Monday, September 30, 2013

You Always Feel Better After Cutting the Grass

This evening I cut the grass until the setting sun dictated that I needed to stop.  There's something about a freshly mown lawn that conjures a deep sense of peace within me.  In fact, if everyone on my street manages to have their grass cut at the same time, I find myself transported to a nearly euphoric state of OCD bliss.  All is right with the world.

Perhaps it's the smell of fresh clippings and gasoline, the perfect lines criss-crossing the yard, or the methodical sense of progress.  Perhaps it's how the drone of the engine drowns out all other distractions, including my own thoughts.


Tonight as I raced the sunset, I remembered one summer afternoon when I was twenty.  I was grappling with a complex young adult issue (a.k.a., boy troubles) and had hoped to speak with a friend.  She wasn't there when I arrived, so I got back in my car to return home.

On the trip back, I noticed an elderly woman cutting her grass.  Her gait was slow; her yard was large.  I still vividly can remember how a green leaf was stuck in her white hair, as if she just had a tussle with her apple tree.

I stopped, feeling slightly foolish, and asked if I could help.

That's how I met Anne Hahn, a woman in her 70's, a grandmother, a teacher, a missionary, and an incredible listener.  An hour later, I left her house with the subtle realization that I was the one who was helped by the offer to cut her grass. 

"You're breaking up with your boyfriend?  Well, cut the grass, then.  You always feel better after you cut the grass," she had told me. 

Fifteen years later, her words still ring true.

It's a simple rule of life: regardless of how good or bad you felt before, you always feel better after cutting the grass.
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Image compliments of Idiolector (flickr.com)

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Recounting the Simple Pleasures. Like Broken Vending Machines.

It's good to recount life's simple pleasures.  Let me tell you two totally fickle, yet immensely satisfying, good moments that happened to me yesterday.

One, I entered a contest on Facebook for a local resale shop by answering what clothing item I'm most eager to wear now that it's fall.  (Boots, hands down.  Or, would it be "feet" down?  I digress.)  At any rate, my entry was selected and I won a twenty-five dollar gift certificate for typing "boots."  That's five bucks a letter, people!

Two, after teaching my classes, I stopped by the vending machine to purchase a soda.  Yes, I know that the sugar content is egregious and that the calories are empty, but as a non-coffee drinker, an occasional soda is my sole source of caffeine, and therefore, a necessary evil.  Drink it and enjoy.

When I selected what I wanted, the vending machine dropped down not one, but two bottles of Cherry Pepsi.  Sweetness doubled! 

My eight-year-old, ever the opportunist, has encouraged me to visit this same vending machine tomorrow -- and every day thereafter.  Maybe it's broken, she said.  Maybe you always can get two!

It feels good to delight in such unexpected, simple perks.  It reminds me of a friend's recent Facebook post: "You know your life is functioning at 100% practicality when a friend gives you a brand new vegetable peeler and you squeal and gush as if you've just won the lottery!"

Go, vegetable peeler, go, I say!

Tell me: what simple pleasures have you encountered recently?

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Monday, September 23, 2013

What Students Need. What We All Need.

I regularly meet with students during office hours as part of my job.  Students come to talk about an essay, a speech, or a grade that they received, but by the time they leave, we've often also talked about their home life, a relationship, or some other aspect of their life unrelated to class.

When I first started this job nine years ago, I only thought of these scenarios from my side of the desk.  I wondered how my students were perceiving me; I worried whether I seemed polished and pulled-together and knowledgeable. 

As I've matured, I've consciously worked to switch this mentality and instead focus on them: What do these students most need from me at this moment?  Direction?  Someone to listen?  A challenge to step it up?  Words of encouragement?

It's flipped how I teach.  Daresay, it's flipped how I think and interact with others in most situations. 

Of course, I still wonder how I'm perceived at times.  I still want to be liked.  I'm still affected by criticism.  I'm not immune to any of these things.  Because of this, I remind myself that my students, like every other human, feel the exact same way. 

When I was a nineteen-year-old sophomore taking a 400-level rhetoric course, I once met with my professor after class.  I certainly don't recall every text we read that semester, and I can't remember the bulk of what we discussed during that exchange.  But I vividly remember one specific detail: that afternoon, beneath the towering oaks outside of Sackett Building, she told me that I was smart.

She pinpointed what I needed to hear at that moment, and I've never forgotten it.

I hope that I can do the same.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

This Ride Ends, Right?

You're familiar with this amusement park ride, correct?


I've always enjoyed The Whip, which is good, because lately I feel as if I've been living on one.  The week rushes past, and just when I think I'm about to catch my breath, I'm spun around a weekend and throttled down the next straight stretch of another week.

Right now, I might resemble that kid on the ride who you watch warily -- the one who looks like he's not entirely enjoying himself, the one who looks a shade sick -- but rest assured, I'm going to make it.

So let me take a moment to find some steady ground and tell you some of my random observations and happenings from the week, in no particular order:

1) I've been doing some informal research on U5 soccer games.  Very informal.  In other words, I've watched two children walk off the field, crying, and I've come to the over-generalized conclusion that there are two distinct types of five-year-old soccer players: those who cry because their team loses, and those (like my daughter) who cry because the parent responsible for bringing snacks for the team forgot to do so.

2) It's house rental season for us, which means on some weekends we rent our house to alumni who return to town for home football games.  In a nutshell, we clean our house to the point that it looks like we don't live in it, and for roughly ten minutes I bask in the glorious orderliness of an entirely swept, scrubbed, vacuumed, scoured, wiped, washed, and Windexed home before I turn over the keys.  (It's a nice ten minutes.)

3) I've signed up for another half marathon, which means that I ought to start running on a consistent basis instead of merely thinking about running on a consistent basis, which, for some reason, never actually whips me into shape.

4) I ran into a former student on campus who I haven't seen in three years.  (She's now a senior applying for law school.)  In our brief conversation, she relayed several memories from our class -- small, seemingly unimportant stories and words of encouragement that I don't recall sharing, but she remembers and still appreciates.  I left the exchange feeling extremely heartened, reminded once again that we don't always know the impact we have on others.

5) Summer and fall have been playing tug-of-war in my neck of the woods.  I think fall, finally, has won.

6) I'm reached a major cosmetic crossroads.  It's been nearly five months since I've gotten my hair cut, and when it's humid I'm suspecting that I'm beginning to resemble Mufasa.  Here's the quandary: Should I simply get a trim to tone things down a bit?  Dare I take off significant length?  Will I merely fall into paralysis of all grooming-related-activities and let another month slide by as the "Circle of Life" theme song resounds in my head?

What about you?  Have your weeks been whipping by?  Wishing you a smooth and safe ride ahead!

Image compliments of Steve Snodgrass (flickr.com)

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Learning Undeterred Enthusiasm from a Kid's Bake Sale

My children, entrepreneurs that they are, decided to launch bake sale with the kids next door.  It's amazing what kids can accomplish when they put their minds to it.

They created a sandwich board, allowing my middle daughter to be walking advertising.


They established an outdoor kitchen in our front yard where they iced cake pops.  (I consider this to be a measure of integrity in their culinary practices, similar to when a chef prepares a meal in full view of his or her diners.  Find a blade of grass in your unevenly-iced, ridiculously-sprinkled cake pop?  Well, you saw it coming.)





They set up shop and prepared their signage with great attention to proper spelling.


Then they shouted, "Bake sale!"  They tirelessly cheered and blew whistles and honked a bike horn that I eventually had to confiscate to maintain my sanity.  It never dampened their spirits that our road suddenly morphed into The Road Not Taken, at least not on this particular afternoon.


In their eyes, no cars, no problem.  Just more cake pops for them to eat themselves.

One more thing that I like about kids: undeterred enthusiasm.


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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Inch by Inch

This past week I realized that I've been viewing the start of the semester as an end to so many good things.  Since summer has ended, I've figured that that my idyllic and carefree life has ended as well.  I'm mourning the death of freedom.

Of course, this logic is terribly flawed for two reasons.  One, the start of the semester means the start of many good things.  It signifies fall, and changing leaves, and pumpkin-scented candles.  It signifies opportunities to wear cute jeans and cozy sweaters, and watch football, and have more structure in my life.  (And you know how much I love structure, my friends.)

Two, the day-to-day workings of summer, while wonderful, aren't as idyllic and carefree that I've already made them out to be during my three weeks of being back to work.

Even so, I've struggled to find my groove with the whole work-life balance.  We might be on the verge into falling into some back-to-school rhythm as a family, but we're clearly not there yet.  I've also been psyching myself out because the grading (All. The. Grading!) is about to begin.  Over the next twelve weeks, hundreds of papers and speeches and emails will pass through my hands, and here I stand, poised, wondering, How will I ever get it all done?  How do I do this?

Yesterday the answer struck me: Do it one task at a time.  Do it hour at a time.  Do it one day at a time.  Miles are covered even when you move inch by inch.

There's enough grace for today, I remind myself.  When I get there, there will be enough for tomorrow, too.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Just a Typical Toy Car


Title: Just a Typical Toy Car

Subtitle: Not certain about this, but I think they're bypassing some safety regulations.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Girls that My Girls Can Look Up To

The last date that I went on was with my eight-year-old daughter.  Days before the school year began, I treated her to dinner at her favorite restaurant and then spent the rest of evening with her at the Secret Keeper Girl Crazy Hair Tour, an event that helps to connect moms and daughters and teaches girls about healthy self-image and the value that God has invested in her.

Have you ever noticed that when another respected adult speaks into the life of your child -- even if this other adult is saying exactly what you normally say -- that your child sometimes can hear this outside voice more clearly?

Despite the fact that this might make you want to slap your forehead in parental dismay, it's true.  Something clicks when kids hear their parents' messages reinforced from outside sources.  (Especially if that outside source happens to have streamers and music and skits and giant glowing beach balls and prizes launched from a stage with an over-sized slingshot, as was the case with the SKG Tour.)

One of my daughter's favorite parts of the event -- and mine, too -- was a live performance by 1 Girl Nation.  Yes, we met the girls and bought their CD at the end of the night. Yes, we've rocked out to the CD while driving around town in our minivan.  Yes, my girls have hosted dance parties with various neighborhood children who sing along and jump on our couch while the lights are turned off and a toy disco ball spins in our basement.

And yes, if you must know, I've joined them.  I've got serious moves, and I'm almost always up for a good dance party.


It's safe to say that my oldest daughter has now added "rock star" to her list of prospective careers.

What I love most about 1 Girl Nation is not just their energetic performance or catchy sound, but rather their message, which hinges on avoiding regrets and living for Jesus while you're young.  Our younger generation needs to hear this message more.  When it comes from five vibrant, friendly, and talented young women -- all of whom have some notable vocal chops -- it's a bonus.

Let's face it, if our kids look for less desirable examples and messages in pop culture, they'll find them in spades.  (Ahem, a certain recent "twerking" debacle.)  This doesn't have to be.  There are girls in the entertainment industry who our girls can look up to.

If you're a mom with young daughters, would you check if the SKG Tour will be visiting a location near you? 

It might turn out to be the best date you go on this month.
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Image used with permission: www.1girlnation.com

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Monday, September 2, 2013

She Saw That It Was Good (enough).

The irony isn't lost on me.  I've only been back to work for one week, and I already felt like I needed this long weekend.

What did you do last week -- as in, really do? a voice inside my head seemed to say.  The college classes that I teach just launched, so I haven't been doing any intensive grading yet.  Two-thirds of the child population in my household started school, so I've only been responsible for my three-year-old in the afternoons.

And yet the week induced a head-hit-the-pillow-but-I'm-too-tired-to-easily-fall-asleep exhaustion, which, I'll admit, is an especially unfortunate form of tiredness because (hello!) your body seems unable to relinquish control and yield to the one thing that would fix the predicament.

One night last week (I forget which since the days blurred together in a haze of it's-back-to-school-week-and-we-have-absolutely-no-semblance-of-routine) I served chips and salsa for dinner.  Not with dinner, for dinner.  Just chips and salsa.  But it was homemade salsa with just the right amount of fresh cilantro, which somehow made me feel a little better about myself as a human and life in general.

It was okay to be tired.  Everything in our lives -- our entire daily schedules -- had been overhauled.  I had just met and learned the names of 100 new students.  Within the span of two days, all five members of our family succumbed to pesky late-August head colds.  It would have been strange if I wasn't tired.

But, of course, these things didn't stop me from looking over my house and noticing that I really needed to dust, or feeling frazzled that I was behind on laundry, or bemoaning the fact that I kept stepping in the same sticky spot on the kitchen floor, or being bothered that I was serving non-meals as meals.

This weekend, I've been able to catch up on a few things: the sorting of paperwork from my daughters' schools, the planning of my classes for the upcoming week, the answering of emails, the scraping of an unidentifiable sticky substance off my kitchen counter.  The progress, admittedly, makes me feel better, but I'm also finding ways to be okay when I'm in the midst of the mess.

Life never will be perfect, at least not this side of heaven.  Our work never will feel as if it's entirely finished.  We can -- and should -- rejoice in good enough days, too.  Chips and salsa sometimes works for dinner.

Let this be said of us:

Some days, she looked over her household -- the happy, sweaty-headed kids who still needed their baths, the pile of books beside the chair, the loose shoes at the door, the dishes in the sink, the floor that was way overdue for a good scrubbing  -- and she saw that it was good. 

Good enough.


Image adapted from Grunge Textures (flickr.com)
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