Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Feature: National Popcorn Day

Happy National Popcorn Day! Did you ever wonder how popcorn became the snack of choice at movie theatres? For a brief history of popcorn at the movies (and a bit of the history of movie theaters themselves), check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

Happy snacking!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Back to Work I Go

Wokandapix via Pixabay
Today, I met my first group of new students for a class that's also brand new to me this semester. It's been a busy month -- almost exactly a month, as a matter of fact, since I gave my last final -- and it hardly seems time for a new semester to start. But, I spent yesterday putting the final perfectionistic touches on my first day plan: pursuing a just-right syllabus, a clear online interface and an engaging kick-off of the plan for the semester.

Today started with snow as icing on the cake of nerves that always accompanies the first day back to class. My husband had trouble getting to work in his all-wheel drive vehicle, leaving me to fret over what my trip to school would be like. Although most of the county's schools, along with some businesses, were either closed or opening late, my school maintained its start time for the first day of the new semester. Luckily, as the morning wore on, the snow stopped and the plow made passes up and down the street, assuring that my drive would be on wet roads rather than snow-covered ones.

Before I left, I ran through my brief slide show one last time. Sure, I could riff on the syllabus without slides, but I thought my students deserved a visual.

Yeah, so much for that.

I arrived early, but the class before mine still occupied the classroom. Not entirely bad, as I got to catch up with a student who, much to my delight, was on my roster for the third time (three different classes -- she's an excellent student).

Once inside, I took out my laptop and set it on the podium, where there was no HTMI cable to be found.

No problem. I logged on to the desktop computer and prepared to download my slides.


Long story short (too late, I know), I ditched the slides, riffed on my syllabus and delayed the TED Talk I'd planned on showing -- all responses that would have freaked me out a few semesters ago. After class, a new group of students filtered in behind their professor, ruling out the tech trouble-shooting I'd hoped to do after class. From my car, I composed an e-mail to IT on my phone and summoned my optimism for better technological cooperation on Friday.

congerdesign via Pixabay
Bad first day? Not at all.

My students were a treat. Awake, alert (it's an 11:00 class, after all) and there by choice rather than because they had a requirement to fulfill, they spoke, they smiled, they shared. The class might not have gone as planned, but the main ingredient was just right, and I think we're all excited to explore what comes next.

And so a new semester begins. Nothing like a little flexibility to get the ball rolling.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Time to Play
Last Friday, I celebrated my first opening night for a scripted show in seventeen years (if memory serves. It doesn't always). The last time I remember having to learn lines, my daughter was three and I was not quite 40.

On Saturday, I got to go to a basketball game with my daughter and her friend (both high school basketball players) to watch one of their friends play. It was a tough game. Tougher than learning lines, though it took less time.

I had no aptitude for sports in high school (still don't) and my daughter, although possessed of more talent onstage than I have on the basketball court, had no desire to do theatre. But each of us found a niche in the thing we loved. Along the way, we put all we had into it -- persisting when things didn't go the way we'd hoped, accepting responsibility, putting in the time, and learning about a lot more than theatre or basketball along the way.

It's easy to say that our high school activities inspire lifelong friendships but, like most blanket statements, it's not entirely true. As with anything else, our activities are the vehicle for all kinds of friends -- ranging from those whose company we tolerate because we have the same end goal to those whose company we continue to seek out long after the play, game or season is over.

But the fact that connections are made is undeniable. The show I'm doing now is a different sort of animal -- a three-act play cast as three one-acts, each act revolving around a different couple. We met at the read-through, then went our separate ways, each act rehearsing separately, only to reunite during tech week to put together a show in which we are all invested. Next weekend, we perform again, then go back to our disparate lives.

My daughter's experience with basketball is quite similar. The girls practice intensely and play hard for a season, forming bonds and getting on each other's nerves. They celebrate together, mourn losses together and forge connections (or don't) of all kinds. Saturday's friends -- the young lady who met us at the game and the young lady we went to watch -- represent two of the friendships that have endured, two of the people my daughter still counts as close friends even though high school basketball has ended and college has taken them in separate directions.

Last night, as we left the theatre, I realized that although I was ready for the break between weekends, I was also looking forward to coming back in a few days. Sure, the performing is fun (why else would I overturn my life for a month and a half?), but the people make it worthwhile. Once again, I'm part of a cast where parting is bittersweet and the reunion is something to look forward to.

Last Friday, as I celebrated my first opening night without my mom to cheer me on, I realized that theatre was, not for the first time, a kind of therapy -- solitary and personal, yet communal and public. Like anything worth doing -- whether artistic, athletic or something else entirely -- it challenges us to bring our best selves to the floor, selves that are shaped and refined through our interaction with words on a page, plays on a white board and those who play with us.

From the outside, theatre and basketball are quite different. But play by play, the game is much the same. Last night, after the show, I got to have dinner with a long-time friend, someone I wouldn't have known were it not for York Little Theatre. Like my daughter and her friends, we picked up right where we left off, feeding the friendship in person before heading back to lives that have gone in different directions. This particular friendship has spanned close to thirty years, if memory serves and my math is right.

Fortunately friendship forgives lapses in memory and math, no matter the path it's forged on.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Feature: Is Stress Contagious?

Have you ever been around someone whose stress level was so high it made you wonder if you should be stressed out too? Or perhaps someone who insisted on seeing the glass as half empty when you were determined to see it as half full?

While empathy is usually a good thing, absorbing someone else's stress isn't helpful. Yet, I'm not sure I ever really thought much about it until I read this article at Unstuck. Although it's holiday-themed, it offers good suggestions for maintaining empathy while keeping yourself calm.

Because after all, who needs to invite more stress?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Desks with Character, Part 2

Keila Hötzel via Pixabay
On Monday, I mined my desk for material for a blog post. After I wrote that post, I got to thinking about what my characters' desks might hold.

Angel's desk is, as my friend and loyal reader Barb predicted, well-organized with plenty of  clear space. The only interesting find is a new  (and neatly organized) bullet journal, a reflection of her New Year's resolution to keep track of all the lists that make her feel as though she's outgrown her planner.

Marita hasn't yet carved out a space in her house for a desk, and mostly uses the island in her kitchen, which is where she keeps her laptop. Bills and mail occupy a basket on the bottom shelf of the island and, mixed in among them is a cocktail napkin from the bar where Trevor works. On the back of the napkin is a cell phone number, and tucked into the napkin is Gregory Daniels' business card.

Bets's desk is actually the one pictured in yesterday's post and is as haphazard as Angel's is neat. A mix of menus and brochures, its contents give the impression that she's planning a party. There's a highlighted script atop the pile, so perhaps a cast party is in her future.

Charli's desk is almost as neat as Angel's, but it's not difficult to figure out that it belongs to a thirteen-year-old girl. An empty candy wrapper and a note from Anna sit on top of Charli's school books and notebooks. A note from Zander is tucked into her English notebook and, on the left hand corner of her desk, a bowling pass (from the night youth group went bowling -- the first night Todd kissed her) is tucked into a heart-shaped note holder.

This nosiness business is fun! I wonder what my characters would think of my revelations....

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Getting Nosy

Helen1965 via Pixabay

Yesterday, I wrote about the tales some of the items on my desk tell about me. Tomorrow, I'm going to take a peek at my characters' desks. What do you think I might find?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Office Inspirations

I'm already using one of the mini journals
with this fun summer print.
Years ago, when I was a fledgling blogger, I took a workshop with Sarah Reinhard at an online Catholic Writers Conference. One particular piece from that workshop stuck with me, perhaps because I continue to use it many years later. Every time I feel stuck for a post topic or bored with what I've been writing about, I go back to Sarah's advice to just look around and let an object inspire me.

This morning, I was in particular need of inspiration because my blog planning pad has gone missing, leaving me feeling a bit adrift (even though I suspect this week's entries were still blank). I ventured into my office for inspiration and, once I had a few objects in hand, decided that rather than focusing on just one, I'd use them them all. Together, they not only represent my inner world at the moment, but they say something about me, too.

  • The current issue of Live Happy magazine. In a little over a week, I'll begin teaching a new course: Positive Psychology. The inspiration for this arose from the materials I've been using in the first year seminar I teach and, while I'm excited to begin, I also have a lot of work ahead of me. Not only does this magazine serve as inspiration, it also has Allison Janney on the cover. Though quite late to the game, I've been binge watching The West Wing (in which Allison Janney plays C. J. Cregg) and just recently started the final season, which I may or may not finish before the new semester starts.  
  • The Catholic Prayer Book sits atop a pile of small items that need to be sorted through, reminding me of my good intentions (to actually open the book and use the prayers, for example). Open or closed, it also reminds me who's really in charge and nudges me to put a little prayer into each day, even if it's simply taking a moment to be grateful for all the good things and to pray for those who need prayers.
  • A pack of mini journals from Thirty-One Gifts. After a five-year run as a Thirty-One Gifts consultant, I went inactive in December. I still have a stack of inventory to find good homes for, but these little journals are staying with me. A few may become giveaways in book baskets, but these definitely speak to the stationery-loving side of me, as well as providing a great place to jot down ideas and goals for new writing projects.
  • A set of colored 3 x 5 notecards in a purple plastic index card case with file tabs. Currently, these cards are blank, but I bought them to help me create a plan for the next step for my Organizing by STYLE project. I've been teaching, writing and blogging about this topic for more than a decade and, although I'd like to create a book, none of the formats I've tried so far has been exactly the right fit. I'm hoping that color-coding my information by style (of course) will help me take this project to the next level. And, as a side note, the purple plastic case is throwback to the days when I did organizer giveaways with my elementary school students -- part of the project that got this whole concept started. 

What tales do your possessions tell about you?