Word of the Day Reflections and Rants: Intellect and Failure

I’m having my students freewrite on topics we are discussing in class to prepare them for writing their personal statements for college applications. This week we’ve written and discussed hidden intellectualism and response to failure. I like to write with them. It helps us all get to know each other as we start our class discussions. Here are mine on the two.

Intellect— The other day, we were at  a new friends house and the wife asked me what my husband and I liked to do when we were not working or running around with our kids. I thought about it…..when it came down to it, we liked to walk around places, sipping coffee or tea, and talking about “intellectual” things like philosophy or politics or cultural issues in our society. We are not sports people. We do like to travel but haven’t had time to since we’ve been popping out babies every other year the entire time and trying to grow a business. And in between changing diapers, driving kids from school to soccer practice to karate practice, showers and bedtime songs and prayers, we have time to sip on some coffee or tea and talk about why society is crashing or why Trump is the lesser evil than Hillary. We just got bikes so we can do that together, but haven’t actually started. I felt so boring. What do I like to do? I think I have become so habitual in my life due the circumstances of being a working parent that I almost forgot what I like to do. There was a time in my life where I snow boarded on weekends, camped during spring and summer breaks, laid out on beaches, flew to foreign places and swung from tree roots into warm waters. There was a time in my life where I laughed and told jokes over cold beer and chips and salsa or cried over poetry I wrote while Dave Matthew’s bellowed his blues through stereo speakers. Am I still that person? I think I am. I just don’t have time for her right now. Still, Owen and I have made some quarter goals this year: a weekend getaway once a quarter to a place we’ve never been, a date night once a month, and date-night with each of our kids individually each quarter. So I suppose with that, there will be more hobbie-like activities in our future outside of our usual family fun. Why didn’t I remember that when our friend asked me that question?

Failure–I hate failing. I let it really affect my self-perception and esteem. If I fail, I criticize my self-worth even at times. But those are for things I find important. If I don’t care about the activity or issue and I fail, I see it as a mistake and want others to brush it off or forgive me quickly. But I suppose I feel the same way when I do find the issue to be important. I may hate myself for it. But I sure hope others don’t. And I gladly and appreciatively accept forgiveness and encouragement. I need it. If I don’t get that, I will wallow in my own self-hating despair. I admire my husband. He sees failure as learning opportunities. If he fails at something, he highlights the positive in that he now learned a lesson and will use that for his own growth. I’m cautious. I prefer to take safer routes. I’m a teacher because I knew there was a salary and a pension and a pre-planned set of dates that I get off. No guessing. Less risk of failing and yet still a subject I love–English. Owen loves English too. But he is not afraid to take risks and for that reason he’s the perfect entrepreneur–a consultant on video marketing. He uses language to teach others how to make money through video and uses language to get viewers interested in products and services.  I love that about him. We both love language. But because of how we react to failure,  our careers are established. Thankfully, I’m decent enough at teaching, I haven’t had too much failure to wallow about in my career.



Why I recommend Journal Writing

Here is my 5 minute journal

My journal takes 5 minutes!

My husband has been on this kick lately with doing things that successful people do. He’s done a lot of research on habits of successful people and it has been amazing watching him grow as he’s taken on some of these habits. A lot of them he recommends for me to do as well and I must say, I would not be half the woman I am today, if I didn’t have my husband pushing me. I thought I had drive. But with my husband, I have WAY more drive. He’s that second engine that keeps me going when I want to give up.

One of the things he has pushed me to do is journal write. I used think blogging was enough, but I just don’t blog daily, so in reality it isn’t.

He bought me a journal for Christmas and asked that we journal in the morning together and in the evening. It is not a blank journal. It is specifically structured to inspire, help me goal set, help me to be joyful and thankful, and to affirm that which God has promised and given me. I absolutely LOVE it!

The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day

Every morning, I read an inspiring quote and then write down 3 things that I am thankful for. Then I write three things I would like to have happen today that would be amazing. After that, I write an affirmation. Now as  a Christian, I’m a little leary of affirmations. I sort of seeing it as praying to myself….. or trying to gain strength from within myself, when the bible teaches me that I gain my strength through Christ. So I sort of modify my affirmation. I took some time to think about where I wanted to grow. And I looked at God’s word and what he asks of me and what he promises to me through his spirit. I then created a Christ centered affirmation that reminds me who I am in Christ. And this person is who I want to be. The thing is, I have a busy life. And I am easily overwhelmed. And when I am overwhelmed, I’m negative, I’m anxious, and I just am not loving. I become super selfish and become wrapped up in just getting what I need done without any joy and without concern for the joy of others around me. Its awful. I don’t like that side of me. But I have a busy life. So I need to change.

Journal Writing is for Successful People

Journal Writing is a key to success!

Here’s my affirmation:

I am loving, patient, and joyous in all circumstances without fear or anxiety because Christ lives in me!

Then at the end of the day before bed, I reflect on my day. I write down three awesome things that happen (some of them connect to what I hoped for that morning, and some are just pleasant surprises). And then I write three things I wish I had done differently. Not to wallow in despair. But to help me to reflect on my need to grow, so I can do better the next time.

One of the things I think is great about journal writing as well, is going back and seeing answers to prayer, as well as seeing growth. If you don’t journal, I highly recommend it! If you do journal, what are your journaling techniques? What do you recommend to journal for success? Please share in my comments.

My Fears about Raising a Daughter in the World Today

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labeled for non-commercial reuse on Flickr.

When Owen and I had the talk about pregnancy after our 3rd was born and walking, we decided to be content that we did not have a daughter. We wanted one for sure. Each baby after my first, I hoped was a girl because I wanted both and I had already had a son. But when we found out we were having boys, we were still incredibly joyful and maybe even somehow deep down, relieved…because despite the fact that we would greatly miss the tutus and tights on chubby legs, we both were not looking forward to the teenage years.

Is it just me, or does it seem that teenage girls have a lot more trials and antagonists out there in the world than boys?

But the Lord gave us our wish, anyway…5-6 months after  a vasectomy (which we chose because c-sections become increasingly dangerous as they increase in number), I missed my period and took the pregnancy test, to find out, we were pregnant. And at 17 weeks, we learned we were having a girl.

Let me be clear.

I am so excited.

I cannot wait for tutus and tights on chubby legs. For big bows and dolls and kitchen sets. I cannot wait for calm….the child who will more likely (yes, there are always be exceptions to the rule) be less crazy and running around and aggressive as my three boys. I cannot wait for smelling lotions and bonding over a chick flick and talking girl talk. I’m looking forward to see how this delicate creature softens my husband’s heart as well.  I truly believe every man needs a daughter. I think it is good for them. Makes them stronger and yet more compassionate.

But I am not looking forward to the teenage years.

I know it is not always bad.

There are a few families that I know who have beautiful, well-balanced daughters who seem to be doing just fine.

I also teach high school and see a few of them as well. Of course, as a teacher, I don’t know all the secrets. I don’t know all the unseen turmoil. I know very well, they could be giving me a false impression than what they show to their friends after school and on the weekends. But I can also certainly see in my classroom the ones who are clearly struggling with the pressures of this society. But regardless, with all of them—I know the pressures they face.

I see the fashion that they are being exposed to and expected to wear by their peers if they want to be fashionable.

I hear the music that plays on the radio and the pictures of musicians they have plastered to their binders. Women who claim independence and “girl power” but who are enslaved to a world of drugs and sex and image image image. The men who talk about them in their music like they are something to be had and thrown away.

I see the movies they watch where kissing and premarital sex and provocative clothing is the common, light-hearted, lifestyle of the female protagonist.

I hear the way boys talk about them in the halls when they are listening or not listening.

I hear the way their friends talk about boys to each other.

I hear the stories of what their friends are going through….the anorexia, the cutting, the depression, the abortions or secret pregnancies, the baggage…

I don’t want that for my daughter. I don’t want it anywhere near.

Who does?

And what parent goes into their role as a mother or father of a daughter with the expectation that their daughter will go through these? Not much. I know most parents go in with the goal to prevent these things from happening (although some are more okay with the sexuality aspect…no one is okay with the consequences that often comes from it).

 So of course, I go in saying “not my daughter.” Of course I go in saying, “We are going to raise her differently.”

But I also know parents who said the same thing and yet their daughters are still struggling.

We can do our best. But the rest is up to them. Up to God. Up to their circumstances and all the combinations in between.

I grew up in a home with parents who feared these things too. And in their attempt to protect me from them, I felt they went too far in some ways…over protecting me to some degree and over-punishing me when I messed up so there was no room or opportunity to try again or grow from my mistakes. And despite their best intentions to protect me, they did not give me the solid Christian foundation to help me build my identity so that I wouldn’t be wooed so much by the world out there that seduced me. I didn’t even read one book from the bible until my late 20’s. And so what did I do? I rebelled. And then when my mom and step dad separated, my mother went the other extreme. She let me do whatever I wanted. And I went out there with no strong sense of self, no confidence in my identity or my dreams, no value for who I was…and I threw everything good and pure and valuable about myself away—washed myself away with alcohol and drugs and premarital sex and all the emotional baggage that  came as a consequence of those choices.

Is it my parents fault? Partially. But I also chose to rebel. I also knew right from wrong and chose wrong. But I also did not have that strong identity in myself as a child of God to be able to see why I should chose right.

So Owen and I plan on all sorts of ways we plan to raise our daughter differently. We definitely plan on rules and guidelines. We definitely plan on raising her to have a personal relationship with Jesus and to be confident in who she is. We will have limitations on what kinds of music she should be listening to and movies she can watch (but not super strict and sheltered where she can’t even understand the world and what they are going through).

We plan on all of this.

And the rest we leave to prayer.

But I can be honest when I say, I don’t have some strong peace that everything is going to be great. I don’t automatically assume disaster. But I am realistic in knowing that we can do everything within our power and it still not go as planned.

To the parents out there who raised daughters and had them survive their teens without eating disorders, hyper-rebellion, cutting and suicide attempts, promiscuity, and the like…what are your tips? What insight can you bring to the moms of young baby girls? To give yourself the entire credit? Who else and what else can help?


Reach–at times it feels like grasping for the wind




We reach for what we want…sometimes to find success. And other times only to be disappointed.

I watch my toddlers stand on tippy toes, trying to reach the off limits objects of their desires on counter tops and shelves— scissors, candy, their brother’s Legos, or that glass of milk.

In life…we reach for dreams. We reach for goals. We reach for our desires. Some—to enjoy and hold. Other’s—like grasping for the wind.

My stepmother did not reach my father in time in the warm waters of Maui while they were snorkeliFive-Minute-Friday-4ng. She reached down into the deep waters to drag him out and perform mouth to mouth on the shore. But that night after finally falling asleep, she woke up half conscious to reach for his warm body next to her, only to find a cold pillow.

I reach for that day when I can come home to be with my kids and spend time with them. Right now I feel so disconnected from them since I’ve gone back to teaching. I cry for this dream.

All three of my babies, I have had to have by C-section. All three I wanted to reach out to after they came out, only to have doctors take them away. Two to the NICU. One for an extra hour due to “low blood sugar.” This last baby–my little girl, I pray I can have right away.

In worship, I reach up toward the sky in my feeble attempt to touch my God, looking forward to the day when I no longer have to reach, but will already be in his arms, saved from the challenges of this life, and tears wiped from the pain. When that day comes, nothing else that I have reached for and had or did not have–none of that will matter anymore.


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available for reuse

Change is something we cannot escape. It is something many of us love and thrive on, and something many of us hate, and resist, kicking and screaming. Even if we need it, we often still resist.

Change is often good. But not always.

Regardless, it is a part of life.

I have a love/hate relationship with change. If life continues on and on without any change, I look forward to it. But only if it is not uncomfortable. I like comfort. I don’t like painful change. I like invigorating change.

When I changed my belief system  7 years ago and accepted Christ as my savior and Lord,  I loved so much of the change I felt inside and how I viewed the world. But I hated the consequences of that change. The boyfriend of 6 years who refused to marry me because I had changed. The decision to leave and start a new life with my 1 year old son, alone….but with God.

God blessed that change. Within a couple of years I was newly married to a God-loving man, and within the last 5 years I’ve been blessed with 2 other children and now pregnant with another one.

Last year, my husband and I were talking about our desire for change—for me to be able to come home and raise our kids while he ran his new business. But it didn’t seem enough to just continue as we were going. Owen said its like a dog who is sitting on a nail. It hurt, but not enough to just get up and move away. But enough to whine and wimper about it all day. I was tired of wimpering and whining. Stuck with an income so tight that a dent in a fender would put us in debt, was not life for us, let alone have the luxury of me coming home.  If we wanted that change, I’d havFive-Minute-Friday-4-300x300e to start other ventures that could supplement the income enough so that I could eventually leave teaching while he worked harder on growing his business as well. Doing nothing would change nothing.

Teaching by day, raising kids by afternoon and weekend, and writing resumes and memoirs and children’s books by night is not easy. It is uncomfortable a times. At other times, it is invigorating. Exciting. I am being pushed to go beyond myself and even at times, enjoy the challenge and seeing its fruits–the books I’ve always wanted to write but never had the time.

This change is necessary. And in the end, I know it will pay off.

To a better future. Because without change, it just can’t happen.

Wisdom from Grandma on Life


My Grandma Barbara and Grandpa Lowell

My Grandma’s birthday was this Thursday. I wasn’t able to visit her for the day, but wanted to call her to wish her a Happy Birthday and catch up. She lives in a nursing home with my Grandpa, who needs a lot of help due to his health issues. Grandma on the other hand is there simply because she is his wife and she goes where he goes. She is still healthy as ever, vibrant, and joyous. I admire her so much and her steadfast love she has for my Grandfather. So I asked her the question I have asked myself lately and others when we talk about age: how old do you feel? I find the question interesting because I know my answer and I love hearing the answer of others. I find that each one of us emotionally feels younger, typically finding ourselves surprised when looking in the mirror and seeing this person with more wrinkles and less hair than the one we feel. The body ages much faster than the spirit I think. I myself feel 25 when I am actually 34. When I talk to my other family or friends who are older than me, I hear answers that are often 10 to 20 years younger than where they really are. So I don’t always expect to feel 25. At some point, my spirit will age and I’ll be 50 saying that I feel 35. I like this. I find it beautiful and fascinating. My grandma’s answer caught me by surprise. But it blessed me more than anything else I expected her to say.  In her thick, Colombian accent she said to me these words:

“I don’t feel like an age anymore. I feel more like a place.  I’m at the top of a mountain looking at my life and my family’s life as they really are, no longer the way I used to. Up here, it is clear. There is no more stress or bitterness or worry. It is like I can see for the first time. I look down and see my whole life and yours and our family’s. And what I see is how blessed I am and how blessed you are. It is a very free feeling, darling. I tell you, my biggest regret is rushing through life so much and not stopping to enjoy each moment.  I know this time in your life is very busy with work and all the kids. But experience it. Be there in the moment. There will be a time in the future where you remember this busy time and miss it. And you can believe me because my blinders have been taken off. I know. I can see at the top of the mountain what you may not see. You are very blessed. I am very blessed. I am happy to be 75. It is easy to see everything here.”


The Hills with their some of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her words. I felt it was true wisdom. I came home and told Owen what she told me. He told me I should blog about it and I agreed. I don’t want to forget her words and I believe others should hear it too. Today, in the midst of the sick, crying baby and the 2-year-old who dumped the fish food all over the carpet, and the 6-year-old running around like a crazy man around the house with the neighbor kid, Owen and I walked up to each other in the kitchen, gave each other that knowing smile that  said, without words—oh look at us and our crazy little life right now, and we hugged a long time, and kissed each other. It is a beautiful Christmas season, this year. And while I look forward to 2014 and all that God will bring, I will enjoy each day of this December. And I pray you do as well.

The Life and Accomplishments of Poet, Sherman Alexie; a brutally honesty, funny, and poignant writer

I first got introduced to Sherman Alexie in a Literature Arts and Discourse class at California State University, San Marcos by an eccentric and passionate professor, Brandon Cesmat. He wanted us to read the novel Reservation Blues because of the writer’s unique ability to blend music, pop culture, and fiction into one. I read the book and was instantly hooked. I went on to read everything else the author ever wrote and researched his life. I had to know how it all began.

Who would have thought that a poor American Indian from a small reservation in Washington, born with water on the brain, and suffering multiple childhood seizures, would grow up to become one of the most inspiring and influential voices in American literature? When it comes to his own place as a Native American writer, he says, “Sixty percent of all Indians live in urban areas, but nobody’s writing about them. They’re really an underrepresented population, and the ironic thing is very, very few of those we call Native American writers actually grew up on reservations, and yet most of their work is about reservations” (qtd in “Sherman Alexie Quotes,”). Indeed, poet and fiction author, Sherman Alexie has transcended the obstacles of his early-life circumstances, to write many award winning pieces of literature that inspire the multicultural generation today with an authentic, poignant and brutally honest voice of a modern American Indian living in two worlds.


On October 7th, 1966 Sherman Alexie was born to his Coeur d’alene Indian father, Sherman Joseph Alexie  and his half white, half Spokane Indian mother, Lillian Agnes Cox with hydrocephalus—water on the brain. Told he would become mentally retarded if even survived the necessary surgery on his brain at 6 months of age, his parents took the chance. While Alexie did suffer multiple seizures in his youth due to his condition, he shocked his doctors and parents by not only not exhibiting signs of brain damage post operation, but instead, phenomenal intelligence. Sherman Alexie speaks of his seizures in his early years, “The lights would pop, then I’d rise out of my body and be able to fly off anywhere I wanted,” he recalls. “There’s a surreal euphoria; the synapses are misfiring, so the memory banks are flooding your head. I’d get to feel like a superhero for a couple of minutes” (qtd in Maya Jaggi). He became an avid reader, even reportedly reading books like Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck at the age of 5 (Donovan and Lewis 21).

Living on a reservation in Wellpenit, Washington, he got to see the beauty and spirituality in Native American culture as well as the pain and the suffering. His father was an alcoholic and even his older sister and her husband died in a house fire due to drunkenness. To add to the suffering, the school system on the reservation was terrible. And his Indian peers seemed to find a desire to learn and succeed in the outside world as a sign of dismissing his heritage, of being a sell-out. Yet, because of his intelligence and love of reading, he was not satisfied with the education on the reservation and did not become influenced by his Indian peers. In 7th grade he opened up his textbook in school to find his mother’s name written in it. No new textbooks in how many years? At that moment he knew he needed something more. He needed to leave the reservation if he wanted to succeed in his life. He talked his parents into allowing him to go to school off the “rez” and in 8th grade, began attending an all white school on the outskirts of his reservation. He was the only Native American child there (Donovan and Lewis 20-27). But he learned and eventually he began going to college. This is where he would discover his love for writing, and find his place in the world. When talking about his leaving the reservation for education in the white world, he says, “”Plenty of people saw my leaving as a betrayal,” he says.”I felt guilty, but I’ve forgiven myself, and most of my reservation has” (qtd in Jaggi).

It was at Washington State University where Sherman Alexie initially pursued a degree in Medicine, but due to his inability to emotionally handle the gore of anatomy, began to pursue his writing. He ended up getting a degree in American Studies while at the university. His love of writing really started when one of his professors gave him an anthology of creative writing by Native Americans. This inspired his own writing. And before he even graduated college with his BA, he had already published a score of poems in a couple of journals. Then after winning a 5,000 dollar grant to pursue his writing more, he realized he was going to be successful and decided to stop his alcohol abuse (Donovan and Lewis 25). He has been sober since, claiming that he didn’t want to become another “disappointing Indian” (qtd in “Sherman Alexie Quotes.”) And so his career began—people paying him to write and his writing winning hearts and inspiring readers. What made his writing so captivating? He says. “I was always the depressed guy in the basement. But I’ve borrowed their sense of humor and made it darker and more deadly – a weapon of self-defense. Being funny you win hearts quicker; people laughing are more apt to listen” (qtd in Jaggi). His writing deals with the pains and pleasures of the Native American experience. He often draws from personal experiences but adds fiction to create dynamically alive complex speakers in his poetry. This is something he loves and does not consider work. His fiction both in short stories and in novels came later to make money. Something he considers work, but is still filled with the poignant poetry that started his career. He has been successfully writing since and continues now in his 40’s. Sherman Alexie resides today in Seattle Washington, with his wife Dianne and his two sons, Joseph and David. He continues to write and has even begun to do comedy in the form of standup. He would like to pursue film some more as well (“Chronology”2).  

Works and Accomplishments

Aside from being published in multiple respected journals like the New Yorker, Sherman Alexie has published multiple collections of poetry like The Business of Fancy Dancing and First Indian on the Moon as well as Summer of Black Widows, short fiction like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World, and novels like Reservation Blues and Indian Killer and has won many respectable awards. Some of his works, he even adapted into indie screenplays—such as Smoke Signals which was a huge success and The Business of Fancy Dancing, which did not succeed due most likely to its dealing with homosexuality (“Chronology” 2). In “A New York Times Book Review essay on Native American literature […] Alexie [is called] ‘one of the major lyric voices of our time”’ (“Chronology” 2). He also won the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, was interviewed by Oprah herself on the Oprah Winfrey Show, has won the World Heavyweight Poetry Championship, has been labeled The New Yorker’s “Future of American Fiction “and most recently has won Circle of the Americas 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award for his most recent 2011 short fiction piece—War Dances,(“Chronology” 2).


In an interview with Identity Theory’s Rob Capriccioso, Sherman Alexie writes about his impact more so on the college-educated white women and the gay community than any else. He claims to be too white for Indians and too Indian for most whites. But it is the educated white women and the educated gay community who understand him more. And he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about that. He writes what he wants, only adding margin to his own writing when he began to pursue young adult fiction, even having his work appear in high school textbooks, which also drew him much success and certainly opened young readers up to the world of reading, but he has found more freedom and less writer’s block in his latter years of writing now that he has ventured back into the adult genres (Capriccioso). Perhaps it is the poignant emotion he so honestly expresses that captures the hearts of his female, gay, or teen readers—as the pangs of life are so often celebrated and explored in these areas more so than any other. Perhaps it is his honest analysis of prejudice in his life–a topic often discussed in depth in these communities, especially in education. Regardless of who loves him, he has a huge heart to help Native American youth rise above their circumstances and so speaks often in high schools, as well as being a founding board member of a program to help Native American youths develop film writing and filming skills, called Longhouse Media (“About Us”). No doubt he wants to show them that to be educated and creative does not mean they have to lose their heritage. Media could certainly help the youth of today find a way to express themselves–and shed the old skin and the filth from their lives. Becoming someone better inspite of it all.

Sherman Alexie says, “If I couldn’t write poetry, I would have to wash my hands all the time” (qtd in” Sherman Alexie Quotes”). Yes, his poetry does appearing purging in its honest confession of the conflicts in this life. But his honesty is refreshing, his figurative language is breathtaking, and his idealism is truly inspiring .If you have not had a chance to read some of the funny, sad, and beautiful literature of Sherman Alexie, you must. Alexie’s creative blending of poetry, fiction, and memoir truly exemplifies the complexities of being human in a postmodern multicultural generation, with all its good and bad—something this generation has desperately needed.

Some of My Favorite Works by Sherman Alexie

What I Can’t Wait to Read Next

Works Cited

“About Us.” Longhouse Media. Web. 19 March 2013.

Capriccioso, Rob. “Sherman Alexie.” Identity Theory. 23 March 2003. Web. 18 March 2013.

“Chronology of Sherman Alexie’s Life.” Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie (2011): 407-409. Literary Reference Center. Web. 19 March. 2013.

Donovan, Georgie L. and Leon Lewis. “Biography of Sherman Alexie.” Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie (2011): 20-29. Literary Reference Center. Web. 19 March 2013.

Jaggi, Maya. “All Rage and Heart.” The Guardian. 2013. Web. 18 March 2013.

“Sherman Alexie Quotes.” Brainyquotes. Book Rags Media. 2001-2013. Web. 18 March 2013.

Do Prizes Motivate Children or Does Praise?

What circumstances encourage people to become “effective, competent, and independent” learners? According to a passage by psychologist Margaret Donaldson in her book, Children’s Minds—a learning environment where children are praised for their work is the most effective. Donaldson explains the traditional way of encouraging children to learn has been to give “extrinsic” rewards to the students for their work—these include “Prizes, privileges, or gold stars” for example. She then walked the reader through a series of studies conducted on preschoolers in which they compared various environments with control groups. Numerous studies studied preschoolers desire to and time spent in drawing within various environments and compared them to a follow up study where those environments were changed to a natural setting to see if they would independently seek and spend time drawing again. All the studies showed that the preschoolers who were offered and given prizes for their work spent less time independently seeking and even enjoying drawing in the followup study than those students who were not offered or given prizes. In one study, these two groups were also compared with two other groups and demonstrated that students who were praised for their drawings at the end instead of given prizes spent the most time independently seeking and spending time drawing in the follow up study and that a final group of students were actually ignored once they finished drawing and not given any attention whatsoever sought drawing the least in the follow up. Donaldson suggested that the results showed a need for “recognition” in children and to have their achievement communicated but that using material reward or prize instead made them feel controlled, something that children do not want. She believes children view prizes as a form of control and so while it will encourage work it will not encourage the free and natural engagement in that activity again when the prize is removed. So how do we get our children to be independent learners that are effective and competent? According to Donaldson’s —Don’t give them prizes but instead, praise them for their work.

While I do find her views on the reasons the praise worked and the prizes did not work to be plausible, I do have a few questions and need more information and studies for me to whole-heartedly agree or to even apply this knowledge to my own students and children: My first issue deals with the conditions in which the prizes and praise were given to the children and the variables that may not have been ruled out. My second issue deals with how the results could change with older children who are closer to going out into the working world.

First, who exactly were given prizes in the prize group? Did every child earn a prize regardless of the efficiency and competency in his or her work? Or were the children in the prize group offered prizes if their work met a certain standard? Were all the children in the praise group told ahead of time, like the prize group that they would receive praise when they finished? The passage seems to suggest that all students were told in the prize group that they would be given a prize and that they all got one while the praise group was not told ahead of time that they would receive praise afterward and no information indicating that all received praise or only some. And even if all received praise, if they were not told ahead of time they would all get praise, they may have given the praise more value because it came as a surprise to them. Even more so if they didn’t know that all the other students received praise as well (again a variable that is not communicated). My concern is that the differences between the prize and praise group could have affected the results, giving us a false appearance that prizes were less effective but praise was more effective. Perhaps if the prize was given at the end as a surprise, it would have been just as effective as the praise. And students were told ahead of time that they would receive praise for their work, it would have been just as ineffective at fostering a desire to learn independently as the prize group. To me if I were told that I would be given a prize or even praise regardless of what I produced, I would indeed feel controlled, but if it were offered for good work, it would motivate me to want to do well and give me a sense of pride if I accomplished the activity and earned the prize or the praise, especially if the prize was something I liked or the praise seemed authentic and not contrived. Praise would not appear authentic to me if I were told ahead of time that I would receive praise in the same way that a prize would not feel as valuable under the same conditions. When we know after the fact or ahead of time or that everyone received an extrinsic reward no matter how well they did, it diminishes our appreciation for the skill or creativity in a learning situation and lessens our desire to want to do well—there is no motivation because we know the prize doesn’t actually determine the value of our work and in the case of universal praise, that the praise itself is not trustworthy. Secondly, if we find little value in the prize or praise we were given, that too can lessen our recognition of a work’s value. I think as humans we do find a natural enjoyment for learning something or doing a good job at something if we find value in it yet we also won’t do it if the environment hints to us that there is no value. In the cartoon movie “The Incredibles” when Dash’s mom told him that everyone was special, he replied with something to the effect as “that means no one is.” But when he was actually given the opportunity to do his best at running in an attempt to win the race and show off his special talent, he did well. Now of course, it doesn’t show hypothetical future races where a prize was not offered but again, my example is only to clarify a situation when prizes are given for a job well done rather than a prize for all regardless of skill. Perhaps after winning a prize for a job well done, he would have recognized that he had a gift and therefore enjoyed the activity later or even without the prize because he learned there was value to it.

Secondly, even if all the variables ruled that praise was still more effective than praise, how might these same scenarios affect teenage children rather than preschoolers? While learning may still be the key here—do teenagers see prizes as a form of control as well? Or have they been conditioned by the educational system and by capitalism to find enjoyment and independence in learning environments without feeling controlled in order to prepare them for the real world? When I was in high school for example, praise was not enough for me to earn good grades—I cared about going out with friends and with making money at my job more than praise. And after my year in 9th grade, my father discovered that despite his praise, I had earned a couple of C’s and even one D (on account of a boy I enjoyed chatting with in 6th period Health). So the following three years of high school, my father offered me money for my grades. I earned 20 dollars for every A I earned each semester and 10 dollars for every B. But I would earn no money for C’s or lower. Not only did I earn the A’s and B’s but when I moved on to college and was no longer given money for my grades, I still maintained a strong desire to succeed. Could I have viewed the grades in college as my prize? Does that negate Donaldson’s interpretation that prizes produce results but no longer produce them when they are taken away? My answer to that would be even if that is so, what does it matter? We live in a world where people are rewarded often for learning and working well. Students earn good grades; creativity and talent can often earn money, prizes, as well as praise (professional athletes, writers, artists); and hard work is also rewarded with compensation like money (workers) . While it might feel good to believe we want people to learn for learning’s sake, we don’t live in a world where that really matters anyway.

Donaldson believes that learners find prizes as a form of control and therefore while they will work for their prizes, will not independently seek to learn in a similar activity when the prize is removed. I say, this may be true if prizes are given to everyone, but perhaps if prizes were only given for a job well done, the results could be different. Similarly the results could be different with older children who may need the rewards to motivate them and instill them with a recognition that they can do well at something and find pleasure in that alone. I believe while we should most certainly praise students for their work, but if we only motivate our children with praise instead of prizes, we don’t prepare them for a world in capitalism, but instead, a world of communism. And while theoretically, working for praise might seem nice, it does not produce good work if everyone is praised—praise for all work can reduce a desire to improve the quality of the work. This produces mediocrity and in the working world, it certainly doesn’t help an economy.

My Thoughts on Mary Sarton’s Views of Solitude

Many people often associate solitude with loneliness, but not Mary Sarton, author of the book, Journal of a Solitude. In her book she argues that in fact, “Solitude is the salt of personhood.” After telling a story about a friend of hers who was surprised to discover that he actually enjoyed doing something by himself, she explains that contrary to the fears people have about solitude, the discovery of oneself actually is quite rewarding. She argues that we tend to not notice our own perception in activities when we involve ourselves with others because we are so focused on the other person. She explains her metaphor by saying that just like salt brings out the flavor of food, so does doing things alone “bring out the authentic flavor of every experience”(1). Salt enhances the natural flavor of an item, but perhaps we don’t notice the natural flavor of an experience or of ourselves because we are always with other people who by their very presence add additional and unnatural elements, tainting the flavor of the experience or changing it completely. She further argues that because “solitude is the salt of personhood,” we are not actually alone; we are involved with ourselves and our experience and are able to enjoy those experiences without anyone else tainting our perception of them. Further demonstrating the point for example, she shows how if music is heard with others, then we are experiencing both—not the music by itself.

She gives examples of the further rewards of solitude by elaborating with her own life; she can do what she wants when she wants and not have anyone else disrupt her plans or lack thereof. She is quick to defend her argument that solitude is not loneliness, however—arguing instead that “alone is never lonely,” but instead loneliness actually comes from being around other people, which she says at some point leads to a disconnect or conflict which hurts us, drains us, or perhaps just over works and makes us feel vulnerable and so we “lose” ourselves (1-2). She explains that when this happens to her, she has a momentary period of loneliness when she leaves those people or job because she lost herself when around them, so when she returns home, she has to slowly find herself again through experiencing the pleasures of her home and setting while alone where she can privately reflect on and learn from the experience she had with others. While I believe she does a fantastic job at explaining the beautiful and rewarding experience we can have when alone without loneliness, I also believe that she over-criticizes companionship and neglects the rewards that come from expressing our thoughts to others and learning from them as well—experiences that also help loneliness.

Her arguments about the rewards of solitude definitely resonate truth in my life. I have often found myself reenergized and ready to face the world again by spending time by myself, listening to melancholy or nostalgic music, and reflecting on the circumstances in my life—both good and bad, while writing out my thoughts through blogging or through poetry. Sometimes I never even share these writings because they are often not meant for anyone else to read. They are for me. I feel purged of the impurities that come from the stresses in and excitement in life, and I am able to just think without others comments or suggestions or ideas to muddy up my own thoughts. I have even had moments when someone has walked in or called, and I have felt frustrated by the interruption. I don’t think I could enjoy my life without these special moments with just me and my music.

Still, that does not mean that companionship is all-together tainting as Sarton suggests. To me, sometimes having someone there to talk to and to listen to can be very rewarding and can make me feel just as fulfilled and not lonely as I would by myself—but in a different way. I recall one of the happiest moment with my husband and truly appreciating the rewards that came from our relationship. One night, we sat on the couch drinking wine and taking turns playing our favorite songs from our past. Rock ballads from Dashboard Confessional, Pearl Jam, Alanis Morisette, Sublime, Green Day, The Cure saturated the air that night and intoxicated us with memories from our lives. We’d play the song for each other and then tell stories about what we were going through in our lives when that song was the song we put on repeat in our stereos. We laughed, we cried. We learned about each other through the soundtracks of our youth. And we were able to share thoughts and feelings freely, without condemnation or criticism from the other. It felt good to be so understood. And so loved. Not only did I not feel lonely in those moments, I felt fulfilled in knowing that I was understood by my husband and loved.

Sure, companionship can also lead to conflict and loneliness as Sarton suggests, but there are benefits to that as well. We can learn from those with whom we have conflicts and in turn, become better people ourselves from those lessons. My husband and I have had our fair share of conflicts, but it is through them that I have learned that I can be selfish and I can be disrespectful. If I did most activities alone and avoided getting married to live a life of solitude, sure I might be happy doing what I want when I want, but in those moments when I was with others I would not realize that I also hurt others. Close relationships with others bring honesty. And sometimes the truth can hurt. But it can also heal. My close friend once gave a great metaphor to explain the benefits of conflict with marriage—she said that marriage is like rubbing two rough and jagged rocks together over and over again. Overtime, the rocks become as smooth and round as river rock. My husband teaches me to put a little more thought into my words before I speak. He teaches me the love that comes through self-sacrifice. And to me that not only makes me a better person, but it makes this world a better place.

I think to be a well-rounded person, we need do need to embark on adventures alone and discover the unchartered territory of ourselves and of the experiences in our lives as we alone see it–as Sarton argues. But at the same time, to express ourselves and learn from others through the times we feel understood and even the times we feel lonely. To avoid that, strikes me as either selfish or terribly timid.

Reflections on my Father’s Death, One Year Ago Today

The silly picture he texted us all while he was in Maui, a couple of days before he died.

One year ago today, I was having a stressful Thursday and decided in the middle of third period that I was going to take the following day off—for sanity. I remember thinking, I just need a day to rest or else I might get sick. So I made some last-minute substitute plans for the next day, requested a substitute teacher through the school website, and headed home right after 6th period. I had no idea that my father had died in the midst of my preparation.

I went home to a lonely house. Owen was away at school taking a media course. Kanan had left to be with his dad for a few days. And so I lied down on the couch and held my 6-month pregnant belly and fell asleep. I slept hard. So hard in fact that I missed the calls from Linda. I missed the calls from my sister. I missed the calls from my mom. I missed the calls from Owen. I awoke at 6:30 only to realize I needed to race off to my bible study which met at 7. So I quickly grabbed my phone and my bible, slipped on my shoes and started to head out of my house. I looked down at my phone to see if I had missed any calls and saw the number down below. I missed 12 calls. I saw Owen was the last call I missed so I called him first. He answered upset and stressed—why hadn’t I been answering my phone because he had tried to call 6 times to tell me to call my family? Why were my sister and mother and everyone calling him? He was in class and needed to focus and everyone was blowing his phone up and no one was leaving messages.

“Call your family, Theresa!”

I hung up and scrolled through my missed calls. My mother was next. I called her. At this point I was in my car and hadn’t yet started the engine. She answered crying. I can’t recall exactly what she said because her words and tone sent me into a cyclone of fear and confusion. I can piece fragments of her words.

“Oh no Theresa…..its terrible its terrible… I can’t tell you…I can’t tell you…. You are pregnant…I can’t tell you.” And then she let out deep sobs, so deep, so primal, I knew someone I loved was badly injured or dead.

“Mommy please tell me….just tell me!” I cried. But she hung up.

I scrolled back through my missed calls and stopped short when I noticed that the first missed call came from my dad’s phone. My father who was currently on a beautiful vacation in Maui with my stepmother, Linda. My parents, who would never call me while on vacation.  I pressed the number and held my breath.

Linda answered in a calm, slow small voice: “Hi, Treese.”

I immediately burst out, “I know something terrible has happened so just get out with it.”

Her words were slow…contemplated…quiet. Again only fragments. I remember “snorkeling…. he said help….I tried Theresa…. He’s gone…I’m so sorry.”

“My dad is dead?” I asked, as if that idea had not been something I had considered up until this moment.

“Yes, Theresa, he’s gone.”

I immediately screamed out long, dragged out “No’s.” I dropped the phone on my lap and just cried and cried, heaped over in the driver’s seat like a sack of flour, feeling like I was crumbling into little pieces of dust. I can’t imagine what Linda was doing or thinking on the other line as she heard my cries. And to think she had to make that phone call to my sister and brother, to my aunts and uncles, to my grandmother; each time having to sit there in her own despair and have to listen to ours as well. I don’t know how she did it.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. At some point I must have ended it. I remember calling my sister and immediately headed over to her house. We were going through a tough time in our own relationship at this time in our lives and yet, how silly and meaningless it all seemed now. I went over without a thought. All of that was gone. I needed to be with my sister right now, the only family closest to me while Owen was at school. On my way to my sister’s house I called him. He didn’t answer. So I texted him: my dad is dead.

That night and the following day are a blur. I’m so glad I already had a substitute planned. I don’t know how I would have even been able to plan a sub-plan during that time. The following night, Linda flew back. My brother and his wife and son as well as my sister and her kids, Owen and I, and our Aunts sat in Linda’s house, waiting for her to come home. She insisted on driving herself home from the airport. When she arrived, we all just held each other and cried and cried. We all spent the night. The entire weekend, we all crammed together in my father’s house with Linda and just mourned together.

Monday was a holiday, so I assumed by Tuesday, I would be able to go back to work. I remember thinking it would be the best way to heal. I was wrong. By the end of first period I was in tears and wondering what I was thinking coming to work. I was so relieved when the Vice Principal walked confidently and yet delicately into my room and asked me why I was even here.

“I thought I could do it, Juan. But your right, I don’t think I can.”

“Go home, Theresa. We will take care of a substitute. Take the week off. I needed two weeks off when this happened to me.”

I packed up and headed home.

It took a couple of weeks before we could hold a funeral for my father. His body was stuck in the coroner’s office in Maui and then had to be shipped to Minnesota or something for another test before it could return here. I didn’t realize how much work and time went into autopsies. But during that time, I made a video and a scrapbook for my father, as well as wrote a memoir of him called “His Hands.” Pain has always been a creative catalyst for me. And creating, whether it be through my writing, painting, or other media has been the only way I can sort through reality and to deal. It purges me, heals me. So by the time the day of his funeral arrived, I was doing better than my sister and brother. Still, we all do things differently. I had planned to show the video and read to the funeral guests the memoir and so I felt I needed to be strong. If I broke down and cried, I don’t think I would have stopped. And they deserved to see the video. They deserved to hear the story. They came here to celebrate his life and to mourn his death.

It was an open casket up until the funeral itself. I stood there in that room, setting up the video equipment with my father’s lifeless body laying in the casket behind me, yet I refused to look. That man was a shell. I didn’t want to remember his shell. I wanted to remember my father. Still, the image I caught in my peripheral vision of his soft, fuzzy brown hair, dusted with gray still resonates with me. Looking back, I regret the decision. It sounded right at the time. But somehow, I think now it would have been good to hold his hand one last time. To kiss his cheek one last time. I don’t remember the last time I had actually seen him before he left to Maui. Owen and I had taken him out to lunch one afternoon a few weeks before. And I had stopped by quickly to pick up some tools and I remember his pleased smile when he greeted me, his warm sweater-covered-arms around my shoulders. His large hand patting my belly. But I don’t remember which one happened in which order. And given that was still a couple of weeks before he passed away, I didn’t get to say good-bye. The last words I had with him were through a text. He was in Maui and texted me a silly picture of him by a stream pretending to be falling, the one posted into this blog.

I texted him back: Looks like you are having a great time!

He replied: Its kind of hard not to.

And that was it. I didn’t reply back. Oh how I wish I had replied back. Said something like—Daddy, you have been everything and more that I could ask in a father. You are a great man and I am so honored to be your daughter. I will love you forever.

And so I guess that is why I am writing this. I’m still trying to let him know, through my blogs and my life, through my prayers to God, how much I love and miss him. But my Aunt Julie made a good point on Facebook today, she said these profound words and they moved me greatly: “The other great joy in your passing, like with Dad, there was, for the most part, no words unspoken. We knew you LOVED us and you knew we LOVED you.  What greater joy is there than that. ”

Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. More so for ourselves than anything. We are incomplete without him here. Linda still mourns, probably more so than anyone else, and rightfully so. He was her soul mate. She is alone now with out him. She lives with my grandma now, my dad’s mother. And they have a great system set up. They are good for each other and I’m so glad my grandmother is there with her. She sits in his chair. She rubs her feet together the same way he does. And I see him in her. A topic came up the other night in our family after we watched the movie Courageous together. What is it like to continue living without your love there? Is it like living with an amputation? She said no. For her, she feels abandoned, she said. What do you say to that? No hug, no pat on the shoulder, no meaningless “keep your chin up” comment could remedy that. All I could say was, “I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing that with me.” Even then….stupid. It was a stupid thing to say. I don’t know what the right thing would be. Probably nothing. Probably just a hug and a good cry.

My brother,sister, and I have all had our own trials this year as we’ve mourned. And yet despite the trials, we have persevered. My brother has a new job and a growing second career in music. He has started to go to church again. The first time since he was a child. My sister has moved out of her boyfriend’s house and exploring a new independent life and a newfound relationship with Jesus as well. God uses all things for good.

I myself have had Jameson. Owen and I decided his middle name would be Jeffrey, after my father. He is a beautiful, happy baby with an easy-going disposition, just like my father. He bears his name well. I wish my father could have met him. And now we are pregnant again. Amazing how much my father is missing. But then again and I can’t help but be reminded that no matter how many awesome life events he is missing, he is having a way better time with the Lord. We have joys, yes, but in a broken, fallen world, waiting to be restored by the creator when Christ returns. My father on the other hand, is with Him. He is with the Great I AM. No child, no wife, no father, no friend can ever be as awesome and fulfilling as that. And I also take great comfort in knowing that this life, with all its joys and pain, is but one grain of sand in an eternity of beaches we will spend together one day with the Lord. My children, by the grace of God, will meet their grandfather one day.

My Aunt Julie said another profound statement in that Facebook post today regarding this very thing. She posted, “The only happiness that we were all able to gleen from your passing is that by your own admission and through your upbringing you were a believer in Christ and with that singular and sole choice by you, we know that you have everlasting life in Our Lord Jesus. The greatest gift you gave to yourself you also gave to us who believe too. We are so grateful that we will see you again. Our sorrow would be a 1000 times greater if you had chosen a different path.”

So true. So true.

But until that time when we see him again, I will keep his memory alive through these blogs, through his photo illustrations, through the stories of his life we share as a family. My children will meet him already knowing him. I promise you that.