Tag Archives: inspiration

Best Laid Plans – Career

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I’ve spent a lot of time lately reevaluating where I am and what I want out of life.  What I want hasn’t changed much, but I have come to some conclusions.  I fully realize how close I am to having and creating the life I want.  I am so incredibly close.

Career –

So much revolves around my career.  I still intend to be a teacher, business owner, and writer – just not all at once.

My focus at the moment is teaching.  I am looking for a full-time teaching position for next year.  I don’t care much if it is Spanish, social studies, or business.  I already know how I’d set up my classroom and how I would organize, generally, my classes.  That is half the battle, right?

I also plan to look into teaching online.  While I don’t want to teach online my entire career, it might be a good way to get started.  There are so many possibilities at the moment.  I will land somewhere.

As for the canoe  livery, I am hoping Dad finally retires – or at least loosens up a bit.  I love the canoe livery – and it will always be a part of who I am.  I like where we are going.  I don’t know how much more we can change and grow until Dad retires.

I don’t want to lose sight of our primary business – rentals – and yet, I want to add to the experience.  Ultimately, we are in a pretty good place.  I am grateful that my brother Garrett (i.e. my future business partner) and I have similar ideas as to how we plan to expand the business.

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Then we come to writing.  My writing goals are long-term and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  The other day I had a phone conversation with a family friend I’ve known most, if not all, my life.  It involved the donation of a river trip.  She then told me how much she enjoys reading my blog.  Next, she asked if I planned to write for publication.

The question itself caught me slightly off-guard.  Yes, I do intend to pursue publication at some point, but not in the immediate future.  It isn’t that I am completely putting my writing on hold – in fact, I’ve been writing every day, just not for public consumption – I am not making a career out of it at this point.

I need time and space to hone my skills and let my vision evolve.  Over the years, it already has.  There are many smaller projects to work on in the meantime.  I have no shortage of inspiration – and that is a wonderful thing.  I love the fact that I can use Good Drive for my planning and have access wherever I go.

This post, borne out of the idea that it might be helpful to explore what I’d like my life to look like over the next few years, is a good example of how my brain works when I write.  One idea expands into something much larger.  Instead of one simple blog post, I now have a series of posts on my hands.

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Projects

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It is funny how projects just seem to pop up out of nowhere.  I will be writing various blog posts/articles for a couple of different sites.  One will be a series of post outlining what students, parents, and alums should know about study abroad.  They second will be on various topics relating to education and writing.  How perfect, right?

As for the study abroad articles, it is already leading me to a much larger project.  I took some time to outline various study abroad topics.  I don’t have a series of blog posts, I have a book.

At one time, I planned to start a blog relating to study abroad and student travel experiences.  Frankly, I am glad I didn’t get it off the ground.  I truly believe I have enough for a book – a collection of essays relating to all things study abroad and alternative spring break (ASB, now Alternative Spartan Breaks).  I need to get going on this!  It may serve as a template for other projects – including my dad’s hunting stories and my canoe livery adventures.

It is wonderful how one thing seems to lead to another.  I can’t wait to see where all of this will lead me.  I wish I could spend more time writing, but I must live my life too.  There is a constant tension between the two.

As I stated here, it is wonderful to feel validated when you least expect it.  The other day, I came across this article highlighting certain characteristics of writers.  All but one or two apply to me!  I can only hope to grow through all these new experiences.

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Why I Write

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Why do I write?  There are many reasons, but the best one I can think of is for my own peace of mind.  Over the last month or so, I have finally started writing daily – just for myself.  It grounds me in a way I can’t fully explain.

In addition to journaling daily, I also started using 750 words again.  There are rumors that Margaret Atwood mentioned 750 words in her masterclass on creative writing.  Personally, I love it.  I joined 750 words approximately two years ago, and I am finally starting to use it daily.  I use it to spill everything out onto the page, nothing more.  I let my mind wander and go from topic to topic.

Getting the garbage out of the way helps.  It doesn’t matter if I write in my traditional journal before or after I write my 750 words entry for the day.  I am much more focused.  When I sit down to write a blog post, I am not nearly as distracted by random thoughts.

Journaling, I only write approximately a page a day.  It isn’t 750 words, but I usually have something to say that is focused on my inner life or events going on that grab my attention.  I finally found a type and size of journal that works for me.

There is a difference writing on a laptop versus writing pen on paper.  I do both daily, no matter what type of writing.  For example, I may write a blog post during lunch or conference hour.  I then type, edit, and then post it when I get home.  Allowing myself some flexibility really helped.  I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write in 750 words or my journal every day.  I am beginning to feel “off” if don’t write at least something each day.

Margaret Atwood

It comes down to finding what worked for me.  I am in the middle of reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I love it – and I don’t want to rush it.  So far, I tend to agree with her.  There is a need to process whatever is on one’s mind before writing something for public consumption.  It doesn’t have to be done that way, but it tends to make the entire process easier.  Writing Down the Bones is a collection of essays on writing, and my favorite so far discusses the tools of the trade.  She talks about how we get all too caught up in fancy journals (so guilty, just ask my ex!) and being afraid of writing garbage in something so beautiful.  She makes the case for using cheap one-subject notebooks and just filling them.

This gave me the idea of decorating a binder and filling it with loose-leaf notebook paper.  It works like a charm!  If I completely screw up, I just start over.  I have something with a good aesthetic, but I am not worried about permanently wrecking a notebook.  For me, it is the best of all worlds, and this simple change made me much more productive.  Natalie stresses this principal throughout Writing Down the Bones:  Find what works for you.  I couldn’t agree more.  With my notebook, journal, laptop, Chromebook, and Android phone, I am set.  That isn’t to mention Google Docs, Google Drive, and 750 words.  I never have an excuse not to write or read.  More on Writing Down the Bones to come.

Girl at station

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Robert Service
Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.
It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.
Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.
I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!
As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

Great Alone

Place and Space

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The idea of place keeps coming up.  I never realized it before, but I have ordered my life around a certain geography, a certain space.  In my case, that would be my hometown of Omer, Michigan – Michigan’s smallest city.*  It expands to include my grandmother’s house (my current home), the canoe livery, my parents’ home (my home from ages 3-18), and the nearby city of Standish.  If I expanded my personal concept of place further, I would include Bay City, the nearest city of any size – the city where I spent a good share of my 20s – and Saginaw, home to both Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College, where I was recently a student.  There are several others not mentioned here, but currently, those I did name create much of my world.

Although I recognize the fact that the places mentioned above – and more – have helped to shape who I am today, none are nearly as important as the people, family and friends, who inhabit those spaces.  They, too, exist in a certain space in one’s life.  When a loved one passes away, those spaces can loom large.  Instead of filling those spaces, our lives expand to make new room for others as they come into their lives.

If I were asked to list my memories of the places I listed above, I wouldn’t know where to start.  I would be quickly overwhelmed.  Not only would those memories be tied to those spaces, they would certainly be tied to family and friends as well.  For example, each day as I ready myself for the day ahead, I think of Grandma when I look in the mirror.  As a child and teenager, I spent many hours waiting for her to “put on her face” before heading out on our next adventure.  I love and remember those little routines and moments that make up and take up so much of our lives.

I am blessed to have the ability to carve out a space for myself in various places so strongly associated with my childhood.  As a writer who ultimately plans to write creative non-fiction centered around her early life, including childhood, there is no place I’d rather be.  That isn’t to say that I don’t dream.

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I often fantasize about packing up and starting over on the west side of Michigan, near Grand Rapids, or in my wilder days, Austin, Texas.  The Grand Rapids area makes sense.  My sister and her family live in a small town called Hopkins, which happens to be situated between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.  My sister, her husband, and their two boys enjoy the best of all worlds.  They live in a small town and can take advantage of all it has to offer.  The benefits of suburban and even urban areas are still near.  Add in the facts that I have a lot of family on that side of the state and western Michigan is growing like crazy, I must give it serious consideration.

Then there is Austin.  I don’t know if I have ever fallen more deeply in love with a specific place.  Even though I only lived in Austin for six months back in 2002, those experiences left a huge hole in my heart.  In Austin, there were plenty of tech jobs to pursue at the time.  When not working, I had endless opportunities to check out live music venues and crazy art installations with friends.

Oh, and did I have great friends!  For the first time in my life, I felt as though my life had come together.  It took everything within me to drive home to Michigan to finish my degrees at Michigan State.  I had no choice.  I can still see the heavy fog and sleet – and feel the tears rolling down my cheeks as I left on that drab December day.

Even though I daydream about moving to Austin every now and then, it won’t happen.  I am too tied to Michigan – by birth, and by the people and places I love.  As much as I adore Texas – all of it – that is another story entirely.  The reality is that I am not going anywhere.  I am as much a part of my family, Omer, and the Rifle River as they are a part of me.  It is now time to claim the space for myself.

* Yes, I realize that technically Lake Angelus has a smaller population, but it is in Oakland county, near Detroit.  It is close to and surrounded by Metro Detroit.  There is no comparison.

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Book Review: “The Stage is on Fire” by Katie Steedly

The Stage is on Fire Book Cover

It isn’t often that a book comes along and grabs you by the jugular.  Katie Steedly’s The Stage is on Fire did just that.  At the same time, I’ve struggled to write this review in the weeks since I finished the book.  I related to and adored the first two-thirds of the book.  The last third left me angry and upset, which I will get to later.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, there are certain people I feel need to read the book, namely girls and women with Turner Syndrome.  Actually, I would recommend it to anyone struggling to find their place in the world.  That said, it is not for everyone.

Let me start with what’s working.  Almost immediately, Katie’s voice struck me as authentic and powerful.  She writes spirituality well, and never gives up on her quest to find her place in the world and create her own definition of home.  In the book, Katie details several moves across the country, her experiences in academia – good and bad, and her experience participating in the study of women and girls with Turner Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.  Turner Syndrome aside, I couldn’t help but relate to Katie throughout the book.

I am still in awe when I think of just how much Katie and I have in common.  We both taught at some point.  We are both writers.  Both of us have moved across country to pursue new opportunities and a new life.  In addition, both of us struggled with the idea of home and family at various times.  I could go on and on.  In the end, this is why I felt so disappointed in the ending.  It seemed to unnecessarily divide people.

There are several things that stood out and continue to stand out in the book.

  1. Her first teaching experience did not end well – hence the title of the book. Oh, I can relate.  In Katie’s case, she took the opportunity to further her education, eventually landing at the University of Texas in Austin.  She did what everyone needs to do when facing failure:  Get back up and try again.  She does this many, many times throughout the book, always seeking something more.
  2. She captures the journey to find our place in the world, peace, and meaning in life beautifully. I may not agree with her completely when it comes to religion, but I can fully relate to her need to explore what religion and spirituality mean to her.
  3. It took incredible courage for her to participate in the National Institute of Health study. It is much more intense and in depth than I ever dreamed.  Her description of what she felt emotionally while having an ultrasound knowing she will likely never experience pregnancy will stay with me.  I only wish I had written it.  Even though I experienced many of those same emotions as a child when I had an ultrasound, I wasn’t mature enough to fully express them at the time.  Now, as an adult, the fact that those feelings have been so beautifully put into words is a true gift.
  4. Did I mention courage? During her time in Austin, Katie decided to walk/jog a marathon.  A marathon.  Prior to this, there is not much mention of any athletics in the book on her part.  She is much more interested in drama, writing, and education.  Yet, she did it.  She accomplished the goal she set for herself, even if it was out of her element.

Oh, and dating.  It is worth mentioning.  Katie is far more adventurous in the dating  world than I will ever be.  At the time, she had yet to meet the right man.  I get the impression that that may have changed.  Her determination to not give up on love is inspirational – and something I desperately needed to read.

There is so much more in the book, but I will leave it for readers to discover.  It is important to note that the book is written as a series of essays.  I believe they are largely in chronological order.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much.  Katie clearly grows throughout the entire book, as does her definition of home.  It may seem to be a small point, but I wish the formatting of the Kindle edition included a full title page between essays.  Instead, they include small titles similar to chapter titles at the very top of the page.  In fact, in writing this review, I had to check my Kindle version to see if each essay included a title at all. Each essay stands alone so beautifully, it is a shame that this feature of the book isn’t more prominently displayed.

Now to discuss what isn’t working.  Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the last third of the book at all.  I almost put it down.  It became far too political for my tastes.  It is one thing to pick up a book on politics, knowing what you are about to read, it is quite another to dive in head first after reading a seemingly different book in the beginning.  I get why she wrote about politics.  It became an important part of her life at that point in time.  I don’t believe it was handled very well.  I left feeling as though she couldn’t even begin to understand anyone who didn’t agree with her politically, which is truly unfortunate.  No one has a monopoly on political truth.  No one.  I wish it had been handled with more care and less judgement.  I get the feeling that Katie would be the last person to think of herself as judgmental, but that is how the political aspect of the book comes across, whether that was her intention or not.

Politics aside, I am happy I read the book.  I am grateful that Katie can connect emotionally with people through her writing.  Her writing is just beginning to teach me how to express what I thought impossible.  For that, I am truly grateful.  I love the fact that I can annotate and highlight my Kindle version of The Stage is on Fire.  I will be coming back to it as I continue to write.  You can find her website and blog here.

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Grace’s Table

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about Grace’s Table, but it has made a lasting impression.  My sister, Erica Wolbrink, met Lisa Anderson and became involved with Grace’s Table not too long ago.  It is through Erica that I learned all about Grace’s Table’s mission to help provide young moms with space to grow personally – spiritually, professionally, and as mothers.  Ever since I first heard about Grace’s Table’s mission, it stuck with me and captured my imagination – even though I have never experienced Grace’s Table in person.  I could never quite figure out why, until recently.

As I began participating in Grace’s Table’s latest social media campaign, I thought about why I feel so drawn to Grace’s Table’s mission.  It finally hit me.  As a single woman approaching 40 preparing to adopt and become a single mom, I can only begin to imagine what young moms feel at age 15 or even 20.  Parenting is hard enough; it is infinitely harder when trying to figure out your own identity, often in the face of limited resources and support.

I am blessed.  I have a wonderful education, bright career prospects, a home, and reliable transportation.  I am surrounded by friends and family who support and love me unconditionally.  Even though I am not yet a mom, I know where I will send my children to day-care and later school.  I have a fully-developed support systems, resources, and options.  And I am still scared.

I can’t imagine facing parenthood in the middle of adolescence or even in young adulthood.  As a secondary teacher, I fully understand that adolescence and young adulthood is a time of discovering one’s identity.  That self-discovery requires space and support.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what many young mothers lack just when they need it most.  Grace’s Table is seeking to provide that space and support for young mothers in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I invite you join me in learning more about Grace’s Table, their mission, and what space for grace is all about.

Grace’s Table – Growth

#spaceforgrace