What a Year

I love the end of the year. It’s so interesting to look back at everything you’ve been through, to reflect on the good and bad choices and plan to do better. The new year, the blank slate, the unwritten words, the promise of it all, shines just there, barely in the distance, but I’m not ready for it yet.

I need to reflect first. Used to this blog was a great reflection piece. I could look back on the day to day pieces of life. But over the last few years Facebook has replaced the blog as my go-to for sharing.

Maybe that’s a bad thing, really. Maybe that Facebook oversharing is something I need to reflect on. I mean Facebook sharing is about 25% reality, 25% Hallmark and 50% funny memes. The 25% reality might be higher than the percentage actually is. In the olden days, the blog was a reflection piece. A chance to put down words and just try to get my mind to wrap around a problem whether it be an issue focused on diet, exercise, mom, writing, teaching, classroom, relationship, life, politics, whatever, the blog was a great sounding board. Me and the 10 or so people who checked out the blog every once in a while.

But then the blog exploded and the reflection stopped. I used the blog more as a sounding board for changes I wanted to see. It’s one thing to share with 10 or so people you know in real life. Quite another to share with 100s, sometimes 1000s, of people around the world. That sharing is scary sharing.

Now I’m back to the handful of people reading my blog, but I’m a savvy blogger, and I know the truth about blogs. If you put it out there for the world to see, sometimes the world sees it, and sometimes they respond, so choose reflection pieces wisely.

I always understood that truth on Facebook. Maybe that explains the whole 25/25/50 breakdown of posts.

Of course I’ve got to reflect on my relationship with food. Once again it controlled me. I know the truth there: diet and exercise not diet only. But God, it’s hard to exercise. It wasn’t always, and the truth of the matter is I actually LIKE exercise. I mean I’m never going to run…never…but I love the elliptical and Zumba is the best time ever, but by the time I drag myself home from work I don’t even want to cook or watch the news much less drag myself to the Y.

And that’s another thing to reflect on. I work too much. I guess everyone can say that, really. I try to tell my students to remember everyone is just as busy as you are. In teaching today that’s the God’s honest truth. I don’t know a teacher who’s not completely worn out. Used to I believed the maxim that if you love it, it won’t make you tired. Instead it will energize and excite you. That’s a lie. I love teaching. I love advising publications. I love working with my students. I’m sorry assed tired. Over a week into break, I should be ready to jump back in. The very thought leaves my nerves on edge. Of course Christmas Break isn’t really a break until now, so hopefully that changes. Reflecting on this didn’t help. The Hallmark part of Facebook includes those positive life memes that say if you focus on the good, only the good will answer. That’s total BS. What’s not BS is complaining without a solution solves nothing. So I need to find a solution. Part of tired is the bad diet and lack of movement, with of which I can control. It’s a vicious or victorious cycle, depending how I look at it. Kind of like life.

There’s so much more to reflect on. Living in the new house: awesome; being a grandparent: awesome but tough from such a long distance; planning for retirement: it’s still long enough away that the plan feels almost silly, but it won’t when the time comes and I’m ready; writing, it’s part of me, and I love it so I need to do more of it (see retirement above); Survivor, Best Season Ever; BBC series on PBS now streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime, okay, I watch too much of these but they are so good! If you haven’t seen Grantchester yet, go watch it now! Same for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. And Reign! I thought it was a teen show. Nope. If’s fantastic. It’s not BBC, but it is streaming on Netflix, and it is superb; books: I bought a kindle and I read so much more now. Well worth the price. No more phone distractions.

Yep, it’s been a year.

 

Letting Go

thanksIf you can read this, you won the life lottery.

Jesus Lord God, I know that sounds pretentious, but it’s so true.

After the last week of a total disaster at work that started with me missing the memo that they were taking down the network at school to change out switches (88-page deadline, senior ads due, grades due, Christmas break in T minus 5 days, I can’t imagine how I missed that memo) meaning no after-school work on one day, then losing the server, which led to another day and a half lost, I really, really need to remember that first sentence.

We don’t miss big deadlines. If we miss big deadlines, I feel like everything in the newsroom falls apart. The newsroom is like running the gauntlet. Not the awful gauntlet in one of those historical movies where you watch with one eye shut and the other barely open, cringing while you wait for doom to strike. Nope. Not that. The newsroom is the fun, funny, entertaining gauntlet like the one on Wipeout. One wrong step and you’re on the edge of the shaving cream covered bellyflop of disaster where no one gets hurt, but you lose your chance of winning the prize.

Missing a big deadline isn’t going to kill anyone. But winning the prize is a long shot. The prize is the semblance of calm that comes with second semester…at least until March.

We bellyflopped. And it wasn’t our fault.

There’s a sizzle to deadlines. That’s the only way I can explain it. This tension just under the surface that pushes you and crashes through your bloodstream in an adrenaline-fueled amazingness.

When the network was down and then the server crashed and we lost two and a half days of work, the sizzle fizzled.

Kids still came in and worked, but the hours weren’t there.

They were, but they would come at a price I wasn’t willing to pay.

Honestly, I think the kids were. They wanted to work late Thursday, and God knows, once upon a time, I would have canceled my anniversary plans and spent the evening in the newsroom with teenagers and the yearbook instead of my husband. I did. Several times over the years. Those days are over.

Some asked if we were working tomorrow. Once upon a time, I would have said YES! Let’s get this done. But no. No. Not now.  Not on Christmas Break. Just no.

So we’re missing a major deadline. And even though it’s the Wipeout kind of miss, the fun, funny, eensy-bittsiest, teeny-tiniest, minuscule of problems, it feels like losing a freaking nuclear war.

So here it is. I’m laying it all out on this space that’s been my sounding board for years. And I’m letting it go.

Earlier this week when my kids hadn’t been able to work for the biggest two after school deadline days I was griping a lot on Facebook. My friend reminded me about a story we heard at inservice. This CPS worker was involved  in a family violence situation where there was a gun and a baby involved and she had to extract the child without getting the baby killed or killed herself…I don’t remember the exact story. The point of the whole thing was afterwards she went to Braum’s and the freezers were out, so all the ice cream was melting and everyone in the store was running around like it was the end of the world, and the woman just said, “you know what, it’s just ice cream.”

Thank God for that story because it got me through the rest of this week. It’s just ice cream. No one died. We didn’t have a San Bernadino or Colorado Springs moment. Yes, we’re missing deadline, but it’s not life and death. It’s not pass this thing or forget about graduation. It’s not a health battle. It’s not  a catastrophic weather event like a tornado or flood or fire.

It’s Wipeout. It’s Ice Cream.

In January when we come back rested and ready, the yearbook will be there.

And I’m going to let this go. While I do, I’m  going to remember what I started this blog with. There’s a lot to hold on to. I’m going to focus on my blessings.

 

 

Wichita Falls: Home is Where the Heart is

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Two of my former students stopped by the other day. You know, like they do in small towns.

Dear Texas Monthly,

I live in the biggest small town in the US. People say that about Wichita Falls all the time, and while that means all the bad of small town living, it also means all the good plus conveniences like major grocery chains and restaurants.

I can get to work in eight minutes if I’m lucky and hit all the lights on Southwest Parkway on green. Max 15 if there’s a wreck.
When the light leading out of my neighborhood malfunctioned, I emailed the guy in charge of traffic lights, and he emailed me back, several times, until the light was fixed.
When I disagreed with a decision the school district made, I talked to my principal and he suggested I email the superintendent to let him know my thoughts. I did and within a couple hours the superintendent had emailed me back with a detailed explanation of why the decision was made and how. This was after five on a weekday.
Back when I was going to college I had two big jobs: I worked with five year olds at a day care and I was the cookie lady at Skaggs/Albertsons. When I started teaching high school, the kids all knew me from the grocery store. A few years later the five year olds were in my classes. I knew them and their parents.
I’m a yearbook adviser. People have dropped senior ads off at my house even though we’re not personal friends. They just called a friend who called a friend who called me and made sure it was okay. You know, the small town way.
The local newspaper published a serialized novel the local romance writers group wrote. For some, that was a first publication experience. And while the group has since disbanded, several of us still write and publish.
Our Junior League is a group of women devoted to service and not a status symbol.
I’ve taught aunts and uncles and kids of my first students, and the whole family still knows me.
The crosstown rivalry is real.
Pep rallies are amazing. High school football still fills the stands.
Our “Dancing With the Stars” groups are made up of people you know not people from the society pages of the paper. Wait. Are society pages still a thing?
We worked together to save water when it looked like the town might die and then we celebrated together when the rains finally came.
When Al Roker chose Wichita Falls as his Texas stop in his cross country trek, a high school band showed up to share some great Wichita Falls spirit.
Our mall theater is probably the worst theater in the entire United States, but we have Facebook pages that make fun of it.
If you want a fancy dinner, no problem. Best of all, that fancy dinner won’t break the bank.
Pioneer’s enchiladas still rock, Casa Mana’s red tacos reign supreme and Parkway Grill reminds you if you work hard and be nice, dreams do come true.
The base is amazing. Because of Sheppard we have an incredible diversity in our population. People from all over move in, and often they stay. My daughter had friends from Turkey and Switzerland while growing up. The ENJPT pilots and their families help us see a world outside of our city limits.
We offer great opportunities for involvement in town, in churches, in our schools and working with non-profits.
Midwestern State ranks as one of the most affordable quality liberal arts schools in the nation. If you live in town and go to school, chances are you actually know your professors. One of my professors called me to encourage me to start my MA and dropped off the application at my house.
So please, tell me again why being a full-time resident of Wichita Falls sucks so bad, Texas Monthly.
While you’re explaining all that, I’ll be at Parkway Grill with some Matt’s Senator Dip and a Colorado Bulldog. Chances are someone I know will be there and we can catch up on life. You know, like people do in small towns.

Me, No One Else

The absolute worst thing I can do with my writing is compare myself to others. My journey is mine. The speed with which I write, the publishing schedule, the Amazon list, the fan mail, the newsletter, the site…comparing my writing to others shuts me down. It’s just like comparing myself to others on a diet.

My words are my dream. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the world of self publishing, but I need to be good with what I can do physically.

Yes, just like the meme says, Oprah and I have the same number of minutes in our days. I need to find MY balance and be okay with what that is. I’m me. No one else.

Just some musings after looking at my favorite authors’ websites and finding myself in a dark place.

Writing Time

So here it is Nov. 30. I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo. I always participate. I’ve had clubs time for students to participate. It’s just one of those things I do, but this year has been crazy, so in early September I put the manuscripts away and said writing had to wait. I’m at work until 5 and then the grading and planning starts. I’ve let me job work me instead of me working the job.

I thought taking writing off my plate would make things better. Wrong.

Instead I miss the books and resent the time I’m not spending on the books I love to read and write, romance novels where sex is not a bad word 😉☺️😘, where my villains are evil and sometimes my characters drop effff into their dialogue. I love creating stories about the people that wander through my mind suddenly appearing fully formed and demanding I give them a voice.

I blame Nora or maybe Johanna Lindsey or Debbie Macomber or hundreds of Harlequin authors who have written so many amazing books that I’ve loved reading over the years. I fell in love with romance when I was a kid, and I’ve loved writing it for as long as I’ve written novels for others to read. Those first books I wrote were for my friends. I wrote serialized teen romances in spirals and passed them around to my friends who demanded I write faster.

Not writing didn’t make things better. I might not have been as tired some mornings because writing until 2 a.m. to finish a scene that had to be done hasn’t been part of my life, but the tired I am, the psychological tired of forcing myself not to write, has been a real drag.

Sooooo, I’m done with that. It’s back to the writing world of a self-published romance author. I’ll still write the Sharlene books too. My guardian angel needs to solve her mysteries, but romance will be my focus.

Liz Lee took a break. It was a trial, just to see if maybe first semester would be better if she spent some time on the shelf while Mary Beth Lee worked the day job into the nighttime hours. Bad idea. Lesson learned.

Praying for Paris

Praying for Paris.

Praying for Paris.

I’m sitting here watching the news, and my heart is breaking.

I love Paris. If you’ve followed this blog for long you know that. Paris taught me the power of a dream. How a 14-yr-old girl can imagine sipping coffee and people watching under the Eiffel Tower all the while knowing it will never happen but wanting it so desperately anyway. Taking French in college and dreaming about “one day.” And then actually going for the first time in 2008.

Last summer when we were there Paris felt different. I’m sure the massacre sat there in the back of my mind stalking my thoughts and changing my perceptions the whole time. I still loved Paris, but I was scared.

I don’t understand hate that leads to terror attacks, but I know we can’t let fear control us and we can’t let it lead us to hate. That’s how the terrorists win.

Prayers for Paris.

Grrrr, argh

Sunday was so airy and light

Posting a blog about how you’re going to focus on the positive is like waving a red flag at the universe with the challenge of throw everything you can at me. I refuse to be a B.

And dang it, the universe won.

I forfeit, universe. Forfeit. You win.

I’m going to focus on one freaking minute at a time.

Positivity is a Choice

This sweet girl helps me find the positive to focus on. ❤️❤️❤️

This sweet girl helps me find the positive to focus on. ❤️❤️❤️

I choose my focus.

I choose to focus on the good that surrounds me at my job, at home, in life.

That doesn’t mean I lie to myself or accept things that can be changed or ignore the negatives. It means I will take those things in stride and do what can be done, but I will focus in the positive, on the yes, on what is right.

This is my affirmation. It’s something I’ll have to tell myself again and again. That’s a good thing.

I choose my focus. Every minute, every day. I choose.

Busy

No multi-tasking here. DH and I enjoyed the Dallas Stars win last weekend.

No multi-tasking here. DH and I enjoyed the Dallas Stars win last weekend.

Break your list down into chunks and attack it one thing at a time.

I never realized how important teaching this skill was. I mean my editors have lived by the list forever, but other than me saying make a list so you can cross things off of it, I never really thought of this as a learned skill.

And then this year happened.

Last month we assigned newspaper three stories at once. The result: crash and burn. Most of the students tried to do three things at once. They didn’t understand the list, prioritizing, doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is embedded into who they are. They couldn’t turn it off.

Yesterday the same thing happened. Photographers were  given a list of assignments and they got the photos taken but they lost them before they were uploaded. They were doing too many things at once and work had to be redone because of it.

I’ve caught myself doing the same thing. A couple days ago I was at the Y on the elliptical, listening to a book and a CNN story caught my attention. When the reader announced the book was done, my attention snapped back. I had no idea what was in the book, but I can tell you about the electronic music culture, the rave law and how EMTs at music events try to address the drug problem without making it seem like they condone drug usage.

We’re so busy today it seems like multi-tasking is a must, but the quality of work suffers because of it. Sometimes it seems like multi-tasking is a must because our lists are so long.

Multi-tasking while working through a long list only makes a mess.

My editors get this. They’re masters of the list and amazing at delegating.

I think they’re better than I am with this is a lot of ways.

The list is a lesson I’m teaching from now on, and it’s something I’m going to live as well.

This crazy busy world we live in is just too overwhelming without the list. Multi-tasking makes it worse.

Storm clouds on the classroom horizon

stormcloudsExhausted after a crazy deadline, I walked into my house to find my husband watching the news. Instead of the normal, “Hey Babe,” he said, “I guess you heard the news today.”

The dread that hit was hard and fast. I hadn’t seen the news. I turned off my news notifications a year ago after yet another school shooting. I was sure he was going to tell me there’d been anther Sandy Hook.

I was wrong. Instead he told me a story about a girl with a phone in a classroom that ended up with her being tossed across a classroom floor for non-compliance.

By now everyone knows about that incident. If you don’t, feel free to click the link.

When I first heard the story, I’m going to be honest, my immediate response was what the heck? What child thinks it’s okay to ignore and defy the teacher, ignore and defy the principal and then ignore and defy a police officer? And I put the face of some of my defiant students over the years on that kid’s face and thought, man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could see a kid get put in their place for that kind of behavior.

But then I saw the video.

And then I had a few hours to let that video sink in.

And then I felt real shame for my initial response.

The next morning I heard a great interview on NPR. The sheriff of the town explained that he didn’t believe his officer should have been placed in the situation, but once he was, he should have known better than to lay hands on a non-violent offender. End of story.

I’ve watched the ensuing media coverage of the incident with interest.

I don’t know what was going on in that classroom. I don’t know that school’s disciplinary process.

More than anything I know when you walk into a classroom as a student, you are entering a social contract with the teacher. School is a social contract. Students are choosing to follow the rules, to obey, to take part in their classes.

If they choose not to enter the contract, frustration follows and that frustration can lead to confrontation. And if a confrontation gets ugly enough, we lose the kid. It’s over. They’re done.

I try to act before I lose the kid.

Some kids are lost before they walk in our classrooms. We have to try to change that. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we fail.

I don’t have a clue where that kid on the video falls on the spectrum of discipline issues. Does she have some disorder where the mere suggestion of reprimand sets her off? Was she used to doing whatever she wanted no matter what? Is there a known set of consequences to the students for non-compliant behavior?

Her peers were videoing the incident, obviously with phones. Were other children allowed to have phones while she wasn’t? The list goes on and on and on.

Phones are a problem at school. Even with a lenient phone policy at school, phones are a problem.

Kids want to be on them when they’re done working. Many don’t know how to fill time without their phones. But shoot, how often do you see adults on their phones in church, on dates, at the movies? I’ve seen adults take phone calls in the middle of meetings and TALK while a speaker was presenting. Phones are a problem period.

But phones aren’t the biggest problem in this incident.

I asked my beginning students how many of them have been in a class where a kid decided they weren’t going to comply with the unspoken agreement between the teacher and her class. 100% of them raised their hands.

This is nothing new. Kids have been bucking the system since schools began. But the numbers showing blatant disrespect and defiance are definitely on the rise.

I don’t know what the answer is, really. If I did, I would be a millionaire.

I know the problem is larger than the talking heads are reporting. Defiant and disrespectful students are part of our everyday lives now. We can’t be calling police on them and seeing them tossed across a classroom. We need policies in place that put consequences into play immediately, but those consequences need to be disciplinary SCHOOL consequences.

We can’t be okay with disrespect or defiance from our students, but we can’t be okay with violent responses to non-violent behavior. We just can’t.