Posts tagged ‘my newspaper columns’

July 19, 2014

Summertime

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 16, 2014.

Last summer flew by, and I hardly had time to stop and think about it. That was probably because it started out with a long emergency trip to Chicago to help my mother-in-law who had been in a car accident. (She’s okay now.) In addition to that, my son was in several summer camps, and while I enjoyed hanging out in town with my younger son, it just felt like the summer went by in a blink.

I’m happy this summer has been a little different. Though it’s been quite busy, and I’ve had work to do, and I’m driving my son to and from camps frequently, I’ve been a little more intentional about taking breaks too.

I’ve scheduled less play dates, I’m reading a good book, and I sit on the front porch sipping iced tea for a few minutes each day. I’ve even started sketching as I’ll explain in a moment. So we’re half way through summer now, and I feel like I’ve had a few chances to pause, look around, and enjoy it.

My seven-year-old attended three summer camps this year. It’s the first time he has been old enough to attend the full-day camps that go from about 9a.m. to 3:30 or 4. Last year he was in half-day camps. All of them have been great experiences for him.

It’s felt strange to be at home without him all day. As homeschoolers, we’re used to having our kids around all the time. It makes the day quieter to have just one boy at home, and it’s nice to give the four-year-old my full attention when he wants it, though he likes to play by himself too.

My seven-year-old’s favorite camps were the pottery camp at Good Dirt Studio in Athens, and the camp at the botanical garden.

Though he liked the camp at the nature center, he doesn’t care to go swimming, and he came home each day quiet and exhausted from not eating enough. I was happy that the folks at the botanical garden seemed to take a little better care of him by making sure he was eating and drinking. (Or maybe my reminders before camp finally got through to him.)

Each day after the botanical garden camp, he was full of energy and gave us a full account of his day, which, as he told me, was full of everything he liked to do, such as wading through streams to catch fish with a net, taking hikes, watching puppet shows, and touring the green houses. He even got to bring home a little plant.

We’ve had a few chances to go on family hikes, and we’ve hiked with just the four-year-old while his older brother was in camp. Because my four-year-old loves drawing so much, I got him a sketchbook and one for myself too. Even though I can’t draw worth a hoot, sitting down by some flowers to sketch them has been quite relaxing. It’s helped me slow down and enjoy the summer.

I have helped my older son create and build numerous things, but I was feeling like I was leaving his younger brother out. I love that our sketchbook habit encourages his interest and gives us something to do together. Though lately he has wanted me to sketch something for him so that he can color it – oh well. That’s good too. It’s his sketchbook, so he gets to choose what goes into it.

Now that camps are over, I’m glad to have half the summer before us to sketch and make things and take day trips. I will continue doing reading lessons with my oldest boy, and I plan to review this past year with him one day over a slideshow and give him a “certificate of completion” for the first grade. We also have birthdays in the August – I have no idea what we’ll do for that, but I know we’ll have fun.

I hope your summer is not too hot, just long enough, and full of relaxing moments.

June 20, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 18, 2014.

My seven-year-old loves to build things. Mostly, he uses cardboard because we don’t have access to many other materials, but he also loves using clay. For the past three years, I’ve kept air-dry modeling clay on hand because it’s cheap and the boys love it. (I like it ten times better than Playdoh.) The seven-year-old takes his clay building very seriously, and he’s sculpted some pretty cool stuff.

When I found out a homeschooling class was being offered at Good Dirt Clay Studio in Athens, I jumped on it, and to say that my son loved it doesn’t do it justice. He even opted to go there instead of his homeschool science class at the nature center, which has always been a top priority with him.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel in the big studio with all the different people coming and going, but after one class, his eyes were beaming, and I could tell he was in heaven. I loved how the class taught him some sculpting techniques as well as taught him how to use a potter’s wheel. All the pieces were glazed and fired too, so he got to learn about the whole process. The teacher also made the students spend the last 30 minutes cleaning up after themselves – that’s always an excellent lesson.

He ended up outperforming the older kids in the class by making many more pots than they did. I don’t know if this was because they were talking too much, or they were going for perfection or what. My son’s pots aren’t perfect, but they are all beautiful and useable – they have almost replaced the plastic kid’s ware that we usually use.

I love how my son wanted to use the air-dry clay at home after the class, and he used the techniques he learned from his teacher. In the past, he has gotten frustrated when small pieces fell off his sculptures, or they would easily break. Now he instructs me on how to make a pinch pot and how to “slip and score,” and his work doesn’t fall apart as easily.

rhino made in class

dinosaur made at home using same techniques

I don’t know how long he’ll continue to enjoy making pottery, but his father and I want to support all his interests. Learning any skill is a good thing in my book. The pottery classes aren’t cheap, but they aren’t so expensive that we can’t swing a class here and there.

We also thought he would have fun going to some pottery sales and meeting the potters who sell out of their homes. We are lucky to live in an area rich with this type of craftsperson. About twice a year, they collaborate and have open houses to sell their work.

Last weekend we went to Geoff Pickett’s open house, and we were delighted when he gave us a tour of his studio, kilns, and my son even got to see his potter’s wheel and asked him a question about how he made a vase.

From there, we went to one other sale, and we ran into our son’s pottery teacher. She thrilled him by complimenting him in front of other potters. She said how quickly he learned how to center the clay on the wheel, which is one of the hardest things to get right.

I’m struck by how kind and generous these artists are, and it’s clearly a good community to belong to. I don’t know if my son will continue to learn about pottery, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and I only see good things coming out of the experience.

June 2, 2014

Robot Mom

The only photo of me taken on our vacation – taken on our first night in the condo by daddy with his tablet. (Because I’m usually taking all the photos.)

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 21, 2014.

In the late 90s, I worked for US Airways at the Athens Ben Epps Airport. Truly, it was the best job I ever had for two reasons – the varied work suited me, and most importantly, I worked with some awesome people. It’s the only time I witnessed true teamwork despite working in offices where employers touted the term “teamwork” frequently.

Now that I look back, I realize that the work suited me because I’m not cut out for sitting in an office in front of a computer for eight hours. At the airport I got to work with people, work inside and outside, do physical work, and work on the computer. There were slow times between flights, and there were intense times while checking people in for the flight, loading their bags on the plane, running the security check point, and marshaling the plane in and out of its parking spot. Many times there were only two of us working, and since it was a small airport most of the passengers thought they could arrive five minutes before takeoff. (That wasn’t helpful.)

Once a passenger asked me, “Do you fly the airplane too?”

“Only in emergencies.” I joked.

My co-workers and I worked well together because everyone did exactly what was needed of them in any given moment. None of us favored one task over another, so we jumped in wherever we were needed. The only exception to this was our manager, and though that may sound like a criticism, I actually liked her. She was a nice woman, but when she was there she disrupted the flow of our work for various reasons. Later I learned the only reason she took the job as manager was because there was no else to do it, and she gladly gave it up when someone else wanted it.

The reason I’m telling this story is because I have a vivid memory of one day when a flight was cancelled, and twenty passengers stood before us in a panic because they were going to miss their connection in Charlotte, NC. One of my co-workers and I worked so smoothly and quickly helping each passenger in line that we deflated any quick-tempered passengers.

What I remember about that moment is my manager standing near us and exclaiming, “Look at them! They’re like robots!” It was always hard for her to understand how we could remain so unflustered during those stressful moments.

Now all these years later that memory keeps resurfacing because once again, I find myself in a situation that requires varied tasks. I get to work with awesome people, get outside, do physical work, and part of the day, I’m on my computer. But it’s even better because I get to do creative work and continually learn new things too.

The bad part is that I never get a day off, and I’m so busy going from task to another that I rarely get a chance to rest. I never get to cross everything off my to do list either. Indeed, this is the life of a mother, especially a homeschooling mom, and a freelance writer, and it’s not lost on me that sometimes I must look like a robot. That is, focused, hurried and unsmiling.

I’m trying to remember to smile more. I want my outward appearance to match how I’m feeling inside. I want my kids to know that I love my job, and I love them. Even when I’m tired, there’s nowhere I’d rather be but right here.

I have so many good memories from my time working at the small airport. I could write a book about all the characters I met there, and all the laughter and smiles. Did I appreciate it while I worked there? I think so, but I know there were days that it was just a job.

My current job is anything but “just a job,” so I hope I can remember that each moment is a memory in the making.

May 1, 2014

Spring Discoveries at Ft. Yargo

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 30, 2014.

This is a beautiful time of year for walking in the woods, and last week we had an especially fun hike at Ft. Yargo State Park. Besides the weather being perfect, we discovered wildlife, blooming flowers and a new trail.

After studying the map of Ft. Yargo, I have learned that one of the trails we walked on is not on it. Right across the big bridge, the Lake Loop Trail splits and if you head right, it’s not marked on the map, but there is a clear trail with yellow blazes. At the end of it, we turned right and headed up a bike trail.

Now I have learned from the park’s website that hikers are discouraged on these bike trails because of the speed of some cyclists, but I’m glad we didn’t know hikers were discouraged from walking there because it ended up being a beautiful trail and parts of it were right along the lake. I guess it’s fortunate we went on a Monday, and I only remember passing one jogger and one cyclist going at a slower speed.

It’s on the west side of park and passes through an area called Deadwood Hill. It was named so because many of the trees in this area are dying due to disease and lightning, but everything we saw was still quite pretty.

The dogwoods were blooming, looking like points of white light peeking out from between new spring green leaves. There were pink and white flowering bushes right along the edge of the lake, and when I got closer, I could see they looked like a kind of honeysuckle.

I only had my son’s point and shoot on this walk, but at least I was able to capture one turtle before he escaped into the water!

We have never seen so many turtles before in one place. There was one fallen tree in the water with eleven turtles lined up on it, and as we got closer, all but one brave little turtle plopped into the water. We found many other turtles along the way, but they were too far away to identify. I’m guessing some of them were yellow-bellied pond sliders, though.

Several geese live around Ft. Yargo. On another hike a few weeks ago we found a nesting goose near the dam, and on this particular walk we heard some fierce squabbling from two geese that were either mating or protecting a nest.

We spied a bright red wild honeysuckle, which I also have growing wild in my backyard. We found where the fish were hiding along the edge of the lake (those fisherman on the bridge said they weren’t catching many), and some kind of large wasps were making nests in the brambles on the edge of the water – not something I like to see at home but interesting enough to watch with little boys on a trail.

I also found a fern growing in the underbrush that is new to me. From my search on the web, I think it is a Woodwardia areolata or Netted chainfern. If I’m right, it grows all along the eastern U.S. and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas.

It is fun to return again and again to a favorite park or trail and watch the seasonal changes. Over the past few years we have seen other wildlife at the park such as a great blue heron, and once we heard wild turkeys gobbling at some distance in the woods. I’m sure if we could get ourselves out of bed at an earlier hour, we might get lucky to find the more elusive animals, but for now we’re content to find deer tracks on our afternoon hikes. And despite how common they are, I’m still thrilled every time I catch sight of a red cardinal or a flash of blue from that bossy blue jay.

April 25, 2014

The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon, Georgia

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 23, 2014.

Last week my family ventured down to Macon to visit the Museum of Arts and Sciences. This is the only museum in Georgia that focuses on art and science, and we had a fun time checking it out.

The main brick building is set on fourteen acres of beautiful wooded land with trails and several outbuildings. There are permanent exhibitions, including a three-story “Discovery House” for children and a mini-zoo. In the Discovery House, the boys and I enjoyed looking at their beautiful collection of butterflies, shells, arrowheads and other treasures. There was pottery, artwork and a collection of ship models that must have taken years to put together.

The Discovery House is very interactive for kids too. There were places where the boys could have created some artwork, but they preferred to dig for fossils. They had a blast in the Light Box, and we also had fun pretending we were weather forecasters, standing in front of a green screen and seeing our images on a screen with a weather map behind us.

The mini-zoo is small, but it contains more than seventy animals, including amphibians, birds, invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. This made my snake loving seven-year-old very happy. We were also able to catch part of a live animal show, which is a regular feature of the museum, and afterward my boys got to touch some of the animals.

The art exhibits were more appealing to my husband and me, but luckily the boys didn’t rush us too much. We especially enjoyed their large display of antique quilts, which is a temporary exhibit. Many of them were from Georgia quilt makers, and the details and craftsmanship were incredible.

By far our favorite part of the museum was its planetarium. We have been to two other planetariums, and this was the best. After reading the museum’s website, I understand why.

In 2012, the museum became one of the few planetariums in the world to install the Konica Minolta Super MediaGlobe II, which is “the highest-resolution and brightest, single-projector digital planetarium available today.” This museum is the first to install this system in Georgia and only the third in the Americas. The resolution is supposed to be four times higher than of the best HDTV images – that’s impressive.

It was worth the drive just to see the two shows we attended. They were under thirty minutes each, but they were stunning, beautiful and very educational. I learned so much in such a short amount of time! Each show included some animation, so they were entertaining for the children as well.

My four-year-old got scared in the opening of the first show we saw, titled “Stars.” Later we were told that this show was the most intense. It begins as the camera moves in on a star, and my son had never experienced such a huge screen that encompassed our entire vision before. Later he told me that he thought we were all going to be swallowed! That is definitely the feeling you get as you sit under that huge dome and the “star” is moving toward you. I thought I was going to have to leave with him, but I calmed him down and he enjoyed the rest of the show. By the second show, he was an old pro.

If you would like to visit the museum, it is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10-5pm and Sunday 1-5pm. It is closed on Mondays. The admission price is very reasonable and includes all the exhibitions, mini-zoo, discovery house and the planetarium. It’s $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military, $7 for students, $5 for children, and children under 3 are free.

It took us about two hours to drive there. For directions, be sure to check the map on the museum’s website. When we got near the facility, we discovered that the directions from Google maps had one mistake. (We never found a Hall Road. Use Wimbish Road instead.) The website is www.masmacon.org.

April 11, 2014

The Georgia Museum of Art

750 pixels Terry Allen main_8247

Photos courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 9, 2014. Believe it or not, I wasn’t planning this field trip when I started writing my art series. It’s serendipity at its best!

My boys love to produce lots of original artwork. I keep their supplies out where they can reach them, so art happens almost daily. This year I also have done a few formal lessons in art. For example, we’ve looked at some of the artists from the Renaissance, and we’ve talked about color and line. I had them make a color wheel, and we did some fun activities to explore how everything is made up of lines!

I didn’t think my boys were old enough to visit an art museum, though. I imagined my seven-year-old hanging onto my arm and asking, “When are we going home?” and I imagined my four-year-old running up and down quiet hallways and knocking over some precious sculpture.

Then my sister came to visit us for a very short visit on her spring break, and the weather was not ideal for hiking, which is what I was hoping to do while she was here. It also seemed silly to drive into Atlanta when she was here for such a short time, and we were going to have to take her to the airport the next day anyway. And there are not many indoor places around here that’s fun for both kids and adults. But my sister loves art – she even teaches at a special school that emphasizes art, so we decided to take a chance on our boys and visit the Georgia Museum of Art.

The Museum is located on the University of Georgia’s East Campus. It is free for the public, though you will need to park in the Performing Arts Center parking deck and pay for parking when you leave. We were there for about two hours and paid $2 for parking.

The museum is kid-friendly. Upon entering, we were greeted at the visitor’s desk where our children were offered a bag with some activities they could do while they were visiting. They also could have taken a sketchpad and drawn pictures in it while viewing the artwork, though all these items needed to stay at the museum. My seven-year-old was happy to receive a little button he could wear on his shirt that said, “Art for Everyone.”

It had been years since I had visited the museum, and it all looked new to me. This is because in 2011, a 16,000-square-foot expansion was added to the museum. It is beautiful. There is a huge permanent collection with artwork from the Renaissance to Modern times. Some of my favorite discoveries were a portrait painted by Mary Cassatt and a small painting by Renoir.

I was happy that my boys behaved themselves, and for at least the first half the museum, they were engaged and enjoyed looking at the art. I squatted down by my four-year-old and asked him what he saw in the abstract art, so that helped him focus, but eventually, he did try to run around the big, airy rooms and hallways. (It’s tempting even for me to want to run in such lovely hallways!) But we kept him in check, and he was good boy.

GMOA

Eventually my seven-year-old did grow tired, but that probably had more to do with the leisurely pace at which the adults were moving through the museum. He enjoyed a lot of art, especially the Belleek Porcelain collection. He loves working with clay, so the delicate porcelain sculptures with such fine details were impressive. He also was taken with a special, temporary exhibit that the museum staff called “the floating pen,” but according to the museum’s website, it’s called “Machine Drawing.”

Tristan Perich, a contemporary artist and composer based in New York City, is the artist responsible for the “Machine Drawing.” He created the code that operates a machine that controls a pen, held by hooks and wires, and over a six-month installation, this “floating pen” will make a work of art on a 60-foot wall in the museum. It is fun to watch!

There was a good chunk of wall already covered in pen markings, so we thought the “floating pen” had been working for a long time. We were surprised to hear that when we visited the museum, it had only begun three days earlier. My seven-year-old wants to go back and see the wall in a few months to see what it looks like, so we’re planning to do that. (We also asked them how often they have to change the pen – the answer was everyday!)

If you would like to visit the museum, it is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10-5p.m., Thursday from 10-9p.m., and Sunday 1-5p.m. It is closed on Mondays. For parents, you may be interested in looking at their calendar and going on a Family Day, which is once a month on a Saturday and free. We have not tried that yet, but it looks like a great activity for kids.

The museum’s website is georgiamuseum.org. Click here to go directly to their page about upcoming Family Art Days.

April 1, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 26, 2014.

Sometimes I worry that I don’t give my four-year-old enough attention, but then again, sometimes I worry that I don’t give my seven-year-old enough attention. In truth, it’s probably about even.

For three years, my oldest son had all my attention, but his younger brother has had to compete ever since he was born. I have to remind myself that my four-year-old got a lot of things his older brother didn’t get. Since he was a baby, he’s been carried along to play dates whereas I didn’t know many mothers with infants and toddlers when I first had children. He’s also been taken to his older brother’s classes and been around big groups of children of all ages from day one.

He was also born into a home with lots of toys and art supplies, and when he was a baby, we converted our dining room into a school room, so he is very comfortable going in there and pulling down books or puzzles or blocks and other building toys. Now, he sits at the table and listens while his older brother works on his lessons. Sometimes he wants to draw or do something else, but I’m surprised how much he’ll just watch. (Not exactly quietly, but not too distracting either.)

Even though he’s not getting the direct one-on-one attention my oldest son got from age one to three, he is absorbing so much information from his brother and me. (I can’t forget to mention daddy either. He’s always been around for both of them.)

Right now I’m very focused on my “first grader.” Reading lessons, math lessons, book time, computer time, conversations about history and cultural events, and most of all, his projects. We are project-based homeschoolers, which means that I set aside time for my son’s interests and use some “tricks of the trade” to get him to study deeper than the surface of those subjects.

My four-year-old has interests too, and lately I’ve been considering how I can make more time for his projects and lessons. I don’t think that at four-years-old, academics should be a priority, but by letting him explore his interests, he is learning everything a four-year-old would typically learn in preschool anyway.

Right now he loves letters and numbers. He hasn’t mastered the ability to identify all the letters like my oldest son did at an early age, but he’s taking a different approach. He loves to sing the ABC song, and by singing it with him every night, he has mastered it.

He loves to count everything, and we often overhear him counting when he’s playing by himself. He loves to play our math games even though they are too hard for him, and sometimes he’ll play by himself when no one else is available. He uses some tiny little, rubber vehicles (manipulatives) to help him add and subtract.

His favorite subject is dinosaurs, and whenever we go to the library, he asks for dinosaur books. (I’m really tired of reading about dinosaurs!) He watches dinosaur shows on T.V. with his brother, and we’ve taken him to museums to see dinosaur bones. He has asked me to draw him dinosaurs, make a dinosaur out of clay, and his father tells him a story about “Dig Dig the T-Rex” every night before bed. I have never thought about it before, but I guess you could say that he has an ongoing “dinosaur project.”

Whenever he tells me to draw or make him something, I encourage him to try to do it himself first. He never wants to. I guess he knows his own limits. I started to get frustrated about this, but then I remembered all the “art” he makes on his own. You might call it “abstract” art, but it takes some time and thought. He is very calculating about applying different colors of paint all over one piece of paper, drawing line art, or cutting and taping paper together to make interesting shapes. I’m glad he’s felt free to “create” whenever he wants to, and I have a nice collection of his work to save in a memory box.

When you have more than one child, it’s easy to worry about whether or not you’re giving them their fair share of your time, but in many ways, both boys have benefitted from not having my full attention. They occupy themselves. And when I stop to chronicle everything they do, I’m pleasantly surprised that quite a bit gets accomplished without me even trying.

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By having all our materials accessible to both of my children, I’m very happy to see how my youngest son has picked up on the “creating” “building” “art” vibe of his house. I will often find him in the activity room, scribbling away on a piece of paper. Sometimes, he pretends he’s writing. Other times, he wants to paint, and I love how he carefully applies different colors to his work. What I love most is when he’ll gather a bunch of supplies, such as paper, pen, markers, scissors, glue, string, beads, goggly eyes or what not, and then he says, “I’m gonna make somethin!” Here’s a slideshow of some of my four-year-old’s art and “writing.”

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March 20, 2014

Is Happiness a Skill?

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 19, 2014.

I just watched a fascinating documentary titled “happy” and directed by Roko Belic. I would recommend that everyone watch it because who isn’t trying to be happy? The documentary showcases the latest research on what makes humans happy, and it’s full of interviews with researchers in this fairly new field of inquiry.

Twenty years ago psychology was about helping people with their problems, but in the 1990s it finally became more acceptable to study what makes people flourish. This “positive psychology” has produced a slew of books and other media on the subject.

Ed Diener, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, and he started his research in 1981. He said, “The first thing to realize is that happiness can actually help you get your other goals, have better relationships, make more money, do better at the job. People on the job are going to like you better if you are happy.”

So what does it take to be happy? Although I expected the researchers to say that success and money don’t buy happiness, I was still surprised to hear what they have found out.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, 50% of what determines whether we will be happy or not is genetic. She says that we all have a kind of “set point” or a range of feeling happy that we continue to fall back into after the effects of our good and bad experiences wear off.

This surprised me. Are we doomed to unhappiness because of genetics? As pointed out in the documentary there is still the other half. Lyubomirsky goes on to say that 10% of what makes us happy is our circumstances: our income, social status, where we live, and our age.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that all those things we typically “strive” for do little to make us happy, but Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D. and author of Stumbling on Happiness, says that money can buy happiness when we’re talking about lifting someone out of poverty. Once our needs are met, however, there isn’t much difference in the happiness levels of someone who makes 50K a year and someone that makes 500K a year.

Lyubomirsky says that 40% of what determines how happy we feel is our actions and intentions.  There are things we can do to help ourselves become happier.

One action we can take is to get more aerobic exercise. This is because physical exercise helps to release dopamine in our brains, a chemical necessary for happiness. From our teenage years onward, we start to lose dopamine, but exercise is one of the best ways of producing it.

They also said that getting exercise in fun and novel ways is an even better way of releasing dopamine, and in our everyday lives, we need variety and change.  For some that may be taking a different route to work, but for others, they may need more changes. Having new experiences and keeping up that “spice of life” is another action we can take to help increase our happiness.

Not surprisingly, people who are happier tend to have a strong network of family and friends. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has to get along all the time though.)

“Social bonding, social interactions is programmed to be intrinsically rewarding to humans,” says P. Read Montague, Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine.

Doing something that we feel is meaningful is an important step in trying to feel happier. When we concentrate on relationships and our community’s overall feeling of well being, we stop thinking so much about ourselves.

The final “building block” in happiness, as the documentary’s narrator calls it, is appreciating what we have. Since I’ve spent a good portion of my life concentrating on what I want instead of appreciating what I have now, I can attest that shifting my focus to others and appreciating every moment has done quite a bit to elevate feelings of satisfaction and contentment in my life.

I appreciate that the film also noted that there is no one formula for happiness that fits every person, but it does a good job of finding people who live in dire circumstances around the world and showing that happiness can be found even in these places. The film doesn’t go into problems such as chronic depression that can affect a person’s brain, but that didn’t seem to be the point of this particular film. The “building blocks” may seem simple and common sense, yet the average person could benefit from learning about them. It’s something many people in our culture could use.

What makes you happy?

March 13, 2014

Winter Siestas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 12, 2014.

I love Georgia winters because the weather here always offers us a few “siestas” or breaks in the cold weather. This winter has been especially cold, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a few days of spring-like weather sprinkled here and there. I have even seen some trees blooming.

The blooms I’ve found always give me mixed emotions because I know a freeze may come and mess up the blooming cycle, but every spring Georgia seems to have plenty of beautiful blooms anyway. I can’t wait until the warm weather is here to stay, but I’m glad we’ve been taking advantage of the warm days in winter.

The boys are finally old enough to enjoy longer hikes, at least when the terrain isn’t too rugged. We usually go to Fort Yargo, and recently we were happy to discover that there is a trail that goes all the way around the lake – years ago when my husband and I hiked there while we were dating, the trail didn’t go all the way around.

We haven’t yet hiked the whole trail in one visit, but we’ve done parts of it, and my seven-year-old really wanted to see the dam, so we walked all the way from the parking lot near the beach to the dam and back. Ft. Yargo is a beautiful place, and if you live here in Barrow County, you’ll want to visit as often as you can.

Last week we went to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, which has several miles of trails too. My boys love to hike on the trail that goes along the Middle Oconee River the best. Sometimes the river is high, but occasionally it’ll be low enough where they can venture down to a large sandbar and play by the water.

As soon as they saw the sandbar last week, there was no keeping them on the trail. My husband and I found a log to sit on, and we watched our boys build a “beaver dam” with driftwood and mud. Two little girls and their mother came out onto the sandy area, and we were delighted to watch our four-year-old chatter away with one of the girls who joined my boys in their pursuit to build a strong dam.

We were too far away to hear what our youngest son was saying, but later my seven-year-old told me that he was telling the girl what his favorite foods were, among other things. I guess for a four-year-old, there are only a few topics of conversation!

As for the cold days, they are perfect days to get more work done. More library books are read, math games are played, and of course, my son continues to work at this Legos and cardboard building projects. I recently introduced him to the game Minecraft, which is an app you can download on the iPad. It’s a popular game with kids, and it’s like building with blocks on the screen. He is hooked on that now too.

But I can’t wait until spring is here to stay. Park play dates, more hiking, and our annual attempts at gardening – while the gardening usually isn’t very fruitful, the attempts make me happy.

These hints of spring are full of promises. The birds are inspecting the birdhouses on our porch, and I’ve heard the frogs begin to sing. The budding plants and occasional warm days are just what I need to get me through the weeks of cold.  May the true spring come quickly this year, and may it fill us all with a fresh, cheerful spirit!

February 27, 2014

Sound Bites

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 27, 2014.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

In the mornings I’m lucky if I wake up to a quiet house. Usually it’s the galloping of the dogs’ paws on the floors as the canines leap up at the slightest sound of movement from my husband. They follow him into the kitchen, eagerly waiting their breakfast.

Other mornings I may wake up hearing one of my boys calling me from their bed or the seven-year-old’s footsteps as he runs down the hall and jumps into bed with me. Sometimes I hear a bird singing outside my window. Every once in a while, I wake up and hear nothing, and I savor the quiet.

Today at the park I heard snatches of my children’s conversations with their friends. One boy was explaining to my four-year-old that they would pretend they were dinosaurs and chase each other. They were trying to decide which dinosaur they would be, and my four-year-old wanted to be an Argentinosaurus. “Okay,” said the other boy, “you chase me then.”

“Actually,” my son said in his four-year-old and still sometimes hard to understand speech, “the Argentinosaurus wasn’t very fast.” I smiled at his good attempt at trying to pronounce Argentinosaurus, and I told the other boy’s mother how the word “actually” has become very popular in our house lately. She said it was gaining momentum in her house too.

It’s fun to hear how children will learn a new word and then play with it often as if they are trying to get to know it better.

While we were at the park we walked down to the shoals, and the kids played near the water. Running water in a creek or river is my favorite sound in the world. I could sit beside a river all day and just listen, but kids don’t let me sit for long. We were walking down the trail, and I was too busy keeping an eye on the boys who were running far ahead of us to listen to the wildlife.

I was happy to hear them talking, chattering and laughing as they asserted their independence and tried to get away from their mamas. I did catch the loud sound of a frog croaking from somewhere in the marsh.

On the way home from the park, I wanted to listen to the news on the radio, but my boys kept interrupting the broadcast. Some days I make a point of turning off the radio and just listening to my son chatter about his observations or ask his complicated and often-times unanswerable questions.

“If we walked just one atom at a time, would it take a year for us to walk a foot?” He laughs at himself and I shake my head. I hope he’ll grow up and learn the answer for himself and then tell it to me.

Sometimes in the evenings while my boys are watching T.V. my husband will call me to his office to watch his latest find on YouTube. He listens to music to relax, and he’ll listen to anything from classical to folk to pop music.  One of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos of auditions from the British X Factor talent show.

It’s not something you would ever find me doing on my own, but I’ll sit with him and soon be sucked into the inspiring stories of these talented young people who are finally being discovered. We’ll listen to their best songs and then watch whatever other talented musicians he may have found.

If it weren’t for my husband, I would be completely cut off from pop culture and sometimes even the latest news. That’s what happens when you keep turning off the radio to hear your kids chatter. But their young voices are only here for a brief period of time, and as much as I would like to listen to the news or even my own thoughts, I know I won’t regret spending a little time listening to them.

What have you heard lately?

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