Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday Feature: Snowplow Parents

My Friday Feature posts began as what-I'm-reading-in-ten-minutes-or-less posts. Today, what I've been reading is exams -- the ones I'm creating for classes next week -- which means reading and posting are happening later than usual.

Luckily, a great piece arrived in my inbox earlier this week. You've heard of helicopter parents? This one's about snowplow parents.

Haven't heard of them? I hadn't either. But, once I read the article, I realized how appropriate the name is, and how it's not just parents who do it.

Snowplow parents, according to author Rachel Simmons, are the ones who clear their children's paths of any obstacles that could conceivably make life difficult. The problem is, they also remove learning opportunities as well.

Sparked by the college admissions scandal, Simmons' piece hit at the heart of my initial reaction to the whole thing. How could parents have so little faith in their own children that they had to pave the way to college in such an over-the-top, can't-take-any-chances fashion?

Perhaps it's more a way of life than a lack of faith but, either way, it removes responsibility for a fledgling young adult's first steps into the future from that young adult. As a parent, I find the message it sends, whether of entitlement or lack of faith, disturbing.

When we remove all foreseeable road blocks from our children's paths, we might perhaps make their lives easier, but how do they ever learn to plow their own snow if we're always doing it for them? What message do they get from us as parents about how we view their capabilities and culpabilities?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm fully in favor of helping people of any age who truly need an assist. But the first step in getting help is often knowing how to ask for it -- or knowing we need to ask for it at all. And, from my perspective, part of being an effective parent (or educator -- but that's another post) is knowing when to step in and when to step back.

And away from the snow plow.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Inspired by Life

linno257 via Pixabay
Last night on Twitter, a fellow writer was looking for some inspiration. She asked us to share goals, wants, words of inspiration, etc.

I was amazed at how quickly and easily the "wants" flowed from brain to fingertips to the page.

What do I want? To spend my life doing things that make me happy. Not in an eating chocolate cake for breakfast kind of way (although that's good, too), but in a way that leaves me fulfilled and happily exhausted.

And you know what the best part is? I'm there. That is the life I am leading.

That's not to say it's all sunshine and roses (even roses have thorns). I'm often frustrated and sometimes unhappily exhausted. Like everyone else, I have to-do lists that feel insurmountable some days and an office that needs a serious intervention. (No? Just me on that second one?)

But, more and more, the things on my to-do lists that I actually want to do outnumber the things I'm merely obligated to do. The people I spend time with -- and on -- are people I want to surround myself with.
croisy via Pixabay

Am I independently wealthy? Nope, and I don't have my beach house (yet) either. Do I watch too much television, eat too much junk food and waste too much time online? Yes to all three (which is sometimes a way of avoiding the insurmountable to-do lists and other times leads to the insurmountable to-do lists).

That simple reply on Twitter reminded me of something essential. None of us has the perfect life but, until we get there, leading the lives we want to lead can be a pretty satisfying alternative.

What do you want out of life? How close are you to making that happen?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Now Available for Preorder! (Plus a Bonus)

Organizing and tidying up has become a national obsession. We are on an endless quest for the perfect containers, boxes, totes, bags, bins, shelves, files, folders, and labels to tame our closets, corral our clutter, and eliminate chaos. Books and television shows promise the magical secrets to getting and staying organized. "So," you think, "if I just buy these things and follow these instructions, I will finally be organized and joyful!"
Author Lisa Lawmaster Hess is going to let you in on a secret: that doesn't work.
Why? Because you have been chasing one-size-fits-all solutions. But you are not a one-size-fits-all person. You're unique. (Just ask God, who created you!)
Know Thyself is an effective and fun way to discover your personal and organizational styles, and will help you own your style. You'll take what you might have thought was a flaw and learn how to make it a strength. And that, plus Lisa's help and a sense of humor, will guide you toward an organization method you can really stick with.

Preorder from Barnes & Noble

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Want more? Use the contact form at right to request FREE PDFs
 on organizational myths, goal-setting, 
and using your personal and organizational styles. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Letter a Day

Pixel2013 via Pixabay
While I'm never surprised when life gives me writing ideas, I'm still sometimes surprised when writing gives me ideas for life. A couple of weeks ago, I was brainstorming ideas for Lenten resolutions for an article I was writing, playing with the number 40 (for the number of days in Lent). One of the ideas I came up with was writing 40 letters in 40 days.

And it stuck.

I'd already come up with a couple of Lenten resolution -- bad habits to give up, mostly -- but this new idea resonated with me. I'm a transplanted Jersey girl whose college friends are scattered across the country. I've worked in several different school districts, making friends with colleagues in each of them. While I maintain contact with many friends on social media, I'm old enough to remember a time when letters were a primary way to communicate with faraway friends and family. In addition, I actually have fond memories of sitting down to write those letters. Lent seemed like the perfect time to reclaim an old habit and reach out to people who matter to me.

I'd like to say I'm keeping up, but that's not the case. I started off well, buying some cute cards with space for me to write a note and making a short list of people I wanted to write to. I sent a couple of newsy emails to friends who are happy to communicate that way but wrote exactly one card.

And immediately realized that my handwriting was another casualty of rampant technology.

I haven't given up, though. I have my cards and my list tucked neatly into a folder bright enough to capture my attention and I'm still optimistic that I will sit down and write those notes. I just need to make time to do it. In addition, I've decided that the 40 notes part is more important than the 40 days part. Writing letters after Easter won't make them any less important.

An interesting side effect emerged from this desire to reach out. Last week, as I walked past a buildings and grounds worker repairing a crack in the sidewalk on campus, I felt compelled to stop and thank him. Today, as I ran into the store to pick up some face wash, I felt the need to wish the man trimming the shrubbery a good day.

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
None of this is terribly far out of my comfort zone; I am, after all, one of those people who starts up conversations with complete strangers. But in both cases, I felt a need to speak -- to reach out and, I hope, brighten someone else's day.

Habits are funny things. We get used to doing things a certain way -- sometimes before we even know it -- and that becomes our norm. Sometimes, the new way replaces an old way that was perfectly serviceable -- like email and social media instead of letters and phone calls -- even when that wasn't our intention.

I'm actually sort of happy that I've fallen behind in my letter-writing. Now, instead of a daily to-do list item, perhaps they'll be even more heartfelt than I first intended. Perhaps my new old habit will even supplement the thing I've gotten used to, giving both technology and handwritten correspondence their due.

And, who knows? Maybe my handwriting will even improve.

But I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Feature: Barbie's Birthday

Last weekend, Barbie celebrated her 60th birthday. When I wrote about Barbie and Ken in Wednesday's post, I knew I was going to go in search of news about the celebration for today's post.

As it turns out, there were quite a few Barbie celebrations, but my favorite article was a photo spread in BuzzFeed. Lumen, a 50+ dating app, honored both Barbie and Ken (whose birthday was Wednesday) with a photo shoot featuring them in vintage Barbie settings. The twist?

Barbie and Ken are more than all grown up. They're 60.

It's at once amusing and inspiring. Barbie looks amazing (of course) while Ken has not aged as well (in my opinion), hair color notwithstanding.

But Lumen's concept was about more than just nostalgia. The app wanted to draw attention not only to Barbie, but to ageism in toys.

Barbie has been many things in the past sixty years. Could Grandma Barbie be next?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Celebrating Barbie and Ken

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
Last Saturday, Barbie turned 60.

Sixty. Six-oh.


Over the past six decades, Barbie has had a multitude of identities and has had numerous accusations leveled against her but, I must confess, I have only warm memories of Barbie and I don't recall ever actually aspiring to look like her.

When I was young, my aunt had a Midge doll whose only outfit was a black, sparkly (form-fitting, of course) evening gown. Midge had a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and legs that didn't bend and, although she and Barbie could share clothes, Midge's plastic body made it much easier to slide the evening gown on, meaning she didn't often share that gown with Barbie. I remember how excited I was when I was finally allowed to play with Midge. I don't know whether I actually achieved an age where I could be trusted, or simply wore my mother and grandmother down.

I had my own collection of Barbies when I was growing up, but few were as memorable as the forbidden Midge and her sparkly evening gown. I also had a Francie doll and, although Francie had a pretty, filmy negligee in her own clothing collection, Barbie's clothes didn't fit what I now understand was her less sexy body. All I knew was that it was harder to dress Francie than any of my other dolls.

My favorite Barbie accessory was the Barbie camper, which folded up tidily into itself and could be rolled into my closet. For several years when I was in elementary school, Barbie-themed toys and clothes were a staple on my Christmas list and under the Christmas tree.

By the time my daughter came along, the Barbie phase both started and ended sooner. In Leah's preschool and early elementary years, we took Barbie on many adventures across the playroom floor but, by the middle of my daughter's elementary school years, those adventures and Barbie herself were no longer "cool."

To this day, we have a fairly substantial collection of Barbie stuff, though I think many of the dolls themselves have gone on to new homes. From a feminist perspective, Barbie is flawed, but she nevertheless inspired many characters and story lines, all drawn from first my, then my daughter's imagination. Barbie and friends, their wardrobe and their three story house with its various furnishings provided plenty of fuel for playing out the intricacies of relationships, careers and lifestyles.

Today is Ken Day -- the day Barbie's longtime significant other came on the scene. Maybe Barbie will take him somewhere nice to celebrate.

She certainly has the wardrobe for it.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday Musing

geralt via Pixabay
Seven years ago, I was trying, for the second time in my adult life, to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up (besides brave enough to get back on an airplane). I'd just retired -- ahead of schedule -- from the job that had been my career for the previous twenty-seven years. Too young to retire for real, but not young enough to start over, I had arrived at a crossroads, and I had no map.

At first, I did what I knew -- I wrote and I taught. The writing was mostly articles, trying to find a few editors who would consistently buy my work. The teaching was community education classes, almost all of which centered on writing.

With time on my hands, I dug into this blog, posting consistently and within an overall framework, as opposed to sporadically as I'd done before I retired. As it turned out, the timing was great, coinciding as it did with the debut of Casting the First Stone in 2014.

Three years -- and many posts about organizing -- later, I launched my Organizing by STYLE blog and this June, Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff, will make its appearance.

In between, I got a job teaching psychology at a local college -- a job that has grown from one class each semester to three, with the precise combination of classes changing often enough to keep things interesting. I discovered a love of learning that rivaled my love of writing -- or maybe I'd always had it  -- which only increased my enthusiasm for my work in the classroom.

So, here I am, seven years later. Still writing. Still teaching. I no longer embrace the role of counselor in quite the same way -- though, like my Jersey roots, my counselor roots run deep -- and, these days, my students are about a decade older than those I spent most of my career with. I've adjusted to that, too, and genuinely enjoy working with young adults.

I guess you could say it turns out that I knew what I wanted all along and yet, I'm still working to find  balance. Last week, we had winter break and I immersed myself in writing and writing-related projects, setting school work aside completely. On Saturday, I forced myself to tackle the grading that had remained untouched as I traded one role -- temporarily -- for another. And today, still smarting from the loss of an hour (that's another post entirely), I'm trying to find my way back to embracing both roles within the same day without shortchanging either one.

It's a challenge. But, having had a whole week to devote to my writing, I feel less of a sense of desperation to make some headway than I usually do. I checked some writing projects off my list last week and made some progress on some smaller ones (yes, Marita, Charli and Angel are in that second category).

Putting in that retirement letter seven years ago was a leap of faith. I had dreams, but no definite plans and while the road out of one thing was clearly marked, the road into something else was shrouded in fog. I marvel at where I am now, not always fully certain of how I got here, but certain that I can't take all the credit.

Teaching is hard and so is writing, but both are also profoundly rewarding. Some days, I find it funny that I ended up back where I started, in a sense. Other days, it seems incredibly obvious.

I guess when the road ahead is a dream, it makes sense that it's shrouded in fog, that we can only see a few steps ahead. We can map out a plan, but we do so knowing the terrain may change at any time and we might have to take detours, or perhaps end up at a different destination altogether. I suppose that's all part of the adventure. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I know it's an adventure I'm glad I set out on.

Oh, and that airplane thing? Turns out the trick to mustering up my courage is having a child who's studying abroad. Next month, I put that bravery to the test when my husband and I fly to Ireland to see her.

For now, it's back to writing. And grading.

And dreaming.