If You Don't Stop and Look Around

I don't always quote iconic 80's movies, but today I'm remembering a particular scene in Ferris Bueller when he offered this wise advice:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

This advice seems apt right now. You see, the month of May is a bit crazy. It's crazy because the kid's school year is dying down, and by dying down I mean amping up with a dozen-or-so end-of-year celebrations ranging from final track meets, to final choir concerts, to prom, to awards ceremonies, to emails from teachers with Sign-Up Genius links to bring in something for some class party / event / thing. 

In our household, May also is a month of birthdays. We celebrate three birthdays over a span of eleven days. There's cake, then more cake, and then more cake after that. This May, specifically, marked the threshold where our youngest turned 13, so Joel and I are officially parents of all teenagers. We feel this.

To keep May hopping, I finished spring teaching, took a week's pause after finals week to prepare our house to rent it for graduation weekend (which requires cleaning the house to the point that it looks like we no longer live in it), and then started summer teaching, which runs at an accelerated pace so we can cover fifteen weeks of content in six weeks.

This, I have discovered, is just the nature of May. It moves pretty fast.

But there's today. Today has been a slow day, a heart-stopping beautiful day when the weather must be a precursor of the climate in heaven. The grass is cut and the peonies are in full bloom. The breeze carries sounds of kids playing down the street. Chores are done. There's no immediate work to attend to. 

It's peaceful and calm, slow and savored. It's a gift that I don't take for granted. Even as I write from my back porch, I linger between sentences to let my gaze wander. If I don't stop and look around, I'm going to miss it.

I don't want to miss it.

I'm trying to do the same during this season of life. Our oldest daughter graduates high school next week. Someone with younger children recently asked me how this feels. She's attending college close to home, which helps to mitigate some of the feelings that parents must feel when their child moves far away, but I still have feelings.

There's joy, of course. She's worked so hard, grown so much, and she's ready for the next step. There's surprise. I mean, people tell you that 18 years go fast, but when you actually measure the span from newborn to emerging adult with a milestone one evening where they wear a cap and gown, you realize that those people were right. It goes fast in the way that 18 years can go fast -- which is not at all, and entirely so, all at once.

Of course, the feelings wouldn't be complete without the loving concern about all the next steps and challenges: adjusting to college living, working through inevitable moments of frustration when living with a roommate in a dorm room the size of a Wheat Thin, making decisions about the future. When my thoughts wander, I find them circling over the same themes:

Have I taught her enough? Have I shared what I want her to know deep in her core about how much we love her, and how valuable she is, and how she can trust God with every single one of these steps into adulthood?

I hope so. I really hope so.

There's also sadness intermingled with such joy that it's impossible to separate one from the other. My face gets confused with all the signals from my brain and heart. My mouth smiles and my eyes cry because it's all true: this person I loved before I laid eyes on her, this baby I carried, this toddler I hoisted on my hip, this kindergartener who wore a backpack nearly the size of her body, this elementary school child who learned to read and ride a bike and master the monkey bars on the playground, this middle schooler who threatened my sanity, this high schooler who passed a driver's test, had her first fender-bender, competed in hurdles, gave presentations, took AP tests, stayed up late doing homework, and came home late after hanging out with friends, this young woman who's lived her life with some high highs alongside some inevitably low lows, is taking her first steps out the door.

So, how do I feel?

There aren't enough words. I feel it all. It's joyful and surreal. It's good, and sweet, and aching. It's a reminder that life moves fast, and that it's important to look around, to feel these feelings deeply, to let myself smile and laugh and cry.

I don't want to miss any of this.


The Start of May

Ah, May has arrived. I like the month of May. I like that the semester ends. I like that peonies bloom, that I can smell lilac in the breeze, and that the world comes alive. I like that I get to start cutting the grass, that we mulch our flower beds, and that living spaces spill over onto back patios and front porches. 

With all that said, that's currently not what May feels like. It's 40 degrees outside. It's also wet. A will-anything-ever-feel-dry-again? wetness. There have been multiple daily torrential downpours, intermingled with slow stretches of lackluster rain, punctuated by moments of hail.

Welcome to May.

If I had my druthers, the start of May would be vibrant and sunny, fresh and fun, comfortable and carefree. But, as we all know, we don't control the weather. 

There's so much we don't get to control. I recently was talking with a friend who's facing some serious challenges in her personal life. I understood. Same here. Even though the particulars of our circumstances are different, she and I share a similar bottom line: we both have chapters in our lives that we hadn't envisioned and wouldn't have chosen for ourselves.

This is universally human. We wouldn't have chosen illnesses and cancer diagnosis. We wouldn't have chosen hardships in marriage. We wouldn't have chosen infertility or miscarriages, heartbreaks and bullying, wayward children or job termination, addictions or anxiety disorders, house fires or losing loved ones too soon. We've all lived life events we never would have written into our own stories willfully, but those stories have come nonetheless.

If we had our druthers, things would be more vibrant and sunny, fresh and fun, comfortable and carefree. But, as well all know, we don't get to control all the twists and turns of life.

So today, on this second day of May, I accept the blustery temperature, the rain squalls, and the cloud coverage. I'll work inside and choose contentment, rather than lamenting that I can't work outside. I'll steal a moment to sit and read, curled up under a blanket on my couch, instead of in the wishing I was reading on my porch with my sunglasses on. I'll remember that these few rainy, cold days in May are temporary. It's not going to stay this cold and damp forever.

That's the same with life. When we face hard times, they feel immersive, as if there's 100% circumstantial cloud coverage. But hard times don't last forever. I love this advice from Kristina Kuzmic:

So here's a tip: add right now to whatever is frustrating you about parenting or life in general so that you're not putting a permanence on it. You're realizing that whatever is difficult right now doesn't have to be difficult forever. So, for example, 'I'm not getting enough sleep right now. My toddler is throwing daily tantrums right now. My teenager acts like he hates me right now. This divorce is so excruciatingly painful right now.'

This is right now. This is not forever. You are not stuck. A bad year or two or five doesn't equal a bad life. It equals a bad year or two or five. Hard parenting days won't last forever. Hard life days aren't permanent either.

It's not permanent. It's right now."

Sure, the start of May has been wet and cold. But it's not permanent. It's just right now.


If You Have Something Nice to Say

This past weekend at church, I sat a few rows behind a friendly married couple that we've known, at least on an acquaintance level, for years. Their adult daughter and son-in-law arrived a few minutes later and sat beside them. I loved the greeting that ensued: warm hugs, the mom rubbing her daughter's back, huge smiles. Such tangible displays of affection.

I've noticed this about this family before. They love each other. They like each other. It shows.

On the back of my bulletin, I scrawled a little note to my husband, "The bond between members of that family always warms my heart. So evident how much love there is!"

He read it and nodded. He had noticed, too.

After service, I waited for the woman and handed her the note, telling her, "I just wanted you to see your family how others see you."

Then I went on with my day. Honestly, I didn't think of the encounter again until I noticed that she had tagged me on Facebook with a picture of my messily written note and this message: 

A sweet friend handed this to me on our way out of church. It’s probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about our family. So appreciated. Made my year!!!

My heart! Do you know how simple it was for me to pass this note to her? It was such a small thing! And yet, it clearly was meaningful to her.

We all know the adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." But this small encounter reminds me that the opposite corollary might be equally important: If we have something nice to say, say it.

We think nice things about people all the time. Once again, I'm reminded that it never hurts to say it.

On Having a Favorite Tree

I'm going to go ahead and state the obvious: I used to be young, and now I have a favorite tree. I get weirdly excited about this particular tree, you see. It's along a road leading to the elementary school my children used to attend. You can pass this tree all winter long and not notice it. You can drive by it all summer without a glace.

But in spring, you notice this tree. You gawk at this tree. You want to let out a low whistle of appreciation for this tree. You annoy your pre-teen (who, for the record, is too pre-teen-y to find it cool to have a favorite tree, although she'll concede that this one is nice) by making her open her window and use your phone to take a picture while you drive by at a snail's pace. 

This tree deserves being noticed. This tree deserves being captured when its in full bloom.

* * *
On Tuesdays I don't go onto campus. Instead, like a throwback to Covid days, I work from home. I grade assignments from my kitchen table, still wearing the exercise clothes from my morning visit to the gym. To break up working, I do other types of work: starting and folding a load of laundry, collecting trash from all the bins and rolling the trash cans to the curb, making sure we have all the groceries needed for the remaining meals this week. These household tasks serve as a buffer, a needed break of doing something productive with my hands instead of my mind. Then it's back to actual work at the kitchen table.

Today, however, I wanted to take a little detour outside of the house. I drove to visit the tree like I'd visit an old friend. It's a mere 10-minute round trip loop from home to the tree and back again, but I took a few extra moments to park my car on an adjacent road, walk toward the tree, and savor the view.

These blossoms don't last long, you know. My eyes wandered from the trunk to the knobby, strong, sprawling limbs. I noticed how the breeze caused the faintest rise and fall of branches, like the tree was shyly waving in greeting. I wondered if this tree is one of the homeowner's most prized possessions, a treasure akin to Jim's watch or Della's hair in O. Henry's Gift of the Magi, something they'd never brag about, but take great pride in owning. We're the people with the tree, I imagine them saying.

Of course, I have to move on. My work from the kitchen table calls, but this detour was just what I needed today.



Just Start

It's inevitable. Each semester I reach a point when it feels like I have grading to complete all the time. And when I say it feels like "all the time," I mean All. The. Time. In perpetuity. Unceasing. Continual. Never ending. Forever and ever and ever, amen.

Last night, I actually dreamed that I was providing feedback for students on an assignment. I was terribly disappointed when I woke up because, apparently, grading completed during a dream doesn't actually count for anything. Come on, man! I worked all night long but have nothing to show for it.

I'm tired. Assignments pour in like a deluge. Yesterday's to-do list bled into today. I suspect today's to-do list will bleed until tomorrow. My shoulders are tense, my brow is furrowed, and my resolve is weakening. I want to either (a) take a nap so I can temporarily forget about the grading, or (b) clean all my closets so I can temporarily convince myself I'm being productive, even if it's not productive in the right way.

I've been in this place before. I'm no stranger to a semester's cumulative fatigue. Grading is time consuming and laborious, yet it's an essential part of my job that I take seriously. Still, it's hard right now.

Even so, I do one entirely unglamorous thing that always helps: I start.

I just start.

I don't need to grade all the assignments tonight. I don't need to complete them all tomorrow, either. Right now, I simply need to start and grade one. Then I start again, and I grade one more. Then one more. Like putting one foot ahead of another, eventually I'll cover some distance.

I'll likely succumb at some point over these next few days and take that nap. It'll be a healthy coping mechanism. I've already organized my pantry. (That was yesterday's diversion, and yes, if you're wondering, it was wildly satisfying up until the point when I conceded to myself that having my spices perfectly lined up wasn't actually my most pressing task.)

Even so, regardless of how many diversions might crop up, I keep reminding myself to start. 

Just start.


Re-Entry into Real Life

Two weeks ago I wrote about our spring break travels. It was a lovely trip: sunshine and sand, leisure time to read books and take walks, and evenings whiled away with card games.

Then we came home. If I'm honest, I get foggy on the details of how the trip ended. In the span of two days, there was a terrifically long drive home. (Hours 12-14 of a family road trip in a minivan are obviously everyone's favorite.)

Upon arrival home, we unpacked, did a dozen-or-so loads of laundry, and took a trip to the grocery store to restock. As a bonus, we added in Daylight Savings and lost an hour of sleep.

When I returned to work Monday morning, with just a hint of a tan on my cheeks as visible evidence of my travels, it was a shock. In fact, that whole week felt like a shock, as if had pulled out of my driveway and suddenly was moving 70 miles per hour.

Looking back, I'm not sure where the week went. I must have gone to work and the kids must have gone to school. I must have taught and graded, and I must have cooked meals and cleaned up. I'm guessing that things moved along normally; at least, I don't recall otherwise.

There's always a re-entry period back into real life. Days that pass without much aplomb, without much to show for them, except for a crossed off block on a calendar. And that's okay. Buffer days and buffer weeks sometimes happen.

Now I'm back to real life, pleased for the extra hour of sunlight each day, and used to the rhythms of work and schedules again. Even so, I'm grateful for times of vacation — those days where we quite literally vacate our regular roles and typical routines  — even if the re-entry into real life takes some time.


Live Oaks and Blooming Azaleas


I was in sixth grade the first time I traveled without my family. I had qualified for the national Academic Games competition in Georgia. In case this feat sounds even remotely impressive, let me immediately disabuse you of such illusions. I was twelve, and in my spare time I studied uncommon trivia about the presidents. (Dolly Madison, our nation's fourth First Lady, made her own lipstick, you know).

This national competition was held at a camp an hour outside Atlanta. We slept in cabins: one side with bunks for the boys, another side for the girls, and a small buffer room in between for the two brave and likely under-compensated teachers who chaperoned our full cohort — a dozen or so kids from our Pittsburgh middle school who qualified to compete with other kids from around central and eastern United States in games with thrilling names like Equations, Linguistics, and Presidents.

At the end of the week, there was a dance held in the dining hall. I don't want to unearth memories too deeply here, but I'm pretty positive I wore a baggy tee shirt and overalls with one side of the bib hanging loose, which clearly was the best style to pair with my singular dance move, the running man. My bangs were styled with a one-inch barrel curling iron, my lips were glossy with Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers, and my eyes were bright with mascara I had borrowed from a seventh grader in the cabin.

That embarrassment aside, this trip captured something within me. I never had traveled far from my Pittsburgh home before this trip, and in one fell swoop, I — a twelve-year-old who knew that James Buchanan was the only president who never married — fell in love with Georgia.

I'm not sure what sealed the romance. Maybe it was the red Georgia dirt and mulched pine needles, or live oaks and blooming azaleas, or sweet tea and billboards for truck stops that sold salty boiled peanuts. Maybe it was graceful swags of Spanish moss and slapping my legs to ward off chiggers instead of typical Pennsylvania mosquitos. Maybe it was the first taste of how travel offered new insights and freedoms, even if I was chaperoned and transported by school busses without air conditioning.

Georgia, somehow, became special to me. Over three decades later, Georgia still feels special.

Since it's spring break at Penn State, our family recently made its way south, passing through Georgia on our way to northern Florida for the week. We stopped in Savannah for an afternoon, and once again, the southern charm, deep and still and somehow ageless, spoke to me.

Many life events have transpired since I first laid eyes on Georgia: high school and college, grad school and marriage, homeownership and parenthood, to name a few. Tomorrow, in fact, I celebrate my 45th birthday. Even with this passage of time, I haven't forgot that my first magical associations with the south started when I was twelve.

Back then, you see, I wasn't just a kid who knew which president gave the longest inaugural address, but also a person who, when exposed to an entirely new place on this earth, felt acute wonder that dirt could be red and oaks could be evergreen.


Creating a DIY Hymn Board

I recently found inspiration from Katie at Little House of Four, a blog teeming with gorgeous vintage decorating and upcycling ideas. She once found an outdated wooden calendar and transformed it into an antique hymn board. I knew I could duplicate something similar when I found a calendar on clearance for 39 cents at my own Goodwill. 

When my husband saw it, he gave a ringing endorsement: "That is ugly." I couldn't argue him on that point; he was entirely right. I just knew it wouldn't stay ugly for long.

Here's the pared-down process I used:

1) Remove the wooden house with a hammer and chisel.

2) Remove the ledges and thoroughly sand the entire surface.

3) Fill screw holes with stainable wood filler, then sand again.

4) Stain the prepared wood. I used Minwax Mission Oak.

5) Reattach the ledges at your chosen heights.

6) Add any desired decorative elements. To fill in some of the empty spaces, I found these wooden appliques from Hobby Lobby and stained them to match.

7) Add numbers or letters to the ledges. Katie from Little House of Four used authentic vintage hymn numbers, which looks amazing. I chose to print letters that I trimmed to size and coated with matte Mod Podge for durability and a slightly aged appearance.

8) Hang and enjoy!

In the coming months and seasons, I plan to print additional letters to spell different words. (I'm thinking "He is risen!" for Easter, and "Noel" or "Merry" for Christmas.) Right now, though, I'm enjoying this visual reminder to abide in Christ.

I'm pleased that an outdated 39 cent wooden calendar could be given new life and a new purpose. Let me know what you think of the transformation!


Mission Accomplished: 30 for 30 (minus 2)

This is it. It's the final day of February. At the start of the month, I set a goal to write here daily. This initially felt ambitious, but the self-imposed challenge kickstarted good things within me, things that had been lying dormant for a while. 

If you're familiar with Robin Kramer Writes, you know that I rarely stick to one topic. This month was no exception. I wrote about stacking wins, encouraging words, procrastination, and middle school basketball games. I commented on the weather, taking small detours, and the Lord's steadfastness. Inexplicably, I wrote a surprising number of posts including animals: the happiest squirrel on campus, some baby ducks, a stuffed monkey with a missing arm, and our newly adopted cat, Chip. Perhaps my favorite two posts of the month documented a seemingly easy house project that went wrong -- and then against all odds, escalated into even more face-palming hilarity.

In a nutshell, February has yielded 28 posts about messy, mundane, and glorious everydayness. To close the month, I'd like to ask something of you, if you're willing: 

I'm issuing an official invitation to un-lurk
. If you're a regular reader — hey, even if you're an occasional or brand-new reader — would you leave a comment to introduce yourself? I speak with sincerity: I'm delighted when a reader interacts, and I'd love to hear from you. You could do this on my Robin Kramer Writes Facebook page, or by clicking the comment button at the bottom of this post.

If you've missed any days along the way, feel free to review the full listing of February 2023 posts. Three cheers for archival accuracy!

Day 01: The February Challenge: 30 for 30 (Minus 2)

Day 02: Chronic Soul Amnesia

Day 03: College Kids These Days
Day 04: Crying at Middle School Basketball Games
Day 05: Just a Hint
Day 06: Take It Bird By Bird
Day 07: Drowning in Monkey Arms
Day 08: Wisdom from The Glass Onion
Day 09: When an Easy Project Goes Wrong
Day 10: In Case of Emergency
Day 11: Be Like George
Day 12: 40 Day Stories
Day 13: Small Detours
Day 14: Love at First Sight: Introducing Chip
Day 15: Stacking Wins
Day 16: When an Easy Project Continues to Go Wrong
Day 17: The Happiest Squirrel on Campus
Day 18: When the Window is Open
Day 19: On Being Awkward in Social Situations
Day 20: Hand Sanitizer
Day 21: Temperamental
Day 22: Ordinary Day? Add Baby Ducks
Day 23: Just Lint On a Sweater
Day 24: Easy DIY Twine Orb
Day 25: The Kindness of a Chainsaw
Day 26: Shop the Freezer
Day 27: Words We Never Forget
Day 28: Mission Accomplished (You are here. And I'm so glad that you are.)


Words We Never Forget

When I was nineteen years old, I had a professor I respected deeply. Her class challenged me. It was a 400-level rhetoric course, and I, as a third-semester sophomore, was the youngest student enrolled. All other students were seniors. 

I felt this disparity keenly. Although I had no tangible proof, I sensed that my older classmates analyzed more deeply, summarized more succinctly, and understood more easily.

In my mind, they sauntered through the readings while I trudged. They breezed through the weekly synopsis papers while I clawed for each word. During the first weeks, I faithfully attended class, but I didn't contribute to discussions often. I didn't want to reveal that I was an imposter.

It's been 25 years, and I still remember the fall afternoon when my professor returned graded essays at the end of class. Mine had a handwritten note asking for me to see her after class. As we stood on the sidewalk directly outside Sackett Building under the shade of the iconic elms that lined Penn State's mall, she asked if I'd permit her to share my writing as an example for other students who were struggling.

I was floored. Gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. Then she uttered this sentence: "Robin, you're so smart that you make my teeth hurt."

I've never forgotten those words. Especially because she said them to a person who, at the time, didn't even believe she was smart enough to be enrolled in the class. I wanted to respond, "Well, I make my own teeth hurt, too, but that's because I grind them as I painstakingly chew my way through your assignments."

Quite honestly, I didn't even know that I needed to hear that she thought I was smart, but once I knew, it sure helped. My confidence grew that day.

It's amazing how much power words possess. Now that I'm in a reverse position — teaching college students, rather than being a college student — I consider my own words thoughtfully. I want my feedback not only to be helpful and constructive, but also seasoned with grace and encouragement. 

I hope I've spoken words over students that they'll never forget in all the right ways. I hope that one day, a student will be able to recall the exact location where they stood when I said something they didn't even know they needed to hear until they heard it.


Shop the Freezer

Many years ago, our freezer door accidentally was left open. Everything was ruined, and ruined is a gentle word to describe the scene, dear friends. More graphically, the contents of the freezer had thawed and oozed and congealed into terrifyingly unidentifiable puddles of mucousy juice.

It was traumatizing, not only because it was disgusting, but also because some of that food was in the form of actual meals that I had prepared in advance for days when our schedules would be too hectic to make a decent dinner.

In advance! Advanced planning! One freezer door left ajar killed many of my dreams that day. It was a painful loss.

I try my hardest to consistently meal plan for each week, and I've gotten better at it over the last decade or so. That being said, some days I'm still surprised when I reach 5 PM and I remember that it's nearly dinner, that I have children, and somehow, I'm the one responsible for feeding them.

But not this week. This week I know what I'm doing. It's an official "Shop the Freezer" week.

This operates exactly like it sounds: nearly everything we eat this week will come from the freezer. I've excavated the bottom sliding freezer drawer, inventoried all the contents, and stacked items so the oldest Ziplock bags are in front. We'll have garlic and brown sugar chicken thighs in the crock pot, leftovers from pulled pork and barbeque beef, fried chicken sandwiches from frozen chicken breasts, and leftover roast. I'll finally use up half-eaten bags of frozen veggies. I'll boil, then pan fry the frozen pierogies with butter and carnalized onions. 

By the end of the week, that freezer will be so tidy, so updated, with no lingering unneglected corners. My heart for thriftiness and organization already is singing happy songs as I envision this.

Don't know what do for dinner this week? Do what I'm doing. Shop the freezer.


The Kindness of a Chainsaw

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were at an event where we spoke with a friendly married couple that we only nominally knew. They live on a large property, and they recently had been taking down some trees with a chainsaw. I perked up at this and said, "I need one of those!" I elaborated that I had cut down a sprawling bush in our backyard during the fall, but I didn't have a way to get rid of the stump. (I had tried, unsuccessfully, with a hand saw. Twenty minutes into that endeavor, I realized I was getting nowhere.)

The man said, "I could come by sometime with my chainsaw and take care of that for you." 

It was a kind sentiment, but we really didn't know these people especially well. I never thought of his offer again. I assumed that he never thought of his offer again, either. 

But last night, he reached out to my husband to get our address. This morning, he showed up with his chainsaw to cut down the stump. 

I'm so impressed. Touched, really. I know it only took him a few minutes to complete, but this gesture spoke volumes. It reminded me of the proverb, "Do not withhold good when it is in your power to act."

I'll never forget this kindness, all in the form of a helpful heart and a chainsaw.


Easy DIY Twine Orb

This little corner of my family room is a happy space. There's natural light, the wooden bench fits beside the couch perfectly, and my fiddleleaf fern is thriving. There's a contrast of textures, a cozy blanket, and best yet, there are books. Lots of books.

A pretty home doesn't need to be fancy and decorating doesn't need to be expensive. I find amazing treasures at thrift stores and garage sales, and when possible, I try my hand at making DIY projects.

That little orb sitting on the bench, for example? I made it last weekend using twine and metal wreath rings, both of which I bought at Dollar Store. (The rings came in a pack of three.) I simply positioned the rings together so they formed the orb, then wrapped the twine tightly until all the metal sections were concealed and the junctions were secured. 

Such a simple project for a such a reasonable price. It's the perfect addition to my happy little space.


Just Lint on a Sweater

An unexpected obligation sprung up in my schedule today. I already had packed the day to the brim, so over my cereal, I vainly attempted to adjust my schedule to make it all possible. No matter how I configured things, nothing seemed tenable. There simply were too many pieces in the puzzle. 

Within a minute I get an email: a long meeting in the center of my day unexpectedly was cancelled. Just like that, everything suddenly fit into place.

I don't know why I even get ruffled anymore. Time and again, I've witnessed how the little details work out. I mean, not to brag, but I've survived one hundred percent of the worst days I've had so far -- and if you're alive and reading this, so have you. So, why do I still sweat the smaller details?

I remember my dad once using an expression about a problem he was facing. It was a legitimate issue, but not one that held life-shaking consequences, and he maintained proper perspective. He told me, "Robin, this just lint on a sweater." 

Just lint on a sweater. Maybe annoying or irritating, and worth dealing with, but certainly nothing that deserved to be escalated or worried over. That quirky phrasing stuck with me.

My early morning mental gymnastics turned out to be unnecessary because the problem, like lint on a sweater, wasn't all that significant or permanent.

Today, let's brush off, not fixate on, what just amounts to lint on a sweater.


Ordinary Day? Add Baby Ducks.

Each day, after teaching my classes on campus, unless I have meetings or office hours, I automatically drive home and resume grading and preparing class content from my house. Although predictable, it's a comfortable rhythm.

Today I didn't immediately feel like going home, though. For no premeditated reason, I visited a local farm supply store. Given that I'm not a farmer, this makes no sense. I don't own acreage or tend chickens. I don't habitually listen to country music or get excited about machinery. But the store serves free popcorn, and that seemed like a good enough reason to stroll the aisles until I reached my favorite part of the store. Say hello to the baby ducks:

Sometimes it's baby chickens. Today, there were baby ducks. As they nuzzle together under glowing heat lamps in a pile of fluffy adorableness, I stand there enjoying my popcorn, feeling like maybe deep down inside, I secretly am a country girl.

Then I drive home and start working again. It's still an ordinary day, but one made just a bit better because of five minutes admiring some baby ducks.


The weather can't make up its mind today. I've been at home for hours, sitting at the same seat at my kitchen table as I grade student speeches. The sun shines, and I angle my laptop to avoid the glare. Then clouds roll in, they sky darkens, and rain bursts forth. Back and forth: light then dark, sunny then dreary, dry then drenched.

It's temperamental. All day long, it's been back and forth.

It's a good reminder. When I'm in mood -- you know, a mood -- where I'm feeling volatile or dreary, it's good to remember that it's only a passing feeling. Feelings, just like weather, change. They don't last forever.

On temperamental days when the sun can't fully decide whether it wants to shine and the clouds can't fully decide whether they want to rain, we accept the tug-of-war. It's part of life to have sunny days, and rainy days, and days that can't quite commit. Ditto for our internal lives.

The older I get, the more I try to pay attention to my emotions -- to let myself feel them in all their exhilarating highs, all their sorrowful aches, and all the gray areas in between. And then, in the midst of all this feeling, I try to remember that these feelings don't need to dictate me. They're real, but they can be more like passengers -- not shoved in the trunk and ignored, not driving the bus, but along for the ride.

Weather changes. My moods change within my complicated heart. Thank God, however, that there's something that doesn't change: God himself. He's stable, not temperamental. He's a reliable foundation.

Since I've started writing, the sky already has brightened, yet I know more rain will fall as the day progresses. I simply remind myself to stay balanced, accepting and releasing  changes as they come and go, taking comfort that, unlike today's weather, the most important foundation will always remain constant and good.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

Hand Sanitizer

Title: Hand Sanitizer

World's fastest way to discover if you have an invisible cut on your hand.

On Being Awkward in Social Situations

Have you ever left a social situation and thought, "Mmm, that was not my best work"?

Last night my husband and I attended a party for his work. There was ample food, loud music, and mingling. So much mingling. Perhaps I'm revealing my age, but mingling can be hard enough on its own before you add loud music into the equation. 

As much as middle age might be my liability here, it's also an asset. Many years ago I learned a principle about social situations that I still apply today: Instead of wondering and worrying whether people will like me, I flip my focus and enter the situation intent on liking them

They want to be liked, too. They might feel awkward, too. They might cringe at the thought of mingling, too. They might have just held a one-sided conversation in their head where they told themselves, "Don't be weird tonight," before they walked in the door, too.

Truth is, everybody wants to feel noticed, valued, and appreciated.

I'm not perfect with this, but I changed when I stopped looking for love and acceptance from others and started showing it to others. I mean, as a Christian, I know that I'm loved, accepted, and valued by God. Because of this, I can be secure anywhere I go. Despite my own limitations (or even my inability to hear conversation over loud music), I can be secure enough to focus on what really matters: not mingling perfectly, but loving well.

The Happiest Squirrel on Campus

I found the happiest squirrel on campus yesterday. You might wonder how I can make such a bold, definitive claim, and I'd understand your skepticism. There are a lot of squirrels on campus, after all. They're like pigeons in New York City. They're always there. They're part of the landscape and experience.

You're probably also wondering how I know whether a squirrel is happy. That's also a fair question. I mean, squirrels are so squirrely, so even if they are happy, they're still so weirdly fidgety and flighty.

Despite these valid questions, I stand firmly on my claim: I found the happiest squirrel on campus yesterday.

This little guy had found a piece of pizza. He was being actively pursued by another squirrel, who I'd rank in my entirely scientific and not-at-all-arbitrary ranking system as either the second happiest or least happiest squirrel on campus. ("Second happiest" if he caught up with the first squirrel and snagged some pizza. "Least happiest" if he came this close, but fell short of the prize.)

Do I know how this squirrel got a piece of pizza? No. Am I curious how this squirrel got a piece of pizza? Absolutely. I'd really like to know the full backstory.

For now, let me tell you what I know for certain: 

This is the happiest squirrel on campus.


When the Window is Open

In the middle of the week, we had a perfect February day. While the month overall feels like a roller coaster of blah, we always seem to get one rogue amazing February day. It's rarely repeated. The day preceding it never is great, and the day following isn't great either, but that one day? It's wonderful.

That was Wednesday. The temperature reached into the 60's. The warmth and sunshine is such a surprise gift that people in central Pennsylvania totally lose their minds. We wear shorts prematurely. We wash cars. We see neighbors who we hadn't seen in weeks, maybe months.

As for me? I also spray paint. It has to be above 50 degrees (and low humidity) in order to spray paint, so I've been waiting for months for this moment. Wednesday was perfect. As soon as I got home from campus, I changed out of my "professional work" clothes and into my "painting work" clothes, dragged out my cardboard base, lined up my projects, and got to work.

What simple things to get ridiculously excited about. Sunshine! Blue skies! Spray paint!

Turns out, since then we've already dipped back down in temperature, and it's been raining off and on. Wednesday really was a unicorn of a day, as elusive at it was magical.

I'm so glad I seized the opportunity when the window of opportunity was open.


When an Easy Project Continues to Go Wrong

Last week I told you about a little mishap surrounding what should have been an easy project. I drilled a hole in my bedroom wall to hang a mirror and accidentally hit a return air vent pipe that, belying all logic, had been filled with water. That water gushed out of the hole, down through the drywall, and into the family room ceiling below.

Good times, good times.

I'm here to report that this story gets better. And when I say "better," I actually mean the opposite of better. This story gets worse. 

Let me take you back to last Friday when our contractor friend arrives, inspects the hole in the drywall, confirms that no return air vent pipe (theoretically) should have any standing water in it, and then climbs to the attic so he can run a snake down the pipe and dislodge any clog that's causing this water backup.

Curious, I climb the ladder into the attic, too, so I can hear his take on the matter. "I've never seen this problem before," he says. "I shared the photos you sent to a buddy of mine who's been a plumber for 40 years. He's never seen anything like it, either."

I don't take this uniqueness as good news. 

He runs the snake down 30 feet. "If there was any clog, that should have cleared it." When I ask how we'd know, he shrugs and admits, "We really don't know."

I fill in what he's left unspoken, "You mean, we don't know whether this worked unless we drill another hole at a lower spot in the pipe to see if more water drains out? If a clog was cleared, there'd be no more water in the pipe, right?"

He nods. I nod. Then he drills another hole. 

Let's just say that more water drains out. Unlike the original water, which ran clear like a weirdly placed water fountain streaming from my bedroom wall, this water is brown and sludgy. We caught as much of it as we could with a bucket. I mop up the rest with towels. He plugs the newly drilled hole and says, "We're gonna need a bigger snake," to which I made a terrible "We're gonna need a bigger boat" joke.

Then we laugh and laugh, ha ha ha, because this all is terrifically funny.

You'd think this would be the lowest point of the story. But no. It's not. It continued because I did a load of laundry to wash the towels I had used to mop up the sludge-water. I tossed my sweatshirt into the load since it was covered with crud. Then I noticed that our weighted door draft stopper, which had been on the floor, was splattered with sludge-water, too. I tossed it into the washing machine as well.

About an hour later when I transferred the laundry from the washer to the dryer, it dawned on me that weighted door stoppers are "weighted" because they're filled with small rocks. Those small rocks had escaped through a tiny hole in the door stopper's fabric. There were now hundreds of them at the bottom of the washing machine agitator.

I assured myself that I'd remember to clean this up before I did my next load of laundry. 

Hours passed, during which I ran an absurd amount of errands, driving back and forth between my house and the school three times to drop-off, and pick-up, and drop-off, and pick-up children at various activities. In those hours, I did not think about laundry. Or rocks. Or weighted door draft stoppers. Nor did I think to tell the one child who was still at home about this whole scenario.

She did a load of laundry.

Those hundreds of rocks, which had been resting benignly at the base of the washing machine, swished and swirled their way through the wash cycle, embedding themselves in the agitator's holes, clogging the pipe, then burning out the drain pump and killing the motor.

Suffice to say, the coolest part about this story — besides how I drained the full washing machine by hand with a bucket, or how my husband came home from his travels an hour later with a suitcase full of dirty laundry — is the relative cost comparison of a weighted door draft stopper (say $20), which I tried to save by washing it, and a washing machine (say $700), which I broke by washing the draft stopper.

Joel and I spent a few hours the next afternoon at a laundromat. It was the same laundromat we had frequented over 20 years ago when we were newlyweds renting our first apartment. I reminded him of this while we waited for our clothes to dry, noting that we were pretty much having a throwback date.

That, my friends, is how you keep a marriage spicy after two decades. You have a date in the laundromat because you've spectacularly killed your washing machine, because you unfortunately washed a weighted door stopper, because you accidentally drilled into a return air vent pipe that's unexplainably filled with water, because you originally tried to hang a mirror to surprise your husband while he was traveling.

Indeed, the surprises just keep coming.


Stacking Wins

I once read about a special needs teacher who habitually celebrated victories, even if those victories seemed small. Did a student successfully tie his shoe? For some, this action might be inconsequential, but for this student, it's a profound victory. I imagine her classroom being joyful. Spontaneous celebrations and compliments would ring out as that community noticed all the things going right.

Today, I feel like celebrating something. At the start of February, I challenged myself to write here each day for a full month. It's now February 15, and this is the 15th post of the month. I'm doing what I set out to do! I'm proud. The significance isn't based on the size of the audience. The significance isn't whether a post goes viral or not. (In case you were curious: they don't.)

The significance is that I'm doing it.

You see, during 2020, which is a year that needs no explanation, I wrote only 14 total posts the entire year. The next year, 2021, wasn't any better. Again, I wrote just 14 times. Those were hard years. While there were good days and moments, I struggled with depression. Words didn't come easily.

So, today I celebrate this 15th post. Fifteen posts in one month! That's more posts than I wrote in the entirety of the train wreck that was 2020. It's more than I wrote in 2021. This 15th post is a marker that shows progress. And, as I learned from a wise special education teacher, it's important to celebrate progress.

My husband directs a ministry where he's the chaplain of a college football program. College football is a highly niche, highly competitive, and highly driven community. They need to be. The whole point of the program is to win. During his years with the team, he's adopted some of their terminology. One phrase used by the coaching staff is the concept of "stacking wins." This doesn't only refer to a literal win on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, although these Saturday wins certainly are the goal. It's referring to a good practice, followed by a good lift, followed by a good session reviewing tape, followed by a show of good teamwork.

You stack the wins. Small wins build into larger wins. Wins of character, wins of discipline, wins of personal growth. This is the type of win regularly celebrated in the special education classroom. It's the type of win I'm celebrating here with you today as we share this 15th blog post of February.

It's easy to focus on when we fall short. It's easy to notice when we stumble or when we don't meet the expectations set by ourselves or others. But today, let's celebrate a win. Let's notice a victory, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and give thanks for it.

Let's stack the wins.


Introducing Chip (Love at First Sight)

We did it. My family adopted a second cat. Let me introduce you to Chip.

As of today, Chip has been with us for exactly one month. He had been abandoned under a trailer and was brought to our local PAWS. The moment we walked into PAWS with intentions to adopt, our youngest daughter saw Chip and put her hand up to the window of the room where Chip was housed. Chip, in response, placed his paw against the glass at her hand.

She immediately fell in love, and with the full confidence that comes from being twelve, she announced, "If our family doesn't pick that cat, I'm coming back here tonight and rescuing him myself."

We picked that cat. No thievery was needed.

Looking back, I'm not entirely certain how this adoption took place. I mean, I grasp the process: I filled out forms, we scheduled a visit, we showed up with our cat carrier, and we left with a new cat. But I don't fully grasp the decision process that led us here. We already had one cat named Peanut. And two jobs. And three kids. Wasn't life full enough?

Over the course of many months, though, maybe a year, the kids kept mentioning getting another cat. They'd offer logical reasons. "Peanut probably would like to have a friend," they'd note. The next time they brought up the topic, they'd try another tactic, "Mom, it's clear that Peanut favors you. If we got another cat, the new cat could be ours."

After being worn down for some time, instead of noncommittally answering, "Maybe we'll get another cat someday," it shifted to, "Yes, we'll get another cat." Then, finally, we took the plunge and got the cat.

Chip is still a kitten. He's curious, delightful, and interruptive. He's absurdly friendly. He's playful. He's also slightly klutzy, which is surprisingly adorable in a cat. He eats all of his food. He tries to eat all of Peanut's food. He shows strong inclinations that he also wants to eat our food. (He likes food.)

I didn't know how Peanut would adjust to having another cat in the house. Turns out, warily at first. But, slowly, a bond is forming. They're starting to play with each other. They nap near each other. Peanut seems determined to keep Chip in line, and Chip seems determined to teach Peanut bad habits.

I've enjoyed watching my kids witness this process. When we were new parents and brought our second baby (and then a third) home from the hospital, we observed how the inclusion of a new sibling impacted family dynamics. There was shuffling. There were feelings. There was adjustment. In the midst of those sleep-deprived seasons, we had concerns whether the older children would feel just as loved, just as secure, and just as special, even though the new baby was demanding immense time and attention.

Now, my kids are undergoing a similar process as they watch the new dynamics with the cats. "I love Chip so much!" someone will say. "I just want to make sure that Peanut knows we still love her so much, too."

In these moments, I see in their hearts what I understood in own heart many years ago: when you add someone new to love, instead of diminishing your original love, it simply expands your capacity.

The house feels fuller with a additional cat. Fuller of movement, fuller of the clickety sound of cat-feet patter, fuller of little tumbleweed tufts of cat hair on the floors, fuller with another food bowl, water bowl, and a few more cat toys strewn along the floor. But it's also fuller with even more love.

Welcome to the family, Chip. We're so glad you're here.


Small Detours


I took a small detour as I left campus today. I didn't give this detour much thought at first, but due to it, I passed a colleague friend of mine who was sitting on a bench. I had finished teaching for the day. He had an hour gap before his next class. We hadn't seen each other for a few months, which is often the case in our jobs. (On a large campus it's easy to run into your colleagues only infrequently.)

Instead of continuing on my way, I sat down. We talked about our classes. We spoke about managing family responsibilities and the work loads that we carry home. We spoke about matters of faith and living with integrity to our beliefs. We talked about how to support, instruct, and love our students well, especially when today's climate is prone to quickly argue, harshly judge, and ruthlessly cancel.

We sat on that bench for nearly an hour, and when we stood to leave, me for the parking deck and him for his classroom, we both felt mutually encouraged and strengthened.

I'm so glad I took a detour today. I'm so glad I sat down on that bench instead of merely waving and walking by. Without a doubt, this conversation was a highlight of my semester. I would have missed it without the detour.

How wonderful that God guides our steps and directs our paths. I want my heart to be sensitive to his quiet nudging. I want to follow all his detours that might lead to unexpected moments, chance conversations, and unanticipated opportunities of encouragement.


40 Day Stories

At church this morning, our pastor mentioned the prevalence of "3 day stories" and "40 day stories" in the Bible. There's plenty of each. Those "3 day stories" feel like a relatively quick resolution. It's hope restored and mess redeemed -- all in the course of a long weekend.  

But "40 day stories" are more like a slow cooker BBQ, not a microwave. It's Noah in the arc, or Moses on the mountain, or Jesus in the wilderness. These "40 day stories" require perseverance. They're more than a moment, but less than a lifetime, and when we're in the midst of one, it's a long enough time period for us to question if it'll go on forever.

I was encouraged this morning. I'm in the midst of some "40 day stories," and perhaps you are, too. If so, take heart. This is not a time to turn around and lose faith. This is a time to keep going.

Let everyone call urgently on God. Whether 3 days, or 40 days, or 40 years, let's persevere.

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