Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Balancing the Life Equation

First image from Brian Flanagan's "So What's the Story with Lent?"
Watch it here.

When I was younger, Ash Wednesday was about giving stuff up. Usually food stuff -- things like potato chips, chocolate, and dessert. As I got older, I continued that tradition -- still do, sometimes.

But as I get older, I find that giving up some sort of treat doesn't do much besides make me feel virtuous. French fries aren't standing between me and God, nor are they keeping me from being a good person. Yes, you can make the argument that the body is a temple, and so it should be treated as such, and if that's why you're giving up French fries, then perhaps that's the right choice for you. As for me, years of experience have taught me that giving up some item of food for Lent is, for me, a surface sacrifice. I feel virtuous, but in the end, no real change happens.

As I was thinking about this post, I stumbled across a YouTube video a friend had posted on Facebook. In a little over a minute, it crystallizes what Lent is all about -- no lectures, no how-to's, no guilt. And it's a great lens to look at those "Catholic New Year's Resolutions" through.

Which is exactly what I did.

This year, once again, I'm setting out o create Lenten resolutions that are a combination of breaking old habits and beginning new ones. I'm hoping the new habits will take me closer to the person I want to be -- the person I think perhaps God wants me to be -- whether I'm eating French fries and chocolate or not. I'll aim for 40 bags in 40 days again, as a way of getting rid of material stuff that creates a distraction and an actual, physical barrier, but aside from that, I'm focusing more on adding things. And while math was never my best subject, even I realize that adding in the right things means subtracting a few other things in order to make the life equation balance.

Which is perhaps the purpose in the first place.

Happy Ash Wednesday. Imagine the wonders that lie ahead.

Monday, February 8, 2016

More Free Stuff!

Last week, I decided that the second day of the second month was a good day to give away two copies of my second book. One has reached its destination, but the other has not because I didn't have an email address for the winner.
So today, I've decided to do an impromptu giveaway. Interested? Check out my Facebook page for details.
In addition to my pop-up contest on Facebook, I'm also giving away some books with the help of The Fussy Librarian. You can enter at The Fussy Librarian site or by clicking on the link below for the book (or gift certificate) you want to win.
Good luck!

Click here to enter to win a Kindle
copy of Casting the First Stone.
Click here to enter to win a Kindle
copy of Chasing a Second Chance.

Click here to enter to win one of two Amazon gift certificates.

Back to School

Photo: Beanworks via Morguefile
For the first year or so after I retired, I returned pretty frequently to the elementary school where I'd been a counselor. I went back about once every two weeks to assist with a writing group that the seminar teacher ran for talented writers. But after two years, changes in staffing and changes in my schedule coincided, and it's been a while since I've been inside any public school besides my daughter's.

But today, I get to visit a school again -- a middle school -- and I get to talk about one of my favorite topics: writing. I'm nervous and excited. It's not that I'm unused to standing up in front of a group of people -- I teach, after all -- but it's been a while since the students in my audience were younger than seventeen.

Then again, the age of the audience is only part of it. I'm always nervous and excited when I speak before a new group of people. I love speaking engagements, but they're different from teaching, and, when you enter a school building to talk to a group of kids of any age, finding the sweet spot between storytelling and teaching is always the challenge.

I'm bringing my books. Although the novels aren't meant for a middle school audience, I'm bringing them anyway because they, along with my nonfiction books, are evidence. Evidence that if you keep writing -- beyond the tests, beyond the required assignments, beyond the dull, dry research papers -- and zoom in on what you love to write about, books happen. It's hard, it's unpredictable and, for most of us, it's not a living. But it's worth it.

Photo: Click via Morguefile
Speaking of books, I'm doing another giveaway this week. Stay tuned for another post later today with details (and the announcement of last week's winners), or check out The Fussy Librarian on Twitter, as this one's in conjunction with @FussyLibrarian.

Meanwhile, wish me luck. I'm hoping to inspire, but, since it's a Monday morning with middle schoolers, I'll settle for feigned enthusiasm.

It's okay. I've got plenty of the actual kind to spare.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday Special: Smead Organomics
As someone who loves not only organization, but also paper products and office supplies, I'm naturally drawn to the Smead Organomics page. I must admit that I spend more time looking at the pictures than reading the articles, but I did browse around long enough to see that, like me, Smead thinks in styles. We name them differently, and I have less of a vested interest in which tool you choose to use, but the concept is the same. And, if you're looking for specific tools to fit your styles, at least when it comes to paper and office organization, you'll find them here. They even have a podcast, "Keeping You Organized," organized by topic.

Need bite-sized pieces? Try following them on social media for one tip at a time.

Happy browsing!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Freebie: What College Kids Need to Know

I love teaching college freshmen. At the college where I teach, many students work, and are aware of the life lessons in this article. Still, as both an educator and a parent, I think it would be nice to see some of these on an upcoming schedule, or perhaps as hands-on workshops.

What would you add?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

4 Things that are Different 4 Years Later

Four years ago at this time, I'd just turned in my letter of intent as the first step in my retirement journey. Things were emotional, to say the least. My family was less than thrilled with my decision -- the part of my family that lives in my house, anyway -- and I was alternately exhilarated and terrified. I was just beginning to share the news with my colleagues, very few of whom had seen it coming, as I was about a decade younger than retirement age. I was crying a lot, praying a lot and trying to act as though everything was normal, when, in fact, it was about as far from normal as my professional life had ever been.

Four years later, things are different. I still worry about money -- but I know very few parents of high school seniors that aren't thinking about money. A lot of other things have changed, though -- nearly all for the better.

My daughter, who was finishing middle school when I made this decision, is now finishing high school, and on the cusp of changes of her own. In the intervening four years, I've gotten to spend much more time with her than I would have if I'd stayed where I was. I'm here every morning when she leaves for school, and accessible nearly every day after school. I'm around most days when she and her friends come by for lunch, and though I make myself scarce so they can have their privacy, I love that I'm here. When she leaves for college next fall, I'll expect that I'll treasure these four years even more than I do now.

My job is different, yet the same. I always thought I'd continue to work part time as a counselor, but when that door closed, I was more surprised than sad. As it turned out, being an educator was rooted in me more deeply. While I initially sought out jobs in community education to earn an additional paycheck because that was what I knew, once I got back into the classroom, I realized it was a part of who I am as well. And, though a part of me always thought it would be fun to teach at the college level, I never imagined leaving elementary education behind. Then again, I never imagined it would look the way it does today.

My writing is an enormous part of my life, which came as a surprise to no one. When I shared my intention to retire, all of my colleagues asked me if I planned to write. I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a full-time writer -- I'm used to the stimulation and interaction teaching brings -- but I love that writing of some kind happens nearly every day in this no-longer-new lifestyle. While I've been blogging for close to a decade, I didn't blog regularly until I retired. Though I had two nonfiction books published while I was working, I didn't publish a novel until after I retired -- and then, I had two out within two years. The combination of writing and teaching fills -- and drains -- the creative part of my personality.

My schedule is much more within my control. The first year, I had almost too much time on my hands, and last semester, I had almost none. But the pace of the days is up to me much more than it every was. While I still plan my day around classes, I don't have to report to a place of business (except when I teach), and though I get up to see my daughter off to school every morning (much more for me than for her), I can go back to bed when she leaves if I want to (and, as a non-morning person, I often want to). I can work until noon, take a long lunch, and make up the hours in the evening -- and I often do -- which is a great option for a night owl. My schedule now shifts three times a year instead of twice, and that is still taking some getting used to, but I love the freedom that comes with it.
We never know for sure the impact of the decisions we're making when we make them. We can hope, pray and project, but every new choice carries new risk -- risk that inspires fear we can overcome only in the face of deadlines that force us to choose. Sink or swim. Now or never.

Maybe there's something to be said for the magic wands and crystal balls of fairy tales.

Or maybe they unnecessarily complicate leaps of faith.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Giveaway Day!

The second day of the second month seemed like the perfect time to give away TWO copies of my second book -- the one about second chances :-)  To enter, you can do any of the following:
Don't forget to leave your email address when you respond. Or, if you'd prefer, email it to me with Chasing a Second Chance in the subject line.