Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bless You

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "blessing" takes me.

Did you notice? Did you notice that the word this week is "blessing" and not "blessings"?  I know that "s" may not seem all that significant, but it really is. The addition of the "s" would, of course, made the word plural.

I'm glad we're not focusing on the plural of the word.

If we were, I know I would probably written about the many people and things I consider to be blessings. It would have been an easy post to write. No doubt about it.

I'd have started with my kids and my friends, moseyed on to my home and job and . . . 

You get the point. A really easy post to write. 

But the word is singular. Blessing.

And now a glib, albeit accurate, listing of the many blessings in my life just won't do.

Instead, I'm called to ponder two things.

First, do I praise and glorify (Merriam-Webster definition 4) the people in my life? 

Oh, it's easy to praise and glorify my children. But do I praise and glorify my coworkers, my friends, and others I come into contact with? I do . . . sometimes. But is "sometimes" enough? 

And what about conferring prosperity or happiness (definition 5) on others? 

It's easy to say I'm not wealthy, so the first one -- prosperity -- is out. But prosperity doesn't apply just to money. What about my time and my talents? Do I give both to others on a regular basis?

I'd love to say I always confer happiness on others, but let's be honest here. I don't . . . not always. 

Am I a blessing? 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

She Gets It

Barbra Streisand has a beautiful voice, but she got it all wrong when she sang that people who need people are the happiest people in the world.

To be fair to Ms. Streisand, it was actually lyricist Bob Merrill who got it wrong.

After reading his obituary in The New York Times, it's easy to see why he did. Married twice, Mr. Merrill had no children. There's no record even of his having step-children.

As a result, he never experienced empty nest syndrome.

But Rosemarie Fitzsimmons, one of my favorite bloggers, has. Last week, in fact she wrote about her own experience with the phenomenon.

I almost didn't read the post. Its title -- "Sounds of an Empty Nest" -- told me all I needed to know -- that Rosemarie would be writing about her children having moved out of the family home.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't that I didn't want to read Rosemarie's perspective on the topic. It was simply that I didn't want to read anyone's perspective on the topic.

Blog posts and essays and Facebook memes about the empty nest have the power to make my eyes mist on a good day. I was sure that, just a few days before Father's Day (which is so difficult anyway because of the absence of my own father and my children's father), this post would be gut-wrenchingly painful to read.

But something drew me in. Perhaps it was the first two lines:

        I promised myself I wouldn't cry.

       I lied.

Perhaps it was the image of the five pair of shoes clustered together on the floor.

Whatever it was, I began to read.

I followed Rosemarie's narrative, recognizing my own past in her recollection of her son's need for a bow tie, his not telling her of that need until almost the last minute, and her doing what moms all over the world have been doing for centuries. You know what she did. She found not just a bow tie, but a fantastic bow time.

And then, just after she shares this story, she writes four words.

Four simple words that grabbed my heart, that speak of the bittersweet nature of living in an empty nest:

       He doesn't need me.

I sat there, stunned. Reading those four words over and again.

And I thought to myself, "She gets it. Oh my gosh, she truly gets it!"

Because that is, for me at least, the crux of empty-nest nest pain.

My own children are adults now. Both have good jobs, own their own homes and pay their own bills, have lots of friends, and are productive members of society.

They don't need me. Not really.

And they, like my when I was their age and the last one to leave home, have no idea how that makes me feel.

Oh they will . . . some day. They may even one day, when their own youngest has left home, think of me and wish that they could call me up and tell me that now they understand. But for now they, like Mr. Merrill, simply don't have a clue.

But Rosemarie . . . oh, she definitely does. She gets it!

She knows that it's people who feel needed and who have a sense of purpose, who are the happiest people in the world.

Rosemarie's son may no longer need her to run out and buy him a tie. But there's a whole world of empty-nesters out there who feel alone, who believe there's something wrong with them.

They need to know they aren't and there isn't.

So, Rosemarie? Keep on writing.

We need you.

I in no way did justice to Rosemarie's blog post, so I sincerely hope that after you share your own thoughts in a comment here you'll read it for yourself. Trust me . . . you don't want to miss it.  Just follow this link:  Sounds of an Empty Nest



Monday, June 19, 2017

Feel the Power (52 Weeks Project, week 25)

From the time I was able to put pencil to paper, I've been a list-maker; in fact, I've been known to make lists of lists I need to create! As a result, I'm excited to participate this year in Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project; look for my list every Monday.

Week 25: List the things that make you feel powerful.

1. Accomplishing a physical task that challenges me physically or mentally.

I'm a bit afraid of heights, but when we bought our first home it needed a new roof. It took me forever to climb that ladder -- and the house was just a one-story. lol  It felt good while I was up there, nailing down shingles all week, and it felt good every time I pulled in the driveway and looked up at that roof.

More recently, demo-ing my kitchen cabinets all by myself (my son helped me carry the long countertop out to the carport), even though I had (have) a torn rotator cuff and bursitis in my right shoulder, made me feel like I could do anything. I figured out what order to tear out things, conquered the removal of sections that were either wedged in between trim or for some other reason challenging, and I was able to do it physically.

Ziplining -- overcoming my fear of heights again -- made me feel on top of the world!

Other than that -- accomplishing a difficult task -- there's really nothing I can think of that makes me fill especially-strong. What about you? What makes you feel powerful?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

For What it's Worth

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "worth" takes me.

Almost every week, as soon as I read the current week's focus word, my thoughts go to its religious application. 

For example, this week I began mentally writing my post as I was setting the timer and logging on to blogger:

The only thing I remember from the one econ class I took in college is that a product's worth is, in and of itself, nothing, nada, zilch. It doesn't matter how much money was spent in research and development or in the manufacture of the product or even in the usefulness of a product. It's worth -- any item's worth -- is only determined by what someone is willing to pay for it. 

If you're a Christian or have spent any time around Christians, I'm sure you know where my thoughts were headed. 

That in and of ourselves, we humans have no value. Yet paradoxically, we are of the utmost value because God sent His Son to redeem us and because in turn, Jesus gave His life for us.

And that is true. 

With my "add post" page on the screen, my timer set, and a glass of iced sweet tea on the table next to me, I started to type.

I didn't get very far. Only 2 words. I simply didn't want to go in that direction. I turned off the timer and sat for awhile, sipping my tea, listening to the birds at the feeder just outside my open window, and considering what was stopping me from churning out this really-easy-to-write post.

When the answer came to me, I almost decided not to write this week. I didn't want what I wanted to say to be construed as a hand slap of the talented and very sincere writers who may take the approach I'd first considered. I didn't want to diminish the very real truth that our worth is determined by God and the price He and His son paid for me.

But at the same time, I simply could not bring myself to focus on that.

I don't have many readers. I know that, and while I love to write (true) and would write even if not a single person were to read it (also true), that I could also say I don't care whether I have not a single reader or a thousand (not true). But that's a post for another day. :)

And so, I always hope that something I write is going to attract a larger-than-ever audience.

And if that happens this week, if even one non-Five Minute Friday person stumbles across this post, if even one person who is struggling and who finds platitudes -- true or not, Christian or not -- to be just one more source of frustration because they seem so pat, so perfect, so everything for everyone . . . else, I want to offer them not platitudes, but encouragement. 

So here it is. Our true and eternal worth is dependent on how God viewed and continues to view us.

But, right or wrong, it's also determined every day on what we think of ourselves . . .  based what we can accomplish, on our life-roles and how well we play them, and on (let's face it) what others think of us. 

I would argue that right or wrong, all of us -- even those who are 1000% rooted in their faith -- feel this way at one time or another, for varying lengths of time. 

So here's my thought on our worth, the type of worth we place on ourselves.  

Sometimes we're going to feel pretty happy with ourselves and see ourselves as very worthy. We need celebrate those moments, revel in them without becoming arrogant, and hide those moments in our heart. We're going to need them.

Because sometimes we're not going to feel very worthy. When that happens, we need to acknowledge that, find ways to cope with it, and if a mistake can be fixed or a wrong rectified, take care of it.

And then . . . move on. Quickly, without wallowing.

Forgive ourselves, remind ourselves that we often get it right, and move on.

That's what I think . . . for what it's worth. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

True North . . . Obscured and Discovered

I remember my very first compass. My father gave it to me the evening before my first day at Girl Scout Camp. As I gazed down at the magical device in my hand at the arrow that wiggled a bit but never changed course no matter how furiously I spun the cold metal device in my hand, he shared with me the only piece of advice I can remember ever receiving from him.

He told me that when hiking, I should always carry a compass with me and, before leaving camp, determine the location of my base camp, my source of shelter and other necessities. That part of his advice has never worked out for me. While I understand the principle behind the compass, the ability to convert that concept to finding my way back to a predetermined point has always eluded me.

But the importance of what my dad said next has not.

After he explained the importance of a real compass and of being aware of my physical direction, he paused. Then he told me that it's just as important that throughout my life I have a moral compass. A guide that consistently points me in the right direction so that I never lose my way.

I had just turned 7; I didn't really understand what he meant, but I adored my father and thought he was the wisest and best man in the world. And so, that night, after a long day of camp and, yes, hiking in the woods, I wrote his words in my diary.

As an adult, I've given quite a bit of thought to this concept of a moral compass, and over the years I've read hundreds of articles and books on the topic. When "true north" became a popular buzzword with motivational speakers, business leaders, educational institution administrators, and even religious leaders, I looked back at that journal, considered what I'd learned to that point, and came up with my own working definition, which I added in the margin.

            True north [n]: a fixed point in a chaotic world that is extremely difficult to
            navigate; a point determined by an individual's most deeply-held values,
            principles, and beliefs. An internal compass that helps a person live their life
            authentically without veering off course and losing their way.

I wish I could say I was wise enough to determine my true north and to live by it.

For much of my life, I was too busy working and raising kids and running a household to stop and consider my true north. Oh, I had values and beliefs, but I rarely put them into words.

And to be honest, except for the fact that it was filled with tasks related to my family and to my children's needs and activities, my daily planner reflected more of what the world dictated was important than what I supposedly professed as my core values.

And in that same vein of total transparency, even these past 11 years, when I felt a need to determine what is important to me and how that translates to daily living, I've lost focus more often than not.

About this time last year, I became frustrated with myself and with my lack of direction, of progress, of peace with where I am and what I'm doing. I was determined to do something about that, and whenever I could I read and journaled and talked to people I respect and journaled some more. But I wasn't making as much headway as I had hoped for. Daily life, a major move, a 2-hour each way commute to work a couple times a week, a wedding in my immediate family -- all of these things filled much of my time.

But I was fortunate enough to be on sabbatical this past Spring semester, and I made a conscious decision to step away from many of the things that normally keep me busy physically and mentally.

It's been a productive time, and my formerly fuzzy, changing, and often-ignored true north is now clear.

And I'm determined to order my steps so that I am consistently heading in the right direction.

Each Monday (until the end of the year) I'll continue to participate in the 52 Weeks challenge, and on Friday I'll join my fellow Five Minute Friday bloggers; on Wednesday, my focus will be establishing that all-important inner compass and living authentically and vibrantly in an ever-changing and confusing world.

I hope you'll join me (subscribe so you don't miss anything) and join in the conversation!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Quirky Me! (52 Weeks Project, week 24)

From the time I was able to put pencil to paper, I've been a list-maker; in fact, I've been known to make lists of lists I need to create! As a result, I'm excited to participate this year in Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project; look for my list every Monday.

Week 24: List your quirks

1. Closet doors and cabinet doors must be closed; not only must they be closed, but I have to hear that little "tap" when the door meets the frame.

2. When turning a light off via a wall switch, there needs to be a precise movement into the "off" position; in other words, no "mushy" light switches.

3. Chairs need to be pushed in when someone leaves the table.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Adjust the Sail (Five Minute Friday)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "expect" takes me.

I doubt there's a person alive who can, after pausing to consider where they are and what their life is like, say that they are exactly where they thought they would be at this point in their life and everything is just as they expected it to be.

Life simply doesn't turn out the way we expect, does it?

Sometimes the unexpected is welcome. The individual who finds him/herself in a career they never would have dreamed of. The couple who discovers that, despite their worst fears and expectations, they can not only retire comfortably, they can retire at a younger age than they had anticipated. 

Sadly, the unexpected can bring with it pain and sorrow. The loss of a loved one or a job or a home; a chronic physical condition that significantly alters a person's quality of life; the loss of a long-cherished dream of being a biological parent. 

Focusing on the shattered expectation, squandering the unexpected windfall . . . both are unhealthy.

It doesn't matter whether reality exceeds or doesn't meet our expectations; either way, the unexpected requires adjustments and adaptation. 

The unexpected requires that we prayerfully and honestly and open-mindedly consider how to live on the new course our life has taken. 

The individual whose physical condition limits their mobility must decide how to spend the time that was previously spent going to work, out with friends, etc. 

The couple who discovers they have unexpected financial resources has the privilege of deciding how best they can utilize those funds.

So . . . where am I today? Where are you? 

Bitterly dwelling on unrealized expectations?

Thoughtlessly and even recklessly throwing away a windfall?

Stop . . . evaluate . . . adjust . . . adapt 

                prayerfully, thoughtfully, gratefully.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Quit Fidgeting!

Fidget spinners are all the rage; people are either praising them or labeling them an evil tool.

The lauders say that the critics are overreacting, claiming that all generations have had their own version of these devices. They compare them to yo-yos or to clackers (you younger folks will probably need to google that) and say the spinner is no worse than these earlier toys.

They may be right. In fact, from what I can tell, they are right.

But what the device does or how its used by kids isn't the problem.

The issue, in my humble opinion, is why it's used and why parents buy them to begin with. Let me explain.

When I was growing up, my friends and I sometimes got bored. But we learned early on to not go whining to our parents about it.

I learned that if I whined to my mom about boredom, she had plenty for me to do -- clean my room, dust, vacuum, straighten up the basement, and so on. If I whined to my dad, he would hand me a brown grocery bag and send me outside to weed my mom's gardens. Some of my friends, in my opinion much luckier than I, were told to fire up the lawn mower and get to work.

Faced with those options early on, I and my friends (all our parents seemed to favor the same solutions for boredom) found hundreds of ways to entertain ourselves. Pick-up games of all sort -- stickball, Red Rover Red Rover, Mother May I, hopscotch, etc, would entertain us for hours. So did creating things.  I'll never forget spending hours with my best friend converting large cardboard boxes and household items into Barbie houses. By the way, a jar lid atop a spool of thread makes a great patio table at which Barbie and Ken can enjoy dinner al fresco.

We rode bikes, had turtle or frog races, spent hours hunting for the turtles and frogs for the competitions, searched for four-leaf clovers, visited the elderly folks who lived on our block (they loved our company and had great stories -- and cookies!), created murals with chalk on our driveways, built and tried out bike ramps, tried to catch tadpoles and crawdads in the local creek, and found a myriad of diversions.

Not once do I remember my parents doing a 60's or 70's version of what I see happening all too frequently today.

They never handed me something to keep me busy.

More importantly, they never handed me something to keep me busy so they could text, email, surf the net mindlessly, etc.

Instead, they were busy doing work around the house. Our parents changed their own oil and filters, did their own home repairs, and stayed busy in productive ways.

And when we were together -- in the car, at dinner, etc -- they were engaged with my sister and I, not by an electric device. We played games, discussed what was going on in our lives, and sang along with the radio or record player.

I'm not some fuddy-duddy who thinks the old days were better than the current ones -- but seriously, weren't they in many ways?

Instead, I am an educator and mother who has observed a growing disconnect between parents and their offspring. A growing tendency to give a child -- toddlers, even! -- a cell phone or some other electronic device "so Mommy can chat [text] with her friends" or "do something important".

Throw away the fidget spinners, parents, and put away all the electronic devices.

Your child will be a better person, a more creative person, a more connected person if you do.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My Favorite Medicine (52 Weeks Project, week 23)

From the time I was able to put pencil to paper, I've been a list-maker; in fact, I've been known to make lists of lists I need to create! As a result, I'm excited to participate this year in Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project; look for my list every Monday.

Week 23: List the things that make you laugh.

1. My son and daughter -- the funny things they do; my son's dry sense of humor and my daughter's less dry humor

2. Big Bang Theory, particularly Sheldon -- the writers of this show rarely fail to make me laugh with the antics and dialogue of the 5 original characters 

3. The Vet Life -- a fairly new television show airing on Animal Planet network, the interaction between the 3 vets and the snapshots of the cute animals make this my new favorite program

4. The Trailer Park Princess series, written by Kim Hunt Harris -- beginning with The Trailer Park Princess and the Middle Finger of Fate, Harris never fails to make me laugh at the antics Salem and her friends

5. Cute puppy and dog memes on Facebook and pinterest

6. Teacher memes on Pinterest

7. My friends

8. My students -- sometimes intentionally, sometimes without even knowing about it (I'm laughing inside); they can be so funny, so sweet, and sometimes so naive 

9. Toddlers -- I wish I could always have a toddler in the house :)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Lists Galore (52 Weeks Project, weeks 19-22)

From the time I was able to put pencil to paper, I've been a list-maker; in fact, I've been known to make lists of lists I need to create! As a result, I'm excited to participate this year in Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project; look for my list every Monday.

I'm not quite sure what happened! I "posted" weeks' 20-22 ahead of time and scheduled them to go live -- or so I thought. I must have messed up somehow because I saw late last night they never posted and they weren't saved as drafts. Hmmmm . . . I wonder where they are.

As a result, I'm playing catch-up today.

Week 20: List the things that make your spirit feel free.    

1. Riding in my car, listening and signing along to the oldies channel on the radio
2. Being with my son and daughter, watching them talk comfortably, tease each other, laugh together
3. Journalling

Week 21: List the things you want to make.

1. Digital scrapbooks for my son and daughter, from birth through college
2. A published book (I'm stretching the word "make" here)
3. A toned, healthy body (now I'm really stretching it :))
4. A porch running from my front door to the driveway and extending about 4' deep

But most of all . . .
5. Wonderful memories
6. A positive, lasting impression

Week 22: List your favorite places you've been

1. Vienna, Austria
2. Walt Disney World
3. Every single warm beach
4. The Great Smoky Mountains
5. Alaska -- this one is surprising because I don't like the cold

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Future (Five Minute Friday)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "future" takes me.

It's ironic, really.

When I was much younger -- my teens and 20's -- I had the bulk of my future ahead of me. In retrospect, though, I realize I really didn't give much thought to it.

Oh, I considered what I wanted to do career-wise and who I wanted to marry and how many children I hoped to have (a bare minimum of 5). But think -- at any length and in any depth -- about the future? Not really.

Now, with my future much shorter, thoughts of it are never far away.

See the irony? Have much, think little; have little, think much. Sounds like a book title.

So what aspects of it -- the future -- occupy my mind most often?

Not unnaturally, given that my kids have been the main (earthly) focus for over 30 years, I think often of my relationship with them, their relationship with each other, and how that will play out as I age and even after I'm gone. Just a few years ago, I don't think I would have given this much thought. Our relationship was a constant, and I was happy that they were close, that they had each other and would have each other once I -- their last living parent -- was no longer with them. 

But things change. Dynamics change. Oh, we're still close, but not in the sense that we once were. And so, I think about that.

I also think about my financial future. I was able to  resign my job and will be teaching elsewhere this Fall; I'm so excited about the new opportunity, but not so excited at the 22% pay cut I'm taking. 

Since my husband passed away, and even more so as I change jobs, I seriously think about where I'll live in the immediate future and beyond. I'd love to sell my small home and go even smaller, and I often play around with how I can make that happen.

My future health also occupies my thoughts. I want to be one of those ladies in videos posted on Facebook who are 80+ years old and hiking and whitewater rafting and working out in the gym (well, I don't want to have to do that, but I'd like to be able to do that) in the best shape of their lives.

I hope and pray that the decisions I make now lead me to a future that is physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally healthy and vibrant. 

And that