If You Want to Cry, Give These A Try

I’ve found myself in a somewhat melancholy mood over the last week. I learned that a friend of mine—more of an acquaintance, really—passed away unexpectedly. She was close in age to me, but still, news like this has that power to rock your world. It is an all-too vivid reminder that none of us will live forever. When I begin to feel sad about things, I tend to want to pay attention to sad movies or sad books. So, if you need a good cry (which sometimes helps bring us out of the realm of murkiness), I would suggest immersing yourself in some or all of the following:

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

1: The Fault in Our Stars. Either grab the book or the film, but either way, grab a box of tissues. While unbelievably depressing, the story does remind us of why we need love in our lives, no matter how many years of life we have to live. Hazel, Isaac, and Gus come to life as we bear witness to their daily dilemmas and struggles as cancer patients. I guarantee that it will be tough for you not to cry your eyes out.

The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil

2. The Painted Veil. On the rare occasions that I actually watch television, let alone hold the remote in my hand, if I come across the film The Painted Veil (based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham), I stop everything. This film, featuring Edward Norton (who hails from Columbia, Maryland, and is a big fan of Cal Ripken) and Naomi Watts, is so deeply beautiful, yet hauntingly devastating, that you can’t help but to become riveted, and saddened. At the heart of the story is the theme of forgiveness, and how holding on to anger or a grudge can taint the way you see people. This husband and wife must learn the hard way about finding forgiveness, and when they do, their few moments of joy are cut short. I adore this film, the acting, the scenery, and the message. If it teaches you anything, it would be not to live with regret.

Unbroken

Unbroken

3. Unbroken. Former Olympic athlete and WWII veteran, Louis “Louie” Zamperini, is the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s extraordinary non-fiction book. Tracing Louie’s early days as a runner who competes in the Olympics in Germany and who was summoned to meet Adolf Hitler after a stunning race (Hitler is quoted as saying to him: “Ah, you were the boy with the fast finish”), to his time in WWII and as a POW, this mind-blowing story is absolutely riveting. The book is a sweeping, epic tale of one man’s survival—against all odds—and the notion that perseverance, resilience, and faith can guide you. You will feel a tremor of unease and absolute disbelief as you hear Louie’s tale. Read it now before Angelina Jolie releases it in December on the big screen.

Once Upon A Time, There Was Stevie Wonder and 8-Track Tapes

StevieWonderIn my room as a teen, I had a stereo. It consisted of a receiver with a turntable, two speakers, and an 8-Track tape player. I’ve always loved music, and my weekends were often spent writing down each of the songs Casey Kasem played during the American Top 40 Countdown. And when that was over, I loved listening to my 8-Track tapes.

I didn’t have a ton, but I had a handful of them. Soundtracks to some of my favorite movies were in my player, including those from “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot,” and “The Sound of Music.” For funk and rock, Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” and The Rolling Stones live album recorded in Canada entitled “Love You Live” rocked my room on Pointer Ridge Drive.loveyoulive

In today’s world of techno-music and bland, unimaginative songs that all sound the same, we stand to be blessed with a blast from the past; Stevie Wonder is coming to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on November 9, and tickets go on sale tomorrow morning. When I heard this news, I immediately floated back to my apple green room, pink shag wallpaper, large Snoopy stuffed animal on my striped bedspread, and John Travolta’s poster on my wall. I can hear my friends knocking on my door, ready to play air guitar and act out scenes from one of the musicals as we’d put on shows or just dance in my room. Just hearing Wonder’s songs will bring me back to that innocent time when I was younger, carefree, and the sound of my 8-Track player filled the room with songs in the key of my life.

 

Seriously. What Have I Been Missing?

AudioBooksI don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.

As a reader and writer of stories, as one who loves live theatre and movies on screen, as one who enjoys hearing a compelling story…what the heck has taken me so long to “read” in the car?

Seriously, audiobooks are making my life even more enjoyable than it already is.

Because of my commute to work, which extended by about 10-15 minutes when my family and I moved last year (by our choice), I spend a bit more time in the car. At a gathering of our Book Club, someone asked when I find time to read.

“I don’t,” I said. “During the semester, it’s very hard for me. I’m grading papers, preparing lectures, writing a textbook and a novel, in addition to trying to be a good mom to two great kids and a loving wife.”

It’s then that the light bulb went off. Why didn’t I listen to the books on audio CD?

I’ve discovered audiobooks are quite lovely, and they actually makes me want to get back in the car, so I can “hear” what happens next. I have been swept away to locations with people who come to life as a narrator tells me the story. I love to read—read the printed word—but this audiobook thing is sweeping me off to places when all I’m doing is driving on the Beltway.

At this rate, I will finish a lot of books over the course of the semester. I just finished “Stella Bain” and I’m about to tackle “Unbroken” and “The Goldfinch.” In my CD player in my car right now is Elizabeth Berg’s book from 2013 entitled “Tapestry of Fortunes.” I may listen to “The End of the Affair” just to hear Colin Firth tell me the story.ADBLECRE_2290_ColinFirthZing_v2._V383757663_

I’m quite enjoying them all, and my local library has a vast collection from which you can pick.

For those who try to tell you that listening to audiobooks is not really reading, remember this: it’s not a copout. It’s a way of processing stories. It requires concentration and focus, and it still requires you to paint a picture in your mind. In fact, in research I conducted during my MFA on Charles Dickens, it appears that Dickens not only liked to engage in live readings of his works, but he also wrote his stories for the ear. He wrote them to be read aloud. He gleaned great satisfaction from performing his stories on the stage. He would act out the three ghosts from “A Christmas Carol,” playing all the parts, yet interpreting and reading his own words.

Listening to audiobooks reminds me of the days (before I was born) when folks would gather around the radio and “listen” to fictional stories being broadcast. The stories were narrated, often in a series, and they brought people together. I like that notion a lot better than sitting around a table while everyone stares at their iPhones.

In a piece written by Sharon Grover and Lizette D. Hannegan in 2004 for Book Links about “Integrating Audiobooks into the Classroom,” they write the following:

Children’s and young-adult literature in audiobook format is being produced in record numbers. Outstanding performances by recognized actors, concurrent publication with hardcover releases, and variety and availability all contribute to the growing presence of audiobooks in school and public libraries. Educators, however, know that one of the most important reasons for the increasing interest in audiobooks for young people is the research demonstrating that listening to audiobooks fosters reading comprehension, fluency, language acquisition, vocabulary development, and improved achievement.

For these very reasons, if it works for students, it can work for those of us who just love learning.

I’ve got to go now. Time for my pleasant commute home.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

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Sir Winston Churchill

An interesting title of my blog post today, but hang with me, and I’ll tell you what I’ve uncovered.

The word “mystery” comes from the Greek verb meaning “keep your mouth shut.”

Sometimes to be effective, we need to keep our mouths shut.

I’m doing some research on “listening” for our textbook, and this is what I found. It’s a part of an article written by Kenny Moore in the Journal for Quality and Participation. What he’s saying is that you can learn a lot from folks by keeping your mouth shut and listening to them.

Good leaders are good listeners, and they can find out more from talking with employees by keeping their mouths shut and hearing what they have to say. It validates the focus group and the importance of gleaning information from those who are in the trenches, those who use a product in advertising, or those who want things to improve in a business setting.

Think about it: Winston Churhill had it right.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Make Us Care

While there are so many insightful tips on how to tell a good story, at the core of it all is to make the reader care. In a 17-minute speech on TED, Mr. Andrew Stanton, Academy Award winning screenwriter for such films as “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story,” and “Wall-E” who also voices the character “Crush” from “Finding Nemo,” explains his wonderful tips on storytelling.

Writers of all kinds should take heed of Mr. Stanton’s advice, which he explains with examples. As my class took notes on his wisdom, I wrote them all down as well; it’s a reminder and a usable checklist that writers can use refer to when evaluating their own work.

His tips are as follows:

1-Make us care (about the plot; about the characters)

2-Make us a promise (deliver us something meaningful)

3-Make us work for our meal–writers do not have to spoon-feed your readers/viewers (we can make our own decisions)

4-Carry a strong theme throughout (the story should always, in some way, be cognizant of the theme)

5-Make us wonder (asking questions is a part of curiosity/intrigue)

6-Use what you know (use your own experiences to tell a good story)

Take a look at his video. I’m so thankful for for Ted.com and the ability to share valuable information we can all learn from.

(Warning: The opening joke in the video is not PG…play it when your young kids are not around).

 

 

 

 

Five Tips for Finding Balance in Your Life

FindBalanceOne of the most difficult things we deal with on a daily basis is striking that desired balance we want to achieve in our lives: the balance of juggling family, friends, work, commitments, exercise, kids activities, healthy eating, and more. It is not easy to “find the time” to do everything we want; therefore, we must learn to prioritize what is important each day.

Tip 1

Plan each activity in your calendar.

A great tip for helping find this state of “balance” is to plan each activity or task into your daily planner. For example, you should write in your planner or your iPhone calendar that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are days for exercise. Select a time in the day that you want to do that task. Likewise, with other activities or kids activities you engage in, put them in your calendar. We are more apt to “check things off our list” than we are to navigate through those items without a plan.

Tip 2

Don’t overextend yourself.

While the word “no” is typically associated with something negative, use the word “no” to your advantage. Learn to decline things that may send you over the edge with regard to scheduling. If you simply do not have the time or energy in the day, week, month, or year to engage in that particular event or task, simply decline it. Others will step up, and you will have more time to complete things that are more important. This includes social calendars; sometimes we have to pass on something in order to make room for something else. The quote by David Allen, “You can do anything, but not everything,” kind of says it all.DoEverything?

Tip 3

Make room for down time.

In this world of rushing here and there, be sure to make time to relax and enjoy some down time. Take a walk, ride your bike, read a book, watch a movie, or just enjoy appetizers or dessert with family and friends. Making time for ourselves helps clear the mind, and it helps rejuvenate us for the week ahead of work and commitments.

Tip 4

Find a hobby.

Sometimes we are so busy working or going to school that we forget to do some of the things we love. For me, it’s creative writing. For you, it’s probably something else. Taking time to do something we love matters; it helps to satisfy the soul. If we love to paint, paint. If we love to ice skate, go ice skate. If we love our Fantasy Football League, stay involved in it. Whatever it is, we need to have that something that is all ours.

Tip 5

Don’t forget your friends.

Social media has helped us all stay connected in a peripheral sort of way, but it’s not in the same as picking up the phone, writing a letter or dropping a card, or just popping by to say hello to someone you care about. We all need friends in our lives, and staying connected means just that–letting the other person know you care about them. Also, our friends provide us with balance. When we’ve had a difficult day, need a shoulder to cry on, or just need some good old-fashioned girl or guy time to catch up, our friends are there to help us know that we all go through the same things.

Finding balance is not easy. We are bombarded with things to do, places to go, and commitments to work and school. However, if we can break it down and plan accordingly, things will become easier, and we won’t feel as frantic about each week ahead we face.

A Quick Update on “Baseball Girl”

BballGirlBallsCoverIn answer to the question I have been asked a lot recently, “When is your book coming out?”, I thought I would offer a quick update on where I am in the process of writing and completing my second independent novel.

As you know, the semester has started, and life very quickly jumps into high gear, so the amount of time I have available to write and edit dwindles. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier this summer, my two colleagues and I have signed a contract and are in the process of writing an event planning textbook. In fact, this morning, we reviewed what we’ve complied for Chapter 1.

I am extremely excited about writing an academic work; it is something I haven’t done to this extent. It’s a fabulous learning experience, and, quite frankly, as someone who worked in the business world and then transitioned into teaching, academic writing is a completely different animal than creative or journalistic writing.

As for “Baseball Girl,” I can tell you that I finished editing it. I received feedback from several trustworthy pre-readers and have considered all their comments. All of my own edits have been made in either green or red ink, and now the process continues whereby I perfect the actual Word document.editingpage

I have written the back cover description, the dedication page, and have reworked the cover.

With the reality that the Orioles are going to make it to the playoffs, and knowing that I worked for that very team upon which this fictional novel is based (though they are not called the O’s), one would think it might be a good time to release and market a book that features the word “baseball” in its title.

I’m going to plow through it and see what I can do.

Maybe both the O’s and I will see you in October.

White Hot and Passionate

WhiteHot&PassionateI’m one of the lucky ones.

Today, as it often happens when the semester begins, and as I was lecturing about feature writing and discussing the introductory chapter of our textbook, the reality of what I do for a living hit me. It often hits me over the head as a big, huge reminder of how lucky I am to have found my niche, my passion, and a sense of happiness that one doesn’t always feel from a job:

I have a career I love.

Helping students become better writers, more appreciative readers, and better analyzers of the written word makes me happy. As I presented the list of award-winning feature articles we will read this semester, admittedly, I got a little giddy. They don’t know it yet, but some of these articles are going to stay with them for a very long time, maybe even for the rest of their lives.

The fact that I get to share this experience with them, and watch them grow as writers and help them further develop their craft, is worthwhile to me. For years I wondered what my “end career” would be when my children were in school all day. What would I do with myself? How would I spend my time?

What was I passionate about?

Over and over again, it was teaching. In terms of career, and besides writing, it made me tick.

As Roald Dahl says, white hot and passionate is the only thing to be.

Someone get a fire extinguisher.

It’s Your Birthday. You’re only mildly old. Can you read the bottom line?

MeThe morning went something like this.

You got up early to be at the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA)  by 8:30 a.m. to have your license, which expires tomorrow (on your birthday) renewed. You waited until the last minute to get it done. There were too many other things to do this week, like drive your kid to golf many times and take your daughter to the movies. You’ve been writing all week–not Baseball Girl–but the textbook you’re working on with your brilliant colleagues. Nevertheless, you left it to the last minute, as you usually do, and thus suffered the consequences of waiting for almost an hour and a half until your number, B29, was called.

After filling out the necessary paperwork and having your photograph snapped for your new license (which, by the way, is not as flattering a photo as you had taken six years ago, but oh well, you’re never carded and the cops haven’t exactly needed to see it for any reason), the processor begins the line of questioning.

“Ok, Stephanie, now if you could press your forehead to the paper and tell me lines you can read.”

Of course, you could see the top line, the second line, the third line, but the fourth line, well, let’s just say you may have needed a magnifying glass. The one Barney would use.

“You want me to read the fourth line?” you said.

“Yes, if you can,” he said.

“Wow. A real challenge at this hour and it has nothing to do with kick-boxing or running.”

“Can you read the line?”

“Um…”

“Just give it a try.”

You must have done okay, because after you attempted to read it, he said, “Not too bad.”

But then, the worst scenario presented itself. He changed the slide, and now there were three columns in front of you. You could clearly read the first column, you could clearly read the second column, but…

“Can you please read what’s in the third column?” he asked.

“Are you telling me there are letters in the third column?”

“Yes,” he said. “All the way down.”

Your eyes couldn’t see it. There was nothing in the third column. It just looked blank. It was clearly a moment to think, but not say out loud, WTF? Seriously?

“Come on,” he said, trying not to run out of patience. “Give it your best shot.”

You squinted one eye to see if you could see any text at all in the third column. Faintly, something appeared. You gave it your best shot.

He waited.

“Okay, well,” he began. “You wear bifocals, right? And you always wear your contacts when you’re driving right?”

“Of course!” you said. It was the truth. You would never drive a vehicle without your contacts or your glasses. Which now, unfortunately, are bi-focal progressive lenses. Raise your eyes up when wearing the glasses for distance; lower your eyes for reading.

For a moment, you feared he wouldn’t grant you a new license on account of the vacant third column.

But he smiled.

“I put a restriction on there, but you’re good to go. Have a nice day,” he said smiling.

As if that weren’t enough…to be concerned that you couldn’t see…your son had to make two memorable comments.

“So, are you looking forward to your birthday tomorrow?” he asked.

“No. Not at all,” you said. “I’m old.”

“Aw, Mom, you’re not old. You’re only mildly old.”

Ouch. Mildly old. Good Lord. Has it come to that already? But I’m still young!!!!

Not really. You can feel young, but numbers don’t lie.

Then, as he kissed you goodnight, he blessed you with another zinger.

“Goodnight, Mom. Do you realize in six years you can live in GG & Pop-Pop’s community?”

Your mouth went agape. It’s an over-55 community, and the realization hit.

It’s your last year in your forties. Better make it a good one. Better be wild and forty-something-fantastic and do things before you turn 50 and people say you’ve lost your marbles.

Or maybe you’ll slip on the marbles because you simply can’t see them.

In Summer, The Song Sings Itself

SummerIn a little over a week, I’ll be back on campus teaching my fall college courses. Some people may dread the thought of work, but not me. I always look forward to the fall and going back to school, to using my brain, to being in the classroom, and to seeing young, eager minds ready to work.

BUT I’VE HAD A WONDERFUL SUMMER.

Yes. I have had one of the best summers of my life. I have enjoyed every tick-toc moment of it. Even as I’m writing this, I am sitting on my new back porch working from home, and taking a quick break from researching and writing a textbook to write this post. My kids are happy and we are all about to head to the pool for movie night. We have great friends and neighbors, live in an active neighborhood, my parents are a short trip down the road, and we are closer to my in-laws. We’ve had two great vacations, and we really have no complaints at all.

Summer, you have been good to us. We are thankful.

One of the most wonderful perks of being a professor is the time it allows me to be home in the summers with my children. I love spending time with them and watching them grow; I enjoy spending time with them and their friends as we will do shortly at the pool; and I love having those “nothing” days as we had on Tuesday when it rained and flooded our neighborhood.

Captured this moment at Fenway Park...my son with his arm around his sister during batting practice.

Captured this moment at Fenway Park…my son with his arm around his sister during batting practice.

And although I do work a lot from home and spend a great deal of time writing, I make the time for them—always.

Fall is about to move in, life is going to go back to being more hectic, and school is about to start. But, we’ve got a few days until then, and I’m going to enjoy every last minute of this beautiful summer.

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Atop of the Highland Lighthouse in Cape Cod.

I Wonder How A Man Would Feel, A Poem

This poem, written by YOURS TRULY (me), is for all the women out there who hate to cook every night…who hate to figure out “what’s for dinner”…who didn’t expect this to be such a large part of their life with their family. If I ever calculated how much time I spend thinking about dinner, planning dinner, shopping for dinner, and making dinner, I’m sure I would be appalled. It takes an inordinate amount of our time, and I can get quite angry about it. I work for a living. I pick up kids. I attend my kids’ events. I bring work home with me. The last thing I want to do is make dinner. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Therefore, this poem is dedicated to all moms out there whose (other) job it is to make dinner. If you despise it like I do, I have two words for you: I’m sorry.

Men, please don’t take offense to this poem. I know there are some incredible men out there who cook, organize, and prepare meals. To those of you who actually do spend time creating menus and making meals, please forgive this poem.

Also, please enjoy. It’s meant to poke a little fun.

 

I Wonder How A Man Would Feel, A Poem

I wonder how a man would feel

If he had to make us every meal

If he had known without a doubt

That we wanted a salad topped with sprouts

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If he had to cut and chop and peel

Onions, celery, chicken and pork

And then serve it to us with knife and fork

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If he baked us corn bread with cornmeal

And served us chili on a plate

Only to learn it’s something we hate

 

I further wonder if a man would care

To plan a week’s meals without fail

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you see

Must make it all from a full pantry

 

Stock up on items he would need

Enough for many mouths to feed

Make the dinner, good and healthy

Elaborate meals aren’t just for the wealthy

 

A vegetable, a starch, some vitamins too

It’s important we get enough to renew

Make sure he gets the recipe right

He shouldn’t disappoint, just delight

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If he had to touch a banana peel

That was aged and spotted and kind of oozy—

The only one left to go into the smoothie

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If the menu choice was just plain eel

Because that’s what’s prepared—he’s stuck with it

I’m pretty sure he’d have a fit

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If his chicken soup began to congeal

And became a leftover for far too long

The hours spent making it now long gone

 

I further wonder if a man would change

Night after night making food on the range

Would it make him appreciate the hours it took?

Apparently not, and I hate to cook.

Scenes from Boston & The Freedom Trail

DSC_0095It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, people. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been spending a little bit of time…living. That’s right. I’ve powered down here and there, spent time with family and friends, attended my kids’ sports events, edited my novel, and have enjoyed every single day of my summer break.

Last week, after suffering the effects of Hurricane Arthur in early July and having to leave our vacation early, we took a second vacation to Cape Cod and Boston. It was absolutely delightful. We took the kids to Williamsburg in the spring which they loved, and so we decided to incorporate some time “learning” into this trip as we hiked the Freedom Trail. (Don’t worry…it wasn’t too much learning in the summer…just enough. We spent time on the beach on the Cape, ate like kings, and enjoyed some time at Fenway Park as the Red Sox took on the Yankees and we got to see Derek Jeter on his farewell tour in person).

But the Freedom Trail is worth doing. We started our trek at 11 a.m. and hit EVERY stop; we finished at 6 p.m. on the USS Constitution. It’s truly a walk through history, and as someone who has grown to love history (yes, I was one of those kids who didn’t love it when I was younger, but now, it’s a totally different story), it gave me chills to think back on how we gained our independence and how brilliant our Founding Fathers really were. They were forward thinking innovators, and their forethought is overwhelming at times.

I won’t dwell too much on the history or words in this post. I will (hopefully) let my scenic photographs speak for themselves. And for those of you who recommended the Nikon to me a couple of years ago, I absolutely LOVE this camera and am enjoying photography as a hobby.

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And time for just a little bit of baseball for this Baseball Girl…

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