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!

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