Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Because 2:00 a.m. logic is never logical

It's taken a decade to discern this trend, but my children never get the stomach bug during the day.  No, in our household, vomiting episodes are always cloaked in the darkness of night.  This might be a blessing in disguise, of course.  (Who actually wants to be fully cognizant when scrubbing throw-up off your hallway carpet because your child didn't make it to the bathroom in time before exploding?)

Besides, once you've comforted the child, cleaned the mess, scrubbed yourself with Lysol, danced a little heeby-jeeby dance as you contemplate the billions of germs likely still teeming through your house, taken a quick shower because you know you're now teeming with germs, and laid back down to bed, you're free to confess your deepest fears aloud into the black void:

Nothing in this house will ever be clean again.  Never.  I think we need to burn it down.

And your spouse will grunt in agreement, because, quite frankly, at 2:00 in the morning, burning down your own house seems a perfectly logical response to vomit.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

That Time I Vandalized. (A Confession of Sorts.)

I enjoy finding unique or humorous signs, like this flyer once posted on campus.  Apparently crow harassment is a thing.


Then I found this gem advertising a local a bowling alley that might be a fine place to celebrate your birthday, but isn't recommended to check your spelling.


When pumping gas, I came across a scripted message from an anti-smoking advocate:


And then there's this noteworthy sign -- a local favorite -- that I pass daily on my way home from work.  Poor guy.


I laugh at signs, I take pictures of signs, I admire the humor of people who creatively alter signs, but I've never actually vandalized a sign myself.

Until recently.

An opportunity presented itself, and with the possibility of becoming part of a legacy like 22 Times When Vandalism Won, I couldn't refrain.  You see, someone had set a case of soda -- FREE soda! -- on a radiator at the bottom of a stairwell at an exit in a well-traveled campus building.  It came with a disclaimer: Please be advised that these sodas are past their expiration date.

Who does this?, I thought.  Who wants to bequeath expired soda to a thirsty soul so badly that they'd go through this trouble, rather than, say, pouring it down the drain?  My amusement grew each time I saw it.

Finally, I couldn't contain myself.  As I walked down the stairwell later that week and saw the case of soda, unsurprisingly still untouched since my first viewing of it, my heart began to pound.  I was going to do it.  I was going to vandalize that sign.

I pulled my pen out of my bag and neared the soda, brainstorming what I'd say if someone caught me.  I hadn't even determined what I'd write, but there was no time to deliberate, not when I was poised on criminal activity.  I just started writing.  These sodas are past their expiration date....

... and may poison you.


It wasn't even funny, and even worse, my mind malfunctioned mid-vandalism.  How do you spell poison?  With an oi or an io?  My focus veered off course: what if I accidentally write Poseidon, as if the Greek god also disproved of expired sodas?  Why does the word poison suddenly remind me of high school French class?  Poisson means fish, right?  Is it le poisson or la poisson?  I never could remember which article to use!

I tried to pull it together (Just write, Robin! Just vandalize! This is your moment of rebellion!), but my handwriting grew cramped, making my "s" awkwardly snakelike.  The entire message was lackluster, small, and easily disregarded.

I had failed.  I missed my opportunity for vandalism fame.

The next afternoon I noticed that the case of soda, along with the sign, had been removed.  I hoped I hadn't hurt anyone's feelings.  It had been a kind-ish gesture, after all, unloading eleven free cans of expired soda onto a warm radiator in a stairwell.

But perhaps my vandalism still serve its purpose.  After all, nobody was poisoned.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Draft Workshop (#DemoDay)

An editor once accepted a piece of my writing, but suggested I should start the piece with the final paragraph.  I had worked on the article for weeks, and in my mind, the words were set.  I couldn't envision a different version.  The writing was in place, permanent.  I didn't want to break it apart, parse out new sections, consider new transitions, or kill any sentences I had labored over.

The article was done. I wanted it to stay done.

But I took the editor's advice.  I reconfigured the conclusion as the introduction, found a different stopping point, and filled in the gaps that inevitably form when you bust up a piece of writing.

The end result was a better article.

I tell this story to my students when they revise their own essays.  Today, as we hold draft workshops and students cluster desks together to share their work, I even wear my #DemoDay tee shirt.  I ask them to practice compassionate demolition -- to thoughtfully enter these written spaces, not with sledgehammers, but rather with their pens and comments, with an eye for what's good, what's best, and what's still possible.

Sometimes, after all, whether in home design or writing, you need to bring a degree of destruction in order to create something more fitting, more orderly, and more beautiful.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

They're Better When They're Homemade

When my husband travels for the week, my neighbor invites my daughters and me to her house to make homemade pierogies.  She's from Slovakia, and I can tell simply by the way she speaks that Slovaks know how to make pierogies.  This is her thing.

Unceremoniously, she pours flour onto her counter, carves out a well, and cracks eggs into the hollowed space.  Our children take turns kneading the dough, and once it's the right consistency, we run it through the pasta press. 


We cut squares of dough, add the potato and cheese filling, and seal each peirogi by crimping the edges with our fingers and the prongs of a fork.


The kids run off to play, and my neighbor and I sit together, talking and drinking tea.  She boils the pierogies and sautees onions on the stove top, and then we call the girls back into the kitchen as we scoop steaming pierogies onto plates.


They're better than you can imagine.  They're little pillows of potato and cheese wrapped in dough, slathered with butter and love and more butter.  I am now forever ruined; I can never return to boxed pierogies from the grocery store freezer aisle.

They're always better when they're homemade.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

For Such a Time as This

As we drive to get groceries, my youngest daughter tells me that Dr. King was 39 when he died.  I'm floored by this.  Thirty nine years old.  Somehow, I mistakenly had stretched his lifespan to early or mid-forties; 39 years seems too brief to leave as permanent of a mark on history as Dr. King did.


I'm still contemplating how he lived only one year longer than my current 38 years when my oldest daughter speaks.  "Mom, if Dr. King hadn't been born, would someone else have done what he did?"

I pause for a moment and finally answer yes, I believe so, but perhaps differently in method, or timing, or results.  I try to explain in a way my daughters would understand: when Dr. King lived, multiple forces were at work.  The discontent surrounding the mistreatment of blacks had grown too severe for people not to act, not to speak out.  Many players, both everyday citizens and others in positions of greater authority, were in place.  Dr. King's particular abilities -- his articulation, his ability to cast vision, his drive and discipline, his willingness to lay down his life for what's right -- it all coalesced at this time, within this precise context, when the country desperately needed and was poised for change.  Being a principled and visionary and godly man, Dr. King devoted his life to bring about that change.

If he hadn't been born, I speculate, the Civil Rights movement still would have happened, but it might have unfolded differently.  Perhaps more militantly.  Perhaps not as quickly.

I think of a verse in the Old Testament book of Esther when Esther, upon becoming queen during exceptionally tumultuous times of Jewish persecution, is advised, "Who knows if you were made queen for such a time as this?"  In other words, Esther was told, "What if your life was designed for this exact moment, for this exact role, for this exact point in history, because God knew that you'd be a person who wouldn't remain quiet, a person who'd bring relief and deliverance to your people?"

A Jewish woman born four centuries before Christ.  A black man born in Atlanta in 1929.  Both were born for such a time as this.

Our lives may not be as celebrated as Dr. King or Queen Esther, but today I'm motivated as I remember that I'm born for such a time as this, too.  Our lives -- no matter how small they might feel as we shop for groceries, go to work, pay our bills, get the mail, interact with our neighbors, raise our children, or stand up for causes we believe in -- are designed to be lived well.  To live justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.

We're born for such a time as this.  I want to do it well.

* * * * *

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."  

Dr. King | New Covenant Baptist Church | Chicago, Illinois | April 9, 1967

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Unplanned Day Off

On Monday my oldest daughter explains how a false fire alarm at her middle school caused students to be evacuated to the parking lot and relocated to the elementary school across the street.

On Tuesday she sends us a text from school: "There's an early dismissal today."

I arrange to leave campus immediately so I can be home for the girls' earlier arrival, and I respond to her text in jest, "Yesterday a fire dismissal, today a snow dismissal.  What's tomorrow?  A hurricane?"

My husband offers the briefest response and texts us both a volcano emoji, which certainly would warrant a day off from school.  But since volcanoes aren't prevalent in central Pennsylvanian topography, I feel like we're safe.  On a scale of 1 to 100, I'm 100 percent certain that school on Wednesday won't be cancelled because of a volcanic eruption.

I didn't think about ice, though.

But that's what did it.  Ice was the culprit that led the school superintendent to leave us a cheerful message early this Wednesday morning about "being safe," and "staying warm" and "getting extra rest," which is code for "Parents, proceed to scramble and figure out the logistics of your now more complicated day."

I hadn't planned on having my three children with me today, you see.  I had planned on teaching my morning classes and having the afternoon to write recommendation letters and review new student rosters.  I had banked on having time to do First Week of Classes Stuff so I could navigate these opening days smoothly.

But ice storms can, and do, unsettle the best laid plans of mice, men, and college lecturers.

So today, instead of writing recommendation letters and planning ahead, I'm making Chex Mix, referring squabbles between children, folding laundry, and sweeping my kitchen floor.  It's an unexpected way to spend a Wednesday afternoon, but ice storms happen.

At least it wasn't a volcano. 

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Getting Life In Better Order


The morning after Christmas my husband flew to California for work.  He returned late last night.  I'm not sure why this happens, but I adopt a nocturnal lifestyle when he travels.  After the girls went to bed each evening while he was away, I spent my wakeful nighttime hours on one task: cleaning.  (Okay, on two tasks; I also watched more episodes of Downton Abbey.)

But let me tell you about the cleaning.  Friends, I cleaned All The Things.

I organized my kitchen pantry, rearranged shelves in my garage, purged my closet, sorted my kids' clothes, tossed out miscellaneous plastic toys, earmarked items for our next garage sale, and streamlined medicine cabinets.

I trashed dried-out markers, sharpened dull pencils, filed recipes that I had clipped and hastily stashed, managed my address book, mended a few garments, reunited Tupperware bottoms with their tops, and threw out clumpy nail polishes.  I cleaned nasty soap scum off my shower curtain.  I rid my fridge and freezer of suspicious leftovers.  I kept on top of laundry.  I always remembered to empty the dishwasher.  I put away Christmas decorations.

All the while, my heart sang happy songs about organization and decluttering.  By the time we reached New Year's Day, my house had lost a few pounds, like it was an overachiever ahead of the game in terms of its New Year's Resolutions.

When I couple these housecleaning accomplishments with the productive hours I spent setting up my course websites and syllabi yesterday, I feel like I'm on top of 2017.  Granted, I'm only four days deep, but I'm currently killing it. 

It's good to get life in better order.  It's good to simplify and streamline, to take inventory and plan ahead, because there will be days (and weeks) when life will be complicated and messy, and I'll feel terribly behind, and my kids will badger me to serve nachos for dinner and I'll comply because I won't have any fight in me.

None of us know what the upcoming year holds, but today, this fourth day in January, I'm hopeful.

January is a month to reset.  It invites us to consider both where we've come from and where we're going.  In January, I always have a newfound resolution to not just tidy up the externals, but also to freshly seek God and His wisdom for my life, which He gives freely to all who ask.

The home is in better order, and my heart is falling into better order, too.  Welcome 2017.


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