Some people don’t like him at all. They say he’s too loud and that he asks too many personal questions. Others love him and vow to follow his guidelines to financial freedom. I’m referring to Dave Ramsey, financial guru whose creed is “Be debt free.”

Personally, I like him. At least I like listening to his podcasts. At the moment, I’m not gung-ho enough to take the course or buy the books. I’m happy listening and taking baby steps. For instance, I’m totally into the debt snowball, so I’m paying off my car and then using that $411 per month to add to a house payment.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to convince you to become debt-free. Its purpose is to share Ramsey’s ideas about goal setting. I’ve been reading and teaching about how to set goals for decades, and I’ve practicing a little of what I’ve been teaching too. But Ramsey’s ideas and the way he presented them on a recent podcast really spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I needed a reminder. Or maybe I just like his direct, “pull no punches” personality and style.

Without further ado, here are the seven areas for goal setting:

  1. Financial
  2. Physical
  3. Social
  4. Family
  5. Career
  6. Spiritual
  7. Intellectual

Easy so far, right? I thought so too. For the first one, I decided that I wanted to save more money and that for the physical goal I’d drink more water or something. All was well and good until Ramsey elaborated on the seven areas by telling his listeners about the criteria each goal must meet.

Because of the time element (working on spiritual goals at church soon), I’m merely going to list the criteria and will elaborate later. In the meantime, maybe you can start thinking of some things you want to accomplish.

Each goal must be:

Specific. It’s not enough for me to say that I want to save some money. How much?

Measurable. Saying, “I think I’ll add a few dollars to my car payment each month” is not measurable. How many dollars?

Yours. You own it. Not your mama. I especially like this one. I want to be a more prudent and provident person because I want to, not because others are pushing me to.

Time-based. Saying, “I’m gonna pay this car off as soon as I can,” is a pitiful goal. “I’m going to pay my car off by this summer” gives the goal more punch and certainty.

Written down. Love this one. If you don’t write it down, it’s an idea, a dream. I’ve always known this, but the way Ramsey elaborated on it drove the point home.

Throughout the podcast, Ramsey threw in little extras that are right up my psychological alley. For example, he talked about how some people give up too easily and act like victims. “Don’t be a wussified victim,” he exclaimed.

And then, there’s that part near the end when he told his listeners, “You don’t win by accident.” No one wins a Grammy by accident. No one wins an Olympic medal and wonders, “Gee, how’d that happen?” I know that’s common sense, but as Voltaire reportedly said, “Common sense is not so common.”

I often see people who are spinning their wheels and wondering, “Why can’t I have a decent job, a degree, peace of mind, well-behaved children, or good health?” As Ramsey reiterated a couple of times, those things aren’t accidental. You need a plan. I need a plan too.

What about you? Which one of the seven areas appeals most to you?

My mother taught me everything I need to know about weight control. Notice that I said “me.” What works for me might not work for you if you have issues like thyroid problems or a slow metabolism. Her lessons can be summed up in the words I see at Scott Park: Eat less, move more.

When I was about twelve, I was helping my mother clear the table after a scrumptious Sunday dinner. Although I don’t recall the main course, I know it was Good with a capital G because Marjorie Ann was an excellent cook. I do, however, remember the dessert, cherry pie with ice cream on top. I LOVE cherry pie and can still taste the tart, yet sweet, flavor of those dark red cherries. And that dollop of vanilla ice cream was literally the “icing on the cake.”

“I want another piece of pie,” I told my busy mother.

“Do you really need another piece?” she asked.

While I was wondering what need had to do with it, she sweetly told me that that’s how people got fat—eating seconds, especially of desserts. Although I was probably about the skinniest kid in the sixth grade, her words hit home. No, I didn’t want to get fat, and if cherry pie was going to do that to me, then no thanks.

When I was a child, we lived in a small house, and truthfully, I remember as much or more about the yard than the house because my mother often said, “Go outside and play.” And play we did. I recall some bushes behind the house that we used to jump around in and shriek, “Murder below!” Why we said that, I’m not sure. In the summertime, we stayed out so late that we collected jars of lightning bugs and then punched holes in the jar lids, hoping to keep the tiny fireflies alive.

Years later, I rarely eat more than one piece of pie or anything else. I don’t trust myself with cherry pie, however, so I don’t even purchase it. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve also learned that there is a direct correlation between what a person ingests and how she feels. Too much mac and cheese makes me feel sluggish; apples make me feel light and energetic. Soft drinks make me feel bloated; water makes me feel “fine.” Too much food makes me feel nauseated and overly full; just the right amount makes me feel satisfied but not uncomfortable.

About playing outside, while I don’t play in the bushes behind our house or stay out to collect lightning bugs, I do spend some time outside each day. Unless there’s a blizzard, a torrential rain, or 100 degree temperatures, I’m going for a walk. Whether 20 minutes or two hours, I go outside to play. Naturally, there are other exceptions such as traveling or sickness.

As an aside, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That seems like a lot when you first read it, but it’s only thirty minutes a day, five days a week. Some health professionals recommend breaking it into fifteen minutes twice a day if you don’t have thirty minutes.

Walking’s not for everyone. I like it because I don’t have to have any special equipment, join a team, or have a set schedule or location. I’ve walked in places where cars don’t go and seen things I’d have missed if I’d been cruising along in a car or riding a bike. At the same time, if biking, working out, doing yoga, dancing, swimming, or some other type of movement works best for you, then that’s what you should do.

For me, however, walking it is. As a “non-athlete” (something my husband reminds me of on a regular basis), it’s a type of exercise I can actually do without having to worry about coordination, speed, or team spirit. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who walks with a walker, and she’s my current role model. “Just do it,” her actions proclaim.

I’d write more, but I need to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement. I hope you don’t interpret this blog as being preachy. I’m just trying to prolong your life, boost your spirits (exercise elevates mood), and improve your health, both mental and physical.

What’s your favorite form of exercise? And what about your weight loss strategies?

 

Anyone who knows me knows that whenever possible, I like to get up early to read, write, meditate, and listen to the world wake up. “Whenever possible” means when I’m not traveling with other people and when I don’t have a houseful of company. I like both of those scenarios, but they don’t work well for quiet time.

This morning, I decided to use a writing prompt and just go with whatever the first one was instead of sifting through them in hopes of getting something that grabbed me. I came across this one from January 5 of last year: Call Me Ishmael. “Take the first sentence from your favorite book and make it the first sentence of your post.”

I’m not sure whether it’s because it was Sunday morning and I had church on my mind or what, but here’s what came to mind immediately: “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents….” Those are the first few words from the Book of Mormon, and they apply so well to my situation.

I don’t know how or why I got so lucky, but I had some amazing parents. They were young and in love and probably felt slapped silly at the quick and relentless toll that children can take on a person. Being young helped because they had energy, but still, what a life changer children can be! They worked hard, they sacrificed, they were honest, they set good examples, they believed in the value of education, and they loved us. Just about any and everything the church (LDS) stands for, so did they. All those years they were preparing me to become a Mormon, and they didn’t even know it. In fact, they might have been horrified to imagine it.

I won’t go overboard and risk turning people off, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Here’s what I believe in a nutshell: I believe in God the Eternal father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. I believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from ancient plates; there is no other explanation. I believe in the Bible and sometimes get a little amused by people who think it’s a sappy or sentimental book…do they even know what’s in it?

We recently went to see Exodus, and just the plagues were horrific!! And then there’s murder and betrayal and polygamy and bloodshed and incest and all sorts of unfortunate situations, especially throughout the Old Testament. We’re studying the New Testament this year, and Lisa has gotten us off to a good start. An excellent teacher, she’s planted a seed in her class members to follow Christ’s example and “love one another.”

It took me a long time to make the decision to join the church, but once I did, there was no turning back. I still feel that it’s the smartest decision I ever made, especially for my children because it affects all of us, now and forever. It’s a little thing but a cool one to visit other wards and walk by the Primary room on my way out and see the children and their leaders getting ready for sharing time. It’s wonderful knowing that five of my grandchildren went to Primary in the Camden ward a couple of weeks ago and felt welcomed and at ease.

I’ve already passed my 500-word limit so I’ll end with a few of the things I love about the church: the music, the lingo, the teachings, the reverence, the leadership, the love. Yes, the love and the feeling of unity and closeness that I share with my church friends.

And about the teachings, I can say, “Things will work out,” to my children and grandchildren, but somehow it carries more weight to remind them that President Hinckley used to say it too. I can say, “You can do it!” but the Young Women’s theme of a couple of years ago, “I can do hard things,” is more meaningful. It was uplifting to see these five words written in crayon and framed in my daughter Carrie’s home last week—in three different bedrooms.

And all of this came to pass in my life, I think, because of my goodly parents.

 

 

 

 

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Love that place! There’s so much history there that I could go on and on about it, but I won’t, mainly because there’s no way I could do it justice. It’s a haunting site, one you need to visit for yourself to truly perceive. According to what I learned there, over 16 million people came into the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

I was a little surprised to read of so much hatred and prejudice that existed towards anyone who was “different.” The realization/reminder seems ironic when I think of the millions of people here in America who are enraged about the immigration policies of the nation. From what I learned at the immigration center, many of those angry folks have ancestors who were unwanted and undesirable at some point, especially if they were from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The exhibits at the immigration center are spectacular, not in a flashy way but in a heart-touching way.  Standing in the Great Hall and imagining the thousands of people who came through that spot each day was a mind-boggling experience for this American gal who’s never heard, “Get out! You don’t belong here.” According to what I read, a team of officials stood at the top of the steps watching those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and had about only a few seconds to make a decision. Would the immigrant be processed right away, detained, or sent back to their country of origin?

Here’s a quote I photographed from an exhibit. “Disturbed only by the sound of a pigeon’s wings, I heard the voices of the millions of people who came through here, building a temple with their highest joys and deepest sorrows-men, women and children who made it through to a new life, or who died straining to look through a dusty mirror at what they knew they could not possess.” Eleni Mylonas

After a couple of hours, we reluctantly got back on the ferry and headed for Battery Park. On the way to the subway, we bought chicken kabobs and devoured them on the way to the subway. They were so good!! Even now, I can taste the hot, savory, almost-charcoaled flavor of the meat, onions, and peppers. We had watched the man press the small bite-sized pieces of chicken while they sizzled, and  eating the kabob while walking was heightened by that experience.

As we approached our stop, we wondered aloud how we’d know when to get off. Fortunately for us, a young Asian angel appeared seemingly out of nowhere and came to our rescue. A lawyer who had recently passed the bar, she too was headed to midtown. “Home of the brave and land of the free,” I thought with pleasure and relief.

We rendezvoused with Elizabeth and Allyson who had spent the day visiting Rockefeller Center and other downtown sights before taking the subway to Canal Street. They dined in Little Italy and then made some purchases a street or two over. Love my knock-off UGGs!

Purchases and overnight bags in tow, we climbed into a van for our trip to LaGuardia. Although we each had our individual thoughts, perceptions, and memories, we all agreed on this: The hustle and bustle, the diversity, the energy, the lights, the culture, the museums, the kiosks, and the bridges will continue to beckon us back for another visit.

Next time………

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Brrrr. Sunday morning was cold. I woke up first and quickly showered and went down for breakfast before anyone else was stirring about. Say what you will about the Comfort Inn. Their waffles, especially the chocolate ones, are yummy. In this particular establishment, there was a gentleman standing ready to pour, cook, and put them on a plate for you. Nice. I got my waffle and perched on a stool overlooking the other diners and providing a nice view of  44th Street.

Before long, the other members of our little troupe were up and ready to hit the streets and avenues. We took a few pictures and then parted company for a few hours. The younger set went to Rockefeller Center and Little Italy, and the rest of us went to Liberty Island and Ellis Islands. While part of me would have liked to see THE TREE and then look for bargains in Little Italy and China Town, I wanted to immerse myself in the spirit that surrounds that Lady in the Harbor more.

The four of us got directions to the nearest subway stop two blocks away and rode the subway all the way to the Rector Street stop. Regardless of what you’ve heard, New Yorkers are helpful. I’m not saying they’re as warm and open as some people in the South. I’m just saying “Ditch that stereotype.” Ask questions and they will help you. Manhattan is in the tourist business.

Along the way to the subway stop, we saw Mickey Mouse and some other interesting things you don’t see in Camden, Elgin, Conway, or Pawleys Island, the places where we’re from. We got on the right subway but began walking in the wrong direction. Observing our perplexed and anxious looks, a woman came up and asked if she could help, and after hearing us, she said to get on the #1 train, the one with the red circle. At least that’s what I heard, and every time I saw a red circle, I said, “Let’s go this way,” and it worked.

I can still feel the excitement as we took a left turn with an incline and got caught up in the midst of hundreds of people. Seriously, if we hadn’t made note of each other’s clothing and hats so that we could keep up with each other, our day might have turned into a disaster instead of a success. Sure, we had our phones, but for some reason, our batteries kept losing their charge.

One of the things I love about the city is its diversity. Rich, poor, old, young, black, yellow, white, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, beautiful, and homely—all are there, and no one looks askance at those who are “different.” That said, we sat near an Asian couple with one of the sweetest, most adorable babies I have ever seen. Dressed for warmth and lying in his stroller, he stared at his pretty mother and made a lot of “ba” sounds. Clearly smitten with her chubby cheeked little cherub, she communicated joy at his efforts.

We made it to the Rector Street exit and got a little turned around once we climbed up the stairs to the street. It was cold and overcast, and although we could see the water, we weren’t sure how to get there. Finally, with the help of our iPhone maps we made it the whole two blocks to Battery Park. Told you we were small town girls.

Although it might sound clichéd, the four of us fell in love with the setting, including the huge squirrels, the barren trees, and the Urban Garden. We joined the rush of people streaming towards Castle Clinton to buy their tickets, and after going through security, we boarded the ferry headed for Liberty Island.

Despite the cold, I stood on the upper deck so that I could get a good view of the statue as we approached. No matter how many times I see her, the Lady always gives me a little thrill and a sense of wonder. How many immigrants to this great country have seen her? Did they feel awe, relief, fear, dread, excitement, or what?

I recall a story in which a son asked his quiet, somewhat morose immigrant father to tell him about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Thinking his dad would tell him about some gorgeous but unattainable “real life” woman, the man was taken aback somewhat when his father stopped fishing, looked at him with moist eyes, and said, “The lady in the harbor.” A pivotal moment, that’s when the son, a teenager at the time, began feeling awe and a deeper love for his parents instead of embarrassment for their “old world” ways, language, and clothing.

Back to December 14, 2014, we got off the ferry at Liberty Island and walked on the grounds oohing and ahing with the appearance and “feel” of the place. We asked someone to take this picture, probably my favorite of the weekend. With the New York skyline behind us and Lady Liberty in front of us, we were a happy foursome. We took some other pics and then went into the gift shop/restaurant area for some hot chocolate.

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Next time………

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I’m not a travel writer. I don’t know what kind of writer I am. I just know that some friends and I went to New York City last weekend, and every day that passes is another day that the events that happened go further and deeper into my memory bank.

So I’m going to write a little bit about those two days this morning.

When we told people about our trip, all of us heard remarks like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to New York City.” Our joint question is, “Then what are you waiting for?” As humans, we postpone. “I’ll go next year,” you think but next year never comes. You get busy. You have obligations. You need the money for something else. You develop health challenges and can’t walk.

We also heard, “It must be nice to have so much extra money,” and “I wish I had the money to go to New York.” We aren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, I realize that’s a much-overused expression. It’s probably earned cliché status by now, but I’m not trying to win “blog of the year” with this post. I’m just trying to urge you to wake up and live.

If we can afford it, so can you. BUT, you’re going to have to give up something to get there. Some of us have already committed to going again next year, and we’re staying two nights instead of one. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve agreed to put away $50 a month. I just need to stay out of Target and stop eating out so much.

We also heard, “I’d love to go, but I don’t have anyone to go with. My significant other, friend, fill-in-the-blank doesn’t like to travel.” Don’t use that as an excuse. There are dozens of people you can go with. My husband has been once and plans never ever to go again. That’s unfortunate, but there are so many people who do want to go, and all you have to do is ask around.

There are museums and stores and restaurants and lights and libraries and parks and diversity in the Big Apple. And the Rockettes are there. And ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. Oh, and there’s this great little diner, Westway, that’s become a favorite of mine. The service, food, and ambience are all outstanding, and besides, my husband and I spied Brooke Shields there one late afternoon.

Here I am nearing the end of my 500-word limit (I’ve been told that blogs should be no longer than this), and I haven’t even mentioned any of our goings-on. I must admit that Sunday was my favorite day, but Saturday had its redeeming qualities too. For example, it was the weekend when young people all over town donned Santa outfits and participated in a bar crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. At least that was their original purpose. I’m not sure why they do it now, but I must admit that I enjoyed seeing guys and gals dressed up like Santa, elves, and even trees as they walked up and down the avenues.

Quick recap of Saturday: lunch at Westway, afternoon in Museum of Natural History, and late dinner at Juniors in Times Square. So much detail could fit into and between these events. For example, the chicken-cranberry wrap at Westway is to die for, and the native New Yorkers who dine there make the experience more memorable. I sincerely think that we were the only tourists there.

The Museum of Natural History is a must-see, and just so you’ll know, you can actually make a “donation” from one cent to one million dollars for a ticket. Most people, however, pay the regular ticket price because they don’t know about the donation aspect. I know because of being tipped off by a tour bus guide.

Did we pay one cent? No, the younger set paid full price, and Jeanita and I paid ten dollars each for our admission tickets. And Folks, it was worth much more than that. We walked and gawked for nearly three hours and hardly “put a dent in it.” (Must stop with those clichés.) One final plus to visiting this particular museum is that it’s across the street from Central Park so we got to kill two birds with one stone…er, taxi ride.

Three clichés and you’re out. I’ll pick up with the rest of the story later.

 

One of my pieces in Serving Up Memory is entitled “Hats and Cornbread,” and it begins by telling of the Thanksgiving after my mother’s passing. My father had predeceased her by two years, and so we were, her children and grandchildren, trying our darnedest to make this holiday festive. By golly, we were not going to let the grim reaper steal our joy.

A number of us, including two of my siblings and I, gathered on Chesnut Street with a  “take-in” meal. I don’t recall the victuals, but I do remember that we ate in the kitchen and not the dining room and that we felt strange and happy at the same time—strange because our parents weren’t there in their own home and happy that we were together. At some point, we rummaged through our parents’ (and grandparents’) hats, and we each selected the one we wanted to wear. My nieces picked up pocketbooks of my mother’s, remembering that she always made sure her purse matched her shoes.

When I submitted that story to the group for critiquing, I wasn’t expecting the feedback that I received. I expected every person to make recommendations for improvement, and I even wondered if a couple of writers might think the story too sappy. Boy was I surprised!

Sure, there were some recommendations, but the consensus was that the events of that Thanksgiving afternoon had universal meaning. Although it was a personal story, “Hats and Cornbread” has implications for every family who has suffered loss or change, whether by death, divorce, remarriage, relocation, or any other reason. People leave us, and we are left to rebuild the structure of not just holidays, but of everyday life.

Back to that Thanksgiving afternoon, here’s the passage about it from Serving Up Memory:

We wore our hats hoping to keep that holiday spirit alive. Did it work? Not really. The picture snapped by my son-in-law late that afternoon looks like everyone is having a good old time, but looks can be deceiving. Despite our fake smiles, we were all still heartbroken, our psyches raw with fresh grief.

It probably hit me for the first time that evening: My family holidays with kith and kin in the manner I had known all of my life were over. Sure, I’d share turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, and other seasonal fare with various relatives each year, but my mother’s passing on October 20, 2000, marked the end of gatherings in the family home. Marjorie Ann was the heart of it all. It was never the same after her passing.

As the season creeps nearer each day, thoughts of earlier gatherings and traditions fill my mind. John and Margie’s children have all moved on, yet we hold those memories of love and good cheer in our hearts. I have other families on my mind today, and I hope that they’ll all find their way into and through the holidays without stumbling or experiencing crippling heartache.

The death of a loved one, regardless of age or status, changes everything. You can’t ignore the loss, the empty place at the dining room table. And yet you must not succumb to grief. As I write this, I’m thinking of dozens of people whose holiday season has been unalterably changed, some just within the last few days. I’m hoping they’ll all find a way to feel peace.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all-religious and start spouting off (or writng down) pious phrases. I just want to share a few thoughts I’ve had the last few days without coming across like a zealot.

Quick story. Nearly three decades ago, my father and another man were engaged in a conversation when my dad noticed the man looking at me with what seemed (to my father) to be curiosity. When Daddy looked at him inquiringly as if to say, “Why are you staring at Jayne?” the man  said, “Is she the sister that’s a Mormon?”

Daddy said he turned back and looked at me again and said, “Yep, she’s the one. But don’t worry. She’s not fanatical about it.” I wasn’t offended when my dad shared this story. I knew what he meant. I’m not going to knock someone over the head with my beliefs, especially when I’ve always known that talk is cheap. Some of the most Bible-quoting, holier than thou folks that I know are the scariest. But that’s a story for another day.

That said, I’ve been thinking of the phrase “tender mercies” and some associated incidents that I’ve observed lately.

My husband has a heartache. It’s been nearly a year since his son died of melanoma and each day is a struggle. Although he has three other wonderful children and seven precious grandchildren, that almost unbearable pain is still there. Sometimes it’s a dull ache, like a muscle that you’ve overused, and then for no apparent reason, the ache become a sharp pain that nearly cripples him.

BUT every day of his life, good things are going on. I like to call them “tender mercies.” One recent day, he got a message from his son’s first cousin letting him know that he (my husband) was in his thoughts. “Hey man, just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. I know this time of year is rough.” A tender mercy, one that conveyed, “I care about you, and I haven’t forgotten Chris. Never will.”

He has seven healthy, beautiful, energetic, and funny grandchildren. One of them spent some time with her grandfather in a deer stand last week, just chillin’ and enjoying Mother Nature. Little Cooper, the youngest one in town, always warms his granddad’s heart when he says, “Hey PaPa” as he runs into his arms. This past weekend, my youngest grandson Ethan cried when we left Atlanta, not for me but for Otis. To me, all of these are tender mercies bestowed by a loving Heavenly Father. Some cynics might say, “If He’s so loving, why did He take Otis’ son?” I don’t know the answer to that. I’m Jayne; He’s God.

Last week as I was leaving church, a former bishop told me of the sudden death of one of his brothers-in-law. He was hit by a speeding 17-year-old and died immediately. As we talked, the grieving bishop  said, “But he wouldn’t come back even if he could.” I needed to hear that. What a true statement. Knowing what Chris is currently experiencing, I don’t think he’d want to come back now even if he could. I told his dad that, hoping to offer some solace. Was it helpful? I don’t know. I, however, see that chance conversation as a tender mercy.

This post is longer than I intended it to be so I’ll wrap it up. My thoughts on this beautiful Monday morning are not fanatical or preachy. At least I hope not. I just wanted to share my belief that there are always tender mercies around us, but we can’t always see them when we’re focusing on the sad, evil, vile, sordid, heartbreaking stuff.

As a final note, I can’t recall the moment of my sweet mother’s death without also recalling the love that surrounded her at that moment of passing. I’ll always remember the soft hymn playing in the background (at her request) and the sun dappled radiance in the room. My sibs were all there, and I know they felt those tender mercies too.

books

Before I moved back to Camden, I fretted about a number of things, the primary one being whether I’d adjust, whether there would be people I could relate to and become friends with. I need not have worried. Work, work, work, and more work kept me busy for the first ten years, and I was very fortunate to have worked with people who were (still are) smart, funny, and a pleasure to be around.

Believing that all work and no play would make Jayne a dull girl, I soon found additional endeavors and friends that have aided in my adjustment. Before I moved back to the midlands, I asked my husband if he thought there would be a book club I could join. “Sure,” he said, probably only half listening and hoping I’d stop talking so that he could get back to his ball game or tennis match.

The reading group/book club didn’t materialize right away, but one September evening several years ago a few of us started one at church. Although our initial “let’s do this” conversation took place at church, we agreed on two rules right away: no religious books and no nonfiction books. It’s not that we were opposed to reading books of those genres; it’s just that we read them already.

We wanted to read fiction, both old and classic and newly hot off the press. We wanted to feel, to be transported to other times and places, to get lost in story. For the most part, we’ve stuck to our rules, but last year we veered away a bit when we read Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave. We’ve read quite a bit of historical fiction, and one novel that touched all of us is Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.

In one of our early months, we read The Loop by Nicholas Evans, and a couple of members stopped coming after that. They declared that they weren’t going to “read trash.” What could we say? Do? While I wouldn’t classify The Loop as trash, I will admit there was a couple who became intimately involved without exchanging wedding rings. However, the book itself was about wolves and rangers and naturalists, and most of us (as I recall) found it captivating.

Did the angry departure of two members mean that we needed to carefully screen all future books in case there were a hint of, well, you know? None of us are into pornographic, violent, or crude writing, and none of us would knowingly choose anything inappropriate. While we were unhappy and perplexed about the two members’ exit, we learned a lesson: it’s hard, perhaps impossible, that everyone in a group is going to like the same kinds of books.

We also learned that the mix of people has to be just right. Their personalities have to jibe with one another. Who wants to be in a reading group with a know-it-all or someone who’s belligerent, stuffy, or arrogant (about reading tastes and literature)? After a while, our group slowly shrank to a unit of flexible, agreeable, courteous women who respect and genuinely care for one another.

Here’s how we operate. Each person selects a book and a month. That month, she’s in charge of the setting, discussion, and refreshments. The latter, by the way, usually aligns with the book. A few years ago, one of my choices was Elie Wiesel’s Night, and we had bread and water. True, the bread was chewy and fresh, and the water was bottled, but the “treat” complemented the book .One month we read The Chronicles of Narnia, and Connie provided Turkish delights to sample during our discussion.

The group met last night and decided on a list of must-reads for the year. Carol is up first, and she selected The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of this writer until last night, and when I logged on to Amazon to order the book for my Kindle, I was delighted to see so many wonderful reviews…hundreds of them. If not for my membership in the reading group, I might never have known of this book.

Admittedly, being a part of a book club is partly a social thing. But it’s also educational, mind expanding, and mentally stimulating. If you have a desire to be a part of such a group, you might consider joining ours… or maybe I can suggest one to you.

In the meantime, it’s time to begin reading The Rent Collector. What’s on your must-read list?

Teaching at two of South Carolina’s technical/community lessons taught me lots of lessons and shaped much of my behavior. I learned to multi-task, prioritize, manage stress, work with a variety of different people, and change with the times. Because of the experiences of those decades, I know which battles to fight, how to form alliances, and how to sidestep negative energy. And that was even before stepping into a classroom! I learned those lessons in the hallways, offices, and off-campus when struggling with different issues.

Sometimes I wonder if my experiences honed me or whether it was just a good person/environment fit from Day One. Over the years, I saw many people come and go, and sometimes it was clearly because they didn’t understand the magnitude of the task at hand. I don’t think magnitude is too powerful a word here. As someone near and dear to me recently said, “Teaching is hard.” He was right. It is hard, and it’s not for everyone

For about a dozen years I served as department chair for the social sciences and humanities department, and one fall semester I hired an adjunct faculty member to teach economics. He looked so promising! Poised, confident, and knowledgeable, he appeared to be the part-time teacher sent from above.

All was well for the first week. Monday of the next week, however, he was a no-show.  One little class did him in. All those students (25), all that preparation, so many details like financial aid forms to sign, attendance to keep up with, names to learn, questions to answer. He had misjudged the nature of the work involved, and I truly feel confident in saying that he has never taught in any academic setting again.

I took to the profession like a moth to a flame. Sorry about the cliché (sort of). I had to work like the dickens (oops, another one), but I thoroughly enjoyed most of the experiences I had and the people I met. Most of my co-workers were fine people whose hearts and minds and energy were directed towards helping their students. As in any profession, there were a few who were arrogant and dismissive (to students), but they didn’t last long.

Time to bring this to an end and get on with my day. I’ll have to mull over the person/environment fit a little more. I do think it’s incredibly important in career choice. I also think that the profession and all that it entails continue to hone and shape the person.

I’m not complaining one iota. I am saying that even in “semi-retirement” I still have a hard time relaxing. I still prioritize, multi-task, rub shoulders with fascinating people, and sidestep negative energy whenever possible.

Comments from anyone about teaching or about the person/environment fit and its importance? Any advice or experiences to share about your profession?

 

 

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Jayne Bowers

Jayne Bowers

I’m Jayne (a.k.a. Mom, Grandmama, and Mrs. Bowers). A native of the American South, I’m a teacher, writer, sister,and friend who loves the beach, the color turquoise, and words (like stellar and mesmerizing). I try to find joy in everyday experiences and believe that even lousy days possess hidden wonder.

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