2023_BlogPrompt #26 – Reading

Reading. One of my favorite activities, and one that has followed me through my life. Perhaps one day I’ll write about my life through the various books I’ve read because it’s a fun and fascinating journey. What is your experience with reading? As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

I’m leafing through the pages of an old, outdated textbook, not paying attention to what I’m doing. Words on the page. Page after page. So many words. How many of these words actually matter? How many of these words build meaning and insight? Perception and critical thinking?

When I was a child, my parents read to me nearly every day. Those early moments with books instilled in me a love of reading before I could even read, back before we could get information from anything but books and magazines and newspapers and journals. And an hour a day of television news—30 minutes of local news followed by 30 minutes of national news. If you wanted substance, you had to read—books, encyclopedias, newspapers—often on microfiche. You had to read.

And so I did. I spent hours at the local library, first in the spacious children’s room and then in the little pass-through room that housed the teen books, before they were classified “YA.” It was a small room—an in-between space for those who were no longer children but not quite adults. Then we moved on to the general book stacks which filled a large back area. My younger days were loaded with books.

There are some books I remember vividly—scenes and characters. Things that happened and the way I felt when I was reading. Some were silly, like Pippi Longstocking. Others were deep and sorrowful—Across Five Aprils comes to mind. There were some books that were just okay and some I barely remember.

Then there were the magazines, the articles, the newspapers, the long days spent deep in research for paper after paper as I learned how to distinguish fact from fiction. I learned to parse words, sentences, and paragraphs. I analyzed text for the important elements so I could use these to create impact in my own writing. I learned to take the ideas of others and weave them together with my own to build and support an argument so I could discuss topics more deeply with others.

As I leaf through this old textbook, and I stare at the words, I don’t really have to wonder how many of the words matter. How many of them build meaning and help develop critical thinking. I already know the answer.

The answer is all of them. All the words I’ve ever read—they matter. They taught me how to distinguish the good texts from the bad. They taught me to move beyond the fluff to the depths of the text. They taught me to dig deep, to find meaning, and to persevere.

But the most important thing words taught me? How to make magic. When you pick up a book, study all the black squiggles on the white page, and produce a mind full of colorful images and vivid stories, fascinating characters and music and laughter and a full range of emotions, you realize reading is truly a magical experience.  

2023_BlogPrompt #24 – Today

The word of the day is today. What will you/did you do today? What will you dream? What will you see? What crazy adventures will you experience? As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Today’s sunset

Today, I dreamed that I was superman, lifted up and flying high on the winds of change. The things I once knew passed below me as I sped through the sky on the way to new adventures. My cape flapped loudly behind me, shaking off all the things that hold me back. Flight frees me to be authentic, real, and determined in my dealings with the world.

Today, I planted a garden, digging deep through the icy snow and tapping the ground, frozen solid from the bitterness of winter. The seeds were resistant, clinging to the warmth of my fingers, and who can blame them? What they don’t know is that spring will bring growth and possibilities they cannot currently imagine.

Today, I lit a spark of kindness in hopes it would spread like wildfire. A moment of thought and a simple act can change a life. And as it spreads, it can create a movement, a shift in the cosmos. Perhaps my spark will bring happiness to one or two or more people who are surfing the wave of good intentions.

Today, I spent a few extra minutes with someone who needed a friend to listen, to hear, to care. Words spoken from a place of anxiety landed in a meadow of soft grass and wildflowers. A place where worries go to be eased and hopefully forgotten.  

Today, I created a moment of magic. Or maybe more. There was the thought that surprised even myself. Then a conversation full of brainstorming and idea generation and moving forward. There was a moment of peace and a walk in the park.

Today, there were many small, ordinary moments. Moments that could almost seem like magic. Moments that made today a good day.

2023_BlogPrompt #23 – I Wonder…

I was out for a walk recently, and my mind started to wander, as it so often does. It wandered, yet again, into I wonder…. So today we are playing the I wonder game. What crazy things do you wonder about? As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash 

There are a lot of things I wonder about, and my wonderings tend to lead me down a rabbit hole in which I sometimes get stuck.

Think about this for a moment. You are living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early colonial days. For reference, these are the days of a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel—17th century or thereabouts. It is frigid January when daylight lasts a hot minute before night falls dark and impenetrable. You were visiting with a friend, and now you have to get home before supper. The path leads through the woods. In the dark. Pitch dark.

You bundle up as best you can and begin your trek. The dim yellow light of the windows of your friend’s house grow increasingly small and distant until they are specks and then no more. You have a lantern, so at least that’s good. (Though I’m not sure if you’ve ever paid attention to how much light an old-fashioned whale blubber lantern or tallow candle throws out? Not much, I’m sure).

Anyway, the only way home is through the woods since the early settlement is basically only woods with a few scattered clearings for houses here and there. So through the woods you go, traversing the thickening and darkening forest with the feeble little flame as your only source of light.

Off in the distance, you hear the chilling scream of a fisher cat or a fox, but you only hear the scream and have no knowledge what could possibly make such a horrible, haunting noise. Someone, you think, was just eaten alive! Your body tightens in fear as a chill passes over your skin, and you break into a run, trying hard to keep your lantern steady as you go. By the time you get home, you are simultaneously shivering from both fear and cold and sweating, ready to pass out from the exertion of the run and from breathing too hard for too long in the frigid night air.

I wonder what the early settlers thought was in the woods making such horrific and terrifying noises. They had no way of looking it up. Obviously, there was no internet, but there was not even a local library at the time. Someone would literally have to see a fisher cat scream in order to know what it was. But again… it would be dark with only feeble light sources. How long did it take them to figure this out?

I wonder.

2023_#22: Weird Word Wednesday – Gauche

This week’s Weird Word Wednesday is gauche. This word is somewhat common and not all that weird, but I find the etymology is interesting. While it’s a word I have used in French, I don’t remember ever using it in English. But maybe I have an idea for how I might use it…. Is there a weird word that you find… well, awkward? If you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash 

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, gauche means “lacking social experience or grace.” Other meanings are crude or awkward.  Gauche, in French, means “left,” but it can also mean awkward or clumsy.

The etymology of gauche includes “ties to old suspicions and negative associations relating to the left side and use of the left hand” (Merriam-Webster.com). Back in the day, left-handed people had to be careful or they could be tried as witches. Then again, many activities could pinpoint one as a witch. But it’s funny that we built a right-handed world and then labeled the left-handers “awkward.” And it’s also funny how words come to have meaning, and the meaning sticks. Forever.

Studying the word gauche and learning its origins doesn’t make me more likely to use it. In fact, I am less likely to use it now. You know the way the kids these days will respond to a situation with one word, “Awk-ward!” drawn out in a way to make the situation even more awkward? Maybe “gauche” would be an equally effective response in such a situation.

But upon further thought, the word’s monosyllabic briefness makes it a gauche alternative.

2023_BlogPrompt #21 – Choice

Over the weekend, I read this statement, “You always have a choice.” This statement resonated with me, perhaps because of where I am in my life, but also because of what I want my children to know as they navigate their young adult lives. “You always have a choice.” Remember that; it’s important. Write about a choice you made… or one you didn’t.As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash 

Sometimes, I think about advice I would give my younger self. Advice to my younger self might not help me much now, but as a parent of young adults and someone who works with young people, I have ample opportunity to influence the lives of others. So if you are navigating the early years of your adulthood—or even the later years—it’s important to remember, “You always have a choice.”

When I was very young, it was not uncommon for people to choose a career path and stick with it throughout their lives. People would work in the same job, even at the same company and with the same co-workers, for thirty or forty or more years. I don’t know that there were fewer career options at the time, but there were different expectations.

You don’t need to stay in one place. There is much greater movement than ever before, within career fields, within companies, and within ourselves about what we want to do, where we need to be, and what we’re willing to put up with. Our lives change and evolve as the world changes and evolves. Our ideas and our identities are constantly in flux. But we often fail to remember that our choices might also change and evolve over time.

My advice to my younger self—and to my current self, if I’m being honest—is to always know what your choices are. Evaluate and re-evaluate so you can always consider what you might be doing if you were doing something different. We don’t spend enough time examining our options, taking advantage of our choices. Instead, we tend to settle for something that is comfortable, often sacrificing what we really want or who we are for the “good enough.” Then we grow comfortable, and we forget to ask ourselves, “Is this really what I want?”

Pay attention! What are your emotions trying to tell you? What is that thing that is not sitting right in your brain? Why are you feeling unmotivated? Unfulfilled? Sad? Lonely? If you want to know what these feelings are trying to tell you, pay attention! You might just realize that you’ve squelched a dream because you were afraid to take a risk. It’s okay to move on and take risks. It’s okay to change things up. It’s okay to make choices that are best for you and will allow you to be your best.

You always have a choice. Don’t be afraid to change things up.

2023_BlogPrompt #20 – Forever

Some things are forever, and that’s a good thing. But some things are forever, and it’s not so good. This is my funny, frustrating forever. As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash 

God help me!

I’m sitting at my kitchen table eating dinner with one cat on my lap and one cat intently watching me as if she will gobble up any morsel of the curry I’m eating should it drop on the floor. I think not. Cats are much too finicky for that. Even if I were eating something she absolutely loved and I dropped a bit, she would smear it around on the floor and walk away. Then the other cats would come and sniff it and walk away, as well. That’s the way cats are.

But that’s not the point of this piece. I am sitting here minding my own business eating my dinner, and suddenly, I start to become uncomfortably hot. Like I-need-to-take-off-my-sweater hot. Dang hot flashes. Honestly, I am far beyond the point at which I should still be experiencing hot flashes.

So I google, “How long do hot flashes last?” because I’m becoming pretty sick of them. And I need to know. As I google, the thought randomly crosses my mind that should the police ever decide they need to review my search history (for whatever reason), this is the very type of excitement they will find. Well, there are also the writerly searches. And the searches with my criminal justice students about the cannibal cop…. My work search history is much more interesting, but that’s a story for another day.

Of course, all the medical sites came up when I googled my question—Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Harvard. So I click on the Cleveland Clinic. Do you know what it says? “Your hot flashes could end once you’re post-menopausal. In other cases, they could last for the rest of your life.” In other words, forever! Are you kidding??

I seem to be trending on the forever side of this one. God help me!

2023_BlogPrompt #19 – Passion

It’s so important to discover your passion in life. Your passion may not be something you do to earn a living, but it is something you feel you cannot live without. A passion is something that makes you feel alive, that brings meaning to your life, and allows you to express yourself as nothing else does. Do you know what your passion is? As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Paintings by my friend, Jodee, shared with her permission

On my way home from work the other day, I stopped by the library art gallery. In fact, I didn’t know the library has an art gallery, so there’s that. A friend of mine is having an art show, and I had timed my commute home to correspond with the opening. I love this woman’s work, and I wanted to see it hung up and displayed, museum-like.

I have watched her journey back into art after getting lost in the intensity and chaos that is parenthood. In a first step, she committed to completing one post-it note sketch per day for a year, and from there she has jumped all in. Because reclaiming your passion takes a single step. That single step can re-ignite the spark for whatever it is that feeds your soul—art, writing, exercise, communing with Nature.

The art show did not disappoint. Beautiful bright colors, painting after painting, all hanging in one place. Before I left, we had a brief conversation about exactly these things. We talked about how easy it is to lose yourself in the daily tasks of motherhood. We agreed that is so important to take care of yourself and to reclaim whatever it is that speaks to the essence of your being, that feeds your soul. For me, that passion is writing. When I’m not writing, I feel like something is missing in my life.

I hope that you will take some time this weekend to connect with (or reconnect with) your passion.

2023_#18: Weird Word Wednesday – Gumshoe

This week’s Weird Word Wednesday is gumshoe. This word came about in my life this week because of a new role I have taken on—that of a gumshoe. It was an unexpected shift, at best, but I am making the most of it. Is there a weird word that you have become entangled with recently? If you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Photo by Mediamodifier on Unsplash 

This week, I have unexpectedly become a gumshoe. This is an endeavor that came about quite by accident, but if I had been watching the signs, I would have seen it coming. I would have recognized that the advent of new technology would mean we would have to be on the lookout for lurking AI generated text in student papers. And with a tech savvy population, we should have known it would be sooner rather than later.

Gumshoe is a weird word for a sleuth. It reminds me of a sticky piece of chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe such that you can feel the slight stick with each step. So I investigated the etymology of the word because I was curious. From the Online Etymology Dictionary I read that gumshoe is a plainclothes detective, and the word originated in 1906, “from the rubber-soled shoes they wore (allowing stealthy movement).” These shoes were called gums or “rubber shoes” from 1863 or 1859, I couldn’t quite figure out which.

And now, the word makes a bit more sense. I can see these people sneaking around on their nearly silent shoes, looking for clues and evidence and missing persons.

As for my own sleuthing (is gumshoeing a word?)…. Never in my wildest imaginings did I see myself sleuthing out computer generated text in student writing. But sooner or later, it was bound to happen. I’m sure George Jetson predicted this (just like moving walkways and Zoom meetings) buried somewhere in those many episodes of sci-if cartoons. I guess I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.

2023_BlogPrompt #16 – Moody

Today, I’m working with the word moody sparked by my winter walk. Moody has definitely been the look of the landscape around here. What is moody in your life? As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

The moody sky

I went out for a walk this evening and the sky was mottled with thick winter clouds. Combined with the trees, still laden with yesterday’s heavy snow, the effect could best be described as moody. It’s as if the sky can’t quite decide whether yesterday’s storm is over and it should be clear, maybe even sunny again. So it’s keeping the shroud of clouds until it decides.

Moody. It’s the way I tend to feel at this time of year, as well. It’s cold and dark, and the storms are an excuse to stay in, focus on crafts or cleaning, writing or inside projects. Read a book. Snuggle with the cats. Sit by the fire. But being outside in the winter, experiencing the snow, breathing in the cold, feeling the crunch of frozen with each footstep—it’s exhilarating. So I’m torn. And sometimes moody because I have to make a choice. Do I go out or stay in?

So the heavy, thick clouds the sky is wearing today… I get it. I am right there feeling this crazy moody sky.

2023_ #15: Weird Word Wednesday – Cattywampus

I am sneaking in under the wire here with Weird Word Wednesday. I’m excited to share today’s word: Cattywampus. According to YourDictionary.com, cattywampus means “not lined up or not arranged correctly, or diagonally; in disarray, disorder, or askew.” Merriam-Webster also uses the term “kitty-corner” in the definition. Can you see yourself using this word? I think it would be a fun word to add to my vocabulary. What weird word makes you happy? If you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.

Photo by Danae Paparis on Unsplash 

My father always gave directions by drawing maps and using landmarks. He would sketch out directions while saying something like, “Drive north on Main Street and take a left right here after the white church….” I’m pretty sure my dad would have used the word cattywampus if it had been part of his vocabulary. “After you turn left, go about half a mile, and the store will be cattywampus to the Post Office.”

Personally, I think the other usage of cattywampus is also fantastic and one that I plan to use. Regularly. And often. In fact, as the new semester is beginning and I’m trying to get back into the daily routine of work and students and meetings and reports, my brain is all cattywampus. I am having trouble stringing my thoughts together in a logical manner. Thankfully, I know once we settle in, my thoughts will be back in order.

And there you go: cattywampus. I hope you find a way to use it soon!