No More “Shoulding” on Myself

A sunset over I-80 - moments like this have made the 330 mile commute a gift rather than a chore (and yes, mom and dad, I know I probably shouldn't have been taking pics while driving!) :)
A sunset over I-80 - moments like this have made the 330 mile commute a gift rather than a chore (and yes, mom and dad, I know I probably shouldn't have been taking pics while driving!) :)
A sunset over I-80 – moments like this have made the 330 mile commute a gift rather than a chore (and yes, I know I probably shouldn’t have been taking pics while driving, but it was pretty!)

The past few months have been some of the most difficult of my life.

Since July 15, my husband has spent a grand total of 92 days in the hospital and undergone 26 surgeries to repair damage from an episode of diverticulitis. He’s still in the hospital, but the surgery cycle is over. His abdomen is healing and his wound from all of the abdominal washout procedures is finally closed.

I’ve spent most of those days with him except when I left to drive five hours home to take care of the house and teach.

Never in a million years would I have thought that teaching high school students would be such a welcome “break” from anything, but I’ve learned that hospitals, especially ICU units, are stressful places.

Nor did I ever dream that we would be spending these months in the hospital at all. My husband went from hiking with me one day, to the hospital two days later, and fighting for his life six weeks after that.

We had plans for this fall! Big plans!

Our youngest child was leaving the nest for college, and I had finally managed to secure a part-time teaching position.

We looked forward to more time together. I looked forward to having time to devote to writing with lessened work and parenting demands. I also had lists of goals I wanted to accomplish for my teen writing website,

My husband had a business to run, and he’d also drawn a bull elk tag – a BIG deal in our state.

Then, he landed in a hospital bed, and I landed in a hospital chair (which doubled as a bed some nights). Okay, it’ll only be a few days, I thought. We can handle this. Life will get back to normal shortly.

But then the days stretched into weeks, and he still wasn’t getting better.

I sat in the chair while he slept, “shoulding” on myself. Everyday, I had my bag of “stuff to do” next to my chair. Between making sure he was comfortable and all of the doctor visits and surgeries, I had a novel to revise, a website to keep updated, a journal to write in, and medical bills to sort.

I couldn’t do any of it. I couldn’t even read a book. This is not normal for me. I’m always doing something.

The most I could manage was to play solitaire on my phone while he slept, thinking the entire time that I “should be __________.”

It made me feel worse, this constant “shoulding” on myself. I’d argue in my head in the manner that I think most people are familiar (but that if anyone could actually hear us, we’d all be considered worthy of a mental illness diagnosis).

“You’re just sitting here. You should be writing something. Why are you being so lazy.?” I’d yell at myself.

“Hush,” I’d answer back (to myself). “The only thing I should be doing is supporting my husband. Life’s on hold right now. Deal with it.”

“But, you should be doing something.”

“Shut UP!! I can’t focus in here with all the beeping and activity.” Then, I’d feel guilty, sad, and upset, so I’d start another game of solitaire.

The weeks then stretched into months. The surgeries continued, as did the “shoulding.”

It took almost three months from the beginning of this saga for me to realize that I have all the time in the world and the only thing that “shoulding” on myself was doing was making me feel like shit.

Why, with all that was happening in my life, was I working so hard at making myself more miserable?

It made zero sense when I looked at it that way, and guess what, within days of making a conscious effort to completely eradicate the word “should” (and “need to”) from my life, I finally feel like writing.

I’ve learned that, for me, “shoulding” zaps the joy out of any activity.

My big epiphany is that the intentions behind my actions have a huge impact on how I feel about any given situation or activity in any moment. I’ve learned that I’d much rather  approach my life from a place of joy, rather than obligation, even in the midst of a really difficult time.

Even when I’d come home and have to clean the toilet, I tried to eradicate “should.” If I had to do it, “should” do it, it feels yucky. Eeewh, who wants to do that? But if I do it so the bathroom is sparkly and shiny and smells good, it’s easier, not near the chore.

This isn’t easy by any means, and have I completely turned every moment into a more positive one? Absolutely not – I’ve definitely had my meltdown moments on this journey – but giving it a shot beats getting smothered under a big stinky pile of “should” every day.

Our Impending Empty Nest

empty nest
During a wood cutting expedition a few years ago, my husband cut down a dead tree and found this little treasure which he saved and brought home.

Somehow, I’ve returned to the emotional rollercoaster I rode when I was pregnant with my son twenty years ago. On the way home from work this week, I had myself in tears over our forthcoming “empty nest” status.

Then, when I did get home, I had to blink back more tears because of the actual EMPTY NEST on our front porch. It’s cool, but a bit too literal of a reminder of what is going to happen in the next six months.

It doesn’t take much to set either myself or my husband off when we think of our kids leaving. What the hell are we going to do?

Our weekends will no longer be filled with soccer games, waiting up for kids to get home, and just the general noise and activity of having teenagers in and out of the house.

On the one hand, I tentatively welcome it because I’ll have more time to write, quilt, and even read – all those things I love to do but have to fit into the tiny crevices of my life between work, family, and kids.

But then, I wonder if those silent spaces, that I don’t even realize are filled with noise right now, might grow too big.

I can make myself cry thinking about it, at least until I get reminders of life with small children.

My daughter has chosen to go to a school in California, about twelve hours from our house. It’s a long way. Yesterday, I was emailing a college buddy about it. She started her family much later than I started mine, and her kids have just begun elementary school. She’s got years to go before she has to face her babies leaving home.

I was expressing my concerns about the distance we’ll have to drive to see my daughter, and she sent me this response:

“Yeah, but as you guys get to be really F-ing old you can drive to Truckee, stop at our place there…then drive to the bay area and stop there [at her house]…and then remind yourselves how happy you are that your kids aren’t still in elementary school….I’m at the zoo right now.”

I about spit my coffee at my computer screen I laughed so hard when I read that. And, if I really give it an honest look, she’s right. I thank God I’m more concerned with registering my daughter for dorm housing than registering her for kindergarten.

I think we’ll be just fine.

My Lone Quilt of 2014


amy isaman writerTen or fifteen years ago a quilt magazine ran an article featuring a prolific and talented quilter. I remember neither the magazine nor the quilter, but I do remember one thing she discussed.

Her son was getting married, so she let her future daughter-in-law choose a quilt top from her fairly large stash of completely pieced but unquilted tops.  This woman would finish the quilt for their wedding gift.

I remember thinking, “What the hell? Somebody has actually has unfinished quilt tops stuffed in a box? Who is this woman?”

At the time, I was making quilts for my family, for all the beds in my house, for gifts. Every quilt had a purpose. I knew where they would end up when I started making them, but now I’ve been piecing quilt tops for almost twenty years, and like the lady in the article that I read, I make quilts for no reason other than I love to create them.

My latest quilt took all of last year to put together because finding time to sew, with a full-time job, two teenage children, and a fledgling writing career, has been tough. But it’s the one “piece” of my life that I refuse to give up.

I’m now that quilt weirdo with a tub of unquilted quilt tops under my bed, and each year I manage to add one or two. I’ve thought about quilting them, but they’re just easier to store as tops. My daughter has claimed one of them, and my husband claimed this one, but the rest I’m saving in my tub until I need them.

Some of them will never be quilted as they’re truly ugly – an experiment in color, prints, or value gone seriously wrong.

Most of them are scrappy because I believe that the more fabrics there are in a quilt, the better. I love pulling fabrics and putting them all together, playing with colors and value.IMG_2390Some of the individual fabrics look terrible next to each other, but all together, you don’t see those combinations which I love. It’s all about the whole.

One other thing I love about this quilt is the lack of a border. I haven’t put borders on a few quilts now, and I like the look. Sometimes a border can overtake a quilt, and on a historical note, few scrappy antique quilts had big borders. Nobody had giant chunks of fabric necessary for a proper border, so they didn’t use them.

My next quilt will actually be a much smaller one, and I have a deadline with only a few months left before that quilt’s new owner makes an appearance in the world. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll get more than one done this year.


Lessons in Free Verse

I suck at teaching poetry

Apparently I suck at teaching poetry.

Though I failed this year, thankfully the student who shared my shortcomings and his poetic discovery, also provided the solution for next year.

In my Creative Writing class, we spend the month of November participating in NaNoWriMo. Then in December, we take a break from cranking out hundreds or thousands of words each week and write poetry.

I am not a poet by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy reading and sharing really great poems with the kids. All year, I try to share at least two to four poems a week, if not more.

During last December, our “poetry month,” I tried to find great poems to use as models.  I crafted lessons on imagery, descriptive details, and different types of poems. We talked about rhythm, rhyme, and word choice. We watched videos of amazing spoken word poems.

But, according to one of my seniors, I missed the mark, failing to teach one of the easiest strategies for crafting great poems.

I discovered my lapse when Erik submitted this reflective piece at the end of the semester, aptly titled “Flexibility.”

poetry teaching fail

All I needed to teach was the ENTER key?!?

I can do that. It will be one of my first poetry lessons for next year…

Free verse via ENTER

The Meandering Path of my Writing Life

The Meandering Path of the Writing Life

The Meandering Path of the Writing LifeMy life as a writer started with this little blog, and over the past four years, it’s taken many turns, some I expected, some not so much. But like any good ride, they’ve all been fun.

Since I haven’t posted here in (too) many months, I thought I’d do a little review of where I’ve been and hopefully where I’m headed on this winding writing path.

February 2011 – As a kid, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I’m all grown up now, and I realized that, yes, I’d still like to write. It took awhile, but I got there despite the mean professor in college who told me that my story about hiking sucked. It probably did, but I didn’t take it well. It only took twenty years to get over it.

March 2011 – I started this blog and with shaking hands and panicking heart, posted my first post. I declared “I am a writer.” My husband, mom, and dad read my post. Progress.

The rest of 2011 – I kept a really great blog schedule, posting pretty much once or twice a week, and outlined novel #1, The Overlander’s Daughter.

2012 – I kept posting here and wrote my novel, well, I wrote lots of it, but it was a long, slow learning process. I could whip out an essay or academic piece in thirty minutes. A novel? Not quite so fast.

August 2012 – I went to the Willamette Writer’s Conference and learned how much I  still had to learn about writing. It’s a never ending process.

2013 – Blog? What blog? Oh yeah…this one. Um, didn’t write much here, but kept working on my novel and planned for…

March 2013 – …launching, my online community for teen writers. This is where I posted during 2013 & 2014 (when I went missing from here). There, I post about writing and try to answer all those questions my students ask me about writing. The site’s growth is slow but steady…and I’m still enjoying the whole process.

November 2013 – Along with ten of my intrepid students, I completed Nanowrimo – finishing 50,000 words of a young adult contemporary mystery.

January 2014 – Whew – three years after embarking on my new “life as a writer,” I finally finished The Overlander’s Daughter. It’s a good feeling, but I completely ignored this blog, as in, I never posted a single time in 2014. Ooops.

February 2014 – I finished draft one of my YA mystery – woah, two novels done. Am I a writer yet? I also queried Overlander’s and actually got requests for manuscripts – happy dance.

March 2014 – Rejection.

March-July 2014 – I decided to have OD professionally edited before querying it again and found an amazing editor who wouldn’t be able to get to it until October. She’s that good, so I set that manuscript aside and spent all summer polishing my YA mystery.

August 2014 – I went to Willamette Writer’s Conference again and pitched my YA mystery. Agents requested it – happy dance.

September & October 2014 – YA novel rejection, but good to know I can write a decent query and pitch a novel.

October 2014 – My amazing editor began polishing the rough spots out of  Overlander’s and making it shine. After daily emails all month clarifying details, plot, and characters, she asked if I “would mind” if she sent my manuscript off to an agent with a recommendation. Um, no – I didn’t mind.

November 2014 – I signed a contract with an agent! Biggest Happy Dance ever!! I’ll write more on this milestone later. My new agent wanted more Overlander’s revisions – back at it.

January 2015 – I continued revising Overlander’s until, I can say, it’s finally done and ready to go. Well, at least until another editor decides it’s not.

February 2015 – I’m back here! I’ll still be writing at WhereTeensWrite, but I found when I got back on here, I kind of miss writing my random musings about life, writing, teaching, and quilts. And hopefully, I’ll have some writerly updates to report on my writing career – that’s what I’m calling it now.


Fall & Winter Descend

Oct. 15, 2013

When I meet people who are not from Nevada and I tell them I am from Nevada, they will often ask how I deal with the heat in Las Vegas. Like many native Nevadans, I end up explaining that Las Vegas is in the very southern tip of the state, and there are thousands of square miles north of Las Vegas. Really. Not everyone from Nevada is from Vegas.

The Nevada I call home is high desert. We have four seasons here with snow every winter.

I live at 5000 ft. at the base of the Ruby Mountains in the northeast corner of the state. These are the mountains that the Hastings cutoff skirted. Rather than following the California trail along the Humboldt River to the north, the Donner party went around the south and inadvertently added several hundred miles to their journey. Bad idea.

I took these pictures from my front yard over the past month as the changing colors slowly descended the slopes. I’ve always enjoyed watching, so this year, I decided to record it.

The Rubies in August (with my son getting ready for his fall archery hunt).
Sept. 23, 2013
Sept. 23, 2013 – the top of the canyons are brushed with yellow patches as the leaves begin to change color.
October 7, 2013
October 7, 2013 – Two weeks later, the trees have almost completely changed their colors.
October 10, 2013
October 10, 2013 – the first dusting of snow on the peaks. Ruby Dome, to the right of the pyramid peak, is the tallest point in the mountain range with an elevation of 11,388.
Oct. 15, 2013
October 15, 2013 – The leaves are dropping and the mountain tops are whiter.
Oct. 19, 2013
October 19, 2013
Oct. 29
Oct. 29 – Winter arrives. We woke to heavy wet snow.
Oct. 29, 2013
Oct. 29 – The weather here can make a person crazy. Blizzard at 7:00 am…beautiful sun shining on the snowy mountains at 5:05 pm of the same day.
Oct. 29 2013
Oct. 29 – the same day, 20 min. later, clouds are moving in again across the mountains. Winter is here, and the leaves are gone.

Happy Halloween!

My Summer Quilt

My Matrix Quilt

Yes, I know its almost Halloween, a little belated to be posting my “summer” quilt, but I did actually complete a quilt this summer.

Last winter, I got inspired to use up some of my fabric stash. I pulled out stacks of fabrics and cut out all the strips and rectangles for two different quilts. One of them is still a pile of now dusty strips on the end of my sewing table. The other one is actually done!

Seeing as I’m a teacher . . . on vacation in the summer . . . I probably should have gotten both of these quilts done, but I didn’t. The one I did finish took awhile though.

The pattern is the “Cobblestone” quilt from the book Scrappy Firework Quilts by Edyta Sitar. It’s a great collection of patterns for scrappy traditional quilts.

I chose to do it in brights and it ended up not looking like a cobblestone street, but more like some sort of digital matrix. This was a fun project to play with the fabrics and work with their values rather than their colors. I’m not super happy with how the middle left side turned out. It kind of mushes together, but I didn’t realize that until it was all sewed together. I wasn’t about to pull it out to add some more darks to it.

My Matrix Quilt
My Matrix Quilt

I’m not going to put a border on it, as I like how it looks as is, and it’s not getting quilted anytime soon either. I have no more beds for the quilt tops I’ve made, so its going into a tub under my bed until I have a home for it. I’ve learned that when you live in a small house like I do, unquilted quilts are easier to store than quilted ones.