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.


In Case of Emergency

I tapped out yesterday afternoon. It had been a long week, made a bit longer due to an unexpected pipe leak, and a kid home sick, and a hefty grading load. When I woke up yesterday, I immediately sensed that I was on the brink of total immune system collapse. (I blame my three kids, who each have been sick off and on for weeks like a weird whack-a-mole game where one finally gets healthy, but another pops up with an illness, and my college students, who, by week 5 in the semester, are a bit ragged.)

Although it felt somewhat selfish and irresponsible, I cleared my afternoon schedule and did exactly what my body needed: I took a nap. I slept for several hours, which, apparently, was just long enough to not entirely know where I was, or who I was, or what month it was when I woke up. Now that's needed sleep.

It reminds me of the proverbial "put on your own oxygen mask first" instruction. A dragging, exhausted, miserably sick Robin wasn't going to be of any usefulness to anyone else, much less myself, so I might as well do what it takes to stop that disastrous train in its tracks.

I already felt better this morning. Not perfect, but better. Functional. This is good, because all the things I put off yesterday are still waiting for me today. The importance difference is that today I'm feeling well enough to tackle them.

In case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first. It's good advice.



Be Like George

I receive a group text yesterday afternoon from a neighbor. She explained that her young son, George, had left "love notes" for us. She included a picture of George, bundled in his jacket and bright blue hat, chalking on someone's driveway.

As soon as I get home, I check my own driveway to see the love note George left for our family. It's perfect. Right to the point.

Then came the string of replies from neighbors in the text thread:


       "Can't wait to see it when we get home! Tell him thank you!"

       "I'm very excited to check out my driveway! He's so cute!"

       "We love our love note!"

       "Thank you, George. Your note made me smile!"

What a simple, childlike action, and yet such a beautifully profound one. George wanted the neighbors to know he loved them, so, with chalk in hand, he made his heart known. I don't know anyone who wouldn't be moved by this kind gesture. Personally, I hope it doesn't rain anytime soon so I can keep enjoying George's love note for many days to come.

Let's all be like George today.


When An Easy Project Goes Wrong

I'm no stranger to using a drill. I don't inflate myself and suggest that I'm a skilled craftsman, but I'm competent enough to hang a heavy mirror on a wall using drywall screws. That's such an easy project that I'm not sure if you even can consider it a project at all.

That being said, it's also the exact project that got me in over my head yesterday. Let me explain.

I received a beautiful mirror for Christmas. I've been actively thinking about hanging it for the last month and a half. I picked the perfect spot for it our bedroom wall. For the last two or three weeks, I've been actively talking about hanging it. For one reason or another, I just haven't gotten around to it.

Yesterday, however, I decided it was time. My husband is out of town, but I knew I could manage on my own. I even envisioned him returning on Saturday evening from his travels, walking into our bedroom, being surprised by my skill and initiative, and saying, "Oh, you hung the mirror! It looks great!"

With this confidence and gumption, I gathered my materials, marked precisely where to drill, double-checked to ensure the holes would be level, and used my 3/16 drill bit on the first hole. Perfect.

Then I drilled the second hole, which also seemed perfect until I removed the drill from the wall and was immediately hit in the face with a spray of water. Water? Water! Wait, water? Did I drill into a pipe? How did I drill into a PIPE? I was nowhere near plumbing!

But none of that logic matters when a stream of water is gushing from the hole you just drilled in your bedroom wall. I immediately plugged the hole with my finger to get my bearings. There was no way I had drilled into a pipe. I called my daughter, who wasn't feeling well and was resting in bed, to come help.

Daughter (cough): "But I'm dying."

Me: "Irrelevant. Come here and press your finger on this hole for me while I get a bucket and a towel. Then you can die."

Turns out, I hadn't drilled into a water pipe after all. But I had drilled into a return air vent pipe which, due to a missing vent cap on our roof, had been filled with water. When I nicked it with my drill, all the accumulated rain water stagnating in that pipe -- from the top of our roof to the exact spot where I drilled into my upstairs bedroom wall -- poured onto my floor and leaked through the ceiling of our family room below.

I'll spare you the extraneous details, but later in the evening, I cut out a section of soaked, crumbling drywall from our bedroom wall so I could block the hole with a quick-seal adhesive patch. Our contractor friend is coming tomorrow to discern how to best flush out the remaining water below my drill hole in the pipe, remove any blockage, and install the missing vent cap that caused this mess in the first place. Of course, at some point, I'll need to prime and repaint the family room ceiling.

On the positive side, I should be glad that I hit the pipe. If I had drilled even one inch to the left or right, I never would have discovered we had a problem in the first place. This is a good thing. At least, that's what I'll tell myself when I think about my beautiful mirror, which I've now slid underneath the bed, or look at the hole in my bedroom wall, or glance up at the water stains marring my family room ceiling.

One thing hasn't changed, though. I had imagined that my husband would be surprised when he returned home from his trip and saw what I had done to our bedroom. I think that's still valid.

Surprise, honey!


Wisdom from The Glass Onion

It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.

- Benoit Blanc, The Glass Onion

I've enjoyed both Benoit Blanc mysteries: Knives Out and more recently, The Glass Onion. (If you haven't already seen them, watch once for the surprise plot twists, then watch again to catch the subtle gaps you missed the first time.)

One exchange particularly stood out to me in this newer mystery. It was when Detective Blanc cautions Birdie Jay (played by Kate Hudson) after she glibly praises herself for her cutting edged truth-telling.

Birdie Jay: I'm a truth teller. Some people can't handle it.

Benoit Blanc:
It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth. Don't you think?

Both times I watched, this line impressed me. So many heated conversations and nasty social media comments could be avoided if society adhered to this succinct wisdom when communicating. Maybe we all need a Benoit Blanc reminder: speak with thought and with truth.

Not everything that comes across our mind needs to be said. It's wisdom to know when to speak and when to hold our tongue. Certainly, our goal is to tell the truth, but it should also be to speak with love, thoughtfully consider the well-being of others.

As for speaking stupidly but excusing it with the guise that we're just telling the truth? I imagine Blanc shaking his head, remind us of this:



Drowning in Monkey Arms

I'm happy to report that today I completed a half-hour task that I've been avoiding for two months.

This task had been written on not one, not two, but three separate to-do lists. For two months, I've dodged this task like a ball and skipped it like a stone across a smooth lake. I've avoided it the way I sometimes avoid people in the grocery store when I'm wearing my glasses and socks with sandals, and I just want to dash in, grab my milk and overly-priced eggs, and dash out without any human interaction.

I've managed this avoidance for two months, across three to-do lists, but not today. Not today, I tell you! Today I Did The Thing.

I realize that the tendency to procrastinate is a universal human ailment that besets even the best of us at times. Years ago, I wrote on this blog about a very simple task that I had been avoiding: sewing the arm that had torn off one of my daughter's stuffed animals. A monkey, to be specific. For weeks, that one-armed monkey sat on my dresser, regarding me mournfully with its beady stuffed animal eyes, silently pleading for me to sew its dismembered arm back onto its body.

It took me under five minutes to finally stitch that monkey's arm back on. Practically no time at all.

What amazed me was the comments from others who could relate. One woman wrote, "Most days I feel like I am drowning in monkey arms." (I assume she meant this figuratively, not literally, or it would have been an even more concerning and unsettling issue.)

So today let me offer a small word of encouragement: As you already know from experience, it feels really good to finally Do The Task. From one imperfect delayed monkey-arm-sewer to another, take those five minutes (or that half hour) and just sew that monkey's arm back on already, whatever that means to you.

Right now, I'm flying high. Perhaps I'll tackle another item that's been long buried on another to-do list that I've previously dismissed. And maybe, just maybe, by the end of this day, most of my monkeys will have arms.


Bird by Bird. Just Take it Bird by Bird.

Today I saw a former student on campus. She was in an honors writing class I taught during the fall of 2019, a small lifetime ago. It had been her first semester. She's now about to graduate. The pandemic years thoroughly anchored and impacted her college experience.

During our brief encounter, she surprised me by saying "I can't believe I bumped into you today. I was just talking to my mom about your class this morning."

This seemed impossible. Well, at least improbable. Who randomly talks about a class they took four years ago?

She explained, "On our very first day, the class felt so overwhelming after we reviewed the syllabus. Then you read a quote to us from Bird by Bird, reminding us that we were going to take the class step by step, day by day, assignment by assignment. I never forgot that. My boyfriend knew how much I love that quote, so he had it embroidered on the sleeve of a sweatshirt for me. He was too excited to wait until Valentine's Day, so he gave me the sweatshirt last night. I called my mom this morning to tell her about his gift. That's why I was talking about your class. You probably don't know this, but that quote not only helped me through our class, but also these past few years."

I was amazed. Who knew that this brief moment during our first class session would resonate with one student so deeply that she'd form it into a life mantra and tell her boyfriend, who'd embroider it on a sweatshirt sleeve, which would prompt her to talk about my class with her mother on the very day that she and I would cross paths again, four years later?

I love this so much. What a gift.

And if you'd like to know the quote by Anne Lamott which started it all, here it is in its entirety:

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird


Just a Hint

The last several days in central Pennsylvania have been cold. Like, cold cold. On Friday, as I walked the stretch of campus from my parking lot to the building where I teach, my face felt savagely assaulted by the air. A student came in behind me, tears streaming down his face. When I asked if he was okay, he said, "Thanks, I'm good. I'm really not upset. The wind is just making me cry."

That kind of cold.

But today is not cold. In fact, it's downright balmy. It's 48 degrees, which feels delightful in a way that people from Florida would say is delusional, but people who cry unbidden tears from the whipping wind in Pennsylvania understand.

It's just a hint of spring. Unexpected, delightful, and a promise that winter won't last forever.


College Kids These Days

An observation about college kids these days, in 100 or fewer words:

My college students discuss matters of civic engagement in one of our public speaking classes. One student starts, with uttermost sincerity, "Back in the late nineteen hundreds...."

I hear nothing he says beyond these opening six words.

Back in the late nineteen hundreds? Did you really just say, "Back in the late 1900's," as if I wasn't graduating high school and finishing 7 of my 8 college semesters, and listening to homemade mixed tapes and burnt CD's, and watching Keanu Reeves save Sandra Bullock in Speed during this very time span?

And, yes. He really just said that.


Chronic Soul Amnesia

Ann Voskamp wrote about a phenomenon she calls chronic soul amnesia. I'm prone to this condition. I learn lessons from problems, then face similar problems later on, and feel as if I'm learning the lessons again for the first time. It's like when I was parenting babies many years ago and the next baby was ready to start solid foods. I vaguely remembered that I had navigated a child through this transition before, but I forgot all the specific details about how we actually accomplished it.

I only knew that I had managed it once (or twice) already, so I trusted we could get through the process with the next child, too. And, clearly, we did. We've progressed onward and upward to teenage challenges in our household now, which are equally (if not more) messy, just in different ways.

One area of soul amnesia for me is fear. I'm pretty good at envisioning how a situation may go south. I can look at a problem, analyze its causes and effects and intricacies, and see no logical way that the dysfunction could be untangled. This is why I'm so grateful the Bible offers ample commentary on how to manage fear and worry.

Did you know how many times scripture encourages us not to be afraid? It's stated 366 times throughout the Bible. In other words, we have a reminder each day of the year, plus a bonus "fear not" for leap years.

Why do I forget that God is an every present help in trouble? It's soul amnesia, I tell you. Each time I come upon a reminder in scripture to be strong and courageous, even though I already know these verses in my heart, my soul rises up like I'm hearing them again for the first time. How necessary it is to keep these promises in our eyes and ears, on our lips, and tucked into our hearts? Say it louder for the people in the back!

Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

God is fighting our battles today. We can brush off the forgetfulness and remind our souls of God's steady faithfulness.

As an aside, I'm getting to the point where I'd like to do this:

And that way, this reminder will be written visibly to help prevent my soul amnesia for all 365 days a year.

The February Challenge: 30 for 30 (minus 2)

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

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

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

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

I'm so glad you asked. I'd love to tell you.

1) Exhibit A: The Name of This Blog. The title of this blog is Robin Kramer Writes. The title itself is a noun, but "writes" is a verb. It's an action. During the past few years, I've pumped the breaks on prolific writing. Life has been weird, and occasionally weirdly hard, and I haven't felt like saying much. That's okay. But right now, it's time for me to reconnect with the part of Robin Kramer that actually, ahem, writes.

2) Self-Amusement. If you'd watch, you'd probably see me smiling as I write. Sometimes I make myself laugh. On rare occasion, I make myself laugh hard enough that I snort, which could be embarrassing except I'm having too much fun. I'm not going to lie: I amuse myself. Although that might sound prideful, it's not. It's good to enjoy yourself, your own company, and your own thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds fun. A writing challenge will be fun.

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

In other words, 28 days should be do-able.

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

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