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.

A Resolution I’m Eager to Make

alarm-clock

Four years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions”—and I don’t. Or didn’t. Anyhow, the point is that I’m not one of these people who is eager to start the new year on a new foot or new shoe or new path or whatever. (Actually, the post was about books—and you’ll see my 2017 update in a couple days.)

In general, I’m very happy with my life, and when I want to make a change, I go ahead and do it, no matter the date. So maybe that’s why I’m making my change today—two days before the new year. How very gauche of me.

It started with a video I saw on Facebook. In fact, I get a lot of my blog fodder from Facebook, so before I trash social media, I owe it a big thank you. Before you read on, please watch the video below. It’s well worth the 15 minutes.

There is so much here that applies to my life and the lives of people around me. I find it interesting that the guy (sorry, don’t know his name) brings responsibility back to corporations. I hope that I do the job I’m supposed to do as a parent, and my children won’t have a lot of these issues. One friend remarked that it’s not just Millennials who are the problem, and I would have to agree, although when I was growing up, I never received a participation award. (Or if I did, it ended up in the trash because it wasn’t worth squat.) I can’t help it that my son’s baseball team gives him a trophy every season for just showing up, but here’s what I can do something about: my own participation on social media.

One of my former clients wrote for people who were self-employed, and many of his articles centered around time management. There are apps that can help people limit the time they spend on social media or that will post for them on a predetermined schedule. Basically, it’s all about us managing rather than being managed by the social media that we use. He also wrote about only checking email at prescribed times because as soon as someone sees that you’ve answered an email at 11:00 P.M., they’ll start expecting you to be available then.

I fought getting a smart phone for a long time; I was a latecomer when I purchased my first iPhone in mid-2012. That was also when I was new at being a mom of two and deeply post-partum depressed. Overall, it was kind of a perfect storm. I got sucked into all sorts of games (that I have since deleted) and stopped doing a lot of things that I love. Did I become addicted, as the guy in the video says? It certainly is easy to just sit and scroll through posts on a phone when you’re exhausted, but I’m not exhausted anymore. I have the energy and motivation to do other things now, but the simple act of opening my Facebook app (itself an amoral action) can suck valuable minutes and hours from my life and the lives of my loved ones. That’s not to say that there aren’t great things on Facebook (after all, you might remember that that’s where I found the above video). The problem is that logging on to wish a quick happy birthday to a friend or to check my notifications can lead down a rabbit hole that costs me an entire afternoon—and costs my children my attention.

So here are some things I’ve decided to do:

  • Use an alarm clock

Yep. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I threw my old one away after being swatted to the floor one too many times. Fortunately, as the guy in the video says, they’re cheap. I’m going to start leaving my phone charging in the kitchen at night. That means that if you want me, you’d better call or text before 9:00 because I go to bed early during the school week. It also means that I should get better sleep, which will lead to better energy when I wake up, a rested brain, a nicer Sarah, etc.

  • Leave my phone in my purse

Yes, I do carry it with me everywhere. I like to take quick snapshots of my kids, and I use my calculator and dictionary apps almost as often as anything else—so it does have its uses. But there is absolutely no reason to check emails or IMDb or Facebook when I’m out to eat with my family. If I show my boys the attention that they deserve now, I hope they will learn that habit and carry it forward in the (far distant) future when they have their own phones.

  • Not post to social media the minute something happens

I was going through photos recently, and I found one from my younger son’s first trip to Disney World. There we were, all in a row: Thomas holding the baby and our older son sitting in between us—and me on my phone. I can tell you exactly what I was doing, which was posting photos from the trip we were on to Facebook. Instead of just enjoying the trip. What difference would it have made if I’d waited a few hours? I’ll tell you: I would have been looking at my children instead of my phone. No more! Take pictures, yes. Post to social media? It can wait until later.

I don’t want to be one of those people who is oblivious to what’s going on around her, sporting a premature dowager’s hump because I’m stooped over my screen. I want to enjoy people watching (it’s funny—admit it) instead of my husband telling me I just missed something hilarious. (Or if I do miss it, I want it to be because I was in my book, not in my phone.)

I hope that by implementing these small changes, I will help address some of the other issues mentioned in the video. Being a good example is key. Not to mention that I think I will be a happier person. I’m a bookworm who loves scrapbooking and adult coloring books, but while I still do read a lot, my other hobbies have suffered in recent years. That photo I found from Disney World? That was from New Year’s 2013—and I rediscovered it because I’m almost ready to start on my 2013 scrapbook. Part of the reason I’m nearly four years behind is because I’m a busy mom of two, but I can’t use that excuse for everything. I can reduce a lot of my busyness by limiting my time on my phone. And after all, the recipes that I love and the videos that are so funny will still be there later. And if you think that it’s something I absolutely must see, tag me. I will look at it after getting my kids to bed and before plugging my phone in—across the house—for the night.

In My Opinion

lady-liberty

I absolutely cannot stand politics because I think that they divide more than unite. Once you’ve put a label of Democrat or Republican on something, an entire demographic will automatically turn the other way simply because of the label. As a loving friend with an open mind and the opposite political persuasion once said, “We’re good people with different approaches of how we want to care for others.” I love her for that.

I have stayed silent on the political front this year—pretty much like every election year. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s confrontation. Doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention, though. It’s been alternately entertaining and dismaying to read what’s going on in social media—friendships thrown away over an election.

Here’s the thing, folks: we are fortunate to live in a country in which we can change our minds every four years. Feel like your voice wasn’t heard this year? Guess what? There were people four years ago who felt the same thing. What about third party supporters who always feel left out? What about people who feel like our electoral system is so broken that they refuse to vote?

Hillary supporters: she’s not your personal savior. She wasn’t going to come knocking on your door with all the solutions for your life. And for those who are thrilled with the impending Trump presidency—he won’t do that either! I, like many, was absolutely disgusted that the choice came down to these two. And it doesn’t matter if you liked Gary Johnson or Jill Stein because there was no chance either of them would win. I know this is me in my fantasy world speaking, but wouldn’t it be nice, instead of choosing the candidate you hate the least, to be torn over whom to pick because both candidates are so honorable, so likeable, so qualified?

We had poor choices—but if I think about it, the person I like is never the one who is nominated. The type of person who is nominated for this office is generally someone who is so far removed from the typical American’s life that it’s hard for us to connect. The type of person I want in office is someone who comes from humble beginnings, who knows what it’s like to struggle before finding success, who doesn’t like the limelight, who wants a quiet life with his or her family—although that kind of life is impossible for any president.

But you know who does live like that? We do. Moms who get up early to fix lunches for their kids before school. Teachers who stay up late grading papers and spend hundreds or thousands of their own dollars to care for their students as if they are their own children. Parents who work the graveyard shift in order to provide a better education, a better future, for their children. Doctors who hold precious lives in their hands and carry a heavy burden that never leaves them, even when they’re at home or on vacation. I could go on and on and on.

We are the people in charge of our futures, for the most part. We cannot expect a great political leader to swoop down and “make everything better.” (Remember how the Hebrews expected Jesus to be the great political leader that would lay all the Gentiles low? Didn’t work then, either. Hmm…) With that kind of expectation, nothing will ever happen. Let’s not sit by and be passengers in our own lives for another four years, hoping that the next one will get it right… surely the next one…

Now’s the time for a great platitude, right? Like “change begins with you” or “you make your change.” Please. I’m a writer, and I hate clichés. How about this? Live your life. Be as kind to others as you possibly can be. I know it’s hard. But it’s also not impossible.

Last night, I was at my son’s baseball game. There are black kids and white kids on his team. I don’t know how a single one of them voted, and they don’t know how I voted, either. It doesn’t matter. We cheered for the kids and encouraged them when they struck out because that’s what we do. We laughed about how wimpy we Floridians are when temperatures dip below seventy. I’m sure many of us carried our own baggage from the election, but we were quiet about it. We’re continuing to live because that’s what’s required of us if we want to be decent parents.

If we go through life feeling misunderstood—most of us are, so why cry about it?—we are missing the chance to do something positive. Did you know that it’s possible to have friends of different viewpoints? It’s even possible to have disagreements within your own particular belief system. But it is also possible to appreciate the beauty in the differences. Although it may be hard to swallow, you can learn a lot and even grow when you reach out and have a conversation or simply listen to someone who comes from a differing perspective. Imagine that! How many of us get along with our spouses or parents or friends one hundred percent of the time, anyway? But do we get a divorce or disown our siblings when we dare to say what we believe?

Sadly, yeah, some of us do. We need a healthy dose of Grow Up. We need to appreciate that our differences are what make us unique, instead of trying to convert everyone to our particular way of thinking. As soon as we try to be like anyone else, we’re losing what makes each one of us an individual.

And since it is Veterans’ Day, thank you to the people in the Armed Forces, from hundreds of years ago all the way to the present, who work together, even if they disagree with one another politically, to give us this country and this life, where we are free to disagree and have stinky opinions and still live—if we can—in peace.

A Bookworm Without Any Books?

Borrowed Books 2016

A few of the books I’ve read

For the first time since I’ve started publishing a list of fiction titles that I hope to read in a year, I’ve actually managed to read them all—and in under 10 months! I didn’t assign any less books this year than previously, and some were even of the long or slower-paced variety. I’ve even gone astray and read extra books that weren’t on my list. If you’re interested, check out my activity on Goodreads, or read the 2016 list by clicking here.

Although I feel oh-so accomplished, there is a problem: What’s a girl to read when she can choose any book in the world? I just so happened to buy several not-on-the-list books this year that I have yet to read, and they’ll tide me over for a while. But even so, I’m three months ahead of schedule, so what will I read in 2017?

The problem is always in the choosing. There are many books I would like to read or even re-read, but guidance is always welcome. So if you’ve read something that really moved you or that you think fits my profile (again, see Goodreads), please recommend away. The bookworm grows restless!

Fundraiser Books

More books to read and re-read