Tuesday, October 29, 2013


This morning I was walking from my car to the office. I was mostly looking down, thinking. I wasn't unhappy, but I was thinking about a number of things that weren't particularly happy, either.
* My hip and elbow still hurt from the hard fall I took on Saturday. A part of me thinks I'm acting like a baby since the injuries weren't that bad, but I had just bumped both on the car getting out and was made aware, again, that I am too old to be falling out of cars onto pavement.
* I am behind in several work projects. Some of them I like (the book project with Jeff) and some I am struggling with (readings for a global and cultural awareness/physical science class I am to teach next fall). Some have deadlines (two papers for NCTE next month) and some just need to be done soon (grad school recommendations for former students).
* I was thinking of family birthdays coming up, Thanksgiving, and Christmas--all need me to do something.
* EEK. I just remembered I have stake training to prepare for on November 7.
So, I was walking along, thinking about these things and the cold wind.

When I pass people, I generally look up quickly to give a small smile. This morning, one of those quick looks found the face of a student with a HUGE, genuine smile. She said "Hello!" in a cheery voice. I smiled back. I had to. Her smile was so big that to do anything else would have just been rude. And I felt my spirits literally lift. My face felt stiff, but my spirits felt lightened. I smiled the rest of the way to my office--and I started thinking about smiles and how they make people happy and how they are contagious.

I did just a little inquiry on smiling and found out some interesting facts:
* They have lots of health benefits (including decreasing stress, increasing productivity, and killing pain).
* A smile can increase attention (think of a classroom of smiling students--they would all be attentive!) and improve chances for success, since others see a smile as a mark of confidence.
* A smile can take about three years off your age and makes you more attractive.
* BUT the benefits only work if the smile is genuine. Fake smiles don't use the same muscles (especially around the eyes) and don't have quite the same effect. So, we should try to make our smiles as genuine as possible.

And then I started thinking about things that make me smile. And I thought I would put this link in here (laughing babies always make me smile) and some pictures of some of my grandchildren smiling (they always make me smile, too) with the hope that this post will bring smiles to readers and make them healthier and happier, too! Maybe we can spread smiling around a lot more. Here's a smile for you!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

fall leaves

When I was a little girl in elementary school, I loved to collect fall leaves. I would use them in all sorts of crafts. My favorite use was ironing them between sheets of waxed paper to use for fall place mats.  (I would glue the sheets of leaves onto large pieces of orange or brown construction paper). I don't know what my mother (or anyone else) thought of them. I thought she'd think they were beautiful (maybe they were--but my mental picture of them is a little fuzzy) and that I was creative. Thinking from a mom's perspective now. . .  maybe she was happy for me to be busy?  (I seem to remember I always had to either have a book or a project or something. I wasn't the sitting still kind of child unless there was a book.) Or maybe she thought about the mess. I don't know. I do know that one late fall, I arrived home from school to face a question: What is the smell coming from your room? It turned out to be a bag full of rotting leaves I had collected and then shoved under my bed for use later--and forgotten. I wasn't allowed to bring bags of leaves ito the house anymore.

I hadn't thought of these experiences for years. And then, last week, walking across campus I saw these leaves on the ground:

Something about the size (these are big leaves, like the ones from my childhood) and the shape (maple?) brought all the memories of my childhood leaf-colllecting rushing back. The nostalgia was enormous. How long has it been since I jumped in a pile of leaves, purposely stepped on them to hear the crunch, studied them for the perfect blend of color and shape, made something with them--even a table decoration? A long time. I'm glad I have the memories (and glad they come back), but sometimes I miss what is left behind, too.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

life's traumas

My daughter sent me this picture last night:

It is her daughter, not quite 2 years old, having a little sad time, because, after all, life is REALLY hard when you are one year old.

Seeing her made me smile. I don't know what made her sad--she wanted a cookie and mom said no? she wanted a toy and her sister wouldn't share? she's tired? The reasons seem trivial to me, but they are not to her, and even though I smile, I know that.

Instead, I think of how I respond to some of the things that happen in my life that I am not happy about. They are bigger than not getting a cookie snack or getting to play with a coveted toy. . . to me. But in the eternal perspective, I wonder if they really are that much bigger? Or am I (symbolically) collapsing in a chair with my head in my hands over a cookie? I should think about that sometimes when I am having my own (adult) version of this image. In the meantime, I will keep smiling over the dramatic sadness of a little child.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

looking closely

When my grandson was visiting me, he decided that we needed to be detectives. We had "mysteries" to solve! And we needed magnifying glasses to solve our mysteries! We finally found some after visiting several stores, and we used them to look closely at the world around us. We didn't end up solving a lot of mysteries, but we had fun looking at leaves and bugs and tree trunks.

He's gone back home now, and I've been thinking about how interesting it was to pause and look closely at the world around us. I spent some of last weekend at Daniel's Summit on a retreat with our writing project site. As part of our time there, we walked around the mountain and then wrote about what we saw. I tried to look closely and here are some of the beauties I observed, things I might have missed if I hadn't been looking closely. I wrote a haiku--even though I am not good at them--to push myself to reflect on what I thought about what I saw.

Water warm or cold
bubbles and melts and edges.
Beauty in details

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

random things

Sometimes things catch my eye. And I wonder.

I was driving behind a truck carrying a big bunch of outhouses. I kept my distance (except to take the picture) because I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if that one strap, holding that last outhouse on the edge of the bed (see it hanging over a bit?), snapped. What would happen to me? I assumed (hoped?) they were empty, but they might not have been!  I was thinking about the guy(s) who loaded them on and what they were thinking: "Hey, if we stick this one last one on, hanging off a bit, but roped to the others, we could save ourselves some time. Maybe save us another trip!"

I saw this lunch container one day on the grass. I didn't think much about it. After all, it seemed like something someone might have missed picking up if they'd been sitting on the grass, eating lunch. I thought they would be back to get it when they realized it was missing, so I left it there. The next evening, as I walked to the parking lot to go home, I saw the box, the same one--I could tell by the remnants inside. It was sitting on a retaining wall, right there, obvious, as if it were saying "Look at me! Here I am!" But it was a significant distance from where it had been on the grass. Not really in the same area at all. That's what got me thinking (and stopping to take a picture): why was it so far from where it had been the day before?  I started wondering about the person who'd carried it there. They could have thought: Someone will miss this. If I put it on this wall where it attracts attention, that person will see it and remember and be glad to have found what was lost. (it was a very nice container). But what if that person didn't walk by that corner? The box had originally been left in a spot that allowed for lots of paths going to and from. What the person thinking to pick it up and carry it some distance before leaving it here. Had they really planned to take it home and then thought better of it? 

A bigger wondering is this one: 
 I saw this staged battle between green and brown army guys on the short wall that borders the stairs to lower campus. Someone had obviously arranged the scene for people who passed by. As I stopped to look, and then lingered to take a picture, I couldn't help but wonder: was the person watching to see how people reacted to the display? Was I part of a study or television show or YouTube video? I didn't see anything suspicious, but as I walked away and for many days later, I looked wherever I went to see another display of army guys in battle. After all, the person who put them there had to have more, right? 

So, I am wondering about wondering. I am glad I paused these three times to take a picture of something that made me wonder. Too often, we go through life really fast, not taking time to notice let alone wonder about the world around us. I know I do. I walk fast, thinking of my next destination, my next obligation. I walk with phone in our hands, texting or emailing or facebooking as I walk. Not really in the here and now. Not smelling the smells of the season or seeing the little smile-sights around me. In some ways, maybe the people behind these three shots knew that and wanted to give others a moment to stop, think, and smile. I did. And I am reminded I should do that more often. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

it's that time again

There are signals during the year, sights and sounds and smells that make us recognize the coming of a regular event. I love the sound of Christmas music before Christmas, the pumpkins that dot front porches in autumn, the smell of barbecue that shouts "Summer!"

I've been in a rush lately, so even though at some level I knew it was coming, I had missed the signs that another one of those regular events was upon us. Until I saw this yesterday:

It's the week of the big rivalry game, so, of course, all the statues on campus are wrapped in plastic. It's as much a part of the ritual game as tail-gating and painting faces blue, I think. I don't know if the rival campus has to take similar measures. I hope not, but I know emotions run high at these times. It's both sad and funny. Sad that competition moves some to deface property and funny that we identify SO strongly with an institution that a small group of people from that institution playing a game with a ball and helmets comes to represent the whole. Whoever wins is the best. Let's not mention cancer research or graphic design contests or numbers of students who go on to graduate school or any of the other criteria universities generally use to measure quality. It all comes down to this: pigskin and grunts and tackles and passes and touchdowns.

And a bad part: whoever wins this time has bragging rights for a l-o-n-g time, since the two teams won't meet annually any more. Sad in some ways. But I can look at it this way: we can save a lot of plastic that doesn't have to wrap about Brigham and Carl.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I found this puzzle piece on the sidewalk a while ago. It intrigued me. All by itself. Without its partners or friends or neighbors. I wondered how it came to be there, alone. I wondered what it was part of. I picked it up, carried it to my office, and put it on my desk where I see it everyday.

 And in the days since, I have thought about it. I wondered if I was part of a project. You know. . . drop puzzle pieces around campus and see if people 1) notice them, 2) pick them up, 3) find the other pieces and put the puzzle back together. I have seen other ideas like this. A desk on a city street, with a sign encouraging passersby to sit and write a letter. A brick wall in sad part of town and paint, inviting sharing of six-word memoirs. Am I supposed to be looking for others who have pieces to this puzzle? How would I go about that? And even if I don't ever find the picture that this piece is part of, I still wonder.

What is the big picture? It's hard to tell from my piece. Maybe it's the grass in the background of a picture of a lion. Maybe it's the field behind a small white farmhouse. It could be most anything. By itself. And how is the picture complete without this section of grass or field? I wonder.

Friday, March 29, 2013

slowing down

I have two primary ways I can drive to work: the faster way and the slower way. Of course, I can find other routes if I have to run errands on the way, but these are the two most direct for regular days.

In most of the years that I've worked here, I've taken the faster way: four-lane roads with speeds of 60-65 (despite the posted speed limit of 50 most of the way). Lately, I've been taking the slower way: two-lane roads with speeds of 30 (despite the posted speed limit of 35 most of the way).

The first route goes past businesses, shops, office parks. The second past houses, schools, and churches. The second route has two school zones where I slow down to 20 mph. Despite that, I probably only add 5 minutes to my commute.

I started driving the second route because all my children (and thus, grandchildren) moved out of the state. Since they are gone, I mail a lot of packages: birthday gifts, books, candy for holidays, surprises for spring break or Halloween--the kinds of things we would do something fun for if they were still here. The nearest post office is along the second route, just as I am getting past the houses and churches and schools. As I started driving that route more frequently to mail packages a few times a month, I started noticing something different about me when I drove that way. I felt happier. I felt nicer. I got to work in a better frame of mind.

At first, I resisted the urge to come the slower way, worrying about time. But as the difference became more noticeable to me, I began to choose it. Yes, I have to go more slowly. Yes, I have to slow at school crossings--and sometimes even stop to let children cross! But on the fast road I am immediately thrust into the rushing pace, the jockeying for position, the judging of which lane will be faster and allow me to get through the most green lights. I find myself, on that route, competitive and irritated at other drivers. That doesn't happen on the slower route. I've decided the five minutes are worth it for the rest of my day.

Today, I was a little later than usual leaving the house. I only saw two boys walking to school. They were probably late, but they didn't look unhappy about it. They looked like brothers, similar in looks except one bigger than the other. They had backpacks on that looked almost as big as they were. Their hands were stuffed in the pockets of their hoodies so that their fists stretched the pockets down, the ways boys will do and mothers despair over. I watched their walk for a moment. They weren't running, but they had that boy walk that I can only describe this way: each step was an exclamation mark. Purposeful and full of energy this last day of school before spring break.

I'm glad I drive the slower way. Today, those two boys gave my morning a lift. That's worth five minutes.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

paying attention

Usually when I walk across campus I am so focused on what I'm doing next or the meeting I just came from that I don't pay much attention. One of my nieces who is on campus practically had to physically bump me to get my attention recently!

But yesterday, the weather was SO nice and the air so full of the promise of spring that I slowed down a little. I decided I didn't need to walk as fast as I usually do (idea for another posting: different ways people walk--I've been noticing!) and just soak in the good feeling.

As I walked, I noticed lots of twigs on the ground, probably broken during the winter storms and buried under snow until now when they are uncovered by spring on the not-quite-spring grass. The picture probably is difficult, but I took one anyway.

The sticks made me think of walking with my grandchildren. When I walk with them, we look at the things on the ground. A lot! They notice and want to explore. Their goal isn't to get somewhere. Their goal is the experience and all they can pack into it. If' I'd been with Gabe right at that moment, I know we would have picked up the sticks. They would have become digging tools or tapping tools or canes (yes, we'd have to bend over to use them) or even swords (I hate sword fights with such short "swords"!). We would have had a whole world of play in these two sticks. And the point wouldn't have been to hurry past them and get to the next meeting/office/task/appointment. Some days I need to remember that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

vegetables and life

I don't care if it's good for you, because, to me, kale has always been a four-letter vegetable.

I know green is good. Dietitians tell us so: Low in fat. High in fiber. Rich in vitamin C, magnesium, folic acid, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals??? Okay, stuff that's good for you.

All those food charts show it.

Environmentalists tout GREEN. Even Kermit likes green (even though it's not easy). 

And I like salads. I like lettuce and spinach and broccoli and peas and green beans--RAW. NOT cooked! Green and cooked is a combination I cannot stomach--literally.

When I was a girl, I would dread dinner. I could smell cabbage cooking as soon as I walked in the door from school and my feet would drag. The pile of cooked spinach on my plate looked like something dragged out of the ocean--stinky, slimy, and disgusting. Brussel sprouts? Gag and double gag. Don't even let them touch my other food because the taste is contaminated. I can't count the number of times I stared at the green cooked food on my plate and saw in it my fate: going to bed early. And I hated going to bed. Even as a baby I wasn't a good sleeper, so just lying there was torture. But even that couldn't make me eat the cooked greens.

My parents told me to at least try them. I did. And I would gag. That made them upset and I'd go to bed.
They said to eat them while they were hot instead of waiting until they had gotten cold (coagulated is more like it). I tried that. And I would gag. Off to bed. It was the story of my childhood, told on a regular basis. Green cooked veggies for dinner=going to bed early. Simple plot. How happy to have beets for dinner! Carrots? Loved them. But anything green and cooked? NO!

Now that I am older, I am a little better. Mostly I can choose to eat raw over cooked. And, if a random pea shows up in the chicken soup at Brick Oven? Okay. I can pretend I don't see it and swallow quickly. But two peas in the same spoonful? Absolutely not.

What is it about cooking that makes green things inedible to me? Surprisingly, cooked vegetables are easier to digest than raw ones, so you'd think that would help.  Contrary to urban myths, we don't lose that many vitamins in cooking--so they are about the same, health-wise. Some vegetables must be cooked to be safe for consumption (potatoes and yams), but most can be eaten either way. With some vegetables, like broccoli, vitamins are enhanced cooking. But none of this positive information changes how I feel or tells me why the cooked versions are so abhorrent to me.

Cooking alters chemistry and texture. Okay--this may be getting at my problem. Part of it may be texture. Cooked equals mushy, or at least softer. Since, even as a baby I didn't eat green vegetables, though, I don't think that is it completely. I eat other soft things--bread and applesauce. One study suggests people like me have higher sensitivity to some kinds of bitter flavors that we taste in these vegetables. But that isn't the difference between cooked and raw. I don't know. It just may be that's how I am.

I like vegetables that are made into desserts: pumpkin pie and carrot cake. Maybe if someone could come up with a way to have broccoli tarts that taste like apple pie, I would get my daily greens up to the triangle recommendation.


Friday, March 22, 2013

reading today

I went past a Wendy's the other day and saw this on the wall.

It made me realize how the visual technology available to us--not just online, but all around us--makes reading a more multi-layered activity than it was in the past. This sign, for instance, can be read at least two ways (partly because of lack of punctuation and partly because of the visual choices of color):
* Quality is our recipe: Service that doesn't cut corners.
* Quality service that doesn't cut corners is our recipe.
The second reading allows for more emphasis on the play with recipe, but the colors suggest the first reading. And it occurs to me that other readers might punctuate these words differently, even if they keep the same structure. It's kind of fun actually (this was written by the nerdy me).

It just made me aware that advertisers are using all sorts of ways to have us read that keeps us engaged--and sometimes even wondering (which I guess is good for them!).

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Wikipedia says this about hope.
Hope is the state which promotes the belief in an outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Despair is often regarded as the opposite of hope.[1] Hope is the "feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best" or the act of "look[ing] forward to something with desire and reasonable confidence" or "feel[ing] that something desired may happen".[2] Other definitions are "to cherish a desire with anticipation"; "to desire with expectation of obtainment"; or "to expect with confidence".[3] In the English language the word can be used as either a noun or a verb, although hope as a concept has a similar meaning in either use.[4]

I found this image for hope when I was searching the word.

And here is Dickenson's poem (the original thing I was searching for) about hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

For me, hope is the first hint of green on the willow branches along my street. Willows seem to show signs of spring first here, and last night, driving home, I saw that the bare branches had turned spring green (partly yellow, but still green). I literally felt my heart lift. Hope. To me, it is the first green hint of spring.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Women as professionals

I was reminded (as if I needed reminding) at a recent conference I attended that being a woman and a professional at the same time carries special burdens that men don't deal with.

I know there are emotional differences between men and women that can cause us to respond to professional responsibilities differently. I know that there are institutional and cultural barriers to what some would call full equality in the workplace. I don't even know, given our different temperaments, if full equality is totally possible. I think full opportunity ought to be, though. I appreciate the recent discussion in the news from Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook) about discussing these concerns more openly. I like that she said this: We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.

I know that a lot of progress has been made in terms of men taking on some of the traditional jobs that women have taken care of (house cleaning, cooking, child care, etc.). I see that most noticeably in my children's lives, but I see it, too, in the ways my husband has taken on household responsibilities to accommodate my work schedule and work loads. But at the conference, I was reminded, in a very visual way, that there are just some differences still.

A young woman, scheduled to speak in that session, carried a baby in a carrier to the front of the room as the session began. As she was introduced, she rocked the carrier, and we could all hear the baby--not happy. She stood to speak, carrying the baby still in her carrier to put it on the floor behind the podium. As the young woman began her presentation, though, it was evident that the baby was not going to be happy (or quiet) with this situation. The woman apologized, told us she was unable to get a sitter, then picked the baby up (which immediately quieted her), and gave her talk. We were all charmed, of course, by the darling baby who pretty much just looked around at us for the twenty minutes her mother spoke. It was handled just right. But I have to say that I have never seen a man in the same situation. And that is my point. No matter what, we still do it double in many situations.

Monday, March 18, 2013

chocolate cake

People who know me know that I like cookies and I like chocolate (not so much candy as cupcakes and pies, etc.). I like cinnamon rolls, too. But I'm picky. They have to be just right--not dry and pretty cinnamon-y. My favorite dessert, though, has got to be chocolate cake. Now I'm picky about that, too, and I've found some pretty good ones. Some I make (I have a chocolate/coconut bundt cake that is great, and I prefer my German chocolate to the way anyone but my son makes it), but some I've found in restaurants. The Corner Bakery has a great little mini-bundt. And Kneaders has its chocolate dome. Yum. But when I was in Boston last month, I stumbled upon another favorite at Maggiano's. Their chocolate zucotto cake. Maybe my all-time favorite.

So good, you need to see it: cake in 3D
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF7EzLErzTU (in case the link doesn't work. You really need to see this cake!)

In Boston, Maggiano's was right around the corner from my hotel, so I went there the first night. I wanted something chocolate, I asked how the cake was, the waitress said, "Good!" She was understating the yummy factor! Chocolate-y and moist and just the right mix of dark and sweet.The problem is that the cake is so big, it takes two days to eat it!  I must confess:  I went back once more before I left and I was only there 4 days.

Now, imagine my surprise when my first night in Vegas last week I took a walk and found a Maggiano's there! What should I do? Well, I did what any chocolate cake lover would do! I ordered a piece of cake with my pasta! The only sad part was that then I got sick, so I didn't feel up to getting any more cake while I was there. I know. It says a lot when a person is too sick to eat this yummy treat that she can't get back in Utah!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wearing clothes

Back home from Vegas. After the conference ended, I had a couple of hours to wait until I headed to the airport for the flight home. I walked down to a mall (why is it that the hotels don't have any places to just sit? Oh yeah, in Vegas they want us gambling.) Anyway, I had a chance to see a bunch of people walking throughout the hotel, down the street, and in the mall. I have to say that the experience taught me that most people in the world really need to wear more clothes rather than fewer.

It was warm today, I will grant that. But really, should that be an excuse to bare so much skin, especially when the skin is winter white and dimpled with cellulite? What about the evening wear? I saw women wearing dresses that might have looked okay from the front. . . But from the back? Oh. And guys with pants below their bums, so even though skin wasn't showing, underwear was. I feel like I've have visual overload: too many images I'd rather not have in my memory.

I guess I am reminded that modesty really is the best, for many reasons. And I will think about what I look like from front AND back.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Being sick away from home

So, I am at a conference and sick. Why is it that when we are sick, we want to be home? I guess it's the comfort of our own place, our own bed, our own stuff. I could make Lipton chicken soup at home to settle my stomach. Here I have to trek across the street (really long street lights) to get chicken soup from Subway.

I'm glad this isn't as bad as the time I was in Boise. This time, I am able to attend some sessions (well, almost all of one at a time). I went to Boise to speak. Afterward (luckily, it was after), I got violently ill. I hated being in a hotel. Kept the tv on so I wouldn't hear people in the halls, and commercials for Joseph A. Banks were on so many times that I still can't hear one without reminding me of the illness--and that was a few years ago!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seeing things differently

I am attending a writing conference in Las Vegas this week. Since I attended another conference recently (General Education) in Boston, I can't help but make some comparisons.

The weather here is outstanding. Blue skies and warm! It was cold and windy in Boston.

When I walked around the hotel in Boston, I passed several old, stately churches (see earlier post). Here, I found one. It was modern, with small but made of stone with a large carving covering the front of the A-frame. Oh, and a wedding chapel.  Very different styles! Brick buildings a century old faced Boston streets lined with trees, most still bare branches at this early spring time. In Vegas, wide avenues lined with souvenir stores and casinos/hotels are bordered with tall palm trees, green.

In Boston, there are historical sites eveywhere. History is in the air. And red lines on the sidewalks lead us from one historical spot to another (Boston Commons to Bunker Hill). Here, commerce is on display, in a variety of forms. And, although I did go down one street in Boston where the old stately homes had been turned into stores--Burberry, Vera Wang--here the style of commerce is much less subdued.

That said, I have a student who comes from Vegas and loves it. I know she must see aspects of the city that aren't on display to visitors (especially those of us who don't have cars and come from the airport to the conference and go back again). I keep thinking about he love for her city and realize that like many things, the surface perception is only that: surface. Unless we live here (or Boston, for that matter), we only see what we can see in a short time and only what the city wants to share. That is a little like people, too. When we see someone only in one setting (class, church, work), we might not realize that our perception is limited by that setting. W e might not realize that people a much deeper and mo complex than the one face we see. We might not realize the challenges and concerns that color the rest of their lives besides the obvious ones we see in the situations share with them.

Vegas reminds me not to limit my perception to only the part of a city (or person) that I can see.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I associate strawberries with spring, particularly with Mother's Day. Maybe it's my childhood. When I was growing up, the first strawberries of the season in Alaska seemed to come out in May. I don't remember strawberries any other time of year, even though I know they can be grown in other places all year round. Either they didn't truck well to Alaska or they cost too much for our family to purchase. Whatever the cause, I still associate strawberries with spring. So, looking forward to spring as I am, I couldn't resist when I saw boxes of strawberries at the grocery store. I've been eating them like my grandchildren do, like apples. They are so big they take about 6 bites to eat! And when I stand at the kitchen sink and look out at the yard still in the between-winter-and-spring stage, I can close my eyes, take a bite, and taste spring.

It's a treat to have a bowl of sliced strawberries, sprinkled with a little sugar. I like strawberries mixed in things, too, like salads (yummy spinach salad with strawberries). I especially like strawberry shortcake (and even more when I can drizzle chocolate syrup over it all). But I like strawberries in pies and other desserts. In our smoothies, I leave the green part on, something I don't eat when I eat them whole. There are just so many ways to enjoy them! My husband used to play this game with our children: if you were on a desert island and could only have one vegetable, one fruit, one meat--what would they be? Well, strawberries would have to be one of the top two (apples might be tied, not because I like them better but because they're so versatile).

I read a little about strawberries.  Probably the strawberries we eat aren't like the first ones because those were wild and "woodland" strawberries, while we eat "garden" strawberries today. The French first cultivated them, but even the Romans wrote about them. They symbolize "perfect righteousness," and the whole plant (according to wikipedia) has been used to treat depression. In other places, I learned that strawberries are excellent anti-oxidants and can prevent muscle fatigue and cause exercisers to burn 100 more calories than people who didn't eat strawberries.

Lots of fun strawberry facts on this site: http://www.londonstrawberryfestival.com/facts.htm

Monday, March 11, 2013

inkblots and other topics I didn't know you could write about

I just got a book by Margaret Peot titled Inkblot: Drip, Splat, and Squish Your Way to Creativity.

I have to admit, I first ordered it because I wanted to think more about creativity. Is it possible to develop creativity? I want to think that it is, but I am constantly brought back to reality by my own limitations in this area. If I want it so much and can't get it--is it possible that some people have it and some don't? The author, though, seems to assert that we can all be creative: "Creative people do not wait around for their muses to show up. They go to their drawing boards (or computers or laboratories) on a daily basis, whether or not they have an idea. When your body and mind get in a habit of being creative on a schedule, you are much less likely to be creatively blocked." Hmmm.

Two reactions to the book: First, I am fascinated by what Peot does with inkblots. The pages crawl with dragons and seahorses and gardens and other more-Rorschach looking images. I get the psychological ones that look like brains (and brains exploding), but I would never have imagined the other.

Second, she writes a whole book about inkblots, about making them and drawing into them, about how to look at them to see possibilities. And I guess that's what I really like is the way she encourages new visions of everyday things. I can't get away from the fact that the message of the book is so much what I try to get students to see about writing. The possibility. The need for regular work with it. The way it helps us enjoy life more. That's one reason I like the March SOL--it makes me write everyday. It makes me think about what there is in my life today that is worth writing about and sharing. And that, I think, is what makes us writers. The sitting down everyday and putting something down on paper/screen. That makes us creative in our own way. And, I think, it makes us live our lives just a little more fully than we would without some record, some push to think about the day, without some expectation that there is something in my life to think about.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


There are lots of things to love about Sundays.One of them is the chance to take a nap. Especially today, when Daylight Savings Time is back so the night was a little shorter, a nap was a welcome part of the day.

When I was a girl,though, I hated taking naps. I recognize now that part of the reason I had to take naps when I thought I was too old for them was so my mom could have a little break in the day. But I was the oldest, so I took them longer than any of the others. And I was never a good sleeper--even as a baby, I apparently didn't sleep well or long. So naps were just awful. I would just stare at the ceiling (I grew very familiar with the concept of dust in beams of sunlight). Somehow, now, though, I really like naps.I am not sure when the shift from hating naps to liking them occurred, but that's how it goes.

I decided to look up some information about naps and found this funny quote: Consciousness--the annoying time between naps. And I found a list of famous nappers on a blog that I think is pretty interesting (whole blog post is interesting and link is posted below):

  • Leonardo da Vinci took multiple naps a day and slept less at night.
  • The French Emperor Napoleon was not shy about taking naps. He indulged daily.
  • Though Thomas Edison was embarrassed about his napping habit, he also practiced his ritual daily.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, used to boost her energy by napping before speaking engagements.
  • Gene Autry, “the Singing Cowboy,” routinely took naps in his dressing room between performances.
  • President John F. Kennedy ate his lunch in bed and then settled in for a nap—every day!
  • Oil industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office.
  • Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was a non-negotiable. He believed it helped him get twice as much done each day.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson took a nap every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in order to break his day up into “two shifts.”
  • Though criticized for it, President Ronald Reagan famously took naps as well.
  • http://michaelhyatt.com/why-you-should-take-a-nap-every-day.html

Anyway, I found that there is kind of a disagreement about the value of naps. Some scientists advise short mid-day naps as a way to improve learning and attentiveness. Certainly as someone who teaches in the afternoon, I recognize the challenge some students have after lunch, not just a challenge for learning but even for staying awake. Other scientists, however, suggest that napping in the day interferes with the night-cycle sleep. I know this, too, as it can happen to me on Sunday evenings. My nap means I don't want to go to bed at my regular time, so I end up staying up a little later and then being tired on Monday morning when I should be up for work. So, I get the interruption problem.Several sites suggest that naps should be no longer than 30 minutes, which I guess is to avoid the problem of interrupting night sleep. And several sites also suggest that just resting, without actually sleeping, can provide similar benefits to actual napping.

So, I guess that tells me something. I won't feel too guilty about my Sunday naps. But I will also try not to be grouchy when other Sunday activities--meetings, service, family--keep me from a nap. But I don't know if there's anything I can do about my students taking naps in my class. One site suggested exercise in place of a nap to achieve the same mental benefits; I guess we could dance again, from time to time.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

churches of Boston

One thing I love when I travel to the east coast--especially New England--is the churches. They are everywhere: along the narrow streets, in the middle of the business buildings in big cities, right in the middle of the lives people live. In the west, churches are around houses, in neighborhoods, but more separate and spread out. Not as right there as I feel they are in New England. I love the white churches, small and neighborly, but I also love the stone churches, so stately and proud.

When I was in Boston last week, I went for a short walk around the hotel in a break between sessions of the conference I was attending. In my short walk, I found several churches and took pictures of two of them (not always the best shot as I was walking fast and using my phone!). I have in my office a poster of Doors of Boston (another subject I love to take pictures of), but I'm going to call this post Churches of Boston and relive that short walk around the hotel.

Friday, March 8, 2013

chocolate and its place

When I was walking around in Boston, I found this little house, tucked among the tall office buildings. I first saw it from the corner, so I walked down to see what it was and found that it was a chocolate store.

I couldn't help but think how appropriate that little house was. Small it may have been, but it stood out. Just as the taste of chocolate stands out. Even just a little taste, a little square, a single truffle. That little house represents, for me, the sweet silky taste after all the harsher tastes of the day. It is different and unique. It is made to celebrate and for moments that stand out. Just as this little house did in downtown Boston. Yum.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Delicious Words

I had to drive my husband to the airport at 4 in the morning, so I drove back in the dark with not many cars on the road. I started thinking about words. (I know. Weird). I thought of the word "sinister." It would look like a skinny guy with a thin, dark mustache--one he twirls until it's oily.

"Malevolent" on the other hand is young and handsome. Smooth. His teeth are straight and he smiles with his mouth but not his eyes.

A few weeks ago, one of my night students wrote how some words feel good in our mouths. I agree. I like the feel of malevolent even if I don't like the image. I don't like the feel of cacophony--and I don't like lots of noise, either.

Then I remembered this video clip bulbous bouffant. It makes me laugh because it is about the same thing: liking the sounds of words. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uuCNAwXGaQ

So, do words have flavors?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Saying No

I found this posting on a blog I follow of a teacher I really respect.

People are always going to want a piece of your time. It’s up to you to balance your time. It’s okay to say “no.”

I think I already know this. But sometimes I feel so guilty saying no. It's not even (mostly) a question of good use of time/bad use of time (grading vs. words with friends). It's more often a question of priorities: Good, Better, Best. I know all of this. But why can't I feel that it's okay, sometimes, to just say that I can't fit one more thing in? Is it because I could if I wanted it enough? I usually can fit in what I want. Usually.

I think one problem is that we are conditioned to think some things are better than others, even though the reverse may be true. It feels more productive to be doing homework (there's always a paper waiting to be drafted or revised or student papers waiting to be graded) or housework (there's always dusting to be done or floors to be swept or bathrooms to be cleaned) than to be baking cookies to take to an elderly neighbor or snuggling with your husband. Those are "extras" in life. They just don't seem as good in the American culture. Keeping busy seems better than being still--but we need to be still to hear the things we need to hear.

So, balance. Breathe. Yes. Balance. (even though I just agreed to a meeting for the only hour I had open in the day tomorrow). I will balance on Saturday. Yes. Saturday.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Random sights

I saw that someone else posted a SOL about rocks painted like PacMan. It reminded me that I had seen a similar random scene that made me smile. I snapped a photo of it--plastic army guys set up in a battle scene. I've seen my boys do this hundreds of times when they were little. I didn't think to see a display like this by the Richards' stairs on campus!   When I saw the other post about the rocks, I got to thinking:  I am really glad some people leave little happy sights for us. They give others smiles. I want to think of doing that, too. And then wonder all day who saw what I left. Did it make them smile?

 Today I saw a girl walking down the hall with a book on her head. It brought a smile.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Technology and Grandparenting

It's really cool to be a grandparent today. All our grandchildren have moved away. It's sad to not be able to drop by on a Saturday or Sunday to hold the babies or hug the toddlers or talk to the elementary school children about sports or their days. They love to meet us at McDonald's or Chick Fil A. And now we are sitting here on a Monday night with just the two of us. Don't get me wrong. I love my husband and love to spend time with him. But I've  been missing the babies lately.

So here come some photos on Facebook from the Texas kids. They were at a rodeo, but the petting zoo had the girls in tears and the boy upset because the goat tried to eat his shirt. . . Twice.

The family in Boise sent some new photos to my digital frame. They rotate through regularly so that walking through the living room I get surprised by a new shot of them having an indoor picnic on the family room floor.

Then I get a FaceTime call from the four-year-old in Arizona. He can call me by himself. He wanted to tell me he made 9 goals in soccer and show me his trophy. He can't really hold the phone steady, so I feel a little seasick after the call, but he's a good talker.

And then a good son-in-law just emailed me a short video clip of his four oldest doing their after-home-evening activity: dancing to the Wii (she don't know she's beautiful). The oldest boy said, "I'm ahead." His sister replied, "Not for long." And in the flash when the camera caught her in the background, we could see our daughter dancing the moves without the controllers.

Even just a few years ago, family moving away would mean letters that take time and photos that are almost outdated before they arrived. It's sad not to be able to see our family more regularly, but I am so glad to live today when I can "see" them in other ways and share their lives more than the distance might seem to allow.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Spring Signs

I love spring. I am so excited for spring to come that, as in year's past, I start looking for the signs very early. I found out yesterday that I am not the only one.

I was doing a little walking around some historical sites in the Boston area after my meetings had ended. At a cemetery on Bunker Hill, I noticed the shoots of daffodils along the walking path--little clusters about 3 inches high poking through melting, slushy snow. In one case, I could see a little hint of yellow at the top, and I thought, "Yea! Even in this cold, there is hope." (I didn't think of the double meaning until later.)

Even as I thought it, another sightseer noticed them, too, and gestured to the shoots, saying, "Look at that! Spring is on its way!"

I realized that I am not alone in my annual search for signs of spring. We all seek for hope, don't we?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hands and feet

In a session I attended at this conference, I saw this quote: "We do not weave the web, but we choose where to put our hands and feet." It is attributed to David Levithan.

It has made me think about choices. Sometimes, I think we do weave the web. In those situations, we are doubly responsible for our situations. But even when we don't, we still have choices to make. I can't remember the exact words, but a Holocaust survivor said something similar. We can still control how we respond to our situations.

In its simplest form, I am at this conference and choosing which sessions to attend. I am very conscious that when I pick one session, I can't learn what presenters in other sessions are sharing. I hope I choose well. But in an even more important way, I choose daily how I will spend my time, given my situation. I have meetings to attend, classes to prepare for and teach, writing to be done. Those are all parts of my job--a situation I choose for myself. I have commitments to church, something I don't have as much control over. But I can choose other aspects of my day and how to spend the time that isn't committed to someone or something else. And that is totally at my discretion.  When that is limited, I want to be more deliberate in where I "place my hands and feet." I want to
choose what will matter most and put my time where it will show what I really value. Sometimes, just being alone feels good, just doing what I want to relax or unwind. And that has its place and value, too. But in the aggregate, what do my choices say about me and what I value? I want to think more carefully about that.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Paying Attention

I've been thinking about the March challenge for a while now. I haven't been very regular in my writing lately (big mistake) so a part of me really is looking forward to the challenge of daily writing for 31 days. I know that regular writing has so many benefits. I KNOW this. I know I write more and what I write is better when I write daily. Why is it sometimes hard to do the thing that is good for us? (I'm thinking choosing salads over a burger when I go to dinner! Why do I rarely do that???)

Anyway, I read a tweet Sara Kjader sent that says, "Inspiration comes from anywhere when you pay attention." I think she was quoting an author who had visited her school, but the idea is a good one. One of my dreads for the month is that I won't know what to write about, that I will run out of things to say, when I KNOW that is not true. When I know I will be writing everyday, I pay more attention to the world, always on the lookout for the idea for today's or tomorrow's writing. That's one of the benefits of writing daily (in class, too, not just out of class). So why do I worry? Is it the effort of writing? Because there is effort.  This isn't writing just for me, because I know someone else might read it, I pay more attention. . . And I think I worry a bit more about it. It's a good reminder for me about what students feel.

So, I am in Boston. Meetings are getting ready to start for the day. I try to walk around whenever I have a little break, and I take pictures when I do. I have been thinking that I like to have a photo to write from in my posts. I feel a little awkward today since I don't have the ability with my iPad to add the photos as easily as I can do it with my PC (I can imagine someone saying something about that right now!), but I will have photos to prompt me when I return to my PC. I was thinking about this lately, too. I tried to participate in a photo challenge in February where there was a topic for each day and the challenge was to take a photo on that topic. I thought it would be a good idea, but it was harder than I'd anticipated. I was wondering if having a subject would help with the March challenge, but now I wonder if having the topic open is part of what makes this work? Writers make choices--choices in content as well as word choice and genre and topic. So if we take the choice away, are we making writing more difficult or less? It's just making me think. And, I guess  because I was so bad at that challenge, I am wondering if I can really do this one now. Do students feel this, too? If they do poorly at one writing task, does it color the next and the next? Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that? NOT ME. I WILL DO THIS. But it makes me think about student writers a lot mo than I thought it would. Good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

mountains and climbing

Like many places, we've had so much snow that it is piled into mountains in parking lots (and in mini-mountains between the parking rows). It has been a hassle to me because I can't walk through the lot, between cars and rows anymore. Instead, I have to walk all the way around if I get on a wrong row.

I recognize that in the big scheme of life that is not a major problem. However, it seems like when there are lots of little irritations, when stresses pile up, those little things like having to walk down the row and then back to my car seem bigger than they really are. I try to remember that it's not a big deal: breathe.

Last week I snapped this shot of kids in a parking lot, climbing the "mountain" of snow. Good for them. Reminds me not to fret. Not to complain. Not to whine. Instead? Climb. Play. Try.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

calling for an end to winter

Our weather has seemed extreme lately.
First, it snowed. Now, it isn't odd or extreme to have snow in winter. Normal, in fact. But it has snowed more this year than it has for a few years--and it has stayed. That is a little unusual. Not in Alaska where I grew up and could count on snow staying from October through March. But here? My experience here is that it snows, but the snow comes and goes.
Then it got cold. REALLY cold. Breaking-all-kinds-of-records cold. Coats-and-hats-can't-keep-you-warm cold. Heat-up-the-rice-bags-multiple-times-a-day cold.  And the cold stayed.
We visited some of our kids/grandchildren in Houston over the first weekend of January. When our flight was landing here on our return, I looked out the window. It was hard to tell where the ground was. Snow and frost made the landscape one level. Like Siberia. Maybe Antarctica.
Then, last week, it started to warm up. (How terrible when freezing seems like a heat wave!. And then we had ice. Such slippery ground everywhere that movement was just a slide, not a step. People falling. Cars sliding.
Sunday, we drove to my father-in-law's birthday in a blizzard. It seemed a little spring-like at our house (if you ignored the deep piles of snow and huge icicles throughout the neighborhood), but at the point of the mountain, the wind was blowing so hard that cars were having trouble. Then the snow started--heavy, wet, snow, blowing sideways. And fog. I had white knuckles the whole way. We only visited for a couple of hours (which equaled about four inches of snow) and then made our way home again. Cars were backwards in the road and crunched into the barriers in places.
And today, it is snowing again. A part of me recognizes the beauty. See?

But a part of me is really ready for winter to be over. I tell myself that January is winter. I should expect it. And I do. But in two days, January is over. And I expect a change. Hear that, Mother Nature?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

choices and paths

I couldn't help it; I had to snap the photo. Holding an ice cream cone in one hand but drinking a milkshake instead! She's my grand-daughter, so I think she's cute anyway, but when she insisted on her mom's milkshake even though she had an ice cream cone still unfinished, I had to laugh and snap a photo.

And now, looking at the photo, I wonder. Is it okay to put aside one thing for another? Do I always need to finish the one thing if another (maybe better) option comes along? Is it okay to detour a little--or do I need to stay goal oriented ALL the time, finishing one task before taking on another? Sticking with my first option when another one presents itself?

The choice with ice cream is easy. Sometimes, in life, it isn't so easy.