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Coffee Klatch

Since the lockdown began in March, I’ve become obsessed with planners. I’ve purchased four or five different planners hoping to find the one planner that would finally motivate me to achieve my goals and get my life on track. My most recent purchase is called “The Perfect Notebook.” It is customizable and streamlined. Surely, a perfect notebook would be the key to ending my procrastination. When the perfect notebook arrived, it sat in its envelope for three weeks until I finally opened it. Then, it sat on the coffee table until it grew dusty. I decided that I needed stickers to decorate it, so I ordered a bunch of stickers. Then, the notebook and the stickers sat on my coffee table until they grew dusty.

Then, last week, I learned that I was exposed to Covid. That same day, my mother fell and broke her hip. Just like that life changed. I thought to myself, What am I waiting for? I want to write, but I use a lot of excuses to avoid it. I have too much to do with my new teaching job; I have to help my son with his homework; I’m tired and it’s easier to sit on the couch and play video games then to write at the end of a long day. Life is passing me by in a blur of excuses.

I finally dusted off the perfect notebook and the stickers that I purchased. I set up the customizable notebook and began to map my goals. I realized that it doesn’t matter what planner I use: a $100 planner imported from Great Britain, a dot journal that I create myself, or The Perfect Notebook. The only thing that matters is me.

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Coffee Klatch

Routine Meister

For the past two weeks since my summer school classes started, I have vowed that I would write every day. I found a new app called Routine Meister that helps you arrange the tasks for the day and develop a timeline. It has been helpful in reminding me what I need to do each day and helping me to focus on each task.

What it hasn’t helped me with is balancing all the areas of my life. Every morning, I enter all the tasks I need to complete for my teaching, writing, and other areas. By the time I am finished, I have a 14-hour day ahead of me. Once, I am finished setting up my tasks, I start my day. Inevitably, around my sixth or seventh teaching task, I run out of time and energy. Every day, my writing routine gets transferred to the next day. Every day, I get up and start the whole process again. After two weeks of this, I finally decided that I need to take control of the tasks, rather than having them control me.

Yesterday, I took out my expensive planner imported from Great Britain and began to plan my week. I realized I can’t possibly complete every task I set for myself every day. I need to prioritize. I decided to make a schedule. Certain tasks have to be completed at the beginning of the week, like attendance and grading. On Monday and Wednesdays, I have two Zoom classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have to make time to do my lesson plans for next week, so I’m not working until midnight on Sunday night. I’d also like to do my nails on Sunday, instead of work! Instead of trying to squeeze everything into each day of the week, I divided up all the tasks I have to complete and scheduled a few for each day of the week. I did the same thing for writing and also scheduled some time for self-care. I want to learn to play the keyboard and have yet to unwrap the keyboard I got a month ago. I also want to pursue some art projects I started months (possibly years) ago.

Once I made my schedule for the week, I made a schedule for today. I wrote only those things I’d decided I was going to do today. I also gave myself permission to not finish everything on my list. When the time I’d allotted for teaching was up, I moved onto the next item on my schedule. Today, after two weeks, I was finally able to write 1400 words on my latest novel and create a post on my blog.

I think the most important thing I need to remember is that it’s okay not to finish everything on my list as long as I’m making progress. I can’t find balance in my life if I continue to work the way I have been working in a rigid routine. I need to start being more flexible and forgive myself for not being perfect. I need to continue striving for balance in my life, and when I fall, remember to get up and begin again.

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Coffee Klatch

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

As I look toward the future and my new job, I need to remember to let go of the past. My last teaching job didn’t end very well, and I need to make sure that I don’t allow that experience to color my new experience. My last school was a very toxic place, and it affected everyone who worked there. The effect lasted even after I left. For months, I had nightmares about that place. Gradually the nightmares faded, but they would return whenever I had lunch with one of my friends who worked there with me. Just talking to her about teaching was enough to trigger the nightmares. Slowly, those nightmares faded as well.

I knew I was truly over that job the last time my friend and I had lunch. She was talking to me about all the changes the school district was making. As I listened to her talk about the new curriculum, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, and I’m not being figurative here. I literally felt something leave me, and I felt lighter than I had in months. As we talked about her new school, I realized that leaving that district was the best thing that could have happened to me. Instead of hating my former principal, I actually thanked her for getting rid of me. I was so bitter for so long, it felt good to release the anger and to know I was in the right place of my life.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know if I will like my new school, but I realized that my attitude will determine my experience. If I go into the position expecting the best, I will likely receive the best.

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Coffee Klatch

Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

Three years ago today I started my blog on WordPress. It was the same year I lost my job at the middle school where I worked. After a fruitless job search that spring, I turned to writing. Focused on my teaching, I had pretty much given up writing. I thought about writing a lot and had ideas for novels, but I never followed through. I thought that if I couldn’t be a teacher, maybe it was time to focus on my writing. Since then, I have continued to work on making writing a regular part of my life. I found part-time teaching jobs at two local community colleges. At times, I became so busy that I again gave up my writing, but I have returned to it again and again.

This year, I gave up the search for a full-time teaching job. I let all my applications at the school districts in my area expire. I quit looking at the job postings. I had even decided I would no longer search for a full-time teaching job at the college where I worked. I had applied there several times and never gotten an interview. The last time, I applied I received an email from my department chair expressing his sympathy for me not getting an interview for the latest position that came open. He offered to give me feedback that would make me more likely to be hired at the college. I didn’t take him up on his offer. I work hard for the college. I’ve gone to countless professional development meetings and taken part in academic cohorts and equity training. My grading is up-to-date and my students always say how much they like the way I teach my classes. I’m not sure what else I could do to increase my “hireability.”

Then, last week, out of the blue, I got an email from a school I interviewed with last year. They said they had another opening and they were so impressed with me they wanted me to be part of the candidate pool for their current opening. I thought to myself, if they were so impressed with me why didn’t I get the job last year? I sent my resume and transcripts to the human resources person. The next day, they emailed me for an interview. We interviewed over the internet last Tuesday. I was worried that my interview was impacted, because my virus protection blocked my camera from working and they couldn’t see my face. I thought the interview went well despite my technological gaffe. On Friday, I checked my email. They had said they would give me an update about the hiring process by the end of the week. I was going through my email, thinking to myself, Just as I expected, no email. I kept scrolling. In Thursday’s email, I saw it–Offer letter from CEC Parker. I couldn’t believe it. I had gotten the job.

After three long years of scraping by on part-time wages, I will finally have a full-time job. I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I missed being in the same school every day where I was a full part of the staff, not just a part-time employee. I don’t miss my last school, but I missed being a full-time teacher. While I am looking forward to being a full-time teacher again, I don’t want to give up writing. I want to make both parts of my life blend together. The last couple of weeks, I’ve really worked on making time for my writing, and I have found that I can write and teach at the same time.

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Coffee Klatch

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

I like this picture, because it reminds me of the most important part in accomplishing any goal-beginning. One of my constant struggles is procrastination. I have a task that I have to do that is difficult and daunting. The more I think about it the more difficult and daunting it seems to become. If I just force myself to begin, then the task becomes more doable.

Tonight, I sat here contemplating the white screen with the blinking cursor. I had no idea what I wanted to say. The cursor continued to blink at me, daring me to make a move, to begin writing. That’s the hardest part of writing for me–finding an idea. I know I want to post in my blog regularly, but what do I write about? What do I want to say? What is the brand I want to develop for my blog? This is what I struggle with, but I know I need to decide on a focus for my blog, so I can keep posting.

I have established three goals for my blog:

By May 30, I will develop a 90-day editorial calendar.

By May 15, I will develop a new weekly feature that I will publish every week until the end of the year.

By May 30, I will assess my theme and develop a focus for my blog.

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Reflection

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

A year and a half ago, I started taking a course from WordPress called Everyday Inspiration. It was a 20-day course but it took me a year and a half to complete it. I would work on it every now and then, and then get distracted by work or other things. Today, I finally finished it. I liked the course, because it would give me ideas. Now, that I’ve finished with the course, I am going to work on finding inspiration from my life to keep my blog going.

One thing that helps me post in my blog regularly is to prioritize my writing and finish it first. The first thing I do when I get ready to work is start a blog post. Then, I work on my current novel. Then, I work on the tasks I have to complete for teaching. The biggest challenge for me will be to find ideas that I want to write about. I tend to stop posting when I can’t come up with ideas. One thing I learned from this course is that ideas can come from my everyday life. I just have to remember to pay attention. Hundreds of thoughts pass through my head every day and I need to become more aware of them and keep track of them rather than letting them just come and go.

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Portrait of a Reader

My vehicle to the world of reading

One of my first memories is laying on my back and watching the sunlight filter through the leaves as I somehow moved along. I was always puzzled by this memory as I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Once I asked my mom about it, and she replied with surprise, “I used to pull you in a red wagon when you were a baby. You would lay in the wagon and I would take you to the library.”

Reading has always been a part of my life. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. My mom started my love of reading even though I can’t remember the library or the books she read to me. When she told her cousin, Ethel, how much I liked to read, Ethel began sending me books. I think I was about four or five when I received my first set of Dick and Jane books. Ethel was a first-grade teacher and had something to do with the writing of or publication of Dick and Jane, but I don’t remember the details anymore. I used to read those books over and over. I liked them because I could read them on my own.

*****

My dad’s Uncle Wiggily book set

“Grandma, will you come read to me?” I called from her tiny bedroom in her tiny apartment. Even though I was seven years old and could read, I loved it when my grandma read to me. She came into the room and sat on her twin bed with the sunny yellow bedspread. I jumped up and got our favorite books, Uncle Wiggily’s Library , from her desk. The Uncle Wiggily books came in a bright red box held together with brown packing tape. The books nestled inside the box. When I turned the pages, my nose wrinkled at the dusty smell wafting up from the fragile pages. The Uncle Wiggly books once belonged to my dad and now they were mine.

Grandma and I read the Uncle Wiggily books over and over until we practically memorized them. Every book ended with a funny ending, like “And if the lollipop doesn’t take its sharp stick to make the baby carriage roll down the hill, I’ll tell you the story of Uncle Wiggily and the Canoe.” Each book led to another book. We always tried to guess which book was next in the series, but we never got it right. My grandma swore that Uncle Wiggily changed the ending when we weren’t looking.

My grandma was one of the first people to read to me. She instilled within me the love of reading and taught me to appreciate classic books like Uncle Wiggily. Because of these books, I learned to appreciate books that told about lives that were different from mine. My grandma loved these books because they reminded her of her childhood in the country. Born and raised in the city, I didn’t know what it was like to live in the country. The Uncle Wiggily books gave me a taste of what my grandma’s childhood must have been like and helped me to appreciate where she came from.

*****

Oddly enough, one of the adults I hated the most when I was little also helped develop my love of reading. Mrs. Wheeler had fading red hair that stuck out all over her head. Because she had lost most of her teeth, her cheeks were sunken, and her chin was curling up to meet the tip of her nose–a classic witch face. I always thought she was a witch. Even though she wasn’t the best babysitter in the world, she was the only person my mom could find when my first baby-sitter moved. Mrs. Wheeler’s house was only a couple of blocks from my elementary school. She had a cute little chair that fit into a corner of her living room. My mom paid her extra to let me sit in that chair and read.

Mrs. Wheeler had one other thing that also made my visits there a little more endurable. She had a beautiful set of children’s books from Walt Disney. For whatever reason (maybe, because my mom did pay her so much), she actually let me read those books when she didn’t let her own kids even touch those books. The books were hard-covered and accented with gold, and they were full of stories from Disney. There were your typical stories, like Snow White and Cinderella, but they had stories that I’d never encountered before like Br’er rabbit. My favorite story was “Br-er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” Br’er rabbit encounters a figure made of tar and gets stuck in it. No matter what he does he keeps getting more and more stuck. Whenever Mrs. Wheeler would get tired of having me in the living room, she would order me into the bedroom with the other kids. I would give her the look over my book, and she would back down. She knew I wasn’t afraid to tell my mom about whatever happened at her house. One time, I brought my own books to her house, and she became offended. “My books ain’t good enough for you no more?” she asked in her gruff voice. Afraid that she would never let me read her books again, I put my books away and went to get one of the Disney books. She seemed to relax then. “That’s what I thought,” she growled, as she turned away to light her cigarette. While I was glad to leave Mrs. Wheeler’s house when my mom finally found a new babysitter, I always regretted not being able to finish all her Disney books.

*****

The set of Louisa May Alcott books my father bought for me when I was in the fifth grade

Along, with my mother and grandmother, my father also encouraged me to read. When I was in the fifth grade, I came down with pneumonia. I missed the last month of school. Back then, we only had five or six channels on the television, and I was too sick to actually play with any of my toys. I could only sleep so much, and I got really bored. Before I got sick, my mom and I had talked about me reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but, after I got sick, Mom didn’t have time to get me the book. My dad called me to see if I wanted anything, and I asked him to get me the book. It was a thick book, but, since I had nothing else to do, I read all day long. I finished the book in a couple of days and went back to boredom. When he called at the end of the week to see how the book was going, he was surprised to find out that I had already finished it. He told me he would get the next book, Little Men. The day after he brought me Little Men, I called to tell him about the book and request another one. Finally, he just bought me all the books in one trip, so I wouldn’t have to wait. He was so excited that I read so fast and was impressed that I could stick with longer books. The next year when I got sick again, he was prepared. When he heard I had a second round of pneumonia, he went to the store and bought me the complete Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

As I grew up, he would sometimes surprise me with a special book. One time he bought me a first edition collection of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. Another time he gave me the complete collection of poems by Emily Dickinson.

*****

Hunter’s library

I continue to be an avid reader. No matter how busy I am from teaching, writing, or working on my dissertation, I always make time for reading. From reading, I have learned about other times and other cultures. I read at least 100 books a year, and I learn something new from every book I read.

Like the adults in my life, I strive to encourage my son, Hunter, to love reading, and I think I have succeeded. The first thing he does when he starts his home school activities for the day is read. Since August, he has read 28 books. As he finishes a series, his question is always “What will I read next?” I hope I can inspire him to become a lifelong reader like the adults in my life did.

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The Maple Tree

Sometimes, I drive back to the neighborhood where I grew up to visit my maple tree. Even though someone else owns it, I still consider it to be mine. I always felt a connection to it. When I was a child, I would lay down in the yard and look up at its leaves. I would whisper my secrets into the air. Its leaves seemed to shiver as it absorbed my words-my secrets forever safe among its boughs. I remember running in circles around its trunk, pretending that it was enjoying our little game of chase, even though it was stationary in the dirt.

The last time I drove down my street, my maple tree was gone. The yard was barren and empty without it. I looked at the spot where the tree used to stand. There wasn’t even a stump to mark that a massive maple tree had once stood there. The yard was just flat grass now. The landmark of my childhood is just a memory now. I realized that I needed that landmark to revisit the home of my childhood. That day I drove down the street, I missed my house, because the tree was gone. I had to circle around the block and start my search again. I found my house the second time I drove down the street, but it doesn’t seem the same now that the tree is gone.

There is an old saying that you can’t go home again. The loss of my tree reminded me of that fact. You really can’t go home again. Even if I bought that little house from my childhood, it wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was little. We grow up and we move on. That is how life is. We are constantly changing. Sometimes, I dream about that little house, but even in my dreams, the house is not the same. Often, my son, Hunter, will be with me, I guess, to remind me that I have important reasons to stay anchored in the present. I might stop now and again to visit the home of my memory but I can never really go back. And, honestly, I wouldn’t want to. I am happy where I am now.

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Coffee Klatch

To stay on track while working from home, I have been following the “eat a frog” approach to task management. The “eat a frog” approach is a method for curing procrastination. Procrastination I feel is the biggest challenge I face to my success. The “eat a frog” approach advocates completing your least favorite task first, so that you have the rest of the day to work without worrying about the onerous task. With this approach, I decided I should do my teaching tasks first, then work on my dissertation, and then my writing. Of course, if I am being truthful, my most onerous task right now is my dissertation. I should probably work on that first every day and then get on with things. I’ve noticed a pattern, however with this method of task management. As the week progresses, I lose my motivation and momentum. By the time, I’m finished working on my teaching duties and my dissertation, I don’t have a lot of energy or creativity left for writing. Then, writing becomes the one thing I procrastinate. Writing is the one thing I want to do in my life and it is always last on my to do list. By the end of the week, I am cranky and sapped of energy. I end up avoiding everything and sitting on the couch playing video games all day. While the members of my guild love my dedication to the game during guild challenges, it doesn’t really help me achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.

Prioritize your big rocks.

While reading 52 Small Changes for the Mind, I was reminded of another analogy for time management. In this analogy, important and less important tasks are compared to rocks and sand. The rocks are the important tasks that you need to complete and the sand is the minor tasks. The jar represents the time you have on any given day. If you prioritize the less important tasks and complete them first, you end up running out of time for the important tasks. If, however, you focus on the big rocks first, you can fill in the gaps of time in the jar with the sand and smaller rocks. Using this analogy, I decided that I have three big rocks: my writing, my teaching, and my dissertation. My smaller rocks and sand are all the other less important tasks, like checking my email, making phone calls, and chores. I thought to myself, as long as I put all the big rocks in the jar every day, what does it matter what order I do them in? So, this week, I am trying an experiment. I am writing first and then working on my teaching tasks and dissertation. While proponents of the “eating the frog” approach say doing an enjoyable task first will lead to procrastination, I disagree. By writing first, I am honoring my commitment to becoming a writer. When I write, I lose all sense of time and place. Why would I deny myself this pleasure merely because it’s enjoyable? In the long run, I think I will have more success fulfilling my other obligations, because I will no longer be denying myself the one thing I love to do.

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Young Master

Hunter and Russell practicing their King Fu

They say that art imitates life, but in our house it’s the other way around. When Hunter was ten years old, he discovered “The Karate Kid.” He would watch the movie over and over and try to replicate the moves he saw Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel. He perfected his crane technique. I asked him if he wanted to study karate, and he replied, “If I can study with Mr. Miyagi.” Of course, that was not possible, but he wasn’t interested in going to a class. He didn’t want to spar with other people.

Bruce Lee’s famous side kick

That all changed when my husband introduced Hunter to Bruce Lee. When Hunter watched “Enter the Dragon” for the first time he was entranced by the Kung Fu action. He watched Bruce Lee spin and kick and immediately began asking if he could learn Kung Fu. We told him that he would have to take a class and spar with other people. Suddenly, he was all right with that idea. We didn’t have the money to send him at that time, but we did buy him some nunchaku. They were padded, so he couldn’t hurt himself. He promptly began watching Bruce Lee movies over and over and learning how to spin the nunchaku like Bruce Lee does in the movies. He also started practicing the side kick.

Jackie Chan

After a while, I got tired of watching Bruce Lee movies over and over. Hunter did not appreciate my ironic commentary of the films, even though I thought it was delightful. I decided to introduce him to a martial artist that I thought was even better than Bruce Lee–Jackie Chan. We started with “Rumble in the Bronx.” “Rumble in the Bronx” is an action comedy that was made for English-speaking audiences, so it is not dubbed. Jackie Chan is known for his high-flying Kung Fu moves and for doing his own stunts. In “Rumble in the Bronx,” he performs amazing stunts like jumping between two tall buildings and getting run over by a hover boat. Unlike Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan follows the more traditional style of Kung Fu and combines it with gymnastics. I have yet to see him fight with nunchaku, but in his movies, he uses a variety of every day objects as weapons, like ladders, chairs, benches, clothing, and anything else he happens to find in the area of the fight. He jumps up walls, slides down curtains and awnings, and flips around until his opponents are completely baffled.

Hunter demonstrating his latest Kung Fu Move

After seeing Jackie Chan in action, he began watching all the Jackie Chan movies he could. It turns out that Jackie Chan made tons of movies starting in the 80’s. They are action-packed and full of cheesy humor, just right for an eighth grade boy. Hunter became more determined than ever to learn King Fu. He asked every couple of weeks if he could start learning Kung Fu. Finally, last November, our financial situation changed and we were able to afford to send him to a Kung Fu school. We found a school that follows the teachings of Ip Man, the teacher who trained Bruce Lee called Pai Lum White Dragon Martial Arts. After getting to know Sifu McCuistion and taking three private lessons, Hunter decided he wanted to continue with Kung Fu. My husband, Russell, decided to sign up for classes as well so now they can attend class and practice together.

Since Hunter has begun taking Kung Fu, I have seen tremendous changes. He has grown stronger both physically and mentally. He has developed grace and stamina. He is also proud of the fact that he retains what he learns and can help his father who has trouble remembering the new moves sometimes. He coaches Russell on how to hold his hands and his legs as well as how to complete the complex sequence of movements that Kung Fu requires. He now walks with a quiet confidence. The last time we watched a Jackie Chan movie together, “Drunken Master,” we could actually pinpoint some of the moves Hunter was learning in the action sequences of the movie. While I wouldn’t want Hunter to imitate every movie he sees, I am glad he chose the tradition of Kung Fu. He may have begun by imitating Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but now he is making the tradition his own.

 

Sifu McCuistion, Kung Fu Master and Instructor