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The February Challenge: 30 for 30 (minus 2)

February: Shortest month in days. Longest month in perception.


Historically, I slog through February. Unlike January, which largely is a gray month offset by the shiny promise of a new year, and unlike March, which largely is another gray month offset by the ceasefire of a spring break week, February is a gray month that's not offset by much except that (a) it's only 28 days long, and (b) its tipping point balances on the fulcrum that is Valentine's Day. Regardless of whether you love, hate, or feel indifferent to that holiday, at least it offers ready access to chocolate.

This February, I'm trying something different. Something bold. Something ambitious. This February, I'm determined to write here daily. I repeat: I'm putting myself out there and committing to daily writing for a month.

Now, to the tens of loyal readers who visit and enjoy this blog, you may wonder, "Why? Why do you feel the need to do this, much less announce it?"

I'm so glad you asked. I've thought about my rationale carefully, and I have a few reasons:

1) Exhibit A: The Name of This Blog. The title of this blog is Robin Kramer Writes. The title itself is a noun, but "writes" is a verb. It's an action -- an action I enjoy, an action that helps me to make sense of life, an action that I want to continue developing as a skill set, and an action that hopefully encourages others. These all are beautiful benefits of regular writing.

Even though I understand these benefits mentally, during the past few years, I've pumped the breaks on prolific writing. Life has been weird, and occasionally weirdly hard, and I haven't felt like saying much. That's okay. But right now, it's time for me to reconnect with the part of Robin Kramer that actually, ahem, writes.

2) Self-Amusement. If you'd watch me write a blog post, you'd probably see me smiling. Sometimes I make myself laugh. On rare occasion, I make myself laugh hard enough that I snort, which would be embarrassing if I weren't having so much fun. I'm not going to lie: I find myself amusing at times. Although that might sound prideful, it's not. It's good to enjoy yourself, your own company, and your own thoughts.

Just last week I wrote a post about procrastination. Once finished, I read it over and thought, "This sounds like you, Robin. That's your voice." It had been a while since I've felt this pleasure. It's been a while since I had an 'atta girl moment when I hit publish. I've missed the habit of wrangling the thoughts that swirl in my head into words that appear, fully-formed into sentences and paragraphs, in this virtual space. I want to recapture that voice. I like that voice.

Philip Lopate, a master of personal narrative, shares in a popular essay (which I assign to students each semester that I teach writing) that strong writers don't wallow in self-loathing, thinking they're too dull or broken, or inflate themselves with self-smugness, thinking they're too great. Instead, they tend to be characterized by self-amusement and self-curiosity. To me, this seems like sage advice for both writing and for life.

Self-amusement and self-curiosity? That sounds fun.

3) That Sounds Fun.
I recently finished reading That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs.

It's conversational and refreshing, like drinking a Mason jar of sweet tea while sitting with a friend on a porch swing. One recurring theme woven through its chapters is that being an amateur -- a dabbler in pleasurable hobbies during our leisure time -- has been lost in our quick-paced, for-profit, highly-driven society. This loss is keen, indeed, because our hobbies (and the childlike wonder and fun those hobbies create and cultivate) enhance the quality of our lives.


I love this. When I shut the book the final time, I took inventory of my own amateur hobbies and loves: reading, writing, speaking, and pretending that I'm the host of my own HGTV show as I dabble with DIY projects, specifically. Then I thought: Be brave, Robin. Give yourself a reason to write more.

That sounds fun. A writing challenge will be fun.

4) February is Only 28 Days. I've selected the shortest month for this daily commitment. February is just 28 days. It's like an ESPN 30 for 30, minus 2. It's like January or March, minus 3. I already told you that February is a month I habitually slog through, so I might as well blog through the slog.

In other words, 28 days is do-able.

So, let's do this. I imagine some posts will be short. That's okay, probably good even. The daily discipline will build mental muscle for me, and hopefully, it will be enjoyable for you whenever you're able to read along. (And if you ever smile, nod, laugh, or -- best yet -- snort as you read, please drop me a comment. I'd love to hear from you.)

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February photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

The Uncalled For, Yet Entirely Necessary, Snow Day


I haven't been the most disciplined human recently. And when I say recently, I refer to the past three years. Take this exact moment, for example. I'm lying on my kitchen floor, angling my body so I'm lined up in the slant of sunshine that's streaming through my sliding glass door. I'm like a cat. I've claimed the warmest, brightest spot, even if the kitchen floor itself is hard.

Sunshine in Pennsylvania during the month of January is worth lying on a floor for. Even a somewhat dirty, gritty floor.

Now, about not being the most disciplined person: I'd explain the past three years as a whole, but it would be easier to explain this past Tuesday specifically. The 72 students in my 3 college classes turned in assignments on Monday evening. I earmarked Tuesday for grading: two hours for each class, six hours total.

As I settled into bed Monday night, I told myself, "You can do this. You can get all the grading done tomorrow."

Narrator: But she could not do this.

Because something happened on Tuesday. I went to the gym in the morning, which was a nod to productivity and health, even if I immediately undid those benefits by going to the McDonald's drive-through on the way home and ordering a large Dr Pepper. (Light ice. Always light ice.)

When I got home, I collected trash from all the trash cans and rolled the bins to the curb. Then, after folding the wrinkled load of laundry that had been forgotten in the dryer, and transferring the wet load of laundry that had been forgotten in the washer (giving each piece of clothing a healthy shake to unclump it from the hardened mass of damp clothes), I started a new load of laundry.

I remembered that I wanted to make a crock pot meal for dinner. I seasoned and prepared chicken thighs, storing the remaining pieces from the grocery bulk pack into freezer bags and labeling them for another meal. (I knew Future Robin would thank me for this foresight.) With chicken now cooking in the crock pot, I double-checked the refrigerator and pantry to make sure I had all the necessary remaining groceries for the week's remaining meals. While I was there, I organized the pantry. I changed the laundry when I heard the dryer stop. I cleaned the litter box and carried the bag to the trash bins outside before the garbage truck arrived.

I responded to student emails as I ate an early lunch, with the niggle forming in my mind: Robin, you have actual work to do. You know, like, your job. Those 72 assignments waiting for your detailed, articulate feedback, remember?

I suppressed that voice and vacuumed the whole house instead, upstairs and downstairs. Then I finished the novel I had started that weekend. (Just to clarify: reading it, not writing one.)

Somehow, it was two o'clock. The house was vacuumed. Four loads of laundry had been folded. The pantry was ordered and the chicken already smelled terrific. Apparently, there are no limits to what I can accomplish when I'm supposed to be accomplishing something else.

It was time to bite the bullet, so (obviously) I solved the day's Wordle and then finally hunkered down to grade. The afternoon hours unfurled. At some point, one kid came home from school. I greeted her, kept grading, then picked up another kid up from basketball practice an hour later. I made a quick salad and rice to serve with the chicken. We cleaned up the dishes. I returned to my grading, now plowing through the second class' work.

At that point, I remembered I had a hair cut schedule for that evening, which had seemed odd -- yet otherwise benign -- at the moment of scheduling the prior week.

Salon receptionist: Can you do 7:45 Tuesday?
Me: At night?
Salon receptionist: Yes.
Me (thinking):  I don't leave the house beyond 7 anymore. What kind of tomfoolery is this?
Salon receptionist:
Me: That sounds fine.

Clearly, Past Robin had not factored Present Robin needing Tuesday night to be free for grading purposes when scheduling this appointment.

When I got home -- looking mighty fine with my new haircut, I might add -- I dragged the trashcans from the curb to the side of the house, breathing in the sharp, crisp January air that felt thick with the potential for a snowfall. The kitchen still smelled like chicken and rice when I stepped inside. I approached my computer to open the third batch of assignments, checking the clock and calculating that I could finish by 11 PM, maybe sooner, probably later, depending on how well I could concentrate, knowing that concentration hadn't particularly been my strong suit this day.

That's when I saw the breaking news: the local schools would be canceled the next day for pending inclement weather. My kids cheered. A substantial storm was coming. And -- surprise, surprise -- the university then announced cancellation of on-campus activities, which meant there would be no classes the next morning for me.

Turns out, we got a blanket of snow on Wednesday, but we weren't pummeled as the weather forecasters had predicted. Had the district and university administration not pulled the trigger Tuesday night in precaution, we likely could have (should have) still gone to school and campus.

Did I dwell on this? No.

Nor do I try to dwell on why I seem unable to buckle down and sustain hours of active thinking as well as I used to. Am I overly stressed? Is it just the January blahs? Am I simply older and more tired? Am I clinging to any residual survival-mode bad work habits that I formed during Covid?

I don't know.

But I do know that, upon hearing the news of the cancellation, I emailed my students to outline our changed plans for the week, shut my laptop, and went to bed. As I settled to sleep, I told myself: "You can do this. You can get the remaining two hours of grading done tomorrow morning."

Narrator: Thankfully, this time, she could. And she did. But, on her uncalled for, yet entirely necessary snow day, she also started a new novel. (Reading, not writing one. Remember, she's not the most disciplined human these days.)

Clean House, Clean Slate


After spending a week in California for my husband's job (which, for the record, is precisely the amount of time it took for me to fully adjust to Pacific Time), we're back home in Pennsylvania. Bags are unpacked, laundry is folded, and the kids returned to school. I'm prepared for the new semester to start on Monday, even if my Eastern-Standard-Time internal clock is taking a few days to properly kick into gear.

We're back to regular life.

I enjoy the first moment when I return to my house after any length of time away. Daily surroundings, which become so familiar that I sometimes don't notice them anymore, appear momentarily foreign. This particular trip we left the morning after Christmas and returned late in the evening on January 3. At some point during that timespan, I mentally had progressed into New Year Mode. I was thinking start-of-the-year thoughts: reduction of clutter! simplification! new habits! But my house, untouched since the morning of December 26, held the frozen, heaping relics of Christmas: boughs of holly, treats in the pantry, a small pile of well-meaning yet badly-executed gifts with their gift receipts waiting to be returned, and one neglected, exceptionally dry Christmas tree. I merely glanced in its direction and a truckload of needles fell off.

I devoted a day to getting back in order. Joel hauled the Christmas tree to the curb while I swept behind him. I put away ornaments, replaced the Chistmas tablecloth with a regular one, and stowed seasonal decorations in seasonal bins. I took down Christmas cards and hung up the 2023 calendar on the fridge. The house feels lighter now. Somehow I feel lighter, too.

I'm grateful that seasons shift. I'm thankful for their bookend processes -- putting up, taking down -- that simultaneously usher in change and keep a familiar life rhythm year after year. While I love being in Christmas mode, it felt especially hopeful to take everything down, as if my heart were correlating a clean house with a clean slate.

Here's to a new year ahead. May we approach it with fresh eyes, full hearts, and great faith.

Looking Ahead to 2023

 

 
Whatever this past year has held -- whether joys or sorrows, steadiness or unpredictability, fulfillment or disappointment -- we can walk into 2023 trusting God walks with us. He's faithful. He's good. His ways are wise and loving. I'm so grateful.

See this picture? This photo was taken this morning. My small-town central Pennsylvania self has made it to the West Coast, and that windblown hair is compliments of a misty Pacific Ocean breeze.

Here's to a new year. Here's to unexpected moments, fresh experiences, and hope. Here's to a God who's powerful enough to create this beautiful vista and intimate enough to know every windblown hair on my head.

I've had a lot of questions for God this past year, many along the lines of "what the heck?" It's been that kind of year, honestly. And yet, as we stand on the threshold of a new year, I sense that if God's mercies are new morning by morning, how extra sweet those mercies will appear as I reflect back over my life, year by year. Even those "God, what the heck?" years.

Happy New Year, my friends!
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