Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Feature: Tools for Teachers -- and Anyone Else who Likes Kids' Books

As I might have mentioned once or twice, this week is syllabus creation week at my house. Much of the body of each syllabus remains the same from semester to semester, which means the bulk of the hard work comes from adjusting the dates and the assignments. All of us need to do the first; some of us consistently do the second, creating more work than necessary for ourselves but, we hope, a better, more fruitful experience for our students.

When I'm not under the gun to meet a deadline, I love the process of coming up with new activities (which drive the syllabus changes). My creative side is in its glory when I'm combing websites, books and other resources for new ideas and new ways to keep things interesting.

One of the free downloads on
Though I no longer teach little ones, I love the work of Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Not only is she wonderfully creative, but she is generous with her work as well. In fact, she has an entire section of her website devoted to colorful, print-ready resources, ranging from posters and bookmarks to teachers' guides and activity sheets. They're colorful, they're fun and, best of all, they're free.

Even if you're not a kid and/or don't have kids yourself, the site is fun to check out. I particularly love the whimsical "found objects" art she creates. Like any great artist, she makes it look so simple, and it's tremendously fun to view the world through her eyes and, in the process, perhaps spark some personal creativity as well.

Wherever you are in the back-to-school merry-go-round, I wish you a great year with moments of the kind of joy Debbie Ridpath Ohi's art inspires.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Syllabus Creation Week -- Crossover Post A

Today, I'm doing something I haven't done in a while -- a crossover post -- and I thought it would be fun to do it with a twist.

Each week, I post blogs on three different sites -- and my two sites -- here and Organizing by STYLE. While my focus here is writing, family, teaching and related topics, my focus at Organizing by STYLE is organizing, time management and related topics.

Despite having two blog sites, I have one life and the same life events and occurrences spark different post ideas. Some are right for this blog, others for Organizing by STYLE.

So, today, I thought it would be fun to take the same first sentence and use it to write a post for each site. There are a few other sentences in common, too, but the end result will be two different posts. 

I hope you enjoy my experiment. Feel free to click over to Organizing by STYLE to see another side of the same story.

This week, I am writing syllabi, which means I'm not spending much time with my characters. I was on a roll with my revisions, making really nice progress and enjoying all the complications I'd created for Marita, Bets, Angel, Charli and all those who surround them. Unfortunately, duty called and I have to leave my characters languishing for a bit while I take care of more time-sensitive issues. Leaving them to their own devices is not always a good idea; they sometimes cook up plot twists in my absence.

Fortunately, my writers' critique group meeting falls right in the middle of this novel writing (or,
more accurately, revising) drought, which will give me the boost I need. Although I know my characters aren't real people, I miss them and get antsy to get back to them if I'm away too long. Talking about them at the meeting will make up for some of the time we've spent apart.

So, this week, instead of adventures with my characters, I'm having adventures with my daughter -- a week of shopping and appointments and whatever else materializes. In between, I'll work on my syllabi and try to fit in some revising sprints but, quite honestly, I'm more interested in fitting in time with her. By this time next week, she'll be back at school and, while I'm happy she'll be five hours away instead of an ocean away, the quiet house and empty calendar pages will be bittersweet.

I hope my characters will be happy to see me.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Tuning the Cacophony

nad_dyagileva via Pixabay
According to Checkiday, today is Stay Home with Your Kids Day. And, according to an article I found on Twitter, the biggest obstacle to blogging is not time, but focus.

Finally, according to me (and many others before me), you can't believe everything you read.

While I didn't exactly stay home with my daughter (and she's not exactly a kid, although she's still my kid), her needs played a big part in my day. I woke up focused on what I needed to do today (okay, not from the exact second my eyes popped open, but you get the idea) and created my plan, which included writing this blog post early in the day.

Then the printer died. A dead printer the week before fall semester is not something I can easily work around. I tried the tools in my tech tool box, minimal though they may be, then handed off to my husband who, luckily, was home today. While he did some troubleshooting, I tackled the planning and prep I could do without a printer until he, too, declared the printer dead.

Meanwhile, my daughter came downstairs, ready to hit the gym, and reminded me that she had an early afternoon doctor's appointment, and asked if I was still coming along. Of course, I said, wincing at the realization that I'd completely forgotten to factor that into my day (even though I'd written it in my calendar).

So. To recap. Course prep I wanted to check off before the blog? Brought up short due to technical difficulties. Block of time following course prep during which I was supposed to write the blog? Wiped out by a doctor's appointment. The block of time following that? Printer shopping and the Target run we didn't do over the weekend because we were traveling -- taking said daughter to school to set up her room. Choir practice, precariously perched in the evening hours by which all of this was supposed to be completed? Well, that bit the dust because, you know, dinner and maybe actually finishing the things I started seven or so hours ago.

I suppose one could argue that I was distracted by all of these other things that happened today. That would be a valid argument. But, to disregard the role lost time played in this scenario is to be -- hang on a minute, my husband's calling me about the printer...

...naïve. To say the least.

This, folks, is the writing life. I'm not complaining -- it's a pretty good life -- but navigating it successfully has to do with much more than dodging distractions.

If I had my day to do all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I checked a lot of little items off my back-to-school to-do list but, more important, I spent time with my daughter and my husband (albeit at the doctor's and Staples and Target). In addition, we managed to replace a very necessary piece of office equipment in under twelve hours. Choir was a casualty and, unfortunate as that may be, better choir than my sanity.

The internet is full of "just do this and you'll be so much more productive" stories or, worse yet, "if only you fixed this one thing about yourself, life would be so much easier" stories.

Uh huh. Because a complete stranger knows exactly what I need to fix about me.

Yet we buy into this stuff.

The reality is that one size, strategy, approach or focus doesn't fit all of us. Some days, we need to close the door, buckle down, check things off the list and maybe try a few of those productivity tips. But, when we do that too often -- or, worse yet, at the expense of relationships or our own well-being -- that's not productive.

That's counter-productive.

I felt awful sending the "I'm not going to make it to choir" text, especially since last weekend's travel means I missed singing yesterday, too. I quickly ran through all the things everyone else in the group juggles every day and found myself completely lacking and insufficient. But you know what?

I was probably the only one doing that.
mohamed_hassan via Pixabay

Life is full of choices and all we can do is make the best choice available to us in the moment. The more we listen to ourselves, tuning out the cacophony of expectations we play on an endless reel in our heads, the more likely that choice will be one we're happy with in the long run.

And, in order not to further confuse things or crank up the guilt-o-meter, it's important to remember one other thing.

You can't believe everything you read. Because all that does is add to the cacophony.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Feature: Sometimes, Good Enough is Good Enough

This week, I've been perusing materials for the first year seminar I'll begin teaching in a few weeks. I've already taught the course several times, but I'm always on the lookout for updated materials to keep things interesting and current.

Ironically, it wasn't until I typed that last paragraph that I realized I'm doing exactly what today's article is about -- straddling that line between good enough and perfect.

What I started to say is that perfectionism is a topic I cover, and one that causes me to re-assess my own tendencies every time I teach it.

Like when the materials I already have aren't good enough and I go on a quest for newer, better information.

In life, there's always room for improvement, but it's also easy for us to exhaust ourselves trying to make everything perfect -- which is when it comes in handy to consider when we should aim for good enough rather than perfect.

While I'm reluctant to accept good enough most of the time, there's still wiggle room between good enough and perfect. In the case of my new materials, chunking my time so that I don't fall down the hyperlink rabbit hole helps; so, too, does figuring out what I'm looking to replace ahead of time. And, as Greene-Zapier points out in her article, sometimes, good enough is step one -- like the first draft of a blog post, manuscript or novel. Other times, our imperfection gives others permission to be imperfect, too.

So, why should we settle? Well, mostly because perfect is out of reach for we mere mortals but also because sometimes, good enough really is good enough.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Back-to-School Chatting on the Porch Swing

kreatikar via Pixabay
Today, many of my teacher friends went back to school. Although the kids won't start until next week, professional development meetings and prep work will fill today and tomorrow as they ready themselves and their classrooms for another year of teaching and learning.

Although my classes don't start for another two weeks, I've been chipping away at syllabi, class prep and other school-related stuff since last week. Although I'm sad to cut into my writing time, I enjoy the creative process that both accompanies and feeds this planning and preparing process. 

All of this got me to thinking about my characters, so I thought I'd invite them to the porch swing and get their thoughts about school. 

First question: Who's ready?

Charli: I am, kinda. I'm not looking forward to homework, but I'm looking forward to seeing my friends. Although there are a couple of people I'll be avoiding.

Bets: I'm not! All those buses mean I have to get up earlier to get to work on time.

Marita: I'm not either. I like having Charli around for the summer.

Charli: Mom, you're not even home during the day!

Marita: Yeah, but...never mind.

Angel: You like knowing she's there? I get that.

Okay. School. Love it or hate it?

Angel: Oh, I loved school!

Bets: Of course you did. You probably got straight A's.

Angel: No, not straight A's....

Bets: Me, I loved school supplies but not school. I liked the whole getting ready part, but I hated that I couldn't get back-to-school clothes like my friends who went to public school. And school itself was boring, which is why I had to make my own fun.

Marita: I hated those uniforms, too. Remember how we tried to personalize them? And then we'd get  in trouble for that.

Charli: I can picture that. Did you like school, Mom?

Marita: I did. I was always pretty good at school -- except for the fact that I talked too much -- so that made it tolerable. Until high school, anyway.

Charli: Uh oh.

Marita: You don't need to worry. You're too smart to make the mistakes I did.

stux via Pixabay
Favorite subject?

Charli: Math.

Angel: French.

Marita: Spanish.

Bets: Drama club.

Charli: No offense, Bets, but isn't that any class you're in?

Bets: Ooh, she's good.

Marita: And drama club isn't a class.

Bets (shrugs): Okay, then. Whatever class had the cutest boys.

Favorite teacher? Or least favorite?

Marita: My favorite teacher was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Stein. My least favorite was Sr. Mary Rose, my 11th grade English teacher.

Bets: I didn't like her either. But I loved my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Evans.

Angel: I loved my kindergarten teacher, too! Miss Garrety.

Charli: I dunno. Mr. Pizzetti's pretty cool, I guess.

Bets: Oh, summer. I'm gonna miss you.

Charli: Yeah. Me too.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Accommodating Accommodations

naobim via Pixabay
Two weeks ago, I attended a writing conference. It was the second year I was going, and I was excited to be splurging and staying at the hotel.

I couldn't wait. Last year, I'd been impressed by the facility, falling in love most with a spacious and well-appointed lobby that promised to be perfect for writing sessions after hours and between workshops.

The first day, all was well. I checked in early in the evening and had a pleasant first night. The next morning, things were a tad noisy outside my room, but I didn't give it much thought. A placard on the nightstand warned that the hotel was doing some remodeling and there would be some mild disturbances between 8 AM and 5 PM. I got ready for my sessions and headed out. All was quiet in the meeting rooms -- construction-wise, that is.

About mid-afternoon, I went back to the room, hoping to take some down time (and maybe even a nap) before the reception and book signing that night.


The drilling overhead was so loud that I had to leave the room.

As the parent of a college-age young adult, I've spent a fair amount of time in hotels over the past few years. From the college search time when she was still in high school to the campus visits to our trip to join her during her semester in Ireland, I've seen the insides of a lot of hotel rooms of various sizes and qualities, but I've never had to leave the room because it was too noisy for me to hear myself think.

One of the perks of staying at a hotel when I go to a conference is being able to seek time all to myself at any point in the day, whether to write, to nap, to read, to relax or even watch bad television. This benefit is one of the things I'm paying for, and I don't take it lightly. I've done some of my best writing in hotels (and on trains) and I love knowing that's an option when I go away. And, when it's not, I become somewhat cranky.

There are other amenities I look for in a hotel -- features that make me want to book again, even if the price is a little higher than other places. The rooms have to be clean, of course, and I've come to expect a mini-fridge (although they're not standard); my favorite hotel even has a little microwave in its suites. Feather bedding options might be upscale, but they're a disappointment to me. Allergies mean I need to call the front desk, ask for non-feather options and hope that's what I actually get.

I don't care about the mini toiletries -- if they're nice, that's a bonus but (allergies again) I pack the ones I like from home. I do care about the shower, though. More than once, I've been sad to check out of a hotel because their shower was better than ours at home.

Traveling with a teen, we've gotten into the habit of booking suites, which means we have room to spread out. While my husband is happy to camp out on the bed with his iPad, I prefer to read on the (usually pull-out) sofa or work on my laptop at the desk. I've also been known to hang out in the lobby if it's nice. I vividly remember working out a scene in the forthcoming Marita/Angel/Charli book in the lobby of a hotel in Connecticut. It was summer, but the stone fireplace was really pretty and there were lots of comfy places to sit. The change in scenery added something to the writing experience.
Lobby of the Eden Resort Inn

In those open spaces, it's always nice to have knowledgeable and courteous staff. I don't remember ever running into problems here; most of those in the hospitality business do hospitable quite well. It's also nice if there's a restaurant on-site -- preferably one that doesn't break the bank. Wifi is also a must, preferably in the lobby and in the room. And a decent place to make/take a phone call matters, too. "Can you hear me now?" is not my idea of good phone service.

Picky? Maybe. Or maybe I just know what I like, and what I'm willing to pay for.

Not long ago, I learned that another of my favorite writing conferences will no longer be held at my favorite hotel. I was disappointed enough to consider skipping the conference, or even staying at my preferred hotel and driving across town to the hotel where the conference will be held.

I have almost a year to make up my mind. And, it's likely that my daughter's graduation will be held that same weekend, so I won't be going to the conference anyway for reasons completely unrelated to the venue.

This is good. It gives the conference planners two years to come to their senses and choose the right location next time around.

Hey. I'm from Jersey. I know what I like.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Friday Feature: Smiles and Confidence

When I worked as a counselor, I had a smile file. A simple file folder filled with thank you notes, pictures from students and things that made me smile, it stayed tucked in my file drawer for those days when I needed it. For me, it was a mood booster on those days where things weren't going well. It reminded me of the times when things had gone right and helped me to believe things would go right again.

As I read this article in Fast Company by my friend Gwen Moran, her advice to "remind yourself how awesome you are" brought my smile file to mind. I thought of the contents of that file as a way to bring some light into a drab or disheartening day but, as Gwen points out, its contents could also be a source of confidence, and a means of overcoming our anxieties. When we're in the midst of a day where it feels as though nothing is going right, it's great to have a way to remind ourselves of the times when things did.

Need some suggestions for boosting your confidence when nerves threaten to take over? Gwen's article is a quick read, but offers great advice.