What’s in a name?

The daily schedule of the writer’s conference I attended in early June did not coincide with my usual routine and by the time the early morning workshop concluded, the time for my usual second cup of coffee had long passed. I eagerly joined other attendees for a coffee break.

Coffee pots, cream, sugar, pastries and fruit were available on a long table that was set out on the campus lawn under the trees.

I made my way to one of the large coffee pots and fully engaged to adjust the spigot to fill my cup with coffee. My focus on pouring that beverage was so intense that most people would be pleased if their brain surgeon used half as much concentration when performing an intricate, high-stakes procedure.

My cup filled, I sidestepped to the cream station, added a splash of half-and-half, stirred, and, anticipating a big gulp, I surfaced from the act of preparing the coffee to find my nose almost touching the nose of a man who was equally intent on getting coffee.

Awkward. Continue reading “What’s in a name?”

Beyond comparing…

Last week, I felt sad and perplexed when the author of a book that I treasure compared herself to other authors and came up lacking.

The author Christina Baker Kline ,who wrote a book that I’ve recently enjoyed titled a piece of the world, spoke at the Princeton Public Library. I was in Princeton for a writer’s conference held at Princeton Seminary and when I discovered that she was speaking at the library, I happily skipped a conference event, so I could attend her outstanding presentation.

During the presentation’s question and answer part, I asked her to talk about her writing process. How did she get that novel written?

She explained that writing a book takes her a long time. Then because she had recently spoken at an event that included John Grisham and Harlan Coben, she compared her writing process to theirs. Wistfully, she said: They write so fast–a book or more a year–I wish I could write as fast as they do.
Continue reading “Beyond comparing…”

When your fear for your kids is greater than your faith…

Sometimes signs are confusing. What does this sign mean?

I scanned the confusing signs on a ski slope directing skiers to trails of apt difficulty. My ski skills are–at best–intermediate. And that designation might be a stretch. I have skied for a lot of years, and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent skiing, but my skill level plateaued early. So that day on the slope, I had to be sure to choose a trail that matched my skill level.

I puzzled out the signs’ meaning, made a turn, took a long glide, noticed a very steep dip ahead and stopped quickly.

I was halfway down a hill. The terrain unfolding in front of me demanded expert skiing. I must have read the signs incorrectly. Continue reading “When your fear for your kids is greater than your faith…”

Another look at belonging: remember whose yard you are in…

I guess they don’t want any visitors in this yard…

The best belonging allows us to fit in with others while living true to our value and values. Navigating the ins and outs of belonging takes a little bit of bungling and a lot of courage. I know. Once, I lost a chunk of my tongue while trying to belong on the big kids’ playground.


Our family lived in Canada when I was young and, as a child, I became accustomed to translating for my parents, especially my mom. I didn’t translate from English into French, but from one variety of English into another.

My parents speak with regional New England accents—my Dad’s from New Hampshire and my mom’s from near Boston. People notice my Mom’s “r’s”, or lack of them. She says words like pak instead of park and pizzer instead of pizza. Sometimes, the Canadians didn’t understand her Bostonian accent.

Often, my friends would hear my mother call my brother Mark and ask, “Why does your mother call your brother Mak?”

Once, I was in a small convenience store with my mom and she asked the proprietor for popcawn. The proprietor said emphatically that the store didn’t carry that item, in fact, he’d never heard of such a thing.

Mom insisted that he had heard of popcawn and proved her point by instructing me, “Tell him what I want.”

He did, in fact, sell popcorn. In a variety of types.

Even though I became accustomed to interpreting my parents words so their messages were not confused, I was puzzled a few years ago, when a friend said to me, that she used my Dad’s words of advice (from last week’s blog) with her sons. “I tell them all the time that Pastor Jack says: Remember whose yard you are in.”

If you read last week’s blog, you may recall the words my dad used to say to remind my brothers of their value (Remember who you are) and be as bewildered my friends interpretation as I was.

How could Dad’s message could be misconstrued and morphed into: Remember whose yard you are in? Continue reading “Another look at belonging: remember whose yard you are in…”

When you feel like you don’t belong…

Dressed to face the cold a few years ago

I was 12-years-old when I first felt a pang of not belonging. I stood on the sidewalk at the corner of Drewry and Valleyview with my back to the wind. My chin dipped deep into a woolen scarf which was tied around my neck. My crossed arms held school books tight against my chest–another layer to keep out the biting cold—and my mittened hands were pressed under my arms in search of warmth.

I waited for the school bus with my friend—for this post, I’ll call her Sally. At the bus stop that morning, I considered Sally my very best friend; even though she was a grade, maybe two, ahead of me in school. We shared seats on the bus. We played marbles in the snow. Every Monday evening, I went to her house to watch “The Partridge Family”.  We spent hours in our fort in the woods paging through a wallpaper sample book discussing which wallpaper pattern we’d like to paste on our fort walls. We both had crushes on the teen idol of the year, Donny Osmond.

That morning on the corner, I chattered away proposing activities to do after school once we finished homework. Maybe we could put on a play and invite neighborhood friends to come watch it.

I was thinking about what the play would be about, who would act in it, and whether we’d serve refreshments when Sally said, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore. You do baby things.”

For a moment, the cold air seemed less gripping than the cold that took hold of my heart. Continue reading “When you feel like you don’t belong…”

Are you sitting down? 5 ideas for breaking a bad habit…

For this blog episode, I decided to experiment with breaking an unhealthy habit and to write about the experience because I hope that what I learn will help you when you try to break a bad habit.

When it comes to bad habits, I have many to pick from: when making decisions, I second guess myself–a lot. When I’m reading books, I fold down page corners to mark my place. When grading papers, I’m the Queen of procrastination. In fact, if a title more emphatic than Queen exists, I’m that. I’m Queen x ten of procrastination. I could write a 300 page manual on how to procrastinate. And then I could go through it and dog ear the best pages–anything to put off grading papers.

And, of course, there are other bad habits that I won’t divulge. You can ask Steve.

For this experiment, I decided to try to break an unhealthy eating habit. Continue reading “Are you sitting down? 5 ideas for breaking a bad habit…”

Thoughts on changing our university’s culture of excessive drinking…

When we were young teens and my sister broke the family rules, I told her, “If mom and dad ask, I’m not going to lie for you.”

I was a rule-follower and when she broke the rules, I worried.

I wanted her to believe there was a limit to the degree I was willing to compromise my sense of responsibility, but I didn’t want her to get caught and have to face the consequences, so I didn’t tell on her.

And maybe I worried that I’d be in trouble, too. As the older sister, I had been left in charge. She broke the rules on my watch. Continue reading “Thoughts on changing our university’s culture of excessive drinking…”

The day a request for books, a clump of dirt, and hungry man’s actions changed my heart…

I thought I shared generously. I thought I valudirted books. Then, one day, I met a hungry man whose actions jolted my perspective. That day, a stone heart was removed from my soul, and a new heart—one that’s aware and concerned that my neighbors are starving—was put in its place.

For months after, I couldn’t go to Starbucks for coffee without wondering if my money wouldn’t be better spent on buying food for a hungry person. I’m telling you this story because I want to challenge you to give up this month’s lattes (or something similar) and use the money you save to provide meals for hungry people. So, if you love your lattes (or another luxury you enjoy on a regular basis), I don’t blame you if you don’t read any further.

But first, let me tell you about my search last Saturday. Continue reading “The day a request for books, a clump of dirt, and hungry man’s actions changed my heart…”

Teaching…it’s like selling air

Read this if you know a teacher who has earned your gratitude:

“I sell air,” silver dollara man once told me.

Since the time, as an infant, I inhaled to let loose my first wail, I’ve used air. Daily. And never paid a penny. So I was curious as to how he could sell a resource that’s available to everyone for free, and I asked, “Successfully?”

He launched into a detailed account of the process that air is forced through, so it becomes a product that sells for a lucrative amount.

When he began to describe manipulation of the N2s and the O2s and the CO2s , he lost me.

My thoughts strayed to the ways my task, as a teacher, is like his. Continue reading “Teaching…it’s like selling air”

Living on the fringes of sorrow…remembering Columbine…

bouquet of dandelionsI stood in the shower with water streaming over my suds-filled hair when the garbage cans that line our home’s outside wall pinged and rattled. The noise sounded like a clattering tambourine and lasted a few seconds. I thought a bold creature was rummaging through our trash–in daylight. With my fist, I banged on the wall and shouted, “Get out of those cans.”

The clatter stopped. My stern command had sent the creature fleeing.

A few minutes later, equipped with rubber gloves, I checked the cans. I was prepared to pick up strewn trash and look for signs of the scavenger. Bear? Cat? Skunk?

No mess. No signs of a creature.

Eventually, my daughter messaged, “Did you feel the earthquake?” Continue reading “Living on the fringes of sorrow…remembering Columbine…”