Greener Pastures

“The grass is always greener over the septic tank.”

Erma Bombeck

The photos above are a random selection of landscapes from my travels thus far. As of this week, I’ve traveled 7754 miles in 46 days to 22 states. I’m heading back to Colorado to catch up on the two graduate classes I’m currently taking (finding reliable WiFi has proven to be a challenge), read my mail, wash my vehicles, and refuel for my next adventure. While in town, I’ll be crossing another item off of my bucket list, as I will be volunteering at the dunk tank during the community festival.

At my parents’ cabin, I can attest to the humorous quotation that the grass is always greener over the septic tank. There are several “grass is greener” statements that range from ridiculous to profound. We may laugh at Erma Bombeck’s words while silently contemplating a series of scenarios that would take us over the fence where the grass appears greener: A move to a new house because bigger seems better; a different spouse because someone else’s spouse seems (you fill in the blank); and so on. Perhaps there are times when jumping the fence makes the most sense, but I often question how many who do make the jump are happier as a result. We all have “views” of greener pastures, per se. However, I have discovered that you may think that the grass is greener on the other side, but if you take the time to water your own grass, it will be just as green.

I’ve traveled to many places within the past several years and have seen some of the most beautiful landscapes, U.S. National Parks, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I’ve met generous, loving people who made leaving nearly impossible. Throughout my life, I’ve lived in over a dozen homes in ten different towns. I’ve held several types of jobs in and out of the field of education. I’ve seen my share of greener pastures, but always preferred my own regardless of where that may physically be located. Today, my middle son and I were planning a date night, and I mentioned that we wouldn’t be “home-home” and asked if that was okay. He said, “Mom, home is wherever you are.” Today, he is my favorite and my pasture is lush and green.

I’ll head out again soon on another jaunt before I have to report to work in early August where I will show up with my watering can in hand to ensure the grass in which I stand remains green, as my students continue to educate and inspire me.


Butterflies and Honey Bees

Through hard work, perseverance, and a faith in God, you can live your dreams.

Ben Carson

This week, I learned more about the lifespan of butterflies, their purpose, and their short time on earth. I observed the live chrysalis stage as several butterflies emerged. I entered a butterfly garden where butterflies from all over the world flew around my head and landed on nearby flowers to pollinate. Considered low on the food chain, butterflies typically live only about a month. As caterpillars to chrysalis to butterflies, these insects work so hard and the end result is pure joy. I’ve taught my own four children that their sole purpose in this life is to serve God with whatever path they choose. Their purpose is to bring glory to the Creator with their lives. I’ve observed my four little caterpillars emerge and fly. I pray that through hard work, perseverance, and faith in God that their short lives on this earth are used to give others joy. That’s what my parents taught me.

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“How can you afford to travel? What do you do for a living? Are you rich?” I’ve been asked these types of questions several times along the road. Such questions seem rude or improper, but people must feel comfortable asking. Ironically, these questions have been asked by folks driving expensive SUVs, staying in area hotels, or pulling a large camping trailer ten times the size of mine. In addition to working three jobs this last year and living a minimalist lifestyle, let me further explain how I can afford to travel.

When I visited Mackinac Island, I walked by The Grand Hotel but could not go inside as I wasn’t following the required dress code. The cheapest single room rate is $615 per weeknight. The list of guest expectations/requirements and extra fees are half a page long on the website. Instead, I chose to stay at the city campground with no flushing toilets for $20/night. I’m pretty sure that the folks in the campground were enjoying their summer as much as the folks rocking in chairs on the Grand’s porch. I met a kind couple spending the summer in Mackinaw City Campground babysitting their grandsons while their daughter and son-in-law work on the island. I met another semi-retired couple on the ferry ride who bragged about their children and grandchildren. They’re able to travel extensively because they spent so many years simplifying their lives and becoming debt free. They worked hard so they could play. When we all lay our heads on our pillows at night, our resting location and the cost thereof has little to do with the thoughts that put us to sleep.

I’m a teacher – a MIDDLE SCHOOL teacher – and I love my job. My answer to “what do you do for a living?” question always garners fun responses and sparks interesting conversation. I explain how I’ve chosen to work in a rural, agricultural community near my family and filled with the kindest people I know. Overall, I think I get “paid” on the much lower end of an already low national average teacher salary; yet, I am unsure my “income” can be compared to any other teacher. My students have a willingness to learn and are genuinely kind towards each other. The faculty, staff, and administration are a constant – most of whom purposely chose this school district to work and community to live. I get to watch my students emerge and fly. That’s what I do for a living, so I am rich.

Finally, as a daughter of a beekeeper and a teacher, I was taught to work hard, love Jesus, and be kind. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, nor did I marry into wealth. I did not choose a career that would put me on the Forbes list. but I’m living my dreams.

Thinking Time

Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible. 

Doug Larson
Parasailing in Mackinaw City, Michigan

The past several days I’ve continued to mark items off of my bucket list including sliding down a fireman’s pole and parasailing (just not at the same time). Along the way, I’ve had lots of time to think and plan for my next adventures.

I’ve visited a lot of historical places these past few weeks. I’ve learned so much more about America, its people, and its strength as a nation. Specifically, I’ve toured a number of places that highlight the tremendous influence of American technology and innovation on the world. Recently, I stopped by Dearborn, Michigan, to “The Henry Ford” complex. Planning to spend just a couple of hours, I ended up spending the majority of a day touring the museum and Greenfield Village thanks to the wonderful woman I met at the visitor services counter who went out of her way to be genuinely kind.

The museum collection includes the bus Rosa Parks rode in Montgomery, Alabama, JFK’s presidential convertible, Lincoln’s theatre chair, and a lot more really cool old stuff. The majority of the museum is dedicated to American innovation (the planes, trains, and automobiles are just a portion). As I observed a dozen summer camp kiddos running around pressing every button they could while the young college-age camp counselors attempted to wrangle the group, I began thinking about what kinds of innovations will be developed in their lifetime. Then I wondered about the various processes of creating innovative ideas. Henry Ford, Grace Hopper, George Washington Carver, Albert Einstein, Virginia Apgar, and so on were thinkers. They read incessantly and wrote down even the smallest ideas. They tried and failed and continued to think. These “famous minds” carved out hours each day to sit and think.

I would like to ask you to take a moment right now and write down how many minutes per day you believe you participate in active thinking? I mean, really thinking – without the television on, without your cell phone nearby, without music playing, and without others in the room/car to disturb you. How much time do you dedicate each day to thinking? If you are like me, I’m pretty sure I could count the minutes on one hand.

What ideas have been rolling around in your head that you’ve dismissed without giving them your thinking time to develop? What plans have been put on hold because you’ve been too busy to think about a timeline? What goals and dreams have been ignored for a number of reasons, but mostly because you’ve not taken the time to think them through? What world-changing innovations have been lost because the persons with those ideas did not take the time to think? Is thinking time really that important?

This brings me back to the summer camp kiddos I saw at the museum. We live in a country where we find an answer to just about any question in less than 2 seconds. We purchase an item online and have it appear on our doorstep within 24 hours. We order our groceries or our lunch and have them delivered in record time. We live with instant gratification and instant “knowledge” which are convenient and impressive. Yet, are we allowing our brains to be as creative or as intelligent or as innovative or even as compassionate as they are capable of being? How about we all start keeping track of our thinking time and begin thinking intentionally?



Challenges and Choices

Choose joy… so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be full. John 15:11

Life is difficult. For some, getting out of bed each morning can be a struggle. Overcoming addiction of any sort is a moment by moment obstacle. Watching those you love get sick or pass away is devastating. Listening to the evening news is discouraging and frustrating. Living joyfully is a challenge and not a natural, human response to living in a world full of negativity and brokenness.

Earlier this week, I’d spent a couple of hours at the car wash scrubbing the bugs off the outside then detailing the inside, as the road trip was beginning to take its toll on my poor vehicle. I woke up this morning to find that I had apparently forgotten to lock my car, which had been ransacked overnight. I lost a Macbook and a few other smaller items, but the car seems to be unscathed and I am safe. Shaken, I reported the crime but quickly realized nothing could be done. I cried, prayed, then poured myself a Diet Coke and continued reading a novel. Choosing joy is a challenge.

Yesterday, I found a nearby Subaru dealer to change the oil in my car, and they discovered I had a nail in a tire. Initially frustrated and worried that I’d have to buy a couple of new tires, I was relieved when the tire was still in great shape and just needed to be repaired. As I was driving away from the repair shop, I was so thankful that the mechanic noticed the nail, helping me to avoid a potential catastrophe driving on the highway pulling a trailer. Choosing joy is a challenge.

Last week, I woke up early to an ambulance across the street from where I was staying. The 36-year-old man died from what appears to have been a drug overdose. A few days later, the man’s fiance was taken away by ambulance as well. We live in a fallen world where choosing joy is a challenge.

I am regularly asked how much older I am than my brother and sister, when I am actually five and six years younger. Throughout this road trip I’ve been offered senior citizen discounts. Folks inquire about my career and have assumed I am retired. After falling UP a flight of concrete stairs recently, I understand why I may appear much older; however, I may arrive home later this summer with newly died hair because growing older is hard enough without folks thinking I’m fifteen years older than I am. Growing old gracefully and choosing joy is a challenge.

I left Colorado for this adventure on what should have been my 28th wedding anniversary. Recently, a friend told me that he wished I would get to the point one day when certain dates would go unnoticed and become just another number on the calendar. However, when I recall certain days that once produced great joy or other days that caused devastation, I am able to reminisce and reflect upon how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown, and how my faith along with different events, choices, and adventures have led me to where I am now. I celebrate these dates as they remind me to embrace the complexities of life by approaching each moment simply while choosing joy and kindness – which is fairly contrary to human nature, so it takes lots and lots of practice.

Today, my friends, choose joy – especially when it is a challenge to do so.

Liberty

“We are called the nation of inventors. And we are. We could still claim that title and wear its loftiest honors if we had stopped with the first thing we ever invented, which was human liberty.”

Mark Twain

I love chocolate, so driving a couple of hours off my planned pathway to Hershey, Pennsylvania, was an easy decision. I needed a break from battlefields, so what better venue than Hershey’s Chocolate World?! I rode the It’s-A-Small-World-like carnival car through the factory and learned all about the 125-year-old business. I also recently toured the Pez Factory and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory and was inspired by the stories of the folks who started with a simple idea in a country that provides the opportunity to develop the idea into a successful industry. The light bulb is great, but chocolate kisses and Reese’s peanut butter cups…

As I toured the Edison invention “compound” in New Jersey, I was in awe. Edison once said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” His expansive research library contained three stories of books and displayed a couple of Edison’s 3500 laboratory journals containing his own ideas, sketches, research, and prototypes. Apparently, scientists are still dissecting Edison’s notebooks for current research and future innovations. Building after building housed a chemical lab, music recording studio, metal shop, electrical engineering lab, photography studio/dark room, and so on. Thomas Edison was home schooled the majority of his growing-up years because his grade school teacher believed Edison had learning disabilities and was unable to understand the simplest of lessons. Each year, I share this story with my new students, along with similar stories of educational neglect and misdiagnoses of Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. I use their stories to help students understand that we all learn differently and have unique abilities that must be acknowledged and developed without judgment or limitations – a freedom/right provided by the educational system in our country.

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Although the Civil War didn’t officially begin until 1861, abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid in Harper’s Ferry was a pivotal event that lead up to the war. A white man and 21 of his friends battled against a much larger posse led by Robert E. Lee to fight for the liberty of slaves. After several casualties, Brown was captured, convicted of treason, and hanged for his crime. Deemed a martyr, John Brown’s actions may have been one small spark that ignited the demand for human liberty that continues today.

The Civil War era seems a bit out of reach at times – too long ago to grasp what the fighting and the war-time living conditions must have been like. I’ve toured museums and read about the weapons, medical devices, and communication techniques used during that time. I understand how 620,000 people died, but have no concept of that reality. Then, I went to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

John Brown died over 160 years ago fighting for liberty. The American citizens on board Flight 93 also died protecting the liberty of every United States citizen. Perhaps we should all spend more time focusing on the immensity of freedoms this country provides and less time attacking one another and nitpicking the insignificant idiosyncrasies of life.

Broken Branches

“Over the course of the millennia, all these multitudes of ancestors, generation upon generation, have come down to this moment in time—to give birth to you. There has never been, nor will ever be, another like you. You have been given a tremendous responsibility. You carry the hopes and dreams of all those who have gone before. Hopes and dreams for a better world. What will you do with your time on this earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?” 

Laurence Overmire

Our national parks serve an important purpose – each of them. I’ve been to a few and tilted my head and pondered their individual significance for a while, yet others have been obvious. This week has been full of battlefields and American history, specifically the Civil War. Throughout our short history as a country, we’ve lost over 1.2 million citizens to war. HALF of those deaths were a result of the Civil War. What struck me regarding the massive casualties is the number of family trees that resulted in broken branches.

Most of us can create a family tree that goes back a few generations to our great grandparents. I’m fortunate to have parents who researched and studied our lineage on both sides as far back as a dozen or so generations and several centuries. When I’ve traveled throughout Europe, many Europeans will ask about my ethnicity. It’s fun to explain that I am a true American because I’m part Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, French, and German but mostly English and Irish. I know this because my parents have identified exactly which relatives came from where. I’m fortunate that they did all that work!

That said, I think about the millions of families that do not exist because of the Civil War alone. With each life lost, that family tree branch was broken: That lineage ended. Between Edward Doty landing in Plymouth on the Mayflower (and being one of just 45 individuals to have survived the first winter) and all the generations who survived the many wars that followed, it is a miracle that my kiddos exist at all. For my children, however, their family tree branch has been splintered by divorce – not broken, but damaged. I pray that they will rebuild that branch, making it strong once again because so many never had the opportunity. I ask them, “What will you do with your time on this earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?” And so, I ask you the same.

When my children were in elementary school, the curriculum required them to memorize the Gettysburg Address. It was not until I stood where Abraham Lincoln stood on the top of a hill in Gettysburg overlooking thousands of unmarked graves when I began to understand its meaning. We live in the greatest country in the world – I have no doubt. It frustrates me when its citizens criticize and hatefully judge one another, are divided by just about every issue, choose not to vote, or dishonor the freedom provided to them through the sacrifices of so many (especially after visiting sites about Women’s Suffrage, Freedom Riders, Underground Railroad, and Civil War). When I see the vast lists of faceless names who never had the chance to grow up or grow old in the country for which they fought, I am humbled once again by Lincoln’s words and pray for a change of heart for the citizens who are fortunate to have survived a long line of broken branches.

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Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Abraham Lincoln – November 19, 1863

Charles and Clarece

“How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it.”

George Elliston

Finding creative ways to perform random acts of kindness has proven to be a challenge, but a challenge I eagerly take on each day. Recently, while in a laundry mat in Massachusetts, I was squeezing between a woman folding her clothes and the dryer where my clothes just finished drying. I politely said, “Please, excuse me,” as I walked around her. She responded by mumbling, “I don’t take orders from no one.” It took me a moment to realize what she said, and another moment to realize what she meant. Surely, I wasn’t being rude or barking orders at her to excuse me as I passed by. I worried and stewed while we stood side-by-side folding laundry. She still had another dryer full of wet towels rolling around in the dryer, so she stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. Meanwhile, her dryer stopped. With wet towels still inside, I dropped another couple of quarters into her dryer before I walked out with my basket of clean clothes. As I was leaving, I held the door open for her and suggested she enjoy the rest of her day. I hope and pray that she did.

I rented a Redbox movie the other night to break up my typical evening activity of reading. I thought of my student, Kiley, who had the random act of kindness idea to return the Redbox DVD with a dollar inside and a note that stated something like “Your movie treat is on me.” So, I did. I also thought of Boyd’s idea of handing out homeless care packages. I’ve enjoyed sharing his idea throughout the Northeast. I taught over 100 students this past year, most of whom came up with some pretty amazing ways to show kindness. I hope to continue reviewing their classroom lists of ideas and sharing when I can.

That said, something special happened to me yesterday while touring Morristown National Historic Site in New Jersey. As I pulled into George Washington’s encampment at Jockey Hollow, it didn’t seem unusual for folks to point at the trailer, smile, or give me the thumbs up. When I parked, a couple made their way over to the trailer and began a familiar conversation. However, our conversation didn’t end with the tour of the trailer. Charles and Clarece are retired residents of Morristown and had just come to the park for a picnic. Charles seemed especially impressed with my tiny Keurig coffee maker: We agreed how important coffee is, as he lifted his Starbucks cup o’ joe. Charles and Clarece have been long-time friends who reconnected after both of their spouses passed away. They’ve been married now for a number of years, but appear to be newlyweds, as they look lovingly and joke kindly between one another. They are both originally from Ohio, and Charles is a retired English teacher. After a conversation that really ended too soon, we shook hands and I walked into the visitor center. After touring that part of the park, I was getting into my car to drive to the other section a few miles away when I noticed a Ziploc bag with three Keurig cups and a note inside – from Charles and Clarece. They offered me their driveway to camp and gave me their address, welcoming me to their home at any time. As I drove out of the parking lot, here they came again honking their horn. I re-parked and Clarece came running over with a piece of “New Jersey apple pie to go along with my coffee.” We visited a bit longer, as I explained my students’ random acts of kindness projects and began to cry as I thanked her for her acts of kindness towards me. We embraced and parted ways. Nonetheless, I believe that our chance encounter will become a lasting friendship. They are welcome in my home in Colorado anytime.