Reading: Just Do It!

People who can read, should.

Are you a reader? Do you enjoy losing yourself in a book? This week is Read Across America Week. Teachers all across the country are shining a light on the benefits of reading.

REMEMBER WHEN READING WAS FUN ?

When I was a child I loved to read or hear others read. Yertle the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss was one of our family favorites. My mother read the book to us so often, my brothers and I memorized most of the lines.

In elementary school I enjoyed the Boxcar Children. Author Gertrude Warren amazed me with her tale of four orphans surviving on their own in an abandoned boxcar. I admired their ingenuity and the way they cared for one another.

A memorable character I related to was Anne Shirley, the dramatic imaginative Anne, spelled with an E of course! I felt a connection because like me, she got in trouble for talking too much. I read Anne of Green Gables again as an adult. L.M. Montgomery still delighted me with her beautiful descriptions. A few years ago, I enjoyed posing with “Anne” on a trip to Prince Edward Island.

HOW I LOST MY LOVE OF READING

As a parent, teacher, and now as a new author, I’m still talking to children about the importance of reading. Books contain insight, information, and inspiration. Books help us grow mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Parents and teachers encourage their children to read, but do they read for themselves? If not, what happened?

Sometime during my high school years, I was forced to read for information only. The entertainment value of books decreased. My classes demanded I read in order to pass a test, or write a term paper. This continued throughout college. The joy of reading evaporated like a puddle on hot pavement.

After college I became busy with my teaching career, managing a household, and transporting my children to their activities. I always hoped I would have more time to read without interruption. Sigh. Does reading a lesson plan count?

I remember when elementary schools used to have D.E.A.R. time during the school day. Everybody, including the teacher, was supposed to Drop Everything And Read. It was a sacred time when teachers were supposed to model good reading behavior. That’s a great idea in a perfect world. The reality was much different. It was hard for me to ignore the children and sit with a book when Johnny was writing with a Sharpie on his desk. Well, like many short lived programs, D.E.A.R. was dropped for learning goals and standardized testing. How sad.

Fortunately for me, retirement brought an opportunity to read more. Right now I’m reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Author Kim Michele Richardson tells the story of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the prejudice they encountered during the 1930’s. As someone who is”blue,” Cussy Mary Carter had plenty of reasons to hate white people, but instead responded with love. Cussy worked as a “packhorse librarian.” She carried books to some of the poorest and most remote shacks in Appalachia. The packhorse lending library was sponsored by the WPA of the Roosevelt administration. Cussy’s patrons grew to appreciate her love for books and gave her the name Book Woman. This book made me think about the importance of reading and how I often take it for granted.

START NEW HABITS

I love sitting down with a good book. If you would like to spend more time reading, I’ve come up with five tips.

Read for fifteen minutes every night before you go to bed.

Order books from the public library. Most libraries lend ebooks these days.

Join a book club. You’ll read books you wouldn’t normally read, and make lifelong friends.

Join Book Bub, an online service that emails you daily with reduced prices on Amazon ebooks that suit your interests.

Dedicate one night a week to uninterrupted reading. Stay away from your phone, or better yet, turn it off.

Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to get busy reading, but keep reading blogs, too! (I think that counts.) What are you reading lately? Leave a comment about a book you’ve enjoyed, or offer a reading tip of your own.

Are You Finishing Your Race Well?

The clock is ticking and 2019 is almost over. Were you able to achieve a goal you set for yourself last January?

If you’re like me, you stopped making New Year’s resolutions because you failed to keep them in the past. Why do some people fail while others succeed?

Setting Realistic Goals

One reason people succeed depends upon the goal they set for themselves. They choose a realistic attainable goal which they deeply desire. Achieving any goal requires an investment of time, energy, and sometimes money. In order to stay motivated a person needs to care enough to invest themselves.

Before setting a goal, decide if you’re willing to make sacrifices. If additional knowledge or skills are needed, can you obtain the resources to help you advance?

Recently, I watched thousands of runners cross the finish line in the Orlando half-marathon. Clearly these champions had set a realistic goal for themselves. They were physically healthy and committed to months of preparation. Some of the runners may have sought advice from other athletes or hired a personal trainer.

Visualize Success

Finishing a long distance race depends upon remaining focused and committed. I’m sure there were days when some of these runners wanted to do anything else but run. They had to say no to distractions which pulled them away from their training schedule. They had to get up early to work out when they wanted to stay in bed.

In order to press on mile after mile, runners may have visualized someone taking their picture as they crossed the finish line. They imagined the cheer of spectators and the glorious moment the shiny medal is placed around their neck. Very often our goals are achieved by picturing what we will look like when achieve them.

Be Honest

Take the time to evaluate your progress along the way. Honest evaluation doesn’t mean putting yourself down because someone else is faster or better than you. Seek help identifying any misconceptions you have regarding the way you are running your race. Often runners team up with a pacer who helps them maintain their speed.

If you are disappointed in your progress, find out what steps you can take to improve. If you hit a roadblock, or meet a setback, don’t let it tempt you to quit. Celebrate the small victories. If you’re attempting something new, you will not finish first, but you can finish the course.

Be Inspired

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

Scripture honors hard work and diligence, a concept often learned by participating in sports. I may never attempt to run a half-marathon, but seeing the joyful faces of the runners at the finish line inspires me to give more effort to anything I decide to do.

I’m looking forward to 2020. Are you?

In Defense of Daydreaming

My favorite part of camping is sitting by the fire. When the logs crackle and orange flames flicker, I visit my pondering place. I love to daydream. I think of my daydreams as a kind of reality waiting for me in the future. Dreaming plants the seeds which will eventually grow to maturity and bear fruit.

Is dreaming a waste of time?

As a child, my teacher reprimanded me for looking out of the window during class. The outdoors seemed much more interesting than what was happening on the chalkboard. She tried to keep me from daydreaming by calling me up to the front of the room to work math problems in front of the class. I felt embarrassed. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop daydreaming.

Scientists describe daydreaming as “short-term detachment from ones immediate surroundings.” Think of it as a pleasant mini-vacation from your immediate location. When you daydream you use your mind instead of brain. Far from being a waste of time, mind-wandering allows us to think differently. Recent research has shown that daydreaming can be useful.

Here are some benefits of mind-wandering:

People who daydream are happier because hope and anticipation are related to the practice of imagining the achievement of our goals.

Daydreaming lowers blood pressure due to less stress.

Letting our minds wander can promote our creativity and problem-solving abilities. (I don’t think my math teacher understood this one.)

Time spent in reflection can help us become more compassionate because we can contemplate what others are feeling.

Daydreaming improves our working memory.

What did King Solomon know?

King Solomon is considered one of the wisest men who ever lived. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Although daydreaming isn’t one of God’s commandments, resting from our daily routine is. Resting provides an opportunity to let our brains function differently. When our brain is relaxing, we are free to allow our minds to create and problem solve in new ways.

There are many settings conducive to excellent daydreaming. What is your favorite place to dream?

The Buzz about Busyness

“Hello, how are you?”

“Busier than I’d like to be.”

Is this your response when you meet a friend? Everyone’s busy. In fact, our culture becomes busier everyday. As Americans we’ve become a nation of multi-taskers who find it difficult to wait at a stoplight without texting.

Our schedules are so crowded we’re uncomfortable with down time. We link our self-importance to our level of activity. The thought of too many blank spaces on our calendar makes us feel unneeded. We complicate our lives further by projecting our self-image through social media. We are addicted to non-stop interaction in a virtual world.

Even before the rise of Facebook, I was busy. As a mother of two children, mastering the ability to multi-task helped me survive the demands on my day. When I got home from work, I usually prepared dinner while I helped my kids with their homework. As an elementary teacher, I became a pro at taking attendance, listening to morning announcements, and monitoring the students simultaneously. Every year I became more goal driven in my efforts to be a good teacher, mother, and church member. On Sunday mornings, after I sang with the worship team, I raced to help with children’s church. I was beyond busy…and eventually I burned out.

Retirement ushered in a major lifestyle change for me. After considering several creative interests, I decided to pursue one hobby—writing. I also cut back on my volunteer work. In this season of my life, my old self tries to make me feel guilty about how happy I am. (I’ve also discovered it’s impossible to multi-task while I write.)

Is all busyness bad?

Bees are busy. They work all day flitting from flower to flower collecting pollen in order to fulfill God’s plan. I’ve never seen a stressed-out bee. They’re focused on the one mission they were created to do. Like the bees, each one of us has God-given talents which he purposed for us to use. When we stray from our destiny, we flounder.

The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things.” —Kevin DeYoung, author of Crazy Busy.

In addition to working hard at the wrong thing, we can also work for the wrong reason. In my case, compliments from others about “what a good job I was doing” encouraged me to work harder, and take on more responsibilities. I was trying to please man more than God.

A familiar story comes to mind from Scripture. Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha. Upon his arrival, Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She complained about Mary not helping her.

Jesus answered, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:41,42 (NIV)

Was Martha working hard at the wrong thing?

Was she working for the wrong reason?

Either way, Martha had not chosen what Jesus thought was best. She busied herself with what she thought was important, instead of spending time with him.

We cannot get off the treadmill of busyness until we make the decision to keep our relationship with God our number one priority. After all, isn’t that why he created us?

Butterfly Dreams

We all have times when inspiration ignites. At five a.m. this morning I felt the burning desire to write a post. In my in-between state of wakefulness, with my head still on the pillow I wondered…Why have I only posted one time this month?

I did a little mind traveling, remembering the events of the past three weeks. The words floated through my imagination in the form of a poem.

Maybe…

Maybe it was the broken dryer

and the mountains of laundry

that made it difficult to walk through the bedroom

after our anniversary hiatus to the Florida Keys.

Maybe…

it was the weeds in my garden

their ugly heads raised in defiance

and gnarly fists fastened

around the marigold stems

gasping for air

Maybe…

Maybe it was the hurricane which by-passed my state

but demanded my attention

with weather channel theatrics.

Maybe…

Maybe it was the sick dog

and the never ending schedule of medication

which made him pee on the floor.

Maybe…

Dear readers,

Inspiration is as fragile and illusive as a butterfly. The flutter of the butterfly’s wings can be heard any time of the day or night. (Some writers keep paper and pencil on their nightstands.) I know I’ve been all over the map with my posts this summer. I’ve learned I cannot force my writing into a schedule. That’s the beauty of creativity.

The Balance-Happiness Debate

Balanced Rock is a great example of equilibrium in nature. The boulder looks like it could fall at any moment, and someday erosion will force it to topple. Until then, it stands as a scenic wonder located in Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. Balanced Rock required perfect geologic and weather conditions to achieve its balance. In the same way, people often go to great lengths to achieve balance in their lives. We try to balance our finances, our diets, and the never ending work-play struggle. But is balance ever possible? And beyond that, is balance necessary to our happiness?

I’ve thought a lot about balance lately. After my foot surgery five weeks ago, my activities drastically changed. My doctor ordered me to not put any weight on the ball of my left foot for three weeks. I used a walker and managed to balance on my right foot to walk to the bathroom. I spent most of my days and nights on the sofa.

Resting was difficult. I’m not by any means a “couch potato.” At first I dreaded so much inactivity. Then I began to see what a wonderful opportunity this time of recovery brought me. How often have I wished for more time to pursue my passions? I passed the hours by reading, writing, and praying. I was completely out of balance, yet completely happy.

Our desire for balance comes from our desire to control our lives.

Are you a time management freak? We all have twenty-four hours in our day, and follow some kind of routine. We can make plans, but interruptions arise, throwing us off balance. These interruptions remind us we don’t have control of our time after all. I admire people who can go with the flow of events. They are usually calmer, happier people.

Instead of desiring balance, identify personal priorities.

Do you exhaust yourself trying to balance your own needs and the needs of others? Narrow your demands on yourself and your time. Pray and make a list of your priorities. God knows you. He knows your abilities, and he knows the needs of those in your sphere of influence. Before you commit to anything new, evaluate it according to your priorities. Be accepting of what you can and cannot do. Be accepting of other people and their priorities. You will be a lot happier.

Re-think the social media energy drain.

When I made a list of my priorities, I reflected upon the amount of time I spend on social media sites. I realized I have an addiction. Any time I have a few spare minutes at my disposal, I start logging onto facebook, twitter, or instagram. Beginning writers are told they must increase their online presence in order to succeed. Spending time interacting on social media is a never ending cycle that always demands more energy. Energy that might be better spent in face to face relationships.

Respect life’s seasons.

Nature’s four seasons were created for the purpose of growth and rest. All of us have seasons in our life when we are more focused on one goal or another. It’s important to recognize when one season ends and a new one begins. Each season brings new opportunities for growth, outwardly and inwardly. When we relax and submit to God’s will for the season we’re in, all striving ceases. For writers, there are times of creativity, and other times to seek inspiration. You might feel like you’re out of balance, but you’re right where you need to be.

The Book of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom about life and balance.

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man can eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.” —King Solomon

What are your thoughts on balance and happiness? Does happiness depend upon achieving balance? Leave a comment.

Tribute to Claude Monet

Every day you create, you touch something beyond yourself.

How much effort are you willing to put forth to pursue your artistic vision? Would you move to a new location? Divert a stream? Build a pond? Plant a garden? The founder of impressionism, Claude Monet did all of these things to create an environment for painting.

Most creatives find places to go for inspiration, few construct that place. This summer I visited Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, located west of Paris. Monet came to Giverny in 1883 where he lived and painted until his death in 1926. Alongside his property, he had a pond built taking water from a branch of the Epte River, a tributary of the Seine. His famous “Water Lilies” paintings were inspired by this pond. Click the link to view.

A view of the Lily Pond with the Japanese bridge in the distance.

Worth the Effort

Under Monet’s direction, a small army of gardeners, planted an exotic collection of weeping willows, bamboo trees, and flowers. He often referred to his garden as his “finest masterpiece.” But Monet wasn’t only interested in the plants around the pond, he obsessed with the pond itself. He studied the effects of light on the water at all times of the day and during every season. He painted 250 oil paintings of water landscapes. Any representation of sky or land is shown as a reflection in these works.

Up close and personal with a water lily.

Not Without Critics

Every cutting edge creative has a few critics, of course. The question is, “Do you allow yourself and your art to be hampered by the opinion of others?” When the local authorities learned that Monet had imported his water lilies from Egypt and South America, they demanded he uproot the plants before they poisoned the water system. Monet simply ignored them. As time went on, his paintings became more abstract, challenging the conventions of Parisian art in the modern age. This disturbed many patrons who normally commissioned artists to paint realistically. Their comments did not deter Monet from expressing himself.

No Stranger to Hardship

Do you give up when the going gets tough? At the age of 82 Monet discovered he had cataracts. The deterioration of his eyesight terrorized him. Still he continued to paint, determined to create what he saw. He painted the Japanese Bridge in fiery shades of yellow and red. Click here and scroll down to view a painting that expresses the emotions of Monet at this time.

A Bigger Reach

Monet pioneered the idea that artists could express themselves as individuals. Looking back we can appreciate the contribution he made to the art world, changing it forever. No artist can know how their work might be viewed historically. Every day you create you touch something beyond yourself.

In the garden.