Five Minutes Sitting on a Bench

Yesterday I observed a colleague's teaching.  She remained inside the classroom to talk with a student after class, so I waited outside until her conversation was finished.  For five minutes, I sat on this bench.

Perhaps it seems unremarkable, this simple act of idling time while sitting on a bench, but it struck me as significant for one reason:

For five minutes, I sat.  That's it.  I didn't use the time to check my email.  I didn't try to squeeze in the grading of one additional assignment.  I didn't open my wallet to organize my receipts. 

I just sat on a bench.

During that time, I noticed a pattern of door holding and thank you's as students exited an adjacent classroom.  I noticed the dried residue from weeks of winter's slush and salt on the tiled floor.  I noticed how the student sitting beside me drew his hood over his face and leaned against the wall to grab a few minutes of restless sleep before his next class.

For whatever reason, this five minutes of quiet observation was cathartic, a purposeful choice to slow down in the midst of a schedule where I'm perpetually on duty with something to do, someone to care for, or somewhere to be.

We need more time to sit on benches. 

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Snapshots of a Week

Winter.  There's something inherently wrong in your perception when, after days of sub-zero temperatures, you face a morning when the thermostat registers exactly zero and you think, "Hey, this doesn't feel so bad."

On Having Sick Kids.  Between snow days, two-hour delays, and illnesses, my children haven't cobbled together one complete school day for over a week.  Yesterday I had the skin-crawling sensation that every surface in my house was covered by a layer of virus.  Enter Clorox wipes, Lysol spray, and several loads of laundry to wash any soft surface that kids have wiped, breathed on, or looked at. 

I think we're in the clear now.

A New Take on Iced Tea.  I recently saw this disposable cup left in a snow drift while walking to class.  Personally, I prefer my hot tea hot...

Cardigans.  During winter, I'd happily wear a cardigan every single day.  My good friend once extolled their virtues, noting that wearing a cardigan is actually like wearing a robe to work, except that it's socially acceptable.  Long live the cardigan, the official winter wardrobe staple.

Getting Lost.  While driving to my daughter's indoor soccer practice at a remote location, my GPS mistakenly took me to the side of a creek and announced, "You have arrived."  The GPS was wrong, of course, but in a sense, it had directed me to a place I hadn't even known I wanted to visit.  When the destination is this tranquil, getting lost isn't so bad.

I Found This Bird's Nest.  In the undercarriage of a truck that's been broken down in a local parking lot for weeks, I discovered this bird's nest, snug and secure.  My first thought: "What resilience!  Birds know how to find shelter in the most unlikely spots."  My second thought, upon the truck's towing: "Bad choice, little birdies.  Bad choice...."

When You Notice that Your Default Expression is a Furrowed Brow.  This might be chalked up to aging.  Or perhaps I frequently express confusion or surprise when dealing with my children and my students.  Either way, I'm accepting that my default expression involves a furrowed brow.
Polite Solutions to Persistent Inconveniences.  I noticed this sign while walking through a campus building with a particularly confusing layout.  Professor Carlson, I don't know you, but I appreciate the politeness of the notice posted on your office door.
In the event that you buy your child a wristwatch.  With every action comes an equal and opposite reaction.  In this case, giving your child a watch results in this child sharing the time of day with you at seventeen distinct moments.  In one hour.
Pillow Talk.  This is the lounge chair in my bedroom.  It's an ideal place to curl up with a good book, and it's also where I sit with my daughters to blow dry their hair after baths.  See that pillow with the birds?  I just snagged it on clearance at Target, and it makes my heart sing a little.

Encountering Unlikely Motivation.  This message was handwritten on a white board and propped against one dorm room's window so passers-by could see it from the sidewalk.  I rarely walk this campus route, but today I did.  I wish I knew the student who's responsible.  I'd like to thank her.
I wonder how many people have been encouraged by this seemingly small gesture.

I love this man.  We've passed Valentine's Day, but sometimes you need to declare love.  Not only do I love Joel, but I really, really like him.  We periodically meet with a young couple from church who's getting married this May for premarital counseling, and this might be my simplest, most direct of advice for the couple: Never stop liking each other. 

Thirteen years and counting, and there's nobody else I'd rather talk or laugh with than Joel.  Doesn't hurt one bit that he's hot, either.

And that, my friends, is my week in snapshots.  Wishing you a picturesque day.

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Short and Sweet: We Could Have Picked a Shorter Name

Practical reflections from a mother approaching Valentine's Day in 100 or fewer words:

Never once have I regretted the names we selected for our three children.  Notwithstanding my obvious bias, I'm entirely convinced that my husband and I did a smashing job with this task.  We're top-notch, grade-A, highly skilled child namers. 

That being said, today would be a good day to mention that selecting a ten-letter name for your kid has its drawbacks when that child is four and needs to print her name repeatedly on valentines.

Image compliments of Ken Douglas (

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Alive and Well

Let me interrupt this little stretch of blogging silence to assure you, my dear friends and readers, that I'm alive and well.  I'm five weeks into the semester, which is the point where a semester becomes acutely real.  Grading -- the primary demand on my time and mental resources for my job -- mostly lies dormant during the opening few weeks of instruction, but now it's reared its head.  There's no going back, only through.

So, I'm powering through, one speech, essay, and assignment at a time.  This week on the home front I've given myself permission for the house to be out of order, the laundry to be piled up, and the dinners to consist of easy meals, like chicken tenders and broccoli from the freezer.

It's ordinary, busy life where days blur together, but little pockets of time are set apart for good things like squeezing in a run, or watching the Top Chef finale with my husband, or making hand-dipped Valentine's chocolate covered pretzel rods with my daughters for their teachers.  And right now as I type, I'm nursing a hot chocolate, a rare Thursday afternoon treat that's already boosting me with its warmth and sweetness.

Hoping you're well, wherever you are, and that your day has a little unexpected warmth and sweetness, too.

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The cold stings the most when you're not ready for it.

Yesterday I found my missing winter gloves on the floor of our minivan.  After leaving the house bare-handed for every outing during this past frigid week, I've gained a new appreciation for keeping bundled. 

It's easy to fall into a bad habit of not bundling yourself, though.  In the early morning when I leave the house with my work bag -- an over-the-shoulder carrier that's so crammed with paperwork that it triggers the "fasten seatbelt" signal when I set it on the front passenger seat beside me -- I forget that I should layer up with my scarf and hat.  When I leave the house to run errands with my kids, my focus shifts to making sure they're appropriately clothed (and wearing two shoes, preferably matching) than ensuring that I'm good to go.

It's a bad habit, especially because the amount of time necessary to prepare myself is negligible compared to the amount of time I'll suffer the negative consequences of not preparing. 

Over Christmas break, I learned this lesson in reverse.  We enjoyed a day at an amusement park that had opened its kiddie rides and festive holiday light displays.  And boy did we bundle ourselves: sweat-wicking layers, thermal layers, fleece layers, wind-breaking layers, and one final bulky layer of snow suits and winter jackets.  (Plus hats and scarves and gloves and two pairs of socks and boots.)

Essentially, our family moved with the fluidity and speed of Randy from A Christmas Story.  But we were warm -- so perfectly warm -- for the entire day.  The cold didn't sting.  We were prepared for it.

I think of other storms I face -- not in weather, but in life -- and realize that a similar principle applies.  We can learn to bundle ourselves, protecting our exposed nerves with layers of prayer, wisdom, and support from friends and family.

We prepare ourselves and find that the storms don't sting as much when we're ready for them.

Image adapted from Emi Yanez (

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