Monday, October 14, 2019

5 Lessons from the Beach




We've had a lovely, long weekend at the beach and have had marvelous weather. For me, it's been a working vacation as I had three deadlines between Saturday and tomorrow, but it hasn't been all work and no play by any means.

Here are a few things I've learned and/or been reminded of.

  • It's possible to slow down before I hit the wall -- or before it’s the next day. As a night owl, I get a second wind sometime in the evening and so I typically work until after midnight, something that's just wrong when I'm on vacation. Relaxing feels pretty good. 
  • Screened-in porches make great remote offices. Thanks to the change of scenery, I've met my deadlines, in part because my work space is just so inspiring. It feels a little less like work out here.
  • My mirror is a liar. Clothes that I thought were perfectly acceptable somehow look terrible in the mirror down here. One pair of pants is most definitely not going back into my closet when I get home and at least one of my shirts needs alterations. 
  • Creativity is a fountain unlocked by new settings. I never fail to get inspired at the beach. I have two notebooks that I use only when I am here and I'm excited to crack them open, pick up my pen and see what flows.
  • I need to do this more often. Every time we're here, we talk about getting a beach house. Maybe some day. But, in the meantime, I think we need to intentionally make this a more regular occurrence.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to conclude the work portion of this day.  

This plaque on the dresser in the master bedroom about sums it up.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday Feature: The Facts of Life

"You're going to die and you have no idea when."

Quite the opener. No wonder writer Matthew Jones called the article "20 Brutal Truths About Life No One Wants to Admit."

But, once you read past the first couple of items, the truths become less brutal and more uplifting. Take #15, for example: "Investing in yourself isn't selfish. It's the most worthwhile thing you can do."

Tackling topics from money and happiness to relationships and ambition, this article has the potential to be a quick read or a set of daily affirmations. I found myself nodding along as I went, appreciating some of the reminders that are both simple and difficult to achieve.

So, I guess you could say that after the first two truths, I didn't find the truths so brutal after all. 

Happy reading :-)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Showing Up

pepperminting via Pixabay
When I was a freshman in college, fall break wasn't a thing -- at least not at my school. The first break longer than a weekend came at Thanksgiving and one of my high school friends bet me that I wouldn't make it until then -- that I'd need to come home for a weekend sometime between late August and late November.

Never bet a Jersey girl that she can't do something. She'll either correct you (I could do that if I wanted to) or set out to prove you wrong. In the case of the Thanksgiving challenge, I won the bet.

Sometime before I graduated -- or maybe it was when I was in grad school -- Bucknell instituted fall breaks, a decision all of us appreciated. Ironically, many years after my own freshman year, my daughter ended up choosing a college that didn't have a fall break either. Her freshman year, she decided if I could make it until Thanksgiving, so could she. So, like me, she saw her parents at Parents' Weekend in October and kept herself busy every other weekend between late August and late November.

Now a senior, she still doesn't have a fall break, but I do. This time, I'm on the other side of the desk and I have hurdles to clear in the form of papers and midsemester warning grades. I also managed to end up with not one, but two writing deadlines mid-month and this sundry collection of tasks stands between me and fall break at the beach like a succession of unwelcome dominoes. I have only myself to blame, since every single domino was my idea in the first place.

Yesterday, I was feeling the crunch. Unlike the pleasant crunch of leaves beneath my feet (which we've yet to feel here in Central PA as we had temperatures in the high 80s as late as last week), this time crunch makes me grouchy and leads to me doing things like yelling at my computer screen because MS Word is somehow displaying all of my formatting and I don't know how to make it go away. (I eventually figured it out).

I thought I was alone in this (the dominoes, not the yelling at my computer) -- that everyone else was somehow more organized and on the ball than I. But then, this afternoon, I sat in a meeting with a small group of colleagues as we tried to plow through a task. A little more than halfway through the meeting (which wasn't that long to begin with), everyone ran out of steam. We pooled our resources, wrapped early and scattered to our various tasks, the clock ticking toward our deadlines.

Apparently something about misery really does love company, at least in this case. It's nice to know that on this beautiful, dare I say perfect fall afternoon, other instructors are huddled over laptops, papers and lab reports, wishing for a deadline that's just a little bit later than the one we've been given.

Engin Akyurt via Pixabay
This morning in my first year seminar, I had my students pause to take in the orientation slide on which I announce assignments -- the one that had nothing on it except the discussions we were having in class today and Friday. Together, we sighed at the beauty of the blank expanse of space that usually contained assignments and readings. We knew they'd be back after break but, for today, the slide contained nothing for them to do except show up.

And, for the next several days, that is my task. I simply need to show up, ready to read, grade, calculate and, if necessary, warn that the second half of the semester will require a little more effort than the first.

When I put it that way, it doesn't sound so bad. And it sounds a lot better knowing that, even though I can't see them from my vantage point, my colleagues are showing up, too.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Ready or Not, Here I Come!

melkhagelslag via Pixabay
I am counting down to the beach, and I couldn't be more excited.

Last summer, for the first time in a long time, we didn't go to the beach. I didn't get to brainstorm characters while sitting under an umbrella on the sand with the ocean just a few feet away. I didn't get to post my blogs from the screened-in porch. I didn't get to browse in my favorite indie bookstore.

But all of that is about to change. My fall break is coming, and so is my beach vacation.

Before you waste too much sympathy on my alleged beach deprivation, let me just say that we didn't go to the beach because we went to Ireland instead. My daughter spent a semester in Cork and so we spent spring break visiting her.  As much as I love my beach trips, I have to say that the tradeoff was more than fair.

But I'm ready.

I'm not a hot weather fan, so fall beach trips are right up my alley. I love bundling up under a blanket on the screened-in porch and I long ago traded in swimsuits for the more comfortable beach attire of shorts and a tee shirt, so upgrading to a sweatshirt isn't a big deal.

I'm a unlikely beach goer. I don't swim or surf and more than 20 minutes in the sun is too much for me. But I love to sit under an umbrella and read (or write) with the sound of the ocean as my background. And I love to sit out on the patio with my laptop or my journal (and, with few exceptions, I journal only at the beach) listening to the frogs in the creek below.

michalkirk via Pixabay
Right now, my clothes and toiletries are in their usual locations and my suitcase is still in the basement, but my journals are sitting out, waiting to be slipped into a bag and taken along for the ride. I have lesson plans to write and papers to grade, but these activities (which usually consume my thoughts) are merely hurdles to clear before I can depart for my desired destination. I will do them with the same level of dedication they usually demand, but I'll do so knowing that each task I complete takes me one step closer to that screened-in porch where I'll meet my characters and my deadlines.

I'm ready -- well, except for the grading and the planning and the packing.

But if mental preparedness counts for anything, I'm already there.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Friday Feature: The One with all the Books

As a writer and a lover of books, I'm always happy to see reading going on. I never really paid attention to how much my favorite television characters read -- if at all -- and I don't know that I've ever actually put a book in one of my characters' hands unless they were in school. (Shame on me! That will change!!)

While it's not unusual for me to find my favorite Grey's Anatomy docs reading medical journals, I never really paid attention to how much the characters read on Friends. I remember one episode where Chandler was dozing on Monica's couch and reading MacWorld (Phoebe's question about why it's Spiderman instead of Spiderman jolted him awake) and, of course The Velveteen Rabbit episode, The Shining in the freezer and Joey's investment in Little Women. Still the one with all the books brought lots of other episodes to mind.

Do sitcom characters still read? Or are they all on tablets and cell phones? There's only one way to find out and, devoted researcher that I am, I'm willing to do the work.

How do your favorite sitcom characters spend their down time?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Way Back Wednesday: Winning the Pumpkin Wars

For the past two weeks, I've been pondering the resin pumpkins at Target. Last weekend, my husband brought home purple mums for the porch. As we contemplate decorating for fall (on a day it's supposed to hit 90 degrees here), realizing mums and a flag might be our only safe option, it seemed like a good day to pull an old October post out of the vault.

How do you decorate for fall?

My poor white pumpkin never stood a chance.
Less than a week after I put it on the porch,
a third of it was gone.
Photo: Renee Olmsted Photography, via Pixabay
It's almost Halloween and the critters are winning.

When my daughter was small, she and my husband used to decorate and/or carve pumpkins every Halloween. I got in on the fun sometimes, too, but mostly, it was a Daddy-daughter event.

Now, with her away at school, our front porch decorations are more likely to be undecorated pumpkins and gourds. There's just one problem.

They've proven to be a tasty treat for the squirrels and their friends.

We started with a small pumpkin. In fairness, it was sold as a "pie pumpkin," so perhaps it was sweeter and more tempting. That one got demolished in short order.

Its replacement was much larger, so it lasted longer but it, too, bit the dust.

Along the way, I added a gourd that I thought was cute. The critters managed to move it off the porch, but it mustn't have been as yummy because it survived unscathed.

Ah, yes. Gourds. They must be the answer.

So, last weekend, we tossed the pumpkin and picked up a few more gourds. This week, the gourds began walking off the porch -- with assistance, we assume, based on the missing chunks and bits of gourd littering the ground in front of the porch. The smallest gourd disappeared completely.

Jlewoldsen via Pixabay
If this weren't so entertaining, I think perhaps I'd have given up. But, curious to see if I can outlast the critters, I picked up another "pie pumpkin," tossed the partially chewed gourds and kept the lone surviving gourd to keep my newest pumpkin company.

Here's hoping the newest pumpkin survives the critters' plans to trick me and treat themselves.

If not, at least the squirrels are having a happy Halloween.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Gray Monday

geralt via Pixabay
It's Monday. I spent the weekend grading papers (and didn't quite finish -- or get to any writing). This morning dawned cool, but gray, and I wasn't in the mood to Monday.

As usual, I enjoyed my students this morning, so I was in a slightly better mood when I left campus to run my errands. Then I dealt with a teller who put my money in the wrong account then gave me attitude when I complained, and a copy store that wouldn't charge me extra for staples if I did the job manually (with their stapler) but would charge me if I let the machine do the stapling. I know. First world problems.

In need of some positives,t I stopped for my favorite Panera soup on the way home (but not before my PayPal account insisted on speaking to me in French instead of English), then picked up an iced chai latte at my favorite Starbucks, where I left a ridiculously large tip for the people who give me good customer service on a daily basis.

Once home, I decided I needed to just chill. I turned on the television and ate my soup in front of soap operas, then moved on to the clerical tasks that were easier to tackle than the still-looming papers. And, after a while, I felt a little better, and a little better prepared to tackle the papers.

Am I whining? A little. But my point -- and I do have one -- is that sometimes, we have gray Mondays. Whether they actually fall on a Monday or another day, and whether they're literally gray or filled with sunshiny skies whose brightness is the polar opposite of our mood is immaterial. We can let off steam with those we trust (I called my husband to vent about the teller) and we can keep powering through if we must but, sometimes, we just need soup and soap operas.

Adulting is hard. Because it's something we do on a daily basis (and we don't have a lot of other options once we hit the magic adulting age), it's easy to forget to cut ourselves some slack. We try to think our way out of our feelings, forgetting that, much of the time, that's about as useful as a PayPal account in Chinese (or some other language you don't speak). Although our thoughts and feelings are connected, sometimes they travel on separate paths.

Do I have a good life? I do. Did that make me any less annoyed with the rude teller? It did not. Do the good things in my life outweigh the bad? By far. Do others have it worse than I do? For sure.

Alexandra_Koch via Pixabay
But none of that exempts me from the occasional gray Monday. I recognize that life's little annoyances are just that -- little annoyances -- and firmly believe that tomorrow will be better. But for today, it's okay to honor my illogical feelings (sometimes that's just how feelings are) and engage in some self-care.

How about you? Do you think that self-care is an indulgence for everyone else? Or do you let yourself do what you need to do to chase the gray Mondays away?