Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Wrinkles and Time

Last week, when washing my face before going to bed, I was surprised to see that somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, one of my formerly-slight crow's feet had become much more distinct.

It reminded me of the afternoon last summer when I looked at my face in my rearview mirror and, in the bright sunshine, saw a host of wrinkles that I hadn't noticed when looking in my bathroom mirror.

In both of these situations, I was initially disconcerted. Most of the inevitable changes that time has brought to my body are, for the most part, hidden by clothing most of the time.

But these wrinkles? They're right there, smack-dab in front of me every time I wash my face or brush my teeth or just glance into a mirror as I pass by.

I don't like them.

I tried reminding myself of something I've read time and again. That people with dry skin --  hence fewer pimples and other skin issues during adolescence -- are more wrinkle-prone than folks with oily skin, who dealt with skin issues back in their teens. I had blemish-free skin in high school and college, I tell myself, so just appreciate that and don't worry about these silly wrinkles.

In all honesty, telling myself that didn't really help. I still wanted these wrinkles gone!

I noticed that smiling made the eye-wrinkles (aka crow's feet) more pronounced. Research of reputable sources indicate that, indeed, "habitual
expressions such as smiling" is a cause of wrinkles.

I'm happy to say that I smile quite often. Life has given me lots to smile about, lots to laugh about.

So many moments with my late husband, my son and daughter, friends, and students that caused me to smile, to grin, to chuckle, to laugh until I cried.

I don't regret a single smile, a single moment of laughter.

And so, I've come to terms with the laugh lines that accent my eyes.

But what about those darned lines that mark my cheeks?

Those don't come from something as wonderful as smiles and laughter.

No, they come from a childhood spent outdoors, riding my bike and playing hopscotch and "Mother, May I?" with my friends. They come from untold hours spent playing softball with a group of girls that worked hard and had fun doing it. They come from hours spent by the pool with friends, talking about life and boys and dreams. They come from countless hours spent watching my children at swim lessons and softball games and soccer games and baseball games and playing in the park. They come from days spent as a family camping and at amusement parks and beaches and sightseeing.

They reflect the life I have lived. A life spent with some amazingly wonderful people and doing innumerable wonderful things.

And even if the price I must pay now is wrinkles, if I could go back and do it again . . .

I wouldn't change a thing.

What do you see when you look at your face in the mirror? What story does your face tell? Please join in the discussion by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Story Would Your Book Tell?

I stumbled across this image this past week and immediately saved it as my phone's wallpaper and screensaver.

It appeals to me in part because I am a writer.

But it speaks to me even more because I'm a reader. A reader who sometimes is frustrated by finding the same-old, same-old when I read a dust jacket or amazon.com blurb.

Oh, I know that the Good Book says (in Ecclesiastes) that "there is no new thing under the sun". Truth be told, there probably is a finite number of   plot lines.

Boy meets girl; fate/someone else intervenes; boy and girl part; love conquers all and boy and girl reunite. Everyone loves a happy ending.

Or, if it's written by one of a couple of current writers who have made a living on same-story, different-name and different-catastrophic illness plots, it's a tear-jerker.

Boy meets girl; boy or girl either has or is soon diagnosed with a terminal disease; said boy or girl passes away.

Then there's the often-tried story line in which boy has girl; boy cheats on girl; girl finds out and leaves boy, retiring to a beach cottage she recently inherited from her aunt; girl meets good-looking widower with small child living in cottage next door . . .

I think you get the idea.

But even though there may be only a certain number of plots, it sure would be nice if so many current writers didn't use almost the exact same elements in their execution!

I want something different. And so, I'm going to write something different!

My book won't have a beach cottage or a handsome new next-door-neighbor. There won't be a book club that meets once a month on Wednesday night. Or a group of sisters meeting at their family
home -- or beach cottage -- one more time before selling it now that their parents have passed on.

My book likely won't be published (the publishing world is a hard one to break into these days), but that's okay. I think Ms Blume is right, and I'm going to heed her words.

I'm going to write the book that I can't find on the shelf.

So . . . what is the book you can't find on the shelf?  The book you'd like to read?

Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts and ideas via a comment below. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One Year: What Would You Do?

What would you do with one year's paid leave of absence?

That subject line in my email inbox made my heart kick up a notch for just a few seconds one day last week. A quick glance at the sender's name, however, informed me that the accompanying message wasn't my current employer offering me the opportunity to take a year off with pay. {sigh}

Even though my budgeted time for dealing with email was limited, I was intrigued. The question was, to some degree, related to the question that has been the focus of my life and of my writing the past several years: "What am I going to do with my new, unexpected life as a widow?"

I was intrigued enough to open the email and read further. I wasn't surprised that the message had numerous links to videos and workshops and resources. Altogether, they comprised a well-constructed and attractive labyrinth of paths, each leading to the proverbial cheese: an 8-part webinar workshop for a "select number of very special people" (presumably including me) who are ready to "discover the secrets of unlimited wealth through passive income".

This email, along with the handful of others that had somehow escaped my spam filters, was deleted.

The question, however, hovered around the periphery of my mind for days.

I knew what the answer was. It was the same answer that I doggedly gave grade-school teachers when asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?"

(Well, there was the one time in 1st or 2nd grade that I cheerfully asserted, "Become a nun!" to the surprise of my non-Catholic pastor, who was visiting my parochial-school classroom. But that's a story for another day.)

What would I do with one year's paid leave of absence?

I would write.

I would stop dabbling and dancing around and saying I'm a writer and playing at writing and attending conferences. Instead, I would write.

A book.

And so . . . I will.

Alas, I won't be taking a year's leave of absence. I won't be closeting myself in a drafty garrett to write, hunched over my laptop; nor will I retire to a beach cottage where the sound of waves pounding the sandy shore provide a soundtrack to hours of writing fueled by oversized mugs of hot Earl Gray tea.

No, I'll be here in my small Southeast Missouri home, writing in bits and snatches as my job and other necessities of life allow.

I hope you'll join me here every Tuesday morning as I sit back with a mug of hot tea (or glass of iced sweet tea once this wretched cold weather is past) and take a break, share how the journey is going, and provide snippets about my work in progress.

I'd love for you to join in the conversation by posting a comment.  What would you do with one year's paid leave of absence? I can't wait to hear your response. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Keepin' It Simple . . . Right?

According to many sociologists, the #1 resolution made by Americans every year is to get into shape.

Judging by the number of folks I saw when I went to the gym today, that observation is true.  By the way, I didn't make a similar resolution. No, I went to the gym because: 1) my bullet-journal calendar indicated it was "strength-conditioning" day; and 2) the gym was open.

But I have made a resolution. Just one. It's a very simple one, a foundational one.

My resolution for 2018 is this:

      To do my best, one day at a time, to live according to my personal beliefs and values.

See? I told you it was simple.

To do my best. . . That doesn't seem too hard, too complex. I'm not expecting perfection, just my best effort.

one day at a time . . .  I don't have to worry about a 12-month plan with quarterly goals and a weekly checklist. Just 24 hours. Actually, only the 17 or so that I'm awake and functioning.

to live according to my personal beliefs and values. Well, I have firmly-established, clearly-defined and quite-basic beliefs and values, so all in all, my resolution is pretty straightforward.


Not exactly.

Go back to that last part. It appears so simple, but . . .

living out my beliefs and values in this less-than-perfect, chaotic, often hostile world will no doubt be difficult at times

living out my beliefs and values when my own selfish nature clamors "me, me, me" will mean intentional and deliberate sacrifice

living out my beliefs and values after (let me be perfectly honest here) far too many years of living otherwise has created some strongly-ingrained thought patterns and behaviors that will need to be overcome

Looking ahead, I know without a doubt that just as I failed to accomplish some of my 2017 goals, there will be moments, even days, in 2018 where I don't living according to my beliefs and values.

I can live with that.

But not trying? I can't live with that.

It's simply not an option.

What about you? Did you make any resolutions for 2018? I hope you'll share (as you feel comfortable, of course) through a comment below your resolutions or goals or plans for 2018. 

Don't forget to sign up to have each post delivered directly to your email inbox!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Path is Visible

I feel more than a bit pretentious as I draft this end-of-the-year post. I mean, seriously! I blogged so sparingly these past 12 months that I'm not sure such a post is warranted.

Truth be told, though, my life has been a bit like the proverbial duck this past year. At least as it pertains to decision-making and blogging. On the surface, there have been periods (a la the duck) where it appeared to the outside world that I was stagnant. Just sitting. But there have also been periods when I've been frantically busy, barely keeping my head above the ocean of new-job-acclimation tasks, lesson planning, and paper grading that kept me from making life changes, writing, and blogging.

To an outsider, it would appear that my focus on simplifying my life, charting a new path, etc., was lost this past year.

That isn't the case, though. In the quiet time, I contemplated and dreamed and researched and prayed and contemplated some more. In the busy period, while my conscious brain was focused on taks like responding to a stack of student essays, my subconscious brain was slowly, without fanfare, processing things that, if I slowed down to focus on them directly, seemed overwhelming.

And now, as 2017 draws to a close, I'm ready to put into practice -- as much as I can, at least -- what this past year has taught me.

I can only do that because my vision for what I would like my life to look like is finally very clear. The two concepts of "home" that I was torn between, and upon which everything else would be based, have come together so seamlessly that I am embarrassed to admit that I ever thought it was a one-or-the-other situation.

While finances are a huge issue (aren't they always?), my dream would be to find a 2-car garage here in my hometown that either already has a living area above it or that has an area above it that I could affordably convert to a one-room (with bath and kitchenette) loft. That would be my home base. No yard or garden or anything to maintain; just a nice, comfy & cozy nest to come home to.

Coupled with that, I want (and have been searching for) an affordable, used but low-mileage class B RV in which I can comfortably travel around the United States. I dream of Alaska and Michigan and Idaho . . . well, those cold, Northern states . . . in late Spring through early Fall and of warmer states in Fall and Winter. Short trips and longer ones interspersed with visits back home to visit my children, catch a St. Louis Cardinals game, and enjoy my beautiful hometown.

My vision includes exploring this great country of ours, of course, but also of writing and of learning how to scrapbook digitally and then creating wonderful bound books for my son and daughter. Evenings spent with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, reflecting on the day, knitting socks (acquiring that skill is also part of the vision), reading a book, sitting in a local coffee shop and journalling and people-watching. Blogging more regularly.

That's it. That's my vision in a nutshell.

Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. In fact, a very simple lifestyle.

But it's going to take a leap of faith, which I am ready to take.

And it's going to take doors opening. Big doors. Doors that I can't even see. The garage. In a price I can afford. The class B RV. Again, in a price I can afford. Those are huge, huge doors.

But I am looking for them, laying the groundwork to open them when they appear.

It's taken me quite awhile to get to this place. To a place where my vision is clear, I can see the path, and I'm ready to act.

I hope you'll travel along with me as I move forward this year. Even more so, I hope that you'll stop for a few minutes while you're here and share your own thoughts and ideas and dreams and visions.

As I close this last post before Christmas, I want to wish you a very blessed and wonderfully-magical Christmas. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I am one of those people who processes issues by either writing or talking about them. As I journal or recount, sometimes ad nauseum (apologies to my kids, closest friends, and sister), an issue I'm grappling with, I find clarity.

That was the case this past week when I called my sister and shared with her my thoughts on retirement. As I discussed the possible "whens" and "hows", she remained quiet. 

I'm not totally insensitive. I noticed her lack of response, her lack of excitement for me. I sensed that she thought that my retiring before the age of 65 -- when I would be eligible for Medicare -- was unwise, so I rushed to explain why I was even considering this step.

I tried to explain that it's not "them" -- my job, coworkers, etc. -- and that it's "me". I felt silly, foolish. Even selfish and lazy.

I mean, retiring when I have a good job and work with some great people and am physically and mentally able to continue working? How irresponsible of me to even contemplate the idea! 


And then the words tumbled out. Words I hadn't even allowed myself to consider. And once I said them, I knew without a doubt that they were true.

I am depleted. 

Depleted not of physical or mental energy but of emotional energy.

Depleted    transitive verb; 1.to empty of a principal substance

As much as I despise psychobabble and self-help book catch phrases, my own "emotional tank" is depleted daily -- hourly, in fact -- and rarely refilled.

Instead of coming home every day to a husband with whom I can share my day -- ups, downs, and just the normal stuff -- and share a laugh or get a sympathetic hug, I come home to a dog that wants me to take her out (repeatedly) and feed her. Once her needs are met, Dazey is off to one of her favorite cozy spots. 

No longer am I 1/2 of a partnership in which each partner cherishes the other and makes the other feel loved and special. 

I have friends, but they have jobs, husbands, children, and even grandchildren who occupy their time. And while I've shared a bit about my fatigue with two of those friends, it's not something I want to dwell on in our all-too-rare times together. 

Every other day or so, I call an elderly family member who is lonely and mourning the loss of his own spouse. We talk for anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour at a time, and I am so glad that I am able to do that. The other evening, for the first time in 3+ years of phone calls, when he asked how I was doing, I didn't respond with "fine". Instead, I was honest and said, "Well, I'm just having a cruddy time right now." His response was, "Yeah, I know what you mean" before he went on to talk for 20 minutes about his (house) plumbing issues.

It was funny, and inwardly I was laughing. He's a guy, a guy from a different generation, and I've known him long enough to know that this is just how he reacts to emotional topics. 

At the same time, I wanted to bang my head on my desk. 

My daughter is wonderful. She texts almost daily, and we have great text-chats. She calls -- not every day, but every few days. But she also has her own life -- a full-time job and two part-time (note to self: buy winning lottery ticket and pay off daughter's student loans with part of my millions) -- an old house she's remodeling, and her own social life.

I'm not complaining. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm not trying to guilt people into rushing to give me a hug or to spend time with me.

I'm merely stating that I'm tired. I've done the "put one foot in front of the other" thing on my own for over 8 years now. 

I've gotten up and gone to work and cared about my students and tried to make them care about themselves, their academic success, and their futures as much as I do for over 8 years.

I can do it for 5+ more years, until I'm eligible for Medicaid. 

The question is . . . . at what cost?

I mentioned that I don't want my daughter to be concerned, feel guilty, etc., about me. She has told me she doesn't read my blog (she doesn't like to read {gasp} and doesn't "get" the whole blogging idea -- who writes unless forced to?), so I know it's safe to share this here. :)

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Mini-Whirlwind (aka The New Job)

My oh my, but what a whirlwind these past 6 weeks have been!

I started my new job and thought I was somewhat prepared for the change back to the high school classroom, 5 days a week, and all that entails. I wasn't. It was less the number of classes and days in the classroom, though, and more an issue of how much as changed in regard to the massive incorporation of technology and the new (again, technology-based) teacher-evaluation model used here in Missouri.

But I am adjusting and staying caught up on everything so far.

What do I love about my new job? The students, the wonderful sense of community and wonderful community itself, the classes I teach, and my room.

Hi-lites of the past 6 weeks:

1. I hesitate to post this in the off chance that it will be read someone like the lady in Minnesota who had never been to my hometown but saw an online article about a small concrete cross-memorial on the side of the road (on the easement -- gasp!) and proceeded to threaten my community with a lawsuit if the cross was not removed. So if you are one of those very unhappy people who do not have enough on your own plate to keep you busy, please hit your "back arrow" now.  You've been warned.  A night or two before the first day of classes, 3 area churches collaboratively held a prayer service at the high school flag pole. Church members, community members, faculty, staff, and students of all ages sang a few hymns and prayed for the children, teachers & staff, parents, and community.

2. My first hour class asked on the 3rd morning of school why we weren't saying the Pledge of Allegiance; they noted that the principal or someone had led it via the intercom every morning last year. I'm not sure why the ritual was stopped, but my students seemed concerned about it, so I said that we would -- for the moment -- act as a democracy and vote. I was so moved that, by unanimous vote of 20+ students, a group of patriotic Sophomores elected to say the Pledge every morning. And I continue to be moved every morning when, without fail, after I finish taking roll and the lunch count, they arise almost as one, with no prompting from me, and someone -- never the same person -- leads us without hesitation. There is no big to-do, no self-righteousness. There is, instead, very sincere, simple, and heart-felt patriotism, and I am privileged to be a part of it.

3. High school girls' volleyball and boys' & girls' cross country. I have always loved high school athletics and the opportunity they afford for students to exercise school spirit. I especially appreciate the opportunity athletics provides for students and I to see each other as more than student-teacher -- as individuals who share a common interest and who care about and want to support students, school, and community. Students wave across the gym, come over to show me their "costume" or face paint, or just sit (or stand, at cross country meets) and chat for a few minutes.

4. The change I already see in student behavior in regard to asking questions or conferencing with me about their writing. Although from the first I explained to them that I truly do want to work with them one-on-one, give feedback on writing, etc., they were slow to respond. There are lots of reasons for that. They didn't know if I was just spouting the company line and would actually get cranky when asked for help. Of course, there's sometimes the "only the dumb kids ask for help" issue. Eventually, early in week 3,  two very good students asked for feedback on their paragraphs. As they -- they came up as a pair --  neared my "cart" (I don't use a podium, but an audio-visual cart on wheels), I saw out of my peripheral vision that other students were beginning to watch. I smiled, asked what they wanted feedback on, and we went from there. That broke the ice. I'm not getting a deluge of students every day, but I conference with students -- a variety of them -- on a daily basis now.

5. Last Friday, I received flowers at school. When the student delivered the beautiful arrangement of roses and other flowers (yes I'm flower-variety clueless) during home room and carried them to my desk, my students began saying things like "Oooh, Mrs. Miinch, someone sent you flowers" and "who are they from? Who sent them?"  I was clueless, but as I opened and began reading the card, my eyes filled with tears. That day would have been my 33rd anniversary, and my ever-thoughtful daughter had sent flowers with a card saying that she wished she could be with me and was thinking of me. I blinked back the tears and explained that it was my anniversary and the flowers were from my daughter. The students sobered, there were lots of "I'm sorry's), and then one of my students -- a gregarious & enthusiastic boy -- piped up with, "Mrs. Miinch, if you want to go out in the hall and cry or something, I'll make everyone else behave!" It was, in that moment, the perfect thing to say. I laughed, everyone else laughed, and I told him I'd keep his offer in mind. I was rewarded with a huge smile. It was a perfect moment.

It hasn't been perfect, of course.

Hands-down, the new (to-me, at least) teacher-evaluation model. It is beyond clunky and unnecessarily time-consuming, ridiculously-full of busy work. It is, in a nutshell, my state's DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) up to its usual level of, imho, bumbling incompetence.

Adjusting to a new school with new-to-me routines and procedures has been a bit unsettling, even stressful at times, but I know that will ease with each passing week.

A six-week whirlwind, to be sure. But a whirlwind with so much to be happy about.