My Nest is Empty – Again

29 08 2012

The Fab Four

It really doesn’t seem that long ago when I was standing in front of my oldest son’s empty bedroom, tears rolling down my cheeks. At that moment, the future seemed uncertain because it was changing.

Last year, we sent our youngest son to college and officially became “Empty Nesters.” Well, maybe not because we have all their junk and they still bunk here several months out of the year. On a regular basis, it’s just me and Mr. Wonderful, so that seems empty enough.

Now that the baby is off to college again, the rooms are vacant. That baby bird couldn’t wait to fly out of here. He was hoping not to come back ever this summer and has been mighty depressed not to have a flourishing social life for the past three months.

As for my oldest son, he’s in California working until it’s time for him to return for his senior year of college. We still hold his TV, desktop computer and a few clothing items hostage. This out-of-state job has given mom a taste of what the future might hold.

Flavorful? Not so much.

Truthfully, I enjoy the silence. It means I can concentrate on my homework or my writing. Meals and movies get selected according to different criteria. Two loads of laundry on Saturday makes eight loads look horrendous, wasteful and time-consuming. Sure, dust collects at the same rate, but the bathrooms and floors don’t get the same traffic and remain clean for a few extra days.

It had been my plan that Jeff and I would join a bowling league or some other sort of organization where we would get out and meet people. Unfortunately, until I finish up college, there isn’t time for that. Now with my self-imposed writing mandates, I will have even fewer free hours each day. Hopefully, we’ll still find time for a few Friday nights out – alone or with friends – because I believe that’s one of the best ways to keep our marriage strong.

What is your advice for remaking an empty nest? Thanks for reading my posts so faithfully and even just an “I agree” comment would make my day.

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Meetings, Meetings, Meetings!

27 08 2012

Have you ever spent two eight hour days seated in a straight-backed chair (designed for a 13-year-old’s body) listening to someone rehashing all the things you already know? This happens to me at the beginning of every school year! I wish someone would figure out how to plan meetings that offer us invaluable information instead of the same old stale subjects, regurgitated for a new calendar date.

Frustration mounts. In a classroom, several hundred yards away, there are empty bulletin boards that I need to fill. There are lesson plans to be copied. Disarray needs to be organized. In short, there’s actual work that needs my immediate attention, and all of these meetings are offering nothing that will help expedite or minimize those tasks.

Unfortunately, what happens when a presenter is less than stellar or the information is nothing new is that the audience checks out. Some people are listing out what they need to do when they finally can get to their classroom. Other people are texting underneath the table (or maybe playing Bejeweled). Some of us are sleeping with our eyes open (a skill I cultivated during Army Basic Training).

I’m drawing out my bulletin board designs, counting how many of each letter I need, deciding what colors will work the best and what sort of pictures I’ll need to make the most impact. Somehow, my ears are hearing what’s being said, but am I really listening? Will I retain anything? Sadly, no.

What’s the answer to this decidedly wasteful use of time?

  1. Condense it into one day and give me extra time to work.
  2. Highlight the major points in bulleted format and distribute it during an hour-long meeting.
  3. Intersperse the “training” with actual work time.

Look at those three awesome ideas that would get the important information out and still provide time for meaningful task completion. Someone should hire me to manage these things, shouldn’t they? No thanks. I have enough stress in my life.

It seems that people who get paid four or five times what we underpaid peons make like to hear themselves talk. They have illusions of grandeur and falsified senses of importance. Their position gives them the right to dump loads of fluff and rhetoric on those who are their underlings in the workplace. Of course, they can’t stop us from turning around and dumping all of that in the dumpster, if we even take it out of the room with us.

How would you solve this issue of too many meetings and not enough work time? What do you suggest to pass the time during those endless sessions? Maybe you have more ingenious ideas for curbing these meetings. Share the wealth!





What Counts as Writing?

25 08 2012

Lovely handwriting!

I wrote a grocery list and a list for personal care items I should pick up at Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer. Does this count as writing?

Uh…no.

I wrote three emails. I took notes on U.S. History while studying for my upcoming CLEP exam. I just wrote 390 words that I’ll post on my blog at a date sometime in the future. Should I count any of these as writing?

In order to truly answer this question, we need to uncover our true heart and soul as far as writing goes. If you’re trying to improve your handwriting, the grocery list and history notes will help you reach your goal. Let’s say your writing is all about expressing yourself; maybe you’re keeping a journal for posterity once you’ve passed on. Okay, writing in your journal (or for a blog) would certainly count as writing. On the other hand, when you’re trying to write a novel (like me) or have some short stories published, the blog entry counts if you’re using it to build your author platform (See my earlier post about Kristen Lamb’s awesome book on this subject).

I’ve taken several writing workshop classes and read some terrific books on inspiring creativity – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, for one. All of these sources suggest using stream of consciousness writing as soon as you awaken in the morning. Many suggest setting a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and writing for the entire time – whatever pops into your head. I’ve done this, and I’d love to say it counts as writing.

Unfortunately, if you’ve set goals (which I highly recommend) to write a certain number of words per week or for a certain amount of time, this sort of writing can’t count toward those numbers.

Why, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment!

Probably true, but let’s revisit our goals. I want to get a publishing credit so that agents and editors will take me more seriously when I pitch my book idea to them. While I’ve seen the early morning journaling lead to a story or two, it isn’t moving me directly toward my goal. I need to write words that will be published – on my blog, at least.

When the goal of writing a novel looms before us like Mt. Everest, can we really claim that scribbling words in a spiral notebook that we will probably never read again is building the muscles we need to climb to the Top of the World? No. We’d make more progress doing pushups on our fingertips. (Really. It strengthens the muscles we use while typing on the keyboard.)

I’d do way more pushups, if they made me look like this!

If doing those journal activities help you to get words down for your novel or other work in progress, do them. Just don’t tell yourself that you’ve accomplished your writing goal for the day once you’ve done the journaling. Until you’ve sat behind your computer and pounded out 500 or 1000 words that advance the plot in your novel, you haven’t been writing. Even if you cut, slash and edit out much of this writing when you’re revising your first draft, you’re moving toward the completion of that draft. That counts as writing.

Do you think I’m being too harsh? What is your best advice for setting and reaching writing goals (or any goal)?





24 08 2012

It really isn’t our place to be judge and jury over Lance Armstrong’s situation (although as human beings, we certainly enjoy judging others and finding them inferior, don’t we?), but I think Kristen Lamb has drawn some important lesson about building our own character from this headline news. Check it out and check out more of Kristen’s brilliant posts by following the links in my sidebar.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

When it comes down to it, most of us want to be winners. We like being #1, and it is very human to want the adoration and attention that goes with being the best. Face it, we admire winners. The world pauses for the Olympics, football games, the World Cup, and the Tour de France. In many ways, athletes are heroes, and we live vicariously through them.

Most of us will never have what it takes to sacrifice years of our lives for a sport or an event. We don’t have what it takes to wake at 3:30 in the morning year after year, to endure injuries and heartbreaks all for a singular purpose. Since we don’t have that kind of mettle, we elevate those who do.

Ah, but there is a dark side to the pursuit of victory.

What are we willing to do to win? What will we…

View original post 1,889 more words





Back to School Blues

21 08 2012

August unravels like my incredibly unskilled crocheting. For those of us who work in education, it means time to get back to work. Everyone who has school-aged children has to hit the store for supplies and clothes, while listening to either grumbles or excited chatter.

Photo Compliments of inspirestock

What I find completely ironic is that I always looked forward to September – until I started working full-time at the school. Starting another year in school when I was young enough to be someone else’s responsibility beckoned to my love of learning. When I first started working for the school district, I yearned for the regular schedules, as well. (Of course, it could have had more to do with getting my sons back to a regular routine.)

Now, the most exciting thing on the horizon is that this should be my last year as a classroom assistant. I will complete my degree in June and race heartily after my dream of writing.

Things I’m not looking forward to:

  • Getting up at 5am
  • Exercising indoors. I’ve really been enjoying walking and running outside in the fresh, quiet mornings.
  • Dealing with teenagers being disrespectful. It seems to get worse with each passing year. Where do they learn this stuff?
  • Being back in the middle of the politics of school budget cuts

Things I like about going back to school:

  • Getting up at 5am ( I know I said it was something I wasn’t looking forward to doing, but the truth is, once I get used to the earliness of it, I love the quietness of it.)
  • Having a set schedule. I get so much more accomplished. I’m working on a schedule that will include time for writing – blog entries and my novel.
  • Working with teenagers. I mean, they are so vivid and lively. How can you not appreciate being alive when you’re around them? Sure, they’re cranky and prone to dramatic overreactions, but they make me laugh hard enough to bust my spleen.
  • Appreciating my weekends. In the summer, everyday could be Saturday and so that means there really isn’t any differentiation between the tasks on any given day. I like that Saturday is for certain activities and so is Sunday.
  • Having my house back. I love my boys and I’ve enjoyed having them home and spending time with them, but I really like owning my personal time. Jeff is the least demanding husband in the world, so when the boys aren’t here, I get to choose my pursuits (yeah, once the homework and housework are done) without anyone’s input.

Anyone who knows me knows that summer is my favorite season. I live to be outside in the sunshine. Right now, my fingers are freezing because the air conditioning is running. Sure, I’ll be glad for the cool air when I try to sleep later, but I’ll be heading out to sweat in the sunshine as soon as I finish typing this.

Me grinning in the sun

Sunshine makes me smile – Cheshire Cat wide! This means that the worst thing about going back to school: summer is over.





What is a Retreat?

18 08 2012

These are the four ladies who attended from my church.

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” – Marcus Aurelius

According to Merriam-Webster, a retreat is “a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director.” Of course, I think that in the Aurelius quotation above, the second definition, “a place of privacy or safety,” fits more precisely.

In either case, I retreated to a ladies’ retreat in the Ochoco Mountains of Central Oregon. I chauffeured my mother and my pastor’s wife on the nine-hour round-trip excursion to the east, over the hills (Mt. Hood) and through the woods (Mt. Hood National Forest, for one) to the 24-hour refuge from the daily grind.

We welcomed this “lady” to attend, since we were invading her home.

Since the retreat’s theme was “Recipe for Success,” I was expecting to collect a few recipes. Maybe I’ll even have time to test them out during the up and coming winter months. Three speakers were announced with topics of “Recipe for Success with Family,” “Recipe for Success with Friends,” and “Recipe for Success with God.” It seemed like this theme was going to drive the day of respite from the cares of this world.

In fact, I didn’t pick up any cooking recipes, except one for peanut brittle that will burn your mouth. Why? It includes cayenne pepper with the sugar, water and peanuts. Whew! There was no sweet with that spicy in my mouth. I prefer the regular kind, thanks, even if it sticks to my teeth.

Other than only getting four hours of sleep and sitting in a car for 10 hours over the past 36 hours, this retreat was very refreshing. Each of the presenters had unique perspectives to offer on their given topics. We had a few laughs when we played some silly games.

Pretty funny…unless you’re the one who’s trying to displace those ping pong balls.

It was refreshing to show up somewhere without being weighted by a burden of expectations. I didn’t expect ultimate entertainment, just peace. No one expected me to measure up to any standards or perform any grand feats. In short, it was relaxing.

The area was beautiful. Deep in the forest, we had several four-legged guests. I preferred the deer and the gophers over the tree frog that tried to take a shower with me.

The food was delicious. Ever notice how things taste better when you don’t have to cook them? We had Chicken Cordon Blue with rice and Hollandaise Sauce for dinner. Even though we sat on wooden benches in a stuffy mess hall, it was a meal worthy of a four-star restaurant.

It’s pretty humorous how teenage-like grown women can act when you stick them in a dormitory with 30 other women. Cackling laughter and embarrassed shrugs would be the most appropriate details I could share from these moments. (Go ahead and try to imagine something. If I hint that my experience revolves around drinking vanilla or a bra, would that help? You’ll never guess it in a million years.)

Even though I met a few new women, it was too short of a time for forming any real bonds. It looks like next year it will be longer, which should promote friendship building. On the other hand, I won’t get to be “expectation-less.” Our ladies have volunteered to be the hosts.

What makes a retreat successful for you? Help me reach my goal of five comments on a post and I’ll do a back handspring with double- twisting somersault.  Whoops! No, I can’t do any of those things physically, but I’ll do them mentally and emotionally if you help me expand my blog commentary section.





CLEP Exam Pros & Cons

14 08 2012

If you think college tuition is outrageous ($1,000 for one class!), you’ll probably be interested to learn about CLEP Examinations. Many colleges and universities (2900 according to collegeboard.org) accept these exams as credit in place of many basic knowledge or entry level classes.

What is CLEP?

CLEP is an acronym for College Level Examination Program. It’s a way to earn college credit by taking an examination to prove your proficiency in a subject. The length and format of the exams differ depending on the subject. The information I have lists 33 different tests ranging from Biology to Business and Calculus to Composition.

In my case, I’m taking the “History of the United States 1: Early Colonization to 1877” exam on August 23. If I pass the test, I will earn three credits and get to skip the 100 level history class required for my degree.

Where can I learn about CLEP?

To learn the basics about CLEP, visit www.collegeboard.org. They offer study guides and listings for testing centers. I downloaded an iBook with a sample test and the list of topics covered on my test for $5.99.

Before you invest in the test, you’ll want to check in with your college advisor to be sure your college is one of the 2900 that accepts these examinations for credit. Even though taking tests is loads of fun, it isn’t free, so you won’t want to waste the money if it won’t shorten your college course list.

Pros

The major benefit to taking a CLEP exam is the money I will save. To take the exam, I will pay $80 for the test and $15 to the testing center (since I test at University of Phoenix and am not a student there, I have to pay a testing fee). To get the same credit by taking the college course, I would spend $966 for the class and then another $80 to $120 for the textbook. That’s savings of nearly $950!

It also means one less class I have to take. This translates into finishing up my degree requirements in less time.

According to The College Board, the test I’m taking is a relatively easy one (a 2, on a scale of 1 to 5, where a 5 is hard and 1 is easy). Their study sites say I should be ready for the test with a week of study. So one week of study versus eight weeks? I’d say that’s another big benefit.

Cons

The major drawback for CLEP is that preparing for the test is an independent endeavor. I won’t have an instructor to seek guidance from. There are no interactive discussions to help me understand difficult concepts. In fact, I don’t even have a textbook to study.

I am using www.ushistory.org for my study sessions. This website has a topical list of articles written by expert historians. I also have my sample test and there are online sample tests, as well. I’m hoping that my skills for reading and retaining information have been honed sufficiently from the past two years of online classes, so that I will be able to absorb the information needed before the test.

I might not pass the test. Of course, if I don’t, I can retake it in six months and I’m still saving over $800.

As far as I can see, the pros are heavily outweighing the cons on this list. I’m glad I made the decision to pursue credit through the CLEP. If you’ve taken a CLEP exam, I’d love to have you weigh in on the subject below. Was it worth the money and time savings? Do you have any tips to share with future exam takers?








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