Small Blessings (a listicle)


Two weeks past Thanksgiving, I’m still feeling thankful. Yes, I’m thankful that the larger parts of my life are going well, and no, I’m not happy about the events in my newsfeed. But the little things in life have been catching may attention lately, small blessings that can make my day, in the same way that frustrations can ruin it.

I’m thankful when the sun comes out after days of gray.

I’m thankful that living in the country means I don’t have to rake leaves.

I’m thankful that my little Prius still runs well, for the simple reason that it’s the only car that I’ve ever loved and I want to continue driving it.

I’m thankful that my commute is ten minutes long. (Jealous?)

I’m thankful for a keyboard that had power to run for two years and especially for the friend that lent me her charger as soon as I questioned, “How do I charge this thing?” Because after two years, I had forgotten what that black cable was for and who knows where I put it.

I’m thankful for canceled meetings, like gifts of time opening in my day.

I’m thankful to be vigorous and active, though getting up off the floor isn’t as quick as it used to be. (Do you sit on the floor? I find myself there often, not just working with students, but playing with the dog, getting things off low shelves, and looking under the bed to find my missing sock.)

I’m thankful that I work with children, because with kids there is always hope for the future.

I’m thankful for peanut butter, especially the crunchy kind. (If you’re allergic, that’s unfortunate. I’ll eat it somewhere else.)

I’m thankful for openings at the doctor’s office when I need to get in and a good stick when I give blood.

I’m thankful for a cup of hot tea on a cold day and for chocolate, because who wouldn’t be?

I’m thankful not only for my wonderful daughters, but that their chosen fields make them great sources of information for me. My life is richer and better informed for knowing them.

I’m thankful that my friends still want to see me after we’ve had busy months away from each other. (That seems to be a condition of my friendship. You have to wait to see me and then pick up exactly where we left off.)

I’m thankful for new adventures, even if they are only online ones, and for the new people I am meeting through writing. (You can never have too many friends.)

I’m thankful for those who read my blog and come back to read more. I’m especially thankful to the ones who stop to chat, offer words of encouragement, yes, but also just share their thoughts and experiences. It continually amazes me that my words reach people around the world.

I am thankful that I come home to a wagging dog and to eat a warm dinner that I didn’t cook. I’m thankful that I have a comfy spot on the couch and can spend time with my husband as I end my evening. Then to bed, where I’ll be grateful to sleep.


Unhappy Camper

I’ve been celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts this week. This was first posted July 19, 2017

My mother and I walked the three blocks to the meeting place that Friday afternoon. I wore my usual jeans, sneakers, and a light jacket, all suitable for Girl Scout camping in the spring. My mother, volunteering as a chaperone, wore her light blue trench coat and one of the few pairs of pants she owned. She sniffed and dabbed at her running nose with a tissue in one hand, while the other arm clutched her bedroll and her sack supper that she’d put in a beaded shopping bag made of pink plastic netting, with handles for easy carrying.

My back tensed as we approached the gathering group of girls and our leader, nicknamed Nuke. I was only still in Girl Scouts as a seventh grader because of Nuke. She made meetings fun, took us to camp, was stern when needed, but genuinely seemed to like hanging out with a bunch of adolescent girls. I set my bedroll down next to her daughter, Missy.

“Your mom came,” Missy said.

“Yeah.” My shoulders slumped.

“I love your mom. She’s so nice.” Missy smiled.

I looked toward Mom, standing talking to Nuke, her blond head leaning in toward Nuke’s brown pinned-up braid. I loved my mom too. But at home. Not out camping for the first time in her life, with her pink beaded shopping bag. I sighed. Maybe it would be all right.

It was almost dark by the time the bus dropped us off at camp. We dropped our sack suppers on a picnic table. Then we paired up to head to our tents scattered in the woods and lay out our bedrolls before the last of the light faded. My friend and I brushed leaves and dirt off the wooden floor of the tent and were about to head out to eat when we heard a screech. It sounded an awful lot like my mother.

I rushed toward her voice. There was my mom, looking up in a tree and yelling.

“Hey! Give that back!”

Above her, the pink shopping bag dangled from a branch, while a raccoon reached inside, grabbing bits of her sandwich.

The raccoon won. Nuke and I shared our dinner with Mom and our group settled around picnic tables to eat. We sat around talking, but soon Nuke sent us to bed. The real fun of camping would start early.

The next morning, we started a fire, cooked pancakes for breakfast, cleaned up, and hiked in the woods. Nuke supervised, but the work was ours. One of the girls blared a transistor radio playing top 40’s music as we washed up. I waited for Mom to ask her to turn it down, but she said nothing.

The day flew by. That night I breathed a sigh of relief as we sat beneath the stars around a crackling fire, making s’mores and singing camp songs.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me….”

The weekend was almost over and no more Mom catastrophes.

Sunday morning after breakfast we sat in the sun with the radio blaring again, while we waited for the bus to pick us up. Mom cocked her head listening.

“You know, some of this music isn’t bad.”


Now that I’m well on the other side of being the embarrassing mom, I see that weekend from a different perspective.

I asked my introverted, book-loving Mom once why she went on that camping trip, when she was so clearly out of her element.

She shrugged. “They needed a volunteer.”

Now I look back and see the lilacs blooming that my mother was horribly allergic to. She dressed for the trip the best way she could. These were the clothes she had and money wasn’t plentiful. The goofy pink bag made sense. It was hard to carry everything and blow your nose at the same time.

That weekend she shared a tent with Nuke, who didn’t like the way the bugs clung to the roof for warmth. So, they slept with all four flaps rolled to the top all night and Mom froze.

She had grown up in an era and town where they used an outhouse until midway through her childhood. Mom valued indoor plumbing.

Mom camped for the one and only time in her life because she loved me.



Life Around You

I’m celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts. This was first posted October 14, 2016

When we moved to this property twenty-some years ago, the trees were sparse and the only birds that summer were a persistent flock of killdeer that landed in the front yard and poked around the yellowed August grass. I had never seen killdeer and had to look them up to see what they were. We had none of the other common Midwest residents and migrants you usually see. But the killdeer were just a promise of the life to come.

My husband planted more trees, then more trees, and put out a feeder. He piled seed in the driveway and watched out the window to see what would come and eat.

Nowadays we are rich with birds: robins, cardinals, sparrows, finches, chickadees, big flocks of black birds that might be starlings and occasional glimpses of hummingbirds. A pair of chimney swifts nest in the rafters of the garage every spring.  Recently, in the tree outside our open window at night, we caught brief glimpses of a big dark bird and heard a low hooting. We have had big flocks of mourning doves too (accompanied by one confused pigeon) but since the arrival of a red-tailed hawk the doves’ population has gradually diminished. We find scattered gray feathers of the occasional meal, but not enough to account for the missing and I have to think somewhere in their little slow dove brains they have finally realized there might be a better place to call home.


Of course all the food my husband puts out doesn’t just feed the birds. When the first ground squirrel showed up, we started calling it his “little buddy.” Now his buddies have a series of holes and tunnels throughout the yard. In the spring they pop up out of their holes and chirp, grabbing my dog’s attention, before ducking down out of reach. When she catches them out away searching for food, she’ll race at full speed across the yard, but hardly ever gets to them before they hightail it to a nearby hole. Only once she caught one. As I ran up to save it, it lay on its back, little feet clawing the air, or her nose if it got close enough, baring its tiny teeth and squealing a high-pitched squeal. When I grabbed my dog, it flipped over and ran, disappearing suddenly in the grass.

The ground squirrels aren’t the only critters benefitting from the bounty. Rabbits creep around the yard in the early morning and at dusk. My dog, about the same size as the rabbits, loves to chase those too. Where she is satisfied to race toward the birds and send them flying, her rabbit chases may involve long zigzags across the yard or racing circles around the pine trees before she listens to my calls and stays long enough for me to jog over to pick her up and end the chase.

The rabbits periodically appear, multiply and disappear. This may have something to do with the coyotes that we hear in the summer out in the fields beyond our yard, baying at the moon. Once, sitting at the kitchen table, I looked out to see three strange dogs (coyotes!) trot quickly in front of the house in broad daylight.

One of my favorite finds in the yard is the occasional toad. I read somewhere that when environments are poisoned, the frogs and toads are the first to go. So those toads are my canaries in the mine, telling me that, surrounded by non-organic farms fields, I am safe.

Of course beyond the mammals, birds and amphibians are countless multi-legged critters. There are always crawling and hopping insects, buzzing flies, swarming gnats in the summer. There are worms, caterpillars and roly poly bugs. There are countless spiders after them all leaving glistening webs in the grass and across the doorway to the garage. The first summer, clinging to the window screen, we saw a huge corn spider with bright yellow bands across its back. The occasional praying mantis can be just as big. My dog’s favorite crunchy snack is crickets in the fall and she’s learned the hard way to stay away from the stink bugs.

As I walked my dog this morning in the early morning light I heard a few tweets from the trees, but all our usual visitors and residents were hidden. It’s so easy to walk through life oblivious to life all around you.


First Anniversary

This week marks a year since I started my blog. In the year since I first wanted a place to put my thoughts, I’ve written 71 posts, collected 458 followers and made a few friends. If you’ve joined me along the way, thanks for reading, commenting and joining the conversation!

This week I’m looking back by posting my favorite five posts. Look for one each day starting on Monday. These aren’t the ones that got recognition or got the most likes or views. These are ones that make me smile.

Creating a Reader

To create a reader, you’ll need one parent, a brand-new child, and a large selection of volumes ranging from board books to the classics. Substitutions are allowed. Two motivated parents can make it easier or the child can be older, but at least one of each is essential.

If possible, begin at birth, spending long hours peering into the eyes of your newborn, between taking care of all her bodily needs as soon as they occur. Reading is a conversation between author and reader. This gazing is the first conversation of all.

By the time she can sit with support, pull out Pat the Bunny. Guide her hand to pat the fake patch of fur on the page. Repeat it so many times over the next year that you can still recite most of it twenty-five years later.

“Paul and Judy can do lots of things. You can do lots of things too.”

At six months, hold out two books and offer choice. Let her turn the pages while you read and she reaches out to pat the bunny, feel Daddy’s scratchy face, and peer into the tiny mirror.

Recite nursery rhymes as you bounce her on your knee. Sing songs in the car. Surround her with the joy of words.

Sit with a book yourself, as she plays beside you on the floor.

By one year, make trips to the library, while continuing old favorites at home.

Begin bedtime stories.

At eighteen months, try the library story hour. Then give up and come back months later when sitting still becomes a more realistic possibility. Let her see that other adults like to read too.

When she tugs on your sleeve with a beloved story under her arm, stop whatever work you’re doing. Sit down to make a lap. Use funny voices for the characters. Ask her about the pictures.

At six years old, she begins to decode independently. Drop everything whenever she wants you to listen. Let her know how amazing she is.

At eight, your child, who has always moved as if driven by a motor, suddenly sits still and quiet, lost in the world an author has created for her.

In third grade when she wants to start that series you aren’t sure she’s ready for, suggest that you read the first one together. Take turns by the page or chapter. Anticipate the ending and make predictions. Wait breathlessly together for the next volume to be released.

Pick up the novels she enjoys so you can discuss them. Continue to enjoy your own choices on the side.

In her teens, always bring a book while you wait for her at lessons, practices and meetings. Note the titles you see her bring home, but don’t say much unless she speaks first.

When she visits from college, sympathize with her course load and the boring texts she must study. Listen with rapt attention while she shares what she’s learned.

When she comes home to visit in her twenties, a working woman, hug her tight. Talk about anything and everything. When she unpacks and pulls out a book to read, you won’t be surprised.


This piece was written for the third round of SuperChallenge #5 at I didn’t win, but was really pleased to make to the final round. The prompt required me to include this exact phrase: He fled; I followed. CW: childhood trauma, suicide risk


Charlie was the kind of kid that haunts you.

I found out he would join my class in mid-October. His foster mom phoned me to give me some background. Her daughter, Kay, was a wisp of a girl who looked to the side when she talked and covered her ears to block loud noises.

“I want Kay to have a brother,” she said. “I figured since she has problems, another child with problems should fit right in to our family.”

I kept my opinions to myself. “I’ll look forward to meeting him tomorrow.”

Six-year-old Charlie had a wide smile that showed off his missing two front teeth, although we didn’t see it that first day. The other kids were curious and tried to talk to him, but he just shook his head and sat quietly. He kept his head down and his shoulders hunched, keeping himself as small as possible.

In those first few days, I encouraged him to participate and tried to find out what he knew. Not surprisingly, he was behind, as children from trauma often are. Just what trauma he’d endured was never shared with me, confidentiality trumping classroom learning.

When he did start talking, it was often loudly, yelling, “I can’t do this!” Then crayons were snapped, papers torn, books sent flying.

At least once a day he would run out the door. I would catch him before he could leave the building.

I spoke with my principal, the psychologist, the social worker. Legally we couldn’t get him services without due process. We pieced together a team to be on call for Charlie while we followed procedure, so I could teach the other nineteen students. But each adult who came to help treated him differently. One gave him sympathy, another tough love. A third ignored his scowl and walked him around the building chatting about anything other than his behavior.

Two weeks in I went back to my principal and explained the problem. “He needs consistency. Get a sub to cover my class when I’m not there and let me work with him.”

She agreed. The sub acted as an aide until Charlie’s anger welled up again. Then I’d coax or carry him to an empty classroom we used for storage, where we’d wait for calm. As I stayed out of the way watching, he would topple boxes, beat the walls, yell at the Fates. When his heaving breaths began to calm, I would ask if he was ready to put everything back. He’d slowly stack up the boxes and we’d return to class to start over again.

He still raced for the door. I would stand holding the door shut while he shoved it with his considerable six-year-old strength.

One time I asked, “Where would you go if you made it outside?”

“I’d run out in the street so a car could hit me. I don’t want to live.”

I don’t remember what I said to that, but I know I stayed outwardly calm, while inside my heart hammered against my chest.

Charlie would yell and cry at school. I would wait till I got home, where I would jump in the shower so I could cry alone.

Meanwhile, his tantrums were increasing in his foster home. He threatened his sister, and her mother couldn’t have that. Charlie would have to go.

But first another placement would have to be found. We all waited and tried to cope, Charlie most of all.

Our daily drama at school increased.

He resisted; I encouraged.

He cried; I comforted.

He fled; I followed.

He destroyed; I mended.

He railed against the chaos of his life and I gave what stability I could.

The special education director, Sara, called me just two weeks before Christmas. “I’ll come this week and work with him in another room. You need to be with your class.”

Back in my classroom, I smiled at the kids’ excitement and enthusiasm, although part of me was still off with Charlie, wondering how he was doing.

We had three peaceful days.

On Thursday, while we wrapped the gifts students had made for their parents, the office called on the speaker. “You need to get upstairs.”

When I entered the room, Sara sat in a chair, her arms wrapped around Charlie as he struggled, bloody bite marks on her hand.

I took him from her. Sitting crossed legged on the floor, I pulled him into my lap and rocked him, murmuring in his ear, “It’s all right. Calm down. It’s going to be all right.”

Charlie was gone the next day.

A year and a half later fate granted me a gift.

I took my daughter and her friend to a nearby waterpark. It was a perfect day for swimming, with a scorching sun and clear sky. As they played, I sat off to the side watching. My eyes strayed to a group of about ten kids with a young woman. I thought I recognized Charlie among them, looking more relaxed than I’d ever seen him.

I asked the woman, “Is that Charlie Elliott?”

“Yes,” she said. “We’re here for a summer camp field trip.”

“He was in my class last year. I never knew what happened after he left.”

“He has really nice foster parents.” She smiled. “He’s happy. They’re thinking of adopting.”

Charlie, floating on his back with his arms wide, smiled at the sky.


Here’s the judge’s feedback.

What the judges really liked about Charlie:


  • Solidly told story conveys huge emotions without lapsing into dramatic phrasing. The nonjudgmental narrative keeps tension higher than a “moral” stance would, while the narrator is up front about their own emotion. Prompt is incorporated solidly in a grouping of similarly structured phrases which sound natural in the writer’s voice.
  • The parallel structure surrounding the prompt’s inclusion is quite effective.
  • The tension built well early on. The series of four-word sentences work very well here.


Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • The ending is emotionally satisfying and of course one is happy for Charlie, but the essay has a chance to be impactful rather than just emotional by eliminating that ending and instead talking about the statistical outcomes of fosters – it would be interesting to see it told that way. A lot of sentences have a strong two-part division which creates an almost hesitant storytelling voice; the paragraphs and pace other than this are nicely varied, which makes it stand out even more.
  • Charlie’s sudden change at the story’s end feels unwarranted and a little too easy, and part of that stems from the abrupt shift in the narrative.
  • The part right before the ending felt abrupt – the reader needs something more. The epilogue does provide some closure, but feels a bit tacked on and neat in comparison to the feel of the rest of the essay.


Note: Names and minor details have been changed for confidentiality, but major events are true.

The Change

I had a major insight last week. I’m in old lady puberty.

I imagine you don’t believe me. Just hear me out.

Once upon a time I was a child. Then puberty hit with acne, greasy hair and a sleep shift. Parts of my body got wider, others got smaller, but I didn’t get much taller. My little girl’s body was transformed into a functional woman. Maybe not mentally, but when it was over I was physically a grown-up. It took me awhile, but I was comfortable in my own skin.

This round is not so different. I’m ending that period (so to speak) of child-bearing womanhood and entering my advancing years. Again, my body is changing to fit the role. Besides the sagging even in places that never would have occurred to me, I have the classic tummy that every fiftyish woman I know complains about. Who knew fat could migrate? My genes are allowing my hair to gray very slowly and the wrinkles to show up mainly around my eyes. This time around, my skin and hair are dry, but sleep is again an issue.

If I could adjust to the changes of adolescence, I’m betting I can do it again. After all, I’m short. So that means I’ll be a little old lady. I’ll bet at some point you looked at a little old lady and thought she was adorable. Hopefully it was out of affection and not belittlement, but either way, I’m going to say cuteness is a plus.

Think of it as metamorphosis. Childhood is like the egg, making adulthood the caterpillar. Guess who gets to be the butterfly?

More evidence that this transformation is happening is that wherever I go, there is widespread chivalry. Men leap to open doors for me. And not just men my age. Young men too. So it’s not my sex appeal here. Apparently, I look like I need help.

I’m not really helpless. I plan to head into my “golden years” active and vibrant. There’s nothing that says old people can’t be in shape. I already eat well. I just need to up my activity. But then puberty didn’t make me into a completely different person the first time.

I’ve known elderly women who were cheerful do-gooders, organizers of the community. Others were bitter snipes or skittish mice, everybody’s grandma or the life of the party. Each of them was just a stronger version of their more youthful selves. My out-spoken self is becoming more assertive with the years. I doubt my little old lady persona will be quiet.

As I enter this last third of my life, I’m much more self-aware and much less self-conscious than I was during the first transition. It’s good to be at a point in my life where I am secure in love, friendship, and self-assurance. I like knowing what I enjoy and what I’m happy to leave behind. This round of puberty may slow me down, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I have enjoyed every phase of my life, each one bringing new adventures, joy and challenges. This most recent phase was a good one, but bring on the transformation. It’s time for another change.

With Reason


My little brother wanted a pair of sandals. Our older sister warned him that none of his friends wore them and they would make fun of him. My mother took him shoe shopping and sure enough, he came home wearing a pair of blue leather sandals.

I was waiting on the porch when they got back. Looking at his blue clad feet, I laughed. “They’ll tease you.”

As he ran to take them off, my mother turned to me, her teeth clenched so tightly she could barely talk. “Think before you speak.”

The nuanced difference of prewarning versus post-laughing was lost on me, but her anger came through. This wasn’t the first or the last time my mom told me that. Sometimes it was said with a sigh. She probably said it daily when I was in my early teens and regularly challenging my dad. Eventually it sunk in.

It’s hardest to curb my tongue with those closest to me. My daughters say I’m brutally honest. But I’ve made progress.

I hear Mom’s voice as I speak to my students. As I stand before a kid who failed his assignment, disrupted the class, and got in a fight at recess, I barely bite back, “What’s wrong with you?”

Instead I take a deep breath. The consequences can come later. Right now, calm is needed. “What’s going on?”

I hear her clearly when I get ready to comment on social media. The post is so slanted I can’t believe anyone would buy it. Yet they have shared it with the rest of us. I want to scream, “Fake news!”

Instead I pause and hit Delete rather than Send and scroll past. Not worth it.

And some of the other things I see? Privacy settings and common sense go a long way. Think before you post. Advice for a new age.

My mother is gone now. I can guess how Mom would see the current political and social climate. In the five years since she died, millions of words have been written that give one side or the other support for what they already believe. It’s become strangely acceptable to shout your opinions, simply getting louder if someone disagrees. The answer to evidence that makes your guy look bad is dissemblance. “Oh yeah? Well, your group is worse,” is not elegant discourse. But I believe the spin masters do think before they speak. Their words are deceptive and hurtful by design, not by thoughtlessness. The rule is not infallible.

Our leader however is a different matter. What comes to his head seems to go straight to his tapping fingers. I know what Mom would say. If I could tell the president just one thing, it would be think before you tweet.



I entered Super Challenge #5 on This was my Round One piece and I made it to Round Two! The prompt was to write a personal essay about “a phrase that gets stuck in your head.” Here’s what the judges had to say about my piece.

What the judges really liked about With Reason:


  • My favorite scene is the sandal scene; it’s rich in emotion, detail, and it feels real. Well done.
  • You did a good job using the prompt in a consistent way throughout the piece.


Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • The essay ends abruptly, and when it veers from personal anecdotes, it seems to lose focus. This is especially true after the line “Advice for a new age.”
  • This essay would benefit from expanding on the detail especially with regard to that last paragraph which makes perfect sense in the context of the essay topic but just kind of lands there at the end with little tie in to what came before.

Plant Chat

This morning I read a Discover magazine article about plant communication and the first thing I wondered was what Mr. D would think of it.

Flashback 40+ years –

“My plants grow better when I talk to them,” my friend M asserted.

Mr. D pursed his lips and peered at her skeptically through his glasses. The eighth-grade enrichment class was called Anthropology and most of the time he kept us on the study of man. But occasional diversions were allowed.

A few of us came to M’s aid.

“Maybe it’s the carbon dioxide in her breath,” I suggested.

“Maybe it’s the vibrations from her voice,” another girl proposed.

Mr. D folded his arms. He said we could test our ideas tomorrow before class.

The next morning M brought in one of her plants and Mr. D, who taught high school chemistry the rest of the day, produced a galvanometer. He attached the two alligator clips to leaves and checked the gauge.

For several minutes three girls stood around the plant, saying whatever came into our heads. The needle didn’t move.

“It might not be a big enough effect,” he allowed. “Try yelling.”

We all started yelling in our high girlish voices. Still nothing.

Suddenly, Mr. D bellowed in his booming voice, “Come on, you ignoramus!”

And the needle twitched.


Now today I read that plants communicate, telling other plants things that they need to know. There is a drought coming. Look out for the aphids! Just like us, they are more likely to talk to family than strangers, recognizing the difference both chemically and with their light receptors. A Venus Flytrap can even count. Who knew?

There was nothing in the article about interspecies communication. Sadly, Mr. D is gone. But if he were still alive, I’d like to call him.

“Hey Mr. D,” I’d say. “How about another experiment?”