Blog Pause Day 4: The Lie That We Should Be Like the Other Girls

Blog Pause Day 4: This is it!  Today is the final day of 2016!  To wrap up the year, I'm sharing my absolute favorite post from the 2016 Robin Kramer archives, one that shares a message about self-worth, belonging, and purpose.  I hope you read it and enjoy.

As always, thank you for your readership this year!  See you in 2017!

The Lie That We Should Be Like the Other Girls | originally posted January 25, 2016

My seven-year-old buries her face into her pillow.  I sit beside her on the edge of her bed, unsure how to coax out what's troubling her.  When she finally opens up, her voice is pained.  "I'm not like the other girls.  I'm not popular like them.  I want to be more like them."

She's never talked this way before.  I listen quietly until all her words and tears are poured out, then I sit in silence.  In sadness.  This is my precious and wonderful girl, who, for some reason -- maybe a snub on the playground or a comment on the bus -- doesn't believe that she's enough, that she's right.  This is my girl who's clever and artistic, tenderhearted and compassionate, imaginative and kind.

This is the girl who once said, "I think it's time for me to start wearing clothes that match," and then, a mere two days later, dazzled the world in this outfit.

This is the seven-year-old girl who is delightful just the way she is.

My sadness fades, and in the depths of my heart, it's replaced with anger.  Something inside of me snaps -- some I-will-storm-heaven-on-this-child's-behalf gene that rises up in parents -- and, after composing myself a moment longer, I speak.

Child, that feeling that you'd be better off if you were someone else, not yourself?  That feeling that you don't measure up?  That you're not enough?  That others are somehow ahead of you?  Those feelings that seem so real in your heart and those thoughts that shout so loudly in your head?

(Keep reading here.)


Blog Pause Day 3: Indecision, Online Shopping, and the Election

Blog Pause Day 3:  Today's posts from the 2016 archives of Robin Kramer Writes might seem disjointed on the surface, but they all deal with the theme of decision making.  The first post shares the simplest (and wisest) advice I've ever heard about overcoming indecision.  Today's second post, which is one of my favorite humor pieces from the year, recounts why I never should be trusted with online shopping.  The day's final post touches on the election, the largest decision our country collectively made this year, and how we can move forward in light of disunity.

Enjoy, and thanks again for joining me here this year!

1) Indecisive? This Tip Will Help | originally posted April 4, 2016

In a moment of desperation, yesterday evening I texted a friend who's a professor at another university.  My message: "Well, it's 6:45 and I've graded 0 minutes today.  Fail."

Moments later she wrote back, "Also 0 minutes.  Aaaaahhhhhhh!"

In my defense, I changed the sheets on all the beds in our house, which has to count for at least one check in the day's productivity column.  In her defense, she cleaned her sink of dirty dishes and watched three episodes of Downton Abbey on Netflicks.

Sometimes a human simply cannot function beyond this on a Sunday.

As we fired texts back and forth debating the cost-benefit analysis of starting to work versus throwing in the towel for the remainder of the night, she sent this gem of a text: (Keep reading here.)

2) Chronicles of an Indecisive Online Shopper | originally posted July 9, 2016

Once, while I was in the hospital, a nurse asked how severe my pain was on a scale of 1-10.  My brain nearly exploded.  I wasn't dying (at least, I didn't think I was), and I could probably tolerate more pain without dying (although I didn't want to), and I was coherent enough to understand what she was after (which indicates some presence of mind), but the question was enough to push me over the edge.

What if I answered too low and they offered to give me a measly Tylenol?  What if I answered too high and revealed a laughably low pain threshold?  What in the world did these numbers correlate with, anyway?  Was 4 even worthy of being in the hospital?  Would 10 indicate that I was actively being mauled by a bear?  Could I offer a fraction of a number, like 7 and 3/4 degrees of pain, because 7 just didn't seem to cut it, but ratings of 8 and above seemed like they should be reserved for childbirth or broken femurs?  Was it permissible to answer, "Stop pelting me with questions! Just help me!"

If, like me, your mind responds in this fashion when a nurse prompts you with a standard question, you're probably an over-thinker.  It's doubly troublesome if you're indecisive and waver in your response by answering the question with another question -- 6, no wait, maybe it's actually a 7?

I've noticed that the combination of over-thinking and indecision is particularly troubling when you're attempting to buy something, anything, online.   (Keep reading here.)

3) Heal the Land | originally posted November 13, 2016

Like millions of fellow Americans, I watched election results and listened to commentary until the early morning hours last Wednesday.  In the days that have followed, I've had many conversations with friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and students.  I've read dozens of articles by authors with multiple perspectives.

Only one thing is remarkably clear: our country needs healing.

This weekend, my head hurt from thinking about all the things that are grossly wrong in America: the racism, the discord, the aggression, the pride, the unproductive methods of problem-solving, the inability to listen, the entitlement, the divisiveness.  Collectively, we're not doing too well.  (Keep reading here.)


Blog Pause Day 2: Feeding Ducks, More Did and Less Didn't, and One Folder We All Should Keep

Blog Pause Day 2: While looking over this year's blog entries, these three posts stood out.  The first entry, the "duck feeding" post, wouldn't have been possible without my youngest daughter's perfect expressions; I still think she -- and how the entire duck-feeding situation goes downhill -- is hilarious.  The second post shows a shift in perspective that we all could use -- namely, celebrating more of what we did accomplish, rather than beating ourselves up for what we didn't.  Today's final entry reminds me that an encouraging word can go a long way.

Enjoy, and thank you for visiting Robin Kramer Writes!

1) Child Feeding Ducks (a progression of reactions) | originally posted September 30, 2016

Stage One: Utter Delight.  Wow!  There are ducks!  And I have bread!  And ducks eat bread!  What a fortunate combination!  I can't believe that you took me to the duck park, Mom!

(Keep reading here.)

2) Don't Forget the DID in DIDN'T | originally posted February 8, 2016

Right now, I'm sitting at the desk in our office, nursing a headache and feeling slightly overwhelmed.  Though it's only Monday, I already feel behind.  The weekend catapulted me into the week without much warning.  I didn't get the house in order, I didn't make a significant dent in the papers I need to grade, and I didn't finish the two recommendation letters students asked me to write last week.

I could list a dozen more didn'ts -- things I didn't do, didn't finish, or in some cases, didn't even start.  I'm good at noticing the didn'ts.  (Keep reading here.)

3) The One Folder Everyone Should Keep | originally posted April 4, 2016

At the end of the semester when all parties, students and professors alike, feel overburdened, I find myself advancing through each day like a doctor in triage.  I constantly assess my to-do list, judging what surely will die if I don't attend to it immediately and hoping that everything else survives in the meantime.  (There are always a few casualties.  Right now my sleep schedule, for example, could use resuscitation.  Paddles!  Bring me the paddles!  Stat!)

It's frenetic and weary, which is a horrible combination, like being asked to sprint through sludge.  You know that you should be progressing at a good clip, but you can't make your legs move at the right speed.

Yesterday, in the midst of this tiredness, I opened an email from a student in one of my public speaking classes.  (Keep reading here.)


Blog Pause Day 1: Good Neighbors, Good Teachers, Good Running

Blog Pause Day 1: I enjoy anticipating the pending New Year by first looking back over the past one.  For these final days of 2016, I'll select favorite posts from the past year and share a few each day, starting with these three about good neighbors, good teachers, and good running.  

Enjoy -- and thank you for joining me at Robin Kramer Writes this year!
1) On Having Good Neighbors | originally posted September 16, 2016

"The people next door play a substantial role in our lives.  Yet we seldom choose them."  - from the essay "Next Six Stories" by Robert Fulghum.  

I'm not sure if many people can claim the statement I'm about to make, although I wish everyone could.  I have good neighbors.  Exceptional ones, really.  (Keep reading here.) 

2) Dear Teachers of My Children | originally posted May 1, 2016

Dear Teachers of My Children,

This past week alone, I've seen evidence of the impact you make on the lives of my kids.  I see it when I open my inbox or their Friday folders (a task that always happens late on Sunday evenings... and certain Monday mornings) and read your weekly recaps.  I see the papers that are checked, the stickers that are awarded, and the notes that are written.

What I don't see, of course, is the hundreds of moments that comprise any given school day.  I can only imagine those.  I imagine an elementary classroom full of students all needing something from you at the exact same time, much like when my own children seem to conspire and simultaneously request for me to play a game, prepare a snack, read a book, help with a homework problem, glue something that's broken, find them a band-aid, and answer a mind-numbingly obscure question.

The difference is that I have three children.  You have a classroom full of them.  (Keep reading here.)

3) Lessons from Running  (13.1 of them) | originally posted March 16, 2016

On Saturday I ran my fifth half marathon, which is evidence that either a) this running hobby is genuinely sticking, or b) when signing up for new races, I have selective memory that glosses over the pain and effort involved.  (I'm not sure which.)  Still, over the years I've learned valuable lessons from running -- many of which are also applicable to general life -- that I'd like to share...  (Keep reading here.)


When You Know It's a Good Gift

I don't remember ever crying while receiving a gift before, but on Christmas morning I teared up when I ripped into the wrapping paper and saw a Magnolia Market box underneath.  I love Fixer Upper.  I joke about visiting Waco despite its extraordinary distance from where we live.  Still, I've never considered actually buying something from their shop online.

Cue my husband, Joel, who knows all of this about me.  He observes how I stop everything on Tuesday evenings to watch new episodes, how I admire Joanna's design, and despite all of this, how I'd never purchase anything for myself.

That's precisely why he did it for me.

When I opened that box, tears filled my eyes because I hadn't even known that I wanted a little touch of Magnolia Market, but somehow, Joel had.  That's the sign of a good gift.

This whole Christmas season, I've thought about the gifts in my life: my family, my dear friends, our church, our home, our health.  I've thought about God himself, the greatest treasure, the greatest prize, the fulfillment of my greatest needs.  When I was 15 I came to the realization that I needed Jesus, and during the 23 years since then, I daily come to the greater realization that I want him involved in every aspect of my life.

God's gift of Jesus, which we celebrate on Christmas, is the full package of grace, forgiveness, love, and wisdom.  I hadn't known that I wanted these things before I knew Jesus.  But when I received them -- when I experienced Jesus himself -- I learned that He was everything I wanted and needed and more.

And that, my friends, is the sign of the best gift: it's something more than you could ask or imagine.

My prayer is that you receive it, too, and that you experience how God's love for you is deep and wide, and beyond comprehension, and lavished despite your performance, and perfectly unrelenting.

Join me daily during these remaining days of 2016 as I share my favorite posts from the year.  Thank you for visiting and reading, as always!


Getting to a Place of Christmas Cheer

I learned something important yesterday: both Trader Joe's English Toffee and PBS's Downton Abbey are highly addictive, and when they're combined, it makes for a blissfully indulgent day.  Add into the mix that I'm feeling healthy after a week of sickness, my semester is successfully finished, and my children are in school for two more days before their break begins.  After fifteen weeks of hustle, this is perfect.  I'm getting to settle into Christmas before Christmas actually arrives.

(Necessary aside regarding Downton Abbey: I know I'm late to arrive at this party, but I finally heeded the recommendation of multiple friends and took the plunge by watching ten episodes in the span of three days.  There's no turning back.  I'm personally invested in the characters' lives.  The theme song is permanently seared into my brain.  It's so good.)

Yesterday as I tinkered and enjoyed the uncommon openness of the day, I realized that I'm happy.  Really happy.  I've spent time preparing my home by making some fun Christmas decorations, like this canvas with ornaments:

and these JOY letters painted white, accented with silver spray-painted snowflakes,

and then hung simply over our regular pictures with ribbon.

The Christmas cheer has seeped into my bones, and I think it's due, in large part, to the fact that I've finally slowed down.  Often, I regard rest as a luxury I can't afford or an indulgence I shouldn't take, but after two days of decompression, I remember that rest is necessary.  A frenetic Christmas, just like a frenetic life, isn't entirely enjoyable.

Yes, Trader Joe's toffee, and obnoxious quantities of a long-awaited TV show, and a few festive decorative touches are just right these days.  Just right for Christmas cheer, indeed.


Help and Hope While You're Healing

Earlier this week I submitted final grades for the four classes I teach.  It's been an excellent semester, yet the end is always coupled with exhaustion and, too often, an immune system collapse.  Somehow, blessedly, my body holds out for fifteen straight weeks during the semester as students cough on me and hand me papers while announcing that they have bronchitis, and pink eye, and might be coming down with mono. 

But then we reach finals week and, traditionally, my body says, "Enough.  You've done enough.  I'll be shutting down now."  This year has been no different.  For the past several days I've slumped around my house wearing sweats, wrapped in a blanket, carrying a box of Kleenex, evaluating final projects, and warily checking my email in case any students are distressed over final grades.

I'd much rather be healthy.  I'd much rather be preparing for Christmas or proactively working on my spring syllabi.  I'd much rather have clarity of mind and the ability to breathe through my nose.

But, in another way, my current state is also perfect to write about what I want to share today, which is a book written by Christine Carter, my online friend, called Help and Hope While You're Healing.

Although I've never met Christine in person, we connected several years ago through blogging.  I've always been struck by how her writing, whether a personal email message or a comment on Facebook, exudes enthusiasm and encouragement.  Simply put, Christine Carter is someone you want in your corner, and her book, Help and Hope While You're Healing, is specifically written to be in your corner when you're going through the hardest of times.

While I wish this weren't the case, Christine was able to write this book with such credibility because her own health resume is marked with multiple challenges, among them a lumpectomy of a parotid tumor, a double mastectomy, and multiple painful foot and ankle surgeries.  In spite of it all, Chris retains her larger-than-life humor and positive outlook.

As a person who's muttered a bit about my bad cold this week (and, if I'm being entirely forthright, on more than one past occasion, I've been convinced that I was dying while in the throes of the stomach flu, that Jesus was seriously coming for me), I've been intrigued with Christine's graceful way of coping with circumstances that aren't graceful at all, circumstances that could bring out the worst, not the best, in someone.

And that's what Help and Hope While You're Healing does.  In its brief format with personal examples and practical strategies, this book offers perhaps the biggest encouragement that anyone who's suffering most needs to cling to: you're going to get through this.  She writes, "Some things need to be broken, opened, and taken apart to let light in."

If you know any woman who feel like their health has been broken, opened, and taken apart (or if this speaks to your own circumstances), I hope you'll consider having Christine's words shine some light and hope into that void.

Check out Christine's book on Amazon or visit her blog The Mom Cafe.  Above all, be well!


This Post = Thankfulness Tenfold

'Tis the season for expressions of thankfulness!  In my house where three children have worn me down with continual requests to decorate for Christmas, 'tis also the season for resoluteness.  (I have a firm rule about Christmas decorating: I don't go there until Thanksgiving has run its course, but once we're eating leftovers, game on.  Time to jingle.)

Around the dinner table as we ask about each others' days (best parts, worst parts, most surprising parts, whether anyone at lunch laughed hard enough to make milk come out of their noses), this week I've asked my girls to name things they're thankful for.

Of course, they immediately offer the standard responses: food, our family, our house.  As we circle the table multiple times, however, the responses become more specific.  It's good to try to exhaust your list of things you're thankful for.  You realize, in your ability to go on and on, how blessed you are, how deep the gratefulness can go, how even the smallest pleasures can be magnified when you're thankful for them.

In this spirit, here is quirky list of specific things I'm thankful for today:

1) That Ugly Pies Still Taste Good.  They're not pretty, that's for certain, but they'll be delicious tonight.  Life is too short to worry if your pie crust isn't cooperative. 

2) Hot Cocoa with a Pinch of Cayenne Pepper.  Many years ago, in a former house, in a former life before kids, a former neighbor invited me over and served hot cocoa with a pinch of cayenne pepper.  I don't know why that memory resurfaced recently, but I made myself a steaming mug the other evening, and it was fabulous.

3) This Tree.  I took this picture days before a storm blew off most of its leaves, and I'm so glad I captured it in its flaming glory.  This tree is on fire!  (Bonus points for you if you read that last sentence as if it were being sung by Alicia Keys.)

4) These Shoeboxes.  Last week, I gathered the shoeboxes that our church collected for Operation Christmas Child and drove them to the drop-off center.  It's impossible not to have your heart swell when you think that these boxes, packed with love in Pennsylvania, will travel the globe and end up in a child's hands.

5) The Leaf-Sucking Truck.  One day you rake your leaves into a pile along the roadside, and then one day they're gone.  I never see the leaf-sucking truck make its rounds; I only know its presence due to the absence of leaves.  This magic never ceases to delight me.

6) Thanksgiving Break.  Thanksgiving week is a friendly ceasefire: I stop assigning work and students stop submitting work.  We recalibrate, get caught up, and mentally prepare for the final push of classes until finals week.  It's good for the soul.

7) Kids Who Call It Like It Is.  Yesterday as our oldest and youngest daughters wrestled on the floor and argued about who was better, Joel looked at our middle child and said, "Make a case for why you're the favorite kid today." She didn't even pause, just pointed to her sisters and said, "Because I'm not a part of that fight."  Yep, she was the day's winner.

8) Unexpected Visits from Old Friends.  I received a text message yesterday from dear friends who were driving from Boston to Pittsburgh with their four kids.  They were within 10 minutes of our exit, and they asked if they could stop by en route.  Our house was a mess, I was in the midst of grading, the pies weren't yet baked, and groceries still needed to be bought, but NO!  No, we wouldn't mind in the slightest!  Please come!  Please pile out of your minivan, dishelved and road-weary, and visit for an hour!  I treasure how friendships, even as they change with time and location, still flourish.

9) Middle School Morning Announcements.  I was listening to a particularly good 80's playlist on Pandora yesterday evening while baking pies, and my oldest daughter came into the kitchen in the middle of A Ha's Take On Me.  She immediately sang along, but then quickly broke off to ask, "Mom, how do you know this song?"

How do I know this song?  Child, in your eleven years of life, have you not picked up my impressive taste in music?  The better question is how do you know this song?

Turns out, her middle school plays it every morning during announcements.  I love her school even more.

10) Play-Doh Turkeys.  Sometimes, when you ask kids to make a turkey with Play-Doh, they'll make a turkey like this:

And other times, it'll be a turkey like this:

Even Play-Doh art mimics life, I guess.

11) Soul Stability.  Last week, I greeted a man at church.  He's endured family challenges and health problems, but when I asked how he was doing, he replied, "It is well."  It is well.  Praise God that we can say it is well in the face of any circumstance.  Jesus gives us stability in our souls, even if the world around us is in turmoil.

And that is something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  May it be well with your souls today! 


Heal the Land

Like millions of fellow Americans, I watched election results and listened to commentary until the early morning hours last Wednesday.  In the days that have followed, I've had many conversations with friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and students.  I've read dozens of articles by authors with multiple perspectives.

Only one thing is remarkably clear: our country needs healing.

This weekend, my head hurt from thinking about all the things that are grossly wrong in America: the racism, the discord, the aggression, the pride, the unproductive methods of problem-solving, the inability to listen, the entitlement, the divisiveness.  Collectively, we're not doing too well.

Acts of violence and hate-laced threats have been leveraged against minorities and underrepresented populations.  Tweets and social media posts have called for a presidential assassination and the razing of Trump's properties.  I don't care what candidate you favored: none of this demonstrates love trumping hate.

When I teach, I encourage my college students to write, speak, and think with precision.  Avoid sweeping generalizations, I say.  A wide brush will help you to paint a barn, not a masterpiece.

In this vein, when I hear rash generalizations categorizing all people who voted for a singular candidate, I balk.  We cannot distill every single person who voted for Trump as a hate-mongering racist, although some are.  (And, to be clear, racism, sexism, and too many other -isms are not dead in America.)  Neither can we assume that every person who voted for Hillary is an immoral liberal who condones late-term abortions or shady email servers.

It's not that simple, these broad strokes we use to paint ourselves a picture of humanity and understand others who don't think like us.  It's never that simple.

This morning, I volunteered in our church nursery and cared for six sweet babies: one black, three white, and two biracial.  These babies have no idea who the next president will be, but what happens in the years to come -- how we, as adults, will respond to these very circumstances -- will profoundly affect their lives.  As I spoke with the parents after service, I couldn't help but think that they and I, as fellow flawed humans, have more in common than what separates us.  Even if we stumble, we're striving toward a common goal: to serve God and love others as He loved us.

Due to my husband's position as the chaplain for Penn State football, each Monday we eat dinner with the team.  Weekly, I watch the interactions between black and white coaches, trainers, staff, and players.  They sit, eat, talk, joke, and laugh together.  They refer to others in the room as family.  They're working toward a common goal: to be the best football team possible.  That mission of greatness drives them forward together; they know they can't win if they're not united. 

These two scenarios -- my observations from a church nursery and a team dining hall -- remind me that now, more than ever, we must remember that common causes, whether serving God or winning football games, draws people together, even if those people might not look, think, or inherently be alike.

America, we must have a common cause to be a strong and decent country that honors and respects all people.  We can't forget that we're on the same team, and our team can't win if we're not united.  Of course, being united doesn't necessarily mean agreeing.  (Let's be real.  My family of five doesn't regularly agree on what we should eat for dinner, and we're not an entire nation comprised of vastly divergent ideologies deliberating over complex economic or legislative policies.)

But let's come together where we can.  If you're praying person, as I am, then pray with your whole heart, even if that prayer is as primal as, "Lord, help us."  Simple and raw prayers are valid, especially when it's hard to string together coherent words and thoughts, a position in which I've often found myself this past week while mulling over the election and our country's status.

I'm especially drawn to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Our land needs to be healed.  Nobody disagrees with that.  It starts with us.  We must humble ourselves.  We must turn from our wicked ways.  We, who call ourselves by His name, must seek God's face.

Lord, help us.

Image compliments of John M. Cropper 


Whether you're genuniely dismayed about our country's future, or just tired of election commercials

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook asking people to describe the election using only a movie title.

The responses provided in the comments were clever.  And sad.  And, given the general vitriol and discouragement that's been spread across all forms of media during the past months, expected.  Here are a few:

Dumb and Dumber
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Road to Nowhere
The Sum of All Fears
Bonfire of the Vanities
American Horror Story
Mission Impossible
Liar Liar
Apocalypse Now

I momentarily considered chiming in with Titanic (it feels like the ship's going down), but I abstained.

In my history as a voter, I've never felt more disheartened on the eve of November's second Tuesday, and I wish that we could suggest titles equating our candidates with Sense and Sensibility, not Pride and Prejudice.  So many others have issued profound commentary on this year's election, and I have little to add, except for one thing:

"Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save." (Psalm 146:3).  Or, if I may revise for gender considerations: "Do not put your trust in rulers, in mortal humans, who cannot save."

I'm grateful for our country and our freedoms, but my ultimate hope isn't in our government.  I'm underwhelmed, to put it mildly, with our available candidates, but my hope isn't in our next president.  My help is in the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

Regardless of your reactions to tomorrow's outcome  -- whether excitement, sorrow, fear, relief, or apathy -- pray for your new president.  Love your neighbors who display different signs in their yards, and be gracious to Facebook friends who express different views.  (Or temporarily hide them.  That might be useful, too.)

The ship's not going down, friends.  The Lord is bigger than the election.


When You Can't Adult Anymore

Sometimes, you reach the threshold of your adulting capacity.  I hit it on Thursday night.  All week long, I had adulted like a champion.  I woke early to exercise.  I taught my classes and graded 26 essays and 22 speeches.  I kept three children alive, fed, and homeworked.  I came up with creative strategies for Halloween costume malfunctions.  I served vegetables with dinner. 

Each evening when I went to bed, I felt chronically tired yet unmistakably wired.  This is a lethal combination, like when you observe a frenetic toddler who's missed his nap and is hyped up on sugar or the general thrill of toddler life, and you wait for the crash.  (The crash is never pretty.)

My crash occurred on Thursday evening when I announced to my children that they'd be in charge of making dinner.  They looked at me as if I had spoken in Serbo-Croation, and I, borrowing my father's strategy for communicating with non-native English speakers, repeated myself more slowly and loudly: "I am unable to function.  You will be responsible for preparing and cleaning up dinner tonight." 

Twenty minutes later my oldest daughter handed me a plate with a slice of lunch meat, half of a rolled up tortilla, and a small scoop of mashed avocado that had been heavily salted and squirted with lime juice.  "We made guacamole, but our recipe didn't go very far," she said.

I ate, dropped my plate into the crowd of dirty dishes in the sink, and then retreated to my bedroom to avoid listening to my kids argue over the division of cleaning responsibilities.  I didn't even make it onto my bed; I sank straight to the floor, where I spent the next two hours eating chocolate and grading more essays.

Of course, the funny thing about adulthood is that even if you fail at it one day, you get the chance to do it again the next, hopefully a little better.  And if that next day is equally trying, adulthood will still be waiting for you around the corner on the following day, too.

It's persistent like that.  Some days were just meant for survival, and eating chocolate, and lying despondently on your bedroom floor.  We live to adult another day.


On Feeling Behind

Today is Wednesday, and I finally skimmed through Sunday's newspaper and clipped a few coupons.  These days, my criteria for coupon-clipping is relatively straightforward.  I ask myself, "Which coupons would I rather forget about, accidentally let expire in my little accordion pouch, and throw away six weeks from now?  Duracel batteries?  Definitely.  Dishwasher detergent?  That sounds entirely forgettable, too.  Let's do this."

Choose your metaphor: When you have too many spinning plates, or balls in the air, or irons in the fire, we're prone to forget some things, or, at the least, to fall behind on a few.

In addition to coupon-clipping, this afternoon I spent nearly an hour sorting mail, answering email, filling out permission forms, and completing paperwork for my daughters' school fundraisers.  I RSVP'd to the four baby and bridal showers that I've been invited to and marked them on my calendar.  (People within my social circle have conspired to simultaneously experience significant life events, apparently.)  I finally mailed a thank you note.  I made a grocery list.  The hour was productive -- these matters needed to be attended to, after all -- yet I felt like I was squandering my time.

Why?  Because on Monday I collected essays, and a pile of 40 sat in the other room, 32 of which are still ungraded.  I know this off-hand because I track my progress.

Yes, I make a schedule with daily goals, complete with a +/- column that indicates how far above or below I've come toward reaching that goal each day.  This system mimics how I play Yahtzee when I'm angling to reach 63 points in the upper section, just without the dice.  (And the fun.)

I've realized two things about this.  Keeping disciplined is a good thing.  Beating myself up that I've scored a "negative two" on essay-grading, however, is not.

So here's where I stand: although I still feel behind, I refuse to let this ruin my otherwise good day.  I feared that I was wasting time by attending to small tasks, but completing those tasks actually brought a semblance of order to my home.  As for carving out twenty minutes to write this blog post?  On the surface it seems frivolous, but over the years I've discovered that adding time for creative expression often helps me, especially on days that already seem excessively full.

The essays will get graded.  They always do.

This post simply is my way of reminding myself of that today.

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Child Feeding Ducks: a progression of reactions

Stage One: Utter Delight.  Wow!  There are ducks!  And I have bread!  And ducks eat bread!  What a fortunate combination!  I can't believe that you took me to the duck park, Mom!

Stage Two: Legitimate Happiness.  This duck-feeding business is seriously fun, like when I'm coloring and I get to open a fresh box of crayons with pointed tips, or you hand me a cookie and say, "Sure, watch some TV, my child!"  If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Today is a good day to be a six-year-old with access to a bag of bread.

Stage Three: Moderate Pleasure.  Yes, yes, yes.  Feed the ducks, feed the ducks, feed the ducks.  They keep coming, and I keep breaking off pieces of bread.  I'm getting to be an old pro.  I think I'll name one of the ducks.  Ole Yellow Bill sounds niceGet it?  Because he kind of looks old.  And he has a yellow bill.

Stage Four: Heightened Awareness.  I can't help but notice that when I walk in a different direction, these ducks follow me.  That's odd.

Stage Five: Elevated Concern.  Wait a minute here.  I've only got one dozen hotdog buns, yet there are multiple dozens of ducks.  Something seems off with that ratio.  They're all circling around me, and that one duck is honking, and I'm starting to think that he's angry.  Why is this happening to me?  Do ducks have teeth?

Stage Six: Bonafide Distress.  It's over.  I take it everything back: this park is not fun at all.  It's a forsaken, desperate place.  I'm surrounded, and my mobility is seriously limited, and it clearly doesn't help that you keep warning me that I'm about to step in duck poop.  On top of it all, my dress is about to be eaten.  Why did you bring me here?

And because six-year-olds are like this...

Two hours later:  Hey Mom?  Do we have any more bread?  I want to go back to the park.

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Top It Off: Easy Cafe Curtain Idea

I don't really know how to use a sewing machine.  When I shared this with a friend who also lacks this skill, she lamented, "I remember threading the machine in Home Ec, but I can't for the life of me remember how, even though it was only twenty seven years ago!"

Roger, that.  It's a wonder that we can't conjure up that lesson.

At any rate, even without any discernible sewing skills, this summer I made a cafe curtain that adds a fun pop of color above my kitchen window.  The secret is in something very ordinary: three tension rods.  Here's how to duplicate the project in your own home.

First, measure your window and cut a piece of fabric to fit the width, with roughly 1-2 inches buffer on the sides for hemming.

Second, hem the sides and bottom.  (I know what you're thinking: Robin, you just just said that you  had no sewing skills.  This is true.  You see, I borrowed a sewing machine and my kind neighbor threaded it for me, calmly using words like bobbin and assuring me that I could do it.  I did.  I successfully ran my piece of fabric through the machine and made relatively straight hems.)

If you don't have access to a sewing machine (or a supportive neighbor who will talk you through the process), you can either a) stitch a simple hem by hand, or b) use iron-on hem tape, which would work just as well.

Third, at the top where the curtain will align with your ceiling, create a slightly wider hem.  You will slide a a tension rod through this pocket.

Fourth, arrange and secure two additional tension rods between your cabinets, slightly lower and forward, to serve as the framework. 

Finally, hang your top tension rod (curtain attached), and then let the fabric drape over the two lower rods.  Adjust the placement of the rods to your liking to achieve the desired "bump out" shape.

Then, sit back and bask in a job well done.  I not only appreciated the surprising ease of this project, but also its non-committal nature.  If I'd ever wish to update the look of my kitchen, I only need to replace and prepare a small swatch of fabric.  (And borrow a sewing machine.  And pester my neighbor, who clearly paid better attention in middle school Home Ec than I did.)

Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!


These Ugly Carts Won My Heart: DIY transformation

There are people who remember events (say, a wedding reception or a picnic they attended) by what they wore.  Others may remember the event based on what they ate.  I, however, have a different memory trigger: I remember what things cost.  I aim for balance: looking for deals, while also looking for quality.  I love when I find both.

Recently I saw an outdoor cart advertised on clearance: Was $78.99. Now $39.99!  While this cart is attractive and functional, I already had found something better.  Or, more precisely, I had found two better things.

Earlier in the summer I discovered this sorry-looking cart at a garage sale, so forlorn and forgotten that it hadn't even been priced.  When I asked about it, the owner shrugged and said, "A dollar?"  I immediately indicated that I'd take it.

With some simple touch-ups, I knew the cart could be transformed.  First, I took it home, wiped it off, and disassembled the pieces.

Careful to keep all hardware together, I taped off portions that didn't need to be painted, and then spray painted or hand painted the parts that did.

I also used a stencil to decorate the formerly dull and stained top.  The cart now sits in my youngest daughter's bedrooms as a place for her toys and stuffed animals.  It was entirely worth a dollar.

Later in the summer, I found a second cart for $5 at a separate garage sale.  The frame was solid, yet blandly industrial looking, and the wooden top had multiple scratches, which I repaired with white wood filler, as you'll see in the picture below.

Then, I reinvigorated the look by painting the top a classic navy blue (inexpensive paint sample purchased from Lowes),

and I brightened the dull frame with several coats of aluminum spray paint.

I've tucked the cart in the corner of my dining room, next to a window and our dining room table.  It's the perfect location for a magazine rack, the go-to pencil sharpener, and (not pictured) my laptop when it's charging.  The greenery from the plants adds a softening touch to the piece's rectangular shape.

The bottom line is this: if browsing at a garage sale, don't just regard the objects for what they are; look at them for what they could become.  You might stumble upon not just one, but two carts for a mere $6, and all you need to add is a few supplies, a little time, and a little effort. 

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I Own a Pallet. It's Pinterest's fault.

Years ago, nobody in their right mind looked at a pallet and thought, "I really should drag that away from the dumpster where it's leaning, cram it into my minivan, and take it home with me."  But then came Pinterest and, with it, a proliferation of potential projects, both large and small, involving pallets.

And, yes, I succumbed.  A friend was having work done on her house, a pallet was left behind by the workers, and I couldn't help myself.  After asking permission and dragging it away from the dumpster in her driveway, I crammed it into my minivan and took it home.

My husband loved this, of course, but being both extremely kind and wise, he mostly looked the other way and ignored my squirrely antics.

I propped the pallet against the house, and it remained there for months until I finally figured what in the world I could actually do with a badly-nailed configuration of rugged, ugly wood.  I didn't want to disassemble it or invest significant time or money, so I resigned to simple upgrades: I would sand it, and I would try my hand at painting a subtle chevron pattern, and, as a final decorative touch, I would add a large wicker basket that I picked up at a garage sale for a buck.

Next year, my goal is to plant cascading flowers or herbs there.

It's a start.  I've tucked the pallet into a corner of our backyard near a fence gate, and I must say, I smile each time I pass it.  It's not a work of art, but it's something. 

I have Pinterest thank for it.

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