Wednesday, June 29, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Anna Fitzpatrick

Angel is blonde, Marita's a brunette and Charli is dark-haired like her mother. 
Anna, however, is never described. What do you think -- blonde, brunette or redhead? 

Angourie Rice via IMDB

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
Anna: (giggles) Singing and playing the piano, youth group, Instagram, texting friends. Maybe doing homework. 

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Anna: That I really do love my brothers, even though they drive me crazy. And I get really mad when someone else hurts them or makes them upset.

What are your thoughts on children?
Anna: Excuse me?? Let’s just say I’m glad Charli’s the one with the little sister. Although I guess having a sister might be kind of nice. But not nice enough to deal with diapers.

What regrets do you have?
Anna: None, really. I mean, I’m only 13. How much could I have messed up?
 Molly C. Quinn via IMDB

Whom do you admire? 
Anna: Lukas. He’s really cool, and even though it’s his job to talk about God all the time, he’s not preachy about it. And you can tell that he really means what he says, and tries to do the stuff he tells us to do. I respect that. Although the whole thing with Charli’s mom is kinda awkward. 

What do you think of Charli’s family situation? I feel really bad for her. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your parents not even like each other, but I’ve gotta say that if I were Charli’s mom, I wouldn’t like her dad either. He waited until Chars was, like, five or something before he even started seeing her. That had to be awkward. Charli’s amazing. I don’t think I could be as okay with all of this as she is.
Bailee Madison via The TV Page

Monday, June 27, 2016

Of Memes, Facebook Groups and Friendship

Humor Shots
Every once in a while, amid the political posturing and questionable grammar that characterize Facebook memes, a post comes along that makes me nod and smile almost as much as cute baby pictures.

The meme at left is one of them.

Or, in Facebook parlance: Yes. This.

I typically meet these people-- the ones I want to hang out with offline -- in one of the arenas that brought me to Facebook in the first place: via my Thirty One business, via my writing and via my role as a parent.

The first two are business connections -- networking for the twenty-first century -- that have become personal connections. But, this summer, as I prepare to send my only child out into the real world holding zone that is college, the third one has taken on particular significance.

As our kids were growing up, those of us who were real-world friends first and Facebook friends second posted the milestone pictures -- first days of school, proms, graduations. Digital photo albums that gave us windows into the lives of our friends and their families, regardless of physical distance, these postings allowed us to "ooh" and "ahh" over each other's kids, marveling at how fast they were growing, how beautiful/handsome they'd become and how amazing their accomplishments were. This was one of the reasons we all joined Facebook in the first place -- so we could stay connected, even if only peripherally, regardless of how busy life got. Facebook helped us to keep up with significant events in the lives of those who mattered to us, even if many years had passed since we'd seen one another. And, when those real world meetings came about, our shared Facebook experience helped us to start face-to-face conversations with relevant current events instead of the generic, "So, what's new with you?"


But meeting people online first is different. And becoming part of a group comprised of strangers whose families are in the same place experientially is a whole new journey. One of my favorite Facebook groups is Grown and Flown. Made up of parents whose kids are in the process of moving from our nest to one of their own, it's a place where parents who are navigating a new stage of family life can benefit from one another's experience.

We're branching out, just as our kids are. And, what's both strange and interesting is that, instead of our children's lives following our trajectory, ours are following theirs. As my daughter prepares to meet peers from all over the world who just happened to end up at the same university, I'm meeting parents from all over the world whose kids are doing the same thing.

Social media can unite and it can divide. It can keep us in touch with friends we haven't seen in ages, and make us question why we became friends with other people in the first place. Like a cocktail party you can attend in your pjs while sipping your beverage of choice, Facebook, in particular, introduces us to friends of friends who become our friends.

Don't get me wrong -- I have no desire to replace my real world friends with the online variety.  Instead, I'm celebrating the fun that comes with meeting new friends in old places.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Feature: Why Be Bored?

On a day when the news is anything but boring, it may seem odd for me to be posting about boredom, but, in fact, psychologists recommend a healthy dose of boredom -- at least for kids:
"Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy," says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves."
Although this is the last thing un-bored parents want to hear, perhaps summer is the time to re-evaluate our own boredom -- or the lack thereof. Personally, I can't remember the last time I was bored, but that's due, in large part, to accomplishing exactly what Fry suggests -- filling up my leisure time in a way that makes me happy.

Does your leisure time make you happy? Do you even have any leisure time? One of the ideas suggested in the Quartz article is sitting down at the start of summer and making a list with your child of all the things they want to do. One summer, when my daughter was small, we created a bingo board for this purpose, filling in squares with camps and day trips and activities. Then, when she got bored, she had a resource to go to. We couldn't always manage an impromptu trip to the beach at 3pm, but that taught the value of planning ahead.

We adults might want to try something similar -- but no fair listing chores and projects. While "paint the kitchen" will certainly alleviate boredom, it belongs on a to-do list, not a summer fun list -- unless you're someone who loves such tasks. In a perfect world, our down-time dovetails with our kids' bored time, enabling us to entertain and enjoy one another.

Until that happens, you're bound to hear "I'm bored" a few (thousand) times. As you send your kids off to play outside, check the list or find a toy that inspires creative play, remind yourself you're building life skills.

Or maybe you should pull out a coloring book and join them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Peter Spencer

Michael McDonald via Twitter

Angel's father, Peter Spencer, gets only a mention in Casting the First Stone, but readers get to meet him in Chasing a Second Chance. Will he show up in the next installment? Read his answers below and make your predictions. 

For the photo portion this week, I've selected some Hollywood leading men. Which one would you cast to play Peter Spencer? Let me know in the comments below -- and feel free to suggest someone else as well.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
PS: Until my granddaughter was born, I would have said “traveling,” but Spencer’s birth has made me realize that I need to spend more time with my daughter and granddaughter. I don’t want to miss another minute.

Michael Douglas via Wikipedia
What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
PS: That my faith is not as strong as my daughter's. When my wife left, I became angry with God. I kept taking Angel to church because I wanted her to grow up in a strong faith community, as I had, but going to church didn't fully restore my relationship with God. 

Once Angel was grown, I took many trips to immerse myself in the beauty of God's creation, hoping to find what I'd been missing. Slowly, I felt pieces of my faith return. I'll never have the blind faith I had as a young man, but perhaps it's time for a different faith perspective, especially now that I'm a grandfather.

What are your thoughts on children?
PS: They are a gift to be cherished.

Richard Gere via IMBD
What regrets do you have?
PS: That I let my own grief from my ruined marriage spill over onto my daughter and taint her childhood. I didn’t mean for it to, but Angel’s very perceptive, and, no matter how well I thought I was hiding my hurt, I couldn’t get anything past her. 
Mark Harmon via TV Guide

Whom do you admire? PS: Marita. She was confronted with very difficult circumstances at a young age, and she handled them with dignity and poise. Charli is a lovely young woman, and that didn’t happen by accident. And I will never forget the kindness she has shown to my Angel.

Do you see any romance in your future? PS: Romance? I haven't really given it any thought. Perhaps I'm too old for that sort of thing.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Kingdom for a Routine!

I'm feeling off-kilter--even more so than usual. Having spent seven of the first seventeen days of this month away from home and a substantial chunk of the remaining ten days planning, throwing or attending a graduation party, I'm having trouble figuring out what day it is, let alone getting my (literal) house in order.

To say we've had trouble establishing a routine is an understatement.

It's funny, though. As much as I like white, open spaces on my calendar and a flexible, free flow feel to my days, after a while, the lack of a routine gets to me.

Even stranger? This started in earnest after I retired. Prior to that, routine was -- like it or not --established for me. Maybe that was the reason I felt such a strong need to give my days a flow once I was no longer working full time. Add to that the fact that my decision to retire was not entirely popular in a household where others were still ruled by routine, and a free spirited, free flow approach wasn't winning friends and influencing family members. Not in a good way, anyway.

But now it's summer -- a time of year when routines are supposed to slip away -- at least some days --making way for long, lazy days and languid, sunlit evenings.

Yeah. I can't do that.

Both of my chosen post-retirement professions require self-motivation. No one monitors me to make sure I plan my classes, or write books or blogs or articles.While I'm sure someone would notice if I failed to show up to teach my classes, most of my work is done on my own schedule.

And therein lies the fear that drives routine. What if I let down my guard and succumbed to those long, lazy days and languid, sunlit evenings? Could I force myself back into routine, tunnel my way back to productivity, make myself do something besides lie on the sofa and read novels?

I'm afraid to find out.

Photo: Ashley Schweitzer via Minimography
But it's not just fear that drives me. I love what I do. So much so that the line between work and play is forever blurry. Writing? Can't imagine not doing it. Teaching? Feeds my brain and my soul. Sure there are aspects of both that feel like work, but they are counterbalanced by the rewards each brings.

So....routine. Overrated? Some days. All work and no play and all that.

But I worked a long time to get to this point. And I'm not giving it up without a fight.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Freebie: Night Owl Reform?

A blogger whose work I respect has begun running a series on productivity. Curious, I signed up, wanting to read the information he'd compiled and created on this topic.

This morning, I got his first post, the one about becoming a morning person. Immediately, I began forming my rebuttal, words like circadian rhythms and nature vs. nurture swirling around in my head.

So, I did a Google search on the biology behind being a morning person. As it turns out, nature plays a key role after all -- there's actually a genetic basis for our early morning or late night preferences.

But, as I often tell my students, it's rarely nature OR nurture, but instead usually nature AND nurture. And, while I disagree with the blogger/productivity person's methodology when it comes to shifting my biological clock to that of an early riser, this article tells the tale of an interesting conversion.

Still, I'm not sure I want to be converted. I enjoy the quiet solitude of late night at my house, just as my husband enjoys the quiet solitude of early morning.

I guess it's always nice to know I have options.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Carmella Alessio

Perhaps the only character readers of Casting the First Stone liked less than Jim was his mother, Carmella. Even off the page, she's a little intimidating, but I managed to sit her down in a booth at her restaurant and fire off a few questions. Have one you'd like to ask? Post it in the comments and I'll try to get her to reply.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
C: At the restaurant, making sure my daughters aren’t slacking off.

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
C: None of your business.

What are your thoughts on children?
C: They should be seen and not heard. And some of them shouldn’t even be seen.

What regrets do you have?
C: None. Regrets are a waste of time.

Whom do you admire? My mother. She came to this country with nothing and she and my father worked hard to make sure my brothers and I were fed and clothed and had warm beds. Dominic and Francis graduated high school and Giovanni even went to college for a while until my father needed him at the deli. She raised us while my father ran the business and she did office work for the deli at night. No one worked harder than my mother.

Is there anyone who meets with your approval? Jimmy, of course, and Jim senior, my husband. 

All pictures courtesy of Pixabay. 

What picture in this post best matches your vision of Carmella? 
Post your answer in the comments and I'll enter you 
in a drawing for a $5 Amazon gift card (enough to buy both books :-) 
This drawing will take place sometime in July, after a few of these interviews have been posted.