Category: personal

The Two Types of Motivation: Thoughts on the First Day of School 2017

The kids are off on the bus again. Another first day of school in the books. Tomas is in 8th Grade now, and DC is in 4th. In two weeks, MC will join DC on the bus for the first time as she goes off to Pre-K.

As always, this is a time I think back to what I was going through at this time in my life compared to what my kids are going through. And because I have this blog, I share those thoughts with you. Aren’t you lucky?

8th Grade was a big year for me. It was the year I moved schools from New Jersey to Pennsylvania in a sort of surprise move. (I left all my friends in 7th Grade fully expecting to see them all for 8th Grade. And then we moved unexpectedly over the summer.) I was put into all honors classes, except for English. The new school district (Council Rock) thought a great deal of their honors English program, and they didn’t believe I’d be able to cut it. So I was in Mr. Kosmo’s class for the year. He was the first teacher to ever tell me he thought I wasn’t good enough to succeed in honors. (Actually, the only teacher. Ever.) At the end of the year, he refused to recommend me to go up to honors the next year. His reason?

I couldn’t write well enough.

Honestly, I have no idea if he had cause to say that or not. I don’t remember what my writing was like at the time. I’d like to think it was pretty spiffy, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then again, I got straight A’s in honors English when we decided to override his recommendation and enroll me in it anyway, so you draw your own conclusions.

I’ve heard of other teachers doing that to students over the years. Telling them they’ll fail. Encouraging them to aim lower. To not apply to the hard schools. To settle. And I just don’t understand that mindset.

Compare that to my experience in college, when I took Writing for Children and Teens from Louise Plummer. I had a great time in the class, and she was encouraging across the board. She helped students write better. Told them they could succeed. I remember sitting in her office, asking her if she thought I could ever get a book published. She smiled and nodded. “Of course, Bryce! You’ve got it!”

I don’t know if she told that to all her students. She might have, and I wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. But she told it to me, and it gave me the self confidence to keep going. To keep writing. To try to succeed.

Ironically, both those experiences with teachers motivated me. Mr. Kosmo made me want to prove him wrong. Professor Plummer wanted me to prove her right. Speaking from experience, I prefer the latter.

In any case. That was my 8th Grade. Math with Mr. Larsen. Band with Mr. Z. I made one group of friends early on. By the next year, I had almost a completely different set of friends.

My kids are going through life differently, of course. By this point in my life, I was into my . . . fourth school district? Something like that. My kids are all still in their first. (And I’m hoping it remains that way.) On the surface, I think back to how life was for me back then, and I don’t think things have really changed. But then I think about all the changes in technology, and I realize how wrong I am.

In any case, here’s hoping they have a lovely school year, full of the right kind of motivation.

And So the New Semester Begins

Yesterday was the first day of the new semester, which is exciting in many ways, but also kind of daunting. Exciting because we’ve got new students running around campus. Daunting because it’s going to be a very, very busy semester.

Denisa is teaching three classes and advising seven students. That’s a lot of work. So much that she’s stepping back from baking for the semester. (She’ll be providing loaves to a local food store, but that will be pretty much the only way to get her bread for this semester, and it’s going to be very low on supply.)

When Denisa is teaching and busy, that means I’m that much busier. Because the work around the house and our kids is done as a team. When one of us has more time, it’s easier for us all to get things done. The past month, as I’ve been working on my MEMORY THIEF 2 revision, things have been much busier for Denisa. I haven’t had the time to do chores. Thankfully, I’m almost done with that, and so I can turn my attention back to other things. (Yay!) Though of course, I might have another round of revisions to do soon, so there’s that on the horizon.

But Denisa working a ton isn’t the only thing we’ve got going on. There’s the yearly round of renovation projects. We’re having a shed and patio built, our second bathroom finally put in, the front porch taken down, a staircase in the garage demolished, perhaps a garden fence installed . . . It’ll be a busy fall for that.

And then Denisa’s brother is coming over for a month from Slovakia. The kids are heading back to school. We’ve got a vacation to New York, one to the coast, and I’m heading to a conference in Atlantic City. Then of course there’s football that must be watched (must!) and the holidays are coming.

In other words, if I don’t seem all that responsive when you try to contact me, or you wonder at times if I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, don’t worry.

I’m just really really busy.

Irrational Fears

So there’s this whole “total eclipse” thing happening today. Not sure if you’ve heard about it.

In librarian circles, it’s been notorious of late. So many articles were written that said “Libraries have free eclipse glasses to give away.” And many of us did have glasses. But not nearly enough. I mean, it’s not like these were airlifted in by the ton or anything, you know? And so you have people literally still calling today, asking how they can get some of those glasses. Because procrastination. Gotta hate those “last minute total eclipses” that just sneak up on you . . .

If you’re desperate for your eclipse fix, try making a pinhole camera. It’s what I did for the kids last night. Here’s a great video on how to do it. Took me about fifteen minutes.

But I digress.

Today’s post is about irrational fears, such as people who are afraid of eclipses, which are really nothing than really big shadows. (So today’s sort of like a huge Groundhog Day festival, right?)

Over the weekend, I played Operation with MC. I’d forgotten how terrified a young child can be of having that buzzer sound when it’s their turn. Poor MC just couldn’t handle the pressure. She’d actually do a pretty good job of removing the organs with the pliers, but she was so scared of getting beeped that she’d just give up way too soon.

So it got me thinking: what things am I irrationally afraid of? Afraid to the point of altering my behavior so that I can avoid doing them, even though I’m pretty good at doing them.

My list is pretty simple:

  • Phone calls. I hate calling strangers on the phone. I hate leaving messages. I hate explaining myself to someone I don’t know. And I will actively do whatever I can to avoid having to do this. Strangely enough, I love talking on the phone to people I know, and I’ll happily chat for an hour to a friend. But calling strangers is totally different. Hate it.
  • Planes. (A no brainer inclusion on this list, if you know me at all.)
  • Talking to strangers, period. It’s different than the phone (which I dislike more than this), but I don’t like talking to new people at all, really. I can force myself to do it, but if I have any out whatsoever (like a wife who will go ask the salesperson a question instead of me), I will totally take it.
  • Small spaces. Not a fan. If I can avoid them, I will. Not a full blown phobia, but I just don’t like the thought of being trapped.

But that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. One of my kids is terrified of wasps. Another is really afraid of spiders. I don’t have those fears. Heights don’t upset me much. And I’m not afraid of the Operation buzzer at all.

How about you? Any irrational fears that make you alter your behavior?

In Which I Drive into My Own Car with a Lawn Tractor

This post is pretty much just what it says in the title. Yours truly, Genius Driver Extraordinaire, drove into his car Saturday with a new (to us) lawn tractor. Why? Because I’m an idiot. But we already knew that, and you want the juicy details, so here you go.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend blessed with a long memory, we were given a lawn tractor last week. I was really looking forward to cutting down on lawn mowing times. Saturday, I finally had time to take a look at it. It needs some work (new battery, new tires, there’s something up with the way the blades engage, and it looks like the gas tank might need to be switched out. We’re having it looked at.) But I wanted to actually mow the lawn, so I jump started the battery and hooked up the air compressor I have for my car tires. All was going well. My car’s hood was open and door was open as I got the tractor ready to go.

Once all was looking good, I unhooked the tractor and started it up. No problems. Then I decided to drive it off to another corner of my driveway so I could get my Civic back in order. That’s where things went wrong.

My old lawn tractor used a pedal to control its acceleration. This new one has a hand lever you set. So if you want it going faster, you move the hand lever to the speed you want it to be, then leave it there. You can still put on the brakes when you need them, but as soon as you release the brakes, it’s as if your foot was on the gas pedal.

I released the brakes. The tractor roared into motion, eager to slice down any grass in the vicinity. Unfortunately, there was no grass.

Only my Civic and its invitingly open driver-side door.

Time slows down in moments like that. You can see something idiotic is about to happen. You wish you had made different choices. You regret any number of things. But there’s just no getting around the Yuck that’s about to happen.

I panicked. All knowledge of basic vehicle operation fled from my head. I couldn’t have stopped a brick at that moment. The tractor pushed into my car door and proceeded to bend it backward. I came to my senses, sitting up off the seat of the lawn tractor, which activated the kill switch, but the damage had been done.


It’s not a huge dent in the door. Just a slight crease. But the door itself won’t shut, which I’ve been told is a bad thing when you’re driving at freeway speeds. Denisa took it to our mechanic this morning, who recommended a body shop. I’m thinking hundreds of dollars, which wasn’t high on my list of Things I Wanted to Spend My Money On. Between tuning up the lawn tractor and fixing my car door, I might have been able to just buy a new lawn tractor.

However, hindsight is always something something, and I’m pleased to at least report that once my lawn tractor had terrorized my Civic, it went on to cut my lawn with the greatest of ease. No one was injured. which is a good thing. And it’s only money, right?

But note to self: next time I drive an unfamiliar vehicle for the first time, maybe I should do it far away from anything expensive. Out in a wide open area. Like the middle of my lawn.


Answering the Unanswerable

Every so often, I take a look at my blog statistics to see which articles are performing well. And one article that’s just hung in there for years is the one I wrote on getting into BYU. Here we are three years later, and it usually picks up a few views every day, day in and day out. I don’t link to it (well, other than just now), don’t mention it on Facebook. It’s out there in the wild, attracting views from the public at large.

Today, when I saw it had picked up some more, I wondered what it was about the article that attracted eyeballs. Why that one and not others? And I think the reason is that it scratches an itch people have. A desire to answer an unanswerable question. Because when people start googling “getting into BYU” or “how hard is it to get into BYU,” they don’t really want to know that answer. Sure, breaking it down statistically is interesting, but the question they¬†really want to know the answer to is “Will¬†my child get into BYU?” And that’s a question no one can answer until BYU’s admissions process answers it one way or the other.

I understand this desire, however. The thought that if I can just research things well enough, I’ll be able to figure it all out. (Whatever “it” happens to be at the moment. Right now it’s cars. Sometimes it’s trips to Europe or Disney. Who knows what it will be tomorrow.) But as I’m constantly reminded, sometimes research just has its limits. You can get all the information you want, but you still won’t be able to know if that particular car will be reliable in the future, or if the airfares will go down in price next month, or if Disney will have a better deal later.

The problem is, because the internet is so big and vast, it’s easy to think you just haven’t looked in the right places. And to make matters worse, sometimes you haven’t. Google doesn’t point you in the best direction every time. It relies on the search query you use, and sometimes you’re using the wrong one. After hours looking in less helpful places, you stumble across something that’s way better than anything you’ve seen to date. And then of course you start to wonder if there isn’t something even better, just around the next corner.

At some point in time, you have to accept that you’ve got limits. That you have to make a decision. Send in that application and hope for the best. Book the ticket.

But for people like me, you’ll still always wonder if there wasn’t something else you could have checked or read that would have given you even better information, which in turn would have made All the Difference.

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