A Christmas House and Neighborhood Tour!

I'm not ready for Christmas this year.  I still have gifts to purchase, I still have to wrap, and I haven't yet planned Christmas cards.  (Christmas cards are my holiday Achilles heel. Every year I'm surprised by the tradition and how I seem incapable of planning for it.)  But at the same time, I'm entirely ready for Christmas.  I'm ready with good cheer, warm blankets, and spending time by the glow of our Christmas tree reading books, slowing down, and playing games with the kids.  My heart is ready, and that's most important.

So, friends, in this spirit of festivity and hospitality, I thought I'd take you on a little tour of what's making my heart happy in my home and my neighborhood right now.

Let's take a moment on the front porch so you can check out my outdoor decorations.  I love using my vintage metal milk boxes as the background for seasonal displays.  I found these milk boxes on the side of the road on trash day last year, which made me feel as if I were in an episode of American Pickers, minus the bartering and the lengthy road trip in their van.

I also enjoy the natural touches, like the birch wood and small pine swag, both of which I found when taking a recent walk.

My decorations inside are simple, like this Fresh Cut Christmas Trees sign which I bought at Wal-Mart last year, my wooden sleigh which I found at a garage sale and spruced up with weathered gray paint and silver tacks, and a small faux Christmas tree from Target that's perfect to fill the sleigh.

Other Christmas touches in our house are subtle and mesh with our existing decor, like hanging a wreath on top of mirror,

or setting up a Christmas countdown on the footstool beside our front door.

In the kitchen, I updated my cafe curtain (find the easy tutorial here) by using silver and gold snowflake fabric. I'm especially proud of this project because I bought the fabric two years ago, but just got around to sewing it this year.  (If you've been reading here for long, you might recall that any sewing project is another domestic Achilles heel of mine, destined to take much more time languishing on my to-do-list than needed.)

Each year I add one or two new decorative Christmas touches, like this wall hanging I recently made by painting stripes on a plain canvas I already owned and then hot-gluing a wooden reindeer head silhouette, which I bought from Michaels.

Around the neighborhood, I also seek out the small views that bring delight, like this church's simple wreath that always looks festive against its white arched doorway,

or the Christmas touches on the local granary, a charming historic building that used to store and ship grain on the railroad line that abuts the building.

I sense this is why my heart is ready for Christmas this year.  As I wrapped up my fall semester and now plan for my spring courses, I've slowed down long enough to notice things.  (Not long enough to do Christmas cards, mind you, but at least long enough to notice that I haven't done them.)

I've even taken time to do things that I've only thought about doing in the past, like walking home along the railroad tracks rather than taking the road I normally take.  For the record, walking on railroad tracks is not as easy or charming as you might think.  It's impossible to find the right stride to match your steps with the spacing of the railroad ties, resulting in an awkward clomp-shuffle that's not entirely pleasant to sustain over long distances.

But still, it was an experience.  And during this season of Christmas, I want to soak up and notice the experiences, not just rush through them.  Even clomp-shuffling over railroad ties on a walk home, decorating the house, and maybe -- just maybe -- eventually getting to my Christmas cards.


How are your Christmas preparations coming this year?  Do you have any Christmas Achilles heels that you haven't yet completed, or any traditions or decorations you especially love?  Drop me a comment below to let me know!

Being Productive In All the Wrong Ways (an end-of-semester tale)

This is an accurate representation of my professional capabilities at the end of a semester.

We just completed our last week of classes, so another semester is almost in the books.  During the week ahead students will submit final projects, and I will spend my time grading and answering emails that ask, "What is my grade and can it magically become an A?"  In the meantime, I am becoming active and efficient in every other single facet excluding my professional life, resulting in the following recent misplaced surge of productivity:

  • Purging expired items from my pantry.

  • Improved arrangement of the salad dressings in my refrigerator using an arbitrary scale that considered not only bottle size and shape, but also salad dressing color.

  • Spray-painting a mirror that benignly had hung on a wall for years but suddenly no longer "looked right."

  • Cleaning of bathroom baseboards.

  • Rearranged bookshelves, filing cabinets, and desk drawers in my campus office.

  • Organized toiletries in my medicine cabinet.

  • Sudden desire to scour the house for items to populate next summer's garage sale.

  • Emptying old receipts from my wallet.

  • Gathering coins from my wallet, compartments in our vehicles, and the kitchen counter's change dish to take to the bank's change machine.

  • Deeply introspective analysis of all the shoes I own to determine which ones I regularly wear, which ones I only think I wear, and which ones have seen better days.

  • Ditto for my shirts.  And my jeans.

  • Discovery of 17 books that I'd like to read for pleasure.

It hasn't yet gotten so bad that I've given adequate thought to useful and seasonally-appropriate tasks, like planning or sending Christmas cards or making a Christmas shopping list.  Nope.  Part of the charm surrounding my end-of-semester cascade of productivity is that it only touches upon matters that have little-to-no urgency.

So, if you're looking for someone to organize your spices alphabetically or help you purge your storage closet, I'm your girl.  Drop me a line or visit my house where you'll find me doing something entirely unnecessary.

Steep Hills. Wood Stoves. Hallmark Movies.

I've made a point to take more walks lately.  Part of this might be to test the "there's-no-such-thing-as-bad-weather, only-inappropriate-clothing" quote as we plunge into the winter months and I attempt to master the art of layering.  I'm also adjusting my exercise habits to account for my injured shoulder. Even though I no longer can do push ups, overhead presses, or bent-over rows, at least I still can take a walk.

So, walking it is.

I have three standard walking routes from my house -- one out my front door to the right, one out my front door to the left, and another that I just call "up the hill."

It's a great hill, really.  The picture might not do justice to its steep climb, but when you finally reach the point when the road turns and then flattens, you feel like you've accomplished something.

The road, now comfortably flat, continues another half mile or so until it reaches a dead end.  During stretches when trees frame the street, you feel comfortably hedged in.  During the stretch when the trees have cleared for open farmland, you can see for miles.

Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, it's easier to see the few houses, discretely tucked far back from the road, that populate the street.  One is flanked by a mechanic's garage, a quiet business I never before had noticed until I smelled its wood stove and talked to the mechanic who was taking a break outside.

Wood stoves have to rank as one of the all-time best winter smells.  In wafts of smoke blown by the wind's fancy, the scent of a wood stove is a magical fragrant alchemy of a fire's warmth and the air's chill, and its heartwarming deliciousness makes me wonder if I inadvertently have breathed my way into a Hallmark Christmas movie, minus the ranch, the ice rink, and the spontaneous sledding.

The last time I walked my "up the hill" route, I snagged a small branch with winter-red berries to adorn the potted plant on my kitchen windowsill.  Each time I look at the branch, I think of the walk and its sights and smells, and it nudges me to come back again soon.

Steep climbs are often worth it.  I stumbled into my own Hallmark movie, after all, and it only took a mile to get there.

There are many terrible ways to measure self-worth. This is not one of them.

A story I heard years ago recently came to the forefront of my memory.  For weeks and months, day in and day out, a woman had been discouraged every time she stepped on the scale.  She tried to do everything right by exercising regularly and eating as well as she knew how, yet the number that flashed before her each morning always seemed too large.

And every day, her sense of attractiveness and self-worth suffered because of that number.

At one point, the woman traveled and noticed a scale in her guest bathroom.  Tentatively, she stepped on it, waiting for the same judgment to appear on its screen.  But this scale was different.  She weighed much less.  Thinking it was a fluke, she stepped on another scale at a store later that day.  The same good report came back: she was significantly lighter than she had thought.

Turns out, the scale she had used at home every day had been wrong all along.  A false number had caused her such pain and insecurity.

At first glance, it might be easy to be lulled by the story's tidy ending, projecting that the woman moved forward in her life with increased confidence.  But, if I may be entirely candid, let me share the reason I recently remembered the story at all.  The other night while my husband was trying to sleep, I whispered something that had been weighing on my heart. "I've been looking at my blog stats," I began.  "They seem low.  I think they're really low."

As my words spilled forth, I confessed to him in the darkness that at one point, after I had published a well written post that only garnered marginal pageviews, I even had wondered if the site's measurements were off.  Maybe it's not counting right?  Maybe there's supposed to be a zero added to the end?

Maybe it's broken.

And that's when I remembered the story about the woman and the scale.  Then I wondered something darker: what if the scale we're using -- whether for our literal weight, our blog stats, or some other measurement -- is accurate?  What if it's as bad as we fear? Where's the redemption in our stories if those numbers, cold and hard on a screen, don't equate with what we (or what the world) deems to be beautiful, successful, or good?

That's hard to swallow.  It was hard for me to swallow that night lying in bed, feeling as if I were failing somehow.

In the subsequent days, I kept mulling over the story.  The longer I thought about it, the more I realized something striking.  In many ways, it didn't matter whether the scale was accurate or not.  The woman's self-esteem hinged on its number, both when it was high and when it was low.  The scale held a lot of power.

And maybe, just maybe, that's what's broken.  After all, it's terribly easy to measure our worth by factors that truly don't capture our worth. 
It's terribly easy to measure our worth by factors that truly don't capture our worth.
I know this in my head.  Over the years I've written about it, I've spoken about it, and I've encouraged others about it.  But sometimes I need a refresher.  I need to drop the message ten inches from my head and tuck it into my own heart.

Today, my friend, maybe you need this reminder, too.  We're bombarded by quantitative data that supposedly indicates how well we're performing.  Numbers capture our salaries, our size, our followers, and our work performance.  Numbers comprise my college students' grades, and numbers reflect my teaching performance.  Numbers measure the speed, strength, tackles, completions, and every possible on-the-field nuance performed by the football players who my husband works with daily.

We can't escape it.  We live in a data-driven world, and it's accentuated by how easily this data is spread, shared, commented upon, and compared. 

Still, we don't have to let it define us.  Numbers measure something, but that something is not our worth.

I'm not so naive to believe that numbers never matter.  We enjoy feeling good about ourselves, after all, and losing a few pounds can be a mood-booster that makes us feel healthy, capable of reaching goals, and committed to our well-being.  If this blog post is read broadly by tons, not tens, of readers, I'll enjoy the uptick.  If someone gets a raise, or a student earns a good grade, or a running back breaks a record for yards rushed, it's healthy to rejoice over those numbers.  They're great accomplishments.

But accomplishments, whether noteworthy or not, never paint the whole picture.  They don't capture the heart.  They don't reflect our effort or discipline when we remain faithful.  Numbers don't account for moments of anonymity when we do something simply because it's right and we're called to do it, not because it will be measured or rewarded.  Numbers don't take into account when God says, "Well done, my child."

I won't lie, I wouldn't mind having more traffic -- like, rush hour on the Capitol Beltway traffic -- for my blog.  But, in my core, I know I won't be any more content or successful if my blog explodes.  I write with the goal to encourage my readers: to make you nod along in understanding, bolster your faith, and cause you to laugh.  I want you to leave here feeling better than when you came.  When this is my focus -- not blogging stats -- my time spent writing is healthy, helpful, and in alignment with God's will.

And that's successful.

There are plenty of terrible ways to measure our worth.  Let's throw out the broken scales.  And, perhaps, let's tread lightly even when, for better or for worse, our scales seem to be accurate.

After all, something as arbitrary as a number never can fully capture the essence of our worth.


Giving Thanks for the Large and the Small

Yes, oh yes, we've reached Thanksgiving day and the feasting and gathering it brings!  Happy Thanksgiving!

I, for one, have much to be grateful for this year.  Think about how long our lists would be if we counted everything we could give thanks for.  Family and friends!  Health and mobility!  Clean water and food security!  Shelter and warmth!  The ability to work!  Safety and religious freedom!  These are such big-ticket items.  Thank you, God, for meeting these needs.

It's good to pause and give thanks for major blessings.  They're easy to take for granted, which is tragic, because not everyone has them, which also is tragic.

But I like to acknowledge the little things I'm grateful for, too.  Small comforts, like cozy blankets and warm socks.  I'm grateful for the evenings this semester when Joel and I have watched The Office after the kids have gone to bed, and how my children have been so pleasant the past few days, and how I've recently had time to read a few good books.  I'm grateful for my neighbor who loaned me an egg, and for another who loaned me graham crackers, and yet another who shared homemade pierogies with my family.  (I have nice neighbors.)

Then, when I went shopping, I was grateful I remembered everything on my grocery list, including eggs and graham crackers, so I didn't need to return to the store.  Come to think of it, I'm grateful that I have a store.  I've read Little House on the Prairie, after all, and I have the lingering suspicion that I'm not as patient or industrious of a person as Ma.

I'm also grateful that my pie crust turned out well this year.  That's my handiwork right there, peeps.

Yes, there's so much to be thankful for.

Whether you're spending this year's Thanksgiving with a large crowd, a small gathering, or even by yourself, I hope you'll discover that your list is long, too.  Even if things go wrong -- if your turkey is dry, or your guests are challenging, or your travels are inconvenient, or your meal prep is hectic --  I hope you find brief windows today to still give thanks for all the things that are going right.

And if there are deep hurts or empty chairs this year, my prayer is that joy returns and comfort fills those painful nooks and crannies.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, my dear friends and readers! 

I give thanks for you today, too.

Transform Target Dollar Spot Placemats into DIY Artwork

While visiting Target the other day, I came across whimsical paper placemats in the dollar section.  The subtle design and colors were so pretty I immediately thought it would be a shame to use them for their intended purpose on a table during a meal where they'd be destined for crumbs, smears, water rings, and spills.

That's precisely why I chose to use the placemats for a different purpose: seasonal artwork.  This is as easy as it gets, friends.  Simply cut one mat to fit an 8x10 frame, and just like that, you have art that can span from Thanksgiving to Christmas. 

As an added bonus, the mats come in a set of four for just $1, so you can share or repurpose the remaining three.  Find a few friends or neighbors and become decorating quadruplets, which I hear is even better than decorating twins.

Winner winner turkey dinner, I tell you!  Enjoy!

Three Lessons I'm Learning from Limited Mobility

I have pressing news.  I fear that I'm going to have to put my dream of being a contestant on American Ninja Warrior on hold.  This is shocking, I know, because when you think of me it's highly probable that you also think, "Now there is a woman who would crush it on a salmon ladder," but alas, my right shoulder is not agreeing with me.

While I'm still awaiting a formal diagnosis from an orthopedist, my physical therapist believes I might have adhesive capsulities, otherwise known as frozen shoulder, which is a condition that according to John Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, and WebMD, sucks. (I paraphrase, of course.)  Basic movements, like putting on a jacket or writing on a chalkboard, are cumbersome and painful.  Daily tasks, like cooking, housekeeping, shampooing my hair, and even sleeping, are becoming increasingly challenging.

The experience helps me to realize how fortunate I am.  I've never had a lingering injury before, besides from a three-week stint on crutches while in high school.  I take my mobile and pain-free life for granted.

But the past three months -- especially these past three weeks when the condition has worsened -- have been teaching me several things.

Sometimes slowing down is necessary, not weak.  Maybe you're like me: always going and always pushing yourself.  Although it seems counter-intuitive, showing restraint and doing less takes more effort.  I still want to exercise hard, tackle housework, and live as actively as I always have.  Instead, I have to accept some limitations.  There's wisdom and strength in slowing down when you're in a season that calls for slowness, especially when it's your inclination to heedlessly forge ahead as normal.

It's okay to ask for help. In the past week, I've asked my kids to help more with chores, I've asked my husband to help me get dressed, and I've asked strangers to help me lift items at the grocery store.  I find it's like the "if you build it, they will come" adage from Field of Dreams, just with a twist: if you ask for help, they will help.  (If my kids groan at the request, which kids are sometimes known to do, I massage my bad shoulder in front of them like Bing Crosby in White Christmas as he tried to guilt Danny Kaye with his old army injury.  The reference is entirely lost on them, of course, but so far, it's worked.)

Receiving help can provide surprisingly sweet moments.  The other evening, my husband sat me down, plugged in my hairdryer, and dried my hair after I showered.  What a gift -- not only because I didn't have to lift my arm, but also because it provided a tender moment of giving and receiving care.  Then, yesterday after my morning class, one student lingered in the classroom to pack his belongings while I logged off the computer and shut down the projector.  He noticed me struggle to put on my jacket, asked what was wrong, and then said, "Well, let me help you, then."  He came to the front of the classroom, guided my arm into its sleeve, then gently put my backpack on for me.

Both of these moments, inexplicably, made me want to cry.  If you're never in a position where you need to receive, you forget how touching it is to be the recipient of another person's generous and willful giving.

So, in the meantime, as I wait for appointments and improvement, I soak up what I can learn from this slower time when I'm receiving more physical help than I can offer.  (And, of course, I still dream of hitting the red buzzer on American Ninja Warrior, or playing a competitive game of beach volleyball, or even being able to fasten my bra by myself.  Because #goals.)

What about you?  Have you ever been forced to slow down because of an injury or other reason?  Feel free to drop me a comment below with any wisdom you've gleaned from the experience!


Snowmageddon. Snowpocalypse. Snowzilla.

It's happening.  Right this moment as I type, it's snowing.  Let me get more specific: it is legitimately and aggressively snowing.  It's Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, and Snowzilla wrapped into one hearty storm that happens to be unassumingly tucked into the middle of November, a month when we don't expect snow because most everyone still needs to rake leaves.

The local school district cancelled school even before the snow started falling, which felt premature at 5:30 this morning but now makes sense.  Then, the university issued a text alert that cancelled classes after 11 and sent all university employees home by 11:30.  (The drive home, which normally takes 10 minutes, took an hour.)

I'm as giddy as a child right now.

I texted my neighbors, one who also works at the university and two who work at the school, to come over for hot chocolate.  They'll be here in minutes.

You can't fight a storm like this.  Nope, you just give in, accept it, and enjoy it -- from inside, of course, with good friends and hot drinks.  Bring it on, Snowmageddon.  We didn't expect you this soon, but we won't resist.

Some Thoughts on Voting

I voted today.  I even wore my "I voted" sticker until I changed clothes to go to the gym.  (When out in public afterwards, I wanted a second sticker to wear that said, "I voted and then I exercised" so people wouldn't judge me as a bad citizen.)

While I respect and honor the right to vote, I've never categorized myself as a highly political person.  I've faced elections where I've voted not out of ardent support for a particular candidate, but because I think a certain candidate would do the least harm.  It's not ideal.

But this article, which was written a local pastor in my area, resonated with me to the point that I would have plagiarized it in its entirety, except that I'd have to submit an academic integrity violation on myself, and that amount of paperwork would be quite tedious.
But I will share one specific quote:

Vote for life. All life. From the unborn to the almost dead, from the immigrant to the international student, from caravans to minivans, from the illegal to the legal, from students to retirees, every race, every gender, every label, every culture, every country, Jesus loves them all, died for them all, and has a place at his table for them all. I realize our government cannot love them all. But we should not vote without realizing that Jesus loves them all and came to bring them all life.

- Dan Nold, "Election Guide 2018"

Amen to this.  (And, if this thought resonated with you as well, I encourage you to visit Pastor Nold's blog post here.)

But This View Right Here is Beautiful

I walk across campus to the class where I'm scheduled to give a guest lecture, and my thoughts revolve around all the things I need to do.  Hands down, this has been the busiest week of the semester.  I haven't reached my daily quota of essays to grade for two straight days, I added another six presentations to evaluate from my morning classes, my husband is traveling for the weekend, and my kids have an ill-timed Friday off from school, which has prevented me from seizing even a spare moment that otherwise might have presented itself today.

I feel crunched.  It's like I'm in a tunnel, like I'm being pressed in from every direction.

But then I lift my head and actually look at my surroundings. 

It's beautiful.  Really, really beautiful.  Campuses were made for days like this, in fact.  And in the midst of all the busyness, I take one moment to appreciate the view.

Identity Crisis Solved

With the goal of reaching a broader audience with my writing, this weekend I submitted an article to a large website.  Part of the application process required that I include a brief bio (merely 2-4 sentences) that the site could distribute if my post gets published.

People, I labored over those sentences.

How should I present myself?  I only had a few lines to establish my identity and capture the essence of who I am.  I acknowledged my professional life by noting that I was a teaching professor.  I indicated that I was a wife and mother.  I added that I was a DIY enthusiast who's yet to be discovered by HGTV.

All of this is true, but it only scratches the surface.

Next, upon request, I provided links to my blog's social media accounts.  Facebook, the tried-and-true social media platform for older generations, makes sense to me, so I linked to my blog's Facebook page without pause.  Then I added my Twitter account even though I'm the worst tweeter, an irony which belies my namesake because a person named Robin should be able to tweet confidently.  But I'm not confident on Twitter.  I don't think as quickly as Twitter moves.  I habitually forget to share my blog posts there, and I've never mastered the strategic use of hashtags.

#twitterfailure. #thisrobindoesnottweet. #twitterisbeyondme. #help.  

That led to sharing my Instagram, where, under the guidance of my 13-year-old, I created an account months ago, then did nothing else.  Nothing else.  Not one picture has been posted.  Even worse, I couldn't recall my password, which led to another entry on my week's to-do list: "Figure out Instagram."

With each separate platform, I painstakingly mulled over how I should represent myself.  If I strive to reach DIY-loving audiences on some platforms, how does that blend with the parenting theme that permeates many of my blog posts?  What aspect should I emphasize where?  And when can I mention that I'm funny, because, for the love!, with the exception of the unfolding identity crisis that manifested itself during this "submit-a-brief-bio" adventure, I'm a humorist at heart.

(Yep, that clears it up tidily: I am a Christian faith-based wanna-be comedian who primarily blogs about daily life, including parenting, but I really enjoy spray painting things, yet occupationally, I am a professor.  In other words, I'm about as focused as a dog with a chew toy who gets distracted by a squirrel.)

So there I sat, slightly hyperventilating, my fingers tensely poised above the keyboard.  If a 2-4 sentence biography wildly limits how you capture your identity, then the converse is apparent with social media where the possibilities of how to frame your persona are endless.

Therein lies the rub: I'm a person who loves to write, yet I do so across broad themes where humor, faith, and daily life intersect, rather than having a highly-tailored niche.  Plus, I grapple with finite time and limited online capacity because I raise three kids, work a full-time job, have problems remembering my passwords, and suffer from #twitterineptitude, so the idea of establishing a thriving social media presence to promote my blog seems daunting at best, suffocating at worse.

Whose bright idea was it to reach a broader audience with her writing, anyway? 

And that's where I was stuck -- wondering whether I should become a hermit, pondering if it's worth pursuing growth as a blogger, overthinking dramatically -- when I arrived at church yesterday morning.  That's when we sang these lyrics:
Who the Son sets free,
Oh, is free indeed.
I'm a child of God,
Yes I am.

I am chosen, not forsaken.
I am who You say I am.
You are for me, not against me.
I am who You say I am.
I am who You say I am.

These lyrics resonated with every fiber of my being.  Even when writing just a brief bio, I could spend all the time in the world thinking about how to present myself.  I could look inward to my personal traits and characteristics, growing myopic with the self-analysis, or I could look outward to analyze all possible potential audiences and connections online, growing paralyzed with the unending scope.

But clarity comes when I look upward.  What really matters is who God says I am.

And God would say that I'm deeply loved, forgiven, chosen, and favored.  He knows about my teaching and my roles as a wife and mother.  He understand my desire to spray paint anything that doesn't move, and He grasps that a favorite compliment is when someone tells me that I'm funny.  He understands the intricacies of my thoughts and heart better than I understand them myself.  He even follows my blog.

So, in 2-4 sentences, who am I? 

I'm a child of God.  I am who He says I am.


Be Happy that I Didn't Pursue a Career in Medicine

Now that I've popped a few Airborne today to ward off a mid-semester head cold, I should tell you why I would make a terrible nurse or doctor.

It's not just because of the blood, although I do prefer when people keep blood inside their bodies, rather than outside.  It's more about the necessary compassion.  Apparently I'm not good at offering compassionate responses when people physically suffer, like when two of my three children insisted that their throats hurt earlier this fall while getting ready for school.

Children (hoarsely whispering) "My throat hurts."

Me (looking at them):

Nothing.  I had nothing immediately compassionate to say.  No helpful, "Oh, you poor sweeties, let me make you cups of hot tea with honey," and no empathetic, "Sore throats are the worst!"  This doesn't mean that my mind was sluggish, though.  I already had entered overdrive with sundry thoughts about sore throats:

It is TOO EARLY in the school year for this to be happening.  What has it been?  Two weeks?  Immune systems can be compromised in just two weeks?  Wasn't it 90+ degrees outside just days ago?  What tomfoolery is this to come down with a cold now?

Have I recently shared any food with either of these children that will make their sore throats of today my sore throat of tomorrow?
What do you even do to treat a sore throat anyway, besides for riding it out?  Cough drops?  Do we have any cough drops?

They're not going to want go to school today, are they?

And since these thoughts take two or three seconds to fully process, my children must have assumed that I didn't hear their complaints the first time.

Them (hoarse whispers now coupled with pained expressions):  "It hurts. Real bad."

Then they pointed to their necks in case I didn't recall where their throats were located, or perhaps for emphasis.

Me (still looking at them, still calculating who I've most likely shared germs with, still deeply wanting them all to go to school for the day, still trying to muster up the most fitting parental response):  "Um, do you think you have a temperature?"

("Do you think you have a temperature?" is my automatic answer to every health complaint, except for open wounds, which prompt my second default reply: "Do you think you need a band-aid?")

It reminds me of a moment, many years ago, when my friend who studied pre-med at a southern university visited me at my northern university.  She browsed my bookshelves of literature textbooks and rhetoric tomes, then pulled a thick volume of Shakespeare off the shelf.  "I can't believe that you study this."  There wasn't a hint of irony in her tone, just observation, daresay even appreciation for a good liberal arts education.

I sat cross-legged on my dorm floor's five by seven area rug, flabbergasted and like, "But you study anatomy and physiology and organic chemistry!  You're figuring out all that foot-bone's-connected-to-leg-bone stuff, which is a tad more concrete than a metaphysical question about being or not being."

Alas, she probably has better responses for her children when they have sore throats, but maybe, just maybe, she also looks at her own kids when they approach her with an ailment and sometimes says, "Do you have a temperature?  No, well, just go grab a band-aid, okay?"

Image compliments of Pixabay.


There's No Time Like the Semi-Distant Future

"There's no time like the present."
 - first recorded appearance of adage in 1562

There are certain life task that I act upon quickly.  For example, if I'm on a road trip and stop to get gas, I use the restroom even if I don't really have to because I never know when I'll come across another bathroom.  On a more daily basis, it's ingrained in my core to make my bed. There's no waffling, no debating, and no procrastinating; I just make the bed every morning, without fail. 

Even more pointedly, if I see ice cream, I eat ice cream.  (How can you not apply the "there's-no-time like-the-present" adage when you're dealing with a food that literally will melt if it's not consumed in a timely fashion?)

But there's one type of task that always trips me up, one chore that always makes me want to twist the adage (which, when you're especially unmotivated, backfires as relentlessly perky in its proactive urging) and edit it to say, "There's no time like the semi-distant future."

And that task is sewing.  Sewing anything.  If there's a seam to mend, a hole to stitch, a pant leg to hem, or a monkey's arm to attach, I will be slow to do it.  (Ditto for adhering Girl Scout patches onto vests, which technically need to be ironed, not sewn, but it's close enough.)  I am a hesitant sewer.

But not today.  Because today I sewed not one, but two, items of clothing that needed to be mended.

And I feel like a rock star.

Photo by pina messina on Unsplash


Shouldering Adult Responsibility

Over the past two months, I noticed a problem with my right shoulder.  At first it was stiff.  I made minor modifications at the gym, like not fully extending my right arm during the 30 seconds of jumping jacks during warmup.  Then it was sore.  I made additional modifications, like lightening weight for overhead presses.  And then, despite these modifications and the passage of time (which I sincerely believed would solve this problem), the discomfort persisted.

Then, during some phase I can't precisely pinpoint, the discomfort turned a corner to outright pain with certain movements, even waking me several times each night.  (It hasn't reached the "actively being mauled by a bear" level of pain, but I'm progressing up the chart.)

I'm now unable to extend my arm overhead or reach behind me, which is troublesome.  When undressing, I shimmy my shirt down my body, then step out of it because I can't pull clothing over my head without getting locked in a fabric entanglement and calling for someone to pull me out.  (So far, this only has occurred in my closet with my husband as the rescuer.  I imagine it would be significantly more awkward, say, in a fitting room with a stranger.)

More puzzling, I don't know how I arrived at this gimpy state.  Did I injure myself while ziplining during my much-needed weekend getaway without knowing it?  Did exercise exacerbate these tweaked tendons?  Am I just getting old?

I don't know.

What I do know, though, is that I felt foolish for landing here.  I wanted my shoulder to get better on its own, maybe after a night of applying an ice pack or popping a few Advil.  I didn't want to hassle with actual treatment because I'm good at avoidance techniques.

But two things -- daresay, two people -- changed this for me.  One gentle and kind woman at the gym asked me what my plan was to remedy the injury.  After looking at her blankly for a moment, baffled that I never had thought of making a plan on my own, I said, "Well, I guess I need to make an appointment with a doctor, except that I don't have a PCP since mine retired last year."

She smiled and said, "That's a good start.  You definitely can do that."

Emboldened by her assurance in my capabilities as a functional adult who does things like find doctors and schedule appointments, I added, "I'll make this my goal for the month of October."

She said, "How about you make it your goal for this week?"

And you know what?  I did.  That very day I called my doctor's office and secured a new PCP.  Yesterday I went the appointment, got a diagnosis (tendonitis of the rotator cuff), and received a referral for a physical therapist.

Then, on a roll, I did the process once more: I gathered physical therapist recommendations, researched the online, made phone calls, and scheduled my first appointment for next week.

A man from the gym who provided a valuable PT recommendation learned that I had scheduled my initial evaluation.  He texted: "It's great you're taking action as your next step.  Well done!"

I think God placed these two people in my life to provide this nudge toward healing.  When I was in avoidance, the woman encouraged me to make an appointment sooner rather than later.  The man applauded and validated my efforts, making me feel as if I were wise, not weak, for doing so.

How wonderful.  Quite literally, it seems, they've helped me to shoulder this problem.


Let's Chat: It's Officially Fall

My dear readers, it's high time that we sat down and had one of our seasonal chats.  Let's pick a bench outside, admire the early stages of the changing leaves, and catch up.  Do you have a drink to sip?  Maybe a pumpkin spice latte?  Or a Diet Coke with ice?  Sweet tea?  Just some water?  If we were doing this in person, now would be the time for me to tell you that you're having a good hair day.

And since chats happily meander from topic to topic, we'll do the same.

The Weather.  The weather!  We recently endured a stretch of rain, and when I say "stretch of rain" I mean that it rained approximately seven times per day, nine days per week, for a small eternity.  The daily question was not if it would rain, but rather when it would rain.  Soccer practices were upended, grass grew yet was unable to be mowed, and the world appeared drab and gloomy.

But then the sun came out!  We emerged from the tunnel and experienced a few glorious fall days!  I'm grateful.

Turning a Calendar Page.  I'm not sure if this is normal, but I take inordinate pleasure when turning a calendar page.  The new page looks so fresh, so full of potential.  I also enjoy turning a page of my syllabus course schedule, and on a smaller scale, crossing off individual days on a calendar.  I don't know if this signifies productivity and healthy closure, or if it's become some strange and visible ritual where I scratch out my life.

Meal Planning.  You know those people who have a knack for introducing new meals into their dinner repertoire and always know what they'll eat when?  I'm not one of them.  My family eats, of course, but certain days in the kitchen are characterized by a frenetic, scavenging vibe, rather than advanced foresight.  But for the past two weeks I've been on a kick.  I've written a weekly menu on a post-it note, stuck to the plan, and then packed leftovers each day for lunch.

I am such an adult.

Cleaning My Inbox.  Earlier this week I devoted an hour to cleaning my work inbox, primarily digging through older folders of archived correspondences and resources.  With each click of the delete button, I felt lighter.  Clearly, this is the digital equivalent of cleaning out a closet.

When You Get a New Bag.  Late this summer, I bought two new bags: a professional backpack to carry on campus since the strap on my old work bag had ripped, and a navy Vera Bradley purse that I picked up at a garage sale for three dollars.  I hope I'm not alone in this, but whenever I transfer my belongings to a new bag (especially when I've used the prior one for years), I always experience a confusing period where I have no idea where items truly belong since I haven't yet found their best, most permanent place.  During this phase, I regularly can't find my keys, or my phone, or that chapstick that used to be so readily available, and I am a hot mess of disorganization.

But then it happens: the new bag finally starts to make sense and become second-nature.  I'm happy to tell you that I've reached that point.

The Garage Sale Season is Closing.  I love fall deeply -- the leaves, the cute layers and boots, the crisp air, the mums and pumpkins -- but the arrival of fall means that garage sales, one of my favorite spring and summer activities, is drawing to a close.  I had such a wonderful run of garage saling (yes, it's a verb) this summer.  (In fact, I'll be posting my favorite garage sale finds and corresponding DIY projects in the coming weeks.  Get ready!)

Hands down, the end of garage sale season is the saddest thing about summer ending for me.

The Five Stages of Post-College-Football-Loss Grief.  Oh man.  This past Saturday evening, my team (Penn State) experienced a heartbreaking final-minute loss against a Team Who Shall Not Be Named.  Since my husband serves as Penn State's team chaplain, I get to know many of the players well.

My reaction to the loss was textbook.  First, there was denial.  ("That did not just happen.  It's impossible that the game just ended like that.  There's been some mistake.")  Then came anger.  ("NO!  This is stupid!  Our guys played their hearts out!  Buckeyes, schmuckeyes.  Who names a kid Urban, anyway?")  Close on its heels was bartering.  ("If we could rewind time and call a different play, all of this would just go away.")  Then came the forth stage (depression) where I wallowed in post-game commentary on all forms of social media.  I finally reached the final stage (acceptance), directed my eyes to the next game, and consoled myself that there are still plenty of good bowl game prospects.

I love college football.  There's drama and movement each and every week.

There's Much More to Life than Football.  Praise God.  This is so very true.

And on that note, I'll end our fall chat with this parting quote by Robert Jones Burdette:

"There are two days in the week upon which and about which I never worry.  Two carefree days, kept sacredly free from fear and apprehension.  One of these days is Yesterday... And the other day I do not worry about is Tomorrow."

Yes, my dear readers, may your weather not be overly rainy, your meals be planned, your bags be organized to your exact specifications, your favorite team win (unless they're playing against my favorite team, in which case I hope they're crushed yet you find solace in your own five stages of grief), and of course, may your yesterdays and tomorrows be free from worry.


Overheard: An Unexpectedly Encouraging Confession

Yesterday as I walked across campus between my classrooms, I overheard a brief fragment of conversation between two students.  I knew nothing about the context; I simply caught this:
I'm so far behind, I haven't even started.  I am the most behind person.  I'm more behind than anyone else.
And then they were gone, past earshot, as other students streamed past.

I still don't know the context.  Was this student behind on a project?  Had she not started a draft for a paper?  Had she procrastinated studying for an exam?  I have no idea.

But I do know this:

As I continued to my office, mulling over how I should have more items crossed off my to-do list, I relaxed a little.  I wasn't as behind as I might think.  Because that person I just passed?  She was more behind than anyone else, including me.


Robin Kramer speaks, too.

I'm just going to do it.  I'm going to come out and say it.  I'm going to put myself out there, right after I finish this unnecessarily long series of opening sentences which repeat the same thing.  Here goes:

Since you're reading this blog and have noted its fitting "Robin Kramer Writes" title, you know that I write.  But did you know that I speak, too?  By "speak," I don't simply mean that I let words come out of my mouth when I'm casually conversing with other people.  Rather, I mean that I periodically get the opportunity to let words come out of mouth when I have a microphone and there are people in an actual audience who listen to those words and sometimes even take notes.

It always amazes me.

Over the past few months there's been a slight uptick in the number of speaking opportunities I've had, in fact.  Quite recently, I've spoken at a MOPS group, back-to-back mid-week services at my church, and a weekend women's conference.

I like to speak and, most days, I'm very good at it.  I say "most days" because, as I've discussed with my husband who also speaks regularly, you can't always be perfectly "on."  And sometime circumstances play a factor, like when a sick family member discovers your speaking notes -- notes that had been written quite carefully on the back of Chick-fil-a napkins, mind you -- and then uses those speaking notes as a Kleenex the day before your talk.  (But I'm talking hypothetically, of course. That never actually would happen in my household.)

More pointedly, beyond my personal enjoyment of speaking, I believe that God is nudging me to step into this ability and do more of it.  As a teaching professor of public speaking and rhetoric, my professional life revolves around messages.  This is what I do.  I acknowledge that this ability to teach and help others learn and live successfully is not just my vocation, but also part of my calling with ministry.

So, this is the point where I subtly advertise my services and share this link to my speaking page so you can browse several topics I've covered in the past and read a few testimonials from conference attendees who say extremely nice things, yet are not at all related to me.

Nice things like:
"Robin is excellent.  She shares in such an understandable and relatable way that lets you absorb and apply exactly what she's teaching."
 And other nice things like:
 "I love Robin's humor and transparency!  Each time I hear her speak, I leave feeling encouraged and refreshed."

Robin Kramer writes and speaks.  I can't help it, people: words pour forth from me.  So if you, your church, your women's ministry, or your organization ever has an event where you're looking for a speaker, I'd love for you to contact me.

And if you'd like to listen to a sample message, I uploaded the talk from an Inspiring Women conference I spoke at several years ago.  Enjoy!


Short and Sweet: Fill the Gaps

A lesson on community, in 100 or fewer words:

One evening last week, I received an email asking if anyone could cover classes for a colleague whose son had an accident.  Since I had no obligations during one slot, I immediately replied yes.  Others did the same.  Within no time, her classes were covered.

The next day, a neighbor called with news of her father's failing health.  She'd need to travel abroad to visit him, and we arranged what days I'd watch her daughter during her trip.

Because this is what community does. It finds one aspect of a hard situation and makes it better.  It fills the gaps.


Parenting Survival Guide: We Will Do Better Tomorrow

If there ever was a day to be glad that my family isn't the subject of an ongoing documentary that requires cameras to capture the nuances of our day-to-day interactions, it was yesterday.  (And about a five minute segment this morning, but that's neither here nor there.)

Yesterday did not reflect our finer moments.  Not for my children, who couldn't quite get it together in the manners, common courtesy, respect, and keeping things in perspective categories.  And not for me, who failed to perform in the effective discipline, not-blowing-a-gasket, and avoiding catastrophic lines of reasoning categories.

In other words, we were quite excellent together, if you define excellence as letting every minor annoyance simmer and then explode into intense emotional outbursts.  We had tears and/or near-hyperventilation about our lunch menu, our dinner menu, the lack of a dessert menu, television limits, cell phone limits, a game of Parcheesi, and the fact that an annoying sibling had the audacity to be EXISTING AND SITTING ON THE OPPOSITE COUCH IN THE SAME ROOM as the annoyed sibling.

Gold stars, all around.

While I wish I could tell you that before our heads hit our pillows, we each experienced an epiphany where we saw the errors in our ways, humbly apologized to one another, turned the other cheek, and deferred our preferences for the greater good of the family unit, that's not the case.  Most of us went to bed cranky and peeved.

In fact, bedtime went something like this:

Husband: "The girls are in their rooms.  They're ready for you to say goodnight."

Me (lying in bed underneath my quilt with a magazine and a piece of chocolate, pretending that the world outside doesn't exist, and exhaling a labored and dramatic sigh.)  "Do I have to?"


Me:  "Okay, okay..."  (shuffle down hallway reluctantly)  "Goodnight."

Offspring:  "Night."

Me (shuffle back to my bedroom): "There. Done."

Needless to say, familial warmth was not entirely palpable.

When my head hit the pillow for real, after the magazine was skimmed, the chocolate was eaten, my teeth were brushed, and the lights were turned off, I admitted that this isn't how I want our home to be.  Home is not a place to lace up your gloves and fight; it's a place to let down your guard.  It's a place where we -- kids and parents alike -- should overlook offenses, and daresay, care about others enough that we try to minimize offenses before they even start.

And that wasn't the case yesterday.  Yesterday was a flop.

But one of my last conscious thoughts before drifting to sleep was that we'll do better tomorrow.

We'll do better tomorrow.  Even with the ugliness of today, we still care enough to want to improve and move forward.  Even with the crummy attitudes and comments, we still want to get it right.  Even with the apathy of the evening, we still believe that these relationships matter profoundly.

One bad day doesn't ruin it all.  Tomorrow is coming.  We will fight for our family, and that's more powerful than those bad patches when we fight against them just because they've annoyed us by sitting on the adjacent couch.

We'll do better tomorrow.

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

When the Season Is Not Cooperating

Friends, it's been hot lately.  Uncomfortably hot.  Hot enough that your strength feels sapped, hot enough that you don't want to linger outside too long, and hot enough that our town's non-air-conditioned elementary schools have bussed the children to nearby air-conditioned middle schools for the past several days so teachers can hold classes more comfortably.

Even more than the heat itself, its placement seems wrong.  It's September, which is when the air should be taking on a hint of crispness.  It shouldn't be in the 90's.  I've mentally moved past summer temperatures, wardrobes, and activities.  I'm ready for a tee shirt, a pair of broken-in jeans, and a cute pair of boots.  I'm ready for football weather.

Clearly, the season is not cooperating.  One Facebook friend said it aptly:
"It is too hot.  I can't even, because it is TOO HOT.  All things rescheduled until it isn't today anymore."
Sometimes this is what you do.  You raise the white flag.  You accept that this day and its heat and humidity is no longer working, and you're no longer functioning.  You give yourself permission to flop around languidly.  You don't cook a large dinner; nobody's that hungry, anyway.  You permit yourself to reschedule things until it isn't today anymore.

And then you wait, knowing the weather will break.  It always does.


"I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."

"I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."
- Andy Bernard, played by Ed Helms, in The Office

This past summer, I confronted the swift passage of time in two distinct locations: the pool and the library.  When my girls (now ages 13, 10, and 8) went swimming, I took a look -- a good look -- at the parents who waded with their toddlers in the shallow kiddie splash zone.  I don't recall all specifics from those summers of yesteryear with my own kids, but I do recall leaving the pool exhausted.  The required level of supervision was intense.

At the library children's section, I had a similar experience when I regarded the frenzy surrounding the train table.  I had spent hours at that train table when my girls were young.  It had been a lifeline, a much-needed change of scenery when the monotony within the walls of my house felt oppressive.  Two mothers, one correcting and one comforting, rushed to intervene when one toddler smacked another on the head with a wooden train.  Other parents lugged diaper bags and sippy cups like they were sherpas, weaving their strollers through the narrow racks.

Now, when we go to the library, my girls select a few YA titles and curl up in a bean bag chair to quietly read, and when we go to the pool I spray them with sunscreen, send them on their way, and then sit down on a lounge chair with my own book.

Parenting is so different!  It's much less physical and hawk-eyed in its supervision.  It's much more conversational and intentional in its discussions.

It's still great.  It's still sometimes exhausting.  And it's flying by.

I like to think that my kids are still young.  And they are.  Sort of.  But they're also kind of not.

Even more, I like to think that I'm still young.  And I am.  Sort of.  But I'm also kind of not.  I mean, I'm 40, so theoretically I'm old enough for the college students I teach to be my children.  Also, my ophthalmologist told me that I'm headed toward transitional lenses in the near future.  And I came quite close to buying a pair of sensible loafers the other week, so there's that.

All of this -- from the distinct differences between little kids at the pool and library and my own, to the threat of transitional lenses -- tells me one thing: I'm reaching the "decidedly middle aged" demographic.

I'm cool with this.  There's good in every stage of life, and for the most part I've enjoyed it all.  (With the exception of middle school.  Middle school is just one extended awkward moment.)

Our youth pastor shared a message this summer, urging us to make the most of our time.  He reminded us that life is like a mist that appears for a little while and vanishes (James 4:14), or like a breath and fleeting shadow (Psalm 144:4).  A mist.  A breath.  A fleeting shadow.  Regardless of the metaphor, the sentiment resounds.  These lives of ours?  They move quickly.  I see this now.  I see it at the library, at the pool, and in the mirror.

So I'm going to take a note from The Office.  I'm not going to miss acknowledging the "good old days" when I'm actually living them.  And I'm going to take a note from Psalms.  I'm going to accept that my days are like a mist and live them intentionally. 

One day, years from now, if I stumble upon this blog post while wearing my transitional lenses and sensible loafers, I'll smile and nod and my past self's wisdom.  "Yes," I imagine my future self saying, "Those were good days then.  It was good to enjoy them.  Forty!  You were still a puppy.  But these are good days, too. Very good days."

Because, past, present, or future, God's in these days.  All of them.


Go Big. Then Go Home and Go Back to School.

My children will tell you that they're not ready for school to start tomorrow morning.  They don't know it, but they're lying when they say this.  They don't fully realize that their recent intensified emotions, which have been brimming over and spilling out, are a byproduct of the waiting game as we cross these final summer days off the calendar and wait for the inevitable to begin.

I tell them that, at some point, you just need to start, and then the tension dissolves.  The unknown about teachers, schedules, friends, and lunch tables becomes known, the hypotheticals become concrete, and the unfamiliar becomes routine.

And routine is good.  Routine is very good, in fact.

As I talk, they look at me as if I'm speaking Serbo Croation and sprouting a second head.  Because when you're a kid you want infinite summer, and this talk about routine and schedules and "falling into a pattern of normalcy" doesn't make sense.  Playing in the backyard with the neighbors until it gets dark each evening makes sense, and that's coming to an end.

So tonight, I sit outside and write this blog post as my daughters bounce on the neighbor's trampoline across the street.  Their voices carry across the street, and I listen to them merge with the sound of evening crickets.

When darkness falls, I'll call them home.

Tomorrow the routine begins, but not tonight. 


The End. The Beginning. The Walmart Parking Lot.

"This is really happening to us, isn't it?"  - My husband to me, on the looming start of the semester.
Dear Readers, I have something to tell you: this day in history marks both the beginning and the end.  This is my final weekend of summer.  The fall semester starts on Monday, and I return to teaching.  I know this is true for a multitude of reasons: the calendar telling me that it's so, the three consecutive days of orientation events I attended on campus last week, the uptick of emails in my inbox, and the distinct smell of the morning air that only happens when you reach the latter half of August.

It's really happening.  We're doing this thing.

But mostly, I know the semester is starting because of the Walmart parking lot.

There are several unspoken guidelines about living in a university town, first and foremost being that you never, ever plan a trip to Walmart during move-in weekend when 40,000+ students and their parents descend upon the store to buy Sterilite plastic drawers, bed risers, Command hooks, flimsy laundry baskets, wall-calendar-bulletin-board combos, extra long twin sheet sets and comforters, cheap desk lamps, and sundry other items that they'll throw into a dumpster nine months from now when they move out.

We university townies hold this truth to be self-evident: when it's the beginning and the end, when the humid August air begins to smell a certain way, and the calendar tells you it's so, and the moon is in the seventh hour and Jupiter aligns with Mars and move-in weekend: Just don't do it.

Just avoid Walmart.


The Much-Needed Weekend Getaway

Sometimes you don't quite know what you need, but when you get it, you realize that it was exactly what you had been looking for.  This was the case for me when I recently visited my dear friend who lives in a neighboring state for a girl's weekend.  I packed up the 2002 Toyota Camry (such a fine vehicle), drove southwest for three hours while listening to music and several fantastic sermons, and felt adult responsibilities dissipate with each passing mile.

When I arrived, I already felt refreshed.  But there was more!

Right after I set down my bags, my friend, her husband, and I drove to a ziplining adventure course where we immediately read and signed lengthy documents waiving our rights to sue in case of accidental injury, dismemberment, or death.  This always feels like an auspicious start to an adventure.  (Notice the cocked angle of my head in this picture, as if I'm asking the guide, "Are you serious?" when he explained how I must step off the multi-story wood platform and rappel to the ground.  But I did it, as evidenced by the fact that I'm able to write this blog post from the comforts of my home instead of being stranded in a West Virginia forest.)

Over the course of our adventure, we rode four ziplines of increasing length.  We traversed a suspended bridge over treetops,

and we always stayed clipped into the master harnesses and cords.  Safety first, kids.

And although I have no recollection of doing so, my friend's video captures me shouting a carefree woo-hoo! while careening down the final line at over 20 miles-per-hour.

I felt even more refreshed.  But there was more!

We made a relaxed dinner with no children asking what we'd be eating or insisting that they didn't want it, or that they didn't like it, or that they wanted something different.  We talked for hours -- hours! -- about the various conversation points that we had texted each other the week leading up to our weekend so we remembered to discuss important matters (career vs. life balance vs. calling), daily life goals (house projects, writing goals, wanting to learn how to cook better), and random quirks (ax throwing, photo organization/documentation, dodgeball leagues, issues we have with social media, increased OCD tendencies as we age, and one particularly hilarious clip from the Ellen Show.)

Because when you only get to spend one weekend a year with a friend, you don't want to forget to discuss anything of importance.  Or non-importance, for that matter.

I felt even more refreshed.  But there was more!

We drank Cheer Wine, and we went out to lunch.  We went shopping, and we talked more.  We made another dinner on Saturday evening, then we watched a movie late into the night.  We deliberated if we were up to watching a second movie, given that it already was 1:30 AM when the credits rolled on the first, and she declared, "Yes! We're only middle-aged once!" 

So we watched another.  And, for the second night in a row, we tumbled into bed after 4 AM.

But there's still more!  When I woke early on Sunday morning to pack my bags and head home, I no longer felt refreshed.  I felt like a 40-year-old who had just gotten 9 hours of sleep over the course of an entire weekend because I had been living like I was 20.

And it was wonderful.  Absolutely wonderful.

After all, you're only middle-aged once.


The Mother of All Zucchini

Title: The Mother of All Zucchini

Subtitle: Because there's no time like the present to bake a dozen loaves of zucchini bread.

When Your Best Friend Moves Away

Last week, my ten-year-old daughter's best friend moved nearly 600 miles away.  It's been hard.  This is my daughter's first real heartbreak in life, and the heartbreak is real.  Whether you're 10 or 40 or 70, after all, when you're separated from someone you love, it's painful.

I've thanked God for this dear friend.  She moved to our town a few years ago, and she and my daughter quickly formed a bond.  They've never hit a glitch since then -- just sweet and spunky friendship, wild imaginations and silly conversations, playing on the playground and being happy kids together.  Each has been a fixture at the other's house; each has blended right in at the other's dinner table.

My daughter's friend now faces the excitement of something new, but it's tinged by the sharp scariness of unfamiliar routine, location, and people.  My daughter still is wrapped in the familiar comfort of her same life, but she realizes that the landscape isn't as complete as it once was.  Both will learn how to navigate their altered terrains.

And both will make it.  They'll never forget each other, but they'll forge ahead.

Right now, I stand to the side as the parent, knowing that while I can support and counsel my daughter as she's feeling these emotions of loss, she needs to process them.  She needs to grieve a bit.  I listen for when she wants to talk, and I recognize that she sometimes wants to be silent.  

We parents want to protect our kids from hurts, but some types of hurt just need to be felt.  Some hurts are a simply byproduct of being human.  Some hurts show that you love.

Get Rid of All The Things!

In preparation for the garage sale our family and neighbors will host this weekend, I've been scouring our house with an eye to throw everything away. I mean this. Nothing is safe.

Last week, for example, I launched an epic cleaning endeavor that targeted the cabinet where roughly eleven thousand mechanical pencils, wooden pencils, colored pencils, broad-tipped markers, fine-tipped markers, scented markers, Crayola crayons, Twistable crayons, Twistable pencils, pens, Sharpies, and other miscellaneous and/or specialty writing utensils have accumulated, and apparently multiplied, in dozens of plastic pencil bins.

Because this is how I spend my down time.

I poured myself a tropical cherry sparkling water, turned out some music, and organized until my heart was content.  Dried-out markers, wrapper-less crayons nubs, and pencils without erasers were tossed.  Dull pencils were sharpened.  Like items were sorted with like items.  Extras were packaged in neat bunches and donated to a new teacher who's starting her first classroom.

 Bit by bit, my exterior world came into more order, and my heart soared a little.

Then I realized that this was just one cabinet, and there we sundry other things -- toys! games! more craft supplies! books! clothes! kitchen things! -- that needed to be sorted, tamed, and reduced.

For the love.  How does this happen?  How does this amount of stuff enter a household?  I prefer to believe that I don't own too many possessions, like it's a mark of sobriety and contentment and not being snared by the materialistic trappings of the world, but fifteen plastic pencil boxes of writing utensils will disabuse you of the illusion that you don't own much.

I'd blame my kids, given that they're chief perpetrators with their craft creations, books, gadgets, school worksheets, and special occasions detritus, like those birthday party goodie bags filled with small plastic gizmos that they love and I want to spontaneously combust, but the truth is, kids really can't bring that much into a house without you letting them.  (Or, if they smuggle things in without you knowing, like the time my girls and the neighbor kids hid a pet frog in our garage in a plastic crate.  It died.  They still feel badly about this.)
But back to the stuff.

Even thought I'm highly organized, I also contribute to mass accumulation.  You see, I'm kind of a hustler.  We live in a transitory town where people -- students, mostly -- leave things on the side of the road when they're moving out.  (We're talking about furniture, home goods, and entirely viable products that, at least in my mind, don't belong on the side of a road destined for a landfill.)

So, I sometimes pick up these cast-away roadside treasures and bring them home, which, as you can imagine, my husband deeply appreciates. Then -- here come the hustling part -- I sell these items FOR PROFIT.  (My husband appreciates this part more.)

That's where we are now.  We've reached critical mass.  The only thing separating us from a garage where we can actually park is a mere 327 sequential pricing decisions (should I charge 50 cents or one dollar for this candle?), and then, during the sale, some strong currents of mental telepathy to the woman who repeatedly returns to the corner table to hold the decorative lantern. Buy it. Buy it. You know you want to buy it.

Because maybe she'll take it home and treasure it forever.  Or, just maybe, she'll sell it at her own garage sale next year.

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