Spring Fever without a Spring Break

24 03 2012

This middle-aged co-ed needs time off. A week without any responsibilities sounds like grilled cheese and tomato soup on a blustery spring day. No waking up at 5 a.m. melts in my imagination, a dark chocolate MoonstruckTM truffle. Forget going to work and dealing with petulant middle school students who suffer from spring fever.

Sadly, this dream has no chance of coming true.  Sure, I’ll get one week off from my job, and I’m grateful for that small reprieve (two weeks would be even better). Traditional college students enjoy a week (or more) away from their classes. Not me.

I’ll still have to log in and go to class at least three days, wade through myriad posts about journalism or English (my classes for this term) and read too many chapters in my textbooks. In fact, my assignments for the week include facilitating the discussion in my English class and interviewing suspects for my final story in journalism. Hurray! What’s a little extra work? It’s not like I have to go to my day job or anything.

Spring Break Traditions

Since 2006, our family of four has headed off on various jaunts during this last week of March. During that first spring break, we headed off with our camp trailer and some friends who had a motor home to the Oregon Caves and California Redwood National Forest. It rained most of the time, but we still managed to bond and make memories. Trips to Washington D. C., Seaside, Oregon, Disney World in Orlando, FL, and Long Beach, Washington followed.  Until last year, these times centered on family first and everyone had a say in the venue and agenda.

Disney World in March 2008

Last year, I took my laptop computer along and my textbooks. I managed to squeeze my schoolwork in around hikes, walks on the beach, jaunts to various lighthouses and riding go-carts.  After all, my kids take an Xbox 360 with them everywhere. I even managed to read a novel for “fun.” I say this because I read The Time Traveler’s Wife and spent the last 75 pages of the book bawling my eyes out. None of my men understand why I choose to finish reading books which drain every ounce of emotion from my body.

New Traditions?

This year, we will spend one night at a motel in Seaside. The box office beckons with The Hunger Games. Both of the boys have to visit the dentist for semi-annual cleanings. Yard work and spring cleaning vie for equal attention.

Since it would be a shame to dip into those 40+ days of sick leave I’ve accrued, I took the liberty of booking some important appointments during this “week off.” I have a meeting with my academic advisor, a facial, a doctor’s appointment and a pedicure planned.  My sons will head off to be fitted for tuxedos as they’re scheduled to be groomsmen at a wedding in June.

I’m grateful my 21-year-old and 18-year-old deign to devote their downtime to a family cause. Maybe they’re as attached to those old traditions as I am. Maybe they want to hang onto “family time” for another year.

Long Beach Go-Kart Racing

Even if my time won’t be 100% free from scholastic endeavors, I’m looking forward to spending a few precious moments with the three most important people in my life. Sleeping in, not reporting for work and getting pretty toes are just nice side benefits.





Getting out of the House

20 03 2012

On St. Patrick’s Day, just another Saturday to someone as un-Irish as I am, my sister and I took a road trip.  I drove and we covered about 110 miles, round-trip.  Our destination beckoned: the Selah Conference at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. As an additional bonus, we’d scheduled a “date” (although calling it such embarrassed my youngest son) with our two sons who are students there.  Embarrassing or not, it was a free dinner, so they were in.

I was intrigued by the title of the conference, “Selah.” It’s one of those Bible words that pops up which isn’t really English and doesn’t get used or defined from the pulpit very often.

The theme for the day was “Getting Unstuck” which brings plenty of interesting moments to the forefront of my mind. I’m sure being high-centered on a rock after turning too early into my mom’s driveway is one I’d rather not revisit too often. My husband and sons still use it as proof that I’m not a very good driver, even though I haven’t had a moving violation since 1988.  Feel free to browse this link (http://www.georgefox.edu/selah/index.html) to get a better idea of what my sister and I were anticipating for the day.

My Influence

Everyone has influence or should I say a circle of influence. Some people seem much more influential (President Obama and Stephen King, for example) than I would ever consider myself to be, or even want to be. We were invited by Elisa Morgan, whose enthusiasm and energy enlivened the stage, to connect the dots.

First of all, we have our own dots.  Then the Master Artist adds His dots, making the jumble appear to be the most gigantic and confusing dot-to-dot puzzle in the universe.  Of course, we’re only expected to connect dot 1 to dot 2, or dot 12 to dot 13, not to understand the final outcome of the drawing.

Doing What I Can

Ms. Morgan has a new book, She Did What She Could, which she used an illustration to expound on Mark chapter 14. It was a new look at a familiar story. What it did was make me realize that most of the time the reason I get “stuck” is because I have outlandish expectations for myself. Apparently, this is a common occurrence.

Jesus complemented Mary (in Mark 14:6-9) on doing what she could. He defended her against those who accused her of being wasteful and inconsiderate. In her moment, Mary took her gift (spikenard ointment, a costly perfume) and offered it to Jesus in acknowledgement of who He was and how she felt about Him.

Is there an application in my life? Certainly, and it begins with identifying my own available gifts and offering them to Jesus. This is a tad frightening. After all, someone is sure to jeer or accuse or condemn me.

I Have a Purpose?

The most productive part of the conference happened on Sunday. After experiencing a session at the conference on creating a purpose statement to guide my life, I sat at my kitchen counter carefully filling in the sections from Cathy Roberts, presenter at the session.

My first final result seems high and mighty, and utterly unattainable.  Perhaps, upon revision it will finally merit mention in this forum.  Or, maybe it will remain my secret for a lifetime.  After all, if I share my purpose, someone might decide I should be held accountable to actually fulfill said purpose.  Sounds like too much pressure…at least for now.





Causing Controversy

11 03 2012

With all the “politically incorrect” references on newscasts or blogs being brought to the forefront, I’ve been seeing quite a few entries about avoiding controversial subjects in the blogs I follow.  For example, Kristen Lamb’s blog about authors addressing religion or politics in online forums being dangerous to their “brand” (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/) generated 117 comments (at the time I wrote this). If a sportscaster can be fired for saying “a chink in his armor” (and that’s about race, not religion or politics), what is this world coming to?

Apparently, I’ve been controversial in some of my previous posts. I’ve cast my beloved sons in a poor light. Of course, this was never my intention. It has come to my attention that people who read our posts don’t necessarily see our intentions (what?? I know! I was completely shocked upon learning this, as well); therefore, we must carefully consider our words before we push the “publish” button.

Corrections

  1. I don’t believe online education is more difficult than traditional on-campus education. Apparently, someone (my oldest son, who actually read my blog, bless his heart) felt I used “adult” opinions to make the comments made by my sons look weak. By the way, both of my sons are over 18, and therefore, adults (according to the laws of the land).
  2. I believe both of my sons can be bratty (on the other hand, I am the Queen Brat), but they aren’t mean, spiteful brats. Apparently, my sarcasm doesn’t come across well online (I actually knew this; since I’m getting older, I’m going to say I forgot it for a moment). I sincerely apologize for hurting anyone with my posts.

    I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.

    Actions speak louder than words, but I’ve recently observed that actions and words can also be misinterpreted. Is this because the English language is so complicated? No (even though it is a very complicated language as I’m learning in my class sharing that title “The English Language”), but our emotions and perceptions get in the way of understanding. If someone storms out when we’re saying something, we might assume what we said made them angry. This isn’t necessarily the case. Should immediately decide they are angry? No is the obvious answer, but most of the time we do.

    Somewhere I saw something about getting exercise by “jumping to conclusions” and “pushing the envelope.” Isn’t the English language fascinating? These idioms get used regularly. All too often this sort of “exercise” causes plenty of problems.

    I’m beginning to think we live in a world where people pounce on every little phrase, using it out of context and twisting it far from the speaker’s original intention. Does this mean the speaker said something wrong? Part of the problem lies in the fact that our society distorts the meanings of everyday words (“gay” is jumping immediately to mind here) which gives an opening to the naysayers.  Additionally, some people just like to stir the pot, cause contention, create a mountain out of a molehill (my list of idioms and clichés could continue for another 200 words) and blow things out of proportion. I don’t want to be one of “those people,” do you?

    Take a Joke

    I can take a joke. I know my sons like to tease me about online school. My oldest son has experienced online courses that are much easier than those he takes on campus (history or calculus? Which do you think would be more difficult? Care to guess which one he took online?) Of course, we both took stats online, and I struggled while he breezed through it (he does have a minor in math, after all, while I’m getting an arts degree).

    More people need to stop looking for trouble. Instead of reading between the lines, take words at face value.  So, when Rush Limbaugh calls someone a prostitute, I think it’s safe to say he intended offense.  If a person says a certain political party is full of bigots, I think they’re hoping to irritate a few people from said party. If, on the other hand, someone walks out when you’re talking, it might be better to reserve judgment.  After all, perhaps they got an emergency text, had to use the restroom or felt sick all of the sudden (please, don’t stay to puke up your guts right here).

    War rages around the world. 2012 is an election year. I think I can safely speak for most people when I say, “There’s enough conflict in the world.”





Digital Age Woes

8 03 2012

In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create.”-Raoul Vaneigem

As a so-called creative person, sometimes the whole “computer age, hand-held device, linked-in with the world” society in which we live bogs me down. From someone whose whole educational experience relies on the computer and internet, this seems fairly hypocritical. I know.  Yet, as an outspoken middle-aged blogger, I must honestly relate my experiences.

Bogs to the Blogger

In my life, time constraints tend to be one of my biggest woes. If only I had another hour, I could finally write that story that’s chewing a hole in my subconscious. If only there were 50 more minutes, I could polish that piano piece and be ready to perform it for an audience.  With an additional 30 minutes, I could walk a few more miles on the treadmill and enjoy a slice of chocolate mousse afterwards (okay, that one probably isn’t a good example).  All of the electronic gadgets that make things easier and more convenient also lead to time-wasting.

I waste the precious, unrecoverable commodity of time:

  1. Surfing through online catalogues and filling shopping carts with items I’ll never purchase;
  2. Checking out new apps for my iPad2;
  3. Playing all the games I’ve already downloaded onto my iPhone and iPad;
  4. Previewing videos to post with my blog (after all, I have to choose the perfect complement to my writing, don’t I?);
  5. Searching through all the free or low-priced Kindle books to download to my iPad;
  6. Figuring out how to make my own ringtones with the supposedly easy app I downloaded to my iPhone;
  7. Clicking on links from blogs I’m following (and this is only what I’ve done in the past 24 hours; it’s not an exhaustive list).

I’m sure I’m not the only one who happily allows technology to send me onto a rabbit trail that leads into No-man’s Land. Unfortunately, I don’t generally find compelling ideas on these forays that inspire me to write a gripping page for my current writing project. Instead, I find a dozen more ways to continue down the dead-end of distraction and away from the path toward production.

Just when you think you've got the device handled, it's a dinosaur.

The Culprit: Technology or Me

Obviously, technological advancements contain no power of their own to drive my muse into hiding. In fact, owning the latest and greatest in internet ready portable devices should be a boon.  It means I can essentially write and post to my blog from anywhere there’s access to Wi-Fi. Fact-checking is only a click (or touch, I adore having a touch screen and think it should be standard equipment on all computers and phones) away, so there’s nothing holding me back when I have a question that needs answering.

Actually, only my own lack of discipline makes these incredible tools of our digital age harmful to my creativity and industry. Just because I’m using my iPad doesn’t justify collecting money from my zoo(s), country and pet shop. Just because I see the big yellow tile sporting a “W” inviting me to take my turn in “Words with friends” by playing a word in one of my multiple, ongoing games (using a triple letter and triple word score, of course) doesn’t mean I have to give in to temptation. Is there a support group for borderline addicts like me? Applications Anonymous or something like that? A group designed for all the newly out-of-control gamers who’ve shunned traditional gaming as “a major time-waster” but have been sucked into the world of free apps?

In reality, they aren’t free. These things cost me time, creative energy, social interaction with people present in the same room, and, yes, even money (ever heard of a thing called “in-app purchases”?) The bottom line is: it requires more self-control and time-management skills in this digital age than ever before to stay on task. Before, I could turn off the TV, shut off the ringer on the phone and close myself in an isolated room. Now, the very tools of the trade can be magnets of mismanagement.

 





When I Grow Up, I Wanna Be…

2 03 2012

Wait! If I’m sponsoring a blog for middle-aged co-eds, I must already be grown up. Does that mean I should currently be living my dream? Not necessarily. Some people bloom later in life and don’t really understand their true calling until they’re in their 30s. Other people are so busy following the expected path from 18 – 25, that they wake up one day and realize that what they always dreamed about seems light-years away.

Life happens. If I spent my twenties working jobs to just pay the bills, I might have been trying to pursue my dream at the same time (but I wasn’t). My thirties I gladly donated to the raising, guiding and chauffeuring of my two children. Which means, once I turned forty, the time to start thinking about what I really wanted from life dawned. In truth, as women, we get so wrapped up being the caretakers of our husbands and children, we forget that God planted dreams and desires apart from those people within our hearts.

When the time comes to dig out those treasures, don’t resist. Go ahead and second (and third and fourth) guess yourself, but don’t let that immobilize you. If you’re married to Mr. Wonderful, like I am, your husband will be extremely supportive of whatever you want to do. At first. Don’t forget to keep including him in the plans or you might alienate your best ally.

What Do I Want to Do Anyway

Life is filled with epiphanies. When I was riding my bicycle and I realized I really preferred walking as a form of exercise: epiphany. (Too bad I’d already invested $400 in a lightweight combination bicycle and at least $100 on accoutrements for safe and comfortable cycling!) Struggling to keep up with housework, homework and a job, it came to me one day that I could afford to hire out these household chores: epiphany. (Who wants to scrub toilets and floors anyway?)

Yesterday, I knelt on the floor between two students helping them “peer edit” each other’s expository essays. These students can hardly spell, punctuate and use proper grammar for themselves, so finding it in another person’s work leans toward monumental. Reading sentences out loud, I would ask, “What’s wrong with that?” Most of the time, they could nail the error. Spelling, I pointed that out. If I paused in the reading long enough, they realized the sentence begged for a comma. I like editing: epiphany.

But I don’t want to be an editor? Do I? I want to be an author. My writing will awe and impress the editors. Sure, I might enjoy reading good writing, but that’s not all I want to do every day.

The question is: do I want to be an editor while I strive for published author status? If I do, then I might need to talk to my academic advisor about changing my major. What are the other options? I can be a copy writer, work in the public relations department of any large company or work in some other capacity –writing professionally. Would being an editor seem better or worse than those positions?

Truthfully, I’m afraid that if I become an editor, I’ll never move beyond that to pursue my real dream. I’ll “settle.” Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent much of my adult life settling for less than I really wanted or believed I could accomplish. Marrying Jeff was a great move, not settling at all, and staying home with my sons before they were school-aged is another instance when I followed my heart.

Editor’s jobs are probably just as hard to land as a full-time writing contract. I should probably stop thinking about getting one of them. If I change my major now, I might never finish with my degree.

Don’t you love to listen to me argue with myself about this? I guess I should just write my brains out and never take another job.  Create stories until I finally come up with something good enough an agent will represent it, an editor won’t slash it to death with a bloody red pen and a publisher will offer me an incredible advance and even a follow-up contract for two more books within three years. (If I’m going to dream big, I may as well add every fantastical element that enters my mind!)

When I finally grow up, I’m going to be a published author. Before that, I’m going to get out of the special education classroom and into a place where I can use my knowledge and skill to help people communicate (or write better).





My Term in Review

1 03 2012

One thing I’ve noticed about online college: the terms seem to have wings; they fly by, a film in fast-forward.  The fact that they’re only eight weeks in length could have a smidgen to do with the perceived brevity. I prefer that explanation to the cliché statement: “Time passes more quickly as a person gets older.” In fact, I’m heading out on a limb and claiming that all middle-aged people find that saying highly offensive.

Every term I take two classes.  At Southern New Hampshire University, this is considered a full-time load for online students. At this pace, 36 credit hours can be earned each calendar year, making it possible to obtain a four-year degree in 3 years and four months.  In the January-February term, my classes were nonfiction writing workshop (required for my creative writing minor) and the psychology of personality.

Personality Perspectives

My professor for this class is a behavior psychologist whose specialty is evolutionary behavior.  I don’t mind saying that this put me on edge, at first. Sometimes the most difficult part of online classes is finding a connection with the professor.  After all, you will never meet them, they talk to you only through written communication and most of the time they seem fairly aloof. I hoped this woman would remain distant rather than pushing her evolutionary poppycock down my throat.

As it turns out, she didn’t remain aloof at all. Each week, she recorded a short video in which she reviewed the objectives for the week and stressed the important aspects of the lecture notes and textbook readings.  Also, she verbally explained the assignments, so most confusion was alleviated in that area (for me anyway. Some people have no idea how to maneuver through the online classroom, and they needed clarification from her). Additionally, she mentioned some of her studies, but she didn’t insert any mandatory reading of her research projects or tack on side-bars about evolution at every possible moment.

My biggest problem with the class is that I had to read about Freud – again. In the September term, I took a literary theory class (required for my major) and we had to study Freud’s theory in-depth because it impacted the literature and theories of literature during Freud’s lifetime. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I consider Freud to be an over-sexed neurotic.  All of his theories are based on analyses of disturbed minds, so who would even expect him to come up with something other than madness?

I found I could completely relate to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages. I’ve always considered Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to be quite accurate, but upon further study I think he places too many limiting qualities for a self-actualized person. We learned about birth order theories, positive psychology, behaviors and motivating factors and I can list the Big Five personality traits and even say what they encompass (generally)!

While I find psychology interesting and I think it will help in my development of interesting and believable characters, I don’t know if I’ll take many more psychology classes. After awhile, it all starts to sound the same to me.

Writing Woes

To be totally honest, I registered for the nonfiction workshop to “get it out of the way.” I’ve always been a fiction writer and I don’t see myself straying very far afield. However, in the very first week of class, I realized my perception of nonfiction reeked of narrow-mindedness and misinformation.

In the beginning, the professor made it clear that we would focus our attention on memoirs, autobiographies, essays and creative nonfiction. I’ll admit, I groaned aloud at the thought.  This meant I’d be writing about my life – my dull, unexciting, uninspiring, lived in one state, never traveled out of the U.S. life.  Distasteful to the extreme, I decided to “get through it” somehow.

By the third week, the professor found my weak spot and helped me write around it. In fact, I wrote this touching personal essay and realized that I hadn’t even designed it to meet its intended purpose.  After doing his weekly writing exercise, I realized I’d written it from the perspective of the least likely point I was trying to make. Such a discovery implied a revolutionary moment for me. If I learned nothing else, this class had given me invaluable instruction in that one “aha” instance.

Most of the writing didn’t stretch me beyond my creative limits.  After all, fiction has to be more believable than real life. Descriptive writing flows like water when I can truly enter the scene of which I’m writing.

My goal after taking this class: polish that essay and find a publisher for it. Keep writing narrative nonfiction with the intention that I can find a market for what I write.

Even this blog, something I’ve truly enjoyed, owes its existence to this nonfiction writing workshop.  If you like the blog, say with me, “Thank you, Professor M.” If you hate the blog, I’d be happy to supply his email address so you can let him know about it, but don’t post your negativity on my page. (Just kidding, Professor M! I would never hand out your personal information.  Not completely joking, readers; I don’t mind tasteful criticism, but this isn’t a gripe forum – for anyone but me!)








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