Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Re-Arranging the Pieces of Childhood

Kaese8rot via Pixabay

 My daughter has embarked on her first real world journey. She accepted a job, she found an apartment, and she has moved all of her essentials into the apartment. She’s nesting, which is fun for both of us.

Her bedroom at home, just across the hall from ours, is still full of stuff.  In fact, I think there might be at least as much stuff in her bedroom as there is in her apartment.

I’m not entirely sad about this. In fact, yesterday, I went in and moved some things around to fill up some of the empty spaces created by the furniture she took with her. Last week, I put her college comforter on the bed. Small steps towards taking the room into its next incarnation, whatever that will be.

Oh, who am I kidding? It will always be her room. It may look different - in fact, I hope it does because right now, it’s a testimony to everything she has outgrown. It’s a weird Never Never Land sheltering possessions only she scan decide the fate of.

I keep thinking back to my own childhood bedroom and wondering if it lived in this stage for a while. I don’t remember having this much stuff. But we moved several times during my childhood and adolescence, no doubt culling and downsizing each time.

But my daughter has had the same bedroom since we brought her home from the hospital. In fact, when she was in elementary school, she got an addition because her room is just above the mud room we added on downstairs. 

Twice as much room to accumulate stuff.

In her defense, she has downsized dramatically over time. In fact, that’s what concerns me. I’m afraid that much of what is still in her room isn’t going anywhere.

Right now, I’m OK with that. As long as there are traces of her in the room, the move my mind knows is permanent, my heart doesn’t have to accept.

I’m not in denial, nor am I unhappy. Just baby-stepping my way into the inevitable. The pandemic gave us two bonus years of having her home -- which I loved -- but it was never meant to be permanent. We didn’t raise her to stay here -- in this house with us -- her whole life. 

But my heart is slow to catch up with my head. And so this room in limbo gives my heart time. Time to adjust. Time to rearrange. Time to, together with her, decide what’s part of her childhood and what’s part of the person she is now.

So, I’ll keep puttering away. Vacuuming this and dusting that, encouraging her to sort through the things she left behind when she comes home to visit. My goal right now is to restore some sense of order while still reflecting its inhabitant, regardless of the purpose it serves when she’s not here.

What that purpose will be is still to be determined, though I can't yet imagine a time that it won't be Leah's room, no matter where she lives. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

G is for Grateful

Here I am, once again, creating my blog post at the end of the day. Only this time, I'm not stressed and guilt-ridden. 

I entered my grades yesterday, officially bringing spring semester to a close. That should have meant that  I'd write my post this morning, and I really thought I would. I had my topic and even a few notes. But after spending all day yesterday (and most days last week) finishing up my end-of-semester tasks and setting up my online summer class (which started today), I realized I hadn't gotten a Sunday. 

At least not in the day-of-rest sense of a Sunday.

So, when I got up today, I declared today Sunday, if only in spirit. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and promised myself deadlines would not be a part of my day.

And now, here I am, working on another end-of-day blog post. And today, that's okay.

Today, I am grateful, for things large and small. The freedom to putter through a Monday. The sigh of relief that accompanies the end of a semester. The sunroom where I enjoyed both sun and storms today, and quiet time with my husband tonight. An unexpected call from my daughter, and a nightly chat with my dad. A pretty planner in which I can corral all the lists of all the things I've wanted to get to but haven't had the time. An Amazon gift card that paid for a book I wanted. Health and, if not wealth, enough financial means to not lose sleep over making ends meet. 

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Gratitude is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Although I am, by nature, an optimist and a pretty grateful person, all of the research I've read about the positive effects of gratitude has only intensified that. Sure, I whine and complain (sometimes I even do that here), but I try to end each day taking stock of the things I'm grateful for.

Some days, it's hard. Most days, it's not, especially since I'm usually content to be grateful for small things, like the cool breeze that's coming through the sunroom window right now.

Gratitude is not denial. My small gratitudes don't solve inflation, the war in Ukraine, the contentiousness of politics, the illnesses and misfortunes that plague us all, or the myriad sad, dark, or disappointing things beyond my control. But they shine a little pinprick of light into each day, reminding me that the world isn't all bad, exhaustion isn't permanent, and good people and things still exist. They lower my blood pressure, my stress level, and drop my shoulders from their unnatural position just below my earlobes to the place where they belong.

Gratitude is often sweetest when we come out on the other side of something, whether it's an illness, a bad relationship, or the end of a really long week. 

Today, I am grateful for the peace of mind that allowed me to craft this post at 9PM, sitting in one of my favorite spots. Tomorrow, writing will be at the top of my to-do list for the first time in weeks, and I'm grateful for that, too, because it gives me something to look forward to.

Take a moment. Take a breath. What are you grateful for?

Friday, May 13, 2022

3 Keys Thursday: Early Warning Signs

 We all have them. Those clutter clues that tell us that we -- or our organizational systems -- are overwhelmed. Sometimes, we know already, and the clutter clues are validation for -- or contributors to-- our stress. Other times, we think we've got it all together until we see that clutter catcher spot in our homes that tells us that no, we do not. At least not right now.

For me, it's my mail counter. Those who've read Know Thyself know the saga of the mail counter, as well as how long it took me to conquer it. But, when life overwhelms me, my mail counter begins to reveal my drop and run organizational style in a very accurate and annoying fashion.

This week is one of those weeks. End of semester tasks have left me with a singular focus, and I've slipped into dropping the mail and running back to the tasks that are time sensitive. I knew I was doing this but, when I came into the house after running an errand the other day and was greeted by a pile in a space that was once clear. that put the exclamation point on how much things have been falling by the wayside (including this blog post, which was supposed to be finished and posted yesterday).

Is this happening at your house? If so, here are three questions to ask yourself when clutter pulls you up short like a flashing neon sign.

Is this a temporary issue, or do I need to rethink the organization in this space? When we go through busy patches, life changes, or difficult times, clutter is often our companion. As frustrated as I am by the current state of my mail counter, I know there's a light at the end of this tunnel. When I get there, I can sort the accumulated pile and restore order. For now, my sorting method focuses on two priorities: making sure everyone gets his/her own mail and making sure the bills go where they need to so they get paid. If your answer is different, though, consider the next two questions.

Are these items homeless, or do they need new homes? Often, clutter accumulates when we don't know where to put things, so we put them down instead of away (drop and run), we cram them into an existing space that may already be overstuffed (cram and jam), or we put them where there's room instead of where they belong (I know I put it somewhere). In those last two scenarios, the clutter is often behind closed doors or hidden in a drawer, but those of us with drop and run organizational styles are more obvious. If I'm honest, my drop and run organizational style has led to a few things that aren't mail landing on the mail counter. Most have homes, and I need to put them there, but one large item needs to be downsized so it doesn't take up so much space. Still, all of this is validation for my conclusion that this is a temporary situation, not a sign I need to do an organizational overhaul. Different situation at your house? Sort the clutter into two piles: what belongs here and what doesn't. Put the things that belong back and concentrate on finding real homes for the rest.

Do I need a new container, or time to restore this one? Sometimes, the pretty container or the one we had on hand doesn't do the trick and it needs to be replaced by something more efficient. That might mean picking something larger, or something with drawers that allow us to corral the clutter in a way that makes sense to us. Try emptying the container onto a table and sorting from bottom (where the older items are) to top. If this sorting process leaves you with a pile that fits back into the container (without overflowing), your work is done (if you want it to be). If not, consider what you need (think styles) to keep this space under control.

We all have times where clutter wins the organization battle. But, by being honest with ourselves and using our styles to create long-term solutions, we can win the war.

It's a process. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Way Back Wednesday: It's (Almost) Flip Flop Time!

It's that time of year again. No book coming out this summer, though. And my family won't be under the same roof, unless my daughter comes to visit or we go (again) to see her in her new apartment. Oh, and that three weeks between the end of the semester and the start of summer classes? Less than a week this summer, and my summer class is more than twice the size it was when this post originally ran three years ago.

Things change. But summer is still the time when my writing gets a boost. So, bring it on.

My schedule is about to flip flop and I couldn't be happier. Then again, how could anyone be disappointed in something that involves flip flops?

I love teaching. And if I had any doubt about that whatsoever, it disappeared when I retired from 27 years in education only to seek out more teaching opportunities. Initially, I sought them out as an additional stream of income and as something to keep me occupied and busy. 

Then, I landed a teaching position at the local college -- one that grew from a single class to a full-time job. But, as the plaque my husband gave me the first summer after I retired says, "If I don't want to, you can't make me. I'm retired."

And I want to. Teaching inspires my creativity and feeds my need to connect with other people. It also feeds the helping persona inherent in my personality (some might call her bossy...) and ingrained in my identity through more than a quarter of a century as a counselor.

Peggy Marco via Pixabay

But I also love writing. And during the school term, it's sometimes difficult to find enough creative energy for planning and preparing lessons and planning and preparing manuscripts. And so now that the semester is almost over, writing projects are once again taking their place at the top of my priority list. I'm looking forward to being able to spend entire days focused on all of the aspects of a writing career -- submitting, promoting and, of course, the writing itself -- for three glorious weeks.

Wait. Only three weeks?

In three weeks, summer session will begin. Though it's less overwhelming than fall and spring semester (one small class, compared to three classes roughly three times the size of a summer class), it will also need its place in my calendar. In addition, my daughter will be home.

And my book comes out in June.

Never a dull moment around here. Luckily, the flip flop in my schedule fuels the writing spark much the same way as a trip to the beach recharges my spirit. Coupled with longer days and my family all under one roof again, I'm ready.

Bring on summer.

Monday, May 9, 2022

F is for Finals Week

It's a little after 9PM and I'm stepping away from the grading, but my mind is still running on overdrive. I'm usually good at managing my stress, or reframing it as the adrenaline I need to get through what needs to be done, or, at the very least seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

But right now all I see are papers. Lots and lots of virtual papers awaiting my input and a grade that will contribute to the grades I need to enter by the end of this coming weekend.

When I plan my classes before the semester starts, they always look manageable. Somehow, though, when I get to the end of the semester, I inevitably wonder what I was thinking. Every semester ends this way, always coming down to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because I like to end on a high note, I'm going to do them in reverse.

The ugly: The great big pile-up of assignments to be graded. What am I going to do about that? Why, grade them, of course...and then rethink whether or not they're all useful enough to make the cut next semester.

The bad (news): The assignments submitted by students who didn't read the syllabus, didn't follow directions, or inexplicably didn't show up for class or presentations, resulting in a grade that's hard for me to enter (notice I didn't say "give." I don't give them grades -- they earn  them by the work they turn in -- or don't. Sometimes, I wonder whom that sub-par grade upsets more: me or them?

The good: There are always a few gems in the stack, be it virtual or hard copy. The students who produced exactly what I hoped for or perhaps even a little bit more. The ones who struggled at the outset but "got it" somewhere along the way. The ones who stick around for a few minutes after the final presentations to thank me, or send me a kind email during Teacher Appreciation Week.

My students were a pretty varied bunch this semester, and I enjoyed them tremendously. I cannot, however, say the same for the work that awaits me this week but, like anything else, it's a matter of taking the good with the bad.

bboellinger via Pixabay

And the ugly. 

This time next week, I'll have met a new group of students -- my summer session online class. This mountain will be behind me and, before I know it, I'll have another one to climb.

Now I just have to figure out how to make it less steep. 

Luckily, I have a few ideas. I just have to get to the other side of the mountain first.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Friday Feature: City Sidewalks, Pretty Sidewalks

 My February foray into a writing word a day left me fascinated with the notion of exploring creativity beyond the writing and music that I already enjoy. I've never been very artistic, but I've always enjoyed decorating and I love reading Ingrid Fetell Lee's Aesthetics of Joy blog that brings concepts like color, design and happiness together. 

So, last week, when I stumbled across this piece about painted crosswalks in Axios, I was immediately drawn in. It reminded me of some of the things Lee talked about in her book, Joyful, and of the role color plays in our lives and our moods.

As I write this, the rain is pouring down outside. It's a gray day with a chill in the air that led me to change immediately into sweats when I came into my warm, dry house after work and errands. On two separate occasions today, I complimented people on a bright pink article of clothing -- one a dress, the other a jacket -- both bright spots in the grayness of the day and the mental exhaustion of the final week of classes. I'd opted for a soft sweater that I love, but it was gray and seeing those beautiful pinks made me smile and left me wishing I'd brought my own pop of color into the classroom today.

Sometimes solutions are logical, practical and linear. Other times, they're pops of color, painted bricks and crosswalks that make us stop and pay attention, whether because of their hue, their beauty or their unexpected appearance in a logical, practical, linear, gray world. 

As a person whose sensibilities lean more toward the artistic than the logical, I have to say I prefer the latter. But imagine the power they bring when they're combined with practicality to create a solution that makes us smile.

Not everyone likes the pretty fuchsias that made me stop, smile, and compliment the wearer today. Some people prefer more subtle colors like the gray of my sweater, or the browns and greens that call to mind the serenity of nature. But, whatever our preference, the colors that surround us impact our mood, inspiring serenity, joy, or a host of other emotions. And paying attention to our choices or the colors that capture us can help us make our world a little calmer, brighter, or maybe even safer.

Suddenly, that box of 64 Crayola crayons holds so much more promise than I ever imagined.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Way Back Wednesday: The Matter of Character(s)

 I've never been a classic movie kind of girl. With the exception of Gone with the Wind, most of my favorite movies are from the late twentieth century. Goodbye Girl. When Harry Met Sally. You've Got Mail. 

The Big Chill.

If you haven't seen it, The Big Chill revolves around a group of friends united by a tragedy. As a twenty-something, I identified with the themes of friendship and growing up, but couldn't quite put myself into the shoes of these characters who had moved on beyond college, a place to which I was still firmly anchored. As a result, I felt annoyed by some of the characters, while the actions of others inspired confusion. 

Or, in the case of Glenn Close's character, a wife, mother and doctor -- all caretaking roles, I now realize -- sympathy. Her grief seeped out between the cracks, and we only saw her let down her guard when she was finally alone, in the shower, via a good cry covered by the sound of running water.

I didn't get it then, but I do now.

I knew I loved the movie though, going back to see it over and over, dragging friends who hadn't seen it with me because they had to see this movie. At the time, I didn't grasp all the nuances of grief and loss that were an integral part of the movie, perhaps because they were so deftly woven into the music, the humor and the connection between the characters. And because I lacked the life experience to empathize.

Though I wasn't a child, I was still too young to identify with the struggles of some of characters. To understand the complexities that war and career and personal responsibility layer into relationships, day by day, decade by decade.

But on some level, I knew. That's why I kept going back.

More than thirty years later, I strive to create those nuances in the characters I write. To write women who are simultaneously strong and vulnerable. To put people on the page who love fiercely, yet make poor choices. To conjure up kids who don't get it completely, but who know, as I did watching that movie, that there's something there in each situation -- something deeper, something important -- just beyond what they understand in the moment.

It's a tall order.

Thirty years later, character-driven stories with ensemble casts are still my favorite, whether a movie, a television show or a novel. Sometimes they're a means of escape. Other times, I can identify so much it hurts.

Like Glenn Close crying in the shower -- proof positive that being strong is a double-edged sword. When you cultivate it successfully, it becomes not only what you expect of yourself, but what everyone else expects of you as well.

But in life, as in good stories, vulnerability seeps out of the cracks.

And that's what makes characters well-rounded, and real people human.