Rejoicing in the Cold, Driving Rain

After nearly 8 years of daily blogging (I cannot believe it, and for those counting, nearly 2,900 blog posts), I still practice the original mission of living with flair. I really do. I set this same heart to look for the beautiful thing especially in the ordinary or even difficult thing.

Like just now: All day, I complain of the cold, driving rain. It’s the kind of gloppy wet that falls sideways and sneaks its way into even your purse, even down your collar, even into your socks. Under the umbrella, I burrow down into myself to make it to the next building on campus. It’s freezing and unexpected in light of yesterday’s 70 degree weather. It’s messy and sad and the kind of weather that makes me long for my bed.

But then, I tumble into my classroom, embraced by the warm air. For once Penn State’s classroom temperature matches what’s needed. In here, it’s dry and light and cozy. Students arrive, equally annoyed by the weather, but now happy to have made it. It almost feels like a homecoming, it’s that warm and inviting compared to what’s outside. We shed wet coats and toss umbrellas under desks so that they look like obedient dogs at our feet.

It’s now different: there’s an out there and now an in here. 

And I’m suddenly so thankful for the weather that chases us all inside together like this.


Lifting Up the Room

My friend says that when she enters a room, she wants to “lift up the room” not “suck out the air” from negativity, complaint, or neediness. I love the image of walking into a space and thinking how to “lift it” with joyful interactions, intentional speech to bless and encourage others, a cheerful heart, and an attitude of helpfulness and selflessness.

Let’s go! Let’s lift the room!


Warm Relationships Matter Most for Happiness

Today I share with my students the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest research study on happiness and health ever conducted. For nearly 80 years, researchers followed the lives of 268 Harvard sophomores–and then their children (who now make the number of research participants 1,300)– to answer the question, “What makes a truly happy and healthy adult life?”

I reveal the results: the single most determining factor in happiness and health is close relationships. The single most determining factor in an unhappy and unhealthy life? Use of alcohol. 

This month, we debunk the myths surrounding the pursuit of fame and wealth (the top cultural values of young people today) as what forms a happy adult life. We listen to celebrities talking about how much they dislike fame. Then, we add some complexity to this goal of being “happy adults”; we read this article entitled, There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” about how the very pursuit of happiness thwarts happiness. We ask questions like these: Is there something more important than happiness? How do we foster warm relationships? What contributes to the epidemic of loneliness on college campuses? How will I build my adult life?

Students work on defining the very terms that make up how we imagine what it means to be human and the most controversial phrases appearing in their desired professions.

I’m not sure I can imagine a more important essay topic than this.




Being Someone’s Success-Maker

I read a post on this day from two years ago, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about this teacher:

Something to Say to Any Child 

My youngest daughter yammers away as I’m dropping off her older sister to youth group last night. I’m hearing all about math projects, music class, and the lunchtime dramas of a 5th grade girl. Then she tells me this:

“Mom, in music, Mrs. Begg asked us if we all had a success-maker in our lives. We were supposed to raise our hand to share who our success-maker was.”

“What’s a success-maker?” I say, distracted and focused on the traffic.

“The loving adult in your life who wants to make you a success. I said you were mine.”

Long pause.

She continues. “Some kids shared about their moms or dads, and one person asked if it was OK if your success-maker wasn’t alive anymore.”

Long pause.

“And some kids didn’t raise their hands at all, so Mrs. Begg said that if you didn’t have a success-maker in your life to email her any time of day, no matter how much time has passed–when you are long gone from elementary school–and that she would show up on your doorstep to be your success-maker.”

Long pause. I feel tears on my cheek.

“And she said that every child can ask an adult to take care of them and be their success-maker. And I was thinking that that’s the best thing to be for someone else.”

I couldn’t speak. I loved Mrs. Begg so much in that moment for the way she was a success-maker for our whole little elementary school. And I wanted to find every child I could today and say, “Do you need a success-maker in your life?”

And then I’d show up on the doorstep of her life to be that person.


Satisfied Each New Morning

I love Psalm 90:14 and this beautiful prayer: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Moses wrote this psalm that stands as the oldest psalm in the Bible. I love that Moses didn’t ask for a morning filled with food, safety, wealth, friendship, clarity, or success. He asked for God’s unfailing love because he knew this was the only true satisfaction.

This love allows us to sing for joy and be glad all our days.



A Strange Taco Combination for Your Menu

I see a photo in a travel magazine of someone eating a soft corn tortilla stuffed with roasted butternut squash, black beans, shrimp, avocado, cilantro, and mango salsa. It seems odd to me but also marvelous.

I move on into my day, but I cannot stop thinking about this dish.

Eventually, I try this without a recipe: I roast the diced butternut squash for 40 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. Then, I mix the roasted squash with black beans. Meanwhile, I sauté shrimp with lemon juice and a sprinkle of cumin. I soften the corn tortillas in the oven.

When I call the family to dinner, they stuff their tortillas with the unusual but deliciously fragrant fillings of shrimp, squash, and beans. They top off the fillings with mango salsa, cilantro, and avocado slices.

These tacos work as a sweet and spicy dinner that I would have never tried had the picture not prompted a new experience. I’ll update later with a picture, but for now, imagine the wonderful creation.



Your First Job

My daughter starts her first job this afternoon at the grocery story down the street. I’ll drive her down, drop her off, and beam with pride that this day has come.

I remember my first job and the feeling that I was becoming larger than I was somehow; I rose up to what the boss required. I became a different person than just a daughter or student. I was an employee. 

At fourteen, with my work permit in hand, I became an employee serving ice cream at Mount Vernon. Then I worked at Staples after school and on the weekends until my second year of college. I loved it. I loved punching my time card, meetings all the employees, and working so hard to sell fountain pens back in the 90’s. Sometimes, I blocked aisles, worked with the stock boys, or cleaned the break room. I would converse with the cashiers all about their lives on slow afternoons.

I loved those teenage jobs so much!


A Familiar Viewing of Evil

After the horrific news of the school shooting in Florida yesterday, I remember the paralyzing disbelief of Columbine. I remember asking, “How can this be?” over and over again as I stared at the television. I remember the shock. I remember not being able to continue on in the day. The world was different now.

The images were new.

I’d never seen students filing out of a school because of an active shooter. Even the words were new; I didn’t even know the phrase “active shooter” or “active shooter drill.”

Now, the images feel terrible but also familiar because we’ve seen them so much. I hated feeling this way as I watched the news.

Our regular, ordinary vocabulary includes words I wish my daughters never learned: school massacre, assault weapons, and lock down drills. I hate that they know how to “scatter” and not gather when fleeing a school to minimize casualties. I’m sad that I must know where the safe space location is to pick up my children in the event of an active shooter emergency.

So that’s how it feels today: horrifying but also familiar.



Someday Soon: Encouragement for Parents of the Young

It’s late afternoon, and I’m crying in a bubble bath.

I arrived home from work and a doctor’s appointment with my oldest daughter, Sarah, to discover that my youngest daughter, Kate–not even 13 years old–made our dinner (her speciality: veggie enchiladas and Spanish rice). I stood in the kitchen as Sarah went to play piano for the pure joy of it and Kate put the finishing touches on dinner.

Well then. Shall I go relax somewhere?

So I went to relax in a bubble bath like a queen. I cried tears of happiness for so many things: for years of piano lessons that paid off, for children that grow up to make dinner, and for the truth that I never would have believed you if you told me that one day it would be like this.

One day, you’ll hardly remember the enduring of sleepless nights, the wrangling of feet to put on socks and shoes, and the feeling of endless afternoons. You’ll barely recall vacuuming crumbs from carseats, searching for lost library books, and later, classroom Valentine’s parties.

One day, you’ll find yourself taking a bath in the late afternoon, crying over this long task of parenting that basically killed the old you and birthed a parent that grew up right alongside the children. And you’ll soak in the bubbles, listening to piano music and smelling the warmth of a dinner you didn’t bake.

You’ll still set out Valentines of nail polish and teenage accessories–because you’ll always be that kind of parent–but you’ll send them off into their day, truly released in love.


My Favorite Small Group Name Game

When I place students into their peer writing workshop groups of three, I always give them five minutes to answer a surprisingly difficult question. I tell them that this single question tests their ability to build rapport quickly, to find a deeper connection with one another, and to quickly sift through meaningful life events. I want them to connect personally before they launch into peer editing. It builds their investment into one another.

Here is my favorite question for these small groups:

“What is the most bizarre thing you all have in common?”

I set the timer for five minutes, and I’m amazed about the lively chatter and the depth of conversation. Students arrive to my classroom from all over the world, yet they find these beautiful connections. Over the past decade of teaching, I’ve seen groups connect over shared Halloween costumes, appendectomies, meeting the same celebrity, enduring the same humiliating lunchroom dropped tray experience in third grade, or arriving to college with a piece of jewelry given by a grandparent. I push them further to find even more unusual connections like leaving a sleepover due to homesickness or having the exact same corrective lenses.

I believe students feel less lonely, more connected, and more friendly after this single question. We laugh about the events of our lives: the travel, the injuries, the pets loved, and bizarrely shared dreams of falling or flying. You too? I thought it was just me!  

We’re not so far apart from one another after all.