Category Archives: Columns

What surprised me most about pandemic unemployment

I was not prepared for the emotional toll that accompanied being unemployed during a pandemic. 

At least not in the ways I expected … 

A lonely woman sitting on her vehicle with her head in her hand.
©Manit Plangklang – Dreamstime

What I had not factored in was rejection. Nor in the magnitude with which it came.

Let me back up and share how I got here. Like way back.

I spent the first eight years of my married life as a stay-at-home mom, working nights for several years to help make ends meet. When my youngest started kindergarten, I joined the staff of a small community newspaper where I stayed for over 13 years. I had some underlying health issues during that entire time that progressively got worse and I worked the last five years from home.

In 2015, my husband and I decided to turn a family property into a vacation rental business. It’s located in a very rural area in northwest Missouri and we weren’t sure how successful it would be due to its location. We worked hard to build it while both having full-time jobs and raising two very active children who were still in high school. One of the things that helped was the growing popularity of the Missouri Star Quilt Co. in nearby Hamilton (Quilt Town, USA). By the summer of 2019, we had expanded into three vacation rentals and we were very optimistic about our success.

With my health continuing to decline, and the business doing well, I made the difficult decision to leave my job in October 2019. 

You know what they say about hindsight… Well, 2020 was lurking around the corner and I had no idea what was about to happen. Looking back, I don’t know if leaving my job was the best choice, but I definitely needed a break. Not just a vacation but some real time away. Among my many duties at the newspaper, I was also the social media manager. I had built the brand’s online presence from the ground up and it had become all consuming for me. The first thing I did when I woke up and the last thing before falling asleep, constantly checking my phone while attending my kids’ activities and also while on vacation. I wanted it that way. I wanted our customers and followers to trust us and look to us for anything at any time. But after a decade of doing it that way on my own, I was exhausted. And that exhaustion contributed, in part, to my declining health.

So I was looking forward to a change of pace, something that didn’t require as much of my round-the-clock time and energy, and something that still pushed me but didn’t overwhelm me. I found that with our business. November 2019 was our strongest month ever, and December, January, and February continued to be great despite the winter weather.

And then COVID hit. We started getting cancellations in March and they continued all spring and into the summer. Missouri Star Quilt closed its numerous store fronts in Hamilton early on and then decided to keep them closed until spring 2021. 

I was prepared for the financial stress, as much as anyone can be, I suppose. I mean, I knew not having that income would be difficult. But I felt we could roll with the punches and make it through. We’ve pretty much done that our entire married lives.

What I was not prepared for was rejection. And not just once or twice, but being rejected over and over and over again. 

Let me explain.

As our upcoming bookings were being canceled in March, I had hope that things would turn around quickly. As March turned into April, and with the loss of more bookings, I began searching for jobs. 

I was not the only one. 

Millions of Americans were out of work due to the pandemic. The April unemployment rate increased over 10 percent to 14.7 percent, the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in history (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). 

We were getting by financially with my husband’s job, but I was concerned that if the pandemic continued throughout the summer – our best and busiest season – we might be in trouble. Congress had passed and the president had signed the CARES Act, which included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, so after not getting any bites at job offers, I decided to file for unemployment. 

©Designer491 – Dreamstime

I knew nothing about unemployment. I’d never even really thought about it. I quickly learned, though, that like many things in Missouri, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations was woefully unprepared for the pandemic. It was a very confusing and frustrating time for thousands of Missourians with outdated equipment and few answers for those in need. Two months after I filed, I received my first unemployment funds (for those unaware, unemployment benefits are a certain percentage of what you used to make and last a certain number of weeks depending on where you live). During that waiting period, I had continued to apply to jobs all across the country. Anything I could find. I didn’t want to be receiving unemployment. I wanted to work. I wanted to help provide for my family. I wanted to feel I was of value to something or someone.

As the weeks wore on and rejection letter after rejection letter arrived in my inbox (or worse, I didn’t even get a response), I started getting really frustrated. Getting rejected again and again, week after week, started to take its toll on me emotionally and I slowed my process. I applied to just three jobs a week, the requirement for Missouri’s unemployment. Even still, three rejections each week for months is still a lot of rejection. 

In early July, I decided to work on a book idea I’d had shortly after leaving my job. For the first couple of weeks, I was excited. I thought it was a great idea and felt it could help a lot of people. 

But as the rejections kept rolling in, my enthusiasm for the book waned. My thoughts began to turn pretty negative.

“Nobody wants you.”

“You have no employable skills.”

“You have no talent.”

“You are not a productive member of society.”

“You are no good.”

“No one will want to read this book.”

And so before the end of July, I stopped writing altogether.

My husband would encourage me every once in a while to write something, anything. The thought of opening my laptop made me want to vomit. I tried reading articles about how to deal with the rejection (including ones like “Eight Ways to Cope and Rebound from Constant Rejection,” which, by the way, did not help whatsoever). Nothing seemed to motivate or inspire me. I felt worthless.

Months passed. Week after week, rejection email after rejection email, while also feeling the weight of the world and not being able to do anything about it (racial injustice, overwhelming COVID deaths, governmental chaos, etc), I finally gave up emotionally. I was not suicidal, but in late-November I decided there wasn’t much point in living. I didn’t feel like I was contributing to anything, in any meaningful way, and I was just tired of feeling so much. I hoped I would fall asleep and never wake up.

It wasn’t just the rejection that led to the depression. It was the isolation of the pandemic. I’ve only been in public twice since March (to vote in the primary and general elections). It was also realizing some people I trusted as friends weren’t really friends, which included name calling and a lot of tears. I think this past year has shown many of us that we didn’t really know some people like we thought we did. It was also the pandemic itself. I was more than ready to start building up our business again.

And, it was also another change to our income. In October, my husband’s company closed the depot where he worked and all employees were laid off. He worked a seasonal temp job for a while and some part-time jobs here and there after it ended to help provide for us. We did without a lot and scraped by to somehow pay our bills. And, thankfully, a few days ago, 14 weeks after being laid off, he received a job offer for full-time employment.

I know my story isn’t unique or even as tragic as the many I’ve read over the last 10 months. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t been evicted. I haven’t lost a loved one to the coronavirus. I haven’t had to help my children with virtual school while also working a full-time job. I haven’t had to work in a hospital or a long-term care facility, or in a school while also teaching online, or in a grocery store, or a meat-packing plant, or a morgue.

I haven’t had to deal with a lot of things others are going through. And I realize my privilege has helped with that.

But I also don’t want to just dismiss what I have gone through.

It took me longer to resurface this time from the depression. It’s not something I face regularly, but with a chronic physical health condition, I know it’s important to make sure I’m taking care of my mental health as well (knowing that you’re likely never going to get better is a constant mental battle). There’s no one specific thing I can point to that helped this time. Probably a lot of little things including baking, which I know sounds pandemic cliché, but it has really helped. It’s incredibly difficult for me to do with my chronic pain (I have to do a little and then recover for a while in bed before doing more), but it seems to be great therapy.

©Alie Cherkasova – Dreamstime

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a slow, growing desire to start writing again, and this is the first thing I’ve written. I know it’s rough and a bit all over the place. But I think that’s okay since I’m just doing something again.

I read a phrase right before Christmas that’s been in the back of my mind since – “a whisper of peace and a sigh of hope” (Richelle E. Goodrich).

I guess that’s how I’m facing 2021. It’s not much, but a whisper and a sigh is better than nothing and more than I had a few months ago.

No matter what 2020 was like for you, I hope you can find that, too. And maybe one day, we can look back and realize it led to something more than just whispers and sighs. Perhaps greater peace and greater hope. 

(And hopefully a lot less rejection).


Why aren’t we standing up for teachers?

More than 40 percent of teachers quit teaching within their first five years citing lack of administrative support, low salaries, accountability pressures, lack of advancement opportunities and working conditions.

My dad was a teacher for 35 years, my husband for 15, and my aunt, cousins and several friends also teach. I’ve covered numerous school board meetings and functions. So while I’ve never been one, I’ve gotten a glimpse into and heard plenty of stories about the profession.

As we begin another school year, I want to talk about working conditions, one of the reasons teachers are leaving.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

I’m not talking about having no control over the thermostat in your room, which means you’re either freezing or burning up (there seems to be no in between). Or being on the receiving end of every germ that walks through your door. Or having no time to use the bathroom. Or having to swallow your lunch in three bites.

Are these the reasons teachers are quitting? No. Dealing with parents? Yes.

Several recent online posts by former teachers highlight this problem.

Earlier this summer, Jessica Gentry, a former kindergarten teacher in Virginia, wrote: “Let me tell you why those who ooze passion for teaching are leaving the occupation like their hair is on fire.”

Her viral post included the excuse that the kids have changed.

“Kids are kids,” she wrote. “Parenting has changed. Society has changed. The kids are just the innocent victims of that. Parents are working crazy hours, consumed by their devices, leaving kids in unstable parenting/coparenting situations (with) terrible media influences… and we give the excuse that the kids have changed? What did we expect them to do?”

In a viral post from 2018, Julie Marburger, a former middle school teacher in Texas, wrote: “I left work early today after an incident with a parent left me unable emotionally to continue for the day. Parents have become far too disrespectful. Administration always seems to err on the side of keeping the parent happy, which leaves me with no way to do the job I was hired to do … teach kids.”

She continued: “(Parents) have to stop coddling and enabling their children. It’s not fair to society, and more importantly, is not fair to the children to teach them this is okay.”

In January, Kori Clements, a successful high school volleyball coach in Texas, resigned due to “parents’ political pressure.”

“I was told by campus administration that I needed to recognize the political aspect of my job and also of theirs. I cannot and will not compromise the integrity of my decisions based on a parent’s political pressure or position. I believe strongly in the value of athletics, that being a part of a team is a privilege and playing time is earned.”

While this example was with athletics, the problem is the same in the classroom.

Do all parents do this? No, of course not. Most are doing the best they can and understand teachers are as well. I’m also not saying all teachers are good. I know there are some who shouldn’t be in education.

“An open letter from teachers to parents” by Bored Teachers lists five steps for improving the relationship between parents, teachers and students: 1. Stop making excuses for your kids; 2. Make sure they’re doing their work; 3. Cut the distractions; 4. Model good habits at home; and 5. Work with their teachers, not against them.

Stop making excuses and teach them to be responsible for their actions and their schoolwork. If they’re not getting an A, find out why. Have they completed all of their assignments? Are they participating in class?

I believe most parents love their kids and want what’s best for them. But expecting something when it hasn’t been earned isn’t the way for them to learn, grow and succeed. We need to expect more of them. Do we really want our future mechanics, doctors and leaders doing the minimum to get by and get rewarded for it?

I also believe most teachers are doing their best, sometimes in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We need to stop thinking we know how to be better teachers. They’ve had years of education and training and many seek additional learning each summer.

So what’s the solution?

Work together. You know your kid. They know teaching. Discuss your concerns respectfully and work to find win-win solutions.

“Be on our side. We are obviously not in education because we expect to become millionaires, we’re here because we care about kids and our society. So let’s help each other, and let’s do the best for the kids we love” (Bored Teacher).

Believe in them. Trust them. Cheer for them.

They really do want what’s best for your kids. Just like you do.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

By Jacki Wood, “That they might have joy column,” Nodaway News Leader, August 2019


‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity’

“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood, Nodaway News Leader

I’m standing in the middle of the road.

If you’ve ever been in the middle of a road, or seen someone who is, you know it’s probably not the safest place to be.

There’s a chance you might get hit. More likely, though, you’ll get yelled at or cursed at, honked at or shown some unfriendly hand gestures.

When I was a kid, we lived on a quiet street, so it was pretty common to see us in the middle of the road. We would play ball or skateboard or even go sledding with little concern. Now I live in the country and walking down the middle of a gravel road can be quite peaceful.

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But the road I’m standing in the middle of is not a country road. It’s not a city street. Or even a busy highway. Although it’s plenty loud. And it can feel fairly threatening.

The road I’m standing on is a political one. And I don’t think I’m alone here either.

It’s sometimes hard to see each other there in the middle, or near the middle, because the far left and the far right are zooming by us so incredibly loudly.

We’re trying to navigate each day while surrounded by the divisiveness and partisan polarization that has grown in our country in recent years. And we’re doing it, right there amidst all that yelling and cursing and honking, still trying to stand on our principles without being tossed to and fro.

Before I go any further, let me be clear…I’m not promoting silence or complicity. When there are issues we feel strongly about, we should take a stand, write our elected leaders, hold meetings, walk in parades, knock on doors, advocate, share on social media. We can do it fervently and still respectfully.

In “Eisenhower Republicanism – Pursuing the Middle Way,” author Steven Wagner writes: “In American political culture, those who describe themselves as ‘middle of the road’ are often portrayed as unwilling to take a stand or lacking in political sophistication. This was not the case with Eisenhower, whose ‘middle way’ was a carefully considered political philosophy similar to Theodore Roosevelt’s cautious progressivism.”

Eisenhower said his ‘middle way’ was a “practical working basis between extremists.”

Sounds to me like we could use some of that practicality in our current political climate.

So what can we learn from Eisenhower today?

A couple of Bills may have the answer.

Bill Kristol, a conservative Republican of the George HW Bush White House and founder of The Weekly Standard, and Bill Galston, a Democrat veteran of the Bill Clinton White House and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, created the New Center project and wrote Ideas to Re-Center America.

New Center

“We present some bold new ideas for re-centering America. We know that our politics have gotten off kilter. As the parties have become more polarized and our politics more partisan, the great American majority – which wants to see cooperation and compromise – has been left with no good choices.”

Their ideas center on four core values they believe can help move politics beyond polarization – opportunity, security, ingenuity and accountability.

“The ideas we advance represent a New Center for American politics, a politics that reflects both our enduring principles and the new circumstances we confront. In place of a politics stuck in the past, we offer an agenda re-centered in the future, not a tepid compromise between Left and Right, but a new way toward the stronger economy, more inclusive society and more effective politics that we all want for the country we love.”

You can read more at newcenter.org.

Albert Einstein said: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” While we might be going through some difficult times, there might also be some great opportunities out there to discover.

wallpaperdx quotes

So if you’re like me and standing in the middle of the road, or on the shoulder of one side or the other, let’s look for ways to come together and not be drowned out by all the yelling and cursing and honking.

I’d much rather help build bridges (than walls) to help unite and strengthen our nation.


‘some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true’

(“That they might have joy” column written by Jacki Wood and first published in the 6/28/18 Nodaway News Leader)

When God established a principle in the Bible, he did so with two or three witnesses.

In 2 Corinthians 13, and similarly in Matthew 18, it says: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”

The gospels are a perfect example of this. Matthew, Mark and Luke were all witnesses of Jesus Christ, and together, established the truth of his life, death and resurrection.

The idea of having two or three witnesses is a practical concept in many areas of life. It’s especially useful in a court of law, and I believe, an essential aspect of seeking truth.

In his “What is Truth?” speech, Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “Never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information — some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true. Consequently, never in the history of the world has it been more important to learn how to correctly discern between truth and error.”

This is difficult as we are surrounded daily by claims of fake news, alternative facts and post-truth.

Fake news is not a new tactic. Propaganda has been used for decades all over the world. But the internet has exacerbated it.

In “Fake news: What exactly is it – and how can you spot it?” from the June 13 edition of The Telegraph, James Titcomb and James Carson wrote: “Before the internet, it was much more expensive to distribute information, building up trust took years and there were much simpler definitions of what constituted news and media, making regulation easier.

“But the rise of social media has broken down many of the boundaries that prevented fake news from spreading in democracies. In particular it has allowed anyone to create and disseminate information.

“Facebook and Twitter allow people to exchange information on a much greater scale than ever before, while publishing platforms like WordPress allow anyone to create a dynamic website with ease.

“In short, the barriers to creating fake news have been undone.”

This is why using “two or three witnesses,” or getting information from more than one source, is so important.

One way to do this is expanding what you read and who you follow.

At our staff meeting this week, Kay shared a quote from “How to Think for Yourself When Algorithms Control What You Read” by Marc Zao-Sanders: “Pretty much everything you see online, from search results to your Facebook feed, is generated by algorithms. This invisible code prioritizes information that it thinks you’ll like — which can turn your online experience into an echo chamber of identical opinions. How can you keep algorithms from penning in your worldview? To start with, think about how dangerous it can be to see only things that you already agree with. Be skeptical of the veracity and comprehensiveness of your internet feeds. Make sure you’re reading widely about issues in the world, and deliberately follow people with views that differ from yours.”

Vanessa Otero, who created a media bias chart for a more balanced consumption of news, said: “We are living in a time where we have more information available to each of us than ever before in history. However, we are not all proficient at distinguishing between good information and bad information. This is true for liberal, moderate and conservative people.”

Another aspect is realizing we may only have a portion of the truth.

The ancient parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant, as written by American poet John Godfrey Saxe, begins:

    Six men of Indostan

    To learning much inclined,

    Who went to see the Elephant

    (Though all of them were blind),

    That each by observation

    Might satisfy his mind.

The six blind men each grab a different part of the elephant and describe what they think it is like.

“One of the men finds the elephant’s leg and describes it as being round and rough like a tree. Another feels the tusk and describes the elephant as a spear. A third grabs the tail and insists that an elephant is like a rope. A fourth discovers the trunk and insists that the elephant is like a large snake.

“Each is describing truth. And because his truth comes from personal experience, each insists that he knows what he knows (Uchtdorf).”

    And so these men of Indostan

    Disputed loud and long,

    Each in his own opinion

    Exceeding stiff and strong,

    Though each was partly in the right,

    And all were in the wrong!

There’s a lot of anger amidst a lot of partial truth. People are quick to yell “I’m right and you’re wrong” or “fake news!” if they don’t agree with what’s written.

If you’re only watching one cable news channel or reading one national newspaper, you may be seeing only one part of the elephant.

I suggest we pause, take a little break, cool off a bit. Stop making assumptions. Realize others may have some truth, too, or a different perspective like each of the blind men.

Be skeptical. Question things. Everything. Follow people with different views. Verify facts from different sources.

And listen. Really listen to what others are saying. Be humble. And patient. And meek.

Maybe then we can better learn how to correctly discern between what is truth and what is not. And find a little peace in the process.


Making ‘family time’ a priority

Do you have regrets?

I always wanted to be the person who said no to that question. No regrets.

But do I? Probably.

I wish I would’ve done this. Or I probably shouldn’t have done that.

I’m not sure I really even like that question, though, or the idea of it.

Life is a journey, full of ups and downs, good choices and not so good ones.

And that is true when it comes to parenting, especially as our children have gotten into their older teen years.

I guess my husband, Larry, was pondering some of these same things last fall when he decided we were going to implement what he called “Family Time.”

Let me back up a bit and say that family has always been extremely important to us. Since our children were very young, we’ve tried to set aside one night a week for Family Home Evening, a program recommended by our church. We’ve also tried to read scriptures and pray together every day. And we’ve also tried to spend as much time together as possible, supporting them in their activities, getting together with extended family and enjoying family vacations together.

Some of these things have been more successful than others.

In the last couple of years, though, it’s been extremely difficult as our kids started high school and became more involved with things.

Larry was reminded of guidance we once received from the leaders of our church: “We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children. We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, gospel study and instruction and wholesome family activities.”

Have we been giving our children our “best efforts?” Not always. We needed to do better.

So what is family time? Ideally, it’s 30 minutes to an hour set aside for praying, reading scriptures, listening to each other without devices distracting us and finding some fun to throw in there like a quick game of charades, or if we have more time, a board game. Or we’ll watch a video on YouTube. Or just let them talk about what’s important to them.

 

I can’t say Family Time happens every single day. Some days it’s just impossible for all of us to be in one place at the same time and awake. Larry leaves in the morning before everyone is up and goes to sleep sometimes before everyone gets home.

Sometimes it’s only five or ten minutes, long enough to see how everyone’s day was, pray and read a few scriptures.

Sometimes we combine it with dinner. Or we read and eat at the same time.

Sometimes we do it over the phone or use FaceTime.

Sometimes we laugh so much we cry. And sometimes it’s rough, especially when people are moody or tired, and someone leaves the room in anger.

But looking back at the last six months, I feel more connected with my kids than I ever have before.

And more hopeful.

Because when I look around at the world and all the darkness that seems to be growing with each day, I want to make sure I’m doing what I can to help spread more light. And help them do the same.

If we want to see change in the world, we must be the change. And I believe that starts at home.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and by just having fun. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities.”

So I’m encouraging you to start your own Family Time, whatever that means to you. It doesn’t have to be like ours. If you’re not religious, that’s okay. Make it your own. Five or ten minutes when they wake up or before they go to bed. Or a phone call or FaceTime every afternoon on your break at work. Whatever works for you and your situation.

But make it a priority. Show them how much you love them by giving of your time, even when you don’t think you have any to spare.

You won’t regret it.


‘If you see something, say something’

That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood, printed in the Nodaway News Leader, February 8, 2018

Jacki New

“Have I, have you, been too silent? Is there an easy crime of silence?” – Carl Sandburg

In November, Dictionary.com announced its word of the year for 2017 was “complicit” and wrote it “has sprung up in conversations this year about those who speak out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stay silent.”

Complicit is defined as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.”

They also wrote that complicity — or the refusal to be complicit — was pertinent to some of the biggest news topics of the year, from politics to anthem protests by NFL players to the #MeToo movement.

I’ve been pondering this word over the last couple of months, not for the reasons they chose it, but in regards to underage drinking.

Why are so many adults so complicit when it comes to this?

Responses I’ve heard include “they’re just being young and dumb” or “I did it when I was their age and turned out just fine.”

I served on a mental health taskforce in Nodaway County several years ago that also focused on underage drinking.

One of the things I learned was that teen brains are not fully formed until age 25 or even later. In recent years, more research has been done on this subject.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center: “Adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”

The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and National Association of Social Workers, in a 2012 brief to the Supreme Court, wrote: “It is increasingly clear that adolescent brains are not yet fully mature in regions and systems related to higher order executive functions such as impulse control, planning ahead and risk avoidance.”

I’m not giving teens a pass when it comes to underage drinking because their brains aren’t fully developed. I believe we can expect more from them than “they’re just being young and dumb.”

But as Meredith Wadman, MD, wrote in the Washington Post, “Kids will be kids so parents must be parents.”

“I don’t buy the argument that advises adults to wink and nod at underage drinking because it’s going to happen regardless. It’s not true that the attitudes of adults, and their seriousness about laws and rules, have no influence on teenagers’ drinking habits.”

She cited the College Alcohol Study at the Harvard School of Public Health which spent eight years studying more than 50,000 students at 120 colleges.

They concluded that students drink more on campuses that have a strong drinking culture, few alcohol-control policies and weak enforcement. They also found that few students engage in binge drinking at some colleges while 80 percent of students reported binge drinking at others.

“Don’t tell me that college policies and cultures — in other words, the tone set by those in authority on campus — have nothing to do with these disparities,” she wrote.

Wadman also looked at the University of Florida which was once known as a top party school before administrators adopted measures that included mandating alcohol education for freshmen and banning alcohol advertising at concerts and sports events. The binge-drinking rate dropped from 57 to 38 percent in four years.

Administrators and students at the University of Virginia created a high-profile marketing campaign to combat underage drinking. In the 10-year period that followed, there was a 33 percent decrease in binge drinking, an 81 percent decline in drinking and driving and a 76 percent drop in alcohol-related injuries among students.

Wadman used the word “parents” in her article, but I believe all adults need to step up to help combat this issue. Sadly, not everyone has involved parents. And even then, none of us can be there at every moment in our child’s lives, especially, for example, single parents working two and three jobs to support their families or those with other circumstances and challenges.

“If you see something, say something” has been a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security in recent years to help combat terrorism. I think it’s great advice to combat underage drinking as well.

It can take a lot of courage to speak up sometimes. We can be afraid of the consequences that might come in doing so. But potentially saving lives should be more important than backlash.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”

This is a serious problem that needs all of our courageous voices speaking out.

So if you see something, please say something.


Helping our children ‘find the good life’

I recently took a week off from social media. One of my main goals with that extra free time was to get my nose back in a book again. Reading daily, not just tweets and articles, but back to my list of unread classics.

Sadly, my time spent reading has decreased dramatically with the increase in my use of social media. And I’d been feeling I needed to change that.

Before I got to my list, though, I wanted to read/listen to Ben Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis, with our two teenage kids. The perfect opportunity to do that was while we were driving during a quick road trip to visit the Lincoln presidential museum and historical sites.

Ben-Sasse-The-Vanishing-American-Adult-900

Sasse says families should develop practices to prepare their kids to become “fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors.”

And how do they do that? Learning the value of hard work, developing multi-generational relationships, traveling and – wait for it – reading.

Coincidence? Probably not. I knew I needed to do better. And Sasse’s book reinforced that.

It’s not enough for us to encourage our children to read, however. They need to see us setting the example of being readers ourselves.

When we returned from our road trip, we all headed to our home library to pick out some books we hadn’t read yet. And a trip to the public library followed.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered over the years, with two very different children, is that letting them choose what they want to read, not what we want them to read, is vital.

We struggled with our oldest and reading for years. Then one day, he checked out the first Percy Jackson book from the library and devoured it. And the next in the series and the next. It opened up a new world of him wanting to read instead of us feeling like we had to force him to read.

Katherine Paterson, who wrote two of my favorite books, Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins, said: “The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.”

I think that’s one of the things Sasse was talking about in his book.

“Our goal is for our kids to be intentional about everything they do — to reject passivity and mindless consumption and to embrace an ethos of action, of productivity, of meaningful work, of genuinely lifelong learning,” Sasse writes. “In other words, we want them to find the good life.”


Discovering family history in the kitchen

By Jacki Wood, “That they might have joy” column

We start a new series in today’s paper, “Generations of Cooking: keeping cookbooks in the family.”

I wasn’t sure where the series would lead when Kay suggested it after Katrina brought in an old cookbook. But it has really turned into something fun.

It reminded me of my own family’s cookbooks and recipes. And the historical importance of them.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve started working more on my family history and genealogy. This series is helping me realize how important family recipes are in helping to preserve that history.

Many of my favorite memories and family stories surround food – at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, family reunions, birthday parties and other get-togethers.

New Mexico State University Extension’s Cydney Martin encourages others to collect family recipes and create an heirloom cookbook.

“It’s our history, our legacy to our children,” she said. “Nothing provokes memories better than the smell of something you ate in your childhood.”

Several years ago, a cousin of mine spearheaded the creation of an heirloom cookbook, “A Kitchen Keepsake – The Weese Family Cookbook.” We all shared recipes, family photos and some basic family history. She also included a few recipes from my great-grandmother, Zola Carey Weese.

It is now my go-to cookbook. And my kids use it, too. The food splatters and dog-eared pages are proof of how valuable it has become to us.

A family favorite shared in the cookbook are sugar cookies my mom made with my siblings and me when we were little, a tradition I carried on with my own kids.

There are also a couple of my great-grandma’s recipes, Dandelion Jelly and French Fried Dandelion Blossoms. They are ones I haven’t tried yet but this series has inspired me to discover why anyone would want to fry one of the most hated flowers and eat it.

It’s also inspired me to learn more, to record more stories and to try more family recipes.

Grandma Uthe’s Sugar Cookies
2 C. flour
1 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 C. butter
1/4 C. sugar
1/2 C. sour cream
Sift together flour, soda, salt and nutmeg. Cream butter and sugar together well. Blend in sour cream and then add dry ingredients. Blend well and chill dough. Roll out on floured surface, half at a time, to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350˚ for 8-10 minutes. Makes 6-7 dozen small cookies.

Dandelion Jelly
4 1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp. lemon or orange extract
1 pkg. pectin
1 qt. dandelions
In the morning, pick 1 quart dandelion blossoms without any of the stem attached. Boil blossoms in 1 quart of water for 3 minutes. Drain off 3 cups liquid. Add pectin, extract and sugar. Boil about 3 minutes and seal.

French Fried Dandelion Blossoms
dandelion blossoms
1 egg, beaten
cornmeal
salt water
flour
grease or lard
Clean and soak dandelion blossoms in salt water for 30 minutes. Dip in beaten egg and then in a mixture of flour and cornmeal. Brown in hot grease or lard.


‘when sensible children turn scatter-brained or start having wild mood swings’

By Jacki Wood, “That they they might have joy” column for the Nodaway News Leader

So I have a “friend” …

Her oldest child recently turned 18 and is getting ready to graduate high school in less than two months. And she’s starting to freak out feeling like she hasn’t prepared him enough yet for adulthood.

Hunter Wood senior    Okay, yes, it’s me, not some friend.

Somewhere around January 3rd, it hit me that my oldest is graduating soon and I’ve been frantically trying to teach him all the things that I think I should have by now.

I’m no expert but I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve done right over the last 18 years and where we could’ve done better. Parenting teenagers has proven especially hard, like everyone said it would.

Sue Shellenbarger, writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2016, said the teen years can be “mystifying” for parents “when sensible children turn scatter-brained or start having wild mood swings.”

Not exactly earth-shattering news. But she said new research offers some explanations and scientists are changing their views on the role parents should play.

“Once seen as a time for parents to step back, adolescence is increasingly viewed as an opportunity to stay tuned in and emotionally connected.

“As adolescents navigate the stormiest years in their development, they need coaching, support, good examples, and most of all, understanding.”

Being understanding can be tricky, especially as you watch them make mistakes. It’s so easy to want to just correct them.

I recently read about Bert Fulks who works with a youth addiction recovery group. He asked how many found themselves in situations where they were uncomfortable but stuck around because they felt like they didn’t have a way out. They all raised their hands.

So he came up with the X-plan for his family, a simple but powerful tool for his kids to use at any time. It gives them a way out of a situation by simply texting the letter X to a family member who then calls the teen and arranges to pick them up with no questions asked.

“This is one of the most loving things we’ve ever given (our son),” he said. “It offers him a sense of security and confidence in a world that tends to beat our young people into submission.”

Adolescence is such a critical time, when we still want to protect them, but also need to help them continue learning how to become independent.

In “Helping without Hovering,” Dr. Mark Ogletree, LPC, offers these tips:
1. Look for opportunities to allow your children to do things for themselves, even if it means more work for you.
2. Teach your children to work.
3. Teach your children that choices have consequences.
4. Allow your children to have heartaches and setbacks.
5. Stand up and be courageous.

Courageous parenting. This, too, might be difficult at times. We might be afraid of offending them or having them be upset with us.

My husband and I talk with our kids. A lot. And we keep it real. They sometimes point out what other parents allow that we don’t. And that can take courage to remain committed to what we feel is best for them, although we are willing to discuss why they might disagree.

They might take offense at what we’re saying or trying to teach, but we talk through it, and hopefully, come to an understanding, even if we might not agree. And I think that’s okay.

Some of our kids’ friends have recently called us overprotective. And I’m okay with that, too, although I just call it parenting.

I’m sure it’s partially because I watch too many cop shows that have tragic stories about teens. But when they leave the house, I want to know who they’re with, where they’re going and what they’re doing. While I want to foster independence, I also want to make sure I’m doing all I can to still protect them.

We could talk for days about parenting teenagers and we’d probably disagree on different aspects.

But I guess the most important thing for me, at least right now when the countdown is on to graduation, is to simply spend time with him and create just a few more memories together.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner (and) by just having fun. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e.”

So show up. Be there. Love them. Have fun. Listen. And be understanding.

Barbara Bush, wife of President George HW Bush, said: “Whatever the era, whatever the times, one thing will never change…Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house.”

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“World’s Best Cup of Coffee” – the case against superlatives

By Jacki Wood, That they might have joy

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Disclaimer: this is not the best column I’ve ever written. But it’s probably also not the worst.

“You did it! Congratulations! ‘World’s Best Cup of Coffee.’ Great job, everybody.”

This line is from the movie, “Elf,” when Buddy is walking down the street and excitedly enters a diner when he sees a neon sign that says “World’s Best Cup of Coffee.”

It makes me laugh every time I watch it. You know, because, how is that even quantifiable?

Whether a cup of coffee is amazing or terrible depends on one’s personal taste preferences, right?!

Best, worst, most. These are all examples of superlatives, an exaggerated or hyperbolical expression of praise.

And with Valentine’s Day approaching, we’ll be hearing a lot of these expressions, which generally makes me want to vomit.

Not that I don’t love the day of love or people sharing their affection for one another. The issue is the “best ever” phrase. “I have the best wife ever” or “I have the best boyfriend ever.”

We’ve been hearing other superlatives a lot recently, especially from Donald Trump’s campaign and into his presidency.

“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

“I’m the most militaristic person ever.”

“I get the biggest crowds. I get the biggest standing ovations.”

“I would use the greatest minds. I know the best negotiators.”

But this is nothing new.

In 1900, literary critic and author Arthur Waugh wrote, “we are living in an age where everything is ‘most impressive,’ ‘most heroic,’ and ‘most immortal.’”

“The great arguments against the indiscriminate superlative are its insincerity and vulgarity. No man can use the perpetual superlative sincerely, since he cannot frankly believe that everything he has to describe is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

He continued by saying this may seem trivial, however, “whenever the literature of a country lacks dignity, there is something amiss with the national life and character.”

Superlatives can also be harmful in relationships.

It’s like posting on Facebook that I have the best husband ever on Valentine’s Day and then two days later posting how annoying he is because he leaves his dirty laundry all over the bedroom floor.

How can this be? He’s supposed to be the best husband ever.

“They are really hard to live up to,” relationship mentor Jana Kellam said. “And no one wants to be compared and have to try to live up to these superlatives.”

For example, she said, your partner cooks dinner, which was delicious, and you say, “this is the best meal ever!”

“Your partner may have felt great in that moment, but underlying your compliment is the implication that nothing will ever be able to compare favorably.”

“The next time you’re about to compliment something or someone,” Kellam said, “find a way of doing it that is empowering, engaging and motivating instead.

“‘I love this meal. Thank you so much for doing this for me. It’s beautiful and delicious.’”

In our “superlative-saturated world,” Amy Bailey, writer for MyScoop, said our society is not just addicted to but has overdosed on superlatives.

“When everything is super epic and the best ever, there’s no way to differentiate between really cool and just ok… What happened to just being good?

“In the Bible, we read that when the universe was created, God saw the light that it was good. There’s no epic, there’s no amazing, there’s no best ever – it was simply good.”

Now, I’m not advocating for mediocrity but I’m also very much a realist. Life is hard. I do believe, however, that we have the capacity to change, to learn and grow and become something greater than we ever imagined.

Instead of setting unrealistic expectations, though, how about we simply look for the good and say so sincerely.

I might not go to that diner because of the neon sign advertising “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” (I wouldn’t go there for the coffee anyway, since I don’t drink it).

But I might go there for a “Decent Cup of Hot Cocoa,” to hang out with a friend or my husband or my children, and have a conversation that’s honest, sincere and real. And good.

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