Author: Sharon Hughson

Sharon Lee spent her youth talking to animals, who never replied, until she escaped to Narnia, where animals did talk back. The magical portal of reading made her a dream weaver. Now, she invites fantasy addicts and dreamers to time travel into immortal, mystical realms.

Making a Habit of Happiness

Recently, I was stuck on my latest fiction-in-progress so I was surfing the Internet and Facebook. I found this meme created by Do the Right Thing that extolled thirty habits for happiness.


I read through the list and some of the comments on the post. One person said it was too long to read through, and I thought that was a shame.
Then I decided to make my own, much shorter list.

But how do I know what should go on the list?

And who am I to say I know anything about happiness?

What is Happiness Anyway

Oh, happiness how fleeting! Here for one heart’s beating!

According to my wise friends at Dictionary.com, happiness is the quality or state of being delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.
In short: happiness is a moment in time where something goes right and you feel a surge of success.
It’s a moment in time. It’s not meant to be a continual state of being. However, if you’re going to choose an emotion to characterize your life, wouldn’t happiness be preferable to sadness or anger?

But when the property tax bill comes and it’s a couple hundred dollars more than the previous year, no one is very pleased. (Well, Mr. Tax Man probably is.)

However, practice #2 from my top ten list below and you’ll start thinking, “Plenty of people didn’t get a tax bill because they don’t own a home. I’m blessed to have such a nice house. I’ve worked in the schools and I know education is important. I’m glad that if there’s a fire, the fire department will come and take care of it. If not for my taxes, those things wouldn’t be possible.”

I might not be happy about the bill even after all that, but now I’m feeling less disgruntled.

So while I doubt anyone will be happy all the time, having a positive outlook and practicing gratitude can alter your “state of being” from irritated and grumbling to accepting and smiling.

Narrowing Down the Choices

To narrow down this list of thirty, I did what most people in this social media dominated culture of ours do: I asked my Facebook community.

How did we cull answers from a larger population before there was Facebook and Instagram and all the others?
Most kids can’t imagine not being able to search the Internet for answers to any question. Somehow, those of us born before 1980 managed it. Go figure.

Within the first twelve hours of posting my Facebook poll, I had two clear leaders among the thirty options. And a five-way tie for third place. No surprise.

This list contains thirty good habits to form for better mental health. Because in reality, that’s what happiness brings. It can also lower blood pressure and drop adrenal levels associated with stress.

Of course, no research is “one and done.” I ended up with a four-way tie for third place. So I made this meme and let my friends help me narrow the choices down a second time.


I have an amazing tribe. Although this second request didn’t gender the same flurry of interest, enough people responded that I could determine a clear third, fourth and fifth place.
In the end, my peeps helped me build this “Top 5” list (for those of you who like it short and sweet):


My Top 10 Habits for Happiness

Of course, my personal list doesn’t coincide with the masses of public opinion. It rarely does. I’m unique that way.

Here’s how I would prioritize the habits for happiness. The first two directly coincide with recent annual themes for me. I focused attention on the area of showing gratitude (remember #365DaysofGratitude) and thinking positively.

1. Show gratitude
2. Accentuate the positive
3. Smile. Smile. Smile
4. Choose faith over fear (As one person pointed out, meditating on scripture and prayer should be on the list. I think they’re incorporated here. How can I have faith without them?)
5. Let go of the baggage (Don’t hold grudges. Don’t rehearse wrongs. Don’t look for fault everywhere. Sing with Elsa, “Let it Go.”)
6. Live truthfully and honestly (yes, I combined two because they are twins)
7. Dream big and work hard for the dream (dreaming big alone is the path to disappointment and discouragement, but if you dream it and planto achieve it and then work your plan…good times!)
8. Build a healthy body (yes, I’m a cheater because eating well, exercising, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep go here)
9. Listen to understand
10. No excuses or self-justification. Own it.

I’m a writer, so a few things about the original list bugged me. Some of the points meant the same thing. Or close enough. Others were tied together–inseparable to my way of thinking.

What is your top habit for happiness? If you do this ONE THING, you will have a better day.

Not Seventh Grade Again!

I have repeated seventh grade nearly a dozen times. So when I got a text while substituting in a seven grade life science class to work in a seventh grade math/engineering classroom the next day, this was my first thought.

Two days of seventh grade?!?

If you follow my posts, you know I prefer teaching in high school English or literature classes. My truest nightmare was an advanced math class at high school with non-existent lesson plans.

As far as middle school goes, the only job I won’t take is PE. Well, I turned it down at my favorite high school when they asked me to take a PE/health position for two days.

The truth is, I completed the seventh and eighth grade curricula every year I worked at St. Helens Middle School as a special education instructional assistant. Well, I may as well have. I was expected to be able to tutor or teach my SPED students in any class they struggled.

But science and math on back-to-back days? Was someone trying to kill me?

Or maybe change my short hair to baldness?

Welcome to Life Science

I’m minding my own business on a quiet Monday night. Reading a book and trying to recover my equilibrium after wrestling with two uncooperative romance manuscripts all day.

I need to pick up two subbing jobs each week. I really need to do this now that I’ve purchased a $600 airplane ticket to New York City and my brother is telling me I’ll need $1000 in spending money for the four days I’m there.
A click on the Safari app on my iPad takes me to the Frontline employee absence website. The last three times I checked, there was nothing. This time:

Full Day Science at Scappoose Middle School.

I decide to let it ride. Because…science.

A minute later the phone rings. Yep. The absence system offers me the job.

I feared a movie. Instead, it was six 50-minute sessions reading the same two articles to seventh-grade students.
These are the same ones who played hide-and-seek under the lab counters.

I wish I was kidding.

Everyone Needs Math in Their Life

I’m slightly more than half-way through this science fest when my phone rumbles with an incoming text.
A teacher I worked with at St. Helens Middle School is sick. Could I cover his classes the next day?

Ugh. Math?

But I see getting my second day of work outside the house done in short order. Won’t that help me focus on those stories better?

They’ve just started a unit on finding area in one-dimensional shapes. I could do this in my sleep.

Except trying to get them to sit still and listen to the instructions is like herding cats…across a flooding river…in a blizzard.

Don’t Forget to Engineer It

It boggles my mind that there is even time for an elective in a five period school day. They have to take math, science, PE and health, and humanities (a combination of language arts and social studies). I guess that does leave ONE class period open. Most students have band, choir or art. I guess there has to be a place for everyone else.
So engineering.

Enter thirty seven graders who would rather be bending pipe cleaners and straws into some sort of structure. Sit them at a desk.

Here’s the plan for the day: Watch a video about the Mayan engineering feats and write down twenty-five facts. Turn them in at the end of class.

Or if you get them done beforehand, get up and turn them in. Or ignore the film and chat with your friends. If the sub calls out a fact (to help you out because I’m nice that way) be sure to ask “What?”

It was the longest 43-minute class period of my day.

My Saving Grace

You heard me right. Each class lasted 43 minutes.

That was the saving grace for the day. Sure those seventh grade bottles of hormones squirreled around and talked when they should have listened. Yes, they asked me a dozen questions I had already answered during their unauthorized chatting time.

But, the final bell sounded at 1:30, a full two hours earlier than normal.

Which means, after standing outside with the same squirrels until they boarded their buses, I was free to leave two full hours before the end of the normal school day.


AND…wait for it…

I still got paid for eight hours. Because in the sub teaching world, there are half-day jobs and full-day jobs. Anything more than four hours is considered a full day.

Score!

In reality, I don’t mind a little seventh-grade math and science. At least I can speak intelligently about the lessons. You know, since I’m a repeat attender.

What was your favorite subject in school? What grade in school horrifies you the most?

5 Things I’ve Learned About Change

One quarter of 2018 is past. It’s supposed to be a year of metamorphosis around here, but what has really changed? If nothing else, I’ve learned a few things about the process of making changes.

In January, I posted my word for the year. I made a lovely graphic.

And then a few weeks later, I adopted a new branding design. Which included a lovely new logo.

Things were off to a metamorphic start. Oh yes.

I penned blogs about what was changing: career,website and me. And maybe a few people even read them.

But when change happens to someone else, it doesn’t affect us. I mean, really. Other people move or find a new job or send a kid to college. We might feel for them (especially if we’ve experienced these changes before), but there’s no metamorphosis in our life when that happens.

1. Change Takes Purpose

Let me explain this. Things change in our lives without our PERMISSION. That’s a circumstance.

In order for us to truly “become something better” there has be be purposeful change.

For example, we get laid off. That was a job we loved and felt called to do. Now we hit the streets to find a new job. After a few dozen applications and some not-so-fruitful interviews, we are offered a new position and we accept it.

However, the new job might end up being only a circumstance. If we don’t embrace this new place and employ our gifts toward this different mission, we won’t change.

WE won’t change.

Just because circumstances change, it doesn’t follow that we will change.

So when life throws you a new circumstance, be a good Marine. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome. And most of all, set your mind to making the most of it so you become a better person.

2. Some Change is Excruciating

I have no idea what the caterpillar feels inside a cocoon. I’ve always imagined the little guy spun his secure bed, fell asleep and woke up as a butterfly.

We aren’t caterpillars. If we sleep through a change, nothing will happen.

My experience this past year is that the longer I’ve been in one place, the more difficult it is to change. More than that, it’s often an unpleasant experience.

Think of it this way, your car is stuck in the mud. You rev the motor. Wheels spin. You sink further into the mud. The more you struggle to get out of the rut, the deeper you get into it.

So it is with changing something that has been static for many, many years.

In order to pull ourselves out of the rut, there’s going to be external force needed. And then there will be internal struggles to accept that application of brutality.

Metamorphosis in the human arena is agonizing.

3. Change Can Be Small

We want big and flashy. This is most often true in areas where we’re making physical changes.

We start a diet and exercise plan. Three days later, our muscles scream and our stomach rumbles. We step on the scale and see:

We’ve lost one pound

One pound?!? For all this misery? Why am I doing this again?

Because big changes start small. Think of the avalanche. It can start with a single pebble sliding down the slope. It hits a larger boulder which rumbles. Dirt loosens around it. When it goes, it takes trees and more rocks with it, leaving behind a corridor of destruction.

The thing about a small change might not even be that it becomes bigger. Often it remains a small, simple thing: filling out a gratitude journal every evening before falling asleep.

But that ONE LITTLE THING bleeds into every area of life. It might begin as, “I have to pay attention to what I’m grateful for so I have something to write in the journal.” Soon enough it becomes a habit to give thanks for all the little things.

The rain stopped when I walked out to get the mail. The cat didn’t run away when I needed to load him into the carrier (and I’m not wearing scratch marks in the aftermath).

The truth is:

4. Real Change is S-L-O-W

Weight loss is another one of those things we want to happen now. Nope, actually, yesterday.

How long did it take me to pack on that extra fifteen pounds? A year? Two years? And yet I think I should be able to drop it in a couple months.

What I’ve discovered is that when I try to be diligent about eating a low calorie diet and exercise every day until my muscles STOP aching, I get burned out. My limit for persevering in both of these things is about one month.

One month? Can I even lose FIVE pounds in that time?

But when I think about it like that, it discourages me. So instead, I look at things as progressive. My sister the Beachbody coach has lots of motivational memes, and they make me feel like a failure if I let them.

Instead, I pull out my calendar and see all the times I know it will be difficult to stick to low calorie eating. I make sure I can up the intensity of my workouts during that time, but I don’t plan to follow the restrictive eating plan.

Why set myself up for failure? Instead, I shoot for MAINTAINING the strides I’ve already made.

After the week of vacation, I return to another 21-day focused eating and exercise plan. At the end, I give myself a week or a weekend to relax in the kitchen.

No, I don’t eat everything in sight. Usually, I’ll reward myself with pizza (and I don’t eat the whole thing) or baked goods (that I give away or share so I don’t eat them all). Then my head is in the right spot to do another 21 to 30-day focused weight loss plan.

It could take me six months or ten months to lose those fifteen pounds, but that’s still LESS time than it took to gain them.

5. Change isn’t always Better

Sadly, change isn’t always the best course of action. It’s difficult to admit this in a post extolling the virtues of metamorphosis.

I’m not talking about YOU attempting to improve something and it falls apart. That’s failure. And failing is the key to success.

Sometimes we were OKAY in an area of life we decided needed to change. Maybe we’ve decided to double the number of books we read in a year. Reading is great, right?

But if we forfeit family time, sleep and preparing nutritious meals (because we’re reading!) then we’ve missed the point of making a change.

Sometimes, we are healthy even if we aren’t a size six anymore. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in a daily dose of ice cream or cookies. Let’s not become UNHEALTHY. But we don’t have to strictly count every calorie. If we miss a workout, there’s no need for self-flagellation.

If reading self-help books makes me adopt a negative self-image, this isn’t a change for the better. We must weigh the change from every angle.

The world is filled with excellent things that I’ve never tried. And if I tried them they could hurt me or deter me from the best course for my life.

So it’s important to remember that a change doesn’t have to be permanent. If you make a change and discover it’s actually detrimental to your life purpose or mental or emotional health, you can change back. Or better yet, re-evaluate WHY you wanted to change that and see if there’s another way to achieve the end result you desire.

What have you learned about change? Have you experienced any of these five lessons about change first-hand?

Same Friend, Different Weekend

Some things are worth a 500-mile drive in a weekend (and I’m not a fan of road trips). In this case, it was the same friend for another weekend.

My best friend from high school had to drive a similar distance and it didn’t make her bat an eyelash. She’s one of those people who loves to drive, and I’m happy to let her when we’re together.

A couple years ago, we went to Richland, Washington. That year, we had another high school friend with us. I blogged about it here.

We’ve since been to Seattle and Leavenworth.

I’m sensing a theme here: the state of Washington. As it happens, Washington is “middle ground” for us. She lives in Idaho and I’m in Oregon. Check your map and you’ll see what I mean by “middle ground.”

Why Her?

Unbreakable bonds are forged on cinder tracks. Okay, that didn’t sound as prophetic and epic as I hoped. It’s safe to say, Laurel and I became friends after a hurdle tried to take me out at the knees.

For many years, we were inseparable. But people grow up. At times, I feared we might be growing apart, but that’s not what happened at all.

Each time we saw each other, time fell away and we took up right where we left off. Except we were older and wiser (more gray-haired and wrinkled anyway).

When she went through an ugly divorce (yes, there are other kinds, but ugly seems to be the norm), I was a concerned yet distant ear. Most of the communiques came through email, but the weekend the divorce became final, we started our tradition.

Girlfriends’ Weekend.

And it started with hiking on Mt. Hood. Then it headed to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

It hasn’t happened every year, and what started as an autumnal tradition has migrated to springtime.

It involves late nights, good food and lots of laughter. In fact, we’ve considered trademarking the hysterical laughter method of ab-tightening.

Why There?

The original point of these getaways was to offer a retreat from regular life with someone who accepted you at face value. It might be a time of therapy-by-venting or relaxation through escapism.

As for destinations, there wasn’t any rhyme or reason to the selection. Not even in the beginning.

In recent years, we’ve chose destinations centrally located that we could drive to. This keeps the cost down, although I’d wager we could find another discounted airfare to a city further afield…if we wanted to be flexible and let it happen more spur-of-the-moment.

Richland, Washington is no tourist destination. Not one I’d pay money to attend anyway.

But it happens to be nearly halfway between the two cities of our residence. And it has pretty decent weather most of the year.

The hope for sunshine is what made me reject her suggestion we relocate this year’s meeting to a place much closer to me. A place in the once-scenic (and now burn victimized) Columbia River Gorge.
She’s bringing her brochures and planning to convince me it’s a decent location for the next meet-up. And since I’ve never “bathed” in natural hot springs, she can probably talk me into it without too much trouble.

Same friend next year, who knows where? Same time? Possibly. We tend to be creatures of habit.

Have you ever had a girls’ getaway (or a guys’ getaway)? What did you do? What was its purpose?

ONE SWEET MORNING Spring Romance Anthology: Meet the Authors

Roane Publishing has launched another short story anthology into the world. I love these things. You might recall that my first published fiction appeared in one such anthology in February of 2015.

I’ve been with Roane for three years and have never regretted a day of it.

Odds are good none of the authors who’re dropping in for a quick visit today are sorry about submitting their work to a small indie house rather than chasing a literary agent or a big house.

Since ONE SWEET MORNING brims with romances set in spring, we’ll be discussing that season of new life with the four ladies with stories in this collection.

Thanks for taking time out to stop by my blog today, ladies. The question I have for you is “What is your favorite thing about springtime?”

For the record, my favorite thing is the return to green and the blooming of flowers, sure, but more importantly that SUMMER will soon be here.

Here are the answers:

Theresa Kemble (Author of “Spring into Action”):

What is my favorite thing about springtime?  For me. it’s the Sun returning it’s warm rays back to me after a dreary winter. (Yes, I’m one of those people that hate the winter! Well, except for the holidays, which I totally love!) I love warm gentle breezes, the scent of flowers invading my senses! It’s pure joy for me! Spring to me means a fresh start, hope for something new and exciting! In my story, “Spring into Action”, my heroine,Tamara Goode hopes for good things as she start’s a new chapter in her life. As the saying goes… Spring hopes Eternal!

ME: I also love sunshine, Theresa!

Claire Davon (Author of “Spring Water”):

Spring is such a great time of year. It’s when the promise of new life and new beginnings takes hold, and winter begins to fade in the rear view mirror. I grew up in Boston, so when Roane wanted spring romance stories it was a natural fit to set my story in Boston. I always loved when April rolled around when I was growing up. We were finally were able to think about warmer weather and no more snowfall. By that time I was good and sick of the snow! By that time fifty degree weather called for t-shirts and shorts. I love the promise of spring, when the snowbanks recede and the landscape is revealed again, just as people are revealed, scrapping their heavy layers for lighter clothing, and lighter moods.

In my story I talk about the swan boats, and that was one of my favorite memories throughout my time in Boston. They were like a rite of passage. When the swan boats started, you knew that the city had moved into spring mode, and warmer days were coming.

ME: I shivered when you said fifty-degree weather called for t-shirts and shorts. It will have to be 65 or warmer before I bare my arms and legs to goosebumps.

Suzi Finlay MacDonald (Author of “Only the Heart Knows”):

My favourite thing about springtime is that it’s a time of new beginnings. The natural world is waking up and starting over, and all that positive energy can give one the courage to take a chance on something new, or get rid of something that isn’t right. In ‘Only The Heart Knows’ Maddie has chosen springtime for her new beginning, but when things change it takes courage to make the right choice.

ME: Something about sunshine gives me courage, too.

Kim Strattford (Author of “Sparkage”):

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest where it stayed green all year. Then I moved to DC area and got to experience the full effect of four seasons–how gray and bare winter can be. So the best part of spring is seeing the grass turning green again, the crocuses blooming, the trees leafing out, and the daffodils and other spring flowers  exploding.

Spring lasts a hot minute here. We usually go from winter to summer with maybe a week of spring, but still, I love it.

ME: I’d heard that about spring lasting a week or less in DC, but the cherry blossoms are lovely.

To grab your copy of ONE SWEET MORNING, click here or on the cover image above. These authors and the indie publisher who believes in them appreciate your willingness to support them.

Check out the rest of the posts for this release by clicking below.

Say Hello to ONE SWEET MORNING

Happy book birthday to the authors of One Sweet Morning!

One Sweet Morning
A Sweet Romance Anthology
by Various Authors
Publisher: Roane Publishing
Release Date: April 9 2018
 
Spring Water
When Riley finds a way to meet the cute swan boat driver she has been admiring on the banks of a pond in the Boston Common she does it knowing it would be temporary. Her plans had always been to leave the city at
the end of the summer and even the cutest guy she has seen in forever wasn’t going to derail that. However she quickly finds that Graham calls to her as no other guy has ever done. She also finds that that he has a secret just as she does—he’s afraid of water.
Riley, a lifelong rower, is shocked by the revelation but it does not dim her attraction. After all, she is leaving so what difference does it make? However, as they get closer she finds it harder and harder to imagine leaving both the city and the man at the end of the summer. What seemed so far away at the beginning of spring now looms in front of her and the reality of leaving everything she loves tears at her. When near tragedy forces both of them to face their deepest secret will the truth pull them together or tear them apart once and for all?
Sparkage
Chris and Kirk have always had chemistry, but he was with someone, and then Chris moved across the country for a better position in the company they both work for. Five years later, she’s happy in her job and recently single, having broken up with someone rather than be in a relationship without any kind of spark. She’s resigned to waiting for the right guy rather than settling.
Enter Kirk, recently transferred and also recently broken up with his girlfriend. He’s interested in Chris, and she’s interested back, but his break with his girlfriend was sudden and his move across the country even more so. He may say it’s over, but his ex didn’t get the memo, and Chris suspects Kirk may need closure before he can move on.
She wants to believe in him—he’s always been honest with Chris and faithful to his girlfriend—and in what they could have together. Their chemistry is still there but it’s not just desire: she really likes this guy. But is she a fool to wait for something that may never be? Especially when her big sister is urging her to give the man she broke up with another chance before he finds someone else.
Only the Heart Knows
One dark spring morning, the man that Maddie loved was swept away in a tragic accident that left her alone and pregnant on their wedding day.
Exactly three years later she has built a new life with Troy, her best friend from childhood, and the sun is shining as she sets off down the aisle for a second chance at happiness.
But before she reaches the altar her plans and her heart are thrown into disarray by Jack’s well-timed return, re-igniting all the feelings she thought were dead and gone. Like him.
Can she forgive Jack for the lies that left her broken three years before? Or should she trust Troy and his promises, when he may not have been entirely honest with her either?
Only her heart knows the truth.
Spring into Action
by Theresa Kemble
Tamara Goode lives a privileged life, always trying to please others. Her fiancé is like her father—well-meaning but controlling, and Tamara soon realizes she needs her independence. Escaping to a new life, she becomes a
personal assistant to the handsome TV reality show star, Joe Campo. Fighting her attraction for him is a losing battle, for how could such a man possibly fall in love with a Rubenesque woman when model-types fall at his feet?
As a celebrity, Joe Campo has money and beautiful women clamoring for his attention, but he secretly fears losing himself to a shallow existence. Enter his new, competent assistant who seems to read his soul and understand his struggle to become a better person.
Joe’s attraction for Tamara grows and he hopes love will spring into action, but will her shyness and insecurity keep her from recognizing the connection between them?
 

PURCHASE LINKS

 

 

The Ins and Outs of Being a Substitute Teacher

On this Monday morning, the door to the classroom is open. The teacher I’m replacing is at her desk gathering some last minute items for the field trip she’s chaperoning today. She doesn’t make eye contact when she says, “Are you my sub?” and hands me the sheet of paper with the lesson plans typed on it.

As I’m scanning it, she mentions that I might get asked to cover some other classes since she has two periods when she only has “teacher’s assistants” in the room. I’d like to ask about this, but I don’t. Instead I’m thinking, “This is going to be a long day.”

What Adds Hours

I’ve worked in education long enough to know that plenty of substitute teachers bring a thick novel and hope they’ll get uninterrupted reading time during their day. I’m not one of those.

Sure, I have my tablet, and there are always books to be read on one of my digital reader apps. Most of the time, I plan to use the planning period (at least) to work on whatever project I’m writing that day. Or I might whip out a blog post or two (like this one).

But for the most part, a day where students aren’t going to be engaging with me tends to be a L-O-N-G one. Here are some things I might see in sub plans that tell me this eight hours is going to feel like sixteen:

  • A movie (that will be played for three or four different classes)
  • Ongoing work on a project (like the essay in the sophomore language arts class today)
  • Silent reading of a text and a corresponding worksheet
  • Traveling to the computer lab to work on something
  • An online assignment (because many of the students will head off to a fun place in cyberspace and will conveniently ignore me when I try to redirect them)

This last one is what the seniors in honors language arts are doing on the day I’m penning this. They’re honors students, so they might be more on-task than the average class, but they’re seniors too. And it is the week before spring break.


Things You Wouldn’t Think You’d Do

Babysitting students while they supposedly work on an ongoing assignment is expected. Teachers don’t know what sort of substitute will be filling in for them (unless they request a specific one), and maybe the substitute won’t know the first thing out the subject matter.
Thus, I tried not to feel offended during this conversation today:

Me: “So should I expect some students will want me to check off this sheet before they begin writing?”
Teacher: “I wouldn’t worry about that.” Pause. “Unless you feel comfortable identifying themes.”
Me: Stunned into silence.

Hello? I have an English literature degree. And I’m familiar with Bradbury’s classic FAHRENHEIT 451. Are you serious right now?
But worse than that expectation that I wouldn’t “get” what sophomores are doing is the drill that will be held during second period. The vice-principal came in first thing to hand me the “procedures.”
I’ve already been on a fire drill at this school. But today there will be a LOCK DOWN drill. This is preparatory for a “live shooter” or “other threat” on campus.
So, when the announcement comes on, I’ll get to pull the blinds, switch of the lights and huddle under my desk with a class full of teenagers. All of them will have their phones out, and I’m supposed to keep them off those.

Because in the event of an actual lock down, those lights would be an open invitation to the threat that the room was filled with innocents. Not really a message we want to give out.

As the VP explains things to me (and I’m not a novice to this, so he really didn’t have to), he ends the conversation with, “It’s unfortunate that we even have to practice this.”

Unfortunate might be an understatement. This is the world we live in where people won’t even let kids learn in peace at school.

And then they decide to have a fire drill on the back side of sitting on the floor in the dark for six minutes. I’m sure you can guess how engaged those sophomores were when we came back to class 20 minutes later.


What Adds Interest

I didn’t want to end this post with a negative tone, so let’s talk about things that add interest to my day of substitute teaching. There are a few. It’s not always glorified babysitting (with a WAY better paycheck than I ever earned back in the day).

I’m a writer. I love reading. You can imagine what sort of things I’d find interesting when in the same room with teenagers. Things like:

  • Reading and discussing an article
  • Reading and discussing a short story with a specific purpose (like writing a paragraph on some literary device or element afterward)
  • Reading and discussing poetry
  • Watching a video that will spark a conversation that segues into an assignment
  • Brainstorming ideas for stories (a rare joy these days)
  • Class discussion when students actually participate

There are probably other things that have made the hours slide by in a middle or high school classroom. In the end, it boils down to student engagement and teacher-student interaction.

What things have you done at work lately that were unexpected? What makes the day drag on and on for you?

Is Spring Finally Here?

A blue sky spreads to infinity. Glaring sunlight seeps into frost-bitten soil. The early spring bulbs raise their heads from slumber.

It’s Spring at last. The calendar says so. That would be March 20 at 9:15 am (PDT) for the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere.

But some weather channels hint that another late blast of snow may blanket the ground again.

Could winter give up it’s hold already?

I’m sure all my friends in the northeastern United States are beyond sick of shoveling snow and hunkering down as another blizzard pounds them. So what if the groundhog saw his shadow? That was MORE than six weeks ago now, so enough!

In case winter is holding you hostage, I’m going to share some photos of spring on the blog today.

Crocuses are the early bloomers in my yard.


Tulips like to raise their heads, too, but since Easter came early this year, those Dutch tulips in my beds will wake up a little later.


Even with the blue sky, it’s still sweatshirt weather in my backyard.


People in my neighborhood are more than ready for the season of flowers.

This is the sight from my office window.

A picture popped up in my “memories” that made me realize one sign of springtime I’ve been missing for the past couple years.

The tree my mom gave us at our second home.

Maybe I’ll need to plant a flowering plum tree somewhere in our yard. If the HOA grants permission.

Our grass stays green most of the year (with watering in July and August), but the sound of mowers is a sure sign that spring has sprung.

This was titled “How to mow” but I would suggest wearing actual shoes.

What is the tell-tale sign of spring in your world? Is spring your favorite season?

7 Reasons to Read

I read because I love it. I’ve worked in education for about fifteen years, and it’s clear that passion is not strong with the younger generations. But there are plenty of other great reasons to read.

1. Knowledge

After learning most of the teachers I worked with for YEARS didn’t read a single textbook in college, I started contemplating this.

How much knowledge is attained through reading?

I’ll pick up facts without even trying when I read a book. I’ve heard people say they read historical fiction to learn about history rather than listening to dry lectures or reading a sleep-inducing text.

Not everyone learns visually. In that case, reading might not be the best source of knowledge for them. But in this era when there’s an app that will read a book for you, the audio learners don’t really have an excuse to avoid the textbooks anymore.

2. Information

Is this the same as knowledge?

I don’t think so.

Here’s the way I would distinguish between the two. I search Google for the phone number so I can make an appointment for a massage. I needed specific information.

I wasn’t hanging out hoping the Internet would enlighten me on the different types of massage. That’s knowledge-seeking.

We read to obtain information dozens of times every day. This is why I believe schools should teach HOW to find information above trying to understand Shakespeare.

3. Entertainment

This is the major reason I pick up a fiction book. And I’m conscious of the entertainment value of the stories I write.

*The person who despises reading gapes* Yes, reading is highly entertaining if the writing and story are great. (No, writing is NOT the same as story.)

On the average day, I would rather read for entertainment than do most anything else. In our media-driven society, most people would prefer to watch TV or movies or play a video game. But those activities don’t stimulate your mind the same way reading does.

Which is why, when my brain is sore from the work of writing, I might choose to watch a movie or stream Arrow from Netflix.


4. Escape

Books offer a portal to places you could never dream. This is the reason I started reading fantasy when I was a kid.
Life was hard and ugly. I didn’t like the way my parents talked to each other. Then I didn’t like them getting divorced.

I would carry a book with me everywhere and read it whenever there was a spare minute. This way, I didn’t have to think about my own life. I could transport myself into someone else’s problems.

And even if they were worse (Hello? White Witch trapping everyone in winter?), they provided a break from what I was facing.

I don’t recommend using ANYTHING as an ongoing method of escape. But if you can’t afford a vacation or your world is tilting upside down, a book is a great way to escape long enough to regain your equilibrium.

5. Requirement

We’ll head back to school now, and talk about reading because you’re required to do it. And we’ll try not to think too deeply about teachers who didn’t do their required reading. (Yes, this bugs me.)

But in adulthood, you might be assigned reading, too. Your boss might give you a report and say, “Read this, then we’ll talk about how to deal with it.”

Or you might need to read trade magazines in order to keep up with changes in your field. If you’re buying a house, you ought to read the sales contract (and the mortgage documents).

What are some other things people are required to read?


6. Personal Growth

In the past, I haven’t been a fan of reading nonfiction books. I mean, there are only so many reading hours in a day, and I’d rather spend them in Fantasyland.

But beginning last year, I decided to read nonfiction before going to sleep. And not just any nonfiction book would do. I chose those focusing on personal or spiritual growth issues.

I’ve read books on building a business, loving my family more and appreciating my creativity. I don’t read related subjects back to back, and so far, I’ve been impressed with the books I’ve read.

Many of them came through personal recommendation. If you know of some I should add to my list, leave the titles in the comments.

7. Health

Some might argue that reading for your health is the same as personal growth or required reading tasks. I disagree.

Doing something to improve your health carries it’s own weight (even if you’re hoping for personal growth). And numerous studies reveal that reading helps improve memory and concentration, and relieves stress.

Those sound like three great reasons to pick up a book and read away.

Can you think of other great reasons to read? Let’s hear them!

Free Speech, but Who’s Listening?

It’s March 14. This is the one month anniversary of yet another school shooting in the United States. (It’s also Pi Day.) And a multitude of people exercised their freedom of speech in cities large and small across the country.

Free speech is important. It gives voice to every marginalized and under-served group. In this case, it even let the dead speak again.
But what good is free speech if no one is listening?


This is the thought that occurred to me while I watched the news and scanned videos people posted online.
I read the signs of protesters on the lawn of the U. S. Capitol. Some were catchy. Some were old news. Others made no sense to me at all.

Then I wondered, “Are any of the elected officials who represent the people flooding this grass watching this? Are they listening to what the citizens are saying?”

I had to smile a little at some people who were watching from the sidelines. Making a silent protest for oppositional views because it seemed to make more sense.

Silence as free speech?

Why not? They were likely heard as well as those hollering and shaking their signs.

Because to be heard, someone must listen.

So, America, who’s listening?

I don’t post political or argumentative blogs or memes or articles. Not because I don’t have opinions (uh, anyone who knows me, feel free to sound off about this in the comments). It’s not even because I don’t want to “offend” anyone (because I probably offend plenty of people by staying quiet).

My brand is one of encouragement and hope. I write stories where right wins in the end. Love prevails. Life isn’t perfect and all the pieces don’t fall into place, but there’s a happy ending.

Because there’s plenty of the unhappily-ever-after in real life. I don’t want to read about it, so I’m certainly not going to write about it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t tackle tough subjects. In LOVE’S LATE ARRIVAL, my characters face bullying, prejudice and actual assault. Things weren’t calm and easy for them. One reviewer even commented on this being the “gritty side of Sweet Grove.”
Guess what? The world is a gritty place. And the people with grit are the ones who’ll survive in the end.


That’s a common theme in my stories.

Of course, if you haven’t read them, you wouldn’t know. Because if you don’t listen to what I say, you can’t know what I think, how I feel or what’s important to me.

The same can be said of people who speak against guns, abortion, violence, discrimination, harassment or a multitude of other topics that have become “issues” in our world.

On the flip side, if we never listen to those who speak in favor of any of those topics, we won’t know why they think or feel as they do. What is their story? Why are they on the opposite side of the fence from me?

Maybe if we stopped thinking about our own argument and just heard what they said, we could find a middle ground. Or maybe not. Some things need extreme answers.

But there will never be answers as long as no one listens to the questions.

We’ve all had a conversation with that person who starts talking every time we take a breath. They don’t address anything we say or ask, but they do push forth their agenda, their ideas and their programs.

How do we feel during that conversation? Angry? Irritated? Frustrated?

Unheard? And thus unimportant?

It’s no wonder that their is so much division and arguing and discontent in our country. The majority of people are being ignored (or at least feel as if they are).

Sure, they speak. But no one listens. How do I know? Because the political, religious, economic and racial agendas keep being pushed forward. And no one addresses the concerns of the average person.

You can’t address what you don’t hear.

I applaud the founders of the U.S. for pushing for a Bill of Rights to protect free speech (as well a numerous other liberties). I wish they would have written in a clause mandating listening (with the intent of hearing and understanding not debating or rebutting).
Apparently, you can’t legislate listening any more than you can legislate morality.


Do you have a sure-fire way to be heard when you speak? Give it up. Let’s figure out a way to employ it with Congress.