Sunset Season

There’s a certain time of year when the sun stops staging its setting and instead slips away between the flatness of late afternoon light and evening commute darkness. Those summer and fall evenings, when lovers and families and friends drink wine out of plastic cups while sitting on porches or park benches, have slipped away as well. Coats, scarves, hats and gloves diminish the intimacy of strappy dresses, t-shirts or cotton pajamas. Sunset watching falls into the past season’s memory book and onto the a distant season’s to-do list.

Timers bring holiday lights to life, a small gift to ease the lost hours of sun. Walking home from the bus stop or a friend’s house, we step in and out of the circles of sparkling white or bright color bulbs.  Dark and light, dark and light. The city people walk in the perpetual comfort of the street lights as long as they stay on public walkways and out of the darkness of undefined areas. Lights from stores, cars, homes suggest places where the people share time. At the right slice between dusk and dark, the interiors of houses and offices are as clearly lit as big screen televisions. In suburbs and small towns walkers might depend on those window views or harsh garage lights before the moon and stars accept responsibility to illuminate a path.

So we hurry from the dark, almost as much as from the cold, to the places of light where we belong, have control, feel safe. Another winter begins. Wishing you a season of good holiday experiences and memories.

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Kids and Keyboards–A Dilemma

I recently read that Silicon Valley parents are concerned about how using cell phones, tablets, and computers in the classroom affects children’s development. Wait, what?!? The creators of the screens and software don’t want their children using them? The  New York Times article described how families across the country are reconsidering the role of technology in the classroom.

Whoa. I recall fundraising with the PTO so students at my sons’ school would have computers in the classroom. We wanted our kids to be ready for the world they’d be joining. When my nieces attended a Catholic high school in Ohio, they were given laptops to use with their school work.

Truth be told, even then I had misgivings about the amount of screen time my kids had. A recent conversation with neighbors, whose children grew up with mine, confirmed that I wasn’t alone. The other mothers—an artist, a human resources manager, and a psychologist—have all seen the downsides of too much screen time.

The artist was the first to mention the impact on creativity, but all of us  expressed similar concern. When consumed by screen use, children don’t have the opportunity to daydream aimlessly or use their imagination to invent games. The other mothers and I remembered that as kids, we made up goofy games that required imagination but little equipment—building a fort out of sofa cushions or raking leaves into piles that framed “rooms” in the yard.

Another effect we’ve all seen is underdeveloped social skills. While plenty of young adults are socially adept, some of the young adults we know are awkward in face-to-face conversations. They struggle when talking with people—in job interviews and when dealing with older coworkers. For some, in-person discussions are mistaken for disagreement and conflict, instead of the normal give and take of conversation. Texting and IM’ing are more comfortable. It’s easier for them to express their opinions with the distancing filter of a screen.

None of us were suggesting that children shouldn’t use computers or cell phones. Personally, I love my phone, tablet, and laptop and recognize that using technology is a vital part of modern life. However, being selective about when, where, and how much children use technology is important. Although our kids hated it, the other mothers and I limited the amount of time our kids spent using screens.

Limiting screens is an even greater challenge for today’s parents and teachers. Teachers struggle with the disruption of cell phones in the classroom. Parents now have to contend with the potential dangers of social media and the content of their children’s Internet searches. I feel fortunate my kids were older by the time social media was widespread. That was one problem I didn’t have to face.

A younger mother I know locks up her teenagers’ phones and computers at bedtime so they aren’t online or texting into the wee hours—they need their sleep, and she needs some peace of mind. If her kids’ grades slip, they lose phone privileges.

It’s disconcerting to realize that the very screens that we sought for our kids years ago could both expand their horizons and limit their potential. But just as we did, I am confident today’s parents will figure out a way to handle the challenges of technology.

Rewind 11 Years

In the fall of 2007, our oldest son left for college. At 16, our younger son was still at home and a little dismayed about having our undivided attention. I had my marketing communications business (the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hadn’t dried up freelance work yet), but I was contemplating what the next stage might offer. Recently, while tossing old paper files, I found notes from 2007 about what I hoped my life would be like—a snapshot that surprised me.

Photo of Ireland I added to my life map — Rock of Cashel near Tipperary

 

 

 

 

 

Photo I took from the inside of the Rock of Cashel ruins

 

 

At 53, I figured I had 30 years of good health and maybe another 10 years of iffy health. It’s a little odd that I had signed up for a workshop centered around “What To Do with the Rest of Your Life” or some other dippy name. I’ve always made a lot of lists and had short-term goals like lose 5 pounds, exercise more, and write more, but my long-range goals have remained hazy. OK, the truth is that I’ve never had 5-year career plans or 5-year life plans. Mostly I’ve had vague directions and made up my life as I went along. However, with so many articles and books about the challenges of mid-life, empty nests, and retirement, I felt a pang of responsibility (like maybe I needed to act like a grownup and prepare a little), so I signed up.

The workshop focused on helping us identify our values, gifts, passions, and purpose so we could create “life maps.” The language of self-help tends to give me the vapors, but once I set aside my bad attitude, I saw that they were worthy questions, so I did my homework. Then I promptly forgot all about my life map until I recently rediscovered it.

In 2007, here’s what I envisioned—

  • Creativity – Keep writing, return to pottery and quilting, explore watercolors and stained glass. Writing, pottery, quilting—check. Watercolors and stained glass— still to come.
  • Travel – Visit Hawaii, Ireland, Paris and Provence, and return to Italy. Hawaii, Italy and Ireland – done. We plan to visit Paris next year. Provence is still to come and the list continues to grow.
  • Teaching – Instead of teaching a writing course at St. Thomas University, now I help teach immigrants English.
  • Stay close with family – Yes, definitely. However, in 2007, my parents were still in good health. I understood they were aging, but I spent no time imagining my father’s death in 2011 and my mother’s death in 2014.
  • Volunteer work – Ongoing.
  • Socializing – Continue book group – Now I participate in two of them. Have more dinner parties or start a gourmet group. Still hopeful.
  • Move to a smaller home – We have.

What surprises me is that I’ve actually done so much of what I’d envisioned, especially considering my lack of focused planning. Maybe writing out my goals helped make them more real. Maybe my goals were so modest that it wouldn’t be a stretch to complete them. Either way, I’m pleased that I’ve used my time well.

I haven’t prepared a new life map and probably won’t. However, if pressed, I would say that my long-range plans include more of the same activities and maybe some grandchildren.

Check back with me in 2029!

September Glory

My clock resets itself September. One August morning the temperature barely cracks fifty and I start thinking about the back to school ads and replenishing my studio writing supplies. When the air suggests jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, the sense of pure potential tricks my mind into pulling together a short story submission calendar. Kids wearing new shoes on their way to the playground reminds me my old backpack is in fine condition, but maybe a new leather bag might refresh fall clothes?

Heading back to school as a student or teacher for almost three decades has hard-wired an unexplainable sense of optimism each year when school buses begin traveling through our neighborhood. It’s easier to daydream about new directions for characters or plots when golf courses slow down, weeding gardens gives way to yanking annuals and high temperatures fade. In this month of transition, I look forward to sitting at my desk and making the most of the year which begins in the ninth month on the calendar.

January’s short days are made for serious stuff like cleaning closets, balancing finances, planning home repairs or starting diets, but the bright green days of September remind me I am still very much alive and hungry to learn and try new things. This is the time to read those community education booklets, sign up for dance class, buy a pile of books, begin a progressive dinner group. Anything that will keep you energized while minimizing January…and February.and March.

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Why I Want a Coloring Book for Christmas

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 8.46.13 AM  I can’t pinpoint what makes visual pursuits like paper projects, quilting, and flower gardening so refreshing to a bizzy dizzy mind, but I have a few theories.

One is that I read and write words all day, so shifting to nothing but color, shape, and design relaxes me. I engage a different, less used part of my mind. With visual pursuits, I’m not explaining, persuading, or struggling to find meaning, as I must when I’m writing.

It’s also playful.

As a writer, I need to do a respectable job with whatever I write. But with visual pursuits, nobody but me cares how well I do. If I make holiday cards, I’m strictly pleasing myself. For me, fooling around with bits of paper is fun. I never get bored with the possibilities for color and texture: ridged green paper, lime checkerboard tissue, bronze matte vellum.card

I have to concentrate hard enough that everything else gets crowded out.

Because I’m not as visually talented as my graphic designer friends, I have to try out the combinations to see what works and what doesn’t. When quilting, what happens if I put this red fabric next to the gold? Repeat that color and create a pattern? Does this fabric work or is it too busy?quilt

 

 

Designing flowerpots and gardens also involves color and design, but now the shapes are 3D, so I have to think how tall and wide each plant variety will get. This leads to a lot of standing around thinking at the garden store and again in my yard. What if I put a lot of shades of purple with white? I shuffle bedding plants around until I have an arrangement that seems to works. Even so, after a few days, I may uproot and relocate a zinnia or geranium if it doesn’t look right.

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While I’m solving a visual puzzle, I can’t think or worry about anything else. I’m completely absorbed. So often our days call for doing things to meet other people’s specifications, so there is real pleasure in envisioning something and then creating it to my specs.

 

I suspect that’s one of the reasons why adult coloring books are popular now. What colors you select are up to you. Only you. I imagine it’s soothing. Filling in a little section is completely under your control, unlike so many things in life. Plus coloring is mindless. No big commitment of time, materials, or brainpower is required. Coloring isn’t earthshattering or important, but it looks like fun and fun is good. I intend to find out.