the past.  I’ve done some exciting things and have received some expensive gifts. But the reason I distinctly remember this particular celebration is because in my older, wiser years, I have discovered that relationships are more important than any trinket, and memories worth more than gold.

I remember just being with my kids. I remember the laughter. I remember feeling loved.

And that’s the greatest gift of all.

 

Education, Life

Playing with Fire

It’s time to throw back to 2009… the first time I thought I’d get fired.

It was time for our annual retreat days, a time when classes are canceled and students spend time bonding with one another and listening to guest speakers. This particular year, our high school students were bused to a neighboring school to hear David Nasser speak.

As one of the senior class sponsors, I, along with two other teachers chaperoned the senior charter bus. It’s an easy enough task because, to be honest, our students are usually very well behaved.

After the event was over that day, we reloaded to return back to our own school. Once we arrived, I was the first to exit off the bus to distribute copies of the speaker’s book to students. After handing out the last one, dreams of what my weekend would entail overtook me as I started fumbling for my keys to head home. The other teachers had already left.

That’s when it happened. I noticed a pocket of senior boys standing outside of the charter bus, laughing. I gave the ringleader an inquisitive look and he just pointed up, up to where the flesh of a boy’s face was smooshed up against the cold glass. He was fast asleep. To my horror, the charter bus’s brake let out the hiss it gives right before the wheels begin to roll. I commanded the leader to race up to the front of the bus and get the driver’s attention to let him know he still had a passenger aboard.

After her exerted a half-hearted jog, the boy doubled over unable to stop laughing. Ah! But it was 3:45, and that meant the back exit to the school was locked. The bus would HAVE to circle around campus to leave through the front exit. We could get his attention then.

I’m not going to lie. At this point, I thought the prank was pretty funny.

Thirty seconds passed and no bus. I walked two hundred feet to look around the corner of the school and discovered that the back exit was still open.

The bus was gone.

My student was gone.

Several phone calls to the sleeping football player revealed that his phone was still silenced from the conference.

Did I mention his dad is a lawyer?

From the time the charter company was contacted, it took thirty minutes to reach the bus driver to let him know someone was still sitting in the back seat.

We recovered him an hour later after a round trip of fifty miles.

He was late to his team dinner, his dad was angry (at his friends), and I had just found the perfect size cardboard box with which to empty the contents of my desk.

But…here I sit four years later, employed by the same school, and laughing about the time the boy was left on the bus.

Life

Fine Wine

Dozens of student recommendation letters and three thank-you notes.

Thank you. Two words that probably top the most frequently used phrases in our language.

There are many tones (heart-felt, sarcastic, nonchalant) and modes (verbal, email, text) in which to send a thank-you.

My favorite? The handwritten note.

When I was growing up, my mom always made me write thank-you notes to my relatives and friends whenever I received a gift, even if I was able to say “thank-you” in person. And then I married my husband. In his family, a verbal thank-you over the phone suffices at Christmas and birthdays. While I’m grateful that there is no expectation on his family’s side to send a note, my own children will be taught the way I was taught.  Not because I think my way is better, but because, to me, nothing says “thank-you” like letting your pen bleed onto a piece of card stock.

During my years of teaching, I have written more college recommendation letters than I’d care to think about. This is not an easy task. Crafting a personalized letter for a student can take as much as thirty minutes to an hour. Quite a sacrifice of time when you already work fifty-plus hours a week. Of all the letters I’ve written, I’ve received a handwritten thank-you note from three of my students. Guess how many of those notes I still have? Three. There is power in a person’s handwriting. It tells me I was worth the sacrifice of their time to communicate their feelings in a very personal way.

Some things in life only need a verbal thank-you. Some things only need a text that reads “thanks!” Some things only need that two-word email.

But the handwritten note? That’s the vintage wine of thank-yous.

Education, Life

Lessons from the Classroom – Apologies

Teachers make thousands of decisions every day, many of them impulsive. It’s the nature of working with people, especially hormonal teenagers. While you can perfectly plan your day, you can’t control the questions your students ask or the actions they take, most of which call for redirection. And just like that, things don’t go as planned.

The problem with making impulsive decisions is that you WILL make mistakes. This is an indisputable fact. I’ve made my share of mistakes, and even with thirty-eight days of teaching left, I will, indeed, do or say something that will cause me to take the walk of shame through the breezeway and to my car.

In my ten years of teaching, I have discovered that it’s easy to apologize to students when I’ve made a glaring mistake. It’s not so easy when I can justify the content of my mistake.

Let me explain.

Three years ago while teaching an honors level American literature course, I let my “righteous anger” get the best of me. Fourth period had dismissed and a student had stayed behind to discuss an assignment. While giving him counsel at my desk, one of my fifth period students came flying through the door and immediately interrupted my conversation, as if I wasn’t speaking to anyone else. I snapped. As the words of correction slid past my teeth and between my lips, I wished I could snatch them back, cram them in my mouth and choke them back down.

It wasn’t what I said. I was right in what I said. But tone. Tone changes the meaning of words.

By the time I finished with the student I was helping, the tardy bell had rung and my fifth period students were in their seats ready for class to start. Even her. I saw the wilted flower sitting in her desk, and I felt broken. As I walked over to her, I discovered tears were welling up in her eyes. Kneeling down beside her desk, I quietly apologized for the harshness of my words and excused her to the restroom. Even though she accepted my apology, I was so consumed that period with the thought that I had lost her forever that I couldn’t concentrate on the lesson. The tone of my words had caused irreparable damage that would prevent me from ever having a good relationship with her.

Several more periods passed and I still felt like I had unfinished business. Yes, I had apologized, but who wouldn’t if they made someone cry. It was what needed to be done. Another impulsive decision. I so desperately needed her to understand how sorry I was, that my apology wasn’t a superficial reaction to her tears. So I did what I do when I’m serious: I picked up a pen.

By the end of the day, I had fastened a note of apology to the inside of her locker. To my surprise, she returned to my classroom in tears once again. This time she hugged me and spilled about her bad morning that had prompted her grand entrance into my classroom.

I can’t explain how precious that ten minute conversation was.

She stopped by after school often that year as well as the following year when I wasn’t even her teacher. A freshman in college, she came by my classroom yesterday just to spend twenty minutes catching up.

I wholeheartedly believe that the note of apology is not only what salvaged our relationship, but also what sparked its growth. It proved the sincerity of my initial apology.

There’s something to be said of resolved conflict in relationships. Do I wish I had never spoken to her the way I did? Absolutely. However, without my mistake, or rather the reaction to my mistake, I don’t know that we would have had the grounds for a lasting connection.

If life is about relationships, we have to be willing to climb over the wall of pride and say those words that the offended so desperately need to hear.

Pride makes apologizing painful. But the sweet balm of expressed remorse heals many a wound.