Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Attitude of Gratitude

I recently read an article about the effects of having a grateful attitude.  It was an article about scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. Apparently it improves not only our emotional health but also our physical health. A few things mentioned were it makes us happier, improves our moods, increases our resilience, improves our self-esteem.  It also can improve sleep, helps reduce pain, strengthens our immune system, and lowers stress. These are only a few of the things the article mentioned as positive effects of a grateful attitude. At times it tends to be a little difficult to see the sunny side up. Especially when many things get thrown at you during the day and you get bogged down with all the to-do’s and the don’t do’s and the don’t have time to do’s.  So how can we have an attitude of gratitude? I think you have to make it a habit. Like we have to make working out a habit, or eating healthy a habit. And for anything to become a habit we must do them for an extended period of time. We must practice it every day. It might be as simple as being grateful for a cup of coffee or tea in your hand, or the wonderful feeling of fur between your fingers as you scratch your little Fido’s face.  I believe the things or people or moments that bring the biggest joy are the little ones that sometimes might go unnoticed. I challenge you to join me in a month of jotting down a few things you are grateful for each day. I have a journal specifically for this task, because I tend to jump at any opportunity to buy a new journal, and I may or may not have bought some new pens for this month of gratitude. Whether it is in a journal, or in your planner, or a notecard.  And whether you jot down your gratitudes at the end of a long day, the beginning of a new day, or somewhere in between, let’s do it. And then let me know how you feel at the end of the month.  

Here is a list to start my attitude of gratitude:

  • Skinny Vanilla lattes
  • The first sip of coffee in the morning
  • Writer’s group and kindred spirits
  • The freshness of a new day with new possibilities
  • My 95 year old grandmother’s young spirit
  • My mother continuing to mother me even after I am a mother of my own.
  • My daughter’s kind heart
  • My son’s sincere and reflective mind
  • Reminders on my phone because I have a million and one things on my mind at all times
  • My silky pillow after a long day
  • Music, any, all kinds
  • Giggles during pedicures (not mine but my daughter’s)
  • The determination on my son’s face before the snap of the football
  • Friends who are family
  • Pink dresses and strappy heels
  • Walking into church on Sunday morning
  • Walking out of church filled with peace on Sunday morning
  • Curling up with my fuzzy blanket to watch a movie or read a good book
  • The smell of the library
  • My grandma’s house, and the stories it holds
  • That I am exhausted at the end of the day because it means I tried my best. I gave all I had.
  • That I carry hope within me so that even on the darkest of days, I still feel the sun’s rays even when I can’t see them. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Learning to Read the Signs

By: Susan

My first baby stopped breastfeeding one night when she was ten months old. She was hungry but would not take the breast no matter what I did. Her doctor said she was done. She was ready for other forms of nourishment. For me, the emotional pain was just as bad as the physical one. I felt she didn't need me anymore. Twenty nine years of parenting has taught me that my children will always need me, but in different ways. The trick has been to read the signs when a shift is coming. Weeks prior to that night when Miranda stopped breastfeeding, she had acted distracted and irritable. I had to put her in all kinds of weird positions to feed. But I was too inexperienced to see those as signs that she was losing interest in me as her sole source of food. As hard as that moment was, it was inevitable. Insisting on continuing to feed her from my body, would have just led to more irritation and confusion.

There are other stages in the eternal parent-child relationship that require a shift in the dynamics. When the toddler asks for independence by insisting on "my do it", when a pre-schooler decides to wear rubber boots, suspenders and knee socks pulled over the knee EVERYWHERE, or when there is a dresses only phase - all signs point to a desire for independence and autonomy. The wisest of parents know to pick their battles, allow for choice as long as it is not harmful or disrespectful to others and basically stop doing what the child can do for himself.

I think the most delicate phase is much later, when our children are fully grown adults and we continue to treat them as children, doubting that we have taught them anything at all, needing to be reassured that they still need us. I continue to stumble on that one. I underestimate their intelligence and competence and point out the obvious or give directions when none is needed. But thank goodness they are forgiving.

The most valuable insight so far has been that every child, no matter the age wants to be listened to and heard. That's what any of us really wants. Often, they are not even looking for an answer or a solution, but for the simple experience of being seen and heard as a full being. It seems such a simple thing but accomplishing it requires selflessness, humility and the ability to be present.

No one needs me to feed or clothe them these days. They have all grown up to be independent, productive human beings. But they still need me to listen to them, see them and perhaps ask a few questions that helps them arrive at an answer.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sixth-Grade Graduation

One of the things we (our Writers' Group) try to do at every meeting is to have some kind of writing exercise to stretch ourselves a little. A few months ago our task was to re-create a piece of writing in a different format. Years ago I wrote down some memories about my 6th grade graduation ceremony, something like this:

At some point in my sixth-grade year, my parents divorced. In some ways, this wasn't a big change because my mother had almost always worked a full-time job outside the home and handled all of the domestic chores. My father was not a very active parent. In any case, Mom continued to work hard all day and come home to continue working. As the end of my school year approached, she decided to make a special dress for me to wear to the end-of-year "graduation" ceremony: we sixth-graders would be leaving elementary school and moving on to junior high school.

So for a while Mom's evenings included not only housework and cooking, but also making this dress for me. I remember it vividly: it was no ordinary dress. It was a sheath dress made of snow-white fabric, onto which she stitched rows and rows of lace trim. The lace trim had an inset into which she threaded red satin ribbon. There were hours and hours of delicate handwork and love in that dress.

On the morning of the ceremony, I was allowed to wear pantyhose, I think for the first time ever! While that is not at all thrilling to me now, it was then. I felt so grown-up and sophisticated in my pantyhose and this beautiful, fancy dress Mom had spent so many hours crafting for me.  Mom left as usual to go to work as my sister and I prepared to leave for school.

For some reason I no longer remember, I decided to ride my bike to school - something I had never done before. I have a vague recollection of being persuaded to do it by a friend, but the details have been long forgotten. In any case, I did ride my bike to school, white party dress, pantyhose, and all. If you know me, you will not be surprised to hear that on the way to school I crashed my bike. Bike wrecks leave their mark: my pantyhose were shredded and my snowy white dress was no longer snowy white. It was now marred with grass stains and smears of bicycle chain oil.

I walked across the stage at school in that stained dress and ripped hose. The embarrassment I felt competed with my guilt to fill my emotions. What should have been a happy day was ruined, and my mother's sacrifice seemed ruined as well.

I don't remember Mom's anger and disappointment, although I am sure she felt those feelings. How could she not?

I do, however, remember her forgiveness and her love.

At the Writers' Group meeting I mentioned above, I took the challenge of changing this memoir into a poem:

Sixth-Grade Graduation

Hours of work
Of care
Of love
After days already full;
Tired hands
Tired eyes
Tired mind.

Yards and yards of white lace
Scarlet ribbon winding through
Fine stitches
Create a white dress
Fit for a princess.

Careless girl
Picks up and
Continues on.

Heartbroken girl
In lovely white dress
Scarlet ribbon threaded
Through yards and yards
Of white lace

With tire marks
Grass and mud stains
And jagged tears
For all to see.

The infinite love of a mother

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Writing For Our Lives Challenge by Andrea

      This blog is called Writing Four Lives for we four women, four friends, four writers writing about our four lives.  The title should also bring to mind the thought that we write for our lives- writing as if our very lives depend on it.  Since our inception as a group in 2010, each month we've tried many practices, habits, and methods to support and encourage one another in staying committed to the craft.  We read about being writers.  We give ourselves writing assignments while together.  We established a blog to keep us honest, to give us an authentic audience beyond each other, to hold ourselves accountable. We created a calendar to help each take a turn posting. When half of us published more faithfully than the other half, we upped the ante, used the acronym ACES (our first initials) as a way to hold each member responsible for staying the course and being committed to writing for and about her life.
      One post per person once every four weeks. This seemed foolproof.  It is the most and the least we should be able to do to support our commitment to being writing teachers who write, to be writers who actually produce content for readers.  Yet, if you do the calendar math on our blog posts just over the last four months, you'll quickly see that we have fallen short and far from this simple goal. We know better.  We are writing teachers.  We are students of the craft of writing. We would never allow our students to get out of the habit of writing to say something to someone or for someone.  Words matter.  We have things to say. What should one do when you've fallen off the proverbial wagon?

     Well, if you're writers, you pick up your pen or laptop, dust them off and begin again.  To help us do just that, I have created a challenge for our Writers' Group and anyone else who needs to climb back into the saddle and move their writing life forward.

Writing For Our Lives Challenge

To refine a daily habit of collecting our thoughts, wonderings, recollections, and responses to our lives.

The Set-up:
Fifteen days of writing for 15 minutes each day.  Challenge will begin on August 1, ending at 11:59 pm on August 15.

Rules of Engagement:
1. Accepting this challenge means no opting out and no excuses. If by some unimaginable chance you miss a day, you must start over at one.

2. Plan how, when, and where you'll get your writing time in. You must get it in before you lay your head down at night.

3. Write until the time is up.  Writing Workshop is a time, not a task.  It is time to live and do the work of writers.  The timer tells us when we are finished for the day!

4. Upload an image on Instagram and/or post a line or two from your writing on our Facebook group each day as a measure of accountability and encouragement to the group.  Be sure to tag the other three writers!  Yes, that's three tags per day plus your own.  It's probably better than the other junk you could get tagged in on any given day!

Use the hashtags: 
    #IAmWriting4Lives  #15x15Writing  #DailyWritingRituals

This challenge is not limited to the writers of this blog.  If you need to restart your writing game, join us!  


Strategies for Tackling the Blank Page
Strategies are better than prompts because you can use them anytime, anywhere and not write about the same idea or in the same way twice.
  • Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just start writing what is on your mind, even if those words begin with, "I don't know what to write..." Then do not stop writing/typing until fifteen minutes are over.
  • Take a look around where you are right now until something catches your eyes and sparks a memory, somewhere for you to start writing from.
  • Let a piece of literature inspire a start on the blank page.  What thoughts did your reading evoke? What memories or reactions came conjuring up?  Start there.
  • Writing off of a word as a strategy to get yourself started.  Choose any word, write it at the top of your page then write whatever comes.
  • Storytelling is a great strategy for getting yourself unstuck.  Think of the last story you just told, a story from today or a story you tell all the time.  Take a moment to tell the story aloud if needed, then write.
  • Snatches of conversation:  Somewhere with other people?  Listen in on their conversations and use what you overhear to jumpstart your writing.
  • Take a few minutes to reread other writing you've done to find inspiration- something you want to say more about, something you think differently about now
  • Sometimes writers write about people, places, events and ideas that are important to them.  Create a list, visual diagram, pictures, etc of any of these.  Choose one to write as much as you can, as well as you can before the timer goes off.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Google, Help Me Out!

by: Susan

My father never made a decision or answered an important question without "sleeping on it". My grandfather's advice was to "roll the words in your mouth" before speaking them out loud, to make sure they tasted as sweet to you as to the person receiving them.

A while ago, I noticed that the new update to my Gmail was suggesting phrases as possible responses to my emails.  Which made me realize that Google was reading my correspondence. I quickly disabled the feature because: 1) I don't need help answering my emails, and 2) it is just creepy!

Lately, I have been thinking maybe this feature can actually come in handy. What if upon reading my email, Google identified angry and irate language.  Wouldn't it be nice if when pressing Send, I got a message that said: "You seem to be upset.  Are you sure you want to send this email?" If I still say yes, it could ask me again: "Are you absolutely sure?" and receiving another yes, it would tell me: "Ok. But we will just hold on to this message for 24 hours in case you change your mind." I bet you anything after sleeping on it, I would probably change my language or decide that the email was not necessary after all.  The same can go for social media messages.  I mean,  if we have the technology, we might as well use it to save us from our own selves.

I heard a psychology professor explain that when faced with a problem, the human brain scans its environment for possible solutions and uses whatever seems to be accessible at the moment. These days our devices are always accessible and hence possible solutions when we get indignant, angry or outraged. When our children are tired and overwhelmed at the end of a long day and we are fighting over homework with them, it's so tempting to fire off an angry email to the teacher who assigned the homework. When we see yet another story of shooting or stabbing or bigotry, spitting out our anger and frustration on whatever social media platform happens to be available, is just too easy.

It is possible to apologize after we have sent an angry email.  We can go back and delete a comment.  But words have a way of exerting their influence long after they have been spoken.  It is really not possible to take them back. Once a harsh word has been said, it will hang in the air forever.  Hopefully, the recipient has enough grace to forgive us and forget our words, but the universe has been altered. Angry, hurtful words, even when spoken out of righteousness, do not open doors of dialogue.

I really don't want Google reading my emails. So I practice what I always suggest to my fourth graders: Never, ever, turn in a writing piece without reading it out loud. It's good practice for learning to revise writing and it may save lots of embarrassment and the need to apologize.  Even better, read it after sleeping on it.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Making Investments by Carolyn

I'm really, really bad at making monetary investments. If it is possible to waste money in some way, I have probably done it (multiple times). I am trying, however, to be better at making investments in people than I am in financial matters. I haven't always done so. Sadly, I have had many good friends I have not maintained my investment in after time and distance separated us. I could certainly say the same for some of my relatives. It is so easy to lose touch, to neglect to reach out. I truly regret not investing more in so many of my relationships. I have been poorer for the loss of my connections  with those friends and kinfolk.

There are, however, some ways I am tending to my investments. Last fall, my younger son decided to be the one to shoulder the cost for us to attend an Aggie football game. I jokingly told him that I was glad to see that my investment (of taking him to some many Aggie games) was paying off. I'm not sure if he was offended at being considered an investment, but he certainly was surprised. As I thought about it, however, I realized our children are perhaps our largest investments. We invest time and effort and money and our hearts and souls in our children. We care for them when we are exhausted, we give up sleep for them, we surrender our last bite of our slice of cake for them, we go without items or trips or luxuries we may want because their needs come first. We do all this not only because we love them, but because we are invested in our relationship with them. We know that the bond between us is forged each exhausting day and every sleep-deprived night through the years we rear them. Beyond that, we are investing our principles and beliefs and ethics in them so that they can become moral and productive people - for their own benefit and the benefit of the world. 

I am currently investing deeply in my grandchildren. I hunker down, giggling quietly,  in the bushes in my backyard with my 4-year-old grandson so the imaginary T-Rex does not find us. I spend hours (it seems) picking up sticks in my yard so we can build an imaginary bonfire. I push him ("faster, CC, faster!") in the hammock when I really want to be reclining in it myself. I let him sleep in my bed when we have a sleepover so he can feel safe and secure, even though he kicks and wiggles. I do all of those things and more as investments in our lifelong relationship. I will very soon be doing similar things with my one-year-old granddaughter so that we can build a bone-deep bond as well. My father, who will be turning 84 in September, was not willing (or maybe did not know how) to invest in his grandchildren. He is now paying the price of that in his cordial, but shallow relationships with his grown-up grandsons. The investment should have been made long ago. I find that very sad. It is a loss for all of them.

Not all of my investments are with family members. I put 36 years of my heart and soul (not to mention my blood, sweat, and tears) into public school education before I retired two years ago. What a joy to be able to invest my time and efforts and care in such a vital way! Fortunately, I haven't had to completely forsake what has been so important to me. I have the privilege now to supervise student teachers, to be one of the many who have invested in their future as educators. My current "crop" of student teachers are just finishing up their semester and will be graduating soon, ready to become "real" teachers. I am beyond proud of them for the growth I have seen in them. I am so thankful for their decision to dedicate themselves to a profession which is hugely demanding of time and energy and passion, but pays low dividends of status and monetary reward. By investing in these teacher candidates, I feel that I am investing in the future of all of us. 

Are you investing wisely?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In My Tracks by Andrea

The surprises of spring 
stopping me in my tracks
overwhelming my senses 

Dazzling smells of spring
sweet and soft,
hanging in the air
right in front of me
surrounding me

Hearing the whisper of the fluttering wings 
a black and yellow butterfly-
a tiger swallowtail,
gliding across my path

Running alongside me
bumping over little falls, the creek
murmuring messages, passing over ancient rocks

All of it 
making me wonder 
how many other things am I missing
chasing things I cannot see
running past the majestic in front of me

Slowing my feet 
Widening my eyes-
Inhaling deeply, again and again,
Willing the words to come 
Fearing if not named 
It will be lost