Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Personal Reflection: Shades of Gray

If you came here in the hopes of reading a book review of the popular adult erotica trilogy... you will be sadly disappointed.  I have not ... nor do I plan to read them.

But I have been ruminating on this idea of shades of gray for quite some time.  I have tried to live my life by following the rules --- ALL the rules.  I have always prescribed to the notion that rules are in place for a reason:  to protect others and to protect ourselves.  Some people, however (many of my close relations), tend to live life by viewing rules as mere guidelines - subject to personal interpretation.  And as you can imagine, this has created some conflict over the years.

For me, life decisions have always centered around what is either right or wrong; good or evil; black or white.  But I am learning that this dichotomous view of life is too rigid.... there can be a gray area.  And as it turns out, there can be many different shades of gray, or black, or white.

I am a rule-follower and a perfectionist by nature... a deadly combination.  But when I add this absolute dichotomy to the mix, I sometimes feel as though I am going to implode.  Let me give a humorous example.  It was mid-afternoon on a warm summer day and several of us decided that ice cream would be the perfect snack.  Dairy Queen was the chosen destination.  Now, I had never been to a Dairy Queen, but was looking forward to a new adventure.  How could I go wrong with ice cream, right?

I distinctly remember walking into the shop, looking at the menu, and instantly feeling overwhelmed.  At that time we had the choice between ice cream or yogurt - vanilla or chocolate.  Ok, I could handle that... but did I want syrup - and if so, which of the five different flavors?  Then there was the decision as to which add-ins to choose:  fruit or candy or both?  I was literally paralyzed from making a decision and, I kid you not, I walked out of the shop empty handed.

I can look back now and laugh at myself, but not at the time.  Was there a "right" or "wrong" decision?  Of course not.  Might I like one combination over another?  Probably, but I could still enjoy the tasty treat.  Would there be an opportunity to return again sometime and try another flavor?  Absolutely.  But none of these "shades of gray" entered my head.  There was either the perfect Blizzard or failure.  And I could not risk failure.

A more recent example - and one in which I have shared on this blog - is the decision to become a writer.  I am still working through this one... as silly as it sounds.  But in my mind I can either call myself a writer - or not.  Do I write?  Yes.  Am I a writer?  No - because I argue, writers must be published, they must have an audience, they must be more creative, etc.  Is it possible to be a writer and a teacher?  Of course it is... but it took me a full month to realize that it was not an either/or decision; it was an "and" decision.

Perhaps that is the key.  To add "and" to my vocabulary and delete the "or"  And invites gray to enter the picture; Or maintains the black/white perspective.  Old habits die hard and I anticipate that this one will be quite difficult to break, but I am at least aware of this limited view, and I have a sincere desire to broaden my mindset in the future: to become more inclusive rather than exclusive - to promote multi-tonal harmony rather than single note melody - to embrace coexistence rather than adhere to strict interpretations.

It is somewhat interesting I have always shared a fondness for color, perhaps it is to compensate for the lack of shading in my mind's eye.  I enjoy scrapbooking and card making - mostly because of the colored paper used in these  projects.  And I am drawn to quilting even though I hate to sew.  I love the combination of bright vibrant colors with shades of subtle hues in precise geometrical patterns.  It is the perfect partnership of the right brain (abstract) and left brain (structured).  It is my hope that in this discovery of shades of gray I might open my mind to adding shades of other colors as well.... to invite the entire 64 color box of crayons for a visit and show me the endless possibilities of creative thought.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Getaway to St. Louis

My summer vacation is quickly coming to an end.  I consider this my last full week of freedom as next week I will ease into the academic routine by cleaning up syllabi and revising a few assignments.  The following week teachers will report to school and I am sure to have several meetings scheduled here and there.  Then the 2013/2014 school year will begin on Wednesday, August 21.

So, as a final celebration my husband and I took a long weekend trip to St. Louis.  It is an easy four hour drive across I-70, which allows us to feel as though we truly get away without feeling as though we spend the entire time in the car.  We first discovered the value of a St. Louis vacation three years ago as we were looking for an inexpensive way to celebrate our anniversary.  Since that time, we try to return at least once a year.  I thought I might share some of our favorite spots for any of you who may wish to visit this "Gateway to the West" some day.

While we did not visit the St. Louis Zoo this time, it is definitely at the top of my "must see" list.  The zoo is free to the public, although the convenient parking lot does charge $15 per car (an expense that we gladly pay as the alternative, on-the-street parking, is nothing short of a nightmare.  We did discover that a Trolley system runs throughout Forest Park, which allows unlimited rides for $2.00 - a fee that we will take advantage of the next time we are in town).

The zoo is easy to navigate and most animals are housed in a "natural habitat" environment.  My favorite exhibit is the Penguin igloo... where the tuxedoed birds are allowed to strut their stuff to the merriment of onlookers.   A close second favorite, however, is the Prairie Dog exhibit, where the furry rodents are constantly scurrying from burrow to burrow playing hide-and-go-seek with one another.  This year the zoo opened a new Sea Lion exhibit that I am sure will become my new "favorite" attraction.

The next time we visit the area, I think we will plan a full day's itinerary in the Forest Park complex.  From the zoo we will probably catch the trolley and enjoy a lovely lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant which is situated in a serene setting next to the lake where pedal boats may be rented for a leisurely ride on the water.  After lunch (I think the salmon BLT sounds quite yummy...) we will once again catch the trolley and take it to the St. Louis Art Museum, which is also free to the public and houses quite an impressive collection.  However, I am most anxious to visit next spring when the Impressionist France:  Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet will be showing.

This particular trip we visited several sights for the first time.  One of the highlights was to see a baseball game at Busch Stadium.  Let me tell you.... Cardinals' fans take their baseball seriously!  Hundreds of people in a sea of red were waiting outside the gates at 3:30 for a 6:10 game.  So after a quick walk around the stadium we went inside to watch the opposing team, the Philadelphia Phillies, batting practice.  We could not have asked for more perfect weather:  sunny, slight breeze, and a high of 84 degrees (in the middle of July?!).  And as an added bonus... It was Christmas in July at the ball game which meant Christmas carols were played between each inning and a festive spirit was everywhere.  I happen to enjoy baseball, so I have a feeling we will be going to at least one Cards game a year from now on.

I also saw the Gateway Arch for the first time and it is truly stunning.  Located deep in the heart of the city but on the water's edge, the arch was quite spectacular set against the bright blue sky.  We did not venture to the top, but we did take a one-hour river boat cruise aboard the paddleboat, Tom Sawyer, that took us about thirty minutes north on the Old Mississippi and then back again.  It was another fantastic weather day and the boat ride was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

Instead of the zoo, we decided to visit Grant's Farm this trip.  This 280-acre farm, located in the middle of a bustling metropolitan suburb, was the home to Ulysses S Grant and is now home to the World famous Clydesdale horses as well as many other species of wild animals.  There is no cost of admission, but parking is $12 per car.  There is a required tram ride that takes you through the safari-like setting of the outskirts of the land where the large animals roam free, and then it lets you off in the interior where petting zoo animals reside as well as other interesting creatures such as the wallaby, lemurs, peacocks, and my favorite, the American Bald Eagle.  While I would say this is definitely an attraction that is worth a visit, especially for young children, I would also say that once is enough.

But the true highlight of our visits to St. Louis is the opportunity to go back in time ... and visit the Little Italy of the midwest.  Fondly known as The Hill.... this approximately six square block area is as close to the "old country" as we have seen since living on the east coast.  Pride in their Italian heritage is evident at every corner where the fire hydrants are painted in the familiar green, white, and red of the national flag.  The small row houses, which consist of a modest 2-3 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bathroom, and front porch ... are well maintained with an individual personality reflecting its owners: some have beautiful flowers blooming in hanging baskets, others have decorative bird baths, and most have some statue of the Virgin Mary.

There are numerous restaurants that offer authentic Italian cuisine in comfortable, unpretentious surroundings; and there are two Italian delicatessens (Viviano and Sons and  DiGregorio's Market) where we go to stock up on essential ingredients such as cans of olive oil, shaved parmesan cheese, and anchovy paste.  The last stop of every visit is the Missouri Baking company.... a rather domestic name for the most authentic Italian cookies and pastries found anywhere.  While cannolis and panettones can be found at most any Italian bakery, this small establishment also offers such unique items as sfogliatelles and traditional Italian cookies which are sold by the pound:  the heavier cookies (such as biscotti) are on the bottom shelf and should first be selected to go in the one pound box, with each row of cookies being a little less heavy and more delicate to place on top.  This always provides us with a tasty snack for the four hour trip back home.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Paris Room

The completion of this room has been a year in the making... and quite honestly if it were not for the creative vision of my son, it would never have happened.  But this francophile now has a Paris room that comes incredibly close to experiencing the real City of Lights on this side of the Atlantic, and it is easily accessible at an affordable price!

The room originally belonged to my youngest when she was a toddler through elementary school.  The mint green wall paper with soft pink rosebuds suited a little girl just fine.  But she moved out of the room in sixth grade and it has remained a catch-all dressing room ever since.  At one point we tried to remove the wallpaper, only to discover that there was at least one more layer beneath that had been painted over twice.  Too much work for our busy lifestyles.

But last summer my son had a vision that the room could be transformed - and he made that dream a reality.  Rather than scrape wallpaper for days, he used a texture technique that could be applied to the existing walls.  Using ordinary tissue paper that had been wadded up and then re-flattened, he adhered each piece individually to the walls using a small amount of paint (in our case, a soft antique white).  While this was very time consuming and elicited the help of most family members, the result was a stucco appearance that rivaled the feel of vintage European architecture.

Parisan Cafe
It was my idea to try to replicate the feel of a Parisian cafe on one side of the room ... in the hopes that following the routine of Hemingway might inspire my own writing endeavors ... and then an indoor apartment on the other side, complete with a window view of Sacre Coeur, my iconic Parisian monument.  We were fortunate enough to find this lovely bistro table setting for two on one of our many visits to Lowe's ... and I purchased it on the spot (well, after much coaching from my son).  I found the black-and-white striped cushions at Hobby Lobby and a perfectly matched valance on Amazon.

The light reminded me of an old-fashioned gas light, which would be perfect for an al fresco setting, and the ivy garland at the top was to help recreate the atmosphere of an outdoor experience.  I managed to find a copy of the menu of Le Moulin de la Galette (my ultimate Parisian dining experience) which I printed and framed, and I used a collage frame to showcase some Parisian postcards circa turn of the 20th century.

When you enter the room you see the "indoor apartment" view.  My mother's red couch was the perfect  accent piece, and coordinated perfectly with the silk geraniums I used to adorn the window boxes.  While I have another room, which I fondly call my nook, that houses most of my book collection, I have chosen to keep only those books that pertain to writing and travel on this bookcase.

While it is hidden from view in this photo, I did manage to find an Eiffel Tower desk lamp at a local flea market to use on my French provincial nightstand from childhood that serves as the perfect side table where I can put my beverage, a scented candle, and a holder for all my writing utensils.

But the piece de la resistance... the one item missing until just this week... was the framed picture of Sacre Coeur that I can view while sitting on my couch.  We found the window frame at a local flea market ... along with the matching red shudders.  I took the picture when I last visited Paris two years ago, and found a terrific online printing service that cropped the photo to my specific dimensions and mounted it on foam board for stability.  My husband was able to use his carpentry skills to tape the photo to the back of the frame, adhere the shudders to the side of window, and then secure the window to the wall.  The result was perfection!

The trunk belonged to my husband's grandmother and is the quintessential symbol of exotic travel.  And while it is impossible to tell from this photo, I have small tea lights embedded within the ivy that add a warm twinkling glow after dark.

I also have a fountain in the room, that lends a soothing sound of trickling water... albeit a bit too loud for this small space.  And in an effort to entice all the senses, I have a Baguette scented candle that when lighted takes me back to the fragrant aroma of the small neighborhood boulangerie ... and I recently purchased a 3-CD collection of Parisian Cafe songs that I play in the background.

It might be a number of years before I return to my beloved Paris... but until then, I can come very close to recreating that intimate cafe experience every single day.  Many many thanks to my son... and husband... who made this dream a perfect reality.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Writing Projects: Travel Journals

Today's entry is a coming together of data from a variety of sources which have inspired me to create as well as move forward in my writing endeavors.  Chronologically, this is how it all melded together.

In January, 2012, I took an online travel writing class with Dave Fox, the author of Globejotting, a book I enjoyed reading prior to my trip to Paris.  In that book, Dave not only taught how to maintain a travel journal while on vacation, but he also encouraged pre-journaling as a way of exploring expectations and increasing anticipation prior to a trip.... and then post-journaling as a way of slowing down the memories and writing with depth of insight and awareness.

At the beginning of the summer I began an online journaling class from Susannah Conway in which she encouraged participants to maintain an every day journal as well as a "dream" journal.  I struggle greatly with the concept of dreams:  I rarely remember my night dreams once I wake up, and I keep a close rein on those I might ponder during the day.  I fear they would only lead to disappointment.  BUT... I do allow myself to dream of future vacation destinations.  I filed away her information, but chose to focus on the daily journal for the time being.

In June I took a Travel Writing class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and through a series of writing prompts, solidified my travel dreams. Perhaps I will share the full essay in this space another time, but for now, I will just share the essence:
I do not yearn to travel the world.  It is not because I do not find other cultures worthy of visit or study, but it is because I wish to become intimate with every place I visit, and that is simply not possible on a breadth scale.  I suppose my travels mirror my friendships:  I would prefer to have a few intimate friends than several casual acquaintances.  I wish to travel and live and fully know a few cultures than experience the tourist relationship of several.
 The essay focused on four distinct places:  New York City... Paris... London... and Italy (I simply cannot narrow the choice to just one city in this captivating country).  But my desire goes beyond a short-term visit... that is simply not enough for me.  I yearn to take up residence for at least three months in each of these locations and experience the daily life as a native.  The class comments I received after sharing my piece were, "You write with such conviction... you will make this happen."  And that got me thinking....

Rather than creating one all-encompassing dream journal, I will create a dream travel journal.  And rather than cramming all the dreams into one large journal, I will develop one for each destination.  And rather than using collage materials culled from magazines, I would use my own photographs, and stickers, and paper collected for scrapbooking projects.  The wheels started turning... and the project took shape.

I already owned the photo boxes from an impromptu purchase two years ago.  I have quite the collection of decorative card stock and scrapbooking embellishments for imagined projects that have yet to take place.  My collection even extends to a few rubber stamp sets that embody the passion to travel.  I had recently purchased the "perfect" journal for New York City, and knew that others must exist for different popular cities.  It was all coming together:  the dreams, the supplies, the desire, the determination, and the purpose.  

While the timing of these extensive travels might be several years away, I can fan the flame in the present.  I can do some post-journaling of past trips and delve into the inner journey experience as well as recall the sensory details of the physical trip.  Using the decorative items, I could have some fun by adding color and whimsical images.  I could also do some pre-journaling exploration of what I would hope to accomplish by living as a native in these iconic cities.  And all of this activity would help me to hone my skills as a writer.

I have attempted arts and crafts too many times to trust myself to follow through on a project of this magnitude.  So I tried to develop a system to manage the process.  Each box is a self-contained unit with a pair of scissors, adhesive, and journaling pen; paper, stickers, stamps, etc that are focused on its particular region; and decorative washi tape in coordinating colors.  When the mood strikes to write about a particular experience... London for example... I need only grab my London box to capitalize on that thought.  

The supplies in the Zabar's bag (one of my favorite foodie shops on the Upper West Side of Manhattan) are general travel decorations, as well as useful cutting tools to trim paper or photos.  This bag will also be useful to the process, and allow for easy transport.

So while the days of carefree travel to exotic destinations may be a little ways off, the inspiration to make such trips a reality is right at my fingertips.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Personal Reflection: Christmas in July

Like many people my age, I remember hearing stories of the Sears Roebuck Wishbook -- Mom anxiously awaiting its arrival so she could pour through the pages of Christmas possibilities.  Of course money was almost non-existent, so the wish lists remained a figment of dreams, and eventually the catalog was recycled by making paper dolls.

I do enjoy the excitement of the holidays, although now I focus on the gift giving rather than receiving... but there is one other time of year that I anticipate with the same joy and wonder as I did when I was a child:  Back to School shopping!

I can spend hours (and often do...) walking slowly up and down the aisles looking at all the different colored pens, decorative notebooks, and colorful folders.  I try to envision a color-coordinated office desk complete with vibrant paperclips (we no longer have to settle for the industrial bland silver ones), a variety of post-it notes in several shapes and sizes, and a well-stocked pen holder filled with all the writing instruments I can imagine:  ballpoints, roller balls, gel pens, and flairs, along with bright yellow highlighters and several well-sharpened pencils.  Oh... the creative possibilities that are available right at my fingertips!

Yesterday I made my first back-to-school purchase (yes, I will go again... at least once) and I had a blast.  Many of the items are annual purchases, stocking up now while the prices are low.  But I also found a few new supplies to add to the cart.  Here is a quick run-down of my loot:

  • Index Cards (with box):  I LOVE index cards!  They are the perfect size to store anywhere, and they provide just enough space to jot a few notes.  I use them when I teach the research paper project - but I also use them when I teach a novel study:  I have one notecard per lesson for pertinent questions or information I want to discuss in class.  I also think I might use these for my own writing this semester, perhaps using them for scene development or character traits or any other worthwhile notes.
  • Colorful Sharpie Markers:  remember when the sharpie only came in black and only in one size tip?  Well, no longer!!  There are neon sharpies, pastel ones, and I think there is even a pack showcasing "80s colors"  Right now I do not have a project in mind for these... but I am hoping that having them in my house will provide inspiration for a use.
  • Packs of Pilot G2 gel rollers (the unofficial moleskine pen):  I have experimented with these pens for the past month or so and have decided they are the perfect pen to fit my needs.  Unlike a ball point pen, these pens literally glide across the page, with no skips or scratches.  The ink dries quickly (I have yet to have a smudge problem) and it does not bleed through the page (a huge requirement for me).  They now come a wide variety of colors (purple is my favorite) and I know that I will have no problem using these to their full advantage.
  • Crayons:  I have always loved to color - and now that I have a two year granddaughter I have a valid excuse to buy them!  Not surprisingly my favorite is the box of 64 crayons with the built in sharpener in the back, so that way I can have a perfect point all the time (yes... I am a bit OCD) BUT.... this year they have something new:  packs of 8 in a single color family!  I purchased the pink pack for Brynn, but they also have 8 shades of green, blue, yellow, sand, pastel, and gray.  I have a future blog post that will showcase the gray pack I purchased.
  • Pen/Pencil Bags:  I cannot pass up the opportunity to stock up on supplies when the prices are reasonable --- and come fall, the variety of school supplies will dwindle.  So, when I saw these cases in purple, I just couldn't resist.
  • Glue Sticks:  One of my favorite hobbies is to make greeting cards using rubber stamps and various embellishments.  I also use lots of card stock that requires adhesive.  At the price of 2 sticks for 50 cents, I knew I had to squirrel several away.
  • Notebooks:  I saved the best for last.  I have never been fond of spiral bound notebooks - the spiral begins to unwind and catches on clothing or skin... and tearing pages leaves a snow flurry aftermath - but composition notebooks do not lie flat and make writing for long periods of time quite difficult.  These notebooks are perfect!!  They are composition style, but the front cover is soft and malleable, meaning I can fold it back and still write with ease.  The pages lie flat and are college ruled, a perfect combination.  And the fun, decorative colors are an added bonus.  At only $1.97 a piece, I bought several and may return for more.
While several friends and family members feel I am a bit crazy to indulge in this kind of retail shopping therapy, I simply cannot imagine that I am the only one.  Do any of you anticipate this time of year as much as I do?  I would love to hear....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Iowa Summer Writing Conference - FABULOUS!!

Old Capitol Building...
University of Iowa campus
I have just completed my second writing adventure and it was absolutely amazing!  I have learned that a college campus feels like a home away from home to me... and I relish the experience.  I have definitely found my adult summer camp ... and I hope to return for at least one writing course every year (one woman in our class will celebrate her 75th birthday next month.  I would love to be alive enough to participate in this camp experience when I am her age!)

The Spiritually Journaling class was exactly what I expected:  probing writing prompts that help me to focus on the important priorities of life.  The instructor was absolutely perfect in every way:  knowledgeable, informative, with a calming presence.  The students in the class were varied, from all over the country and across all aspects of faith - but despite the diversity, there was a high level of respect and compassion for everyone.  As an added bonus... I was able to attend this class with my darling sister-in-law, which made it all the more special.

While many of the prompts were quite personal, I did share this draft essay with the class and received some positive feedback.  I thought it might be appropriate to share here so you could get a flavor of the experience.  The idea came from the book, Journaling as a Spiritual Practice by Helen Cepero in which she outlines the spiritual compass:

  • East = Sunrise or New Beginnings/Transformations
  • South = Sunny or Creativity/Imagination
  • West = Sunset or things that need to be "let go"
  • North = "true north" guiding principles that lead us to our purpose in life

Letting Go of Old Beliefs
I have often read in the Bible, and heard often preached, that we are not saved by works but by faith.  Yet I have lived most of my life striving to earn favor by working hard, with perfectionism leading the way.  I considered it the ultimate compliment if my mom would say, "I don't know how you do it all?"  Surely I have value now I thought.  Surely I am good enough I thought.

But I don't feel good enough - ever.  There is always someone who does it better or faster or easier than I do.  And I have come to realize that living a life focused on good works has only caused me to become weary, disillusioned, and empty.

I need to bury the idea that I have value because of what I do... and I need to adopt the concept that I have value simply because I am.  But that is far easier said than done.  Admitting value of self requires love and acceptance of self... which I feel is rooted in the conscious awareness of God's love and acceptance of me.  But there are all kinds of old tapes playing in my head that try to counter that truth.

My elementary years were spent at a parochial school.  We attended chapel every Friday and the Bible was our only history textbook.  I LOVED school and earned many gold stars for memorizing scripture (interesting... even then "good works" were reinforced as a way of earning favor...).  But the God I remember being taught was the God of the Old Testament - the one who had so many "thou shalt nots" and who didn't seem to think twice about exacting revenge on those who failed to keep His commands.  "Fear the Lord" was always preached... but as a young child fear meant "be scared"... and I was.  And I continue to be.

I do not remember hearing "God is Love" until I was in my early 30s.  In fact, I never realized the Old and New Testaments were even connected.  I liked the teachings of Jesus:  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"  ... "Turn the other cheek" ... "Do not worry" ... I even liked the command to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul.  But ... then the mental tape comes in with ... "or else He will exact His vengeance on your life."

I think I have come to an important crossroads in life.  I simply do not have the mental nor physical resources to keep on living this relentless life of works.  But I believe... no, I know.... I will not find the peace I am searching for until I reconcile this discrepancy of God's character.  I want to believe He is a God of unconditional love.  I want to believe He loves me just as I am.  I want to believe that He longs for me to love and accept myself.  I want to believe that I have value and purpose and there is a way to marry the desires of my heart (which He put there) with a vocation that helps others (which He mandates).

Lord, I do want to believe... please help my disbelief.  Please reveal your true character to me and help me to erase those mental tapes forever.  Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Insightful Week...

Many of you know that I have been struggling with the idea of calling myself a writer.  My hands still sweat as I type that statement.  But this week I have had  to confront this issue head-on.... and this morning I feel as though I have direction.  Indulge me as I record the events of the past few days so that in the future when I have doubts about this decision, I can look back and review.
  • On Monday evening a dear friend, who has a vested interest in my teaching career, admitted that she feels I am being called to write and I need to pursue that calling.
  • On Tuesday morning I read in Galations 6:1 (The Message translation) - LIVE CREATIVELY, FRIENDS ... and I was dumbstruck!  It never occurred to me that living creatively was scriptural.  It sounded too whimsical .... not serious enough.  Could it be that my recent desire to focus on a bit of fun and color and childish dreams was exactly what I needed to do?
  • On Tuesday afternoon I visited with a counselor who is trying to help me sort through a few of life's recent changes.  After a lengthy conversation, he spent the final fifteen minutes convincing me that I need to write... and in fact, that I need to call myself a writer.  But what would I write?  What would people think?  What if I am never published?  Wouldn't that be a waste of time... a waste of life?  So many fears to work through... which is exactly where he said I needed to start writing.
  • On Wednesday morning I followed his suggestion (because after all, I am a good student and try to complete all assignments).  I journaled a lot ... about 2,500 words.  But ultimately, I discovered that I have two basic fears:  #1 --- I do not trust that God loves me enough to have me "succeed" doing something that I love.... and #2 --- I fear rejection:  rejection of what others might think while I pursue this little hobby... and (if it gets to this point) rejection of my work by other writers or publishers.  In other words, that I will be discovered to be a fraud.
  • This morning I was once again pondering (perhaps obsessing...) this idea of Molly the writer... when I realized that too many confirmations have presented themselves for me to ignore:
    • I have had no less than five validations that I should pursue this vocation ... and not all of them from faithful friends who would encourage me no matter what (but I so appreciate their support and kindness!!)  
    • Scripture reveals that I am not only to live creatively ... but also to follow my heart's desire (Psalm 37:4 - Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart)
    • The realization that it would be in keeping with the Lord's character to use my passion to help me face my biggest fears - and to learn full dependence upon Him
    • The A-ha moment when I became aware that my calendar has already been cleared to transition into this part-time career.  This academic year I will only teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays which leaves three weekdays free to write.  The Lord knew all along.
And so I have come to realize that if I say "no" to writing, I am living in disobedience to His will for life right now.

I do not know what I am going to write... but I am going to learn to trust Him to inspire me.

I do not know if what I write will be of interest to others... but I will trust His timing.

I do not even know the end-goal... but I will rest in knowing that He will guide me one step at a time.  And for now... I just need to take that first step.

So... today is my first day of orientation.  I need to create some organization systems and I need to brainstorm some possible projects.  I leave for Iowa City tomorrow to take my second writing course for the summer, Spiritual Journaling, and when I return early next week, I will begin my new job.

The jitters are there.... but so is the excitement of a novel adventure (yes... pun intended... sorry!).

Friday, July 5, 2013

Personal Reflection: Nouns vs Verbs

While I may teach English and my students believe I invented the concept of proper grammar.... I assure you that this post has nothing to do with that dreaded subject.

But I have been reflecting on these two parts of speech for the past several months, ever since I took Patti Digh's online class, Verb Tribe for Teachers last summer.  And while this notion I put before you is not my original idea, it is a culmination of my musings.

Nouns and Verbs are essential in our English language, but they serve two different purposes.  Nouns name.... or to put it another way, nouns label.  If, for example, I say the noun "table" - you will immediately conjure an image of that object.  Verbs, on the other hand, show action... or in other words, verbs DO.

And while nouns serve me well in everyday life, I have come to discover that they hinder me when I try to express my purpose in life.  For example, if I label myself a teacher... I immediately think of all the positive teacher role models of my past (those who encouraged me,  inspired me, pushed me) as well as those who humiliated me and led me to believe that I was not good enough.  And with those opposite ends of the spectrum I am left to wonder.... what kind of teacher am I?  It is often paralyzing, for I fear that I am the latter.

But if I use the verb instead... I teach... judgement seems to disappear; comparisons are not an option.  I do, in fact, teach.  It simply states the action without any reference to the quality of its performance.  This puts me at ease and allows me to accept myself.

And the same could be said for other noun vs verb scenarios.  It scares me to death to say that I am a writer, for being a writer (to me) means I must be successful and then I must ask the question, how do I define success?  A published work? Probably not good enough.  A New York Times Best-seller?  If only one time, then I would reason it is probably a fluke.  Several weeks on the best seller list?  Hmmm... not sure.

But if I say instead... I write... the pressure is off.  I do indeed write.  I write journal entries, blog posts, books reviews, personal essays, travel articles, etc.  I have never been published but somehow that is inconsequential.  I write... and that is enough.

And let's not even venture down the path of photography.  I could never call myself a photographer! Up until two years ago I never knew there was a "rule of thirds"... I always thought centering the subject was the point of a good portrait.  I took a photography class two summers ago, but rather than encouraging me in my new hobby, the instructor made me feel completely incompetent.  Call myself a photographer?  NEVER.

But... I do take pictures.  And I enjoy taking pictures... of landscapes and nature and travel excursions.  I like to capture a moment in time in order to revisit those memories again and again.  I like to edit the image and try to bring out the emotion of the moment and not just the subject matter.  If I were to focus on the noun I would sell my camera on Craigslist tomorrow.  Instead, I need to focus on the verb.

Yes, nouns serve a purpose in life, but they also label, and with labels come judgments - and harsh judgments can prevent me from moving forward with life.  So instead, I will choose to define myself by my daily verbs and take those necessary baby steps towards progress, attempting to enjoy the process rather than solely focusing on that final result.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Yesterday's photo prompt for the 31 Things project was "morning" ... but since I did not review the list until late afternoon, I had to improvise.  I did like the idea of capturing my morning routine for this period of life, however, so today I set out with that purpose in mind.

My morning perch
Not a great picture, I must say, but it is somewhat of a challenge to deal with the low light situation while at the same time trying to keep three dogs at bay.  This is, however, my typical a.m. perch:  coffee on the shelf within arm's reach, laptop precariously balanced on the arm of the well-worn couch, and the local news providing white noise in the background while I review emails, check Facebook postings, and begin my morning writing routine.

During the school year I typically wake up around 5:15.  I make the coffee the night before and set the timer for 5:00 so that it is ready to pour when I walk into the kitchen.  I then walk downstairs into the family room (or as we fondly refer to it as the "dog" room) to let out the pooches, ensure they have food and water, and take my proper seat.  In the summer I am not quite the early-riser, getting up anywhere between 5:30 and 6:30 depending on what time the dogs bark (they are more reliable than a rooster, I am certain).

The banner I had in my
room throughout
high school
and college
While I have never considered myself a morning person, I much prefer to leisurely start the day rather than sleep an extra few minutes and then have to hit the ground running.  I typically spend about a 60-90 minutes here in this solitude (except for the occasional canine snuggle) slowly acclimating myself to daylight.  I take time to review the events of yesterday... typically in my morning pages; quiet my soul with a devotional reading and prayer; and then begin to plan the day's activities.

Lately I have followed this routine with a morning walk.  It can be beastly hot in Kansas in the summer, and I find the early morning hours to be the most comfortable of the day.  I'm not sure if I will continue this portion of the routine when school starts.... but it works for now.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Writing Dreams and Routines

Over a year ago a good friend and I joined Ali Edward's class entitled 31 Things.  The concept was simple yet profound.  Ali offered a list of 31 items (one for each day of the month) that we were to photograph and then write a journal entry.  Talk about a class that is right up my ally!!  I have had a three year dream of marrying my photography endeavors with my writing to create a photographic essay, so to speak. Well, that enthusiasm lasted the sum total of one day and then life happened and the list was filed away.

But July 1st marks the beginning of the second half of the year and I thought it would be a great time to resurrect this project.  Now, I believe that rules are to be followed and a classroom syllabus is more than a guideline, but in an effort to lighten up a bit and have some fun, I have decided to view the list as a starting point rather than a mandate set in stone.  The prompt for "writing" does not appear until day 23... and there are some prompts that I may not use at all.  But that's ok.  I am slowly returning to the joy of taking pictures, and I am moving forward on my photo essay dream.

I will not necessarily post all the entries on this blog, but I thought today's was relevant and fitting.

I have maintained a fairly consistent morning writing routine for the past few months.  I complete my morning pages (the wonderful idea of 'brain dumping' first thing upon waking up as Julia Cameron describes in her book, The Artist's Way) and then review two daily devotionals and journal my thoughts and prayers.

All of this activity takes place on line.  I have fully embraced the computer format of writing (I can type much faster than I can hand-write and therefore my fingers can keep up with my brain)... and I even use YouVersion to supply my devotional readings and Bible Gateway to provide my scripture references.  I discovered the online journaling site, Penzu, which I absolutely adore.  For a mere $19/year I have access to unlimited journals that I can customize (to a certain extent) with my own creative design.  In addition, these journals can be password protected, if desired, and all entries can be tagged for easy reference at a later time.  This morning routine works well, and I have no desire to attempt to fix what is not broken.

However... I have long harbored the dream of regularly writing at an outdoor cafe:  sipping on a hot espresso, pondering the next line to write in my moleskine notebook, joining the tradition of other great writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.  And of course, if the cafe were in Paris... along the Seine... with the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance... that would be magnifique! Quite the romantic notion indeed!

But I have this odd hangup of not wanting to sit in a restaurant (or cafe) by myself.  I feel so self-conscious and wonder what others might think of the odd eccentric sitting in the corner writing by herself.  And I also have this hang-up with perfectionism:  wanting every pen stroke to be of genius quality rather than brainstorming dribble.  And so I have allowed these negative thoughts to prevent me from pursuing this simple pleasure in a writer's life.

However.... last summer my son was kind enough... and innovative enough... to transform a homely spare bedroom into a Parisian paradise.  The walls are textured to resemble European stucco; the table and chairs are reminiscent of an authentic bistro; and the small details of red geraniums and lamppost lighting captures the true essence of a literary cafe.  I have my writing dreams within my grasp, and yet I have ignored them.... until now.

While I love the speed and seamless perfection of a word processor (the delete key is my best friend), I think that handwriting with old-fashioned paper and pen causes us to be more methodical... so that our fingers cause our thoughts to slow down and capture small sensory details rather than merely fleeting ideas.   And handwriting is as much an act of artistic expression as it is a means to record thoughts.  Handwriting is as unique and personal as our fingerprints --- readily identifiable by those who love us. When I was a scrapbooking consultant I would ask students:  wouldn't you rather have a recipe handwritten by your grandmother rather than one that is typed?  And the answer was always a resounding yes.. handwriting captures personality, individuality and emotional make-up; a keyboard only captures words.

And so I plan to revisit the Paris room on a regular basis.  I plan to sit at the bistro table with a cup of coffee... or glass of tea... of goblet of wine... and stare out the geranium framed window and slow down my thoughts.  I plan to daydream for the first time in years... and write nonsense or whimsy in one of my many journals with different colored pens and have fun doing what I love to do.