Sunday, April 22, 2018


“I’m fine” is a  phrase I use regularly.  More often than not it’s what comes out of my mouth when my Friends or family ask how I’m doing.  It is a comfortable, safe response, and the least complicated. It isn’t a lie. Most times I am fine.   Regardless, one Monday morning when I was rushed and stressed, and not fully recovered from the weekend a friend asked me how I was doing.  I said fine with a smile of course, and then we shut our portable doors to start our day. I stayed in that same spot near the door for a bit, as I contemplated how much I actually claim to be fine.  It got me thinking, was I really fine? Why do those words just spill off my tongue so easily without any thought. What am I trying to communicate to others and to myself? I decided to further investigate so I googled the definition of the word I claimed to be so many times a day.  One definition of fine was: to be very well, in a satisfactory manner.  Doesn’t sound bad. It’s not negative.  There is no emotion or umph behind it though.  It just is. The second definition, however was: high quality.  I liked the sound of that. Sounded better than satisfactory. I continued my search with some synonyms.  First-class, first-rate, great, exceptional, splendid, exquisite, superb.   Wow!  They all had a powerful ring to them more so than the fine I was used to referring to.  When I used my old kind of fine, I felt it. I felt satisfactory. I was going through the motions of the day.   Counting the minutes, not the moments. Why just be satisfactory when we can be superb? Why not exquisite or splendid?  
In our busy day to day of living life, the tasks can be mundane at times if we let them.  We don’t have to though. From now on, when and if I use my favorite phrase, it won’t just mean satisfactory.  My hope is that when someone asks how you are doing, you can smile and answer with emotion and honesty, I’m fine.  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fear by Carolyn

"Fear, he is a liar."

I heard this line in a song on the radio recently. I immediately believed it. Fear has been lying to me all my life. I'm ashamed to say that I have, far too many times, let fear rule my beliefs and actions. Maybe you have, too.

So, how is fear a liar? Fear lies to us about ourselves: You aren't attractive enough to get that date. You aren't smart enough to get into that school. You aren't talented enough to get that job. You shouldn't speak up about your opinion because your ideas aren't very good. You shouldn't audition for the play because you aren't very good. You shouldn't try something new because you probably won't succeed. You don't have whatever it takes.

Fear lies to us about how others perceive us: He probably won't like me, so I won't bother to get to know him. She will look down on me because I am not as attractive as she is. They will think I'm stupid if I try to join their conversation. I'm from the poor part of town, so they will think I'm beneath them.

Fear lies to us about how we perceive others: Her skin is a different color than mine, so she is inferior to me. He speaks a different language than I do, so he is not as intelligent as I am. They are from a different country than I am, so they are lazy. Their religion is not the same as mine, so we have nothing in common.

Fear lies to us about our future: I'll never be able to overcome _________ . I'm never going to be successful at ___________ . I'll be struggling with __________ my entire life. My family has always had trouble with _________, so I know I will too.

We live in an age where we tend to question everything: institutions, governments, religions, whatever. It is all open to skepticism, distrust, investigation. Why, then, don't we question our own fears?

What if, when fear tells us we aren't good enough or smart enough or talented enough or attractive enough, we stopped and questioned that thought? "Who says so? What if I am good enough or smart enough or talented enough or attractive enough?" "What's the worst that could happen if I try for that new job, or that role in the play, or asked that person out, or tried something new? I might just succeed!"

What if, when fear tells us that others might not like us or look down on us or think we are not enough, we paused and analyzed that fear? "How do you know? I might be someone they will really like. Or maybe they aren't exactly like I'm assuming they are. Maybe I'm exactly the kind of person they enjoy spending time with. I won't know until I try."

What if, when fear lies to us about the differences between ourselves and others, we took a moment to focus on our commonalities: "Wait a minute, fear. We may look different on the outside, but that doesn't mean we are all that different inside. We don't speak the same language, but we both have thoughts and feelings to express. We may not be from the same country, but I bet I could learn a lot from him. Our faith may not be the same, but that doesn't mean we have nothing in common."

What if, when fear lies to us about our future, we looked fear in the eye and said, "Hold on there, fear! My family's past doesn't have to be my future. In fact, my own past doesn't have to be my future. I have a plan. I have the desire. I have the intelligence and the talent and the drive to accomplish my goals. I will not let myself be ruled by fear. My future is mine for the making."

Fear, he is a liar. It's time we talked back.

When he told you you're not good enough
When he told you you're not right
When he told you you're not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you're not worthy
When he told you you're not loved
When he told you you're not beautiful
That you'll never be enough
Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
'Cause fear he is a liar
When he told you you were troubled
You'll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You'll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change
Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
'Cause fear he is a liar
Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Oh, let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Oh, fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
'Cause fear he is a liar
'Cause fear he is a liar
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Zach Williams / Jonathan Lindley Smith
Fear Is a Liar lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing

Monday, April 9, 2018

Just Do It by Andrea

Yesterday marked my turn to post on our blog.  I started more pieces than I care to admit, with limited time to develop anything I deemed worthy of our readers' time and attention. Somehow in the months of not publishing on the blog, my ability to produce something of value has vanished.  It makes me think of quotes I have read over the years which admonish writers to NEVER stop writing because restarting is like trying to tame a lion.  

So I decided to use a strategy I encourage my students to use when they get stuck- power writing.  A power write is simply setting a timer and, with fingers on the keyboard, typing away- letting whatever comes come until the timer goes off.  No censorship, no hesitation, no revision.  

It is not as if I have not been writing at all.  I have been journaling on nine out of every ten days since the start of the new year.  Using the notes app on my phone, I capture snatches of thoughts and writing ideas while driving or waiting in line.  Inspiration for possible essays abound in books from my 2018 reading list.  I recorded lines from the few movies or television shows I have watched. There is an ever growing list of important social justice topics, statistics and questions, observations and ideas on my phone, too.  I have been a writing teacher for many, many years now.  I know strategies to get oneself started.  I know strategies to revise well.  I know the secret of good writing.  Are you ready for it? It’s simply writing.  Writing a lot of words.  Reading a lot of words, yours and other writers, too.  Rereading.  Re-visioning. Rewriting.  Lifting lines. Rinse and repeat. But the pressure to produce something of worth, something which evokes connection, something honoring to my own experiences evade me this time around.  I sat down here, stabbing at these keys, trying make something I have never made before. NEVER.  And like a bolt of lighting I am hit with this bit of truth: this is the actuality of everyday we live. 

We rise to a day we’ve never experienced before. Yet no matter how mundane, routine our lives may be, there is a quiet recognition that we have the opportunity to do something in some way we've never done before.   We get to make something we have never made before.  Exhilarating yet intimidating. 

I put pressure on myself to live at the highest level of my own personal integrity, to make something good and indelible and eternal.  Every. Single. Day. And I am realizing that I approach just about everything this way.  Making dinner: it has to be visually appealing, nutritionally robust and satiating.  It has to be a work of art.  On a Tuesday. Just because. Writing a text message: tone engaging (check), using the exact words for my voice to come through without any possible misinterpretation (check, recheck, revise, check).  Probably this is not a bad thing.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well, they say.  I subscribe to this. 

Pressuring oneself to produce top quality in totality is problematic when production comes to a halt due to paralysis.  And this is what happened here today.  And for no good reason.  As I tell my students, there is no writing police.  You write first for yourself.  If you’ve got anything to say, someone will connect with some part of it.  Put yourself out there otherwise you will never know what you really think or what somebody else might need to hear, too.  The world needs your words.  Take a chance.  Just write.

So here is a note to self and to you, dear reader: 

Pursue excellence, not perfection.  Excellence does not come easy, but perfection is impossible.  Excellence is a matter of habit. Be in the habit of continuous motion despite wobbly and uncertain steps.  Even if there are fits and starts, mishaps and mayhem.  You’re waking up anyway so commit to making something. Turn the power write into a power (whatever you need it to be). Set a timer, mark a due date on the calendar, tell a friend. Do what you gotta do to just do it. You might not know exactly what you’re making. It may not even be good.  It probably won't be good if you haven't done it in a while or are doing it for the first time.  That’s okay.  The art is in the process.   Whatever you produce is simply proof you showed up.  And showing up is good and indelible and eternal. It's what matters in the beginning, middle and end of your story.  

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Little Big Things

By:  Susan

I never put my phone on silent at night when I go to sleep.  I have a daughter that lives on the other side of the world, a mother that lives alone a couple of hours away, a son and daughter-in-law in another State and two other adult children that don't always live with us.  The Saturday after Thanksgiving, as I was going to bed, my phone made a sound.  An email was coming in.  As I was reminding myself why I cannot turn the phone off, I realized that ALL the people who could be needing me in the middle of the night were sleeping under my roof that night.  And I was filled with immense gratitude.  

Right before Thanksgiving, on November 21st I read this post by my favorite author, Kate DiCamillo, on her Facebook page:

So I was on a mission to find my three little things to be grateful for.  At first I thought the fact that I could go to sleep one night with the phone on silent was a little thing but in reality it was a big thing.  To have my kids, my mother, my brother all in good health together and with me, is not a little thing. 

Since then, I have been on the hunt for other little big things to be grateful for.  I got another one on my birthday when my daughter gave me a Nespresso, one of those milk frothing machines. My mornings have been transformed by this small enhancement of my coffee experience.  The big thing about it though is the thoughtfulness of my daughter who had told me of her goal to become a good gift giver.  My advise to her was to listen.  And she had listened to me!

How wonderful it would be if I could live every moment of every day in this state of gratefulness. What if more often, I could find the big thing in the little things of life? It takes practice. So I will start right now. As I sit in my living room writing these words, I challenge myself to look at the objects around me and find the grace and blessing in each one them: 

The watercolor I did at that class I took with my brother a couple of summers ago - grateful for the chance to spend the weekend with my brother, thankful for my always generous husband who supported me spending money on an art class. 

A shelf full of old Disney VHS tapes - grateful for the years I spent watching them with my four kids as I took care of them full time.

A small bottle of essential oils given to me when I commented on a health issue one of my children was struggling with -  blessed by friends who care for me and my loved ones.

This could become a habit!

What little thing is a symbol of a big thing you are grateful for?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Mirror, Mirror

By:  Esmeralda

The mirror and I are not friends.  It’s so judgy.  Everytime I walk by it whispers.  Murmuring over my imperfections and blemishes. It sees my wrinkles beginning to form in the corner of my eyes.  It sees the oversized pores on my face and the red scars of acne leftover from a time that seems like forever ago.  The mirror zeros in on the pillowy fluff that was my midsection and notices the dimples I always wanted, although not quite in the correct set of cheeks I had hoped for.  It sees the beginning of the grays decorating my hair and the bags hanging under my eyes carrying nights filled with little sleep.  It judges me up and down. Not a single section is left hidden.  I hang my head, and sink a little lower.  The weight of the daily attack is too heavy to bear.

But there are things the mirror doesn’t see.  It doesn’t see the two beautiful children my stomach was blessed to carry.  It doesn’t pay attention to the cuddling of my daughter in the middle of the night when she wakes up from a bad dream, or the conversations that last a little later after bedtime prayers because those are the moments my teenage son opens up about his thoughts, worries, and wishes.  The mirror doesn’t know the creases near my eyes are from smiling at a student who seems to need a friendly face, and the lines near my mouth are from laughing until you can’t breathe. 
The mirror, my friends, might see the wear and tear of this life, but not the living of it.  It sees the outside and judges without knowing what lays within.  I pick my head up and look at the eyes in the mirror staring right back at me.  The mirror doesn’t know me.  I know me.  I know the ins and the outs.  I know the past and the present of my body.  And I refuse to be judged.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Doubt and Belief by Carolyn

I am an avid watcher of the Olympics – always have been. During the current coverage of the Olympics, a commercial for Koch Industries articulates one of the reasons I enjoy watching. The voiceover states,

“In every challenge, there are two rivals: belief and doubt. Doubt has a bigger team. Belief is outnumbered, but never outworked. When a score is settled, belief rises to the top.”

Read that again, slowly, and let it sink in.

We often talk about challenging ourselves. Maybe we walk another half a mile. Do ten more sit-ups. Take an honors course. Tackle a difficult recipe. Choose the stairs instead of the escalator. Take up oil painting. Whatever. All of that is great. I don’t want to diminish any of the ways in which we stretch ourselves to become better or healthier or more accomplished. That’s an important part of living.

However, most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t attempt to do what terrifies us or what seems impossible for us to accomplish. Very few of us have the strength of belief in ourselves (and the willingness to work hard enough) to tackle the insurmountable. Our belief in ourselves bows to the bigger team that doubt always fields.

I salute those whose belief in themselves and their goals is strong enough to outwork doubt. Those who are willing to do the incredibly difficult work it takes day after day, year after year, to overcome their fears, their handicaps, the little whisper (or loud roar) that says, “You can’t.”

Olympic athletes are among those few. So are those who overcome persecution or disabilities or seemingly unconquerable difficulties to ultimately succeed; to become proud and productive. For all of those who conquer doubt with belief, who set goals for themselves that terrify and thrill them, I applaud your spirit and strength. May we all be inspired by your determination to accomplish what we did not believe we could.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Pros and Cons by Susan

I put my baby on a plane to South America yesterday.  Ok, the baby is nineteen years old and has been living on his own for the past eight months.  But he is still my baby, the last of my four children.  And by virtue of being the last one, he has spent a lot more one on one time with me than the other three.  Our fondest memories are of the days he and I were together at home while the other ones were at school, going to library story time and checking out every Dr. Seuss book; of collecting “educational” toys at Chick fil A and having play dates.  He was also home for three years without his siblings while finishing high school.  He was my Parks and Recreation binge watching partner and my running race partner.

Once he and I reflected on the pros and cons of being the fourth child:

Pro:  Your parents are wiser or at least more experienced, so they don’t panic as easily when you have a fever or complain of an ache.  When you get a bad grade, your mother doesn’t give you a speech about how you will end up homeless if you don’t keep up with your academic excellence.

Con:  The novelty of almost every event has worn off.  There are fewer pictures and videos and scrapbooks of your accomplishments.  They may have a kid who is graduating from college, so your graduation from eighth grade is not as big a deal as they used to think.

Pro:  You get to do things that your siblings didn’t, because by now your parents have figured out what really matters in parenting.  They parent more out of trust than out of fear, because they can see that some of their fears, like you ending up homeless because you got a B, did not materialize.

Con:  Your mother doesn’t write down every cute or intelligent thing you say. She has a notebook where she wrote down funny things her children said, but the number of entries per child is inversely proportional to the birth order.  So there is hardly any record of your precocious remarks.

Con:  You now have five people giving you advice and opinion.  

Pro:  You now have five people to count on for advice and opinion.

I realized early on that this parenting thing was as much about me growing as a person as about nurturing and educating another being.  With each child, I have learned something different: patience, forgiveness, unconditional love, seeing the end in the beginning. The fourth one, my baby, has taught me to trust more and fear less.  

There are also pros and cons to being the mother of four kids:

Pro:  You have four people to love unconditionally.

Con:  You have four people to miss when they are not near.