Posted in Inspiration, This is me

I Refuse…

It’s a big week. This is going to be a big week for our country (regardless of which side you are on), a big week at the gym, a big week at school, and a big week for me. The country part is fairly obvious, and all I will say is I just hope people can start to Be Kind again, regardless of whether we agree or disagree. I miss when we could disagree on something and it was okay. I miss when the push wasn’t to be a keyboard warrior, but to be a good person. Politics aside, I sincerely hope we can start to heal and come together to celebrate our differences instead of fight about them. In fact, I will just say it. I refuse to not be kind.

It’s also a big week at the gym. This week we have our first seminar, and it is about setting goals. I am a huge goal setter, and I actually teach how to set goals in my classes, so I am super stoked about this event. I am also a little nervous about it. We haven’t done this before, and I am in charge of planning it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do things well, and that can lead to being pretty down on myself if something doesn’t go exactly as planned. Let’s be clear, it isn’t because I think I am perfect that this bothers me, it is because I feel like I let someone down. Something will happen not according to plan, and that is how we can learn and do better for the next time. This week, I refuse to forget that flaws are how we learn and grow.

This week is also a big week at school. It’s the first (almost) full week of classes. Granted, we don’t have class on Monday because of MLK day, but it is the first time most classes will meet more than just the day 1 syllabus talk kind of day. I love the beginning of a new semester, but it is also a time that is a little nerve-wracking for teachers and students of all ages. For those of us in higher ed, each new semester or quarter is like starting a new academic year. There are huge hopes and dreams that are mired in expectations and standards, and those can be overwhelming. When you tack the normal stuff on top of a pandemic, a country at odds from within, pandemic fatigue, and lots of outside noise thinking about the beginning of this semester can be a little overwhelming. So this semester I refuse to get mired down in the constant stuff outside of my classroom so I can simply control what is happening within my classroom.

That gets us to it being a big week for me. Personally. Now, you may laugh about what I am getting ready to tell you, and that’s okay. I’m kind of laughing, too. It is still a big deal in my head for whatever reason. This week I turn 40. I don’t know why I am having a hard time with it. It is the first birthday where I can say that I finally feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and have a career that I love. It’s also a little hard to look and realize that I came into that career really late. I’m 40, with one semester as a full-time faculty member under my belt. I’m 40 with a daughter that is going to college next year. Life is changing a lot this year, and maybe that is why I am dreading this big number. Why couldn’t it have been 39? Anyway, I really don’t like the way I am feeling about turning 40. I also don’t like that I am dreading my birthday. It could also have something to do with the fact that I am pretty sure the day before my birthday is going to be slightly nuts. Regardless, I am going to try to stop it now. In fact, I refuse to let myself dwell on getting older.

That seems like a lot of negativity for a space that I don’t normally let get negative. Maybe it isn’t negative, it is just me thinking about what lies ahead. In actuality, I am really trying to take a stand against the negativity that could typically find a way into my head to prevent it from getting in there and multiplying. One of the things I have found about myself is that it doesn’t take much for the negative thoughts to start and it takes even less for them to multiply exponentially. This is my way of drawing that line. It is the way that I am going to remind myself about growth when I feel overwhelmed or like things aren’t going right. It is how I’m going to remind myself to cut myself the same slack I cut others. It’s how I’m reminding myself that age is just a number. I refuse to let this week get the best of me.

Posted in Inspiration, This is me

New Year, but Not Necessarily a New Me

Happy New Year!! It is once again that time of year where people set goals to be better, fitter, nicer, healthier, more intentional, more prayerful, calmer, more peaceful, etc. Every other advertisement I see or hear is chanting the words, “New Year, New You,” and showing beautiful people. I am not judging, in fact, I have been a person that said New Year, New Me multiple times. I have set the goals that sounded great and were right in line with what other people were doing, and I have even been picking a word for the year for the past few years.

This year, I am just not feeling it. I keep questioning why it has to be a “New” me or a “New” you. Why are we setting goals for the pretty? Are we actually reflecting and thinking about how we could improve? Are we actually thinking about whether the goal we are setting is attainable? I teach students how to set SMART goals in one of my classes, and the things that I continually have to help them revise are Specific, Measurable, and Attainable. It seems like some of this push to be New is actually also pushing to not appreciate where you are and where you started.

I don’t want to be a new person, I’ve worked to hard to get to the person I am

In all actuality, after doing this new year, new person thing for all of these years, I want off this ride. I have finally, this year, started liking who I am more and recognizing all the things I have done and worked through to get to this point. Maybe it is because I turn 40 in just a couple weeks; maybe it is because I am finally in the career that I want to be in and I am doing the things I want to do; maybe it is because I am afraid to set another goal about getting fit that falls flat because of injury; or maybe I am just scared to set a goal in this weird time in which we are living. I don’t really know, but I do know that New Year, New Me (or You) is really rubbing me the wrong way this year.

But, where does that leave me? Can I just not do the resolution thing? Spoiler alert: I have really bad FOMO, so that probably isn’t an option. Can I just ignore the ads and the people around me? Spoiler alert #2: I’m not great at ignoring things that irritate my soul. So, what do I do now? And why does this bother me so much? I think it bothers me because I want myself (and others) to want to grow without losing what makes them uniquely them. I don’t want to turn into a new person, I just want to be a better version of this person. Heck, there are even some things that I think I do pretty well and don’t want to change. I think I will just keep the trend I have done for the past few years and choose a word for the year, set some goals to enhance the person that already exists, and then put my nose to the grindstone. The word thing is something I found several years ago (2020 – Intentional, 2019 – Pause, 2018 – Grace) and it is the thing that has helped me conquer the FOMO and try to focus on bettering myself. I got the idea from a friend, then quickly went and researched on blogs and OneWord365. For me, the word is always something that just comes to me during the last couple of weeks of the year for the next year. It sticks around in my head until I admit that is the word, then I try to set mini goals for myself with that word in mind. By mini-goals, I really mean little ones. Sometimes it is as simple as a goal to make myself stop and breathe with no work or music for 5 minutes a day for the next 5 days (Pause) or to eat lunch away from my desk (Intentional). They aren’t necessarily large words, and they are not necessarily large goals, but they are always things that allow me to feel like I am moving forward to becoming a better _____________ (fill in the blank with whatever thing I am trying to accomplish at that moment) while still maintaining who I am at my core.

So, this year, the word that kept coming to me was Routine. To be totally honest, I hated it. It sounds boring and unimaginative, and I just couldn’t think of any way to jazz up routine. I also knew deep down that I really needed to work on establishing better routines in my life to keep me from being overwhelmed. I thought about it some more, then went to Facebook (because that’s what everyone does, right) and asked the OneWord365 community for suggestions on what to do when you don’t like your word. I got several suggestions, including a change to the word that makes it exactly what I wanted, and more importantly what I need.

Word of the Year 2021:  Rhythm

Rhythm speaks to me on so many levels, and so that is how I am setting my goals this year. That is how I will enhance the person that I already am and grow towards being more than what I am currently. This year, I want to work on my rhythm. The rhythm of my life, the rhythm of my work, even the rests that make the rhythm mean more. So, if you are like me and hate New Year, New You, or just don’t get the resolution thing, try choosing a word. Maybe your word will be for the month. Sometimes I choose a word for a day (typically it is Breathe and happens when things are way out of rhythm). Whatever you do, do it for you. Do it to grow in who you are and who you want to be. Just don’t forget who you are now.

Posted in This is me

Lessons from a White/Pandemic Christmas

Well, Christmas has come and gone. It was different, which we knew was going to happen because of the pandemic, but it was also beautiful. For someone who thrives on tradition and control, this Christmas season has been unlike any other. It has been trying, frustrating, and even depressing at times but, as I sit here with all our Christmas celebrations completed, I see beauty, patience, and some self-realization that happened throughout this Christmas season. The snow may be melting, but the things that I learned this Christmas will be burned in my heart and mind for a long time.

So how did it start? What was the first lesson learned this year? It started back in November with the realization that I am not superwoman. I am one of those people that wants the trees up the day after Halloween. I have memories of the Christmas when I got 10 trees up and had everything bought and wrapped by Thanksgiving. I had decided that this would be the year that I would have everything done by the weekend of Thanksgiving, and I was going to start with surprising my kids when they got home. I worked it out with my mom that the kids were going to her house to spend the night after school on a Friday night so I could have all day on Friday and the beginning of Saturday to get everything decorated and the tree ready for ornaments. David was going to bring everything over from the storage building that Friday morning and we could get it all ready for the ornaments when the kids got home. The best laid plans … In actuality what happened was that he didn’t get home until after I had picked up B from school and Alyssa was home. They came home because Alyssa was ticked that I was asking them to go to mom’s and wouldn’t tell her why. That resulted in about 15 different reasons why she couldn’t go, then finally one more reason she had to come home. I finally just gave it up and told them they were coming home and to never mind. And that was how the Christmas season began. Plans that didn’t work out due to circumstances beyond my control. Not a great way to begin for a self-professed control freak. Lesson #1 – I am not as in control as I like to think I am.

With such an auspicious beginning, it then took me over a week to get motivated to get everything decorated, and it was not everything that I remembered decorating that wonderful year that I keep remembering as the perfect Christmas. Lesson #2 had to do with traditions. I have a ton of Christmas decorations, in actuality I probably have too many for my little house, and they each have a specific place they go. When I finally got motivated to start decorating, I realized/remembered that we had gotten rid of 2 big pieces of furniture this year. Those 2 big pieces of furniture typically house my villages and my dancing snowmen and cookie jars. I sat among the boxes of stuff for 2 days trying to figure out how to get these things out and where to put them once I got them out. Snowman central ended up on top of my kitchen cabinets, which I think looks even better than it did in the big piece of furniture. My villages ended up split into a residential and business district. I didn’t light the villages up this year, but I have already figured out how to do that for next year, so I am looking forward to that. Lesson # 2 – It is okay to make changes to what has worked before. Sometimes it will even turn out better with the changes.

The next lesson I learned happened on Black Friday. I always go Black Friday shopping, and typically get almost all my shopping finished when I am shopping that day. I don’t do that crazy overnight shopping, but I typically pick up mom or Lindsay around 5:30 and we hit the road. That was the plan this year, and we took off for Knoxville. I altered the route we normally take and started in West Knoxville hoping to beat the crowds. We definitely beat the crowds. In fact, most of the stores weren’t open, and we ended up waiting on Panera to open to go get breakfast before we ever got started. It was almost eerie how few people were out shopping. The ones who were out were pretty much all wearing masks. The longest line we saw all morning was the line of people waiting to get in a huge wine store. I’m not sure what they had on sale, but I definitely feel like I need to go back and investigate that store. It must be an amazing place to go because the line to get in was down the sidewalk, turned a corner, and blocked a few other stores. It was crazy. Mom and I shopped until I had totally worn her down (she’s not really a shopping fan) and I had almost everyone’s gift bought. The Tahoe was full, and we decided to stop at Target on the way home. I mean Target has Starbucks, and why would you go to Knoxville and not hit Target on the way home? This is where Lesson #3 was firmly cemented in my brain. Before we ever went into Target, I said something funny and we both ended up laughing until we cried. Lesson #3 – A good laugh should happen more often because it is absolutely energizing.

Lesson #4 goes back to planning things out. David and I decided we wanted to redo the office to make it more conducive to working from home because we are both thinking that we will be working from home again at some point in the future. We went and ordered a countertop to become our desks and it was supposed to be here on 11/24. We had already torn the office mostly apart in anticipation of this, and we knew that I was coming home to work after Thanksgiving because my school was going online after Thanksgiving break. The hope was that they could do the install really quickly after the countertop arrived and I would be able to work from home in the office for the month of December. Back to that best laid plans thing… The countertop didn’t arrive until December 11th, and they weren’t able to install it until December 21st. That meant our Christmas wonderland had an extra table in the living room for me to work from plus the decorations for the office that I had left on a part of the couch so I could decorate it as soon as the countertop was finished. Needless to say, the delay put my controlling tendencies into a tailspin and the extra stuff in my living room really got under my skin and left me not super focused. It was hard to finish the semester, and I ended up going into the office to do some of it because I couldn’t get in a good rhythm at home. Lesson #4 – Delays are inevitable, don’t let them totally ruin your plans.

We finally got the office finished (not decorated for Christmas, but finished), all the presents were wrapped, some plans for Christmas were different but everything was going along smoothly. I finally felt like we had hit the Christmas groove. Then the meteorologists started calling for snow on Christmas Eve. I live in the south, we don’t do snow. In fact, the past several Christmases have been about 70 degrees. They call for snow, but it is rare that we get more than just a dusting if we get anything. We all got excited about the possibility of any snow on Christmas, but knew that this was probably going to turn out the same way it has in the past and we were going to be snow disappointed. Christmas Eve got here, we had plans for that night, and it was raining. Then the rain turned to snow, and it started sticking, and it was a ton of snow, and this is the south where we don’t know what to do with that kind of snow. My aunt got stuck coming home from work, plans changed again, and we ended up loading the truck and heading to mom’s to spend the night (with the dog, another change in plans). The snow happened, and then it happened some more, and then it happened some more, and we had the first truly white Christmas I can remember. This was wonderful, but started changing plans again. Instead of going to my grandfather’s for Christmas dinner, we came home after opening presents and having breakfast at mom’s house. That sounds great, right? A low-key Christmas night at home. That would all ring true except for 2 things. When we got up on Christmas Eve, the lower half of the Christmas tree lights were out. That brought tons of tears from me. Problem number 1 with a calm Christmas evening at home was that I didn’t even want to look at my Christmas tree because it looked so horrible to me without half the lights. Problem number 2 was a little more of an issue. I had not planned to eat Christmas dinner at home, so I hadn’t gone to the grocery store. Luckily, we bought part of a cow this summer and still had some meat in the deep freeze. Christmas dinner became cubed steak, mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs. Did we end up having a nice night? Absolutely. Did I end up seeing some beauty in this old tree with half the lights out? Yes. Lesson #5 – Sometimes, when we think there is nothing there, we can put together a whole thing. We just have to think outside the box. Lesson #6 – There is beauty in everything, even when we have to struggle to find it.

This has been a crazy year. It is not getting any less crazy as time has gone on, and it doesn’t appear that it will get any less crazy in the next few days. There are so many more things than this that I learned this year, but I think 6 life lessons in a month and a half is quite a bit. By the way, that snow is still hanging around on the grass, and we ended up with between 5 and 6 inches of snow. That’s a ton for where I live. We did end up rescheduling Christmas at my grandfather’s, and David’s mom was able to come down for brunch yesterday morning. This Christmas has not been what we expected, but if has been an amazing Christmas season. The normal things that have marked Christmas in the past looked different or didn’t happen at all this year, but it was still an amazing experience. I have a feeling, once everything is said and done, we will look back on this year in much the same way I am looking back at Christmas. Things were different, and not everything happened the way we wanted, but we grew from it and became better people because of it.

Posted in Perfect Chaos, This is me, Uncategorized

Finally…

For roughly 2 months, I have been talking about redoing our home office. I’ve been dreaming about redoing it for years. We actually took the big step and ordered countertops to create a desk over a month ago. I bought the paint a month and a half ago. Today, it finally happened. When we decided what we were going to do, David started cleaning out the old office. That turned things slightly upside down. Little did we know how long it would remain turned upside down. I even left Christmas decorations out to put in there when we put up all the decorations everywhere else in the house. As a reminder, here are a few pics from the beginning of this craziness (September 27th was when I took these pictures).

Chaos definitely describes it, but it certainly wasn’t perfect. In fact, I couldn’t even work in here because it was so chaotic. It wasn’t always like this, but it quickly became like this when David and I, and the kids, all got sent home to do work and school in March. As fall semester rolled along, I kept having this really bad feeling that we would end up being sent home again. Luckily, that did not happen, but it made me want to get the office in shape to where we could function if we were all sent home. This particular room has served as an office, the first bedroom for both kids, and then back to an office. It is a long, skinny room, and it is hard to use as a bedroom because of that. Luckily, my husband is pretty much a saint and goes along with my crazy ideas of doing stuff with the house. Here are some pictures of the office as it looks right now, and some pictures of the process.

If I said I am loving the new office, it would be an understatement. We finally have a space that works for both of us. We will be able to work in here together, record our podcast in here (anchor.fm/perfect-chaos), have a nice place to meet with people if we need to do that (hence the blue chair), and make plans together. I am absolutely over the moon with our new setup. I know there are some things we still need to get or do, and it will get changed a little as we start using it more, but I am actually motivated to do some work again. Here’s hoping that it will provide a great place for us to work when we need to work from home.

Posted in Academia

Dear Mr. Epstein…

I normally write this blog about things that aren’t super controversial, but come from my heart. Today’s blog also comes from my heart, but it may be a touch more controversial than my normal writing. Last night, shortly before bed, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across an opinion piece published during in the Wall Street Journal and written by a Mr. Joseph Epstein about the use of the honorific Dr. by Dr. Jill Biden.

By the time I finished reading the article, I was angry. It isn’t uncommon for me to become angry reading things that are linked on social media, but it is highly unusual for me to still be angry this long after I read it. I have seen multiple responses to Mr. Epstein today written by colleagues in academia, as well as those with other doctoral degrees. I have finally decided I need to respond so I can quit thinking about the article. I promise to return to regular blogging before next week.

Dear Mr. Epstein,
Your opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal concerning the use of the honorific earned by Dr. Jill Biden seems to be best described as ramblings of someone who just likes to be heard. I noticed, after doing some research into your background, that you earned a BA from the University of Chicago. Congratulations on earning your degree. Congratulations also on your award of the National Humanities Medal and your multiple appointments as editor, writer, and lecturer. Congratulations also on your awards of the Ribalow Prize and the Heartland Prize. And, while I am at it, thank you for your service to this country in the US Army. I would congratulate you on the award that you were given of the honorary doctorate but, as you said in your article, you did nothing to achieve that.
I was slightly confused when reading your OpEd as to whether you were intending to be snarky or if you really have a problem with Dr. Jill Biden. You see, it seems like your problem is not only with her, but also with the whole of education in general. You basically claimed that the only doctors are medical doctors. I do wonder if all the medical doctors know they aren’t to be called doctor unless they deliver a baby, though. To that aspect of your article, I do wonder what implications that has to those who have a PhD in Nursing. Do they get to be called Doctor, or is that reserved for only MDs who delivered a baby?
You also seem to be of the thought that those of us with that lowly Ed.D. Degree would be so foolish as to answer that we are a doctor when the flight attendant asks if there is a doctor on board. I can promise you that we know very well that our Ed.D. does not qualify us to perform in flight surgery. In fact, most of us would run the other way if that was what we were being asked to do at any point. No, we realize what our role is, but I question whether you actually realize what those of us with Doctorate of Education actually are trying to accomplish.
I have one of those Ed.D. Degrees, and let me just tell you from a personal perspective why I got that degree. Believe it or not, it was not so I could be mistaken for a medical doctor. In fact, it had everything to do with being a better educator. I wanted to teach in higher education, as a full fledged faculty member. I do realize you have also worked a stint at a university as a lecturer with a BA, but that was not my goal. I didn’t want to be a guest lecturer, I wanted to be full time faculty. That requires a terminal degree. There are 2 options for terminal degrees in the field of Education, the Ed.D. & the Ph.D. I chose the Ed.D. In my case, my dissertation was on the ways that CTE teachers are indoctrinated into the field of education. Dr. Biden’s dissertation was on retention in community colleges. I realize that with your “extensive” experience and research you have deemed community colleges as ridiculous and unnecessary. In fact, your implication was that community colleges aren’t worth worrying about. I do sincerely hope that you aren’t in need of assistance by one of the MDs that started in the community college system or one of the lawyers that began their study of law in an intro to law course at a community college.
I am certain that you thought through the implications you made about the erosion of the Ph.D. & how that would affect your own credentials. It does seem, in fact, that Northwestern no longer even wants to claim you as having been a lecturer, so you may wish to strike that from your resume. It seems your very desire is to knock the field of higher education, while at the same time profiting from it. I’m certain you were paid at Northwestern, and I imagine you were paid by Phi Beta Kappa. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to donate the money made from those endeavors to someplace that provides counseling for those students who are broken from defending their Ph.D.s.
That brings me to my last point about your article. Not every doctoral student is brought to tears in the defense of the dissertation. There are definitely some that have had this experience, but that does not mean they were more or less prepared to defend than anyone else, and it certainly is not a reflection of the coursework the completed to get to that point. I had a supportive dissertation committee with a chair that called me once a week to remind me to breathe. I happened to be raising 2 kids, teaching, and supporting my deployed husband as I wrote my dissertation so that reminder was what I needed for my mental health. I wish you had experienced something like that in your education. Amazingly enough, I still managed to write a dissertation that mattered, although I am certain that you would disagree. If you are so inclined, you can find my dissertation at: https://www.cn.edu/libraries/tiny_mce/tiny_mce/plugins/filemanager/files/Dissertations/Ronda_Blevins.pdf
In closing, I realize that you have achieved what you wanted by writing your OpEd in getting people to say your name. I would even bet that people have bought your books because of this. However, I am left with just 2 questions for you.
1. Would you have written this same piece if Dr. Biden’s doctorate was in something other than Education?
2. Would you have written this same piece if Dr. Biden was male?

Feel free to think hard about those questions. While you are thinking I have one more:
Where would you like those of us who have the useless degrees to work since we are obviously not worthy of working in academia and who would you like to teach in the many institutions of higher education to replace us?

By the way, Mr. Epstein, I don’t fault you for your opinion. Everyone gets to have one of those. Yours just happens to come across as misogynistic and elitist at best, out of touch and jealous at worst.

Very Respectfully,
Dr. Ronda M. Blevins

Posted in Inspiration, This is me

Just Make a List…

December is finally here. I feel like I have been waiting on it since March. One of the things that I am really good at is making a list. I love lists. I love to check things off the list. I love to color code my lists. You get the idea. However, as much as I like making lists, I have struggled for years during the month of November. You see, a lot of the people on social media that I am friends with or follow take the month of November to express their gratitude. I have tried this in the past, but always felt like I was falling short of the goal. My friends always had these beautiful things that they were saying and that they were grateful for and I was always feeling like I could come up with a few things that I could write those beautiful words about, then I was grateful for things like coffee and twinkly lights. I just didn’t feel like I could write about being grateful for the little things because it would look petty next to the others.

Make a list to get it done

I then decided that I just wouldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t participate in Gratitude Month (November) because I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t grateful and I didn’t want to leave anyone out. Last year, I just skipped it all. I was grateful for things, I just didn’t post them. Then we got to 2020. It just didn’t feel right to skip listing the things I was grateful for with everything that has been going on in the world. I stewed about it for a little while, and then I received the answer one day while I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Bob Goff.

When I did one of the readings in early November, he talked about a friend of his that started each day by writing the 10 things he was grateful for on that day. I took this idea and ran with it. It made perfect sense because if I was listing 10 things each day, I felt like I was ok having a few of them be the little things. I also thought about how hard this semester has been on myself and all other educators and students. I decided to challenge my students that are currently teachers to write a list of 10 things they are grateful for each day when they got into their classrooms. I also set a goal for myself to do the same thing and to put my list on Instagram by doing a live video every morning when I made my list. For the most part, I have managed to do this almost every day, and it has certainly made a difference. In the reading, one of the things was trying to change the way we think. One example is instead of lamenting how much work we have to do, being grateful that we have a job. I have tried very hard to be grateful for at least one thing per day that I am typically unhappy or complaining about. I can safely say that now, after a couple of weeks of doing this, I am starting to think of things differently.

I have preached to my children and my students for years to choose joy, and while I try to do that there has just been a piece missing. I was still getting upset way too often about things that really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. By trying to flip my thinking, I have found myself finally able to choose joy and mean it. The glass isn’t half empty, I’m just happy to have a glass with something in it. I know that sounds super Suzy Sunshine, and I am definitely not Suzy Sunshine, but I truly mean it. Trying to change the framework in which I think about the things that bother me has been something that continues to bless me.

This semester, and really this year, have been so trying for so many people. It is an easy time for us all to think on the negative side of things. In fact, it is what we have seen happening increasingly all over social media and the news. We are all tired. We are all over being scared of this pandemic. Everybody wants life to go back to normal. I personally just want people to start being kind to each other again. Try making yourself a gratitude list. Not a big one with the big things, but a small one done each morning. Allow yourself to be really grateful for the silly stuff along with the big stuff.

Posted in Uncategorized

What does it matter?

So, I spent some time this weekend (and last weekend if I’m being honest) putting up Christmas stuff. As I was reading through social media this week, I saw multiple posts where people were fussing about others putting Christmas stuff up “too early” or people were putting their stuff up and posting pictures with the comment of “Don’t come at me for this.”

I have always wondered why it mattered to so many people when other people put the Christmas tree up, but I wonder that even more this year. You see, it seems to me like this year has been full of hard times, worries, unease, discontent, and general unkindness. I am one of those people that typically puts the Christmas decorations up early. I have done this for years. It isn’t because I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. It is because I love the twinkling lights and happy faces of Christmas. I love the magic of Christmas. They make me happy. They make my kids happy.

Quite honestly, one of the best Christmases we ever had was the year that I had absolutely everything (including buying and wrapping) finished by Thanksgiving. We spent the next month after Thanksgiving that year doing the fun things of Christmas. We watched movies, baked cookies, read stories, made crafts, and had time to do some of the things that just mean a little more at Christmas, too. We all 4 did Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and we got 2 names off the Angel Tree that we got to shop for that year. We got to go see all the parades, cook special meals, have friends over, and truly relax and enjoy the Christmas season. It was the calmest and happiest Christmas season we have ever had. This was all while I had surgery, Alyssa played middle school basketball and had games and tournaments, B played Upward basketball, and we were all doing things at church.

For us, it just works to put the decorations up early. I have friends that wait until after Thanksgiving, some that wait until the 1st of December, a couple that wait until the 12 days before Christmas, and 1 that puts it all up on Christmas Eve and has it all back down on the 26th. I think that is all wonderful. Every bit of it. It isn’t what I do, but what does that matter?

Why has this become such a big deal to people? I finally got an answer from a post someone else put up that said it makes it harder for people who don’t enjoy Christmas. I totally understand that, and I am truly sorry that it has that affect on someone. I personally need it to help me get through the changing of the season. I love fall, but I hate to see the leaves go away and I don’t like the barren trees and brown grass of winter. It helps when I miss people who can’t be here because of location because I remember the fun things we have done together when I get those decorations out. It helps me feel close to my Nana who has been gone since August of 2017 because most of my decorations came from her store and I can remember her always liking the way I decorated.

This year, I have seen more people struggle with emotional baggage due to the pandemic, the election, hurricanes, fires, murder hornets, school closures, etc. I have also seen more people saying they were putting up their Christmas stuff earlier than they ever have because it makes them happy. I guess my question in all of it is simply, “Why does it matter to someone else if I put my tree up early?” There are so many thing going on in this world. So many big things that we need to work together on. So many things we can fight over that actually make a difference. So why is it the Christmas decorations that are the sticking point? What’s the real deal?

I guess, for me, it doesn’t matter if you put them up early or late, if the baby Jesus is already in your nativity or not, if the Magi are wandering around your house or have already found the crèche on the mantle, if you love the Christmas Shoes song or hate it, if you choose to celebrate Christmas or another holiday, if you do a ton of gifts or none. In my mind, do what makes you happy. None of these things are hurtful to another person. Do something that makes you smile. If that means you have pumpkins on the porch and elves in the windows, go for it. Find something that will bring a little more light to your world this year. There is definitely no reason to choose now to dull your sparkle. Yes, my tree is up and lit. The ornaments and angel will happen later this week. I have snowmen all over my kitchen. The Polar Express table is almost finished, and the mantle is done (including the nativity with the baby Jesus and magi all in attendance). I have Christmas pillows out, the tree in my bedroom is up, and there are more trees on the way. I plan on Black Friday shopping, and then wrapping everything on the next day. Then I plan on sitting back and relaxing with my family and enjoying the Christmas season. I hope you will enjoy this season, too.

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Thoughts about apologies and a little bit of the world

Does anyone else feel like you need to start every conversation with an apology? I mean, we all know that everyone is stretched beyond the limits we previously thought we had established as the most we could do, yet I still find myself starting conversations with a disclaimer or a pre-apology if I offend anyone. You know the kind. When we start off with things like, “Today sure has been a long week,” or, “I may be a little extra crabby today, so I’m sorry if I come across as mean.”

This is an interesting phenomenon, and it is one that has fascinated me forever. I have always been one of those people that says, “I’m sorry,” for every little thing yet has a hard time when it is a big thing. This concept of apologizing when it isn’t needed is strange, but fits in with the phenomenon of the pre-apology. So today I am asking the question. I truly want an answer, because I have some theories and I would love to see if any of them resonate with anyone else.

I was raised a good southern girl. I was taught manners by my mother, had them reinforced by my grandmother, and was ultimately sent to Charm School in high school. I know how to throw a party, set a table, carry on a conversation, present myself in public, etc. Along with that came a good amount of watching the people around me be hospitable to the point of walking on themselves before others could. I have seen people say sorry for the smallest things that they truly have no control over. I am absolutely guilty of doing this same thing, and have been guilty of it my whole life. I’m pretty sure it drives David nuts because I apologize for things like tonight when I discovered the power strip for the sound bar was turned off. I apologized for it, but he is the one that turned it off. What in the world am I actually saying sorry for when I didn’t have anything to do with the event? My theory on this one is that I am not apologizing for an actually occurrence, but instead I am apologizing that someone was inconvenienced or upset. It is an apology for feelings, not actions.

The pre-apology seems to be gaining ground lately, and I am watching it happen more and more around me. We are all stretched well beyond anything we are able to deal with, and tensions seem to be running at an all time high. I have also noticed that there seem to be 2 different things that happen with the pre-apology. 1 thing that I have seen happen is the person that gives the pre-apology really is over-tired or over-stressed and that person seems to be truly trying to be cordial and not snippy, but may or may not be succeeding. This type of pre-apologist I look at in much the same way as the apology for a feeling instead of an action. I don’t necessarily have a problem with what is happening, but am a little disturbed that we feel we have to start with a pre-apology. The other thing that I am seeing happen more and more often is when someone starts with a pre-apology, then continues on with words or actions that are deliberately harmful and hurtful to others under the premise of being stressed or tired. This type of pre-apology is one that I have a huge problem with and it seems to be happening more and more often as we get further into 2020.

Do you ever just wonder what happened to being kind to one another? When did it become more acceptable to give what I consider an empty pre-apology and then put people on blast? There are many arguments about what is contributing to this, and I’ll save those for another day. What I won’t save for another day is that I am tired of hateful. I am over spiteful. What happened to simple kindness? When did we forget that ALL of us are human, regardless of our different opinions?

Then there is the problem that I notice more and more in that we are able to do these small apologies all over the place for nothing, and we are also able to do the pre-apology. What we seem to have a hard time with is an actual meaningful apology for a serious wrong that has been committed either in word or action. Friendships are breaking up all over the place because words have been said and no one will come forward and acknowledge the wrong with an apology. I am not saying that everything can be fixed or even should be fixed with a simple apology, but I sure do see a ton of things that need apologies from multiple sides. When did we become people that will just pack our stuff and go home so we don’t have to see differing opinions? When did the common decency in disagreement turn into a battlefield?

I have watched friendships dissolve this week over an election. The latest thing I am seeing is an event on facebook to leave facebook for some other platform that promises to be uncensored freedom of speech. I don’t know about you, but after reading the things that have been written the past 6 months about politics, pandemics, education, and so many other things I don’t want to see what uncensored looks like.

So I have an idea. How about we stop apologizing when it isn’t really necessary and start apologizing when it is hard? What if we stopped apologizing because someone was mildly inconvenienced by something we had no control over and started apologizing for hurtful words that we said? What would happen if instead of dividing ourselves yet again so that we are surrounded by people that we agree with we decided to recognize humanity in those we don’t agree with and find common ground?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the world doesn’t feel like people are just mean to everyone else. I don’t know how we got here, or if I am the only person watching and feeling like a lost sheep in a pack of wolves. I compared the world the other day to middle school. That time during adolescence when children/tweenagers/teenagers/young adults are cruel in the ways that they treat each other and talk to each other. I want out of middle school. I want to have discussions where I don’t have to agree with the other person and we are still friends.

As someone who is a 2 on the Enneagram, an empathetic soul, and wants nothing more than peace, this world is giving me a headache. Even worse, it is breaking my heart. To those who I have hurt in the past, whether it was intentional or not, I am truly sorry. To those who feel they have no place to turn, come find me. We may not agree, but at the end of the day we can still be friends and have great conversations. And to those who just want to fight, argue, and speak nastiness to those who don’t agree with you, I’m truly sorry that you are so unhappy.

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Great Expectations

Picture this…

It’s the beginning of a new semester. You have set new goals for the semester, gone into your classroom or your office and gotten organized, and determined how this semester will be even better than the last one. Or maybe you went into work and realized that this season would be harder than ever before, but decided to be positive and look at all the amazing things you were anticipating learning because of the unique situation we are all finding ourselves in this year. Perhaps you simply have great expectations for a new relationship or even when you wake up in the morning and have great expectations for the day.

We are a society of expectations. We set them high, and hope to get there. I spend my days teaching students how to set high expectations and get their students to rise to meet those expectations. We call our expectations all sorts of different things:
SMART Goals
Expectancies
Prospectives
Targets

You can search the internet and scour the library and you will find all sorts of information about setting expectations. Everyone and their brother has an opinion about it. How high should you set them? Should you write them down? How will you achieve them? You should set them higher. You should set them lower. You will never reach that goal. Don’t push so hard to achieve so much, you will never be able to top what you just accomplished.

But what do these expectations actually mean to us? Are we setting small goals that can be accomplished or are we setting huge goals that are going to take a while to finish? Are we setting expectations for ourselves or for others? Have we set an expectation for ourselves that will push us to success or push us to frustration?

There are a few things that we need to remember when we are setting expectations that will help us avoid excess frustration that could have been avoided. Make no mistake, I am not saying to set low expectations or to accept mediocrity, just that there are sometimes other things to think about when we are setting expectations. Remember, the piece that never changes, but can confound everything we try to do, is our our humanity.

So what can you do to help yourself set realistic expectations, regardless of if you are setting an expectation for the day or for a lifetime?

Think logically about the circumstances surrounding the expectation
We all have desires and wants to improve ourselves in some way. Sometimes, our want is so large that the expectation that we set is not something that can logically happen. How many of us have decided we are going to start going to the gym only to be looking in the mirror and frustrated after only a few days because we don’t see a difference yet?

I have a friend who I am constantly telling to look at the entire situation and not just the momentary issue. If you are setting expectations based purely on your desires without looking at your life circumstances, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. For instance, if your expectation is for weight loss or toning, it is setting yourself up for disappointment if you are expecting results as quickly as they used to get them on that show The Biggest Loser. Logically, we know it doesn’t happen that fast. If you are setting expectations for your semester, you have to take into account what else is going on in your life. As a student, don’t set the expectation that you are going to study for 4 hours a day when you are also an athlete and working outside of school. There aren’t enough hours in the day. If you are setting expectations for a date, don’t expect to fall in love and to have that movie moment within the first hour of the first date. I’m not saying it never happens (one day I’ll blog about how David and I met), but I am saying it isn’t a healthy expectation to have. If you are a student, think about the whole of your life before you get upset about a grade. Perfection cannot be your expectation or you will always be disappointed.

Remember the Humanity Aspect of Your Expectation
Most of the time when we set expectations, we are setting them surrounding something that involves humanity. The interesting thing about this is that it is one of those things that we absolutely cannot control, especially if our expectations involve someone other than ourselves. Humans, by their very nature, are not exactly predictable in every situation. If our expectations involve humanity, which most of them do, then we have to keep that in mind when setting them. Perhaps that looks like setting different levels of expectations based on outcomes. Perhaps it looks like doing a lot of self-reflection to determine if we are expecting our own qualities to show up in other people. We have to remember the qualities of the other people when we include them in our expectations or we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. So, what does that mean? If you are setting expectations for a date night with your significant other, remember who that person is at their core. If your SO is not romantic by nature, then having the expectation of flowers and a hugely romantic evening is probably setting yourself up for disappointment and will potentially lead to feelings of resentment.

Your expectations are your expectations, not someone else’s
One of those things that has happened as social media has become more prevalent is an increase in comparing our lives to the lives of others. When you set expectations, they cannot be based upon someone else’s situation. It is okay to set your expectations and goals based on things that are inspired by others, it is not okay to set expectations to become another person. Remember that your expectation has to go back to what is able to be accomplished in your situation, not someone else’s. This is a great graphic that I found on verywellmind.com that speaks very well to this thought process and how to avoid making expectations based on comparisons between your life and someone else’s life.

So, why is it so important to keep these things in mind when we are setting expectations? Am I telling you that if you follow these three things you will always meet or exceed your expectations? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I simply want to encourage you in this time of craziness when almost all of us are having to reevaluate the ways in which we do things to set realistic expectations that have the greatest chance of being accomplished. The downward spiral that we can find ourselves in based on not meeting expectations is just one more thing that most of us don’t need to be feeling right now as the world spins around us. Setting those realistic expectations can help us gain control in a life that sometimes feels as if we are a pinball subject to someone else’s control of the pinball machine. Setting clear expectations can give us direction when we are floundering to find our way. Setting logical expectations can help us realize when something really is disastrous and when it is just something that is not the way we wanted it at the moment.

So give yourself some grace, create some expectations, and meet those goals. You’ve got this!

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Exhausted, but in a different way

I let a couple weeks go by without a new post, but nothing felt right when I wrote it. You see, for all of my posts about taking care of yourself, I wasn’t taking care of me. I was just as weary and exhausted as ever, but still pushing to keep moving as fast as I could. In my mind, I needed to pick up all the pieces that I felt like were falling. I just happen to be one of those people that has great advice that I never listen to myself.

The truth is, I am still exhausted. In fact, I slept 13 hours last night because I had let myself get so tired. So if I’m exhausted, why do I feel better? I did some self-care this week, but maybe not in the way that is typically expected. This week, I was able to help with the competition at our gym (Mossy Creek Fitness) to benefit Tyler’s Voice. You can find more information about Tyler’s Voice here. It is a joke between the owners of the gym and myself that I am “scary organized” and since I have that quality, I love to offer my help when we have events. The competition was originally supposed to happen in May, but had to be postponed due to the pandemic. So my self-care this week just happened to have me busier than ever.

For me, the opportunity to spend some time organizing, creating to-do lists, making (and re-making) scoring sheets, and crunching numbers on a spreadsheet system with some of the most lovely people around. I even got the opportunity to figure out how to run a silent auction using Google forms. I know, this doesn’t sound like rest. In fact, I agree, it wasn’t rest. It was super hard work put in by a ton of people to have an amazing event.

I also got the opportunity to workout twice this week for the first time in months. I have been in PT working on some stuff in my back and hip, and super busy, so getting in 2 workouts this week was wonderful, although also hard mentally, but I’ll talk about that in my next blog post.

All of the activity this week has left me exhausted, but exhilarated. Tired, but energized. Sad, but excited. I finally realized that maybe my self-care can sometimes not be about sitting still, but instead be about the motivating factor behind my movement. I still think we all need to take a break.

I still think I need to take a break. I’m still dreaming about a long weekend away from everyone and everything with a fireplace, a hot tub, and a great view. But those forms of self-care may not necessarily fix it all. They would give me rest and help me heal physically. They would give me peace and quiet to work on my mental health. They would give me free time to work on my stress levels. The opportunity that I was given this week was the opportunity to work on who I am as a person. The opportunity to toss all the cynical feelings about all the things going on in the world went out the window when I got to see Tyler do such amazing things in the CrossFit Total. This week, amidst the chaos and hard work, I got to do some self-care to heal emotionally. The toll that none of us like to think about. The toll that happens when you are a natural caregiver. When you will gladly work yourself to death if it will make other people happy or take away a burden.

This week, I got to see our gym (with a ton of help from others) do Tyler’s Voice competition. I got to see people of all types working together on something. I got to work with people that I am so lucky to call friends, and have amazing conversations with people that inspire me. I also got to be affirmed by someone that I didn’t expect to be the person to give me affirmation.

So, you see, I am absolutely exhausted. I slept 13 hours and could quite honestly go back to bed. I’m on the couch in pajamas and pretty much planning to stay there for the day. But, I feel better than I did because I was able to give my talents to something bigger than myself for no reason other than wanting to help. Lots of people talk about filling the bucket and taking care of yourself. Getting enough rest, finding time alone, disconnecting from the world for a few minutes or longer, eating healthier, working out more, communing with nature, enjoying a good meal, etc. are all great ways to do self-care, and are all things we should try to do every once in a while. Don’t be afraid to do something that maybe makes you busier, and even a little more stressed for a moment, if it will also give you the opportunity to give of your talents and gifts freely. The work this weekend was something I took on freely, just wanting things to be organized (I may be a slight control freak), but the repayment I got from this weekend is something that will help me get through the next few weeks.

Yes, I am exhausted, but it is a different form of tired. It is one that is like being wrapped in a warm blanket. It’s a happy tired. I hope you can find a way this week to find your happy tired.