Fancy or Plain? Which Would You Choose?

Happy New Year, friends and followers! Welcome back! Here’s to the first post of 2015. (#370 since I started this blogging gig!) May the new year be peaceful, blessed and prosperous for us all. (FYI, I’m keeping my ‘Christmas décor’ up here a little longer, just like I’m doing at home.)

Not sure where I wanted to start this year, but I did just finish a little gem of a book during the Christmas break from school. This sweet, switched-at-birth story by author Cynthia Keller touched me, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it with all of you. (Disclaimer: I borrowed the book from my church’s library. In no way was I compensated for this write up.)

A+Plain+&+Fancy+Christmas

The title, A Plain and Fancy Christmas, was a bit of a misnomer. The story doesn’t revolve around Christmas at all, which makes it a perfect weekend read at any time of the year.

The title does, however, suggest the backgrounds and backstories of its lead characters, 30-year-olds Ellie Lawrence and Rachel King Yoder. (I’m always good for stories involving an Amish backdrop.)

Ellie holds an executive position in a high-profile, New York City public relations corporate firm. Despite underlying dissatisfaction with her job and and her sort-of romantic relationship with Jason, she has slipped into a content-enough routine with the family she believes to be hers and the overall trappings of her life. (If I had to choose a protagonist, I’m thinking she’s Ellie.)

Rachel was raised Amish. Widowed three years ago and unable to manage the farm she and her husband owned, she and her 10-year-old daughter are back in her parents’ home. Although she often finds herself feeling at odds with her mother, this is the only life Rachel has ever known.

Respect, and the rules and ways that go along with having chosen to be baptized into the Amish faith and culture, keep Rachel from delving too deeply into her emotions. She has always felt dissatisfaction too, especially after having lived among “the English” during rumspringa, the period of exploration and/or rebellion Amish teens are allowed. Rachel returned to her faith, mostly because she’d fallen in love with Jacob Yoder, and couldn’t imagine her life without him.  

Long story short, Ellie and Rachel each receive a letter explaining the circumstances that led to the switch. Rachel buries hers in a drawer, but Ellie sets into play a series of events that will impact both these ladies’ futures. (Of course, y’all knew that, or there would be no story and nothing for me to write about! 😉 )

This story is nicely written, told from the points-of-view of its leading ladies, with one exception: a chapter told from the perspective of the nurse who was involved in the switch. I was readily transported to Rachel’s Amish farm in Pennsylvania and related easily to the go-go-go associated with life in NYC. My only beef is how the author provides backstory, in several-page-long flashbacks (?) of exposition. Mrs. Keller did this more often at the beginning, which made getting into the story a bit of a challenge–for me, anyway. Liking the premise, the Amish part of the setting–and the characters early on—kept me reading.)

I  to easily to Ellie’s intrigue with a simpler way of life; it reminded me how much I love spending time at my cottage. I could easily adopt—and adapt to—the choices she made as the story and her character’s journey developed. What Rachel learned about herself describes me too, but I don’t want to give anything away.

Finally, the story explored the themes of family, nature, nurture and what might have been had the switch not occurred. I kept wondering what kind of a resolution could possibly be reached–particularly for Rachel–as the tale approached its close.

I now turn the blog-mike over to you! Any books you’ve recently read you’d like to share about? How did you spend New Year’s Eve? (We wound up at a neighbor’s big family get together—unexpected and just a few houses down the street, so no driving necessary on a night I much prefer to NOT be in a motorized vehicle.)

I’m not big on resolutions but have a few (besides the standard lose-ten-pounds): to read books on a regular basis (and simultaneously redevelop my attention span); to launch a speaker business based on several workshops I’ve developed these past few years. Once the latter is in play, I hope to get back into writing fiction, which has really gone the wayside because of other projects. Do you have any resolutions? Would you rather live a plain (Amish) or a fancy (English) life? Could you find a balance between the two?

Have a wonderful day and week,

Joanna

 

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Keeping It Simple–Kid Memories

Hi all. My weekend was busy; good thing it was long! It included a trip to the ER with my mom, two shorter reports for work and a wake on Sunday afternoon. And….the November paperwork from school keeps piling up. (Bleh. I HATE paperwork.)

All this also means the blog will be VERY simple this week.

Fall at Lenape pond 2014 Took this on Columbus Day–gives me a quick serenity fix in a pinch. 

One huge shout-out: Heartfelt gratitude goes out to our veterans. I could thank you to the limits of the Milky Way and back and still not thank each of you enough for your sacrifice. And active-duty military personnel? Ditto.

Okay: Favorite kid memory (or when you knew your child was a genius—every parent thinks so, right? 😉 ):

Older Son was about 12 months and sitting in his high chair. With a water-based marker, I drew a smiley-face on the chair’s tray, figuring I’d do the eyes, ears, mouth, etc thing. I was capping the marker when he looked at my sketch and said, “Hi.” What are the odds he was way ahead of me, lol?

Doodle by Nic or Kev I’m pretty sure Older Son is the artist. I referred to this a few posts ago: the kid-art on the louver door in the bathroom I will NEVER paint over. If this sketch is an inch big, I’m overestimating, lol.  

Of course I could go on and on, but I’ll share one episode that really had me flumgubbered. Same kid was anywhere from three to four years old. I was getting him into his car seat and noticed the container of wipes I normally kept in the car was face down, flip-lid open and flat on the carpet. I picked it up and was pleased to note (and comment) that the wipes hadn’t dried out.

Older Son didn’t miss a beat. “That’s because no air got under there.”

What???

Somehow, he’s always gotten how things relate to one another.

Your turn, and yes, you may share about any child (niece, neighbor, student, etc) who has left you slack-jawed with their ability to infer!

Have a great day, everyone!

Joanna

How Far Will You Go To Impose Order–On Others?

It’s been a busy past two weeks, folks. Between being down with a nasty cold and (good) family stuff going on, last week got away from me. Hope all is well with all of you!

I love when my blogger-pals’ posts spur me toward a post of my own. (I’ve been having a run of that lately. Thanks, friends!) Last week, Stacey Wilk zapped me into action with one of her most delightful write-ups yet. Those who crave order, check it out. You might find a kindred spirit at Stacey’s stop!

Sounds like order makes Stacey’s heart sing. I commented that in my day-gig, we call that one form of self-regulation. That’s a term from ‘sensory integration’, defined as a “calm-alert state that is optimal for learning.” Order makes my heart sing; it helps me self-regulate. Did I mention orderly spaces tend to look good in a calming and soothing sort of way? A friend who is into organizing gave me a term that makes complete sense to me: visual peace.

I totally get that lining things up a certain way in a cabinet creates order and ease of finding things, as well as making it easier to put things away. In my kitchen, most things have a place, but very few items have to be exactly in one spot for the big picture to work. A few things work best lined up a particular way. (My bowls and my pots have to be nested or they won’t fit). My kitchen was remodeled about 5 years ago. Almost everything is still in pretty much the same place I assigned it b/c it works. And unless someone else (Ahem!) doesn’t put things in the designated spot, I never have a problem finding things.

Nabby n Kitty under the counter 10-2014 My girls, just hanging under the kitchen counter. 

So, the question was, how far will you go to impose your need for order on others—outside your house?

Y’all know I work in a school setting. At the school where I work most days, I’m lucky enough to have two large metal closets in the back of auditorium to keep games, papers, etc. (In other schools I have to drag the Barney bag and be grateful to use the lunchroom, a table in the library or a small office space.)

Anyhow, every year these closets wind up a tad messy by the end of the school year. B/c of issues the year before, I never got to put them back in order when the summer program ended (in 2013). That meant the closets started out pretty messy for 2013-14 and only got worse. By the end of the 2014 summer program, those closets were a disaster, especially after SIX people spent three weeks pulling stuff out and stuffing it back. (Two of those folks don’t put foot in my school during the school year, so they had no sense of how things fit together in there.)

One work friend and I spent over FIVE hours cleaning those war zones at the end of this year’s summer program. I decided (threatened, promised—whatever–at the possible cost of my job-buds still liking me) that I’d take pictures of the finished product, blow them up, laminate and hang them in the closets, shelf by shelf. (For once I followed through.)

school closet top shelf (See the chaos under the top shelf? That’s just a hint of what the other NINE shelves had become. Just sayin’.)

One of my co-workers teased me for being so uptight about my desire for order. It was all in good fun, and she’s been very respectful with putting stuff away as per the photos. And there IS a practical reason for order: Putting stuff away at the end of the day goes a whole lot faster when there is “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

school closet (2) Say what you want, but at least there is some kind of reference for insuring all this stuff fits at the end of the day. I have to load up a cart at least twice weekly b/c I don’t have a real ‘home’ at school.  

BTW, we’re six weeks into the school year, and the closets are still looking good.

So…I now pose this question to you:

What will YOU do to insure order either in or outside your home?

Enjoy your day, folks,

Joanna

The Good Ol’ Days

Greetings! How is everyone?

Yep. We are two-plus weeks into August, folks. Summer has a way of flyin’ by. US Open Tennis Championship qualifying rounds are getting underway. Translation: last week of the month is almost upon us. 😦

“These are the good old days,” says my hubby of nineteen years.

Many times, Hubby talks about looking back on “the good old days,” but when we really stop and think about it, aren’t we living them? Don’t our todays pile into the weeks that amass into the months and years upon which we will reflect and dub “the good old days?”

Hubby got me thinking. When my kids were younger and the days much more mommy-intense, I’d look ahead to the time when they wouldn’t need constant supervision. I would have more time for me. It always bugged me though, to feel I was wishing away not only their childhood but my younger years as well.

Nic n Kev with Kitty small Kitty–aka, Screweball–gave us quite the scare about 10 days ago. I’m happy to report she seems to be back to her 15+-year-old self.

My teenage boys (17 and 15) are quite the independent young men in so many ways. Older Son drives, has a job and can even cook for himself a bit. Younger Son will take off on the bike to go to football practice or just to the convenience store for his Gatorade vs. ask for a ride from either me or his dad. (He’s venturing into cooking but might need a little help in that department.) Alone-time with Hubby is almost the norm.

photo 3 Selfie taken during vacation. (I hate selfies.)

So now I get choked up when I pass a playground and see parents keeping their little ones safe on the equipment. I remember walking behind the boys as they rode their bikes and waited for me to catch up at the end of the block. Occasionally there is a game night, but no more stories read just before bed. They don’t need mom or dad to help with showers, brush teeth, make sure they get to bed on time.

The days when we don’t know how many kids will show for dinner are much more sparse, when Older Son was in middle school. Teens still show and hang out, but not as often—or for as long—as they did before drivers’ licenses became a permanent addition to their wallets and handbags. Luckily, they occasionally seem to enjoy the tennis court—though the regular players nearby might not consider themselves all that fortunate when Older Son’s crowd attempts doubles play.

Joanna 8-2014

I’ve shared holidays with family and just plain ol’ spur-of-the-moment great days. Pulled off one of those just last week, with an impromptu visit to a sister-in-law’s home a few blocks from the bay. Hot dogs, the pool, a bike ride near the water and homemade eggplant parm–eggplant direct from brother-in-law’s garden–gathered into a nice day that will be long remembered.

photo (60)

Hubby was right. Most days are “the good old days.” Sometimes I have to remember I don’t have to recall them. I’m living them.

The Lion Died…

But his memory will linger for a long time–if not always.

Hi all. Hoping all is peaceful with each of you. I was away from Monday through Thursday, so I guess my aspirations for posting twice last week were a tad high.

The lion at the Cape May Zoo died right around Memorial Day this past year. That’s what we heard at the zoo’s entrance as my sons, Older Son’s girlfriend and I embarked on our annual walk-through. (It seems to have become a bit of a tradition during our third-year-in-a-row trek to Wildwood. Is it possible one is never too old for the zoo?)

Wildwood sunset 2014 Sunset in Wildwoodpicture doesn’t do the sky justice 🙂

Uh, that’s when I originally started this post: three years ago. Yes, it had to do with the lion. Until this past Saturday morning the original sat on the notebook laptop that lives in my beloved Camry’s trunk—in case I need to stop on a random road to work on a laptop whose battery won’t recharge anymore.

Anyway, my only problem with family vacations—you moms of boys can probably relate—is that my guys (Hubby included) want to do stuff that doesn’t generally interest me. Boardwalks, beaches, restaurants—they’re okay but none of them floats my boat. Call me a stick in the mud but if there is nothing to actively engage my mind—i.e., learn—most of the time I’ll pass. (BTW, I’m bad at relaxing too.)

Boards at Wildwood 2014

Night-time on the Wildwood boards. As busy as NYC. 

So, the first year, after a family ride on the go-carts followed by brunch on the famed Wildwood boardwalk, I started thinking about how I might like to wile away a few hours. I’d done Cold Spring Village with Hubby years ago and liked it. I also thought about taking a ride to the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, a ten-minute drive from our hotel. (The gardens behind it are ridiculously gorgeous and quietly peaceful. Follow the walkway pictured below and–surprise!–you’ve stumbled onto the inlet, where the view of the inlet and beach are stunning. BTW, double-clicking on the photos to enlarge them will provide sharper detail, as much as my lowly iPhone 4’s camera can capture.)

Hereford lighthouse front (1) Hereford Inlet Lighthouse

Hereford lighthouse back

Back of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse

Hereford lighthouse gardens

Hereford InletLighthouse gardens

Hereford lighthouse gardens (2)

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse gardens

Hereford lighthouse inlet

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse inlet

IDKY, but I also kept toying with the notion of a trek to the Cape May Zoo. I’d never visited it, but had always heard nice things. I chose door number three and texted the kids an invitation.

My guys were a couple months shy of 16 and 14 at the time. They came simply because it was “something to do.” (Yep, even the boards and rides get old after a short while. And Older Son probably felt badly his ma was doing something alone. Nah. No such issues. Me-time rocks.)

photo_2[1]   Joanna ‘n’ her boys. Y’all can decide who is who. BTW, this photo is from first trip to zoo, in 2012. Didn’t take any group shots this year. 😦

I certainly enjoyed that afternoon, and since the kids asked to go again on both subsequent trips to the area, I assume they did too. The zoo is pretty danged big, beautifully maintained and packed with about 550 creatures, most of who are easily viewed in their exhibits. I particularly like the zebras; their markings are so stark. I also enjoyed the quiet calm surrounding the giraffes and their new baby.

Aside: the zoo is always free, with non-mandatory donations accepted. (Cash gets tossed into a ‘mailbox.’)

The lion ties into this recounting how, Joanna? Well, it involves Younger Son, who can be the best kid going on his better days. Oy. Not so much when he gets himself in a mood, thinks he’s right or (wants to be). Those are the days I offer him up for Lent, rent, or to the lowest bidder. Hubby and I are much improved reacting to him, but he’s often brought out a side of us we don’t very much like on many occasions.

photo_3[1] This boy be reachin’ the bear’s mouth by now. Bet he could get a live version to growl, too. Just sayin’… 😉

He might have been in that kind of humor that first “annual” trip to the zoo. Guess he couldn’t wait or might have wanted some space from the rest of us when he asked if he could walk ahead to see the lion. (Three years later I don’t remember such minor details.)

Gave him the okay. He was 13+ and old enough to do so.

He was just out of sight when a roar rumbled through the zoo. We surmised it was the lion.

“Figures,” I told Older Son. “Your brother probably got on the lion’s nerves already.”

We caught up with Younger Son, just outside the lion exhibit. Ironically enough, on that very hot day, Younger Son thought the lion was dead. (He wasn’t.)

We made our way through the rest of the zoo. Just before the last leg, Younger Son asked if he could go see the lion once more.

“Sure.”

I kid you not: the kid took off and the beast roared for a second—and only other—time that trip.

We were really saddened to hear that incredible creature was no longer there. But Younger Son will never shake being known as the boy who could inspire the lion to roar.

Do you do repeat vacations? If so, where do you go? Are there ‘traditions’ or go-to activities that are part of every trip, or do you devise new ways to pass the time? Do you have a “challenge child?” Were/are you your parent(s)’ “challenge child?”

Thanks for stopping in and for SHARING if you choose to do so. Have a great week!

All the best,

Joanna

FIFA World Cup and Polish Boyfriends

Hi all. I’m definitely a bit behind this week. Just started the summer program in my school district and spent about four hours total trying to schedule three mornings worth of students. I suppose lots of folks hope to win the lottery, but I’d be satisfied with $500/week for life. Then I’d take the summer off—for once since my early teenage years, when I wasn’t old enough to work. (I’d still have to keep the day job, but figure $350 after taxes ain’t a bad thing…)

Anyway, y’all know tennis is my game and I’m currently following Wimbledon. Yes, I know, Rafa is out. He managed to hold his own during a trouncing by qualifier Nick Kyrgios, but I’m happy Rafa beat Rosol in the second round. The rest—it is what it is. Who knows? Federer might take Grand Slam #18. That would work too. 🙂

tennis Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

I’m not a big fan of soccer—that’s my little Italian mamma’s thing. She keeps me updated on FIFA World Cup standings, but I know it’s a big deal to lots of folks (including many of my favorite tennis players).

We’ve talked about the anxiety that seems to run on my mom’s side of the family. I promise you, some of these wonderful folks can take the simplest of situations and work themselves into a ridiculous frenzy over what they conjure into horror shows in their minds. Earlier today I remembered some loony stuff that ties into the 1990 World Cup.

I was working at my first full-time job, at a hospital in one of the boroughs of NYC. My friend had gotten married right around that time. She and her new hubby lived in a neighboring borough, had a couple of cats and needed someone to apartment-sit.

I offered. My anxious Italian mamma was not happy with my decision. In fact, she was so annoyed with me, she told me I shouldn’t have bothered calling her on the Monday immediately following the wedding, my first day as cat-sitter.

So the next day, I hung out late at work. Stayed to watch the final match, West Germany vs. Argentina, the team that took out the host team, Italy. (My friend might not have had cable. This many years down the line, the details are a tad fuzzy.)

soccer player

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Aside: I’m not sure how valid this statement is, but don’t most Italians believe Italy should always win when it comes to soccer? If I remember correctly though, there was some questionable stuff associated with Argentina’s win, so any fans of Italy rooted for West Germany just to see Argentina get its due.

BTW, I didn’t call Mamma. (She told me not to bother the day before, right? I was being a good listener 😀 .)

Went to see a private patient after the game. Rolled into my friend’s apartment around seven or so.

I might have been in five minutes when the phone started ringing. (This was in the pre-cell phone era.)

At the other end was a work friend. “Call your mother. She’s looking for you and she sounded upset.”

A second friend called a very short while later. This one lived in my state, about twenty minutes from my house. “Call your mother. She has no idea where you are. She’s really worried.”

My newly-wedded friend’s mother called. “Call your mother! My husband’s going crazy over here.”

Turns out, my mamma went through my phone book and started making calls to any name she recognized. My newlywed pal’s stepfather—let’s call him Teddy—was born in Poland. His English is broken (but very entertaining) to this day.

I learned Teddy had the misfortune of picking up the phone. His conversation with my mother had him defending himself that he had no reason to take up with a 26-year-old girl. (My friend and I still laugh about it, and Teddy has retained the honor of being “first Polish boyfriend.” The second one never worked out. Thank. God.)

Anyway, I’m sure I wound up in an argument with my mamma that evening.

But for the sake of the people in my phone book, I called her the rest of the time I apartment sat.

Any FIFA World Cup memories of your own to share? Or stuff your parents did to make you nuts stories to tell about? You’re among friends here!

On a separate note: Quickie shout-out on behalf of long-time friend and very prolific screenplay writer Ric Rodriguez. He’s recently discovered blogging and sharing about his journey and other thoughts.  Check out his website/blog and show him some love! Many thanks to those of you who take the time to do so. 🙂

American flag

Happy Independence Day to all my American buds! (Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art)

Here’s to a wonderful day,

Joanna

When You Take That Step Back…

A solution often shows.

Hi all and welcome to the next-to-last Monday of June. We are six months into 2014. How does time keep going faster?

Wimbledon is underway today. All the best to Andy Murray, defending champion, and all the players competing, especially the qualifiers. This is the professional tennis world’s biggie tournament, especially when it comes to prestige.

Ma n Kev  Mamma and YS (18 months)

Younger Son is a great kid, but definitely a work-in-progress. Although not diagnosed, my inner occupational therapist notes a touch of each of the following: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD); anxiety; cognitive inflexibility and decreased frustration tolerance. (Translation for the latter two terms: being able to conjure a Plan A, B, C, etc and staying cool when the going gets tough. Neither skill is among this 15.5-year-old’s strong points. He’s also true to his ADD in that if something isn’t of high interest or motivation, he probably won’t be bothered with it.)

Did I mention when he gets an idea in his head—as in, my-Xbox-isn’t-working-at-9PM-Friday-night-so-we-have-to-go-buy-one-now—redirecting him is next to impossible?

A little background: The kid loves football. He played in a recreational league at age 10 (?) and maybe picked up an allergy to commitment sometime after that. He quit after a second season. During middle school, he came home with papers for wrestling and decided last minute he wasn’t joining. Talked about football too, but never took active steps to join his school’s team or any league, for that matter.

Aside: He finally agreed to join me on the tennis court this past weekend. If he practices and gets a feel for the court, his serve and winners have potential to take my head off. (Must be all that weight-lifting turning him into a power hitter.)

Back to the post: This past November, he asked me, “If I join a Saturday basketball league, do you think I’ll commit to football?”

Awesome question! (Showed insight into his issue.) “My suggestion: try and see where that takes you.”

That small commitment has so far resulted in having joined—and stuck to—training for football for the upcoming school year.

Hubby and I constantly express praise for how committed he has been to his decision.

He’s come up short in one place: commitment to his grades in school.

I’ll tell you true, folks, the boy is no stellar student. Not that I expect him to be, but a little effort here and there would be nice, especially when it comes time to studying for quizzes and tests, and especially since he gets a decent return when he takes a whole 15 or 20 minutes to look over his study guide nightly a few days before a test. (Homework isn’t an issue. He gets that done, usually w/o a hitch and w/o help, reminders, etc.)

Kevin kindergarten school pic Kindergarten

Long story short, I had to bite the bullet and step back when it came to freshman algebra. He was in danger of failing—and not having the necessary credits to play football come fall. I gave frequent reminders to pull out the material, do five measly practice problems a night, employ his older brother/math whiz for help as needed, go to teacher for extra help, etc.

The result? Viva la resistance. The only time he studied is when I hid the X-box controller. (Remember the high interest and motivation I talked about before? The grand irony: only the controller he liked went missing. He couldn’t be bothered playing with either of the other two sitting near his unit. “But I didn’t do anything!” he usually wails when he notices its absence. “Exactly,” Mom says. Then he’ll pull out his notes and come back, pleased as punch to claim an 82 on his Social Studies test. See what I mean?)

Anyway, I finally decided to stop “necking,” as he tends to say. In other words, if he failed algebra, he failed algebra. He wasn’t taking direction from me or his dad, and life lessons tend to stick better anyway, or so says MHO. (Besides, as a freshman, he has three years to make it up–he needs it to graduate. I figured if he loved the class so much the first time, why not sit through it another year? Or, better yet: rather than sleep late during vacation, he can get up every morning for summer school then go to football practice. 0:-).

photo (49)  One of my favorite pics, when YS played with the rec league. 

I also checked with his guidance counselor to find out if he has the credits to play next year. Somehow, I wound up getting a call from the supervisor of the phys-ed and athletics department.

I gave her some background on my guy and his lack of commitment to studying.

God (Universe, Higher Power, etc) provided the EXACT answer and direction I needed. The supervisor advised me to direct Younger Son to her office the following week. “In cases like this, I have the kids bring me their work on a weekly basis. If grades aren’t up to par, they’re not allowed to play.”

Woot! Younger Son will have to be accountable to someone other than his ma, his pa and himself. He enjoys pleasing teachers, coaches, etc, he likes (as long as the effort he has to put in isn’t overwhelming).

Being able to play and not be benched or not allowed on the team might be just the carrot that needs to be dangled in front of him to get him to commit to his schoolwork a tad more.

And mamma doesn’t have to be the studying enforcer.

Sometimes, you have to take a step back and be open to different ways a situation can work itself out. You might be pleasantly surprised at how life jumps in and gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you get out of the way, let life take over and see where it takes you? Have you ever gotten what you need exactly when you need it?

Have a great day everyone!

Joanna