Author Archives for jennasauber

Say “Hello” and Change Your Life Story

Photo credit: Jen Collins

I have always been a people person. While I cherish my alone time and am happy to amuse myself and relax, I usually thrive in an environment that requires me to meet new people, ask questions, and get personal. Perhaps that’s why being a writer was always top of mind for me; I recognized early on that everyone has a story to tell. Choosing journalism in college was a no brainer: it gave me a chance to pound the pavement and then write about what I learned.

Making conversation with the person in line next to me at the coffee shop or grocery store? No problem. Showing up at a wedding/party/event and knowing only the host? Perhaps intimidating at first, but nothing that can’t be handled. While I’m never going into the telemarketing business (I have my limits), I give a lot of credit to the act of simply starting a conversation with someone that’s near you, whether physically or virtually. In fact, many of my relationships and experiences have been started with something as little as saying “Hello” to the person next to me. I have countless examples of how my life was influenced or impacted in this way; you never know where it will lead you.

At least once a week, I visit a coffee shop that’s near the library where I volunteer. At one point, I realized an elderly man and a younger man were there working behind laptops every time I went in. It seemed like the younger guy (probably around my age) was helping the older man with a project. I was immediately curious. Who were these guys? Why were they always at the coffee shop, no matter when I stopped in? I was determined to find out, and while some people might think it brash, it’s what I do. So one day about a month ago, I went over to them and said, “Hello, I may sound a little nosy, but I see you here all the time. What are you up to?” The older man, whom I learned is Mo, smiled and told me about an online platform they were creating to help communities connect with each other in times of emergency. Then he said, “What are you doing here?” Now, every time I go to the coffee shop, I get an update from Mo on his project; I get the sense he looks forward to our little mini meetings as much as I do. Who knows where it will lead?

In the same coffee shop, I observed a woman’s laptop background was all Elvis. I asked her about it, and next thing you know, we had a half hour discussion about the book she was writing on the King of Rock and Roll, and how you don’t hear singers like Sinatra and Presley anymore. Next time I see her there, I’m going to get an update from her, too. And the same goes for another elderly man who sat down next to me one day when I was writing and started telling me about the book he’d published and some of the jobs he’d held in his lifetime. He, too, said that he can’t help but talk to people when he sees them; it’s just what he likes to do. I was happy to oblige him for a few minutes.

So I got to thinking about some of the other people that have played a role in my own story because of a chance meeting or what started as a simple introduction. Here are a few that are top of mind, and I’ve also included a few from friends who shared their own experiences.

  • A nice lady started talking to me on the plane on one of my many trips down to Louisiana as a child. Mrs. Mercedes and I became pen pals for years until she passed away.
  • When I posted this question on Facebook, my friend of 18 years, Molly, said of our own friendship, “Gym class!” As I told her, “And the rest was history!”
  • A sweet young woman named Brooke started chatting with me in the bathroom of my residence hall sophomore year at college. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, and although we haven’t seen each other in years, we talk on the phone every couple of months.
  • Another friend named Molly came across a crowded DC bar at a networking happy hour and introduced herself after seeing my nametag. I’ve since attended her wedding and celebrated the birth of her baby.
  • I followed up with a guy who spoke at a college journalism conference when I moved to DC and he connected me with the person that would become my first boss.
  • Two people that I admire very much and look to as mentors and inspirations are in my life because I met one at a conference happy hour (Matt) and because I emailed the other after reading her blog (Sloane).
  • I exchanged polite background information and email addresses with a woman next to me at the library volunteer orientation last summer. Now, Linda and I see each other weekly and text like high school girls.
  • My friend Michael says he met a good friend in 2005 at a conference when he had to “rescue her from a creepy old guy that was half drunk.” She’s in NYC, he’s in Portland now, but they still remain in touch today.
  • Former coworker Karin says “False fire alert at the university residence. Both in our PJs outside at 20 degrees. Hubby and I, 15 years ago.”

I could go on and on of course. There are also many instances of starting conversations with someone on Twitter and those interactions leading to in-person meetings and friendships or pen pals (Leslie, I’m looking at you!). But you get the idea. Say “hello” to someone today and they may become a part of your story forever.

Got an example to add? I’d love to hear how a “Hello” turned into a significant relationship or opportunity – how did your story combine with someone else’s?

The persistence of memory: boiled seafood and family

boiled seafood

I’m headed to visit extended family in my hometown in Louisiana this weekend, and I admit, with no shame, that one of my top priorities is sitting down to a table heaped with hot boiled crawfish and crabs, corn, potatoes, and sausage. My mouth waters for a year in advance between each trip south, especially as I peruse Facebook photos of the ongoing crawfish boils starting in the spring. It’s like looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, but this is a Cajun supper of which I feel I can never get enough.

I don’t remember the first time I tasted boiled seafood, but I know it was probably before I could walk or even talk. To that end, I can’t remember when I first would have truly enjoyed, or looked forward to sitting down to a seafood boil, an essential element to family gatherings back home. I only know how much I’ve craved it and relished it in the years since.

But there is one particular image that sticks in my head and won’t go away: I was a little girl, perhaps about seven or eight, and my parents and I had already moved from Louisiana, so we were in on a visit, probably at Christmas. We are at my grandparents’ house, in their avocado-colored kitchen and avocado dining room (The chairs, the buffet, the bar, the table, the cushions, the carpet, the cabinets, the countertops! All avocado.). My grandfather, Richard, obtained a few dozen crabs, and probably as many pounds of shrimp, and it was all laid out on newspapers. I recall my mother drinking a beer, and at that young age, it seemed surprising. “I like a beer with seafood,” she told me. I wouldn’t understand that until I was of drinking age myself years later.

This is a Cajun supper of which I feel I can never get enough.

There was no music and no commotion; I think it was only a handful of us eating. I remember PawPaw cracking crab claws in a way that produced the most amount of meat, and saving the good ones for me. I remember my tongue and lips burning, and the juice squirting onto my shirt and down my forearms. I hear the small talk at the table, my mom and MawMaw catching up, and PawPaw chiming in here and there, in between crabs. I already knew how to use a butter knife to crack crabs and clean out the meat, and that I dared not to waste any of it, or someone would call me out. I knew to pinch, twist, and pull the tail off the shrimp, and that it’s best dipped in cocktail sauce. I knew the potatoes were a great way to take a break from the spicy meat, but if you didn’t let them cool enough, they too, would burn your tongue.

That evening eating a favorite meal with my grandparents was uneventful, yet momentous. It was simple, yet delicious. And it was fleeting, yet ever-lasting in my mind. Perhaps that was the first time that I truly appreciated the deliciousness of boiled seafood – and the delight in a family tradition. While I have eaten crabs and crawfish and shrimp many times since, and will in the future, that early enduring memory provides nourishment to this day, to my belly, and to my soul.

School’s out: My year as a tutor

Photo credit: Clemson Libraries/Flickr

Photo credit: Clemson Libraries/Flickr

As the school year comes to a close in the next few weeks, I will be finishing my final sessions with the students I’ve been tutoring since last summer. When I went into this gig, it was to explore the idea of teaching, to see if I wanted to go into education in some capacity, and because I’ve always wanted to try tutoring. I walked into the tutoring and test prep center in my neighborhood and cold applied, acknowledging that I had no teaching experience, no experience working directly with kids, and no experience in special education. But I did have a passion for the English language, and for helping students communicate better and succeed in school and in life.

All these months later, I hope that I’ve made an impact on my students’ work, now and in the future. For some, I know I have – the test scores and the grades prove it. And beyond the grades, I think that I’ve been able to expose these kids to new ideas and concepts, empower them to express themselves more confidently and creatively, and to utilize their resources and surroundings to find solutions, not only for their homework, but for some of the bigger questions and challenges they will face as they grow up.

For me it’s been a test in patience, a challenge to be creative (with curriculum and style), an opportunity to learn about new things, a refresher in some of the basics (hello, functions and graphing), and a chance to nerd out on some of my favorite subjects and topics. Browsing NPR.org and The Atlantic for articles for my ESL student to read wasn’t homework for me – it fit right into my daily routine. Rereading Much Ado About Nothing, or The Bell Jar for the first time, or working through the rhetorical and literary devices in prose and poetry are all up my alley, and while my students may not be over the moon about those assignments, I got to be a little excited and I hope some of that rubbed off on them. And even when I was working through middle school math, I got to explore different learning styles and approaches to fundamentals that I hadn’t touched in 20 years, and it gave me a new appreciation for what it’s like to be the student – it helped me to be a better teacher.

As with any job or extracurricular, there were tough moments, too. You’re dealing with parents, juggling schedules, disinterested kids, and sometimes really tough subject matter. And while I won’t be pursuing a new career in education right now, the frustrating moments of this past year have been as enlightening as the satisfactory ones. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with all of them, and I’m glad I took on the challenge for myself. I look forward to continuing it in the future.

Have you worked as a tutor? What have you learned from the experience?

From Laura Ingalls and Alicia Florrick to Elizabeth II: literary and historical women as role models

female literary heroines

The more time I spend reading, writing, volunteering at the library, and exploring what I want to do with my life, the more I’ve learned that what I read and who I read about has influenced who I am and who I want to be. While I love Dickens, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare, my heart is with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Lucy M Montgomery, and Jane Austen. Half Pint (Laura), Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Elizabeth Bennett are some of the strongest, imaginative, passionate, and soulful characters in literature – determining their place and path in life while remaining devoted to family, friends, and love. In history, I nerd out over the family wars and power struggles during the times of Henry VIII and Richard III, but it’s the reformations and revolutions and sea changes that Anne Boleyn, Katherine Woodville, and Elizabeth II brought about despite the opposition that really resonate with me.

Even when I think about the TV shows and movies I enjoy, it comes back to the women. Sure, Mad Men’s Don Draper is a fascinating look at the flawed man, but Peggy, Joan, and young Sally Draper are prime examples of women finding their way in a world dominated by the opposite sex. And while the Earl of Grantham may hold the keys to Downton Abbey, Ladies Cora, Mary, Edith (yes, even Edith!), Sybil, and Rose, and servants Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and Anna set the stage for the changing role of women in the first half of the 20th century. On The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick adapts to and then owns her circumstances, making us question what “good” really means. And in Game of Thrones, perhaps the most exciting character development lies with Daenyrus Targaryen, Sansa and Arya Stark, and (begrudgingly) Cersei Lannister.

When I was younger, I may have thought that I just liked that Laura Ingalls got to help her Pa make hay and then go buggy-riding with Almanzo. I may have been jealous of Anne Shirley’s red hair and her smart and witty friend and future husband, Gilbert. But what I think was really going on was that I admired their fiery spirit, their continued desire to learn and explore, and their fierce loyalty to home, family, and self. One of my favorite book series is one that centers on how a young white woman and her (later freed) slave and best friend get through the Civil War and years afterward, both dealing with their own set of obstacles, but both also remaining adamant about who they are and how to fulfill their dreams. Dare I say that these are the very reasons I have had a lifelong love affair with The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz? Beyond the singing and the rainbows and ruby slippers, these are also the stories of women and girls who overcome their fears – of the unknown, of the world beyond their doorstep, of those who challenge their beliefs – and take a journey to find their calling, or to find what matters most, even if it is right in their own backyard.

There are many out there that have applauded the arrival of newer young female “heroines” and role models in literature, such as The Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris. While I support new stories and inspiring characters, we weren’t lacking in the first place. Stories of females fighting back against societal pressures and life’s ups and downs and tragedies is nothing new – all you have to do is pick up the Little House series, The Diary of Anne Frank, or Little Women. A 16-year-old pioneer girl braving her first teaching assignment in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty brave to me. So does the story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis in an attic, and another of a young woman cutting off her hair and secretly writing stories under a pen name to provide for her family.

This is no great epiphany of course. We read what we like, and we read (and watch) what connects to us, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. And as I continue to determine my next steps and explore who I am beneath the surface, I’ll keep in mind my heroines from the page, screen, and history, that I have loved from the first moment I met them.

Who are your heroines from books, tv or film, or history? Why?

I love being a newbie knitter

knitting collage

Excitement. Nervousness. Enthusiasm. Drive. Curiosity. These are just a few of the feelings we may have when exploring a new hobby, topic of interest, job, or relationship. Think of the first few times you played an instrument, read books by a new author, or took surfing lessons or dance classes. There’s something about being a newbie to something that’s like no other stage — everything is bright and shiny and fun and you want to throw all of your time, money, and effort at it.

Nearly six months into learning how to knit, I’m still very much a newbie, and I’m loving it. While I look forward to becoming more advanced and being able to master intarsia and fair isle and bust out a pair of socks in an hour, right now, I’m enjoying the ride of being a beginner.

As a young girl, my grandmother taught me how to sew, and I’ve always liked to be crafty in that way. I made a simple baby quilt as a teen, and started one for me, with the idea that I’d give it to my first baby someday. That second quilt is still in progress (long story). No one in my family knits, although some crochet or do needlepoint. I bought a knitting kit at Michael’s circa 2008, and after an hour of attempting to cast on and knit one row, stuffed my kit and two beautiful (and not appropriate for newbies) skeins of yarn into a box. Last fall, I decided to give knitting another shot, and after studying the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch guide and a few YouTube videos, I finally figured out how to cast on, knit, and purl. My first piece was a swatch of course, as all knitters recommend. I got help with the bind off from my friend who loaned me the book, and then I was ready to tackle my first real project — a headband.

I spent a lot of time trying not to drop stitches so that I wouldn’t have to fix them (and sadly, I still don’t really know how), and figuring out the most comfortable position for my hands and the yarn. I went back to Michael’s again and again for new knitting accoutrement and other practice yarn. By Christmas, I had made two pot holders for my mom (one with one of those first skeins I bought back in 2008!), and headbands for me and my parents. But my real goal was ahead: a baby blanket for one of my closest friends. I was determined to figure it out by the due date in February. So I bought some fuzzy (too fuzzy) baby yarn and got to work in January. The yarn made a pattern or colorwork unnecessary, so I just knitted flat on circular needles in garter, and in the process got fuzz all over the carpet and couch for two months. I was totally over the project by the time it reached the desirable dimensions, but I was pleased as punch, and was able to ship it off to my friend and her new baby just two weeks after the birth.

The baby blanket wasn’t the only project I was working on: I also had (have) a running list of friends having babies, and have been making little hats as well. And in between all of this, I’m experimenting with new patterns (seed stitch), new yarns (check out Knit Picks for good deals), new techniques (Craftsy has some great, cheap video classes), and new needles (finally bought double pointed on the recommendation of my local yarn store). While I may not need to need a bunch of winter wear for myself here in San Diego, I’m on the lookout for other projects (“Mom, want me to knit you a placemat?” and “Mom, I made you an eyeglass holder with stash yarn.”) to keep my hands busy while watching Law & Order reruns at night or sports on the weekends.

One of the best things about being a knitter (new or not) is that there no shortage of advice, tips, and patterns — and a lot of it is free. I haven’t bought a single knitting magazine or pattern book because there is YouTube, Pinterest, knitting blogs, friends, yarn stores, and the mother of resources, Ravelry. So while I may still be putting off really figuring out how to fix a dropped stitch, I can spend too much time finding new patterns and buying way more yarn than I need (this is eerily like my addiction to books — you can never have too many!).

I asked friends and family who knit or crochet if they had any tips to share, or just general thoughts about their own adventure with the craft. Here’s what they had to say. If you have any stories or tips about knitting that you’d like to share, please comment!

  mary blanketAunt Mary Beth: My first prayer shawl after joining the Prayer Shawl Ministry Group at church. I had not crocheted for years but quickly remembered the relaxing art that it is. The plus is that these items go to cancer patients and are blessed by our priest during our meetings. I have not been to deliver any yet but I am told that they are very much appreciated by all. Also made by our group are both crocheted and knitted gloves, hats and lap blankets. I look forward to one day delivering them. I hear from the other members that it is a wonderful experience.

Molly: I’ve started incorporating knitting with my quilts. I’m working a quilt now with knitted accents. It’s so relaxing to do both at the same time. When one gets frustrating or I reach a creative block, I’ll switch to the other. I like to sit at night, when it’s finally quiet and just “Quit.” (Note: turns out that Molly (my friend since childhood) and I both used the same Bernat baby yarn to knit a nearly identical blanket/car seat cover, at the same time.)

  karin hatKarin: I crocheted this hat for Andy when I was preggo and he wore it pretty much the entire winter. Found the basic baby hat pattern on YouTube and added the eyes and horns. Was done in three hours.

  Linda: I was given two prayer shawls while my Mom was dying in the hospital. I felt so comforted knowing someone had made these items just to help buoy the spirits of people like me, a heartbroken daughter. To those of you who make these lovely shawls (like Mary Beth), please know they are most appreciated. (Note: Linda is my knitting mentor and loaner of Stitch ‘n’ Bitch!)

  Brianne: It’s on my bucket list to learn how to crochet a baby blanket just like the one that was given to me as a little, tiny one. My plan is to learn before I have a baby one day!

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David Gaughran

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