Friday, October 27, 2017

We Can Be Both Wind and Water

It’s here.

I don’t need to check the calendar. The steel grey sky and ruthless winds cutting at my face tell me November is just days away. I shiver and tug on my coat zipper, ensuring it’s as tight as it can get. It’s a biting cold today. No question: Mother Nature isn’t fooling around anymore.

I look across the lake, eyes beginning to tear with the incessant gusts. Both waves and wind feel heavy- scoffing at both bobbing waterfowl and me as we struggle against their influence. The wind has been blowing for a hours, leaving foamy lines across the water’s surface like rows in a farmer’s field. These are windrows, caused by something called Langmuir circulation. With a consistent breeze, the top layer of a large body of water can start to rotate in small series of rotations and we see the results on the surface, where these alternating circles pull surface items together. One regular pulse causes vibrations that can spread across an unbelievable distance.

Repetition leads to patterns. Patterns can maintain themselves until an outside force is applied.

I muse. Physical patterns. Patterns of thought. Patterns of behavior. What patterns of thought and action are pushing at us? Are they from us? Do they truly resonant with us? I wonder.

I adjust my grip on my now barely-warm coffee mug, fingers growing stiffer and colder as the moments tick by. I should go, but I’m mesmerized by the scene. The sky is darkening today as morning marches toward noon: a storm is rolling in. Change.

Patterns can be broken.

Those ephemeral lines of foam go on across the lake, disappearing from my view in the distance. They won’t last. The winds will shift, rains (or snow) will fall, and temperatures will eventually drop to the point where the lake’s surface will become an insulating cap of ice, impervious to the fickle wind’s touch. For a time.

We can be both wind and water. We can react. We can create. We can flow and change direction. It takes effort, but it’s possible. It has to be.

Otherwise, we’re just the foam on that water’s surface- coming and going at the will of something else. Do you agree? If yes, than we must try. Again and again and again...

Regardless of season. Regardless of time. Try.

With November comes the entrance of the holiday gift-giving season. My guided journal, Dear Teachers, makes a great gift for yourself or a teacher you appreciate. Supportive thoughts, beautiful photos and space to write all in one handy place.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Things Comply. We Collaborate.

This essay began as a quick sketch as I was editing my upcoming book, tentatively titled Dear Warriors: A guided journal to support & inspire those with diabetes. It grew and a bridge developed between two of my passions, diabetes and education. I felt compelled to share it live today. I’d love to hear your response!

Compliant vs Noncompliant. Absolute trigger words for me.

To be compliant means to conform or bend to an authority. Merriam-Webster defines it as “ready or disposed to comply :submissive.” and its opposite, noncompliance, as “ :failure or refusal to comply with something”.

I was reminded of these words recently while observing a twitter chat regarding diabetic care. I guess I had blocked the dark pall these terms cause to fall over my mind during the last few years as I’ve been focusing on raising my kids and exploring the world of education. If you’re not aware, when medical directions are not being followed, the phrase “patient is noncompliant” can be used. If they are followed, the “patient is compliant”.

The use of “compliant” and “noncompliant” does not usually happen in education today. “Compliant” may be used to indicate simple indifference but they both smell of right/wrong, good/bad and strength/weakness and are typically avoided. I immediately wondered why they would still be used to describe diabetic warriors today. Or ANYONE for that matter. Even two former presidents are giving speeches on our need to work together.

You demand my submissiveness?!? <insert heated response here>

The truth is, whether you’re in first grade or midlife, you want to belong. You want to be a part of something. You want to be valued. You want to be respected. You want to be heard and to feel comfortable sharing your reality.

Julie Woodard M.Ed is a 6th grade elementary teacher in Texas with a talent for depicting the critical messages teachers are trying to convey to tomorrow’s adults: their students. I’d like you and I to sit for a bit together. Let’s examine a couple of her pieces and consider these ideas in light of today’s adults and today’s people (young and old) who are saddled with chronic conditions like diabetes and see what we discover. Why?

If we’re leading our children there, couldn’t we embrace it, too? And should?

October is National Principals Month and it also hosts National Bosses Day. Mrs. Woodard’s graphic on what defines a good principal smartly ties in the fall season. Let’s look what happens when we replace “principal” with “boss”. Why? If the terms “compliant” and “noncompliant” are to be used, someone has to be the boss, right? I'd like to show that even if the medical directions are from a "boss", that boss should not have this terminology in their vocabulary toolbox.

According to this graphic, a good boss creates leaders, not followers. They include others who are involved in a situation as “an integral part of the decision-making process” and they “empathize, encourage, (and) empower”. Those traits seem to go against the notion of compliance. “Just submit.”, you might want to say. “Why should I do any of that?”, you might be still asking.

It’s because empowered partners work together to something greater via collaboration.

Enter Mrs. Woodard’s 2nd graphic on collaboration. Collaboration requires work and practice. Notice the EKG-like art on her tool! It’s almost tailor-made for a medical textbook. This subject is at our heart: it’s vital. Again, let’s look at this image and take out the notion that this is geared to children and apply it to our adult world.

Information is shared and everyone involved learns something with collaboration. It levels the field by establishing goals and expectations together. Clearly defined roles, needs and ways to resolve problems are outlined in advance. As Mrs. Woodard reminds us, “One of the most valued skills employers look for is the ability to work together and collaborate.” Speaker, entrepreneur, corporate organizer and executive coach leader Anthony C. Gruppo speaks in what I feel are similar terms, tweeting, “When you aspire to achieve for others, the result exceeds what you imagined for yourself.” If that’s the case, we should act accordingly.

Things and objects should be compliant to human collaborative efforts.

Humans should never be submissive. You may argue that I’m messing with trivial semantics. However, I have written previously on the power of words, in The Word Soup We’re Living In. Words have weight. We can (and should) be collaborative, not superior/submissive.

If we find that plans aren’t being followed, we need to come back in partnership and review them together. Talk. Review options. Figure out what’s going to work for everyone involved. Confusion can be cleared that way and new agreements- workable ones, can be forged. The plans bend to the people’s needs and abilities.

Diabetes is complex and messy, as is life in general, frankly. No one is perfect. We’ll all benefit if we adopt the mindset of growth over time by collaboration. Sure, we’ll screw up. But, we’ll learn. We’ll evolve.

We’re in this together. We’re stronger that way, too.

I wrote my book, Dear Teachers, to help teachers take time for themselves and track what is working or not through a school year. It’s a collaboration with your inner voice! :-) If you haven't gotten a copy for yourself or a teacher you know, please consider it today!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Whens Demand Joy and Love


Some people pass early while still being able to impart fantastically rich gifts to those of us left on Earth. One of those is John O’Donohue, and I hope you enjoy listening to his reading of his poem, Beannacht, as posted on On Being. This comes from his book of poetry, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings.

Mr. O’Donohue does not talk of possibles. He talked of whens. When things get tough. When things rattle you. When darkness threatens to engulf.

Shit happens. It will always happen.

He gives us wishes and hopes- reminders. It’s all about how we respond to the whens. It’s about how we ALL respond: yesterday, today and tomorrow. It combines into a single force that he sums up in his last stanza:

“And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.”

His images describe love and joy. A single thing will not get us through the unavoidable troubles of life. It’s the sum of many good things, thoughts and actions. Across both time and space. You. Me. Our ancestors. Our descendents. Love, joy, and not being alone.

When the darkness threatens, what rescues us? Children’s laughter? A warm hug? A full belly? What lifts us, supports us and brightens our hearts and minds?

Let’s try to both give and receive these gifts when we can. At every chance we get. We don’t know when it’ll be too late.

I wrote my book, Dear Teachers, to be clay beneath the feet of teachers and a way for readers to document their experiences and growth over time. If you haven't gotten a copy for yourself or a teacher you know, please consider it today!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Avoiding Guilt & Effort One Game At a Time

I’ve been off the last few weeks. I wrote about my struggle in my essay A Walk. A Talk. Things just haven’t been clicking the way they had been, no matter what I’ve tried. Blood sugars have been bouncing all over the place, I’ve gained back a few pounds, lost some energy and been depressed over the fact that cobwebs seem to be the only thing multiplying inside my wallet. Can you relate?

This week, I caught some information about Dr. Richard Thaler, this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics winner, that drew my attention. I hope I’m interpreting his thoughts correctly.

As stated in a CNBC announcement of Dr. Thaler’s prize:

“In his award citation, the Academy said his research had harnessed psychologically realistic assumptions in analyses of economic decision-making, exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control.”

It sounded like his work might offer some explanation or advice to me personally, for I felt I was being less than rational and lacking self-control. I dug deeper and rediscovered Shankar Vedantam’s 2016 The Hidden Brain Podcast with Dr. Thaler. It’s a very entertaining listen that I encourage you to try out if you haven’t before. Mr. Vedantam describes Dr. Thaler as “ economist who studies why people predictably don't act the way traditional economists say they will.” This podcast goes over some of Dr. Thaler’s key research points in real life scenarios and it’s almost scary how well I related to them.

We operate in 2 emotional states: hot and cold.

When I wake up in the morning, I’m totally pumped to eat well, exercise and do all kinds of work.  I’m emphatic about how I will avoid certain pitfalls because I’m in the cold state of fairly decent logic. By the end of the day, however, I may find myself with 2 loads of laundry only partially done and an empty box of granola bars beside my computer with my to-list barely touched. The hot state took over as I fell into the fun of creative writing.

Self-control is work.

Those 2 brain states have 2 different levels of difficulty. The colder one is harder to maintain- it’s a rational rule-follower. The hotter one likes to just run by itself- it’s effortless and fast. Finding myself at the end of the day with little to offer my family as proof that I provide something to the household, or seeing that blood sugar level in a bad zone, I feel guilt at not maintaining that cold state.

We like to avoid guilt.

So, I go back to the drawing board and try to develop games for myself that will motivate me to do what I don’t want to do. I divide the day up into sections. I set alarms. I offer myself rewards to meeting certain requirements. That all relates to a subject Dr. Thaler wrote an entire book about with Cass R. Sunstein in 2008. It’s the Nudge. We can nudge ourselves to better places, especially when we believe there’s an expectation (default option) and a motion that’s already heading that way (inertia). I was bemused to see that I even used that exact word “nudge” in my own essay that I referenced at the start of this one.

No wonder Dr. Thaler won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year. Dang it.

My nudge to you.

Time for me to get back to some things I should do. I’ve decided it’s what I should do. I might not really want to do it, but it will help me, my family and my circles of influence in the long run. How about you?

We’ve got this. Together. Guilt-free.

I wrote about how things are never done- and that's better than OK- in my book, Dear Teachers. We're always working, failing and trying again. If you haven't gotten a copy for yourself or a teacher you know, please consider it today!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

100th Blog! The Power of I Don't Know

My younger son’s literacy teacher, Becky Anderson, shared this image with us when he was in the 4th grade. It popped up on my Facebook memories and struck me again for its applicability towards both young and old (and everything in between). Thanks to Heather Wolpert-Gawron and Rebeca Zuniga for their original inspiration from 2014! Many have responded to this graphic, including Terry Heick in a post on TeachThought. Today, I’m focusing on the truth that not knowing is a constant presence for us ALL and we should embrace it.

I didn’t know what to write about today. That’s OK.

I feel some pressure because it’s my 100th essay on Verbostratis! My first foray into this world was back in July 2016. Back then, I knew I wanted to push myself to begin and maintain a regular writing practice. I hoped I could do it, getting better as the days & weeks went by. That’s all I had.

I didn’t know what would happen. I was excited by that.

My first essay, titled Hugs, was only 227 words long and appears to have only been viewed 7 times to date. LOL!  I didn’t even write it in Google Docs to save an original. No formatting. No pictures. Nothing but my mind and keyboard. They were heady days of fear and amped up energy of hopeful aspiration.

I worried I would run out of things to say or that my ideas would be flat. I had to reach out to others.

I setup my blog. I dove into Twitter. I sent letters and emails. I met with people face-to-face. When I’m out in public, I talk to people. I ask questions. I wrote of Serendipity- we can stumble on something at any moment. There is a world of ideas out there if we just open ourselves to it. An almost limitless world that I wanted to add more to.

A blog didn’t seem enough. I looked at my goals and changed my plans by considering a book.

I’d always had vague visions of becoming an author. A number of unfinished works of fiction that still sit in binders and computer files attest to that. I’d never considered writing personal narratives or persuasive pieces. However, the powerful messages that aggressively condensed, stand-alone essays can convey became too much to ignore.

Again, reaching out to others helped me. I began learning how to self-publish, using CreateSpace. I wrote and Marlene Oswald’s photos proved just the thing to augment my words and paint a more detailed picture of the support I wanted to offer to teachers. The editing help that others provided was invaluable to the overall product that Dear Teachers became.

What next? I don’t know. Yet.

In my essay about not knowing....yet, entitled Yearn, Embrace & Try, I took Barbara Gruener’s acronym and stretched its message a bit. We want students to be comfortable with growing. We don’t know- YET. “Yet” requires us to yearn for something, embrace the challenge it takes to get there and be willing to try for the goal anyway.

What’s good for kids should be good for us adults, too, if it’s real. If it’s right. If it’s what we really should be teaching them in the first place. I think it is. I think we can all benefit from “I Don’t Know” and “Yet”.

If we can't benefit from not knowing, why bother with anything?

I’d love to know your thoughts. What would you like to see me write about? What are you looking to accomplish? What haven’t you achieved yet? Comment and forward my blog to your friends to continue this conversation. Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Owning Our Turbulence

Life can feel like a jumble of seemingly non-matching parts.

Whether for fun, validation or in a desperate hope for someone or something outside of ourselves to help us makes sense of it all, people take quizzes which will tell you something insightful about yourself. That’s what the authors claim, anyway.

According to 16Personalities, I’m a mediator- an INFP-T personality. “First and foremost is seemingly every Mediators’ dream growing up – to become an author.” Well, would you look at that.

The one piece of information that threw me was the T. It stands for Turbulent. The other option is Assertive. As 16Personalities describes, the term “turbulent” can have some negative connotations. I mean, who wants turbulence in their lives, right? It sounds unsettling, chaotic and potentially dangerous. It sounds like a label that others would shy away from, like Hester Prynne’s scarlet A.

The 16Personalities article points out some important benefits to being turbulent:

Mental flexibility

An assertive personality sees situations in clear terms and push forward aggressively, but if the window they are looking through is flawed, they may have a hard time replacing the glass. A turbulent personality will see other options and will be open to ideas from others.

Always growing

Assertive personalities can be extremely bright but they can stay within their comfort zone. Turbulent personalities are always seeking to expand their understanding of self, others and the world. Thinking “Things may be nice now, but they could be better if…” leads to research, testing and innovation that can benefit many.

Determined to succeed

Assertive personalities can be so confident in themselves, they become complacent. Turbulent personalities seek gains constantly. Because their minds are always absorbing and they can piece together significant information, turbulent personalities are driven to improve life for themselves and others. Their hopes drive them to make dreams become reality.


There are some downsides to having a turbulent personality. Turbulent personalities run all-out and also having a natural tendency to never be satisfied with their work. This can leave them susceptible to burn-out. They also can become extremely frustrated with their worlds if they cannot affect positive change. Without a steadying hand, this can lead to feelings of hopelessness and even depression.

I read all this and could relate to most of it. I can own it in peace. In addition, reading about the specifics of aggressive personalities, I became more aware of how the world could look to others. I was reminded of the power of vagaries in perception. I’ve always wished I had a more cut-and-dry outlook on life. I wrote about it in my essay The Captains of Our Ships. Now I can see that it’s not in my makeup to be that way- and that what I do have is good. Mine is but one way and cannot be looked at shamefully.

Of course, since I’m Turbulent, I’m driven to point out something that I (that we) can work on moving forward.

Assertive personalities need to absorb a bit of Turbulence. Try relaxing the reins a bit and explore. Turbulents- you need to pick up some Assertiveness. Work hard, but know neither it or you is ever going to be perfect.

For both: live your truth but learn from others.

And there it is again. We become bigger people, stronger people and better people by working together.

A reminder: My book, Dear Teachers, is a great gift for yourself or a teacher you cherish. Encouraging essays, beautiful photos and space to write your own reflections- all for $15.99 on and £12.34 on!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What Drives You Forward?

I’m going to ask you to sit for a few moments and consider:

What drives you?

Everyone fills their days with something. Do you have 2 separate lists? One of what you do and another of what you’d LIKE to do? What gets you up in the morning? What motivates you to keep going? What gives you pleasure and gives you a sense of fulfillment? No need to worry over your responses- no judging.

I’m going to use lines from BTS’s velvety seductive track, “Pied Piper”, off their new album Love Yourself: Her (remember that no judging rule, OK?). This piece is NOT a critique of this amazing song (if you want that, check out Tamar Anderson’s Billboard article here.) I am simply using it to discuss a topic we can can all relate to:


Follow the sound of the pipe, follow this song
It may be a little dangerous but I’m very sweet

Many times we start with passions. There are things we find exciting- from traditional to novel to even contrary to what’s considered normal in our circles. Many times we stumble onto something that just seems to fit who we are. And we dive headlong into it.

But stop...Not just one hour, but a year or two flash by...
I’m takin’ over you

Passion dances along a fence with obsession. While I cannot speak as an expert or for everyone, in my mind, a big difference is that we can set a passion aside to enjoy other things. With obsession, we lose that ability.

Tweens and teens have been described as obsessed. Alas, this inability to release a topic is all too common in the adult world as well. Obsessions can be relatively harmless. They can also become extremely dangerous. For us, or others.

I play the flute endlessly  
I'm your guilty pleasure

Passions and obsessions give us pleasure, or at least offer some form of comfort in their familiarity. We joke about our guilty pleasures: chocolate, anyone? Today, we can literally get almost anything at any time. This can open a way to dependence upon whatever it was that started simply as a passion.

I wrote a piece about this in the spring titled Dream and Bloom. We each have only a certain number of dawns to experience before our final sunset. Our days and our pleasures should improve us and those around us. They should enlighten us. Not destroy us. Not shrink us.

I’m testing you  
Like the fruit from the tree of good and evil

At the beginning of this piece, I told you not to judge what you were thinking about. Now it’s time to do just that. Now, we can look at our lists, think back over what we were considering and ask ourselves:

Are we following a pied piper?
Are we blindly following a dangerous tune and path?


Are we writing and conducting our own music?
Are we stepping toward a future where we can all sing and dance together?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Own/ing Art


(Note from Susan: Happy 1st day of October! As the year winds down, if you feel the need to document your own thoughts as you make your way through the school year, or know of a teacher who might appreciate beautiful photos, short but encouraging essays, and room to write, please consider my book, Dear Teachers, available on Amazon, or signed copies by emailing me at Thank you!)

I had a great conversation this week with an art teacher. No, that’s not the right terminology to describe her. She’s an art advocate. An art appreciator. An art ambassador. I’m still not there yet.

Art. Creation. Exploration. Expression. Emotions.

We talked of all these things but then the keystone fell into place: ownership.

As a child, I was regularly told that I was a good artist. I was frequently singled out in classes as we studied topics and attempted to emulate what was covered. I enjoyed it but I never thought of myself as an artist. Over the last few years I finally figured out how to put it in concrete terms. As Edgar Degas said, artists make others see. (I’d add “feel, think and wonder”.)

I copied. I never owned. I was not a true artist.

Teachers can teach techniques. Teachers can possess encyclopedic knowledge from which they can suggest points to explore. Perhaps the most impactful thing a teacher can do is encourage the student to make whatever they are doing their absolute and very own. This was the fire and draw I saw in this teacher’s eye.

When one can jump mind, body and soul into a creation, the artist learns of themselves and the audience does as well. Whether it’s a song, a sculpture, a building or a broach, art exposes, connects and breeds both questions and understanding.

It’s taken me to middle age to be able to say I’m an artist. My media are words and images and my inspiration comes from our lives. I’m taking all that I’ve studied and experienced, all that I’ve pondered and witnessed, and am now creating something that captures who I am and what I hope and feel. I look at it all as a tapestry of my life’s story. I can see how I evolve and build on others’ work. I can turn to tomorrow and a blank screen, knowing that I and my work will be different even if I cannot know in what exact ways. I do this with anticipation.

The more we own our lives, the richer we become.

As we go about our days, if we, like this teacher encourages, go at our work with ownership, our results will be greater. How? Perhaps they won’t be “better” than someone else’s. Perhaps they won’t even be what we had envisioned or hoped for. However, those results will be us as we are now and the life symphony experienced by those around us will be more sonorous for that truth and genuinity.

That’s real beauty. That’s real art.