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Thoughts and prayers

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Dear friends,

I’m aware that a lot of people scoff at the idea of sending “thoughts and prayers” when others are in need – but I’m not one of them.  I pray all the time.  I don’t believe prayer persuades God to do this or that, but rather, that prayer forces me to quiet my spirit, to listen, and to draw close to the Creator and to my fellow humans.  It opens me up to allow God to work in me, and through me.

If you, too, are a pray-er, I invite you to welcome the following people into your heart today:

The family of B, an elderly woman who is transitioning into nursing home care.  This is a very stressful time for her children and loved ones;

The family of S, who have been stunned both emotionally and financially when a loved one was recently jailed.

Please keep them in your heart today.

Blessings,

Annette

 

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Book review: My Oxford Year

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Dear friends,

I rarely say it – this one is magical!

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My Oxford Year, though fiction, reads like a memoir.  It’s told from the point of view of a young American woman named Ella, who wins a Rhodes scholarship to spend a year at Oxford studying literature.  Just as she’s about to fly to England, she gets the job offer of her dreams for a position in Washington, D.C.  Her new employer agrees to defer until spring, so she can have her “Oxford year,” on the condition that she will be available to consult by phone.

Once Ella lands in Oxford, we get to share in her wonderful sense of culture shock at the juxtaposition of old and new, and the adventure of making new friends.  These friends run the gamut from hipsters to chip shop owners to the social elite, and each character is fully drawn and appealing.  Along with these new people in her life, Ella’s world is populated by U.S. characters who keep in touch by phone, particularly Ella’s mom and her new employer.

It’s not just your typical “fish out of water” story, though, and Ella’s cultural adjustments are not the focal point of the book.  The primary focus is navigating relationships, and living up to our expectations of others and of ourselves.  Ella’s mother (present via phone from the U.S.), and a possible new romance (centered at Oxford) provide deeper challenges she must face and resolve.

Every time I thought the plot was getting predictable, there was a twist.  The ending was unexpected and bittersweet.

I highly recommend this one.  I’ve just finished it and restarted it, because I want to experience its charm again.

Cheers –

Annette

For more book reviews, follow me on Goodreads.com

 

 

Give yourself grace

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Dear friends,

The other day, I was watching a Youtuber talk about books she plans to read.  She gave a brief synopsis of each, and explained why it appealed to her.  One book was about a couple who had fertility issues, an experience the Youtuber herself had gone through in the past few years.

She stated that she wasn’t sure if she was ready to read the book, although she’d heard it was good, and it might be healing for her.  So, she said, “I’ve decided to give myself grace” in approaching this subject matter – the grace to bail out at any time, the grace to decide she wasn’t ready after all, the grace to start the journey with permission to not finish.

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I was struck by her words.  We often talk about showing grace to others, but showing grace to ourselves is an important part of self-care.  We need to give ourselves permission to fail, permission to decide that we’re not ready after all, permission to back out of our choices if the time comes when they don’t seem right for us anymore.

Look, I’m all for “seeing things through.”  Perseverance – what my mom calls “stick-to-it-ive-ness” – is essential for completing many of our life journeys.  But just as we would be gentle and understanding with others, we should show ourselves the same consideration when it comes to challenges that may be – just for a moment – more than we can bear.

We talk about falling down and getting back up, but sometimes getting up takes time.  Healing and recovery take time.

Be gentle with yourself today.  Show grace to the person in the mirror.

Blessings,

Annette

 

Make it your own

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Dear friends,

One of the challenges of teaching college students is that they arrive in my classroom with some ingrained academic habits.  I’ll ask them to give an example of something, or react to what an author wrote, and they’ll *tell* me what the author says.  I’ll tell them, “Don’t tell me what the author says … I know what the author says.  I’ve read this about 47 times.  What I want to know is, what do *you* say?  How do you apply these ideas in your own life?”  They are often stumped, because they are used to summarizing what others have written, rather than expressing their own interpretation of it.

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I also find that college students often struggle with the idea of “studying.”  Young people often have not been taught how to engage with ideas in a way that leads to recall and deep understanding.  They’re good at memorizing, but that’s not what critical thinking is about.  So my challenge is to help them think more deeply, and to make the classroom a safe place to do that.

My mantra has always been, “I’m not here to teach you what to think, but HOW to think.”  I stand by those words.  I once had a student who seemed very angry about one of the readings for class, and he sat with his arms crossed and a stormy expression on his face.  When I invited him to speak, he revealed that he disagreed with the author’s contentions.  “That’s fair,” I said.  “Tell us why.”  It took him awhile to articulate his position, but he seemed to feel better after he did.

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Later, he told me he’d been upset because he thought I was advocating for the author’s point of view by assigning the reading.  I explained that I assigned that particular reading because it was a good foundation for discussion of our particular topics that day, but that it was okay to disagree with it.  In fact, it was more than okay, because it showed a level of deep engagement with, and critical thinking about, the material.

I want my students to get every ounce of good out of the college experience.  In my classroom, it’s not about memorizing lists or summarizing what others have written.  Yes, we need to work from a shared vocabulary, but that’s just the beginning of learning to be an engaged citizen of the world.

I hope I can bring them a step closer to that.

Blessings,

Annette

Making your mark

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“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”

– Barack Obama

Focus on the negative

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Dear friends,

If I gave you ninety-nine compliments, and one criticism, would you focus on the criticism?  Many of us would (I know I would).

I always hold off on reading my teaching evaluations each semester, because I know those negative comments will crush me, no matter how many positive comments I get.  You’d think they’d offset each other, but no.

So the next question is, why do we make the negative stuff bigger than it is?

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I think it boils down to two main reasons:

One:  As humans, we’re hard-wired this way.  We live in community with others, and the approval of the community is essential to our survival – at some base, animal level, we fear being abandoned by our tribe.  Negativity feels like attack, and triggers a mental and physical reaction.  We won’t overcome it unless we learn to recognize it and realize this is what’s happening.

And two:  Criticism can make us hearken back to childhood insecurities, and the child inside us reacts with hurt.  If we were told we weren’t good enough, or would never amount to anything, critics can take us back there and make us wonder if those things were really true after all.  Again, I think the key to breaking this cycle is to recognize when this is happening to us.

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Our tendency to notice the negative is part of the self-protective instinct, but many of us allow it to overtake us.  Let’s strive to notice it without feeling defeated, to realize we’re not going to succeed 100% of the time – and that’s okay.  Let’s remember there are 7.5 billion people on planet earth, and they’re not all going to like or appreciate us.

Let’s value ourselves enough to take criticism for what it’s worth, and not a penny more.

Blessings,

Annette

 

Be soft

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Dear friends,

These are words I try to live by.  Sometimes I hear people say, “What if there’s no afterlife? No God? No reason for love, or optimism, or kindness?”  My answer would be, even if none of those things exist, I want to live my life as if they do.  To me, that’s the best and highest use of this one precious day.

Blessings,

Annette

 

“Be soft.
Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

Ian Thomas

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Figure Skating in Harlem

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Dear friends,

In an effort spread good news vs. bad news, I wanted to bring this great organization to your attention.  “Figure Skating in Harlem helps girls transform their lives and grow in confidence, leadership and academic achievement. We are the only organization for girls of color that combines the power of education with access to the artistic discipline of figure skating to build champions in life.”  (from their webpage).

I applaud organizations like this that seek to enrich the lives of young people through participation in the arts.  When we bring forth the creative and artistic drives inside of us, we add vibrancy to our own lives, and the communities of which we are part.  Please take a moment to visit their webpage to learn more about their amazing work:

Figure Skating in Harlem webpage

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Blessings,

Annette

Book review: The Tudors

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Dear friends:

Yesterday I finished listening to the audiobook of The Tudors: A Captivating Guide to the History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

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This choice won’t surprise many of you, as you know that I am fascinated by this period in English history, and particularly the stories of the Tudors, including “Bloody Mary,” Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots.

The audiobook attempts to be comprehensive, but because of its brevity, lacks some depth.  If you already know a lot about this time period, you may find this to be a “Cliff’s Notes” version of a very complex historical era.  The “bird’s eye view” aspect of it all might be useful to someone who is just beginning to explore Tudor history, but for me, it felt rushed and simplified.  (An exaggerated example, but this is the level of depth to expect:  Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon when he fell in love with her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.  He divorced Catherine to marry Anne.  Later, he ordered Anne beheaded when she was found guilty on trumped-up charges).  (Point, set, match).

I exaggerate, but not much.  On the upside, it’s short as audiobooks go, lasting just over 3 hours.

I did learn a few new (to me) facts about Henry’s sisters, and his best friend Charles Brandon, which I enjoyed hearing about.

Overall I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

Blessings,

Annette

For more book reviews, follow me on goodreads.com

 

 

 

Life update 10/23/18

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Hello friends,

It’s been ages!  Let’s try to remedy that …

Work and time/life management have been crazy lately, and I’m having to remind myself about self-care.  A big part of my self-care is writing (for pleasure/self-therapy – trust me, I do plenty of academic writing), and I have gotten out of the habit of journaling and blogging.  This makes me sad.  Writers write, and I want and need to do so.

Thus: new resolution.  Write for self-care every day for a week.  (I’d like to say a month, or a year, but we’ll start with this baby step).

What’s been on my mind lately:  self-created drama, and how it looks in hindsight.

This weekend, I had a lovely lunch with an old school friend.  As we talked, we realized how far back we go – we were in Brownies together.  Lori and I reconnected on Facebook recently (along with a lot of other “girls” from back in the day), and it was amazing to sit together, as “middle-aged women” (ugh), and reflect on our lives.

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I was very self-conscious as a young person, and found it hard to get close to people.  I would “turtle” in social situations, as I was terrified of rejection and disapproval.  Back in my school days, I was caught up in a lot of self-created drama (the kind that’s mostly in your head):  issues at home, at school, friendships, (un)popularity, feeling like an ugly duckling.

It’s funny how, in hindsight, so little of it matters.

It’s strange to hear from my old classmates that they always thought I was kind and nice and pretty.

It’s very poignant to think of how years, and experience, have mellowed us.  We’ve all got some years on us now, and we’ve been through some really tough experiences – deaths, divorces, job insecurity – but we’ve gained so much wisdom in the process.  We’re still “works in progress,” and always learning, but we have a better sense of what’s really important.

Love.  Kindness.  Courage.  Keeping on.  Asking for help when we need it.  Getting outside our own heads in order to connect with others on a deeper, and more authentic level.

Written with special love for Lori and all of the “girl squad.”  You ladies are amazing.

Blessings,

Annette