Screenshot 2017-04-23 12.17.45My heart is broken.  I can feel all of the little pieces of it in the pit of my stomach.  I can feel it in the effort it takes to breath.  I can feel it and I want to stop feeling it now.  I’ve felt it so many times, and it never gets any easier.

I have suffered with depression for as long as I can remember.  I have struggled with fitting in, finding my place, and finding people who will care and stay for just as many years.  I have fought to keep people in my life and caring about me, perhaps too hard. 

I know depression was with me in junior high and high school when I tried to find who would accept me and include me and I never quite felt welcome.  Never quite felt invited to join their lives.  It let me know that I was not quite good enough.  I didn’t look the part.  I didn’t get the joke.  Depression just rolls its eyes at you and says, “Really?  You thought you could do that?”

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I carried it with me to college.  It sat there with me in the dorm, in class, and went everywhere with me, my constant companion.  That’s when I first tried shaking it by writing (kinda what I’m still doing).  That helps now and then because it lets me bleed and cry on paper until my rational brain comes back to me.  The one thing I didn’t do was talk about it.  If someone cared, I was sure she would have noticed.  I was sure he would have asked.  I kept busy and I slept.

Depression graduated from college with me, moved back home, and helped me to think about what I couldn’t do with my life because I just didn’t have the talent or the brains or the gumption.  It reared its ugly head on my wedding day – the one day you would think Screenshot 2017-04-23 12.21.35it would have had the courtesy to stay home.  It grabbed hold of me hard while I was pregnant, squeezing my heart and my lungs and telling me that I was crazy to be saddling a baby with me as a mother.  I had a mother-in-law who reinforced that idea.  “I wouldn’t bring a child into this crazy world today” and anger were her reactions to the news of the pregnancy.  She didn’t speak to me through the last four or five months of it.  (Just as a side note in fairness to her, she later changed her mind about me and especially about that baby.  Those two loved each other unconditionally!)

Long story made short, depression has been my constant companion throughout my life.  I’ve tried to break up with it.  I’ve tried ignoring it, medicating it, counseling it out of my life.  I’ve tried, but it is the one thing that has stayed true blue – accompanying me everywhere and never truly leaving me alone.  Sometimes it takes a vacation, but it always comes back. 

Screenshot 2017-04-23 12.20.55Just in the last year I was confident that I had finally found the way to keep it at arm’s length.  I had a counselor who had worked with me.  He had given me tools to reframe things.  And I really thought those tools would allow me to think clearly, reason, and help me to move through it (along with the meds I’ve taken forever).  I was wrong. 

I try to appear to be a strong person who knows her own mind and confidently makes decisions and handles her day-to-day life.  Ha!  There were people who said I didn’t have the chops to make it as an actress.  But I’m doing it.  I’m reminded of a part of Harry Chapin’s song “Taxi”

  • You see, she was gonna be an actress
  • And I was gonna learn to fly
  • She took off to find the footlight
  • I took off for the sky
  • And here, she’s acting happy
  • Inside her handsome home
  • And me, I’m flying in my taxi
  • Taking tips, and getting stoned

One of the hardest parts about depression it that it constantly tells you that you are not worthy of  love, respect, achievement, or anything else that would be positive in your life.  It puts a filter on everything you see and it erodes whatever self-confidence you had.  In my case, when you combine that with being raised to worry about what others think, it is devastating.   I feel rejection easily and very very deeply.  I feel it when I’m not included when friends make plans.  I feel it when I try to plan something or do
Screenshot 2017-04-23 12.20.04something special for someone only to be brushed aside because something better came along, when they were too busy to put me on the calendar so they didn’t remember, when they don’t respond to an invitation, or when they back out at the last minute.  I feel it when I’m asked not be there for something or at some time, regardless of the reasons given.  I feel it when someone isn’t talking and seems to have shut me out.  My brain knows that there could be good reasons for some of these things.  My counselor talked me through looking at alternative reasons for things – ones that don’t involve me being rejected.  But depression rules and says, “na-na, na-na, na-na – you’re just not good enough.”

One of the pure joys in my life has been when a child’s eyes light up at seeing me and they run open-armed to me.  Chapin did it for awhile.  Lydan did it longer.  Alyanna did it too.  Lily would light up, yell “Grammy!” and come flying to me.  There is nothing better than that in the world to make you feel loved and accepted and wanted.  But godsons grow up and become teenagers, children get older and are too busy looking at their phones and tablets, and little girls tell you to “just stay home.”  I’m feeling empty armed and broken-hearted today.  I know.  I know.  It is probably just the normal progression of things.  Every kid grows up.  But does it also have to be grows away?  Is it just me?  Feels like it today.

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Striving Thriving

Sometimes as I am reading a book, there will be a passage I read that really speaks truth to me beyond the pages of the book.  It can be in a novel, a children’s picture book, a memoir, or another work of nonfiction.  It may or may not be integral to the theme and purpose of the book.  Then again it might not.  There is a passage in Pat Conroy’s Beach Music where he describes eating a tomato sandwich made with those ripe, beautiful tomatoes you go out into your yard to pick, the ones that will leave juice running down your chin.  In the grand scheme of the book, this passage is not terribly significant.  But it made me stop, reread, remember, and smile.  It took me back to the tomatoes my grandfather planted in our yard when I was a child and how I would steal the salt shaker and go outside to pick myself a snack.

From time to time in this blog, I plan to share such passages with you.  They may be like the one above which evoke a feeling or a memory.  They may be more like the one I’m sharing today that made me recognize a truth and really stop to think about how it plays out in my life and experience.

I love reading about people’s lives and often pick up biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs.  I frequently select a book about someone who altered the course of history – Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu.  Some of my very favorite memoirs have been written by people I have never heard of who had an unusual story to share. (I’ll include a short list of some of these at the end.)  While I really enjoy memoirs and biographies, I don’t tend to gravitate to popular entertainment celebrities unless there is something compelling outside of their fame.  Recently I read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines.  There is something about this couple that is very real and charismatic.  I enjoyed reading the story of their time together from when they met up through the time when they stumbled into landing a television show.  Toward the end of the book, I read the following passages and felt like Joanna Gaines had written something so true that I needed to save the passage.  She said:

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“So what if my house wasn’t perfect?

“It was perfect just the way it was.

“I realized that my determination to make things perfect meant I was chasing an empty obsession all day long.  Nothing was ever going to be perfect the way I had envisioned it in the past.  Did I want to keep spending my energy on that effort, or did I want to step out of that obsession and to enjoy my kids, maybe allowing myself to get messy right along with them in the process?

“I chose the latter – and that made all the difference.

“This revelation was so much more than a lightbulb turning on in my head.  I felt as if a hundred pounds got lifted off my shoulders that afternoon.  I remember sitting there on that sofa going, ‘Holy cow.  I can breathe.’

“It all came down to a mind shift in which I asked myself, ‘What am I going for in life?  Was it to achieve somebody else’s idea of what a perfect home should look like?  Or was it to live fully in the perfection of the home and family I have?'”  p. 144-145

“It’s funny that these revelatory moments of mine happened on couches in two different houses, and I wonder why that is.  But I don’t have to wonder about the results of those moments.

“Shortly after I sat on the couch at the Castle Heights house and really noticed for the first time that I wasn’t happy, even though I’d worked so hard to make everything look perfect, I had a conversation with a friend of mine.  I was exhausted all of the time, and I said to this friend: ‘I feel like I’m just surviving at this point.  I’m not thriving.’

“Once I was in the Carriage Square house and embracing the laughter and messiness of my kids and not cleaning all day long, I realized that it was up to me to flip that switch from surviving to thriving.  It was just a mental shift, a readjustment in my way of thinking – like seeing my kids’ fingerprints as kind of cute instead of a miserable mess.
Then I got to thinking about the bigger picture:  If I’m going to sit around and say I am ‘just surviving’ every day, well, guess what?  When a big wave comes along suddenly, I won’t be surviving – I’ll be drowning!

“I mean, that’s life.  Life is never predictable.  Life is never really manageable.  If your mind-set is always, ‘I’m just surviving,’ it seems to me that would wind up being your mind-set for the rest of your life.  You’d just get stuck in it.

“So I finally flipped the switch in my mind.  I said, ‘I have to choose to thrive, even in the pain.  Even when it’s tough.’ And it was tough.”  p. 147-148

Now those of you who kScreenshot 2017-04-10 21.47.59now me need to stop laughing at this point thinking that I am claiming to have ever worried about perfection in my home!  I enjoy having a nice, cozy home.  I love when people tell me that they feel comfortable here, that they can kick off their shoes and put their feet up.  They can open the fridge and get something to eat or drink.  I like being surrounded by things that give me pleasure (hence all the books and photographs).  However, cleaning and keeping it completely picked up and spotless are not really high on my list of priorities.  I usually say that I try to keep it somewhere this side of the health department showing up. 

It wasn’t Joanna Gaines’ obsession with keeping the house perfect that spoke to me.  It was her revelation that chasing an “empty obsession” and trying to obtain the unobtainable that resonated.  I have done that for much of my life.  In my case it wasn’t the keeping up of appearances through a perfect house.  Instead it was the keeping up of the appearance that I had it all together in my life.  That I was strong.  That I was independent.  That I could handle things.  That I was self-assured.

I grew up in a home where appearances meant a lot.  What would the neighbors think?  That doesn’t look good.  You have a role to fulfill and you need to follow the rules.  I remember calling my sister the first time I heard Miranda Lambert’s song “Mama’s Broken Heart.”  I knew she’d get it.  And she did.  There were lines in that song that screamed out to me:

“…I can hear her now sayin’ she ain’t gonna have it

Don’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look

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Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady

‘Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together

Even when you fall apart…

My mama came from a softer generation

Where you get a grip and bite your lip just to save a little face

Powder your nose, paint your toes

Line your lips and keep ‘em closed

Cross your legs, dot your eyes

And never let ‘em see you cry”

Mom and Dad both put a lot of stock in what others think and what judgment would be passed if they didn’t fit the role that they had been assigned or took on in their lives.  Is this car sending the right image?  Does the house look picture ready?  Is every hair in place, the makeup applied beautifully, and the full ensemble perfectly coordinated?  When someone comes to the house, will they walk away and speak well of how it looked and how clean it was and how perfectly they were entertained?  They taught me to worry over public opinion and keeping up with the Joneses.  It may have been the lesson I learned most fully in my life, and therefore, it became the hardest to shake when I wanted to abandon it.

In school I never participated in class.  I was sure that my idea would be wrong or, even worse, laughable.  Time after time I listened as one of the bright kids would speak and the teacher would gush over an idea that I had but didn’t share.  I joined in conversations and never disagreed, never spoke my opinion.  I echoed.  I don’t know that I saw it back then, but I’m pretty sure now that most people had no idea who I was.  I was never in the office so they principal didn’t know me.  I was average and quiet in class so the teachers didn’t know me.  And I was too busy trying to figure out who I wanted to seem to be that there were times I didn’t know me. 

I became the pleaser.  A role I held for many, many, many years.  (And truth be told, it is something I struggle with still.)  My people pleasing wasn’t limited to pleasing my parents.  I wanted to be accepted and tried to behave the way I thought would allow me to fit in.  I “liked” the same things everyone else did.  I “believed” what others said was right.  I took that attitude into my marriage and served myself up as the doormat, basically.  I did what I could to fit in.  The problem was that it never worked!

I didn’t fit in.  And I wasn’t happy either.  Now and then I would capture a glimpse of who I was and what I really liked but turned a blind eye to it.  Fear of not being accepted, of being judged and found wanting, made me jump away from any risk.  I once auditioned for the acting troupe of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and was accepted.  It was the first time in many years that I had stepped out of what had become my comfort zone.  And then what did I hear?  I was asked, “What do you think you’re doing?  You’re a single mother.  You can’t be abandoning your child like this.”  (I feel compelled to defend myself and tell you that the time commitment was one night a week rehearsing until we opened and only weekends after that.  Also, being a teacher meant that I had the whole week with him.)  At the first criticism, I turned tail and ran back to the safety of what was expected.  It still disappoints me that I shortchanged myself of that opportunity by trying to win approval from someone with expectations that I usually fell short of.
Screenshot 2017-04-10 21.57.17I came to a point where I realized that most of the things that I had wanted and the things I had loved when I was young were not a part of my life.  I was a full-grown woman and still didn’t know who I was.  I joked that I went from being Pete’s daughter, to Jerry’s wife, to Travis’s mother.  I’d conclude with, “someday I’ll find out who Lynne is.”

At times the people-pleasing takes the shape of trying very hard to be what everyone wants and wondering if I have done something to anger people.  I wonder about what others are doing and thinking and where I fit in.  Depression speaks to me most in these moments.  It whispers in my ear, “Of course they’re all doing things and you aren’t included.  They don’t want you around.”  It screams, “You’re the fifth wheel.”

Over the years I had fleeting looks at the truth that Joanna found.  Each time caused my resolve to grow and expand.  At times it has even flourished.  I read Anna Quindlen’s short, powerful book Being Perfect.  I remember discussing some of the concepts in it with my mother, telling her about the idea that excellence and perfection are not the same.  She saw no difference and told me that they were the same, you are perfect or no good.  That opened a window for me into what I had been trying for and where the pressure I was putting on myself originated.  I have gone back to reread this book multiple times along with another of her books, A Short Guide to a Happy Life. 

Over time I learned to stand up for myself and try to be authentic.  Sometimes I have over-compensated and more often than not, I still have trouble because I want to fit in.  I’m fearless when I’m writing, but have a difficult time face to face with explaining myself, defending an idea, expressing my feelings, and especially standing up to someone being critical.  I lose my words and ideas.  I babble.  I stammer.  It is uncomfortable.  The more what I have to say matters, the more I love or care for the other person, the less likely I will be able to say what is in my heart with any eloquence or effectiveness.  I’m braver with strangers, but what they think will only matter in the moment.  The exception to this rule is when I’m treated as if I am stupid or I am accused of being or saying something that I abhor.  Then the anger rears up and I can speak…just when I probably should breathe and think, but I can speak!

As I age, I am more and more able to let go of what others think.  I’m not there yet, but I’ve traveled further and further down the path to being authentic. Joanna talks about flipping a switch.  I’ve done that, but it sometimes flips back.  In the last year I have actively sought out help with this.  I’ve had some very good advice.  I’ve had my perspective challenged.  I have read some books and articles and watched some wonderful video on TED Talks (TED.com) that have challenged me and made me question myself when the depression speaks or I start worrying about whether I’m pleasing someone else. 

So when I read Joanna’s words, they rang true to what I’ve been feeling and learning. She spoke my heart.  In subsequent readings I put my situation into her words.  What I was reading became, “It all came down to a mind shift in which I asked myself, ‘What am I going for in life?  Was it to achieve somebody else’s idea of what a perfect [person] should look like?  Or was it to live fully in the perfection of the [woman God created me to be]?’…Life is never predictable.  Life is never really manageable.  If your mind-set is always, “I’m just surviving,” it seems to me that would wind up being your mind-set for the rest of your life.  You’d just get stuck in it.  So I finally flipped the switch in my mind.  I said, “I have to choose to thrive…”


A dozen of the MEMOIRS that I have chosen in the past that you might never find on your own…

  • Albom, Mitch – Tuesdays with More (okay, this was a best seller, but it isn’t in the news any more)
  • Bryson, Bill – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
  • Deedy, Carmen Agra – 14 Cows for America
  • Gaines, Chip & Joanna – The Magnolia Story
  • Hall, Ron and Denver Moore – The Same Kind of Different as Me
  • McBride, James – The Color of Water – A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
  • Ozma, Alice – The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
  • Pollack, John – Cork Boat: A True Story of the Unlikeliest Boat Ever Built
  • Ralston, Jeannie – The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected
  • Blossoming
  • Tada, Joni Eareckson – Joni: An Unforgettable Story
  • Woodson, Jacqueline – Brown Girl Dreaming
  • Walls, Jeannette – The Glass Castle

click on the book cover below for more information:

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  • Andrews, Andy – The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success
  • Andrews, Andy – The Noticer
  • Blanchard, Ken – The Generosity Factor:  Discover the Joy of Giving Your Time, Talent, and Treasure
  • Brown, Brené – The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
  • Harris, Dan – 10% Happier:  How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
  • Manning, Brennan – The Ragamuffin Gospel:  Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
  • Ortberg, John – Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them
  • Quindlen, Anna – Being Perfect
  • Quindlen, Anna – A Short Guide to a Happy Life
  • Robinson, Ken – The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

click on the book cover below for more information:

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Touching the Future

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“I developed the Great Teacher theory late in my freshman year.  It was a cornerstone of the theory that great teachers had great personalities and that the greatest teachers had outrageous personalities. I did not like decorum or rectitude in a classroom; I preferred a highly oxygenated atmosphere, a climate of intemperance, rhetoric, and feverish melodrama. And I wanted my teachers to make me smart. A great teacher is my adversary, my conqueror, commissioned to chastise me. He leaves me tame and grateful for the new language he has purloined from other kings whose granaries are filled and whose libraries are famous. He tells me that teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. Bad teachers do not touch me; the great ones never leave me. They ride with me during all my days, and I pass on to others what they have imparted to me. I exchange their handy gifts with strangers on trains, and I pretend the gifts are mine. I steal from the great teachers. And the truly wonderful thing about them is they would applaud my theft, laugh at the thought of it, realizing they had taught me their larcenous skills well.”  Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline, Chapter 27

My friend Margie says there is no such thing as a self-made person.  No one lives in a vacuum.  No one got where they are without someone teaching them, helping them, cheering for them.  Of course, we can only become that success that is often attributed to being a self-made person by learning, accepting help where it is offered, working hard, and making the kinds of decisions that allow people to cheer for us.  Lots of people are exposed to great teachers and wise assistance without benefiting from them in any personal way because they don’t have the determination and the work ethic.  Maybe they lack the belief that they can do something.  And others lack the vision to see what is possible.

The people we have around us – by birth, by circumstances, and by choice – have a profound influence on our lives.  Much has been written about how our entire lives are influenced by the family that has surrounded us since birth.  How accepting was your family?  Where did you fit into the birth order?  What did your family value?  And on and on and on.  The same is true for the friends that we choose.  People constantly remind us of how we are judged by the company we keep.  “You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”  Often our parents try to steer us away from certain friends.  My folks even forbade my playing with certain children if they thought there was likely to be adverse effects.

But what about the people in your life who are there by circumstances – especially those you are required to be around?  When we were children, we had teachers in our lives and for 160+ days of the year spent more time with them than with our family.  I had school teachers who are still vivid in my memory decades later for one reason or another.  Mrs. Connor, or as the kids called her Cave Lady Connor (partly because she was old and partly because she introduced us to ancient history, was the scariest teacher in my elementary school.  I was afraid at the thought of her class.  She was stern, but she introduced that history in a way that sparked a love of history in me.  She taught me that high standards are okay and to be open to new subjects and ideas.

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To open the class of my first drama teacher, Mr. Edmonds, asked everyone to tell him why they had chosen drama as their elective.  When he came to me, he found a rather surly teenager who was not happy that she hadn’t gotten her real choice.  I looked at him and said, “Because cooking class was closed.”  He didn’t say a word and just moved on.  He never acted like I had said something so rude.  At the end of the year when we needed his signature to sign up for Drama II, he smiled at me and said, “So cooking’s closed again next year?”  Mr. Edmonds taught me to be open to new things and to not allow first impressions to automatically become permanent impressions.

Mrs. Sampson was a formidable woman who taught English.  My friends had all warned me about how difficult and demanding she was.  They told everyone who would listen that Mrs. Sampson hated the gentile students in our predominantly Jewish school.  Of course, I was assigned to her class.  I kept my mouth shut and tried to blend into the furniture.  One day I was faced with asking her permission to miss her class to go and hear a guest speaker who was visiting the building.  She looked at my friend and I, got a very serious and unnerving look on her face, and said, “Under one condition…”  We were afraid of what would come next, but she said, “You have to come back and tell me all about it.  I really want to go too, but I have to teach your class!”  Over the year I learned that her reputation of hating the gentile kids was the result of someone who didn’t do well and was looking for someone to blame.  She was curious, was humorous, and was fair above all things.

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There were lots of teachers in my life who made a huge difference.  Some of them, like the ones mentioned above, actually worked in a school and listed teaching as their careers.  As you might notice, I didn’t mention the lessons from their syllabus or lesson plans as the important things they taught me.  They had great content lessons – some of the lousy teachers had decent content too – but it was who the teacher was that touched me first.  I learned their content lessons but I cherished their life lessons.   This idea was shared by Luke Davis who wrote in a blog entry reflecting on Pat Conroy’s Great Teacher theory,

One of the most striking things about that passage is what it is lacking.  There is no mention of carefully crafted lesson plans, deep knowledge in one’s subject matter, a full set of classroom management skills, and the like.  There’s not so much an emphasis on what a teacher does but I see a whale of a lot of weight on what type of person a teacher is.  (“Sacred Chaos” by Luke H. Davis, author and teacher, http://lukehdavisfiction.blogspot.com/2013/03/pat-conroy-and-teaching-greatness.html)

There were many more teachers throughout my life who never stood in front of a classroom.  These others taught me by how they lived their own lives and words they shared with me.  Joni Eareckson Tada taught me to be thankful for what I have and to put things into perspective.  Harry Chapin used his talents and fame to help those without food.  He gave and gave and gave.  S. Truett Cathy certainly made a fortune, but it’s the personal parts of his life where he did so much for orphans that spoke to me.  Think of the people we see in the world who shape our thoughts and provide us with role models we would like to emulate.  I’m sure that I would love to have:

  • the compassion of Mother Teresa
  • the fearlessness and sense of justice of Nelson Mandela
  • the caring and willingness to work for others of Bono
  • the ability to use my talents in service of others like Matt Damon, Jimmy Carter
  • the words to motivate and inspire like Maya Angelou
  • the work ethic of Cal Ripken, Jr.
  • the courage of Malala Yousafzai
  • the originality and lack of jealousy of Amy Poehler whose web site (amysmartgirls.com) highlights the accomplishments of other women

And not all of my teachers were real.  My ideal is Atticus Finch.  I would so much like to be everything he was (in To Kill a Mockingbird – not in a different work).

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People we meet everyday will sometimes provide an example, show up at a teachable moment, and illustrate something important for us.  Denise Schnur is someone I have relied on to help me see that there are usually reasons for the way people act.  Sharon Spangler showed me how someone can move mountains to help others without fame, position, and fortune to help them.  Mary Sue Cline shows me how someone can get so much done when she doesn’t care who gets the credit.  Jessica Nupponen illustrates (literally – with chalk) how a positive word can lift people up.  There are countless others I could name.

Of course, there are also those teachers who fall under my “If you can’t be a good example, at least be a terrible warning” category.  I had a student giving a speech tell the class that she learned the most about what kind of person she wanted to be from her brother.  She wanted to be everything he wasn’t.  My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hetherington, falsely accused me of stealing something.  I really cared what she thought of me, and, as evidenced by the fact that I remember it all these years later, I was devastated that she believed this.  She taught me that it is important to know the whole story and to not judge based on innuendo or rumor.  We’ve all had people who taught us what we didn’t want to do or be by allowing us to feel what happens to others when our actions and words are not noble and up-lifting.

When people sit around and start talking about their experiences in school, they will often regale others with stories of the strangest, quirkiest, meanest, and most difficult teachers they ever had.  Sometimes it seems that there weren’t any good ones.  But with just a nudge, we all go back easily and think about the ones who made a huge, positive difference in our lives.  They may have been a teacher in a classroom, but they may have also been a coach, a scout leader, a relative, a neighbor, a public figure, or a character in a book.  I always wanted to be one of those teachers because I had some of those teachers.  They inspired me.  And they inspired the wonderful author I stared this all with, Pat Conroy:

The teachers of my life saved my life and sent me out prepared for whatever life I was meant to lead. Like everyone else, I had some bad ones and mediocre ones, but I never had one that I thought was holding me back because of idleness or thoughtlessness. They spent their lives with the likes of me and I felt safe during the time they spent with me. The best of them made me want to be just like them. I wanted young kids to look at me the way I looked at the teachers who loved me. Loving them was not difficult for a boy like me. They lit a path for me and one that I followed with joy.  (“The Teachers of My Life” by Pat Conroy, March 9, 2014 http://www.patconroy.com/wp/?p=223)

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After you read this blog post, comment on it.  Tell me about the teacher who mattered to you and made a difference in your life.  Recommend your own favorite book that shows you a great teacher (classroom or otherwise).


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Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall and others in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

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Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Mr. Browne in Wonder by R. J. Palacio

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Christy Huddleston in Christy by Catherine Marshall

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Mr. Daniels in Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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Mr. Falker in Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco (Mr. Lincoln in Mr. Lincoln’s Way, Miss Chew in The Art of Miss Chew, Mrs. Peterson in Junkyard Wonders, and others)

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“Fat Bob” Nowak in I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

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Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkein

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Miss Honey in Matilda by Roald Dahl

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Mark Thackeray in To Sir With Love by E. R. Braithwaite

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Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

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Mr. P in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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Pat Conroy in The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy (and of course Colonel Edward T. Reynolds (Bear, Edward the Great) The Lords of Discipline)


Especially if you are a teacher!

What Teachers Make  by Taylor Mali


The Blueberry Story by Jamie Volmer


Girl, I have a book for you…

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We all have role models in our lives.  As I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was presented with many role models in my daily life.

I knew what a proper woman did.  I saw all of the moms on my street who stayed at home and took care of their families.  There were many of them, my grandmother included, who never wore pants.  Dresses only for them.  (Grandma got rebellious in her older year and started wearing them.)  And for us, no dresses in school either.  Cold outside?  Put your snow pants on under the dress and remove them when you got to school.  And my gifts for Christmas reflected those roles.  They were usually baby dolls, bride dolls, and (of course) Barbie.

When people inquired about my future, the question was usually not “What do you want to be” but rather “Do you want to be a secretary, nurse or teacher?”  And I was told often that those were great careers for a woman to “fall back on” if it was necessary…you know, if your husband dropped dead and you had no choice but support yourself.  It was the common joke that women went to college to get their MRS degree.  Even as late as when one of my nieces was going off to college, my mother said that Ashley was going to SMU to meet a doctor.  A total misconception!  She was going to SMU to start her path to BECOMING a doctor!

There were women from outside the neighborhood who were role models in my daily life too.  Lucy Ricardo. Donna Reed. Harriet Nelson.  And I had lovely books to read as a teen.  I loved Rosamond du Jardin’s Double Date, Wait for Marcy, Boy Trouble, and Practically Seventeen.  Sure Nancy Drew was out there, but no one introduced us.

The world isn’t quite like that.  My own life turned out much different than those early predictions.  I did become a teacher, and I truly enjoyed being a teacher.  I often wonder, though, if there was something else out there that I would have been really good at doing.  Could I have really made a mark?  I thought about doing something else, but didn’t even know where to begin to look beyond my experiences.

I want more for the girls in my life.  For Lily, Alyanna, Caydence, Candice, Samantha, Megan, and Kate the choices and possibilities are endless, and I want them to grow up knowing that.  I once had a visit from Teresa Ralicki, a very intelligent and vibrant former student, who exclaimed that she had just realized she could take the things she loved most and make a career of them.  The discovery that she could take a couple things that were seeming completely disparate, joined only by her love of them, and that they could be combined, studied, and used to make a life was a door opening a world of possibilities for her.  It also was an “Aha” moment for me.  What else is out there that I don’t even know about?  How can I help the girls in my life to discover them?  (Yes I wanted the boys to discover their passions too, but that’s for another post.)


We need to provide examples, role models, and possibilities for the girls in our lives so that they can grow into their full potential.  I want them all to be able to follow their dreams.  Become a doctor.  Go hang gliding off a mountain in Rio on a business trip.  Run the Berlin marathon.  Create an ad showing women their strengths and possibilities.  Stay home and raise their babies.  Write that book.  Dream higher and go farther than I thought possible back in my childhood days.


One way we can do this is through our choices of books, television, and movies for your girls.  Here are some great book suggestions from picture books all the way up through reading for adults.  As usual, I have a large list and it is only a sampling of what I would have liked to put on the list.  Dig in and don’t miss out on the children’s ones!

Check these books out at your local library or a web site such as indiebound.org or goodreads.org for information about the books and where to get them.  (Some day maybe I’ll quit being so eager to get titles to you and being too lazy to actually give you a synopsis.)

PICTURE BOOKS  (* indicates nonfiction)

  • Baguley, Elizabeth Meggie Moon
  • Beath, Andrea Ada Twist, Scientist
  • Rosie Revere, Engineer
  • Beaumont, Karen I Like Myself
  • Bissonette, Aimee North Woods Girl
  • Brennan-Nelson, Denise Willow
  • Castillo, Lauren Nana in the City
  • Cronin, Doreen Bloom
  • Fern, Tracey *Dare the Wind:  The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud 
  • Kemp, Anna The Worst Princess
  • Levy, Debbie *I Dissent:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark 
  • Matthews, Elizabeth *Different Like Coco 
  • Meltzer, Brad *I am Lucille Ball, *I am Amelia Earhart, *I am Rosa Parks 
  • Munsch, Robert The Paper Bag Princess
  • Pinkney, Andrea Davis *Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
  • Polacco, Patricia An A From Miss Keller
  • Plourde, Lynn You’re Wearing THAT to School?
  • Powell, Patricia Hruby *Josephine:  The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker 
  • Rosenstock, Barb *Dorothea’s Eyes:  Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth 
  • Winter, Jeanette *Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa 
  • Winter, Jonah *Sonia Sotomayor:  A Judge Grows in the Bronx 
  • Verde, Susan The Water Princess



  • Alcott, Louisa May Little Women
  • Acampora, Paul  I Kill the Mockingbird 
  • Anderson, Laurie Halse Chains
  • Bauer, Joan Backwater, Hope Was Here, and Almost Home
  • Buren, Jodi & Donna Lopiano *Superwomen:  100 Women-100 Sports 
  • Collins, Suzanne The Hunger Games
  • Curtis, Christopher Paul The Mighty Miss Malone
  • Dagg, Carole Estby Sweet Home Alaska
  • Dahl, Roald Matilda
  • DiCamillo, Kate Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Fitzhugh, Louise Harriet the Spy
  • Freedman, Russell *Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery 
  • L’Engle, Madeleine A Wrinkle in Time
  • Park, Linda Sue A Long Walk to Water
  • Pratchett, Terry The Wee Free Men and I Shall Wear Midnight
  • Roth, Veronica Divergent
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and… (the whole series as long as Herione Granger is there!)
  • Shetterly, Margot Lee *Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition)
  • Spotswood, Jessica A Tyranny of Petticoats (editor) and Wild Swans
  • Thimmesh, Catherine *Girls Think of Everything and Madam President: The Extraordinary, True (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics (NF)
  • Williams-Garcia One Crazy Summer
  • Vanderpool, Clare Moon Over Manifest
  • Woodson, Jacqueline *Brown Girl Dreaming 
  • Yousafzai, Malala *I Am Malala:  The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban 

*Who Was… SERIES

Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Sacagawea, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc,  Jane Goodall, Clara Barton, Lucille Ball, Hilary Clinton, Marie Antoinette, Sojourner Truth, Sonia Sotomayor, Queen Elizabeth, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama,  Julia Child



  • Adichie, Chiamamanda Ngozi *We Should All Be Feminists
  • Albright, Madeleine K. *Madam Secretary:  A Memoir
  • Angelou, Maya *I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Bauermeister, Erica The School of Essential Ingredients
  • Bradley, Alan The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • Child, Julia *My Life in France
  • Cisneros, Sandra The House on Mango Street
  • Dinesen, Isak *Out of Africa
  • Hosseini, Khaled A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Hurston, Zora Neale Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Kidd, Sue Monk The Secret Life of Bees
  • Kingsolver, Barbara The Bean Trees
  • Kristof, Nicholas D. *Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
  • Letts, Billie Where the Heart Is
  • McBride, James *The Color of Water:  A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
  • Nafisi, Azar *Reading Lolita in Tehran
  • Robinson, Mary *Everybody Matters
  • Sandburg, Sheryl *Lean In
  • Shetterly, Margot Lee *Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space
  • Stockett, Kathryn The Help
  • Summit, Pat *Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective
  • Tada, Joni Eareckson *Joni: An Unforgettable Story
  • Walls, Jeannet *The Glass Castle
  • Waters, Alice *The Art of Simple Food:  Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

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I have a new page on my site.  Check it out please.

I said my blog wouldn’t be political.  And the main blog page here will not be.  It will continue to be reflections about books, education, health, words, etc.   However, there are days I must take Jon Stewart’s advice, “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance.  So if you smell something, say something.”    So it is here on my “As I See It” page that I will say something.

Use the menu to get to As I See It


! Amy Krouse Rosenthal – I Wish You More !

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I was saddened today when I saw a post on my Facebook feed that referred to one of my very favorite children’s authors as the “dying author.”  Amy Krouse Rosenthal has written some of the most wonderful picture books I have ever read.  Every chance I got, I included Chopsticks or Spoon or Little Pea in my story times at the library.  I read ! Exclamation Mark to my high school juniors as well as the little ones.  I buy copies of I Wish You More for adults and children.  I have gifted copies of all of these books and more by her to friends.  The best of children’s literature is always inclusive – the little ones love and enjoy it but we never outgrow it.  Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books meet that goal.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has a very special place in children’s literature that gives children a wonderful story with humor and heart while teaching them that it’s okay to be who they are meant to be.  Each of us has a purpose, and we should work to discover our own without being jealous of what others have.  She has a message of love, caring, and hope.  I feel like I know her heart through what she has written.  After reading the article and hearing about the essay she wrote (see link below), I wish that I had actually gotten to know her.  As a person.  As a friend.  As a woman who deserved the humor, kindness, caring, love and hope that her books have offered, and will continue to offer, so many children and adults.




Be the Change

No matter who you are. No matter your race, religion, ethnicity, nationality.  No matter if you are male or female.  No matter if if you are young or old or somewhere in the middle, far right or far left or somewhere in the middle.  No matter if you are heterosexual or part of the LGBTQ community.  There is one thing that I believe everyone can agree is true.  There are problems in the world.

Human trafficking.  Hunger.  Clean water.  War.  Terrorism.  Civil rights.  The fight for equality.  Racism.  Hate crime.  Murders.  The environment.  Health and disease.  Health care.  Help for those with disabilities.  Education.  The economy.  Animal cruelty.  Bullies.  Online predators.  Pedophiles.  Nuclear threats.  I’m sure you can add to this list and we could fill pages with a variety of things that we want to see end, change, get solved, get cured, made better.  The problems exist on every continent, in every country, in the state you live in, in the city or town where you reside, and possibly within your own home and family.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we are infinity capable of changing the world.  Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.  It’s the only thing that ever has.”  We can all make a difference with the passion and the courage to put ourselves out there.


Certainly there are loads of famous people who use their fame and fortune to make a difference.  Matt Damon works with The Water Project to bring clean drinking water to areas where there is none.  Bono has the RED campaign working to fight the AIDS epidemic.  Audrey Hepburn worked with UNICEF, Bob Hope made life a bit better for our troops through the USO, Dolly Parton helps promote literacy and bring employment to the poor area where she grew up, and Robert Griffin III has created a foundation to benefit struggling military families, underprivileged youth and victims of domestic violence.  The list goes on and on.  These folks have an advantage of fame and money to help their efforts, but not everyone with their assets are willing.

There are also others who have made major impacts without fame to help them.  They take to heart Gandhi’s words that “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  Alex’s Lemonade Stands were started by a then four-year-old cancer patient.  By the time of her death at age 8, she had raised $1 million.  They have now raised $140 million so her work continues.  In 2006, Blake Mycoskie started a shoe company with the idea of donating one pair of shoes for each pair sold.  According to their web site TOMS shoes have donated over 60 million pairs of shoes.  They have branched out from their original mission to include efforts that  have given eyeglasses to 400,000 people since 2011, have provided clean water, and as of 2015 they are working to train skilled birth attendants and distribute birth kits to poor mothers.  Thirteen-year-old Mackenzie Bearup started collecting books for the children in the local homeless shelter.  This has grown into Sheltering Books which supplies books to shelters across the country.

screenshot-2017-02-26-19-09-22And there are quiet endeavors carried out daily by volunteers and thoughtful people everywhere.  Pauley Perrette carries socks in her car and hands them out to homeless people  she sees.  Jessica Nupponen lifts people’s spirits through her chalk art and was the catalyst for a plan to put hats, gloves, and scarves on trees and posts in Camp Hill for anyone who needs them.  I have friends who volunteer serving meals at soup kitchens, helping out at libraries, working through their churches for a variety of causes, gathering and distributing meals for food pantry programs, visiting elderly people in nursing homes, taking service dogs into nursing homes, and teaching adults to read.  Each of these people contributes a little but they make a difference that accrues, builds, grows, and becomes contagious.  I love these words from Bill Kemp, “The power of one man or one woman doing the right thing for the right reason, and at the right time is the greatest influence in our society.”

Living Word Community Church in York, PA has a sermon series going on right now on relationships.  Last week’s sermon really resonated with me.  It was about making a difference and becoming an agent of change in relationships.  I think that the lessons in the sermon and the handout that came in the program could certainly improve all of your relationships.  But I believe that these principles applied to all areas of our life within our community, country, and world would bring about enormous changes.  I challenge you to watch or listen to the sermon at http://lwccyork.com/messages/be-the-change/ and read the handout below.  If you don’t want to listen to it as a Christian sermon, then listen to it as a talk on making a difference.  It will, I think, speak to many of you.

We may not agree on which problems are the most important to address.  That’s okay.  If you work toward solving the ones that burden your heart and I work to solve the ones that weigh on mine, change will come.  Solutions will come.  And everyone will benefit.