Sprinkles of Love

I was at the grocery store the other day, walking past the bakery on my way to the produce department for some fruits and veggies. My eye caught on a giant tub of autumn sprinkles, the kind that someone might use on a cake or cupcakes for an all-school Halloween gathering. Or… whatever you are baking for fall that might be jazzed up with sprinkles.

At first sight of the sprinkles, my mind had zipped away from the bakery, the store, and into the past. Years ago, when C was in early elementary school, his teacher had planned a fall party. I can’t remember the occasion, but I was tasked with baking cookies masquerading as pizza (cookies in a Halloween costume, perhaps…). Easy, right? I’d planned to make round sugar cookies with red frosting. But the “cheese” was eluding me. Coconut? Different frosting? I was stumped. My parents happened to be visiting, and they went off to the grocery store to see what they could come up with.

When they returned, they had a large tub of autumn sprinkles as well as some other possibilities. Dad was most excited about the sprinkles. “We can take all the brown ones out, and you can just use the yellow and orange!” While that would be a great idea in theory, in practice it seemed a bit daunting.

“That’s a bit ridiculous,” I told him. “There are a lot of brown ones in there.”

“It won’t take long,” he assured me, though I wasn’t so sure. Those sprinkles were awfully small. But I didn’t say that.

The next day, the kids went off to school, and I went off to work. Back then, I was working mother’s hours, so I arrived home in the early afternoon—in time to get my kids off the bus. When I walked in the door that day, the kitchen table had become the work area for the sprinkle project. One bowl held the yellow and orange sprinkles. Another bowl held just brown. Mom took my entry as her excuse to rest her eyes, but Dad remained bent over a pile of sprinkles on a paper towel. Wielding a butter knife as his tool, he was pulling the brown sprinkles away from the others with the precision of a pharmacist counting and separating pills.

I am sure this project was far more involved (and tedious) than Dad expected, but he never uttered a word of complaint. He finished off that whole tub of sprinkles, so I’d have “cheese” for my pizza cookies—and they looked amazing! I’m sure none of the kids eating them even suspected the amount of work—and grandparent love—that went into each cookie.

And I had forgotten, as well, until I walked by that one random item in the grocery store last week. I was immediately transported back to that day so many years ago. It was a day much like today, and my memory of Dad, painstakingly separating sprinkles at my kitchen table, was as clear as if it had been yesterday. The love (and self-imposed duty) of a parent was captured in the memories grounded in a tub of autumn sprinkles.

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No, Thank You

It has been a challenging summer, and my work-life balance has tipped too far to the side of work, forcing me to slip away from the “life” side of balance—at least from the life I want to live. This situation has not been good for anyone, not for me and not for the various young people for whom I am responsible.

My current state of imbalance has made me nostalgic for the days I learned to say “No, thank you” to the things I didn’t want. I was young when my parents taught me the words, “No, thank you.” That way, if someone asked, Would you like more peas? I would know the proper response. “No, thank you,” I would say, and that would be that. No more peas.

However, “No, thank you,” has become a bit more complicated as responsibilities have piled on with adulthood. As responsibilities grow, the questions become increasingly complex, and they are not as easily answered with a simple “No, thank you.” As a teen, a tougher question might come from an acquaintance: Hey, we’re all going to the lake for a party. You wanna come? Even though I might be thinking, “No, thank you,” my response might be something along the lines of, “I’ll let you know,” and I’d walk away thinking, Nope. No way. As time passed, the questions—and the factors that needed to be considered—grew far more complicated.

Life is a series of checks and balances, shifting attentions, and maintenance. As an adult, I need to take a long, hard look at my life, my priorities, my family, my work, and my mental (and physical) health. Daily, these factors change, priorities shift and balance has to constantly be maintained.

Sometimes, things get out of whack—like this summer—and that’s when I realize my skill of saying “No, thank you” needs to be honed and strengthened. Because just like a muscle, if this skill is not used enough, it will weaken with inactivity.

So today, I’ve decided to begin regular exercise of my “No, thank you” muscle. I’m excavating deep into my childhood to help me remember how it works. I think it will just take some effort to jump start, but with some elbow grease and a lot of persistence, I’ll get that skill sharpened up in no time!

Be Bold!

Each year, as I head toward January, I buy myself an inspirational calendar because… well, because it will be inspirational! And believe me when I tell you that I don’t flip through the calendar when I first get it to see what is waiting to inspire me each month. No. I wait. I am a delayed gratification kind of girl.

When I turned my calendar to July, I was met with a quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it.” What a great thought to start the month!

And so for this month, I will be bold. For this month, I will write more blog posts. I will take more steps, set more goals, and implement more action plans. For this month, I will take more risks.

Because boldness has genius. And power. And magic. And for me, it’s all about the magic! Come on and join me. Just for this month, be bold!

Classroom Etiquette

As a teacher, I spend some time in the front of a classroom. Because of the nature of my full-time work—one-on-one academic support—I generally teach only one face-to-face class each year, but it is enough for me to track the changes in educational engagement through the years. Or is it?

As I stand in front of the class, with students working away on their computers, I (used to) make the assumption that they are taking notes or otherwise engaging in educational activities that will ultimately enhance their learning. That’s what I want to believe, so I create that reality in my head.

Fast forward to this summer, when I am taking a face-to-face class. This is the first time I have been a student in a physical classroom in many years, though I won’t say how many. I mean, I have attended various trainings (as recently as this past February) which mimic a classroom situation, but in those “classrooms,” it always seems as though people are interested in learning the material so they can bring it back to their own workplaces and put it to use.

This week was my second class in a summer-long Masters-level research class. I am not in a degree program; I am taking the class because I have research I want to conduct, and I don’t really know the best way to start. At this week’s class, one of my work colleagues was seated on my right. She and I were actively taking notes, discussing the topic, and beginning to get excited about our research projects.

On my left sat a fellow classmate, a young woman I have seen before, but I don’t know. She arrived right before the class started, took out her computer, and immediately picked up a message stream that she had left mid-conversation. To her credit, she also opened a document window where she could take notes during the 2+ hour class.

Class began, and she continued to occupy herself with messaging. Somehow this new generation of students hasn’t learned that they can say, “Hey, I’m in class right now. I’ll message you later,” and they don’t find it important to do so.

But this woman wasn’t engaged in class at all. Before 4:30, she removed a glass container from her bag and opened it on the desk. Inside was a nice looking dinner salad. She removed another container from her bag, opened it, and poured dressing onto the salad. Then she spent the next fifteen minutes crunching away on her dinner. (Did I mention this is a two-hour class? Have a snack before class, and you can have dinner at 6:15). When she was done, she dropped her metal fork into the glass container (not even attempting to be quiet), snapped the cover on, and put the container back in her bag. Then, she promptly returned to messaging her friend.

While I was trying to pay attention to the professor and concentrate on the material, I had developed a deep curiosity as to this woman’s non-stop in-class extra-curricular activities. Weren’t these activities just as effective when done from one’s couch in the comfort of one’s living room? Why would someone commit the time and money to a class when she wasn’t going to exert any effort beyond being physically present?

When I looked at her computer screen again, she was browsing the Crate & Barrel website, scrolling through dishes. The woman sitting to her left was commenting on the ones she liked best. In class. While the professor was lecturing. Clearly, taking a class means something different to these women than it does to me.

Perhaps I have an archaic notion of classroom behavior, left over from my student days long before the advent of portable computers. However, I don’t believe that respect for someone teaching a class has completely gone by the wayside. And I know for certain from all the studies I read that the best way to learn is to actively engage with the material.

We are only two classes in, and this experience has been eye opening for me. When I stand in front of my class in September—a class that is designed to help students make connections, discover how to learn, and serve as a foundation and resource for college life—I will tell my students that our classroom will be technology-free. Because sometimes, the best way to learn how to make connections is to disconnect.

What if…?

I am a worst-case scenario kind of girl. You know all those things we spend time worrying about? I can worry with the best of them.

In fact, my worrying started when I was just a tot. We would take a weekend drive in my father’s jeep out into the country and onto back roads that time forgot. They were rutted dirt roads that wound through the woods, over hills, and along streams. To my eyes, they were little more than hiking trails. I would often pipe up from the back seat, “Where are we gonna turn around, Daddy?” My tiny little worried mind couldn’t see how we could ever get back home.

But we always did.

If I let my imagination run wild, it can create situations that even the best imaginations would pass up as impossible. Not for me. Everything is worth worrying about because what if [insert worst-case scenario here] happens?

But what if it doesn’t?

What if I just stopped worrying? What if I recognized that many things are out of my control and worrying only makes me anxious, stressed, and robs me of the ability to enjoy where I am and what I am doing. Right. Now. What if I just stopped, took a breath, and let all the worry go? What if…?

If I were to stop worrying needlessly about things I can’t control, I would be able to enjoy the present moment. I could think more fully about the here and now. I could be present in and part of my own life. I could be a better role model for my children. What if I stopped worrying and was willing to let it go?

What if…?

Time for Action

Dear Elected Officials,

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar and also Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and love. The perfect confluence of holiday and holy day.

And yet, here we are, once again shocked and bewildered by a mass shooting in a U.S. high school. We are listening to horrific accounts of students scattering to escape gunfire; hearing parents’ fear as they talk of receiving panicked texts from their children; watching the post-shooting press conferences as law enforcement officials talk of casualties. Here we are. Again.

And there you are, sitting on the floor of the House and the Senate, collecting your donations from corporations and organizations promoting their agendas. Lining your pockets with blood money. Living out your days of public service in affluence at the expense of our most vulnerable—our children—while you refuse to consider that the real problem with our county might just be a government that is sponsored by corporate interests.

Senator Chris Murphy stood on the floor of the senate, visibly shaken by the most recent news, and delivered a brief message before he moved on to business. He said you are all responsible, but then he ended with the statement, “We will hope for the best.” What?

Seventeen more lives lost, and you are going to “hope for the best”? Seventeen young people who will not make their contributions to the world. Seventeen what ifs. These were young people with their entire lives ahead of them, young people with great promise. They were everything to their families, just as your children are everything to yours.

Perhaps one of these students was to be the  brilliant mind to find a cure for the very cancer that could now take the life of your grandchild. Another of the victims would promote an innovative and workable idea to create lasting peace in the most intensely war torn regions of the world. One could have developed a system to recycle and purify the Earth’s dwindling water supply. And another would figure out a way to reverse brain damage.

We will never know what might have been. We will never see what these young people might have contributed to our society. Because they didn’t make it to their high school graduation.

Yes, Mr. Murphy, you and your colleagues are responsible. You cannot “hope for the best” while you sit on the senate floor and do nothing. In this case, “hope” is not an action verb. “Hope for the best” all you want, Mr. Murphy, but hope without action is for cowards.

It’s time, Senators and Congressmen, to take on the work of the people who elected you to office. It’s time to protect the right to life of the children already born. Risk the disdain of those around you and take some action. If you step out of your comfort zone and do rather than hope, you might just change the trajectory of our society.

{photo used with permission of my talented daughter}

Painfully Obvious

Yesterday morning, I awoke from an odd and somewhat unsettling dream. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was unsettling, only that something wasn’t right. The dream was one in which I was interacting with people—one, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen recently, and the other, a woman I knew of but had never met.

I was sitting between the two of them. The woman to my right was wearing a bright sweater—striped in bold blues, yellow, and teal—and I noted that it was knit from the same yarn I had used to make a scarf. This fact intrigued me, and I got stuck on the bold colors and the coincidence. I listened as she talked, and I responded, but through our conversation, I never looked directly at her. Somehow, I just knew who she was.

As I looked back on the dream, I realized that I was unable to look at either of these two people, unable to see their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t have faces in my dream. It was that I couldn’t look at their faces. This one small but important fact made the dream very unsettling.

As I moved through my day trying to process this strange dream, I came across an article in the New York Times that discussed Smartphone addiction and its effects on us and on our children. Sherry Turkle, a social scientist, “found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional” (Popescu). If we are not making eye contact, if we are not looking at the people we are interacting with, we are not fully experiencing the moment, the conversation, the relationship.

And this article brought me back to my dream. No doubt, the dream emerged from the stress of adjusting to the hectic schedule of a new teaching assignment added to my other responsibilities. The need to juggle so many different pieces often takes away from my ability to be in the moment, experiencing interactions and relationships as fully as I might. This juggling ties me to my computer and keeps me connected to technology.

If we pay attention, our dreams can tell us things we didn’t already know, but sometimes they hit us over the head with the painfully obvious. The other night, I had one of those dreams and I woke up confused, but as the day wore on, I began to see how this dream fit into my life and the message I needed to gain from it.

I am a creature of habit. I do things because they work in some important way. Or maybe because they have worked at some point in the past, in some other iteration of my life. Perhaps, if I were to really examine what I have been doing, these things might not be addressing my current needs. They might not be feeding my soul. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and restructure in important ways that will permit me to grow with the changes in my life.

And maybe it’s time we all recognize that by not interacting with others—over dinner, over the phone, standing in line, etc.—we are doing our children a disservice. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with us, with each other, and with the strangers they will encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that technological connection is minimal and human connection… it’s everything.