Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Busyness of Business

Grandma and ME (2)

Grandma Reid and me – Michigan State University – 2000

Nothing compares to spring in Omer. In the middle of all the mud, daily extreme temperature swings, the rain and snow, not to mention the annual Sucker run, my family and I start gearing up for the busy summer ahead. The canoe livery will always be a part of my life, and as my parents prepare to retire, I can say I am finally starting to make it my own. Our Facebook pages, website, and our new online reservation system all represent years of hard work on my part. Slowly my brother and I are taking on more and more responsibility.

This year, for many personal reasons, I am looking forward to this summer. For the first time in a long time, I have a clearer vision of what I need to do. Writing will take its place alongside all my canoe livery responsibilities. In the meantime, I am working as a long-term substitute teacher until the end of the school year. Last week I transitioned from subbing in a different classroom every day to taking on the responsibility of finishing out the school year in a 4th grade classroom. Just as I eased into a routine with my writing, I need to readjust. In June, I will have to do it again. Please stay with me as I try to figure out a good schedule here.

On a personal level, it has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be happy unless education (teaching), business (the canoe livery), and writing were a part of my life. I need all three. When I received my teacher certification testing results for the business, management, and technology subject area, I felt anger. It clearly showed I should have never doubted myself when it comes to my business education. Of the three tests I took for my teaching certificate, I scored highest on the business exam. All areas of the test.

Yet, I did doubt myself when my business career hit a brick wall in 2005. So many things happened at a result that I took a good long look at what I truly wanted to do with my life. Thanks to that reevaluation of my career, I eventually earned my teaching certificate and my general writing certificate. Now, after all these years, I work every day making it all fit together. I simply ask that you stay with me. I will figure this out.

More than anything, I am proud of the family business my grandparents and parents built over the years. This summer represents 60 years in business. I grew up working not only with my parents, but my grandparents as well – especially Grandma Reid (Dad’s mom, pictured above). She, and my parents, taught me so much about business, customer service, and hard work growing up. Several years ago now, I asked Grandma what Grandpa Russell (Dad’s father, who started the canoe livery and passed away decades ago) would think of the canoe livery today. She didn’t quite know what to say. Now I wonder what she would think of the changes we’ve made.

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Book Club

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Read It Forward – 13 Reasons Why Book Clubs Are Saving the World

What is it about a book club that makes it so irresistible? Personally, I believe it is the structured discussion of a set topic. It is nice, neat, orderly; we all know exactly what to expect. And yet, we don’t. Book club discussions often lead to interesting places. I’ve formally been a member of a book for the last five years. During that time, I’ve read books I never would have picked up otherwise and had discussions I never dreamed I would have all thanks to book club.

The Standish-Sterling Book Club, however, is not my first. I like to think that Grandma Buttrick and I had our own little book club of two for a few years. Every time I visited, usually weekly, she never failed to ask me what I was reading. I loved sitting with her in the den, cold drinks in hand, talking books. I clearly remember both of us reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books and discussing them at length. Even when poor eyesight and memory issues made reading difficult for her, she still loved to talk books. I wouldn’t leave until I told her about the latest book I read.

When Grandma passed away in 2014, I saw it as no coincidence that I soon discovered the Standish-Sterling Book Club. The fact that they were discussing The Fault in Our Stars at the time captured my imagination. I’d read it as well, and due to the loss of an old childhood friend, that book will stay with me for the rest of my life. I wrote about the connection here and even quoted part of the book. On some level, I like to think that Grandma knows all about book club and that our family still shares books.

Regardless, book club will always be a part of my life, even if one day I must start one myself. I get too much out of it – as a reader, a writer, and a human being. This article nails it when it comes to the importance of book clubs and their resurgence. I hope the trend continues. I don’t see myself giving up book club any time soon. I enjoy it far too much.

As a teacher, I wish I could impart my love of books on all students. I truly believe that everyone can learn to love reading. Those who supposedly hate reading just haven’t found the right books yet – or they equate reading with reading in school. In school, students often have little or no choice as to reading material – although that is changing for the better and one of many reasons why I love Donnalyn Miller’s work. You can find more information on her work here. She stresses how important it is for teachers to help students discover good books and learn how to make solid reading choices on their own. I hope one day book clubs – and more importantly, the love of reading – will become so pervasive that students will want to create their own. There is so much to be gained through reading and too many good books to allow a hatred of reading to grow.

The Fault in Our Stars

I’m a Fighter Not a Lover

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“I’m a fighter not a lover.” Well, that isn’t the case – I’m both, which I will get to in a minute – but there is a story behind this twisted saying that I wanted to share. It’s been on my mind lately. When Grandma Reid passed away in January 2017, an old childhood friend stopped by the funeral home to pay her respects. The two of us grew up together, and she worked with me and Grandma at the canoe livery for a summer or two. As we talked about Grandma, Melanie told me a story about her I’d never heard before. According to Mel, Grandma once said “I’m a fighter not a lover.” It struck Mel as so funny and out of character that she remembered it all those years later and thought to tell me. Knowing Grandma, a slip of the tongue became a memorable line.

What strikes me so funny and makes the entire thing so memorable is that I can easily see it going either way. It wouldn’t surprise me If Grandma intended to say she’s a fighter just to get a rise out of someone. She could tease mercilessly. Anyone who knew her knows she loved everyone. I am heavily biased, of course, but I cannot remember one instance in which she picked a fight. Instead, she loved on kids of all ages. Whether it putt-putt golf, a movie, or a trip to the mall arcade, she included everyone.

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But Grandma did fight too. She stuck up for herself when needed and forged her way as a business woman at a time when most women stayed at home. I consider that fighting. Some of her best advice included stick up for yourself. I think that is why this comes to mind now.

In fact, if I think about it for a minute, I can take it one step further: All of us – every one of us – needs to fight for the life we want to live. We need to fight for happiness and what we want out of life. I continue to struggle doing just that, but I am fighting. As much as I would love to give up, I won’t. I am made of sterner stuff – and I am far too stubborn.

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Columbine: Before and After

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Just over twenty years ago, school changed forever – April 20th, 1999 to be exact. Prior to that date, school shootings simply did not happen – or at least not with the frequency they do now. I am old enough to remember life before Columbine. In fact, the spring of 1999 marked the last semester of my senior year of high school. In that pre-Columbine world, we did not have active shooter or lockdown drills. School doors were not always locked. In fact, even during my early high school years at the rural Michigan high school I attended, boys and girls who loved to hunt and had their own vehicles could lock their rifles in their trucks during deer season. It is not an exaggeration to say that I grew up and attended school in a different world.

This became frighteningly clear to me when I began substitute teaching several years ago. In fact, one experience put it all in perspective. As a substitute teacher, I’ve experienced countless fire, tornado, and lockdown drills. One, however, left me speechless. Subbing for a middle school music teacher in a suburban school district, the lockdown drill itself proved uneventful. However, the conversation I overheard between two young female students as we resumed class left me gutted. The conversation itself appeared casual enough. They were recalling some funny incident that took place during a lockdown drill years ago in 1st grade and laughing about it all over again as only 6th grade girls can. That simple fact – that the students before me, now middle schoolers, never knew school life before lockdown drills – stays with me. They know nothing else.

When I was in 1st grade, my biggest worries were getting picked last in gym class and deciding what to play during recess. Books, learning to read well, drawing and writing, and play all made up my world in 1st grade. Lockdown drills and the thought that someone would want to harm me and my classmates at school never crossed my mind or the mind of anyone else for that matter. When did everything change so drastically? Personally, I believe things began to change April 20th, 1999.

Not all the changes are negative. I do think there is a heightened awareness of the effects bullying can have on anyone. I also believe students today have many more opportunities at all levels than they did twenty or thirty years ago – as it should be.

And then there is kindness. When I first started subbing at my alma mater, Standish-Sterling Central High School, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I continue to be pleasantly surprised. Daily I witness a genuine kindness among students that I found largely lacking during my school years. There appears to be a greater awareness of personal differences of all types. Does that mean bullying doesn’t exist? No. In fact, social media adds a whole new factor into the equation – and it isn’t pretty. Despite that fact, I find students today more accepting and more willing to entertain new ideas. That may not be the case everywhere, but I see it enough in a variety of school settings that I have hope for this generation.

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Libraries

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Palaces for the People – 99% Invisible

If you love libraries and haven’t checked out this podcast yet, you need to do so.  Personally, I believe libraries are more important than ever.

I’m not quite sure when I first fell in love with libraries, but it did happen at an early age. In kindergarten and first grade, I remember Mrs. Mosley, the Sterling Elementary librarian with a wonderful British accent and the personality of everyone’s favorite grandmother, reading books such as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day aloud.  What’s not to like?

As I grew older, I devoured mysteries, especially the Nancy Drew series.  In second and third grade, I scoured the shelves for ghost stories and the latest Choose Your Own Adventure book.  Time spent browsing the library shelves are among my favorite memories of my years at Sterling Elementary.

My love of libraries and reading grew as I grew.  In junior high and high school, I started my day off in the library readying myself for the day or reading.  Later in high school, that same school library served as workplace as I tutored younger students after school.  Now as a teacher, I still believe that school libraries are a crucial part of the fabric of any school.

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Of course, the same is true – or maybe even more true – of community libraries.  Whenever I need a quiet place to work without the distraction of everything I need to do at home, I head to the library.  College libraries such as the library at Delta College or Saginaw Valley State University are among my favorites.  Smaller community libraries have so much to offer.  For example, Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc. meets in the community room of the West Branch Public LibraryHuron Shores Genealogical Society (HSGS) has its own room at the Robert J. Parks Library in Oscoda.  In fact, HSGS hosts their fall and spring programs at the library too.  Where else could such groups meet publicly?

In rural communities, libraries, and to a certain extent schools, are often the only places where people can come together freely.  Personally, I love reading and writing in independent coffee shops and cafes, but I always order something.  Even book stores eventually expect you to purchase something.  Businesses count on it.  Libraries are one place where everyone is welcome and there is space to just be.

There is a great case to be made that libraries are an important part of our social infrastructure.  The idea didn’t even cross my mind until I discovered this podcast.  You can listen here.

Not long ago, many felt that libraries were becoming obsolete.  I understand the thinking behind that statement; however, just a simple glimpse beneath the surface would prove the exact opposite.  Libraries are needed now more than ever.

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Writing Unleashed

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I’ve discovered so many great books and resources on writing lately.  I would share them with you here, but there are too many.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to share them here separately, such as my post yesterday on Scrivener.  That way, they can all be linked via tags. Also, I do plan to write a few pieces for other blogs covering similar topics, so stay tuned.  As soon as they are published, I will link them here.

So why am I so fascinated with discovering new books on writing and writing tools? Well, I am continually seeking to become a better writer.  That is why I write.  I do have something to say, and when I finally start working seriously on something for publication, I want to be the best that I can be.

So, here is what I have learned so far:

  1. Famous books on writing are famous for a reason.  They are worth your time.  I have yet to be disappointed.  If you are looking for a place to start, this list should do it.  I am slowly working my way through it.  There is always something to learn.
  2. The online writing tools out there today offer something for every type of writer.  Do your research and choose wisely.  So many great things to try out!  It might take you some time to figure out what works for you, and that’s OK.  If something isn’t working well, see if you can find something better.
  3. It is fun helping others who love to write.  Seriously, I love to help, and it is great motivation for me to keep going.  If someone discovers 750 words, Scrivener, or On Writing by Stephen King thanks to my recommendation, all the better.  There is room for everyone.  My ideas are not your ideas, etc.  That, for me, is the beauty of any art.
  4. Writing groups – and critique groups in particular – are invaluable.  Any feedback I get from Mid-Michigan Writers is great.  Even if I decide not to use it, it alerts me to other ways of viewing my work.  As writers, we are too close to our own work.  No matter how perfect a piece may seem, there is always room for improvement.  Just being around other writers and discussing all things writing is priceless.
  5. There is always something else to learn.  This goes along with the fact that all writing – and I do mean all – can be improved.  Start with your interests and see where it takes you. If you get stuck, start researching, whether subject or genre.  It doesn’t matter much.  See what else is out there.  You will discover something.

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The more I learn about writing, the more I wish ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum spent more time on creative writing.  Plenty of instruction on how to nail those high school and college essays, but little in the way of creative writing instruction.  It is true now, and it was true twenty or even fifty years ago.  If writing were a separate subject in the high school curriculum, that certainly would have been my focus.  Sadly, creative writing courses are only offered at the college level (usually) – and many college students can’t find a way to fit it in due to either lack of time and/or money.  Notice I did not say lack of interest.

I only had the opportunity to pursue a general writing certificate program at the community college level due to the fact that I learned about the program thanks to a writing workshop and the fact that I was already taking classes there for my teaching certificate.  I loved my experience, and in some ways, I wish I could go back and complete some assignments as a more seasoned writer – my portfolio for one class in particular.  I know I’ve grown as a writer; I also realize I have a long way to go.

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Scrivener

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It is no secret that I am my own worst enemy at times. OK, most of the time. Lately, I’ve been spending time thinking of ways to write more efficiently and better organize my work. I keep coming back to Scrivener. I took the time to learn it a few years ago, and I loved it. The issue became I didn’t keep using it. I’m not exactly sure why I quit, but I did. Well, I am getting back into the habit again. It offers a variety of ways to organize all of my work.

In a recent post, I stated that Scrivener is the closest thing writers have to a digital studio. I firmly believe this. It is so versatile it can accommodate any form of writing and any organizational method. You get to create templates and forms to use for the type of writing you do most. There are preset options that include fiction and non-fiction, as well as a handful of specialty options. It may take me some time, but I am going to relearn Scrivener and start using it on a daily basis again. I owe it to myself. It makes back-end organization that much easier.

Is it worth the initial investment of time and money? For me, the answer is unequivocally yes. I took the time to go through the extensive in-program tutorial: a definite must if you want to make the learning curve a little shorter. Besides, there is humor built in. If you choose not to go through the tutorial, you may miss out on a lot of great features. In fact, I believe that is how people become overwhelmed. Scrivener is truly built for writers by writers. That means that it allows you to slice, dice, organize, and label all materials to your hearts content. Just remember that as a writer, no one is forcing you to use all the features at once. Out of all the writing software I’ve come across over the years, Scrivener continues to stand out. I see no need for anything else.

Then again, there are a lot of fun online platforms out there. At least that is one thing we have going for us as writers: our tools. I love the fact that there are so many great writing tools out there for little or even no cost. In fact, there are so many that it takes time to figure out what works best for the way you work. Only now, after years of trial and error, am I beginning to find a process that works best for me. Hopefully, it will get me where I need to go. It is worth it to take the time to figure out how you work best as a writer. There may be several stops and starts, but each time, it becomes easier than the last. Eventually, your process starts to emerge. No matter what your process may be – or your genre – there is a place for Scrivener.

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