Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday Feature: Bernie Bros and Health Insurance

Maybe it’s last week’s bout with the flu, or the hot mess that the Iowa caucuses became that drew me to this article — I don’t know. More likely, it’s the intriguing tug of the subtitle -- “Until I loved and lost one” -- that pulled me in.

Being a woman beyond a certain age, I don’t know many “Bernie bros,” so the need for a  little clarity on that subject drew me in as well.

What I got, however, was a story. Yes, it had politics, but it also had humanity, romance and more than a touch of sadness.

It's easy to get caught up in the politics of things and, in the process, lose our humanity and forget the inextricable connection between what we are working for and what we are working against. More than politics or even humanity, this article is a good read. one that has humanity at its very heart.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Origin Story

At the beginning of this month, I finally re-released my first novel, Casting the First Stone, as a Kindle book. I'm working on making a paperback edition available as well, but my main goal was just to get the book out there and available again, this time as an indie book. While I'll always be grateful to Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas for getting the book out there in the first place, I'm delighted to have my book back in my hands. The re-release brought a new cover and a few tweaks between them but otherwise, this fifth anniversary edition is just like the original.

I never thought I'd write a novel. When I first started writing, I wrote articles, almost exclusively. Their length and content felt approachable -- still does -- and provided a great starting point. Gradually, I moved in the direction of books for counselors and educators, an area that was, for obvious reasons, within my comfort zone. My first book, Acting Assertively, arose out of lessons I was teaching to my fourth and fifth grade students.

Then, as I was taking my second course with the Institute of Children's Literature, I decided to try my hand at short fiction, in the form of vignettes. I wrote what I knew -- stories about kids in families -- and, along the way, decided to keep writing these stories with an eye toward creating a collection of stories that could be used as bibliotherapy with children of divorce.

But two of these stories never made it into the book. My editor and I agreed to disagree about language (dialect) and content and the book moved forward without those two stories.

One of them became my first novel, a middle grade book that's still in a box somewhere in my office, having never found a publisher. I still hope to get back to it some day but, along the way, I wondered what would happen if the mother in the story had a story of her own.

And Marita Mercer, one of the protagonists in Casting the First Stone was born.

While a little piece of that other character resides somewhere inside Marita, Marita has diverged from her origin and, over the course of three novels, become her own person, so to speak. I often forget that she was inspired by someone else entirely -- another character in another story with an entirely different life.

Amber Avalona via Pixabay
My next project is the final novel starring Marita and friends -- Courting the Final Verdict -- which brings to a close the story begun in Casting the First Stone and continued in Chasing a Second Chance. The book is finished and needs only a final polish, which means I hope to have it out by the end of the summer.

It's been quite an interesting journey over the past 26 years or so and I can't wait to see who I meet as I continue moving forward. I have a few characters with completed stories waiting in the wings, and a few who are just learning their lines.

I hope you'll join me for their debuts.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Hooray for Laziness!

Last week, I had the flu. I totally confused my Fitbit by blowing my sleep goals out of the water while taking only about a third as many steps as usual. I read, (making progress on my 29 Day Challenge), slept, ate takeout (thanks to my husband, who took my dinner order daily) and watched television. I did an online meeting with my Thursday class and showed up to teach my Friday classes after missing Monday and Wednesday. Laundry piled up, mail kinda got sorted and kinda didn't and the house was a little more cluttered by the end of the week than it had been at the beginning but you know what?

That was about it. I did next to nothing for almost an entire week and everyone survived. Sure, there's catching up to do, but there's always catching up to do.

Admittedly, I'm an empty nester with a self-sufficient spouse in a job I won't lose if I call in sick. These are key reasons why things didn't fall apart just because I did. But, still....

I was lying in bed on Saturday morning when these realizations hit me and made me wonder if it was time to push reset. If I can go nearly a whole week doing almost nothing and my world is no worse for it, maybe, just maybe, all this running around and making lists and racing to the finish line is, well, silly.

I'm not saying I'm going to just curl up in a ball and spend the rest of my life in my pajamas. (I won't). I'm also not saying I'm glad I got the flu (I'm not). What I am grateful for is the perspective it provided.

For a long time now, I've been living my life like I have something to prove, as though packing every day full of action and activity was somehow admirable and expected. While I still believe that productivity is admirable, last week reminded me that it doesn't have to be the only thing. And, while I know that backing up and chilling out will look to some (myself included) like laziness, a little laziness is not always a bad thing. Done right, and in moderation, it can be restful, restorative, and a nudge to creativity.

All things I value.

This week, I will not have the flu (I hope!) My calendar will fill again, especially as I try to make up for things left undone last week. Based on past experience, my likely approach would be to overstuff my schedule in a mad dash to not simply catch up, but get ahead.

But, what if I didn't? What if I left room for a little laziness instead? Not the television-watching, Internet-surfing, social-media-time-suck kind, but the kind that gives me good reason to confuse my Fitbit over those missed steps and gained rest periods. The kind where I actually get to do some of the things I keep wanting to do, but don't seem to find time for.

Maybe it's the flu talking, but it sounds like a great idea to me.

Wishing you a healthy week with a heaping helping of laziness.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Making My Way

When I was a teenager, The Bob Newhart Show aired on Saturday nights -- right after The Mary Tyler Moore Show, if memory serves. Both of these shows framed my future in ways I didn't recognize at the time but that are obvious to me now. Mary Tyler Moore made being an independent single woman feel like the norm and Bob Newhart, with his psychological practice and cast of wacky characters portrayed a profession I found fascinating.

I majored in psychology because of the Bob Newhart Show (the logic of a seventeen-year-old -- go figure), planning to pursue my PhD, but along the way I found a job that was even more fun than Bob Newhart's.

School counseling.

If you're my age, you probably didn't have a counselor when you were in elementary school and you probably only saw your middle school or high school counselor when you were planning classes or applying to college. I was in graduate school before I realized there was such a thing as an elementary school counselor, let alone having any idea of what one did. And, even then, I discovered all of this quite by accident.

As a first semester college senior poised to earn a BA in psychology and a minor in music, I didn't exactly have potential employers lining up outside my door. So, when one of my advisors told me about the graduate program in school psychology, I was intrigued. When she told me it was likely that as a Bucknell grad, I'd also get a full scholarship, I was thrilled! Grad school for free?

Well, not exactly. There were those pesky living expenses, not to mention books and the like, but still, it seemed do-able.

So, I dug into the school psych curriculum but, along the way, I discovered that just three additional courses would allow me to earn certifications in both school psych and school counseling. Seemed like a no-brainer.

And, for me, a life saver.


As it turned out, I didn't love school psychology. I had a terrible, sink-or-swim internship experience (spoiler alert: I sank) that left me feeling frustrated and which annoys me still to this day. I didn't learn much about school psychology, but I learned a lot about how not to be a mentor. In retrospect, I wish I'd been a little more Season 7 Mary Tyler Moore and a lot less Season 1 Mary.

Luckily, there was this other thing -- this Plan B, made a reality by just three additional courses -- that I loved from the first moment I walked into the classroom to observe. This was a job?? Someone would pay me to do this combination of acting and counseling and talking to people?

Indeed they would, and indeed they did. And, thanks in no small part to the dynamic duo of Wendy Hummel and Carol Fairchild, my self-esteem and my job prospects were saved in one fell swoop. Not only that, but they recommended me for my first job, one where I got to build a program from scratch.

For those of you who don't know, elementary school counselors are part actor, part parental figure; part therapist, part advocate; part innovator, part rule follower; part listener, part performer. When I first started working as a school counselor, back before politics loomed like a storm cloud over school districts, I said that even if I hit the lottery, I wouldn't quit my job. And, for more than twenty years, I continued to feel the same way.

School counselors get to help kids figure stuff out, and figure themselves out in the process. They get to reassure parents and teachers with good hearts that they're on the right track.They get to partner with staff and, if they're lucky, administrators, to make school a place kids want to come to every day. They get to be resilience builders and, in so doing, build their own resilience as well.

If you don't know what school counselors do and why it matters, this is a great week to ask one. In some districts, elementary school counselors are considered a luxury, a frill -- as though fostering good mental health is something to order à la carte on a menu. It takes parents and citizens who recognize the importance of counselors K - 12 to make sure that fully staffed schools are the norm, not the exception.

It's funny how life works out. If I hadn't taken those three additional classes...if Wendy hadn't taken me under her wing so that I learned what true mentorship looks like...if there hadn't been silly DUSO songs that appealed to the actress in me....

But there were. And together, all those things laid the foundation for a career where I made connections that enriched my life in ways I can never fully express.

School counselors are a pretty amazing group -- one I will forever be proud to have been a part of.

Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay

Monday, February 3, 2020

Random Thoughts on a Sick Day

I spent most of the day yesterday on the sofa, where I dozed off during the Super Bowl and tried to sleep sitting up before deciding that going up to bed was probably a better idea. I decided fairly early in the evening that the hacking cough that was my primary symptom would not be welcome in my classroom and so I should cancel classes.

Which I did. As soon as I could muster up the energy to get off the sofa and grab my laptop to email my students.

So, here I sit on the sofa (day 2) awaiting the only appointment remaining at my doctor’s office - 6:00 this evening with a doctor that’s not my own. No complaints - I’m glad I can be seen.

Meanwhile, the day stretches out before me, and here are some of my random thoughts.

  • I made the right decision canceling classes. No one wants me breathing on them. But, it’s so early in the semester! Will I catch up?
  • I feel better than yesterday. I think.
  • Is it bad if I just stay here under the blanket on the sofa all day?
  • Pretty sure this is just an upper respiratory infection. Is it even worth a doctor visit?
  • I’m glad Steve took the day off. It’s nice not being alone when I am sick.
  • Can I write today, or will whatever I put on the page be nonsensical?
  • I’m bored. 
  • How can I be bored? This is the kind of day I long for - the whole day to do whatever I want. If I only had the energy.
  • I think I’ll take a nap.
  • Should I try to grade some papers?
  • Well, this is one way to meet my February reading goal. 
  • Maybe I should watch the Impeachment hearings. Nah. Pretty sure I know how they’re gonna turn out.
This is definitely an improvement over yesterday when my mind was in the same molasses-like state as my body. 

It’s not so bad staying home. I will get caught up, right? 

I think I’ll take a nap.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Friday Feature: Leaping into February

As the clock ticked past 3 PM on this Friday afternoon , I still had no article for my Friday Feature. Though there's the usual pile of things I want to read (and I've actually tapped into some of the recently excavated magazines that have been tucked away for a while), this week has been more about writing and class prep than reading.

So, I mined my inbox (as I often do) for ideas, and came across a newsletter I keep meaning to read. Today's issue was packed with links (including an article about how, in 2019, we made more trips to the library than the movies), but my favorite was this one, about setting a 29-day challenge.

I set monthly goals, to varying degrees of success, but aside from routine things like showering, eating, and sleeping, there aren't a lot of things I do every day without fail. I've read on more than on one occasion that it takes 21 day to create a new habit, and so it seems that the 29-day challenge would be the ideal way to do just that.

I'm intrigued, but can't decide yet if I'm going to take the leap (pun intended). My first thought was that if the right behavior -- the thing I want to make a habit -- presented itself, I would be inclined to give it a shot.

And then it occurred to me that there are two behaviors that get edged out of my daily life on a regular basis -- two that I always swear I want to do more of. If you're a regular reader, you've probably already guessed that those two things are reading and writing.

So now, all that remains is deciding. Overachiever that I am, I'm tempted to go for broke and say, "BOTH!" but the reality is that my hesitation about taking this on is largely based in fear of failure. Setting two goals seems to simultaneously increase and decrease my likelihood of success.

So, I'm going to ponder. I have until midnight to decide, after all. Meanwhile, there's a very good chance that if I choose reading, back issues of this newsletter might top the list.

How about you? Are you up for taking the leap? What will you do every day in February?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Being Superwoman

Erika Wittlieb via Pixabay

I had a different post in mind for today but, when I came across this piece — which I had all but forgotten I’d written — I decided to share it instead. I absolutely love the photo the editor chose to accompany it.

Here’s to all the superwomen, no matter how tattered their capes.