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With only a few weeks left before my son’s wedding, I am the picture of calm. Why then, does everyone ask me, “How are you doing? Are you stressed, yet?” Each time I smile and calmly reply, “No, no, of course not. I’m fine!” Their questions create momentary panic, though, and I begin to doubt myself. Should I be stressed? Why aren’t I stressed? Have I forgotten to do something? There must be something I’ve overlooked, because I’m not stressed. Then my “To Do” list pops into my head and I mentally review all the things that still must be done prior to the wedding. No worries, I have things under control – at least the things that I can control!

#1 – Room in a Box

For the last couple of years, my motto has been, “Less is More.” This new outlook of mine will shock those that know me as a collector and part-time hoarder, but it developed as I moved child after child out of their apartments and into new ones. When I saw this clever Room in a Box , my first thought was, “Wow, that would be so easy to move!

#2 – Sew and Sew

I could write a book about my recent woes with seamstresses. I ordered and purchased a dress from a bridal store for my son’s upcoming wedding. After two rounds of alterations, the dress was so tight, I could not move in it. When I complained about the fit to the dress designer/owner of the shop, she said, “You didn’t tell me you wanted to move. I thought you just wanted to look good in the pictures!” Seriously! In desperation I bought another dress to wear to the wedding and had the alterations done at the major department store where it was purchased. When I received the altered dress, I was disappointed to discover that one of the darts was noticeably puckered all along the seam. When my other son, the best man, took his dress shirt and wedding suit jacket to yet another place for alterations, one jacket sleeve turned out shorter than the other. The tailor had neglected to measure both of my son’s arms. I’ve learned my lesson and thank goodness I found a skilled seamstress who corrected the others’ poor workmanship issues. If you’re looking for a tailor/seamstress, make sure to read this article 10 Tips for Finding Your Perfect Tailor first!

#3 – Deal or No Deal?

A game of chance and a fun diversion from working at the computer, this game is very much like its television version. Deal or No Deal tests your luck and intuition. Select a briefcase and set it aside. Open up one briefcase at a time, hoping that you don’t come across the one that contains $100,000,000 because you want that amount to be in your briefcase. During the process the bank will tease and entice you with different dollar amounts to buy you out. On my first go-round my instinct led me to set aside briefcase #4 and I won a million dollars! If only it could be that easy!

#4 – Career Advice
What if you could receive career advice from someone at the very top of your chosen field? Let’s say a Nobel laureate. In the article, Careers Advice from Nobel Prizewinners, a few Nobel laureates were asked what advice they would give to someone planning a career in physics. Although their exact replies centered on scientific studies, the heart of their advice applies to any person pursuing any career:

1. You need passion.
2. Mentors matter.
3. You have to go out on a limb.
4. A dose of humility helps.
5. You can’t do it all.
6. Pursue your passion.

#5 – Do What You Came Here to Do
It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.
— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Have a great weekend!

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Standing in front of the card rack, I search for the perfect Father’s Day card for my dad. One after another, I pick them up, read them, and put them back. None will do – too schmaltzy, too formal, or too silly. Why must cards rhyme? My expectations are too high. How can a card, a mere piece of paper, possibly convey all that my my dad means to me? He’s taught me many things, like how to: ride a bike, pick out the best produce and meat in a grocery store, cook, buy a car, select wines, and manage money. More importantly, by example, he’s taught me how to treat people with respect, how to be a responsible citizen, and how to age gracefully. But most of all, he’s taught me how to love. Thanks for all the lessons, Dad. I love you with all my heart!

#1 – Searching For the Right Words
Opa, pater, and padre are just some of the names that children from around the world call their fathers. In this Father’s Day Word Search, find 13 names for “Dad” either horizontally, vertically or diagonally in the puzzle. Oh, and did I mentioned that you’re being timed?

#2 – He Did, He Did Knot
The ache in my hip reminds me of slipping on black ice and tying a necktie. Tying a tie is one of the those things my dad never taught me. Back in the day, females had little use for that sort of knowledge. But I could have used it one morning several decades ago. My husband had left for work before tying my son’s tie – something he needed to wear for a school program. I quickly rushed my son over to a neighbor’s house for help. In my haste, I didn’t see the black ice that my husband made earlier in the morning when hosing off his windshield. I slipped and fell and have forever associated my aching hip with tying ties. Avoid my fate and learn how to tie a necktie by following the illustrations in Things My Father Didn’t Teach Me.

#3 – A Father’s Love
Many examples of a mother’s love can be found, but here’s a video from the ’92 Barcelona Olympics that gives testament to a father’s love and devotion.

#4 – The Gift
What am I giving to my husband for Father’s Day? Well, I have a gift that keeps on giving. Many posts ago, I wrote about my daughter being born on Father’s Day and how I will never be able to give my husband anything better than his only daughter, who looks a lot like him. That doesn’t mean I don’t treat him like the superman that he is on his day. If you want a man in your life to know he’s special, check out this list of 67 Ways to Make Him Feel Super Respected.

#5 – The Best Role Model
He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
~Clarence Budington Kelland

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there! Enjoy your weekend!

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A long embrace and a quick murmured, “Love you. Take care of yourself,” and he was gone. My firstborn, who has always marched to his own drumbeat, is moving on with his life. Although I am extremely grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that awaits him in New York City and for the fact that he is not moving out of the country, I allow myself to experience the bittersweet feelings that stir within.

With less than four adrenaline-fueled days to adjust to the idea of him leaving and to tie up loose ends here, I didn’t have time to sit, feel, and acknowledge the rumblings of my heart and brain until now. My brain confirms all the positive aspects of this transition, but my heart stubbornly refuses to let go of that last bit of apron string tied to him. I remind myself that he is following his dream, something that I endlessly supported. But in this mother’s mind, at this moment in time, I can’t help but think that this wonderful opportunity is carrying him far away from home and family. His hard work and perseverance paid off. He held fast to his dream even when his life didn’t go according to plan – when life’s zigs and zags carried him their unpredictable ways. How could I not be happy for him now?

In reality, he’s not lived at home for a while, but he’s always lived in the same state as the rest of the family. As he heads to the opposite coast, I take comfort in the marvel of today’s technology, which will help to appease my motherly worries. I worry about this son of mine because he has a different approach to life than my other children and because things seem to happen to him that don’t happen to the others.

His decision to drive across the country with his girlfriend rather than fly, a decision that baffled many, did not surprise me. I asked him why he wanted to drive for five days and arrive at his new job road-weary and tired. I asked him why he wanted to drive a car that already has 150,000 miles on it and risk it breaking down in the middle of nowhere. I asked him why he was making things so complicated. He told me calmly, “It’s only complicated to you, Mom.” And then he added, “In my line of work, you draw on life’s experiences for ideas.” I understood what he was telling me. It’s my fault, I thought to myself. Throughout the years I reminded my children about “life being a journey and not a destination.” It’s no wonder that they yearn to do more, see more, and experience more.

For three decades my identity has been wrapped up with my children. It’s inevitable that as they transition, so must I. With one child moving away and another getting married in a few months, the focus of my life must shift away from them. It is only natural. My time is coming again. My children’s growth and good fortune affords me the time and energy to fulfill more of my life’s dreams. It is now abundantly clear to me, that my children are not the only ones moving on.

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“Mom’s going to love these,” I thought to myself as I whipped up a batch of French Breakfast Puffs. Cinnamon-sugar coats tender, buttery mounds of baked perfection. Although their exteriors are golden, one bite gives way to a moist and tender muffin-like texture. I know my mom will really enjoy nibbling on these while sipping her morning coffee. Serve these delicious morsels at any brunch, but why not plan ahead to Mother’s Day?

French Breakfast Puffs
Recipe from The American Country Inn and Bed And Breakfast Cookbook

Ingredients:
1/3 cup shortening, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
*******************************
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin cups.
2. In a large bowl cream together the shortening, sugar, and egg.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
4. Stir flour mixture into the sugar mixture, alternately with the milk.
5. Fill the prepared muffin cups 2/3 full.
6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.
7. In a small bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon. Roll the warm muffins in melted butter, then in the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Serve hot.

Makes 12 muffins.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. If you don’t like the taste of nutmeg, you can leave it out. One time I accidentally left the nutmeg out and the puffs still tasted great. Nutmeg does lend more depth to the overall flavor, though.

2. I melt one cube of butter (8 T) and always barely have enough to coat all the puffs.

Enjoy!

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Surprise crossed my face when, several years ago, my daughter informed me that Easter was her favorite holiday. “Really? Not Christmas?” I replied while thinking about all the years I attempted to create wonderful Christmas memories for my children. Holiday season after holiday season, colorful decorations covered every nook and cranny in our home and the scent of fresh pine mingled with the sweet smell of cookies baking. The Christmas holidays always sparkled with good times, love, and laughter. I listened while my daughter explained about her favorite holiday and soon my initial disappointment over perceived Christmas fantasies faded away. I hadn’t failed, after all. The good times, love and laughter I longed for my children to have, were not just restricted to one holiday. For my daughter, Easter brings the promise of spring, with its sense of renewal, fresh colors, and beautiful flowers. But it also brings back fond memories of silly egg dyeing experiments, crazy, competitive Easter egg hunts with her brothers, and much anticipated visits from her grandparents. She’s an adult now and home for only a brief visit, but I can still create good memories for her. She was childishly happy when I asked her, “Would you and your friends like to dye Easter eggs?” After gathering supplies, I let the three creative gals take over. Below are tips and techniques on creative egg dyeing from my daughter and her friends.

Supplies:

Hard boiled eggs
Box of assorted food colors
Boiling water
Vinegar
Bowls
Spoons
Electrician’s tape
Sharp scissors
Rubber bands
Paper punches
Contact paper
Old pantyhose
Small leaves
String, optional

Electrical Tape:

Electrical tape is great for cutting out shapes and sticking to an egg. Because it is so sticky, it can be used multiple times and is easily repositioned. Remember to gently smooth down all edges of the tape, so that dye does not seep under the tape and clean lines are formed. Plan ahead the sequence of colors you will be dipping – always start with a white egg or dye the egg the lightest color first. Let the egg dry between colors.

Contact Paper:
Smooth, adhesive, shelf paper, such as Contact Paper, acts like electrical tape by blocking out dye, but the advantage the shelf paper has is that it can be punched out into shapes. Using paper punches, punch out shapes from the adhesive shelf paper. Peel off the paper backing, place shapes on egg, and smooth edges down. Dye egg as desired. Bigger and simpler shapes punch out better than small intricate shapes. Some shapes may require additional trimming with scissors.

Rubber Bands:

Wrap rubber bands tightly and securely around an egg. For more interesting and intricate designs, vary the width and number of rubber bands used. Dye the egg and let it dry. After drying, some of the bands can be removed and the egg can be dipped in another color.

Leaves and Nylons:
Select small leaves that can lie flat against the shell. Herb leaves and carrot leaves work well for this technique. Place leaf on an egg, being careful to spread and flatten all parts of the leaf. Cut out a piece of sheer pantyhose and wrap it around the egg. Twist stocking at the back of the egg and tie it tightly with a small rubber band or a piece of dental floss or string. Dye the egg. Let it dry completely before removing the stocking and the leaf. The nylon wrapped around the egg slows down the drying process.

Tips:
1. The best way to hard boil eggs is to put eggs in a single layer in a pot and cover them with one to two inches of cold water. Bring the water to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to low. Let simmer for no more than a minute and then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the number of eggs and the amount of water used. Drain water and run cold water over the eggs in the pot until they have cooled. Blot eggs dry before dyeing them.

2. Don’t rush the dyeing process and be sure to let the eggs dry between colors.

3. To avoid an egg from turning an ugly brown color, it helps to plan out the color sequence before dyeing each egg.

4. Keep hands clean to prevent dye transfer to other parts of the egg.

5. I lined a baking pan with paper towels and placed a cooling rack in it, to provide the eggs a place to dry.

6. Refrigerate completed eggs as soon as possible.

7. For another fun way to dye eggs, check out my post on Tie-Dyed Eggs.

Have fun!

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The rhythmic sounds of a tumbling clothes dryer and a snoring old dog create a soothing background of white noise as I compose my thoughts. The holidays blew through my life like a gust of wind, picking up bits and pieces of my routine and then rearranging them in chaotic order. The kids blew in, stayed awhile, and then blew out. Life provides us with opportunities to learn lessons every day and these past holidays were no exception. Mindful refresher courses came in abundance during the last few weeks. Now in the quiet of my home and my mind, I reflect on the holidays and the lessons I learned or revisited.

Priorities
No matter how much planning and preparation transpires before the holidays, I will never have enough time to do everything I want to do. With that in mind, I didn’t try to please everyone and I didn’t get together with everyone I wanted to see this holiday season. Prioritizing my time was how I stayed sane and, for me, family always comes first. There’s plenty of time during the rest of the year to bake, craft, and visit with friends. Having all of my kids under one roof is a rarity these days, so I gave myself permission to be selfish with my time.

Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
A week ago my dog survived chocolate and alcohol poisoning due to an absent-minded husband and a gift of homemade bourbon balls. Three hours and $369.00 later, I gratefully carried my little dog back home from the emergency veterinary hospital. Will he get into chocolate, again? I hope not. I’ve learned that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. And, in this case, I’m not referring to my dog! Adoption of new routines in our home – inspection and placement of my husband’s briefcase – will hopefully prevent any future incidents involving my sweet-seeking dog.

Don’t Sweat the Messy Stuff
Laundry baskets of dirty clothes stood in queues outside the laundry room, mystery goop stuck to the stove top, and dozens of unclaimed drinking glasses littered the house. My kids were home and it showed. For all the days my family was reunited, the house was a huge mess, but I was okay with that. Not a lot of time was wasted sweating over the messy stuff and as much time as possible was spent enjoying the mess-makers.

The Best Gifts
Driving around town admiring Christmas lights never grows old. Nor does preparing big pots of homemade soup and listening to my kids slurp them down and then, in a Charles Dickens’ way, ask for “more.” Watching their faces as they opened their presents and listening to their laughter fill the house reminded me that the best gifts aren’t on lists and have no dollar value.

Be Prepared
On Christmas Eve my oldest child complained of a bad headache and by Christmas morning his headache was accompanied by stomach pain. After sleeping most of Christmas, fever, chills, and heavy groans developed. Flu? Appendicitis? By Christmas evening we were in the hospital emergency room. Thankfully, he’s fine now, but next year, before the kids come home, I will remember to check the batteries in my digital thermometer and I will buy a fresh supply of acetaminophen.

Life is Precious
Like a thief in the night, bad news came and stole the promise of the New Year. In the middle of the night, the day after Christmas, my daughter came into my bedroom sobbing. She had just learned that a friend of hers was dead. While consoling her, we talked about Tim, a fun-loving and adventurous young man. Tim came from England, not just to study in the United States, but to fulfill his desire to see the world and to meet and befriend as many people as he could along the way. In the blink of an eye, his young life was snatched away by a drunk driver. Sad and bad things happen, even during the holidays. They are part of life. They make us wake-up, pay attention, and learn hard life lessons – like never take anyone for granted and live life to the fullest.

Growing with Gratitude
At year’s end I received an email with an annual report from my blog host. What started out as a way to share my thoughts, ideas, photos, and passions with others, has turned out to be an extraordinary experience for me. In the process of producing this blog, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of. My children now have a journal of their mother’s sometimes quirky and sometimes serious thoughts and also a place to go to for family recipes intertwined with bits of family history. But what I’ve learned the most about while writing this blog is how small, thanks to the Internet, the world is and how large my world has grown! Finding out from the annual report that my readers come from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, simply overwhelmed me. I am grateful for every one of you who stopped by and took the time to read What About This? Thank you so much!

May 2012 find you happily grateful, in good health, and filled with abundant joy!

This post is dedicated to the memory of Tim Selby Barraud.
Photo of Tim soaking up the Oregon sunset – courtesy of my daughter.

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The sun was low in the sky on a crisp and breezy autumn day. It was the kind of day that beckoned for a stroll in the park. As the black lab puppy strained against his leash to see more, smell more, and play more, my husband and I walked and chatted. As we rounded a path leading down to the bay, I suddenly yelled out to him, “Stop! Don’t step on someone’s hope!” There at his feet, scrawled in the decomposed granite path, were large letters spelling out the word “hope.” As we continued our walk, my mind filled with questions. Who wrote that? And why? Does that person have hope or need hope? Or was it just someone’s name? I’ll never know the answers to my questions, but I do know that hope can be found everywhere.

#1 – Convoy of Hope
Recently in my small area of the world a Convoy of Hope came to town. Over 13,000 people attended this outreach to receive assistance ranging from “health and dental screenings, family portraits, groceries, clothing, shoes and employment – all of which were free of charge.” Convoy of Hope has ambitious plans for 2012; their plans include outreach events in every state. To read more about this charity that has won the Charity Navigator Four Star Award for seven years in a row and to learn about ways in which you can help, click here.

#2 – Flowers of Hope
My husband called me from work the other day and asked, “Do you have any use for a box of assorted flower vases, because if not, they are going to be thrown away?” He knows me too well. Since it is not in my nature to throw things away, I replied, “Bring them home. I will fill them with flowers and take them over to a senior care home.” Although vases are not required in order to give a bouquet of flowers to someone in a senior center or home, they certainly make it easier for the staff to distribute the flowers. I mentioned in a previous post, that glass jars work great for this purpose, too. So before you get rid of those inexpensive vases you get from the florist, fill them with lovely flowers from your yard or from a store and give a home-bound senior hope that someone still cares about them.

#3 – Is There Hope For Mom and Dad?
The text I sent my daughter read something like this, “@ emerg room. Dad mayb hd gdasu buvacj!” I admit that sometimes when I text, I inadvertently send jibberish instead -  thanks to clumsy fingers or that darn spell check program that keeps changing what I write! I’m sure I’m not the only one with texting issues. Read these amusing texts that appeared on the Huffington Post Parents page or read many more funny texts by going to When Parents Text. I hope my kids haven’t submitted any of my bloopers!

#4 – Hope For Creativity
This four minute TED video presented by Gever Tulley shows hope exists when creativity is fostered in children. His Tinkering School allows children to design, create, succeed and fail. Life skills are learned when they have to figure things out. I love this idea!

#5 – Words of Hope
“Men and women are limited not by the place of their birth, not by the color of their skin, but by the size of their hope.” John Johnson

Give thanks this weekend to the many people who gave hope to our country by serving in the military! Have a safe Veterans Day weekend!

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Are there only three simple rules in life? Is life really that straightforward and uncomplicated? I hardly think so, but these three rules command us to take action and to be in charge of our own lives. It’s a rather egocentric outlook on life, but we all know that thinking about things doesn’t make them happen and that the best intentions are often times just not good enough. Being proactive on all fronts of our lives pushes us to be better and helps us to strive towards the lives we want. After all is said and done, we can only blame ourselves if our lives didn’t evolve the way we’d hoped.

#1 – Commercial Break Workout
Take action while you watch television. This is the best of both worlds – watching television and working out. I don’t watch a lot of television, but after viewing Heidi Klum’s Commercial Breaks workout and breaking out the exercise mat, I won’t  feel quite as guilty on the days that I don’t hit the gym!

#2 – Sending Text Messages From Your Computer
If you’re sitting at your computer and need to text message someone, say your child who only communicates via texts or your boss who is in a meeting, there’s no need to get out your cell phone. You can send a text message from any computer to any cell phone that has instant messaging abilities. Practically all cell phones have an established email/text address, but you must know the phone’s service carrier first to figure out its email address. This is a great way for my parents’ generation, who are computer savvy, but not text savvy, to get in touch with family in a jiffy.

To set up an email contact for a cell phone:  Create a new contact/new address in your computer’s email program, e.g., Jane’s iPhone. Add the email address which consists of the phone’s 10 digit cell phone number (without spaces or dashes) and its service provider’s email information.*  Jane’s iPhone carrier is AT&T, so her cell phone’s email address looks like this: 5303214567@txt.att.net.

*Every phone carrier has a unique email suffix (all the information after the @ sign), so you will need to know the service provider for each particular phone. Click here for a link to service carriers’ suffixes.

Now when you want to send a contact a text message, just type in the name and the corresponding cell phone email address will pop up. Shortly after typing in your message and sending it, the contact will receive an instant message alert on their cell phone.

#3 – Reusing Floppy Disks
Got Junk? Help out British artist Nick Gentry by sending it his way. Check out these interesting portraits he made by reusing computer floppy disks. Mr. Gentry states on his website: “The life and personality of these objects are a big part of each artwork. If you’ve got some old junk or floppy disks, feel free to send them my way. I try to use objects that have come to the end of their useful life.”

#4 – Icy Wisdom
Recently my cousin told me her son was going to have his wisdom teeth removed. I shared with her a tip that one of my sons used to reduce his post-surgery swelling and then decided it was a tip worth sharing with all of you. After I brought my son home from the oral surgeon’s office, he went to his room and put on a hoodie-type sweatshirt. He then went to the freezer, grabbed a couple bags of frozen peas and settled himself down on the family room sofa to rest. When I checked to see how he was doing, I saw the bags of frozen peas nestled in between the outsides of his cheeks and the hood of his sweatshirt. He had pulled the drawstring of his hood tight, so that the frozen bags contoured around his face and stayed in place. He figured this way he could ice four quadrants all at once. Clever boy that son of mine!  Of course, frozen gel ice packs or bags of crushed ice would also work!

#5 – Your Lot in Life
“The important thing about your lot in life is whether you use it for building or parking.” – Unknown

Have a beautiful weekend!

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A pretty beach scene – yes, but how much longer will it remain that way? Last week the East Coast had a crazy mix of events with an earthquake, tornado warnings and Hurricane Irene. Today Alaska and Argentina experienced earthquakes and a huge chunk of ice broke off from a glacier in Greenland. Something is shaking up the environment. Is it man against nature or is it nature against man? We can no longer deny the effects that our daily actions have on the environment. On Tuesday I posted directions for making shopping bags out of t-shirts. Today’s post also touches on the environment and creative ways to reuse things.

#1 – Plastic Garbage
Photographer Laurie Penland shares her video and her experience of filming a plastic garbage dump floating off the coast of Belize. View it on the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal Blog. It will make you think twice about using plastic disposable items!

#2 – Green Glass
Avoid using plastic cups and plastic bottles by using glassware made from bottles. Green Glass Company is the “largest producer of reclaimed glassware in the world” and manufactures candle holders, assorted tumblers, vases, carafes, and goblets from wine, beer and soda bottles. Got a gift to give? Think green!

#3 – Coffee Makers Are Just Not For Making Coffee
Here’s a way to get additional use out of an old or extra coffee maker. Send it off to college with your student! You may want to forward this link to your child on how to cook food in a coffee maker. I can’t vouch for the safety of the procedures or how these recipes turn out, but for some reason I’m intrigued with the whole concept. Wish I had known about this when I was in college, because to this day I remember being a hungry college student. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If your student resides in a dormitory, better have him check first to see if coffee makers are allowed in the dorm rooms.

#4 – Reusing Used Paper
In most cases computer paper is used three to four times in my house before it hits the permanent recycling bin. After the original printed paper is no longer needed, it gets put in a bin by my printer for a second-side printing – not big news for there are many of us who already do this. But when that paper has been printed on both sides and is no longer wanted, it goes into another bin in my craft area. These pieces of paper work well to protect surfaces when I’m gluing and painting. They also make good scratch paper for testing colors and for cutting out patterns and templates. Twice is nice, but three times is better!

#5 – The Future
“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. The activity of making them changes both the maker and their destination.”
John Schaar

Have a safe holiday weekend!

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Forrest Gump’s mama always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but the older I become, the more this mom views life as a series of never-ending staircases, much like those drawn by M.C. Escher. At particular phases in life, we climb metaphoric stairs and reach the top, only to find that another level exists and another staircase awaits. We learn the rules of the game during each ascent, but discover the game changes at every level.

Parenting is a good example of my analogy: you start with a sweet, little baby, but no sooner do you get a grip on exhausting infant-ways, then your baby walks, talks, and throws tantrums. Mastering potty-training raises cheers and exultations, but creates a degree of independence, which allows your child to leave the safe haven of your arms to go to school. After years of navigating through playground dramas and class projects, you warily enter the hormonally-charged world of adolescence. By the time you regain some balance after the “driving” years, your child moves on to college applications. And before you can decipher the FAFSA form, your child graduates from college and finds a job.

Recently, my youngest child and her friends reached a new level by graduating from college. With high hopes they look to the future with new sets of goals and new sets of stairs to climb. For some of them, their staircases are straight forward – graduate school. For others, the staircases are long and narrow – medical school. But for many of them, their staircases rise, twist, and turn – the path of uncertainty. In the past, a college degree usually led to a job. Not so anymore. For those looking for jobs, the ascent is made more difficult by an extraordinarily bad job market.

For example, a recent ad my daughter looked at quickly excited her, but ultimately discouraged her. It read:

Looking for an energetic, detail-oriented person. Check!
Must be organized and able to multi-task. Check!
Must be a self-starter and be willing to work long hours. Check!
Must be proficient in Word, Excel, and Power Point. Check!
Must have the ability to work quickly under tight deadlines. Check!
Must have a 4-year college degree. Check!
Must have nonprofit experience. Check!
Must have at least five years of work experience. No!

With so many bright, intelligent, and experienced competitors for so few positions, employers have a gourmet assortment to choose from. If all employers hire experienced workers, who will give the inexperienced the experience they need? I will never forget the dentist who hired an energetic, young dental hygienist fresh out of school. I am eternally grateful to him for believing in me enough to take a chance on me. Hopefully, there are other employers out there who can remember what it was like to get their first job and their first vote of confidence, and who are willing to consider vitality and eagerness over experience. My daughter, her friends, and other recent college graduates will need patience and this kind of help to get to the next level. Landing that first job, of course, puts them at the bottom all over again!

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Nelson Mandela

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