Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday Feature: The Sweet Sound of Silence

I like quiet. The older I get, the more distracting I find even simple household noises, especially when I am trying to concentrate.

I sometimes wonder if retiring has exacerbated this. With my daughter at school and my husband at work, the house is quiet during the day, allowing me to immerse myself in not only my work but the peacefulness of a quiet house as well. This is when I'm most productive. it normal to want this much quiet?

When I stumbled across this article ("The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time") from Harvard Business Review, I immediately identified with it. Not just with the idea of getting off social media in order to get away from its noise, but this as well:
"Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead."
Ah. So...maybe it's not me.

Maybe I'm not old and crotchety after all.

Maybe my mind -- and my body -- knew what they needed.

Does yours?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Honorary Jersey Girl
This afternoon, I was working on a blog post when my daughter started texting me questions about high school. What was the name of my town? What year did I graduate? Did I remember this person? That one? This street? That store?

Turns out, one of her professors -- in Connecticut -- is from a town just two towns away from where I went to high school.

I always enjoy texting with my daughter and talking to her, but these exchanges were particularly fun.  As much as I enjoyed the resulting trip down memory lane, I think I enjoyed her excitement over the names and places that were so familiar to both her professor -- whom I've never met -- and her mother.

It's no secret that I'm a Jersey girl and, although I'm aware that I've spent more of my life in PA than NJ, I'm a little sad that my daughter isn't a Jersey girl, too but, instead, a Pennsylvanian. Not that there's anything wrong with PA -- it's been my home for decades.

It's just not New Jersey.

When I meet my students at the beginning of the semester, I reveal my Jersey heritage and often find fellow Jersey girls (and boys) among those with whom I'll be spending my semester. I ask them to say hi to Jersey for me when they go home for break and some even come back with stories for me.

So this afternoon, feeling the zing of my daughter's excitement as we compared names and dates and places brought a little bit of my home state into my day. And, from where I sit, a little bit of Jersey is always a good thing.

Especially when it's channeled through my favorite honorary Jersey girl.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Music Musings

rah via Pixabay
This morning, I somehow managed to leave for work a little earlier than usual, and it made a real difference in the musical selections available to me. My car, which I love, is too old for Sirius, so I end up hoping that my drive coincides with music instead of commercials and, this morning, it did.

I had a great soundtrack for my drive, and I really didn't want to get out of the car when I got to work but, duty calls.

My sister and I harbor the belief that you're not old as long as you still drive around the block to hear the rest of your favorite song on the radio. This morning's soundtrack made me think about songs that still make me do that so here, in no particular order, are a dozen or so songs likely to keep me driving. Some brand me as ancient, but that's okay.

Take a listen if you'd like and then, add a few of your favorites in the comments.

"If" by Bread

"Colour My World" by Chicago

"Without You" by Harry Nilsson

"I Will" by the Beatles

"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen. Or, even better, "Jungleland."

"(Don't You) Forget About Me" by Simple Minds

"Try" by Colbie Caillat

"Only Wanna Be with You" by Hootie and the Blowfish

"Boys of Summer" Don Henley

"American Pie" Don McClean

Almost anything by Billy Joel, but especially "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and "We Didn't Start the Fire" Or, "Summer, Highland Falls," or "You're My Home" (or this cut of "You're My Home")

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