Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday Feature: Less Laundry

I got so excited about an entire day stretching out before me that I forgot to write this post! I was writing, though -- one of the first things I do when I have a day that's not cut into chunks by other responsibilities is a writing sprint. I set the timer for an hour and, when it went off, I was nearly finished an article that had been running around in my head, so I set the timer again and finished the article.

And now, here I am.

Another thing that usually happens when I'm home all day is laundry. See how optimistically I wrote that? Laundry happens. It washes itself, leaps from the washer to the dryer from whence it folds/hangs itself up and puts itself away.

I wish.

Our family is small so our load is light -- relatively speaking anyway. (Sorry for all the puns). Still, it would be nice if all the time I spent on laundry could be spent on writing sprints instead.

And, based on this article in Fast Company, I'm not alone in wanting to lighten the load. Though I've often thought about the amount of water, electricity and detergent we use (because we pay for those things), I haven't given much thought to the impact washing-at-will has on the environment. I am definitely all for considering laundry "superfluous," particularly in the interest of preserving the planet. And, as a middle-aged woman who is hot more often than she is cold, I'm definitely interested in clothing that doesn't trap sweat.

Intrigued? So was I. Check out Elizabeth Segran's article -- maybe side-by-side with your water bill -- and imagine the possibilities.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Way Back Wednesday: Doing the Impossible

For some strange reason, I decided that teaching a summer class while launching a book was do-able. While it's not completely impossible, it does present challenges and, some days, the to-do list is longer than the day itself.

Today is one of those days, so I hope you'll forgive me for reposting one of my favorites -- a post from two summers ago that seems very apt today.

See you Friday with a new feature. :-)

Several months ago, I picked up a notepad in the dollar bins at Target. Small, green and chunky, it's emblazoned with the heading, "DO THE IMPOSSIBLE."

Initially, I took this as a challenge, deriving great satisfaction from checking off the items I wrote on its black lines. Some to-do items were easy, some were challenging and few, by themselves, were impossible. Taken together, although the items on the list seemed a bit over the top some days, I took pride in conquering it.

Lately, though, I've begun to look at the heading as a warning. Why would anyone want to do the impossible on a daily basis? Isn't that unnecessarily stressful, not to mention exhausting?

For as long as I can remember, I've prided myself on finding solutions to perplexing problems (provided they're not math problems -- I know my limits) and not shying away from a challenge. As as a school counselor, I was the solver. As a mom, I'm the finder and fixer. As a Christian, I believe nothing is impossible with God.

But does God really want us to single-handedly accomplish the impossible on a regular basis? And when we do, is it really one person's accomplishment?

When I worked as a school counselor, I was always part of a team. One person's strengths enhanced another person's weaknesses and, as a unit, we did incredible things for kids on a pretty regular basis. More and more, I find myself wondering if that's how we're supposed to approach life.

I'm not looking to lower my standards, mind you -- just keep my perfectionism in check. And I love my little notepad, but I wonder if I should look at its heading more as a cautionary tale than a daily challenge. When things feel impossible, my green notepad is a great place to write them down and, perhaps, a great way to remind myself that if it feels impossible, perhaps I shouldn't try to do it all at once. Life hands us enough challenges, after all. Why make doing the impossible one of them?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not giving up on chasing my dreams, nor am I planning to run from challenges; my genes and my Jersey roots are a fearsome combination that make challenge-chasing a way of life.

But maybe it's time to insert a little wisdom into the equation. To strive for a little balance. (See, Mr. Avery, I was listening in algebra class!) I don't have to tackle every impossible task. In fact, in order to ensure that I have the energy to chase the challenges that matter, the ones that don't mean as much need to fall away. The dreams and and the goals, no matter how impossible they may seem, need to stay on the list, but the rest of it -- the "shoulds" and the "he said/she said" items -- need to be crossed off the list. Or at least relegated to the bottom.

Anyone who buys a notepad that says, "DO THE IMPOSSIBLE" is pretty much a dream chaser. But life is too short to chase dreams that don't matter.

And it's definitely too short to do so all alone.

Monday, June 17, 2019

It's HERE! (Part 2)

Special thanks to Barb Szyszkiewicz for creating this visual
Today began like any other Monday. I was awake-ish before the alarm, but stayed in bed until my preset snooze alarms had gone off. I got up, did some stretches and created my weekly calendar/to-do, thinking today's list might be a tad optimistic, but figuring I could nudge a few things forward if I needed to. Then, I went off to teach my summer class.

When I got home, there was a package on the front porch. I made a mental note to grab it, then went inside to eat the soup I'd picked up on the way home. After lunch, I went out to get the package, expecting it to be for my husband, as I hadn't ordered anything, at least not that I could remember.

But the box was for me. And it was on the heavy side.

And it was from my publisher.

My books!!

There are few things in life more exciting than opening a box that contains the culmination of years  of effort, and this box didn't disappoint. Though I'd looked at the cover, posted the cover, created additional posts that incorporated the cover, etc. over and over in the past few months, there's something even better about finally seeing it up close and holding it in my hand. Flipping through the pages is ever so much better than skimming through a PDF. And that new book smell? The best.

Know Thyself is now a reality. No more writing, no more edits. It's a done deal. There will be celebrating and parties and signings and, in the midst of it all, there will be more writing, beginning even before the festivities end. The next project is, with any luck, right around the corner.

My daughter was kind enough to videotape the unboxing, which you can find here.

Not bad for an otherwise unremarkable Monday.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Feature: The Joy of Books

Last weekend, I got very excited over a seemingly small thing.

I finished a book.

I read a lot, but I rarely sit down and curl up with a book, and this time was no different. The book I finished was Michelle Obama's Becoming (which I highly recommend) and I had listened to it, sentence-by-sentence, chapter-by-chapter, in the car.

Mind you, I don't really spend that much time in the car. It takes me seven minutes or less to get to work (when there's no construction) and most of my other driving is around town. Still, when I read an article last year about how to read more books, I decided to put the suggestion of listening to audiobooks to work. I'd downloaded Audible last summer so I could listen to books on the beach. Why not try adding a little reading to my commute?

I'm really glad I did. Listening to Becoming, as read by the author, only enhanced my experience. Listening to it a little at a time allowed me to savor it as well.

But back to reading a lot, but not sitting down with a book. It wasn't until I read this article in the Harvard Business Review that I actually credited myself with reading a lot. I absolutely fall into the "consuming more information...than we ever have before" category, reading not only the e-mails and social media tidbits author Neil Pasricha cited, but online articles as well. 

That's still reading.

Yet, I don't make time for books. 

A funny thing happened when my audibook habit collided with Pasricha's article. My appetite for reading actual books was whetted. 

I have no intention of quitting my audiobook habit. Currently, I'm cycling among Billy Crystal's Still Foolin' 'Em, Brené Brown's Dare to Lead and Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, depending upon my mood and my destination. In addition, I've turned my attention back to several of the bookmarked books on my physical bookshelf, determined to hit the finish line with those as well. One didn't make the cut and is now destined for the library donation box, but two others are in regular rotation again. 

For writers, when "free" time appears, finding the reading/writing balance can be a challenge, but it's a challenge I'm ready, willing and able to rise to. 

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Let's (Not) Go to the Tape

It's here! Know Thyself is now in stock at OSV

Last week at this time, I was agonizing over a video presentation. This week, I'm just a few days away from an actual presentation

The latter makes me much less nervous. I've always assumed it's a matter of familiarity -- as an educator, I'm much more accustomed to speaking in front of a live audience. In addition, I hate how I look on video. I probably look the same in real life, but I can't see myself, so I don't think about it. I only think about sharing the content.

Then yesterday, I was listening to Brené Brown's Dare to Lead. In her "Note from Brené" at the beginning of the book, she talks about the give-and-take of presentations and how she chooses to focus on the people in front of her.

Suddenly, it all made sense.

While a video is me staring back at myself, talking to an imaginary audience and trying to figure out where to look so I'm making eye contact with an invisible viewer, a presentation is interactive. It feels more like an actual conversation. Sure, I'm nervous at the outset, but as I talk and get actual feedback from those in the room with me, it gets easier. Even if the audience is quiet or reserved, there's a sense of actual human contact.

Geralt via Pixabay
So, this Saturday, I'll endeavor to not only engage my audience, but also engage with them. While this isn't new to me, the understanding of why I prefer going live to going to the tape is. And, with any luck, the next time I go to the tape instead of going live, perhaps I'll have a few new lessons to make the process easier.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Learning a Lesson or Two

JillWellington via Pixabay
It's Monday. It's raining. My favorite Starbucks ran out of chai. I caught the back of my sandal on the basement steps this morning and envisioned myself going headfirst onto the concrete floor one flight below (I didn't).

And it's the first day of class.

Teaching during the summer is a fairly new development for me. This is only the second year I've signed on for summer session and, in the abstract, it's not something I look forward to. After spring semester winds down in May, I love flipping the switch to writing mode (or, as has been the case this year, book promotion mode). With no papers to grade, no lessons to plan and, best of all, no alarm to set, it's easy to settle in and tackle the things that fell by the wayside in the busyness of the last few weeks of class and to pour my creative energies into my works-in-progress.

But, somewhere along the line, I get excited. I read over my students' evaluations from spring semester, combine them with my own "do this differently" notes and reconfigure my syllabus and assignments accordingly. Looking at the course through a different lens and set-up forces me to reconsider the value of my assignments, streamline some things and rearrange others to fit a time frame that is both condensed (fewer weeks) and longer (classes that are nearly twice as long and that meet twice as often). I mix in new ideas from teacher blogs, tweets and newsletters and take a new approach to some things, while also holding on to the tried and true.

TeroVesalainen via Pixabay
All of this appeals to my creative side and almost makes up for the tedium of (re)writing a syllabus and timeline, the former of which always takes multiple revisions. Before I know it -- and usually, before I'm ready -- it's time to meet my new class.

I like the longer class period (now that I've figured out how to break it up a bit) and the continuity created by the fact that we meet every day (except Friday) and I really like having a class that's one third the size of my usual classes. The smaller numbers invite discussion and are perhaps less intimidating for those students who don't like to speak up. By the end of the first class, I know everyone's name and I look forward to digging into a new set of adventures in child and adolescent development with a new group of students. Summer session also brings in different majors  and a slightly wider variety of majors as well. While the education and nursing majors outnumber nearly everyone else during the semester, summer brings history, sociology and even computer majors into my psychology class, which adds layers and textures to the discussions.

While I can't say I look forward unequivocally to getting off the sofa and back into the classroom, I can say that I have fun. Adding new twists to old favorites keeps things interesting and sometimes gives me new strategies to carry forward as well.

So, while the early part of summer requires a temporary flip of the switch back to instructor mode, I still manage to get a little bit of writing in, and maybe even come up with a few new article ideas while I'm at it. Then, I have half of July and much of August before I need to change hats again.

One thing's for sure -- it's never dull.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday Feature: Critical Thinking

This week, I've been putting the finishing touches on the syllabus for my summer class (a more condensed -- and therefore intense -- version of a class I teach in fall and spring semesters). I've reviewed my objectives and assignments, read the course evaluations from my spring semester students and done the usual tweaking. It's ready to go, as is my to-do list of tools to adjust and create.

In other words, I've engaged in critical thinking.

As adults, we don't think of it that way. But any time we listen to someone else's perspective, make ourselves aware of our own biases or choose to accept someone we care about despite an egregious difference of opinion in one area or another, we're practicing this skill, even if we don't label it as such.

As an instructor, sharpening this skill in my students is one of my priorities and therefore one of my stated course objectives in every course I teach. In a world where it's easy to confuse clicking the "like" button with forming a considered opinion, I want to, at the very least, teach in a way that encourages my students to exercise their brains.

Is this merely an academic exercise? I don't think so. In fact, I think teaching college students how to think (for themselves) instead of teaching them what to think is one of the most important things we can do for them. While this may seem like a luxury when a year of college costs more than most cars, it's a skill that transfers to the world after graduation.

Case in point: an article in Inc. that focuses on mental exercises that will make us (in the real world, not the educational world) better critical thinkers. Author Larry Alton "is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship" -- in other words, someone with his feet firmly planted in the world outside academia, which is my students' desired destination.

Alton's article had me nodding and smiling, in part because of the connections he made (critical thinking can improve creativity), in part because the ideas were so easy to do, and, in part because they're the very things I seek to incorporate into my classes.

While some students of my students embrace critical thinking, others fight it. Among the evaluations I received last semester was one advising me to teach only the material that would be on the test.

Not gonna happen.