Empty and Barren. Full and Bountiful.

During a recent walk at the park, I stopped to stare at these trees, contemplating how the two different trees reflect people’s lives. Or, at least resemble differing seasons in their lives.

One person can be the empty, impoverished, stark tree – yet, they work, travel, parent and operate in the world alongside other trees whose lives are abounding in growth, bursting with color and fullness. Sometimes we are the depleted, defeated one…other times, we are full, complete, abundantly blessed.

Why do some lives flourish more than others? 

Similar to the photo below, I also considered how siblings on the same original “branch” veer off as twigs in different directions – one blossoming and succeeding, the other empty and dry.

While God is Sovereign and guides our lives, He gives us enough free will to create or destroy-grow or become stagnant-give up or persevere. Yet, there are those who devote just as much positive effort as the next person but hit concrete walls at every turn. Their circumstances are real and it’s discouraging.

I was standing at my kitchen island last week, across from a beloved person in my life. Our relationship is a curious one as he is the husband of my oldest step-sister. I refer to him as my brother-in-law, because he feels more like family than my blood relatives. He and my husband have become deep friends over the years, bonding over muscle cars (which someday I’ll have to post on this site). He loves to talk, is very relational and covers a variety of topics, including politics. We all love him.

He is battling serious cancer and yet, refuses to bemoan his circumstances. He’s not in denial but he is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen walk through this. He chooses to redirect his thoughts away from the non-stop challenges including his limp, pain, inability to taste or even eat much. I can’t adequately convey the heart-wrenching injustice of this homicidal disease. It rips the person’s dignity away when they are the most vulnerable… they want to be seen as whole when all people see are the physical signs of their illness.

As we caught up on each other’s week, my three 20-something kids gathered around the kitchen island with us. They began bantering with me, pulling food out, asking him questions, and then began a series of everyday, regular chit chat with each other. I looked over at my brother-in-law and saw his eyes following the kids. His eyes spoke before his words emerged, he again reminding me how blessed I am to have these three. Reminding me that our parenting challenges over the years were really nothing. Years ago, I might have thought catching one of them in a lie was Armageddon (strong indicator of how I am as a Mom), but looking back, my parenting-teen troubles were indeed little ones.

His only son has been battling addiction since he was a young teenager. He’s 30. Legal fees drained their savings more times than I can recall. My brother-in-law speaks more openly now than ever before, and I have glimpsed their parental sufferings in new ways. They too set out to be strong parents, worked hard to give their child a positive life and my heart is broken for their plagued family history. Through this barren land they have walked, they have built treasures in heaven. Despite their own parenting difficulties, they took in three different adolescent children over the years when the biological parents had issues. There was sacrifice involved that made my husband and I admire them. They gave up their own comfort to bless others – even those who may never appreciate the level of sacrifice to their daily life, marriage and finances. 

We used to flip pages of magazines once a month and wonder why the glossy good fortune, perfect genetics and posh vacations laid before us couldn’t be ours. We had 30 days in between deliveries to get over ourselves. Now, we scroll. Hourly for some. Every 2 minutes for most. Social media makes it easy to assume that others’ trees are flourishing while ours are not. People tend to indulge in the ‘what if’s’ or ‘if only’s’ as they scroll. For those of us at mid-life and beyond, we are better at laughing now than coveting. We’ve been through some life and know the reality vs. the fantasy. Most importantly, we trust that the depleting times are usually followed by new abundance. Perhaps not in the same ways we were previously accustomed to abundance, but blessed nonetheless.

If we are going through an empty, stark, unproductive or sad season, let us persevere as best we can in our weakened state-allowing God to be our strength. If we are presently experiencing ease, comfort and few worries, let’s count ourselves deeply blessed to possess a free, uncluttered mind for as long as it may last.

Could Libraries Make a Come Back?

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As someone who still loves to hold a hardcover book and turn paper pages, I can’t help but wonder if libraries could make a real comeback. Two situations have caused me to ponder this lately. 1) What today’s college students think is “research” makes me cringe when I’m grading papers. 2) Libraries offer more than good reads – including a sense of community that is hard to find anywhere else these days…not even at the local, trendy coffee shops – and believe me, I love a good, trendy coffee shop.

While libraries might be of interest to people, they have been losing business. A quiet place without air pods in their ears or an app on their phone equals boredom for most American youth. Adults increasingly have demanding careers. When not at work, parents are running with their kids. Too many senior citizens can’t afford to retire. Many people who previously loved the library just don’t have-or make-the time to go.

The bottom line: libraries are surviving, but not thriving. While we can blame our hectic lifestyles for a portion of this truth, technology is largely responsible.

By technology, I’m not just referring to kids being on their phones. It’s become too easy to turn on our smart tv’s and plop down. Households have multiple laptops, phones, desktops and iPads all under one roof – mine included.

In full disclosure, I give Amazon plenty of book business and once my kids hit high school, we rarely went to the library anymore. We all were in school, worked, or were on fields and in hockey rinks. Outside of my bible and textbooks for teaching, any other reading was a luxury I couldn’t afford for a few years. But, I still liked knowing my favorite local libraries were there if I wanted them.

I’m not a fan of The Atlantic, but I came across an article with this quote that summarized what many feel: “Americans love libraries. No, wait, scratch that. Americans love the idea that they love libraries. A new Pew survey published Tuesday finds that while people report feeling strongly about the importance of public libraries in their communities, those people are actually using libraries less and less.” 

That quote comes from the appropriately titled piece, Keep the Library, Lose the Books. The article caught my attention because I was fortunate to have visited the Trinity College Library in Dublin last summer and their photo looks like my photos below.

Prior to COVID, I started going to the library periodically and then, my 20-something kids tagged along if they were home. I wasn’t a regular attender, but after the first visit back in a long time, I was reacquainted with quiet. The loudness of life tends to overwhelm me, so the quiet was the main attraction when I stepped back into the spacious, book-lined rooms.

Soon, I rediscovered the joy of reading. There was no pressure to put down the book, jump on the laptop and do a little extra work like I would at home. Being in the library reminded me that reading is a worthy endeavor.

I lifted my eyes one Saturday afternoon to see young Moms and older Grandmas walking their precious toddlers into the library preschool readings. The animated book read was followed by a craft and snack. Advertisements invited children’s, teens and adults to unique workshops. There were interesting classes advertised for the upcoming weeks. Holiday decorating. Writing fiction. Knitting. There was something for everyone.

Arriving back home after my morning library inspiration, I settled into my online courses, wincing and grumbling about what my students use as sources when writing their “research” papers.

What we deem ‘research’ has vastly changed since I earned my degrees a couple decades ago. :Library of Congress:

Photo: Thomas Jefferson Building: Library of Congressthe largest library in the world.

Trinity College of Dublin-August 2019-my photos

Even though I’ve been in HR the last year, I still teach college courses online and in the 22 years of being in education, there has been an astounding turn regarding what’s acceptable to claim as ‘truth’. Everyone is an authority, particularly those the least “well-read”. Some students firmly believe that long-proven historical truths are myths. Arguments ensue as to whether or not the world is flat. However, nothing perplexes me more than what modern college students deem academic research.

The oldest to youngest students and all ages in between-think “credible” sources include Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Reddit, BoredPanda, etc. Good for the creators of (mostly) entertainment and opinion reading that keeps people attached to their screens, killing off their God-designated lifetime of hours by the clicks. These sites are making good money but students using such material as factual data is no longer comical.

It’s not only college students. Even those seeking facts about which new dishwasher to purchase or car or water filter click on the sites “reviewing” their proposed new dishwasher. Many reviews are accurate. Many more are not. When someone receives a new book from a publisher in exchange for their honest review, I tend to believe the review. When someone reviews 27 free beauty products and they all receive a 5-star rating, I’m skeptical.See the source imageWhen you’re honestly trying to find credible data about the new laptop you want to purchase, Google virtually never delivers the right, accurate or closest “hit” to your search bar words, even when you click “verbatim” seeking results. Except when words such as Macys, Kohls, etc., are typed in the search bar. In the old days, if you clicked page 7 of your search results, you might get close to real data about the laptop you originally typed in the search bar. Now, page 7 often delivers nearly the same content as the first results page.

What you get as your first thousand hits are the organizations who have paid to be in the results line-up or what Google has determined is best for you to read. We all know this. I just can’t get over that despite this public awareness, people still believe what Google tells them.

For the last few years, I’ve attempted to get students to at least use Googlescholar for projects and major research papers. Even this seems to be too much of a chore in a 300-level course. What general studies students are slowly realizing is that the libraries aren’t just for the medical and law students. They are becoming the only way to earn a grade above D in the higher-level courses. Sifting through the nonsense Google and Wikipedia spew out has actually become more time consuming for students and consumers alike, than learning how to use ProQuest and other databases at university online libraries such as Purdue University’s online library system.

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Photo: Robotic Book Retrieval System: Liberty University

While evaluating job candidates and employees’ social media has been common practice in the last five years, 10 or 15 years ago, people still believed their information was private, and posts and photos were forever deleted when the user deleted them. Even though we are finally holding congressional hearings with Google and Facebook questioning their silent take over of the online steering wheels, their manipulation of search results is far from new. Years ago, every text, snapchat photo or FB post was already being embedded in the CyberWorld.

I’m sure some of you have seen blatantly false information on highly professional looking websites. There will be little if any enforcement of cyber laws, even when a few are passed. The internet’s expanse far exceeds legal capabilities. Not to mention, the current technologies in Silicon Valley, in Seattle, etc., are years ahead of us.

Given a choice, most of us will still reach for a button before we reach for a book. Especially if that book requires a car ride. However, as a result of the utter discombobulation of internet research, people are frustrated when they really are attempting to locate “truth” or at minimum, historical data or current information that’s remotely accurate. Thus, maybe libraries can make a comeback – even if people choose online libraries, they will be more reliable than Wikipedia.

Wikipedia: “Wikipedia is a wiki, meaning anyone can edit almost any page…”

Wikipedia: “The goal of a Wikipedia article is to create a comprehensive and neutrally written summary of existing mainstream knowledge about a topic. Wikipedia does not publish original research.”

Click on images, links and red ink for sources. University of Dublin photos are my own.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Remote Work

Unless there is another extension here in New York, we’re expected to return to the physical premises of work on May 18th. While I have enjoyed many blessings during this time working from home, it will be good to return to the office. This is quite a statement because 1) I’m a Mama-domestic-type person at heart so I love all things home and family; and, 2) the small company I work for is an extremely stressful environment. I plan to leave in the near future.

Some things that I love are also on the hate list…just in a strange reversal in how I view these things!

See the source imageWhat I love about working from home…

  • Hands down, the best part of this bizarre historical time we have been chosen to live out is having a full nest. We all work together in the house, play so many card and board games, cook, bake and eat together like it’s been an extended Christmas vacation (where we also happen to be working). Ironically as I type this, it is snowing out my dining room window (yes, in May), so it really does continue to feel like Christmas vacation.
  • Working 20′ from the kitchen. I snack all day and drink as much water as I want without worrying who is noticing how many trips I make to the rest room!
  • Working the first hour or two in my pajamas, then switching to yoga pants and cozy, cotton tops.
  • No jewelry. No makeup. No hair coiffing.
  • No heels!
  • No nail polish.
  • The lack of a hard, set schedule.
  • The time I have saved by not primping myself, cleaning snow off my car and driving back and forth dealing with traffic is truly priceless.
  • The time I have saved by being able to avoid complainers has increased my productivity. At work, staff wander in and out of my office all day.

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What I hate about working from home…

  • I was one of the wiser ones at my place of employment who did not permit the owners to contact me after hours – until COVID. Now, the highly tense, always-anxious founders along with a variety of employees contact me not only throughout the work days, but at night and on the weekends. One of the Directors called me on Easter Sunday night!
  • I’m 20′ from the kitchen and I’ve gained 7 pounds. This truth has not stopped me from eating chocolate. Nor has the reality that in a week I need to be back in dress pants.
  • Most rooms have “the office” lingering from one or all of us. Papers, laptops, iPads, pens, notebooks and binders are ever-present throughout the house. We all tend to roam about, trying to get a different view during the day, then leave office remnants on tables and sofas. The decorative vases, photos and candles have all been removed or pushed aside throughout the house.
  • No defined schedule with a clearly marked beginning and end to work hours. I’ve worked more since shelter-in-place than I ever would at the office. The rest of my fam has it much easier with their employers and I thank God every day for that! (And that we have been blessed to remain employed-we are truly grateful.)

As we begin to find our way out of our homes, stepping into this new world, I’m likely not alone when I say that I’m happy to return to a few things from our former existence. At the top of my list is a boundary line between work and home. Yet, this time has also given most people a perspective that has changed us, even if only a little. For those of us still on this side of heaven, we’ve lived through something historic. Praise God.

 

And So She Flew….

This blog has been quiet lately, but my nest has not been. My just-turned-23-year-young daughter (one of the twins) landed the kind of job we’ve been praying for since graduation last May. I rejoiced alongside her four weeks ago that God answered our prayers BIG, but was stunned that the job was 7-states and 16-hours away (by car). Sigh.

I write the beginning of this post from the airport concourse, waiting for my flight back to the nest.

The last month has been slammed at work, then crazy at home with planning, packing and preparing. Now, this huge, life-altering event is behind us. The wheels of my return flight squeaked as they tucked under, making me want to tuck my own feet under me and squeak a bit about what a huge hole there will be in my nest…

I had finally adjusted to the bustling activity and non-stop-in-and-out of the twins returning home from university last May. Although my youngest is still away at her school, the nest was no longer a silent space. We were literally back to “Mommmmm!” at the bathroom door the second I started the shower. Whenever I felt annoyed at something, I mumbled thanks that my nest was alive with life.

My saver-daughter independently purged years worth of clothes and shoes, and thinned three giant bins of cards and notes into one. She even found her saved baby teeth and notes to the tooth fairy (“please leave my teeth and thank you”). Piles to be packed and donations to be given away were strewn throughout the house and her room.

Her room.

The Jonas Brothers. One Direction. Taylor Swift. All decorations from her youth were recently replaced with fresh paint, a new travel theme – complete with photographs of her many adventures in travel. She had wisely turned down a job a Boston a couple months ago and arrived back home ready to nestle in…accepting that it could be a lonnnnnng wait for the “right” opportunity. God has such a sense of humor.

Her and I had just hung the last of enlarged photos from her trips and our summer vacation in Scotland and Ireland when the interviews began with her current job. The room we just completed was quickly deconstructed with all the décor in boxes for her first apartment.

While the mess strewn everywhere, she began wrapping fragiles in what we wrapped her in 23 years ago in the hospital. All of us parents have these exact same, thin, worn wraps somewhere in our homes and it was too much for me when I saw them.

This baby girl is my independent one. We have a favorite family video of her loudly announcing at 2 1/2 years old, “I can do ittttt!” She did not want help. Her independence is part of her. While this is how she can go to a place where she knows zero people, this quality has also (somewhat) eased my Mama-pain over her departure from the nest.

Funny how she’s my most independent one, but she’s also the only one who still sleeps with the same “dollies” at 23 that she did at 2yrs old.

These near stuffing-less treasures went with her far away.

Though Google and Zuckerberg and Apple’s leadership were decades ahead of us in copying and saving our so-called “personal” data – long before society bothered to contemplate if snaps and posts and emails were being saved in massive data centers – and I really go off on a tangent about all of it :), I still embrace certain technologies that keep my babies and I connected. I wonder how I lived without Snapchat to show my kids something at a store. I’ve always refused to use FB despite the disappointment of my friends, but I spend plenty of time on FaceTime with my kids.

Even more than when the twins were at their universities and we talked every day, “live” technologies have officially become a greater blessing during my daughter’s first full week on the job. Snaps of her new office help me picture her there. Snaps of her food make me laugh since she loves to eat! FaceTime on lunch breaks and after work help us still “do life” together as much as we can with 7 states between us.

Though my independent one, she was quick to confirm that it would only be 7 weeks until I arrive for Easter weekend….”you are coming for Easter, right Mom?”

Well…who can say no to that invitation!?

“Mini Holidays” Help Us Celebrate Life and Keep Us Moving Forward

We tend to prioritize Christmas, Easter and Independence Day over holidays that we don’t get off work or school, such as the upcoming Valentine’s Day.

Rightly so. When we’re celebrating our country or our God, such holidays should take precedence.See the source imageAlthough many grumble about the so-called “Hallmark Holidays” – those that we spend on but keep working through – I fully embrace them. I’ll even put up a few decorations, albeit nothing like the winter wonderlands we all erect for Christmas. I like the little joys the mini-holidays bring.

I forgot this truth about myself as I grumpily walked through a store the week after Christmas.

Wandering the aisles on December 28th, I saw the line up of Valentine’s, a few Shamrocks and a couple of cotton tails. Although I admittedly grunted out loud because I couldn’t locate clearance Christmas wrap, I quickly shrugged off my silly disappointment and embraced the idea of moving forward.See the source image

Momentarily mesmerized by the glittery Valentine cards, I thought of my friend who we lost three years ago. The month before she met Jesus, she was talking about the trip we were about to go on together. It was her entire family of about 15 and us closest friends and our families, totaling around 27 for a week in the Outer Banks. As we finalized a few details, she looked at me solemnly and said, “I’m afraid that when we get back from this trip, I will decline rapidly…I’m looking forward to this but realistically, I probably won’t make it to Christmas.” She was thinking about the next big celebration. The anticipated vacation to North Carolina had kept her moving forward.

That was in June. She passed away in July, shortly after we all returned from that final trip together.

I don’t know why my mind goes to such deep places so quickly while merely rummaging through pretty things at a store🤔, but it gave me perspective. Retailers prematurely stocking shelves for holidays that don’t happen for months is a silly thing to grunt about. These little holidays keep us moving forward. Nothing wrong with spending a few short minutes staring at a sea of sparkling red in one aisle, green in the next and happy, fuzzy bunnies in the third aisle. We can enjoy a little pretty inside stores and our homes when the world outside is sometimes ugly.

I agree that the constant “too-early” merchandise displays are annoying and if we let them, they can rob us of living and enjoying the moment or truly, completely enjoying whatever holiday season it may be. I resist the retailers’ psychological ploy intended to create urgency that we “better get the stuff now” – 2 months ahead of time – when what we have stored in the basement is no doubt already more than we need.

However, I choose to buy candy hearts and expensive chocolates for my February 14th kitchen table, rejoicing that I have people to love and spoil. I put up shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and decorate for Easter with the holy reminders along with big, stuffed bunnies. Who doesn’t feel better after squishing a soft, cuddly bunny? 🙂

The Superbowl tomorrow, MLB kickoff in March, NHL playoffs after that…these too give our families reasons to gather and eat and celebrate life. Some may scoff, but if such celebrations bring a little joy amidst the mundane and routine, why not?See the source image

(Click on images for source(s).)