Where Were You? Where Are You Now?

It was a Tuesday morning. I was eighteen, a college sophomore. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in my crappy minivan, which only had a radio for entertainment. We’d tuned into a talk show, and we thought we were hearing some kind of sick joke. As I parked, we realized with complete disbelief—as one talk show host said a second plane had flown into the Twin Towers—that it was absolutely real. 

We were dumbfounded, numb. And since we were already at school, we headed toward our first class, hoping for some sort of clarity from our professor. Unfortunately, she had not been listening to the radio, and since she was running late, she rushed straight into class, never seeing another person before plowing right into the day’s lesson. Maybe she was a little miffed that her class of freshman and sophomores was a bit more subdued than usual, that we stared at her with incomprehension. That we dared to hope that, because the adult with the most authority in the room was proceeding like all was normal, maybe it actually was. The next time our class met, she apologized profusely and said that if she had known, she would have sent us all home.

Instead, we endured that class in a kind of limbo while the rest of the country sat glued to TVs, gathered in small groups, trying to process what was happening. When Thomas and I split up and headed to our next classes, we re-entered the flow of reality. In my class, all the TVs were on the news. Although I don’t remember any other students from that class, I remember the young military wife, tears streaming down her face as she looked at images of the Pentagon under attack, likely terrified for what this meant for her husband. The professor stood to the side, allowing us access to the TVs, explaining that classes were cancelled, but we were welcome to stay if we needed.

The rest of that week passed in a haze. I felt helpless as I watched people in New York searching fruitlessly for loved ones days after the last survivor was found. The one that stands out and still haunts me was a man with a picture of his wife. She was pregnant. That baby would have been an adult now. All that hope stolen from him and his family in a moment.

It’s not every year that I feel moved to share my thoughts and feelings about September 11, 2001, but this year is different. Not a particularly important anniversary year—nineteen—not like next year will be. But still, this is a year in which so much has changed for so many, and not just in our country. Around the world, people’s lives are drastically different than they were a mere six months ago. This is the year when, if something negative happens, you blame it on 2020.

So how does September 11th look this year? Bleaker because we’re already more somber? Or can we eek some glimmer of hope from the day? I am fortunate to know a girl who was born on this date, and while I’ve always felt a bit bad for her, my mindset is starting to shift. What a miracle, to welcome new life on the anniversary of such tragedy!

Recently, my pastor spoke of the human condition, specifically that propensity for humans to never be satisfied with what we have, even (and sometimes especially) when we have more than enough—and he’s right. On the anniversary of a day when so much was taken from us, what do we have left? And particularly on that anniversary in a year when many of us have lost [fill in the blank]—jobs, loved ones, milestones, time with family, normalcy—are we still supposed to be satisfied with what’s left? In my opinion, yes.

I am blessed to have my family, and so far, our health. My husband and I have our jobs, and our children are fortunate to be in schools that are looking after their well-being and their education. We have friends that care about us, even if we can’t see them. We have time together—more time this year than we’ve ever had. There are times when I’ve been bitter, dwelling on those other things that we don’t have, but I am choosing not to focus on those disappointments and lost opportunities.

I also have the capacity to remember, to spend a few moments honoring those who lost so much, to vow again to live with intent and purpose because I am blessed with life. It’s 2020. Anything can happen. Truly, anything can happen no matter what year it is. But this year—today—when I’m so much more cognizant of my mortality, I choose to celebrate being alive one more day in tribute of those who were not given that choice.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel…

Annoyed, to be honest. I admit, part of my annoyance is selfish because next week is our spring break. Thank goodness we’re not big spring break travelers, but I did have quite a few activities planned for our stay-cation, and I don’t know how many of them we’ll actually get to do because people have lost their heads, and everything is closing. My younger son was looking forward to seeing the dinosaur exhibit at our zoo, but now that’s not going to happen. Even some Florida beaches are closed, and although I’m about the last person you’ll ever see on a beach, restricting people from the outdoors, from fresh air and sun, seems like one of the worst ideas to me. (Read about sun therapy here, and thanks to Heather for sharing it to begin with.)

As a planner, I’m always the first to sign up for things, but that one got me hard this week when a race my elder son participates in every year (and placed second in last year) was cancelled. No make-up date, no refunds. I’m grateful I didn’t pre-purchase anything for the upcoming week (mainly because I wasn’t sure when my husband would be able to take off work and join us). Now, if we’re able to do anything, I’ll pay on-site.

I understand closing Disney World for 14 days. That should be enough time to ensure that any possible lingering virus in the air is gone, and when it re-opens, I am sure there will be all kinds of measures in place to ensure guests are virus-free. Likewise, I get postponing events that attract a lot of people and suspending activities like my kids’ baseball practices and games until early April. Sometimes you have to use precautions like these to save people from themselves. But cancelling the rest of the NBA’s season? Couldn’t they just come back in early April like everyone else (after ensuring all players are well) and extend it a couple weeks? May I remind you that the NBA didn’t let Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis stop them.

TP-meme1And then there’s the absolute absurdity of the toilet paper shortage. Even though I think over-publicity has to do with much of the pandemonium we’re experiencing, this one even baffled the news anchors on the local new station I watch every morning. “We didn’t say it was that kind of a virus,” one of them said the other day. What idiot decided that this was the hot commodity everyone had to have, and why did the rest of the country buy into it? Hand sanitizer I get—even bleach—but TP? I’m scratching my head over that one and just grateful that I had a coupon a few weeks ago and bought in bulk. If you need toilet paper, skip the crazy, and come to my house; I will be glad to give you some.

I went grocery shopping today, and at my first stop, there was plenty of everything (even a pretty good selection of toilet paper still on the shelves). At the entrance to the store, though, the station with sanitary wipes for grocery cart handles was missing. I waited with a couple other customers while a store employee replaced them. The worker explained that they have to replace the wipes every couple hours because people are pulling out wipe after wipe, storing them in bags, and taking them home. She also said that one woman was in the bathroom, filling a bottle with soap from the store’s soap dispenser, and another was taking toilet paper from the stalls—when there was plenty of toilet paper on the shelves! And this was the best of the four stores I visited. As a writer, I have a kind of morbid fascination with people watching, but the insanity I witnessed today is the precursor to people self-destructing. If something like an actual zombie apocalypse were to ever happen, I fear the level of hysteria would be even worse than what our most far-fetched movies depict.

Which brings me to what really bothers me about this Coronavirus debacle—the impact on our economy. People have made it obvious that they’re willing to steal items that are both cheap and available, but aside from this abhorrent behavior, what about those sole proprietors and small businesses that are losing business because people are now too scared to go about their daily lives (albeit a little more cautiously)? Even with measures put in place to ensure workers are paid when businesses close (like at Disney), some businesses are so small that they can’t afford this. How can a private music teacher, for instance, pay herself when her students have been scared into staying at home?

Our world has suffered worse pandemics. Yes, people traveling and not knowing they had Coronavirus helped it spread globally, but people seem to be forgetting about the regular diseases that are always around and are more contagious and have a higher mortality rate. No one is flipping out about them. The flu has killed—and will continue to kill—people for years, and we’re just like, Stay home. Drink plenty of fluids. For that matter, I’m more worried about leaving my house and getting hit by a drunk driver than being sneezed on by someone who might be sick—and I have an autoimmune disease, people.

You may think I’m not taking this seriously, but I do care. I count the seconds now when I wash my hands—and send my kids back to the bathroom to make sure they do the same. We’re gearing up for at least two weeks at home (after spring break, they’ll be engaged in distance learning because life has to go on), and what that looks like is a little self-discipline to make sure they get their work done, time to play outside because they’ll get tired of being cooped up, more time to actually cook because I won’t be commuting, and six cases of toilet paper because… oh, wait. Never do we ever need six cases of toilet paper at once. You won’t find us locked in a bunker, chewing our fingernails until someone swoops in and tells us it’s safe to come out. As a friend pointed out recently, there are many people who are immunocompromised, and they’ve learned how to live in a world that’s not exactly immuno-friendly. I think we can all take a lesson from them. Wash your hands, folks, and have a little common sense.

TP-meme2

What’s My Twitter Handle Again?

Twitter for Teachers

I’m doing something I said I would never do: I’m going back to school. Grad school, that is. I can’t make a judgment call yet because I’m at the beginning of this long journey. It’s possible that my second grader will get his Masters degree before I do. But. I started.

I’m taking a course called Literacy and Technology, which I find both fascinating and helpful because tech intimidates me. I am certainly no pioneer, eager to try every new thing put out by Apple or Samsung or Microsoft. Once I get comfortable with a particular technology, platform, or device, I’ll stick with it until it dies or I do.

I understand that I’m admitting to be a paradoxical, Millennial dinosaur. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that I love physical books—you know, made of this archaic material called paper. But I happen to have a son who is dyslexic, and paper books are a trial for him. This does not mean, however, that he has to hate books. He’s almost 12, but I still read aloud to him, sharing some of my favorite stories that I don’t want him to miss out on. Fortunately, current technology has progressed so that he doesn’t have to put me in his backpack and take me everywhere when he needs to read. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that, and he has a handy one called Learning Ally that can read texts for him, both fiction and non-fiction. And that’s just one example of many that can help people like Peter.

How appropriate that my first class is introducing me to all kinds of tech and new ideas about how to best utilize it in the classroom. This week’s focus: creating educational content via blogs, microblogs, and video. In a time when schools either have some sort of computer device in most classrooms or actually require students to bring their own, this is a hot and often controversial topic. Cyber ethics and safety and online research are normal parts of children’s curriculum now. It’s not just Solitaire and Oregon Trail anymore, which were the main reasons I used computers when I was a tween.

The advantages of creating and using online content are many. If you’re curious about an educational topic, someone else has probably already posted something about it. All you have to do is search. And then comment. Or retweet. Or subscribe and share. Then give it your own personal twist; use it; post the results. The information accumulates, is shared again, and this is the beauty of live content, versus a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica that cost a pile of money in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated since then because of said pile of money.

Instead of debating whether this kind of technology would be allowed at my school, let’s go by the assumption that it would, and I have a classroom of students who are old enough to use blogs, microblogs, and videos. In this scenario, which medium would I prefer, and why? After studying all three methods, my answer today is a little different than it was this time last week.

Going in to this topic, I was very familiar with blogs. I mean, here I am, writing one. And despite being less active this year than I’ve been since starting Full-Time Writer Mom in 2012, I am still most comfortable with this medium. I pride myself on thinking carefully about each topic; that’s why I no longer write weekly. For a while, coming up with a topic felt forced. I decided to only write something when I felt moved to do so. The problem, of course, was that when I got out of the habit, it was easy to make excuses, to continue to not post.

But what if I were able to use this platform in the classroom? I discovered a couple new blogs this week that spoke to the book lover in me, A Mighty Girl and School Library Journal. I am seriously considering going back and re-certifying so I can teach 4th, 5th, or 6th grade language arts (I’m currently only certified through 3rd grade). Not only would these blogs and ones like them be a great resource for me in the classroom, but what if I could expand this blog to help other teachers? This is very appealing to me, something I feel I could do well and with relative ease.

Next: Twitter and microblogging. As the name suggests, microblogging is blogging, but on a tiny scale. And I’ll admit that, although I do have a Twitter account, I never use it. Why? I guess because I’m unfamiliar with it, intimidated. Please refer to when I said that I get comfortable with something and like to stick with it. I’m comfortable with Facebook. Not Instagram, not LinkedIn, not Twitter. I have accounts with them all, but I’m sadly MIA in most. My fault. I know they’re all good resources, so I need to make myself become more familiar, push myself out of my comfort zone. But Twitter specifically really gets me because I’m verbose. If the rule were to keep tweets down to 140 words, I’d still have a problem. But 140 characters?

This is a challenge I need to tackle, and I became convinced of this when I read about English teacher and author Kate Messner and how she got her class involved with Twitter. By creating an account for her class, she was able to have them join in on a conversation about one of the books they were reading with the book’s author and editor. While an argument can be made that social media isolates people, when used correctly, Twitter can connect people who, otherwise, might never meet. While I think it’s cool for the occasional author to comment on one of my reviews on Goodreads, that’s nothing to having a real-time conversation like Messner’s class had. This would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. (Okay, it still is. I really need to get busy on Twitter.)

The last medium, video, is the one with which I am least comfortable, although I certainly appreciate its uses. My children have a few people they follow on YouTube, mainly adult gamers who play Minecraft or Roblox (MC Naveed and Pat and Jen are the biggies). My seven-year-old has learned how to create some amazing structures on Minecraft just from watching their videos. Are they entertaining? Undoubtedly. Do they also happen to be instructional? Actually, yes. I think a downside is, however, there’s so much inappropriate video content out there. Sometimes Ian will be in the middle of watching someone build something (not from the two mentioned above), and then a swear word comes out. And Mom Police immediately shuts it down.

Still, could I preview content and share what I deem appropriate in the classroom? I could, as well as use it for professional development. But could I create my own YouTube channel, my own content? Well… that’s where I’m unsure. I can do live videos on Facebook within a closed group, where my audience is small, familiar. Do I want to put myself out there, have my face on everything I produce? Because that’s what I see whenever I view someone else’s YouTube channel: faces. It seems kind of narcissistic. I know this bias shouldn’t make me leery of this medium, but it does. For now, let’s just say that I am more willing to be a consumer than a producer. But do I dare say “never”? Well, look at what happened when I said I wouldn’t ever go back to school…

Hunkerin’

hurricane-dorian-1.jpg

Dorian, where are you?

I got married in what I call the Year of the Hurricane (2004). Within a few weeks that fall, four hurricanes hit Florida, devastating mainly the central corridor of our state. Where I live, we were lucky to be tucked away in a spot that rarely receives a direct hit. Still, we received wind and rains from the outer bands of those storms, resulting in loss of power for days on end. How did we fare? Pretty well. In our early 20s, Thomas and I weren’t concerned about water bottles or extra batteries. We had everything we needed in our tiny apartment: doughnuts, pizza, sodas, candles, and Scrabble. We played endless games of the latter until we decided it might be nice to have A/C and a warm shower and relocated to his parents’ house, where they never lost power.

Fast forward to the last few years. My kids think that hurricane days are an adventure, but talks of school closing put me on edge. As someone who works at said school, I know that days off don’t come for free. And then there was the time that the kids and I actually evacuated. The way Hurricane Matthew’s track looked, we thought we would get a direct hit. We pulled all our pictures off the walls and put valuables on top of our beds in case the house flooded. The boys and I headed to central Florida, where it was sunny and hot, while Thomas had to stay put, due to his job. He had everything staged for if he had to abandon the house and head for a shelter, but the worst thing that happened was that A/C unit outside flooded, so he went without air for a couple days.

Thank goodness for modern technology that (usually) lets us know when major weather events will happen. But that still doesn’t remove nature’s unpredictability factor. A few months after Hurricane Matthew, a microburst struck our side of town out of nowhere. Listening to wind and hail beat all four sides of the house, I thought it was a tornado. Thomas was just down the street at the time, and a tree fell right in front of his car. When I left for work the next morning, our neighborhood looked like a war zone. Every house had lost at least a portion of fence, not to mention trees and large limbs.

Hurricane Dorian 2For Dorian, we never considered evacuating, but we did prepare for our neighborhood to flood and for an extended power outage. A hard rain can back up our storm drains, and our power has been known to go out when it’s not even raining. But it hasn’t flickered once, and today there was hardly any wind and just light, drizzly rain. We cancelled our Labor Day weekend vacation and stayed in town, and… nothing happened. At least not here. I feel for the people of the Bahamas, and I’ve since heard that cruise ship lines are responding with aid to those devastated by this slow-moving storm.

I started grad school (online) last week, and with that added activity, I now have at least one obligation every weeknight (and sometimes I’m double-booked). But since last Friday, my schedule has been clear. So what have we done? Thomas and I taught the boys how to play Scrabble. Our back patio got a top-to-bottom cleaning. And we’ve read. A lot. When I realized that we would have so many days at home—and there’s no guarantee I’ll get such dedicated reading time again for a while—I decided that the boys and I would finish the books we’re reading together, and I would try to finish my own novel, as well.

One of the greatest joys of being a mom is sharing my favorite books with my kids. Over a year ago, I started on the Artemis Fowl series with Peter. We’ve had to take breaks to fit in required reading for school, but we’re now just a few pages away from finishing The Time Paradox, the sixth of this eight-book series. I was determined that we’d finish the series before the end of the year when I wrote this year’s book list (read that post here). After that, I want to pull out some of my favorite historical fiction; Peter’s begun to take an interest in World War II.

Ian and I started reading Harry Potter just before the school year started. He’s in the Harry Pottersecond grade, and that’s when I read them to Peter. These are the first longer chapter books Ian’s read, and I worried that they might bore him; after all, he’s my ADHD kid who could never sit still for me to read to him when he was a baby. It does help that we have the beautifully illustrated Jim Kay versions (for the first three books), but even on the pages without illustrations, Ian is rapt. Many times, he’s asked me to read just a few more pages, or he’s carried the giant book to me, singing the Harry Potter movie theme. I feel like I’ve done something right because he told me a few days ago that he thinks the books are better than the movies because they made more effort with the books.

I feel guilty for getting so much time off when there was absolutely no reason for it. But how can you know? Not to mention that there are many people in my area who live in flood zones and aren’t as lucky. So the whole community has to abide by this schedule (and pray we don’t succumb to cabin fever). So I’m off now to read another chapter or two. Four books to go until I finish my 2019 book list!

Hurricane Dorian 3

 

Does School Choir Matter?

singing

Sharing my love of music with my youngest

Before reading on, I invite you to watch a video (from whence I stole this post’s title) that addresses this issue by clicking here.

Growing up, I was always involved in some sort of music, from taking music lessons as a three-year-old and transitioning to piano to singing in children’s choir at church to my elementary school’s auditioned three-part chorus. My middle school’s chorus program was dying when I got there. After one frustrating year, I left that school, but I made my decision so late in the summer that it was too late to audition for our arts magnet middle school. Instead, my parents decided to try homeschooling me.

Maybe one reason I tend to read and write teen fiction is because I empathize with the ugly duckling teenagers who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and don’t know where they fit in the world. One reason I so readily left my middle school was because, somewhere in the adolescent muck, my old friends were no longer true friends. My rose-colored lenses were shattered beyond repair. Homeschooling was perfect; I no longer had to interact with my peers. Forget ugly duckling; I’d become a turtle that never poked her head out of her shell, and I’m sure my parents envisioned me locked in my childhood room, devouring books and Twinkies at the age of thirty-eight.

Completely against my will, they signed me up for a summer musical program at a local high school. It was a “normal school,” not one with a magnet program. But despite cuts in funding, this school still had musical theatre and chorus, the teachers of both programs collaborating to put on summer musicals that rivaled those of our city’s arts magnet. My closest cousin was a student at this school, and the chorus teacher was a friend of his family. My chorus teacher was (and still is) a loving man, who always put his students first. He took me under his wing, and even though I continued to homeschool, he became my advocate, convincing the principal to let me into the school’s chorus and musical theatre programs. After my first year, the musical theatre teacher left, but chorus remained. I sang in all the concerts, including three times in Disney’s Candlelight Processional. I sang in chorus, ensemble, and solo competitions at the district and state levels, participated in All State choruses, and went on two trips to New York City. I also met my husband.

The year after I graduated, the chorus program wilted. Funding at the school was cut, and they consolidated both chorus and band positions into one instructor, which was neither fair to the students nor the teacher. My chorus teacher, not wanting to compromise the program he’d built by being stretched so thin, went to a different school that still appreciated that chorus and band are two different things.

For a kid who homeschooled without being a part of a homeschool group, I would have missed so many opportunities if there hadn’t been a local high school chorus program and teacher willing to let me participate. It would be hypocritical of me to put my head in the sand with the attitude that because I love music, I’ll always make sure my own kids have opportunities to participate in musical programs. While that’s great for my boys, that’s not the point. So many kids have talents they’ll never get to nurture because their parents don’t have the time, means, or desire to help them outside of school. By cutting musical programs and only offering them at specialty or independent schools, we’re robbing children of a different way to learn, to think, to live. Not to mention that music also makes for excellent therapy.

But at least there’s always college, right? I mean, if they’re still interested at that point. After all, that’s how my parents met—in college chorale, where they not only had the opportunity to sing but to do so all over the US and Europe. But at the same junior college they attended (which is now a state college), the funding has been cut to the point that there may not be a choral program after the next couple years.

Let me ask: what do kids look forward to when they get up and go to school every day? Are they excited to learn how to take tests? I doubt it, but more and more, that’s what school is becoming. I looked forward to school (except for that one year) because I loved my friends and even my teachers. And my teachers made learning fun because they were actually allowed to teach subjects that excited them. If we send our kids to institutions for seven-plus hours five days a week but subtract all the parts that make child- and young adulthood fun, how can we expect their enthusiasm for learning to grow, much less flourish? This isn’t limited to music, folks. What happened to recess? Visual arts? Non-academic learning, such as kids problem solving and developing grit through play? These are all undervalued by the people in charge, whomever they are, and those of us who care are left sitting here, scratching our heads and wondering what we can do.

I wish I had an answer. I’m grateful to all the private music teachers, after-school programs, and conservatories that promote musical learning, but they’re often spread thin, too. These are private entities that depend on outside funding, tuition, or grants to keep their doors open, none of which are guaranteed. Why do we undervalue something that can bring about such positive change in the lives of everyone, from babies to the elderly? After all, the children of this generation will be taking care of me in a nursing home not too many decades from now, and when that time comes, I hope they’ll appreciate that playing some of my favorite songs and giving me a cool coloring book is more worthwhile than letting me turn into a vegetable in front of a TV.

The question isn’t really if school choir matters. It’s the why of the thing. It matters because it creates a safe space for children who come from different backgrounds, religions, cultures, and so on to create something together that’s much greater than what they can do individually. And if they grow an appreciation for this when they’re young, they’re more likely to take it with them as they grow and mature. I think it’s a pretty good place to start.

Do Something

Care-a-Thon

While I would often like to put my head in the sand and pretend that my kids are not growing up, it’s obvious with every inch and every milestone that they’re well on their way to becoming independent young men. This generation will never know what it’s like to live in a world without i- and e-technology. They think it’s funny to see shows or movies about the good old 20th century, but they don’t know what it was like to live in that time—to wait for dial up internet. Or actually have to talk on the phone (and not even know who’s calling). They live in an era of instant gratification, and it can be challenging to teach them to wait FIVE MINUTES without using technology to entertain them.

Then several months ago, I received a very welcome message from a friend of mine. Our elder sons have gone to school together since they were three, and we deal with many of the same parenting struggles, one of which is helping our kids recognize how blessed they are. What better way to help them realize this than by serving others?

My friend started a group called “Do Something! Boys Serving Others,” and her idea is to encourage all the boys from our sons’ grade at their school to engage in weekly service projects this summer. We started with a spring break preview, in which a group of parents and our boys served breakfast to the homeless. It was an eye-opening experience for our sons, two hours in which no one used a phone or tablet. In hair nets and aprons, we filled trays of food and served them to people we’d never seen before and will likely never see again.

Care PouchesEvery week this summer, a different family will sponsor a “do something,” and I immediately thought of WSB’s Care-a-Thon benefiting Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center/Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which happens every July. When it’s our family’s turn, we will “do something” for children with cancer. For years, I have participated in this Care-a-Thon. A few years ago, I sent copies of my children’s book, Hero, to the children there. This year, I decided it would be good for the boys to put together care pouches for the 64 children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The children we’re benefiting spend their lives hospital-bound, and their parents make significant sacrifices to care for them. My day-to-day frustrations seem small in comparison. I hope my son and his friends will realize how blessed they are to be able to do such seemingly insignificant things go to the grocery store, deal with bed head, and play baseball when so many children cannot have these experiences, due to their health. By making these care pouches and writing each child a personal note, I hope to give the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta patients a little piece of normal.

If you would like to sponsor a $15 care pouch, please comment below, and I will get in touch with you. I am also hosting a Thirty-One fundraiser through early July. All proceeds will go to this year’s Care-a-Thon. You can make a purchase any time between now and July 9th by shopping here.

Don’t put your head in the sand—Do Something!

I Shouldn’t Have to Say This

Reading RainbowWhen I was a teacher, I was perplexed when a student refused to check out books on our weekly trips to the library—until I learned that the books went home and were never read. I told her I would be glad to read them to her, but she refused. She had already learned that non-technological pursuits had less value than flashy apps. And even though some of these apps were “educational,” they couldn’t make up for the parent-child interaction that comes with reading together. This is a battle all parents of the twenty-first century are fighting. Or, rather, it’s a battle I wish we would all fight. Too many of us have already waved the white flag, assigning reading the status of optional.

This is something that’s hard to wrap my mind around, considering that reading is like breathing to me. I went through a short period during which I didn’t want to read on my own—and I’m sure it was due to learning to read and spending my energies on deciphering the language rather than taking in the story—but I got over that pretty quickly. When I started reading novels, I soon had no more books to read at home and then discovered the wonders of my elementary school’s library. I plowed through Beverly Cleary and Little Women and every book of mythology I could get my hands on. In middle school, my dad introduced me to Michael Crichton, and then I discovered the vast catalog of Agatha Christie titles. When I met my husband, I was on a Stephen King kick, and he soon started reading my books when I finished them. Over the years this evolved to Harry Potter and many others. Other couples may hire a babysitter and go on dates. We sit around and read and then bug each other to read the books we’ve just finished so we can talk about them.

Naturally, this has extended to our children. When our elder son was little, we read Go, Dog. Go! to him so much that he had the book completely memorized and would act out the scenes. There have been some nights recently when our activities have necessitated getting the kids to bed way past their usual bedtimes, and for the sake of sleep, we have foregone our usual reading-together-before-bed ritual. And let me tell you: the kids don’t like it. “Can we read [book of the moment]?” Peter will ask. And I’ll feel horrible for having to turn him down.

I was recently reading on a Friday night, and with absolutely no reason to get up early the next day, I kept going until past midnight, finishing the last 90 pages of the book. (For someone who gets up at 4:40 every weekday, that’s quite a feat!) Devouring a book because it’s too good to put down is an amazing feeling. Ordering the sequel on Amazon is a close second.

Unfortunately, many people labor under the mistaken belief that novels are only for “escape” or “fluff.” On the contrary: I’ve learned all kinds of things from my sojourns in fiction, from new vocabulary to customs unlike my own to truths I may not have pondered had they not been presented to me in a unique, fictional light. Not to mention that all writers should read simply for the exposure to another writer’s perspective. For every age, not just children, books provide an excellent avenue for learning and growth, and a great example for children is to see people to whom they look up reading.

When I learned my elder son was dyslexic, I was distressed, worrying that the child who loved to be read to would hate books once he had to read them on his own. And although he still struggles, he loves books—and there are wonderful apps out there to make books accessible to those who do have reading problems. There is absolutely no reason why everyone should not be able to enjoy books in some form or fashion. (Books aren’t available to everyone, you may argue. Click here to read a blog that addresses this very issue.)

I’m not saying that other activities are without merit. I’m also a baseball/musical theatre/piano/visual arts/LEGO/Marvel Universe mom. I pride myself on offering my kids multiple outlets for their talents and interests, but I believe I would be robbing them of a great opportunity if I didn’t share my love of books with them. I shouldn’t have to make this argument at all, yet so many people harbor the notion that reading is only for people with oodles of spare time or who have a nerdish personality. For example, if you saw a muscular dude reading a book in the park instead of engaging in some form of physical activity, would you be surprised? If yes, it’s because popular culture has created a stereotype for the typical “reader.” But it shouldn’t be that way. Books are for everyone.

Maybe it’s corny, but I think the Reading Rainbow theme song states it pretty well:

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high.
Take a look, it’s in a book, a Reading Rainbow!
I can go anywhere.
Friends to know,
and ways to grow.
A Reading Rainbow!
I can be anything.
Take a look,
it’s in a book.
A Reading Rainbow.

Traffic Jam at the Intersection of Chronic Sinus Infection Avenue and Swamped Street

traffic jam

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am a planner. You might call me OCD. My husband rarely makes plans without asking me first, for fear that I’ll lose it if my plan gets sidetracked. This particular piece of the Sarah puzzle doesn’t always fit nicely with the rest of the pieces. But on the up side, I’ve always known what I wanted. As a seventeen-year-old high school graduate, there was absolutely no question about what major I would claim in college: English, obviously, because I love to read and write, and I was well on my way to becoming a published author who would make enough income to support herself and her future family.

Fast forward to reality: at almost thirty-five, the only books I’ve published were paid for by me, and the income I’ve made as a writer is hardly steady, much less supportive to the family budget. I still love to write, but it was with a heavy dose of humility that I finally admitted that, if I didn’t want to watch my husband work himself to death from the sidelines, I needed to find something profitable to do. Having a traditional, full-time job was never a part of my plan. But after I stalled for years and accepted it, I have found satisfaction and even a joy I never expected by first teaching and now crunching numbers, of all things.

Have no fear: I am still a writer, and even though I am much less active than I once was, this blog keeps me accountable. Although I’m going on three months without a post, it’s not that I’ve lost my passion for writing or run out of things to say; I simply haven’t been able to wrap my mind around a cohesive topic in a while. Or more accurately, I haven’t had the time to so much as think about it. What with going from the “let’s look at houses” to actually buying one and moving in in exactly one month, being busier than ever at work, getting and staying sick for almost three months running, and becoming an independent consultant with Thirty-One Gifts, I feel lucky to remember my name.

But it happens to be spring break, and I consider it a God-thing that inspiration finally struck right when I had the time to nurture it. It happened Monday while reading my daily devotional. Some mornings, I absorb it, while others I’m lucky to remember what I read five minutes later. But this particular entry seemed to be speaking to me:

Lately, as I’ve been skimming financial advice books, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. While almost all such books have good advice, many imply that the primary reason to cut costs is to live like millionaires later. But one book offered a refreshingly different perspective, arguing that living simply is essential for a rich life. If you need more or fancier stuff to feel joy, the book suggested, “You’re missing the point of being alive.”

—Monica Brands, “The Point of Being Alive,” Our Daily Bread (read full entry here)

This struck me because I’ve been following one particular financial method for over a decade, and it is absolutely based on the idea of sacrificing certain pleasures now in order to enjoy them after retirement. Now, I have no argument with saving for the future. And really, is being fiscally responsible and living within my means a bad thing? But I don’t think that’s what the author of the devotional was getting at. There has to be a balance between wasting what we earn on instant gratification and becoming misers who save for a tomorrow that might never come.

Years ago, I met a woman who had looked forward to her husband’s retirement more than anything else in her life. They were retirement saving pros, their goal to travel during their golden years. But mere weeks after he retired, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and their retirement dream died right along with him.

I am usually not one of these people who dwells on death, but I have been sick for 11 weeks now—the perfect storm of chronic sinus infections, allergies, and barely enough time to rest every night. The same day I read the above devotional, I had a CT scan to ascertain what, exactly, is going on in my head. My ENT expects to find a reason behind the congestion, but as soon as he said, “scan of your head,” I thought about my friend who lost her life to a brain tumor at 32.

Wouldn’t it be just like Life to give me a major detour? Health problems are a nightmare to planners like me—I don’t have room for that nonsense! But while I seriously doubt that my results will show anything that serious, just the idea of it has been enough to make me look back over my life and consider my regrets. Well, I’m not a bestselling author… and that’s about it. I married the love of my life, and we have two children whom we adore. My family in itself is blessing enough, but I have more: we’ve taken great trips and made lots of memories. We read to our children all the time and tell them stories of our own childhoods. We instill in them the values that we hold dear, and I hope I’m not too boastful in saying that they’re good-hearted people (even if the older one is snarky and the younger one is a hot mess).

When I was younger, I assumed that everything I wanted in life would fall into place as easily as my marriage: I would land a literary agent, get published, play Scrooge McDuck in my mountains of earnings, and then write more novels from my office while watching my children play in my perfectly manicured backyard. I have the husband and children, so why is the rest so unattainable? It’s frustrating to say that I’m a writer—that I’ve written novels—yet have little to show for it. I was jarred by my ungratefulness when a friend who is successful in her career and seems to have it all told me she admires me for being a mother. She doesn’t look down on me at all because the career I’ve always desired remains out of reach.

It’s easy to get lost in the belief that life doesn’t begin until [fill in the blank]. The problem is that if we have to achieve x before life is worth living, we could travel down that lonely road forever without reaching the destination.

While the lure of a perfect someday can blind us to the imperfect joys of today, if we follow the (annoying, frustrating, life-changing) detours without fighting to stay on our original path, we’ll likely end up right where we need to be… with many (worthwhile, unexpected, fulfilling) stops along the way.

From Resolution to Habit

Social Media IllustrationsIt was almost one year ago when I posted about my (pre)New Year’s resolution. And since it has almost been a year, I figured I would give an update, just in case anyone remembers or cares. (Read the original post here.)

I have, in fact, kept my resolution to be less dependent on social media/my iPhone. In fact, within a couple months of making this resolution, a friend told me she had decided to give up Facebook for Lent. At the time, I felt somewhat smug: I didn’t need to give it up because I had already majorly dialed back my social media usage. After the 40 days were up, I asked her if she missed Facebook, and she said that she didn’t; she had deleted the app from her phone and felt no urge to download it again. After breaking the habit, she wasn’t eager to start it again.

It reminded me of my relationship with food. By cutting out most carbs and sugars over the past year, not only have I lost weight that I thought I would have to carry around forever, but I’ve lost the urge to eat carbs and sugars. No more crazy cravings, no more roaring hunger. Even though I could “afford” to cheat a little, I don’t want to.

These aren’t just “I wish I could” resolutions that look good from the perspective of December 31st. While it feels too grandiose to say that they are paradigm shifts, they definitely take resolve (hello). What we consume—both physically and mentally—contributes to our lifestyles, and if you want to be more than one of the huge percentage of people whose resolutions are laughable, you have to be willing to make a shift—and not shift back.

When my teaching position transitioned into a year-round, full-time job late in the spring, I realized that I needed to tighten down on what free time I had left. While I didn’t feel the need to cut out social media altogether, leaving my phone in a different room overnight and in my purse when out with my family wasn’t enough. So I made a new, mid-year resolution: only check Facebook once a day. What this looks like is that I now check my notifications once (usually in the morning), and if I have a couple spare minutes, I scroll through a couple new posts. I even moved Facebook out of my iPhone’s home row, so it’s not a one-click option anymore. While it bothered me at first that I wouldn’t be as “in touch” anymore, I find that I really don’t miss it. If ever I’m curious about whether a friend finally had her baby, for example, I’ll search for that friend. I am no longer a social media tool; it is a tool that I can use when I choose.

Call me a bad Millennial—it won’t hurt my feelings—I’ve always known I was more of an old-fashioned girl. With my kids getting older and closer to that age when they’ll want smartphones of their own, I resolve to be the example of a person who uses technology responsibly, and I hope they will follow suit.

Do Something Inconvenient

convenience definition

If you’ve ever been the victim of an infomercial, you know that seemingly too-good-to-be-true items are marketed toward consumers, all for the sake of convenience. Does that heavy-duty blender you already own walk the dog? Because if not, it’s completely worthless. But with three easy payments of $19.99 (plus shipping and processing), you can sit back and do nothing while this miracle kitchen implement does everything for you. Just for giggles, check out how incompetent the infomercial marketing people think we are without their products:

How dare we use regular shampoo or soap dispensers! That’s how those backward Neanderthals of the 20th century lived, poor fools. There’s a new commandment in the 21st century:

stone tablet

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy conveniences as much as the next millennial—maybe not a one-pot wonder that can transform raw food into a gourmet meal in 10 minutes flat, but I have been known to pay a convenience fee to pre-purchase movie tickets online. And GPS apps! I use one every day to plot the fastest course through rush hour traffic to work. Last summer when my family took a road trip to the mountains, we plugged our hotel’s address in and hit the road without a second thought.

Everything was fine until we arrived at an open field in the middle of nowhere that the GPS assured us was our destination. So deep into the mountains that we didn’t have a signal anymore, there was nothing we could do except drive around until we found an amused road construction worker, who gave us directions. Apparently, when I told my GPS that the address was on Sugarloaf Road, it didn’t believe me, taking us to Sugarloaf Mountain Road instead. I just figured the GPS was smarter than me (big mistake)—it’s updated by satellite, after all. If we’d had one of those outdated paper thingies—oh, yeah, a map!—I would have spotted the problem and avoided the scenic detour.

Convenience is convenient until it isn’t anymore. We’re so conditioned into the rut of convenience that we scoff at previous, “inconvenient” ways. People will say they don’t know what they did before cell phones. Maybe they worried when they couldn’t get in touch with each other, but no more than they do now when there’s not an immediate answer. Could it be that inconvenience cultivates patience? That it’s all right to have delayed gratification? For crying out loud, two-day shipping isn’t fast enough anymore!

I love the Disney Pixar movie Wall•E. Here’s a clip that demonstrates an (exaggerated) example of the convenience snowball:

No, I don’t think we’re all going to turn into blobs, floating around in recliners, unable to walk or even open a book. But I do know that we can become so absorbed in our modern conveniences that we don’t spend the time developing relationships like we did when we were more dependent on people than technology, when we were—just wait a minute for me to answer this text or email or follow this Twitter feed, and then I’ll give you my attention.

I recently attended the memorial service of my friends’ grandmother. One granddaughter spoke about the care her grandmother took when it came to letter writing, the importance of which she passed down to her daughters and granddaughters. In a time when learning to write in cursive takes a backseat to learning how to take a test, these women are keeping alive an art form and a courtesy that’s on the ebb. While many might consider it a waste of time, these aren’t throwaway texts. These are nuggets of character and history that are saved and cherished, surviving longer that the person who created them. A handwritten letter can’t be deleted, won’t ever need a software upgrade, and can be read and re-read time and again by the recipient and the generations that follow.

Yes, it’s much more convenient to communicate electronically—you don’t even have to leave your chair. Who wants to go to the post office and buy stamps, after all? A simple verbal “thank you” or “I’m thinking about you” gets the point across, right? While I’m in favor of gratitude and thoughtfulness in any incarnation, there’s something extraordinary about the person who takes the time to swim away from the current of convenience and wade into the calm waters of courtesy, kindness, and thoughtfulness. And sadly, before we had the ability to communicate instantly, tapping on a screen, it seems like our communications were more meaningful, if not instantaneous. Would it be cliché to say worth the wait?

I’m not just talking about writing letters, about buying expensive stationery and never sending an email again. What I mean is that there are some things worth taking the time to do—and to demonstrate for the next generation. Spend a Saturday morning making breakfast with your kids instead of hitting the closest drive-thru. Visit a family member or friend in the hospital—even if the drive is out of your way, and you can only stay ten minutes. Any time you use the rationalization of doing (or not doing) something because of the convenience factor, ask yourself if the alternative is really all that inconvenient after all. It could make a positive difference in your life—or the life of someone else.