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Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts on Life’ Category

Okay readers, who are you out there? A few of you I know personally; many of you follow me (thank you!) even though we’ve never met.

Remember when we used to do those “25 Things about Me” lists on Facebook? I retrieved mine recently and updated it a bit. So here are 25 things about me. Does anything resonate with you? Then tell me more about YOU in the comments.

  1. I am for standing for the National Anthem. Hand over heart. Men with hats off.
    red dress

    Me in my little red dress, early 1960s.

    Military saluting. Always. Every time. Everywhere.

  2. I’m a born again Christian who loves Jesus and am trying to learn to love as Jesus loves.
  3. I enjoy singing old hymns. What poetry! What amazing theology embedded in those works of art. They fill my soul.
  4. Politics—be involved but don’t let the antics of politicians ruin your day. Don’t let your mood be determined by them. The beauty of the American system is that we have a chance to vote out the people we don’t like and vote in the people we do. In the meantime, enjoy life. I’ve seen enough politicians come and go in my lifetime to know that nothing is permanent.
  5. I like living in a place where the seasons change. Each has its own magic.
  6. I love pecan pie.
  7. There really is nothing like an excellent cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream.
  8. I am blessed to have a loving family and have prayed to build a loving home where family and friends can visit and feel comfortable and cared for.
  9. I am blessed to have a job I love and freelance work that I find just as exciting.
  10. I feel strongly about grammar mistakes, but not enough to be annoying.
  11. I love words—how they look, how they sound, how they go together. I’m constantly astounded that a finite number of words can be combined to create masterpieces or drivel. And I’m constantly attempting to make my writing better so mine isn’t drivel. Good books fuel me. Writing calms my anxious heart.
  12. I enjoy organizing . . . anything. I feel good when it (whatever it is) is organized. I hyperventilate in office supply stores.
  13. One of my favorite movies is Napoleon Dynamite. And give me Mystery Science Theater any day of the week.
  14. Memes. Funny memes.
  15. I got engaged to my husband in a hot air balloon.
  16. I’m completely craft impaired. I don’t get the point of cross stitching or scrapbooking or card stamping. But I love it when other people do it. I’m amazed, frankly.
  17. I am also sports impaired. I never made a sports team I tried out for. I stopped trying after I knocked out my dad’s front tooth with my elbow practicing for the girls’ basketball team tryouts. (And no, didn’t make that team either.)
  18. I love public speaking. I hear it’s the #1 fear of most people, so what’s wrong with this picture?
  19. Pets have a huge place in my heart. We have a Shih Tzu and a few cats who found us in the country — willing suckers who fed them and soon housed them.

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    My husband and I in China at the astonishing Great Wall.

  20. I’ve been all over Europe (Germany [lived there for my 4 high school years], Switzerland, Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Monaco, England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Iceland, even Liechtenstein) and also to China. I still want to visit Scotland, Ireland, and Greece.
  21. I’m an MK—military kid, specifically an Air Force brat. When people ask me where I grew up, I say “everywhere.” I am proud of my amazing parents.
  22. I love my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces (and their various significant others). She’s 11 years younger than me (and we’re the only two), so it’s awesome that we’re friends.
  23. I like to do laundry.
  24. I think my kids are awesome—interesting, talented, self-confident. They’re miles ahead of where I was at their age.
  25. Oh, and did I mention my grandkids?

So now tell me about you! One thing, five things, 25 things! I want to get to know you.

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My mug is courtesy of my son, and I think my sister gave me the little tea guy. Just put loose-leaf tea in his pants, set him into the teacup hot tub and voila! Tea. Right now I’m drinking some loose leaf India black tea called Assam House Blend. It’s delightful!

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Mr. Tea Guy is enjoying his hot tub, and I’m enjoying my hot drink on this cold day.

In the interest of sharing a bit more about myself here–I’m ready to ‘fess up about my cats, because, yes, my son may be right. I just might be “one cat short of crazy.”

Yes, we have too many cats.

I’ll be the first to admit it.

No, we don’t live in a house of squalor with a hundred furrballs. I like to think our house is in pretty good shape, all things considered. See, here’s the deal. We moved to the country from the suburbs. I had never owned a cat in my life.

We were dog people. Small dog people. We have our little Shih Tzu named Snickers who moved with us to the country and was our only pet.

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Snickers, beloved pup.

That is, until I sat on our three-season porch one summer evening and heard a distinct mewing. With a flashlight and careful step, we located the little culprit—a black kitten with neon green eyes.

Finally, with a little string for enticement, my husband knelt down beside her and made friends. We allowed her on the porch “but not in the house.” Then, she was in the house. And in our hearts. We named her Kit Kat. Here’s a link to that story. We had her spayed and got her the shots she needed.

So we had a cat and a dog. Nice combo platter.

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Sweet Pea helps with the Christmas wrapping.

Next, my husband was working in the barn when a full-grown black and white cat jumped up on his workbench and rubbed her head against his arm. “Hello sweetheart,” he said gently, and she purred. When he left the barn, she followed. When he got to the porch and entered, she followed. When he came into the living room, she made herself at home.

Two cats and one dog. He calls her Sweet Pea.

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Pretty Petite, our “little one.”

We took her in to have her spayed, only to find she already had been. So she had belonged to someone. Had she been left? Had she run away or gotten lost? How had she found her way to us? No matter. She apparently was here to stay.

Then my husband saw in town a mama cat and three kittens, all in a cage on the front porch with the weather changing to cold. He knocked on the door and asked if he could rescue them.

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Basket of kittens.

Six cats and one dog.

The kittens grew, mama wandered, papas in the area learned of some hot chicks (kits?) new to the area. Pregnant cats.

Kittens. Too many kittens.

Kittens given away. We took one set to a farm where kids come to play with the animals. Several got taken by a few acquaintances. More spaying appointments.

Oops.

One more set of kittens.

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Molly has a “mouse” and isn’t letting go.

We put out a sign offering “Free Kittens,” but in the Indiana countryside that’s like an Eskimo offering free snow in Alaska. So that set ended up staying around. A couple of those surprised us with having one kitten before we could get them spayed. One had kittens that we tried desperately to save, but they were just born too soon.

My husband rescued yet another kitten from the side of a country road. Mama and another kitten crossed over, but this one was nearly blind from gunky eyes and full of fleas. He took this little one to the vet to get him all cleaned up. We call him Little Bit—and he’s now our biggest and heaviest cat.

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Little Bit hangs out

The numbers have fluctuated over the years as some have just disappeared—either victims of getting lost amongst the stalks of corn in the field across the way, or in the woods, or perhaps killed by a predator or a vehicle. That’s the sad part. I don’t like to think about it. But then, new ones arrive – twice we’ve had skinny, malnourished cats find their way to our doorstep and into our hearts. Both Mike and Molly are now healthy and well fed. At current count, we have eight cats. They come and go, but this is home.

So there you have it. These cats sit on my lap as I try to work, sit beside me on my desk waiting for me to put my face close for a nuzzle, lay beside me on the bed wrapped around my legs.

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Bandit and Spanky are clearly bored with me.

I wouldn’t trade these little inspirations for anything.

So sure, maybe too many cats, but all of these have found their way to us and decided to stay. So am I a crazy cat lady? Perhaps. We take care of them. We love them.

Oh, and they are all currently spayed or neutered.

Because really, eight is enough. Because more than that? Well, that would be crazy!

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I love to haunt old bookstores. Even at Goodwill or the local resale shop, you’ll always find me, head turned sideways, scanning the titles of those used and lonely books.

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When scanning bookshelves, I look sort of like this.

There’s just something about used books. Our shelves at home are groaning under the weight of books because, when my husband and I want to go “shopping,” we both know that we’re heading to a place where we can look for books.

We bring them home, often wondering why we thought we needed more and, more importantly, where we’re going to put them. But that’s just a minor issue for us book lovers. We always find a way.

This past summer I came across this wonderful little textbook that I must share with you. It’s titled Language Etiquette, copyright 1949. From what I can tell, it’s an elementary school grammar text.

Here’s the cover. First, I have to say that I just love this snotty girl being rude to the friendly red-haired guy, tipping his hat at her. What is that about?

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Umm, I guess the guy used bad grammar?

Then, as I work my way through the book, I’m treated to rules of grammar and usage laid out in numbered lists, quizzes, and several poems to, you know, drive home the point. Like this gem titled “Etiquette”

You wouldn’t tolerate “B.O.”;
You dread the stigma that it lends;
But one thing you seem not to know;
That sloppy, careless speech offends.
You preen yourself to make a show;
You’re most meticulous in dress;
Though outwardly you’re all aglow,
Your slouchy words make you a mess.

You check your etiquette each day;
You guard with care your ev’ry act;
You’re sure your manners rate okay;
You pride yourself that you have tact.
But keep in mind there’s danger yet
Your fine impression to impeach,
For there’s no law of etiquette
That sanctions careless, sloppy speech.

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I have no idea why the drawing here features golfers.

Or this one, titled “Super ‘Guy'” (I really don’t know why “guy” is in quotation marks):

You know that you’re a super “guy”–
Your mom has often told you so;
In looks and brains you rate so high
No triumph that you may not know.
Though you’re so sure you’re “on the beam”
To high performance that you’d reach,
He seen and knowed may spoil a dream–
There’s sabotage in vulgar speech.

Though you possess a super mind
And strut in fashion ev’ry day,
If speech you use is unrefined,
You’re still considered just a “jay.”
Of highest triumph you’ve no doubt;
You’re sure you look like Robert Young;
But you’ll be rated super lout
While you’ve a careless, sloppy tongue.

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So, the guy in the suit speaks better than the guy in the wagon with the donkeys pulling it . . . apparently?

Well, if that doesn’t convince you not to be a lout, I don’t know what will!

But I have to say one good thing about this little book. Several pages have lists with guidelines for having good manners in conversation. So this was more than just a textbook about grammar and grammar usage, it was also offering to those elementary-aged minds advice on being decent human beings when it comes to speaking and having conversations.

Some of the points are a bit dated (i.e. “A lady keeps her voice low and quiet”), yet overall, I find a few pieces of etiquette advice that we ought to take to heart. Today, some of my students were sharing in class about various other social media sites that writers might want to use as they build their platforms. We were warned about a couple of them because of “frequent vulgarity” or just plain “meanness” by users.

What is wrong with our world? What happened to decency, niceness, etiquette? So for our edification (and maybe a few politicians might take heart, along with the “mean” folks on social media), I offer a few chosen language etiquette rules circa 1949 yet so needed today:

  1. You are judged by your conversational manners.
  2. He who talks most loudly is not necessarily he who talks best.
  3. No gentleman enjoys talking smut with a girl. (Is this not priceless?)
  4. Your conversation shows what you are–regardless of exterior signs.
  5. Don’t be an overwise, know-all.
  6. Always congratulate your successful rival.
  7. Malicious gossip appeals only to little minds.
  8. It is difficult to be a good listener, but it pays to try.
  9. It is much better to be silent than to say too much.
  10. Use tact and common sense–lest you hurt someone.
  11. Don’t interrupt or contradict without a very good reason.
  12. Try to say that which gives pleasure–don’t cause pain to others.

A little etiquette might go a long way. And I think today, in our social media world where we can say whatever we want either anonymously or without having to deal with a person face to face, we have become far too “vulgar” and “mean.”

I may think the poetry is hilarious, but many things in this little book are on the mark.

If you could create language etiquette rules for today, what might you include?

 

Cat image courtesy of: https://goo.gl/images/TvMfdR

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It’s the end of the year, always a time to look back at the past year and look ahead to the future. I believe a few thank-yous are in order.

I like this thank you because we have gnomes all around our house.

I like this thank you because we have gnomes all around our house.

Thanks to my family for supporting me in my crazy schedule when at times a week or more would go by and I barely came up for air, much less cogent conversation. My husband for standing behind me and being my sounding board. My children, I will always worry about you even though you’re off on your own with jobs, marriages, children, but thank you for being so resourceful, happy, hard-working, and faithful. I miss you like crazy and wish I could see you more often, but you have to be off doing what God has called you to do. My five grandchildren are adding a new dimension to my life. Again, I wish we lived closer, but the times I get to see you are full of so much joy that it carries me along — at least for a little while. In the in-between times I send you lots of prayers. My family is there when I need them, providing a safe harbor in life’s storms.

Thanks to my students. You give me a reason to get up in the morning and joy in my work that I never knew I could have. I love opening my office door every morning, planning my lessons, and trying to give you tools that will carry you into awesome writing and publishing careers. Your enthusiasm in the classroom, your hard work on the assignments, and your willingness to cut me some slack (I’m still new, after all, and learning the ropes) keep me fulfilled and happy and constantly trying to improve.

Thanks to my fellow students and mentors in my MFA program. I love being a student again, and I am so thrilled to be getting to know you. You amaze me with your writing and your insights into my writing. You’re helping me to write better and encouraging me in the daily grind. You’re giving me tools to use in my writing. You inspire me. I love how different we all are yet how much we love the art of writing.

Thanks to my friends past and present who encourage me with your Facebook posts and your blogs about your lives. You’re raising amazing families and doing amazing things. Sure, we may have our differences spiritually or politically, but we have made great memories and I’m so glad we’re still in touch.

So going into 2016, I have a few goals:

  • Call my various family members once a week. Life is all about relationships, and my family means the world to me.
  • Write to my grandchildren those old-fashioned things called “letters.” I started this last year but didn’t keep it up very well. I need to do this at least twice a month to all of them.
  • Write every day–for publication, for my MFA thesis, for myself. I have gotten lazy in this area, discouraged at times. But if I make it a goal in front of all of you, I will be more inclined to do it. My goal is 500 words a day.
  • Read at least two books a month. I’d really like to do more, but I don’t want to overextend myself.
  • Blog twice a month.
  • Continue to be a good literary citizen sharing others’ work and encouraging fellow writers and writing teachers.
  • Run a 5K. I’m working with my trainer to prepare for this. It’s sort of a bucket list thing, but I plan to be ready in May.

Thanks to all of you who check in and read. I appreciate you. Wishing you a wonderful new year!

happy new year

 

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When I signed on to teach at the college level–first as an adjunct and now as a full-time instructor–no one told me that every year in May I was going to experience the heart-throbbing pain of good-byes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve said a lot of good-byes in my life. I grew up as a military kid and we moved a lot, so good-byes were pretty standard fare. I went to high school in Bonn, Germany, at what was then Bonn American High School (Go Crusaders!). After our class of fifty-some students moved the tassel in 1976, we scattered all over the globe (literally–and I am using literally correctly).

Some of my fellow graduates. BAHS 1976. That's me second from the left. Our tassels were red, white, and blue to commemorate America's 200th birthday.

Some of my fellow graduates. BAHS 1976. That’s me second from the left. Our tassels were red, white, and blue to commemorate America’s 200th birthday. By the way, that’s the Rhine River behind us.

Then, after college, I said good-bye again to dear people who had been my roommates, my suitemates, fellow residence staff, professors, and friends.

Good-byes are never easy.

So no one warned me that now every year I would have to say good-bye to an entire group of students that I had come to love–literally. Students I had watched grow into great writers. Students I had talked to about their future dreams and plans. Students I had prayed for and with, cried with, laughed with. Students who, each year, taught me a little more about myself.

This evening we had a dinner to honor our seniors. Yesterday one of them asked that each of the profs in the department provide a letter to all of them, a “last lecture” of sorts. We wrote those letters, and she put them into a packet for each senior.

I thought long and hard about my letter. Writing should be easy, right? I’m a writer, right? But what do I say? What words of advice can I possibly give to these young people moving the tassel and scattering to the winds?

I told them to expect bittersweet. Graduation has been in their sights for years–but when it comes, it also means good-bye. And that’s hard. It means for the first time in four years they may not know where they will be come August. That can be frightening.

I told them to expect loneliness and confusion. Even if life is mapped out, even if there’s a job or grad program waiting and a wedding in the works, there will be times when they will miss the craziness that is dorm life. They’ll wonder if they’re making the right decisions. If they’re still job hunting and spouse hunting, at times the loneliness can be overwhelming.

But lest you think I’m Negative Nellie (or maybe just Realistic Rachel), let me assure you, I am all about the positive. I just want them to not think they’re alone when those feelings hit.PWR10

I also told them to keep the faith. Follow their path and stay close to the God who brought them this far and has a plan.

I told them to live this crazy adventure called life to the fullest.

I told them to keep writing and to expect rejection (yes, Realistic Rachel, it happens all the time) but to keep writing anyway.

I told them to stay in touch with one another and to continue to encourage one another in life and in writing.

I told them to find their tribes “out there” and to go to writing conferences just to remember what it’s like to be around a writing community.

I told them that they have a gift–the gift of words. Open it, enjoy it, share it, use it.

Good-bye, dear seniors. Thanks for being part of my life.

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It’s an odd experience to get published and not know it.

I suppose I should be glad, but it wasn’t something I ever submitted, nor did I write it for publication.

Let me explain.

Over Christmas I was visiting with family in Corry, a small town in western Pennsylvania. My sister happens to be quite the photographer and recently had two of her large photographs on display at the Painted Finch Gallery in Corry (displayed, that is, until both sold at a juried art show!). Anyway, several of us made a stop in at the gallery on Christmas eve. The gallery is an eclectic mix of wildlife oil paintings, flowers and scenery in watercolors, color and black-and-white photography, pottery, jewelry, and work in other types of mediums that I, as a non-artsy person, can’t name but can appreciate.

While the others chatted with the proprietors, I wandered. In the back, near a glass case holding jewelry and pens, was a small holder with some greeting cards and a couple of paperback books.

Of course, I picked up the books.

One was a little paperback history of the town of Wattsburg, Pennsylvania. The little borough of Wattsburg, nestled about fourteen miles northwest of Corry, happens to have been my dad’s hometown. My grandfather had lived there most of his life–even was the mail carrier for many years (I talked about that in this post). We visited nearly every summer with him and cousins who lived nearby.

The Wattsburg Historical Society

The Wattsburg Historical Society

Some of my fondest memories have to do with the Erie County Fair held annually at the Wattsburg fairgrounds. Gramps was in charge of the concessions at the fair for many years. As a young child, walking through the midway with gramps was magical. Everyone knew him. I remember him motioning to one concessioner after I had spotted among his prizes a Barbie-type doll in a beautiful lace wedding gown. Next thing I knew, the doll was in my hands. (I’m sure he settled up later.)

Many years passed and, either in high school or college, I wrote an essay about the fair and grandpa. Later, I mailed it to him, thinking he would enjoy my reflections. He passed away not many years later.

So at the art gallery, I thumbed through the book about Wattsburg’s history filled with quirky stories, anecdotes, and people’s memories. I went to the spine and copyright page (hey, I’m in publishing–it’s a habit) and saw that it was self-published. The introduction stated that the material in the book had been gleaned from the Wattsburg Historical Society. Flipping pages revealed an index in the back. I wonder if gramps is in here, I thought. Chaffee, Chaffee–there he was!

And, to my surprise, so was I.

Wait. What?

Page 49. What’s on page 49?

And there, to my astonishment, was my little essay about gramps and the Wattsburg fair.

I’m guessing that gramps received my essay in the mail and stored it among his fair papers, most of which apparently ended up in the historical society. The editors of this collection must have discovered the typewritten pages (or maybe they were handwritten, I can’t remember) among the papers and decided to publish it in this collection.

It’s a little embarrassing to read the musings of my early life (not to mention my immature writing style) from so many years ago. In the midst of my article, the editors had put a black-and-white photo of the fair committee, and among them is my dear grandfather.

So as odd as it is to be published without knowing it, I suppose for the audience of this particular book (one being my dad, who received that book the next day as a Christmas present), my little essay might bring back some good memories.

If my writing can do that, I suppose that’s all I can ask.

 

Photo courtesy of http://www.city-data.com/picfilesc/picc64500.php

 

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Just as, over three decades ago, I entered college with fear and trembling, I did the same when I decided to go back to continue my education. When I graduated with my BA in 1980, I swore I would never go back to school. I am a perfectionist and I put myself under so much pressure. When I got out, I couldn’t wait to just have a normal life. And, to be honest, an advanced degree probably would not have made a whole lot of difference on the path I chose since experience has been my trump card.

However, when I decided three years ago that I wanted to teach at the college level, the doors were closed without an MA. And so, I once again entered the academic setting as a student with classmates as old as my children. Here are my words of advice to you if you’re middle-aged (or older) and considering going back to school. gray hairs

(1) Scope out all the options.

Depending, of course, on what you’re studying and what degree you’re pursuing, there are technical programs, low-residency programs, online programs, and traditional on-campus programs (full and part time). Online may be right for you given your job and other life circumstances. Low-residency means that most of the coursework is done online and then you travel to the school for an intensive class time. Schools are different–it might be two weeks twice a year or four weeks in the summer, etc. The point is, as you consider continued schooling, think about how you might work best.

If you’re near a campus that has a terrific on-campus program, don’t be afraid to try it because you’re “too old.” Yes, it’s a little scary but the amazing folks I have met, the new friendships I’ve made, and the new connections I’ve forged have made it all worthwhile. (And I’m an introvert!)

By the way, if you do this, you’re called a “non-traditional” student.

(2) Know your reasons and be ready to commit.

In this economy, many folks are heading back to school to get that extra edge they hope will help them get a job. You have to carefully weigh the cost of school versus what the outcome may be. It’s an expensive endeavor and should be entered into wisely. You can get loans if you go at least half time (most places). One good thing about being our age and heading back to school is that we often do have a pretty specific picture of who we are with a lot of years and experience under our belts. I had a specific goal in mind when I started and a reason to be there. That helped me keep going when the going got tough.

And you have to think about being a student–it’s a different mindset. This article (and the accompanying links) has tips for remembering how to be a student when you’re older. At least, at this point, you probably know that pulling an all-nighter is not a good idea . . .

Getting through any program will take some time. Are you ready to commit to one, two, three years? Are you prepared to plod through a class at a time? Can you set aside several hours a week to study and do homework? If you decide to do an online program, are you self-disciplined enough to stay with it?

(3) Let your life experience work for you.

Chances are you’re contemplating a particular program because you want to finish something you started or because, over the course of your lifetime, you’ve discovered a gift or desire that you never saw before and you want to see where the study can take you. You’ll be in classes with younger people who are still trying to figure out what life holds for them. You’ve been there. In one sense, you’re still in the process of discovery by going back to school, but in another sense you’re bringing loads of life experiences to inform your studies. No one is a blank slate, but your slate is probably really full. Don’t apologize for that. Embrace it. This article discusses some of the advantages you have as an older student–and they’re good ones.

My friend, L. Marie, writer and blogger, went back for her MFA later in life. She says, “I was a little intimidated at the thought of returning to grad school after so many years. But at Vermont College, I didn’t have to feel that way. In my program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, there were many students my age and even older. I love that!”

(4) Get to know your professors.

I said this in last week’s post for young students, but it’s no less true for you. Many of those professors may be younger than you, but place yourself in their classroom as a sponge ready to soak up whatever you can. I find that I am so ready to learn because going back to school is a very intentional choice for me and I want to get everything out of it that I can. You’ll find that as well.

(5) Get to know your classmates.

No, you probably won’t hang out together, but do your best to make them comfortable with you and you’ll be more comfortable with them. No, you’re not a kid anymore, but learn what you can from this next generation. To me it’s fascinating to be in a classroom with students who have always had computers and who have worldviews shaped by the fact that they can access so much information at any moment.

Besides, they help me figure out my Twitter account . . .

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