Category Archives: December

Inside School Walls

I’ve been around for awhile and I’ve seen a lot. Instead of being over the hill, I like to think of myself as stopping on the top and looking out at the view before I move down the hill. When I was a youngster, what really scared me was the witch from The Wizard of Oz. I lived through the killing of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. The moments are still vivid in my mind, yet these incidents didn’t scare me as much as hearing about a twenty-four-year-old man doing the unthinkable in the 1960s.

The first mass random shooting in American history took place on August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin. From the tall observation deck of University Tower, a man killed 16 people and wounded dozens of others. This horrified me that this could actually happen somewhere in America.

I have worked in the school system since 1988, working with students with all types of disabilities, including mental disorders. I’ve worked with students from four to eighteen years old and have served at many schools. In elementary school, first grade was my favorite age because they seem so eager and ready to learn. Presently, in high school, I find I have a heart for students with emotional disorders, however, I worry about their future.

My first experience with schools and violence came when I was working at a high school in Oregon. This was after Columbine, making all of us in the school system aware that something could happen almost anywhere. I was lucky; our school only experienced bomb threats. But, they were scary enough when the whole school had to leave the building.

It’s a sad thing when you have to pray for your safety and for those around you each day before you go to work/school. Some thought bullying was involved, so we made sure our students knew bullying was not okay. But it is more than bullying and we practice lock downs often in our schools.

This week I am heartbroken that first graders are shot down, as well as school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary. Yes, I feel less safe at school, but I’m not frightened this time, but deeply, disturbingly, sad and grieving. Students of the age I have favored so dearly are leaving this world due to a person with an emotional or mental disorder, another type of student I care about.

This is the first time, I’ve really asked why. Besides the fact that we all have free choice in what we do, I can’t give you a precise answer, but I have learned something through watching.  I’ve learned that the whole nation is suffering, not only the victim’s families. So many of us would do anything to help when there is not much we can do but pray.  I’ve learned that in an era of complaining about schools not doing enough, Sandy Hook’s staff members have given their lives for their students, and our love for our students has been exposed.

As a youngster, I learned to have faith in a higher power and still today I realize I don’t know how to exist without finding comfort there, and finding solace that when I get down this hill I’m traveling and pass on, I will get to move through an often mentioned tunnel of light and see my loved ones waiting for me and some of them will be students.


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Socially Maladjusted and Loving it

Every December since I can remember, I’ve watched Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, listened to Burl Ives, and wondered why anyone would want to leave the cozy bungalow pictured on the Island of Misfit Toys. Meeting other writers at this second stage of my life has been a kind of homecoming. A safe, logical island in a sea of homogeneous inanity.

These people make sense to me. They understand heroes and heroines becoming friends of sorts – imaginary ones, true. I start hanging around writers and get the sense I’m normal. Until, another December tradition rears up and bites my ass. The ‘holiday’ concert.

Technically, public schools are separate from religious practice, but the ‘holiday’ concert in my school district is a thinly veiled Christmas concert with a couple of Hanukah and Kwanza songs thrown into the mix. THAT bugs me because it would be nice to celebrate diversity all year long. BUT, I digress . . . the real problem with this December tradition is attending the concert with hordes of parents . . . these people don’t listen to the voices in their heads, buy paper and ink in bulk, or become giddy at a bag of office supplies.

These people are normal.

They chat about Sally Sue’s piano lessons and how sweet Bobby looked all dressed up for the prom. And, their kids are normal, too. (And I might add – bland and uninteresting.)

My kids – bless their hearts – will stage a murder scene using the gingerbread men I baked and left cooling on the counter as a way to help me with a plot point. Admittedly, they picked up the idea from Shrek where the evil Duke tortured the gingerbread man, but still, the little dears. Crumbs and tinted decorative sugars turn into blood splatter and bullet casings. Limbs can be tossed aside. Cookie carnage sustains the creative mind. And the pieces are now conveniently bite-sized (few calories per cookie!!).

Only my writer friends appreciate my retelling of this story. The ‘normals’ look at me in shock and revulsion. What!? The cookies still taste the same.

So, I seek out my writing friends as the psychosis of December wanes. I’ll thank them for their patience in seeing me through a difficult year and treasure them in the coming one.

As this year closes, thank you to everyone who participated in Gem State Writers (through blogs and comments). I’ve learned more about writing, met some wonderful kindred souls, and can’t wait to see what this next year brings . . . hopefully, a little less ‘normal’ and a whole lot more ‘misfit’!


Posted by on December 27, 2011 in December, friends


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There is a Season

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven….
At the start of December, I had some writing time for myself only to be interrupted with Christmas cards, Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts and standing in line to mail them to relatives. While I worked away at the season’s to do list, I became frustrated instead of joyous.

Isn’t it something how we can still learn what’s important in life as it’s revealed to us in the little things? The verse above is from a song that’s a long time favorite of mine by the Byrds. I heard it on the radio the other day and it made me stop and think about my harried chase to carve out writing time.

Also, last week, I had a tenth grade student read some songs she’d written to me. Actually, she sang them and I was thankful that she felt confident enough to share them with me. I told her how wonderful it was that she’d started writing early in life, while I waited until I was in my thirties. I thought back to my early years to the season before writing. I raised my kids; I did the best I could then moved on to writing. Finally, I no longer grieve the time I could have been writing. I think I get it. It wasn’t my season yet.

There’s a season for writing and it’s coming up for you and for me. And it may be after the holidays, working a season of over-time, taking care of your children or aging parents, going to college, divorce, or something else that comes your way.

This season, let’s all give ourselves a break and focus on our families and friends first, love them while they’re here. To everything there is a season. May you all have a peaceful holiday season and a happy new year!


Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Blogs, Boise, December, Family, friends, Idaho, stress, writers, writing


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Winter Solstice Inspiration by Johanna Harness

Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it’s no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I’m desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:

A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.”  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I’m seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it’s a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on,, and LiveJournal and I’m sure there are many more.


This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don’t have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here’s the brief description: “Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash.”  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It’s a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian’s Daughter.


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Seven Steps to Quick Shopping

Shopping is like writing. If you do some planning, it will make things much easier. Before you get to the list, there are a few supplies you’ll need.

Envelopes—for receipts. Make one for each person you’re shopping for. Put their name on it.

Pen—always need one. There’re several reasons for this. One is because you don’t want to use the store pens. You wouldn’t believe where those things end up or who used them last. Yuck!

Paper clips—Take one for each list.

Coupons—sorted by store and paper clipped to the list for that store.

Something to put everything in—preferably something hard-covered so you can write on it. Keep it small. You’ll have enough to carry.

  1. Don’t leave home without a plan. Nothing wastes more time than making a list that has no plan to it. That’s especially true when you go Christmas shopping. If you have an idea what you’re going to get each person use a color code. No, you don’t have to do this on the computer. That’s why we have highlighters. Assign each person on your list a color. Clump like items together, then highlight them appropriately. That way when you get to the store, you don’t back-track—it takes up a lot of time.
  2. Never leave home without a list. This is not only important for getting exactly what you’re going after, but for staying on task. And it will ultimately save you money by not straying off when you see something bright and sparkly. Look through the ads and make a list for each store.
  3. Grocery shopping. Take the recipe with you. I’ve been known to scan the recipe into my computer and print it off. That way I can highlight what I need. I paperclip coupons to the back of my list. If I don’t, I forget to use them and end up with a purse full of expired bits of paper.
  4. Clothes shopping. There is nothing harder for a sales associate than to have someone come in and say, “I have a pair of brown pants I need something to go with.” People think, it’s just brown, so anything will match. Colors change every year and every season. They go from cool to warm and you can’t put a cool color with a warm one. I know that sounds so logical, but hardly anyone does it.
  5. Cell phone. This way you can split up in a store and get more done. Note: Don’t walk around with the phone planted in your ear. You not only miss what’s going on around you (great stuff you can use in your WIP), sales associates won’t approach you. Don’t walk and text. If you do, you run the risk of walking into a wall or a fountain. Never a good shopping experience.
  6. Take your own bags. The best way to losing something is to try to keep track of a zillion bags. With a nice wide strap on your bag you can throw it over your shoulder, lessening the odds of losing it. If they are all the same color or pattern, they’re easier to spot if you do leave one behind. Last, put your name and phone number in the bag. If you misplace it, someone can call you. I can’t tell you how many bags are left in stores with no hope of being returned to their owners.
  7. Take time for breaks. Shopping is even more hectic this time of year, so take a few minutes every couple of hours to sit down and have something to drink.

With a plan, you can get your shopping done and still have time to write.

What are your shopping tips?


Posted by on December 20, 2011 in December, time management, writers



How to manage December: Reflect and Resolve

It’s never too soon for a New Year’s Resolution.

October, November and December are very special to me. Holidays galore, true, but there are special calendar days for the entire world all year long and my particular celebrations aren’t shared by everyone. But important to me and mine is significant enough. And the final quarter of the calendar year matters beyond one’s celebration du jour.

October is a 31 days of scary. My favorite freaky movies are playing 24/7 on cable. This, of course, means I get more crocheting than writing done.

November – ahhh. Sweet, crisp, November brings the first of the snow for the Treasure Valley. The mountains will have been blanketed for weeks . . . poor Meredith. Even better, November begins with the last of the summer clearance as retailers make way for the buying horde. Yep, I’m a sucker for flea markets, clearance whatevers and one-day-only schemes. I draw the line at Black Friday. Herds scare me. Sheep, cows, people. Pick your species – herds, like offensive linemen and my daughters with entourage, intimidate.

December is the biggie. December is gold. Not only because of the celebrations (and, face it, gingerbread dipped in white chocolate deserves a day of silent reflection), but it’s my time for a stern look at the year. What did I accomplish?

In my day job, I teach, consult on and research organizational/individual performance. I’ve shared bits and pieces during the past few months on this blog. One of my ‘best practices’ is to accept a truth. While we can’t do much more than experience time, we CAN manage our priorities to enhance life. We need to look at what we value as an end along with those values we use to shape the process. Prioritize the how of life, not just the result.

December, not January, is my time to assess and adjust.

 Using three categories – Healthy to, Have to, and Hanker to, I blend my personal and professional hopes into ‘what to accomplish’ and ‘how to accomplish’ H-goals. My December reflection forces me to assess whether I ‘got er done’.  (I really ADORE the phrase, but suspect I’m simply embracing, with an odd pride, my redneck roots. Seriously. It’s as much fun as ‘serendipity’ and ‘puhfendorf’ especially with rapid-fire repetition . . . and it’ll get stuck in your head like an Elvis song.)

I don’t use a seven day week in planning. People (and organizations) often adjust performance unconsciously after Wednesday. A ten day (or so) block ‘tricks’ my subconscious into maintaining momentum. I divide the year into three-month blocks and each month into approximately three ten day blocks and then work backward. Though I can’t always devote a major effort towards a goal every day (and we’ve all had days where existing is Nobel-worthy), I can commit to doing something to facilitate each goal during every ten-day or three month block. If I diversify those small steps toward a larger goal (e.g., different approaches, yet the same path), then I don’t get bored with repeating the same action, but still make measurable progress. An unfinished task during a particular day or hour doesn’t need to discourage me from continuing the quest. I’m keeping focus on a larger block of time.

But life happens. (Ya can’t beat a good cliché. I’ll work on giving them up in 2012. Time will tell. Oops.). December, like every other month in our lives, is a time to celebrate. And – to consider where glitches skewed my good intentions. To fess up when I lost sight of a bigger goal by paying more attention to technique than purpose. I’m a day or so away from the big ‘end of the year inventory’ for 2011, but I’m more confident now than the last half decade. Oh, I’m expecting a little self tsk-tsking here and there. Still, we deserve to embrace our personal character arcs as much as the ones we tweak for our heroines.

Thank you for letting me share these thoughts. Would you return the favor? What do you celebrate about you as this year closes? Don’t wait until January 1. Make December about starting anew.


Posted by on November 29, 2011 in December, goals, Idaho, time management


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